Being a huge fan of the first two Mass Effect games (and at least mostly satisfied with the third), getting the fourth game in the series was pretty much inevitable.
I’ve just managed to finish the game (according to the game stats, 66 hours in, 76% of everything completed, 35/55 achievements. I've finished the main story line, levelled my character up to level 50, visited all the places, talked to almost everyone).
The high points
- Huge open world. The previous Mass Effect games were huge already, but this one is even bigger. So many places to go, so much to do. So many NPCs to talk to. And this even before the rash of DLCs that EA will surely be coming out with.
- It’s pretty. The worlds are well designed, space cool to look. Ships, weapons, characters, all beautifully designed (not including the facial animations, more on that below).
- Driving is fun. The six-wheeled monster you get to drive feels a lot more like a real vehicle, and it’s mostly fun to drive around.
- Exploration and scanning. A lot of attention to detail, there’s a lot of interesting things to find, and they’ve done a good job of varying the scenes, so it doesn’t feel too repetitive.
- Combat is dynamic. The enemies are often clever, will try to flush you out of cover with grenades, or out-flank you. On harder difficulties, getting surrounded happens often, with lethal results.
The low points
- The writing. It’s passable, but plotholes aside, a lot of the dialogue just falls flat. Often, it sounds less like a person speaking, and more like someone reading the outline of a script.
- The aliens. Mass Effect has always had a good range of different kinds of aliens. And visually, that’s still the case. But the way they behave (I guess this comes back to the writing), they have all been humanised, making the (friendly) races seem almost completely indistinct. Only the Krogan retain a little bit of individuality, the rest might just as well be humans in rubber masks. Inter-species romance is now commonplace, and while it makes a little bit of sense for the Asari, it seems silly that it would be commonplace across the other races. On the whole, a great loss for the depth of the series.
- The facial animations. This is a recurring theme in Bioware games, but it feels a lot worse than usual. You spent a lot of time looking at the player’s face, and you quickly come to resent it. The mouth is especially bad.
- The damn hills. There’s a lot of steep hills with objectives on top. And it’s often hard to visually distinguish the part of the hill you can drive up, from those you can’t. So I spent a good amount of time circling them, trying one approach after another, frustrated.
- The slow transitions. When ever you move from one object in space to another, you’re forced to sit though a cinematic, slowly sweeping animation that takes you from one to the other. When travelling from one solar system to another, you get the full warp travel treatment. When you land or leave the planet, there’s long cinematics for those, complete with dialogue. This makes exploring the galaxy map tedious to the extreme, and since you can’t interact with anything on your ship, without first going to orbit, going back to the ship to check your e-mail or talk to a crew member to advance a quest, becomes an enormous time sink.
- Reinforcement waves. To make some combat scenes more “epic”, the game producers took the easy way out, and simply added reinforcement waves. So when you think you’re just about done with mopping up baddies, another dropship appears. And another one after that. It doesn’t make combat harder, since you will only face a manageable amount of enemies at one time. It just drags it out, making it boring, since you’re just fighting the same battle, again and again.
- Respawning enemies. When travelling around planets, there are small camps of enemies all over, that you can kill (but often, there’s no benefit to doing so). Unfortunately, these enemy camps have a very aggressive respawn schedule. They respawn immediately when you leave the map. So, if you need to go check your e-mail on your spaceship, once you return, they’re all back again. That makes killing them seem like an exercise in futility, and I quickly adopted the policy of just driving quickly through the camps to avoid the tedium of killing the same enemies for the umpteenth time.
- Two-dimensional villains. The menace of the game, the Kett, are comically badly written. They have no rhyme or reason to their activities, they’re just out to get you and everyone else in the galaxy for no discernible reason. So while they’re capable of speech, and clearly has some sort of civilisation, we learn almost nothing about them.
- So many unfinished plot lines. Even when you finish the game, we have a whole host of plot lines still open. Not to spoil too much, but we still know nothing about the Scourge, almost nothing of the Kett (ie. where they came from, how many they are. The ending implies that they will be back.), the mysteries of the founders of the Andromeda Initiative is still a mystery, and there’s probably a few more that I missed. While some degree of open plots to line up for sequels is acceptable, these are almost all the important plot lines in the game. Makes the whole experience feel unfinished.
- Space exploration is pointless. There are plenty of star systems to explore, but there’s no particular reason to go anywhere if you don’t have a quest taking you there, and the rewards are just more of the same resources you can find elsewhere.
In a word: good. Fun enough to keep my engaged until the end (and that can be a high bar in my case, I leave lots of games half-finished, due to time constraints). I got my money’s worth.
It was, however, just good. Not great. If you like Mass Effect games, you might like this one too, but don’t expect to be overwhelmed.