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Five Things Mass Effect Could Improve On

The key to the future of Mass Effect is in its past.

Item 3: The Shooting Sucks

BioWare’s solution: make the shooting based on actual trigger pulls, and not based on dice rolls.

Yes, the shooting in the first Mass Effect is initially bad, but that’s kind of by design. I think the biggest sin of that game was having the weapon scores so low from the outset. My first Shepard was supposed to be good with sniper rifles, but because I didn’t put a lot of points into my rifle ability at the outset he was a pretty poor shot for the opening hours of the game. Accuracy and weapon power improves dramatically as you progress in the game, but it gives a bad first impression that seems to stick with players. It doesn’t help that there are still remnants of the BioWare d20 system working behind the scenes, so you can be dead on with a shot but the roll of the dice registers it as a “miss”.

So BioWare turned Mass Effect 2 into more of a third person shooter. This was the right call for sure; when you pull a trigger in a game you should see the immediate effect. However, in doing so, they made the game feel somewhat generic. Mass Effect 2 can’t hang with even the first Gears of War, which was already a few years old by the time it was released.

                           The shooting got better, but at the expense of originality.

One of the biggest issues I have with the ME sequels is the addition of “heat sinks” for the guns. The lore of Mass Effect states that guns no longer consume bullets, but instead fire very small fragments of metal at extremely high velocity. As such, you should never run out of ammo with a Mass Effect weapon, and instead you have to manage your heat output. In the first game, as long as you eased off the trigger a bit you could keep up a high rate of fire, but get too trigger happy and your gun would overheat, locking up for a bit. It was an added bit of strategy in a game that was already surprisingly strategic.

BioWare mucked that up when they introduced the disposable heat sink cartridges, basically shoe horning ammo into a universe that refreshingly did away with ammo entirely. Compounded with the lack of abilities detailed earlier, and you have two sequels that, yes, feel better as shooters than ME 1, but lose out on a lot of what made that game unique.

My solution: keep the shooting fidelity, ditch the heat sinks.

I think we’ve seen that you don’t need every game with guns to feel the same. Take a look at the recent release of Doom, a fast-paced first person shooter that bravely went back to not having the need to reload guns. It was refreshing to never have to hit a reload button in the heat of battle. Similarly, the Transformers games from High Moon studios are third person, but you never duck behind cover. That’s because you’re expected to use your alt mode to evade fire and get around the battlefield. These design decisions make those games feel special, but in no way hinder the moment to moment action.

                                    Doom is all about staying mobile, not reloading.

I think pulling the trigger in Mass Effect 2 and 3 feels much better than the first game, but the core gameplay feels lackluster in comparison. I’d keep the cover mechanics, but I’d go back to having to manage your gun’s heat gauge. This is something that sets Mass Effect apart from every other shooting game out there, and if you’re coupling it with deeper ability sets as seen in item 2 then you have a much more interesting experience than pulling left trigger, then right trigger.

I’d also bring back the need to put points into weapon proficiency, forcing players to stick to one or two guns. This gives each class more nuance and depth, and rewards players based on how they spec out their characters. While I do believe that each gun should feel more accurate and effective out of the gate than they do in the first Mass Effect, I like having to decide if I want to do more damage with my shotgun or unlock a new skill when I level up. Oh, and let’s throw in damage numbers, ala Borderlands and Diablo III, because who doesn’t love seeing those numbers get bigger?

Mmmm...damage numbers...

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10/20/2016 at 03:25 PM

Ditch heat sinks? This whole article is now invalid :p

Heat sinks and generally reloading make sense because eventually you're going to run out of raw metal to shave and accelerate. You wouldn't be able to shoot infinitely and just worry about overheating. Also heat transfer and newton's law of cooling don't work so fast that you could just rapidly heat and cool a barrel or shooting mechanism like in Mass Effect 1, it makes sense that you'd have heat sinks that you could rapidly transfer out so you didn't have to wait for the hot one to cool down. I'm sorry but any attempt to justify infinite shooting and no reloading is bubkiss. I will stand up for heat sinks till the day I die, come at me lol

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/20/2016 at 05:54 PM

Hey, if you want every game to play the same then more power to you. Mass Effect 2 feels as generic as they come with the shooting mechanics. And you couldn't fire infinitely in the first game; far from it. I could only squeeze off a couple rounds from my sniper rifles without my gun locking up. It added a level of tenseness to the shooting without having to worry about running out of ammo, which I did a lot in the sequels. Also, go play Doom and tell me if you miss reloading. 

But yes, by all means let's have every game with shooting act and feel the same. That's been so fun already, right?


10/21/2016 at 01:29 AM

Failed to make your point. Reloading is still king. Ask revolver ocelot. Boom

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/21/2016 at 03:38 AM

I made my point perfectly. 


10/21/2016 at 06:23 AM

I actually got the new Doom this past week and just installed it on my pc! I'm so ready, I want to get through it soon so I'm prepared by the time everyone is talking about GOTY.

When you brought up No Mans Sky it made me think of having control of whatever the Normandy equivalent is in Andromeda and flying it down through the atmosphere and choosing a landing area right before you press the trigger and drop the Mako down onto the surface. You always see that in the cut scene in the ME games, it could be fun to actually have control of that process. In No Mans sky you can only explore one star system at a time and zoom around to the planets within, then when you're done you pick places to warp to on the larger map. The way you explore solar systems in No Mans Sky is basically the Mass Effect galaxy map but experienced from first person instead of overhead with the little ship to control. It could be cool to have that kind of exploration in Andromeda. I love the galaxy map and if it aint broke don't fix it, but exploring the systems from the point of view of the player's ship could be fun. Doesn't necessarily have to be 1st person, that might not make sense, but just have the camera behind the ship and be able to zip around the system and land at will when your scanners find cool stuff to investigate

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/24/2016 at 03:03 PM

I'll be revisiting that thought in an upcoming piece, but I want to wait until after N7 Day to see if they address any of my items.


10/21/2016 at 12:38 PM

The inventory issue is a non issue. They were already veterans of RPG development by the time the first game came out.  We have 3 decades, at least, of examples of how to design an inventory, including other Bioware games. wtf

 Abilities: I thought the abilities in ME1 were well explained. The come with descriptions on what they do. It's up to the player to figure out how to use them in combat to tactical advantage. This is a solution looking for a problem. Some people just aren't made for certain types of games. Bioware has to decide who they are going to serve.

 Shooting: Another "duh." You are playing a military commander, a war hero. A basic level of firearm proficiencey should be assumed. You are not a peasant like in a classic fantasy RPG. Bioware were stuck on stupid with this one. And please, no damage numbers. Looks cheap and spoils immersion.

 Planets: Seems like a development resources issue. Maybe they ran out of time and money. Still, we had fleshed out planets in games before ME and NMS, so it's not a matter of technology.

 The Mako: Just make it drive normally. The fucking thing was bouncing around like a rubber ball. Why sould this be hard to code? 30 years of driving games. That's a poor excuse. And why keep the original control scheme? I don't think anyone is that attached to it. Another no brainer issue that the geniuses at Bioware can't seem to resolve, but I like some of your ideas.

 It's very frustrating looking at the modern AAA scene. Just so many boneheaded design choices and poor solutions to minor or non-issues. Things that were solved many moons ago. I just don't get it...

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/24/2016 at 03:08 PM

It's not that the abilities were not defined well. I think the game does a great job letting you know what everything you have actually does, but it did a poor job of explaining how to play the game tactically. Sure, you can play it by just letting the computer do everything for your party, but the first thing I do with that game is turn off the power usage for my AI so that I can use their abilities when I need them.

I'd keep the orginal Mako control scheme because gamers hate change, and there are plenty of people who will say that they love the way the Mako controlled. I think they are crazy people, but again, it's all about having options for me. When I played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided I used the control scheme from Human Revolution. I took one look at the new control setup and knew it wasn't conducive to the way I play those games, and I was glad that I wasn't forced into using it. Same thing with the damage numbers. I love having those, especially in an RPG where I can see exactly how my character is improving based on stats and gear, but I know not everyone likes that. So it's something you can toggle, and would likely be off by default.


10/25/2016 at 04:21 PM

Diablo 3 made damage numbers trigger me. Every video I saw of the game people had them on. Remember when Diablo used to be an immersive game? But I didn't mind them in other games like Borderlands.

And yeah, you're right about the abilities. I forget that a lot of people aren't familiar with squad tactical games/tactical RPGs. They didn't have the advantage of growing up as the genre was evolving and learning how to play them as the games started simple to more intricate

Exrian Contributing Writer

11/02/2016 at 06:30 AM

Nice article. I really need to go back and play ME1 again. As I've mentioned before, I beat it a few weeks before 2 released so didn't get to really dive in like I would have. I really enjoyed it but was dying for part 2. 2 is the one that sticks with me most since I was obsessed with it while waiting for 3. 

I'm totally in favor of dropping Heat sinks. Doom was crazy nonstop fun. Once you have Assault Rifle Micro Missles with over 75 armor you never want to hit a reload ever again.

You missed something though. What happened to our Elevator rides? The true unsung hero of the game. I'm sure I got a lot more stretching, bathroom breaks, and hydration that I didn't get in 2/3.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

11/07/2016 at 07:26 PM

Haha! As bad as the load times were in the Citadel, I thought that was a good way of disguising them. I liked the extra dialogue/radio news, and it made the area feel big, which the whole series has a problem conveying.


01/26/2017 at 02:47 PM

I know I'm in the minority, but I love Mass Effect 1 more than the other games.  I played it so many times, that it's "issues" don't bother me at all. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/26/2017 at 07:36 PM

Same here, and it makes me sad that Andromeda seems to be going even further away from its mechanics and depth.


01/30/2017 at 07:15 PM

I have a feeling that Andromeda will feel a little like Dragon Age: Inquisition with Mass Effect 3 combat.

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