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(30 Days of Mass Effect, 10/30) Calibrations: Ten Best/Worst Changes of Mass Effect

Hello folks, in this edition of Thirty Days of Mass Effect, we take a look at the changes that the good ole guys at Bioware implemented into the Mass Effect series hoping to improve upon areas that the previous entry(ies) lacked while introducing new ideas to players. Some of them notably were good, others not-so-good, and there were more than a few horrible changes to normally trademarked features of the series. Let's take a look at the changes I feel are the most defining of the series, in order from best to worst. Note that I've intentionally left out save file transfer to focus what I feel are other more pertinent gameplay aspects.


1) NO MORE MINIGAMES!

In Mass Effect 1, we had them in the form of tedious button-mashing sequences that we had to do each time we wanted to unlock or decrypt something; even when we wanted to survey different minerals we'd discovered. Given the plethora of them available in each of the various bases players traveled to, these rather archaic staples of RPG's probably padded out a significant amount of the game and did little to interest the player - with the exception of one, which was basically a puzzle. In Mass Effect 2, they ditched the weird sequences of the past for hacking minigames that required you to match certain nodes on a security board or input the right codes of text before the time ran out. These were the only two types of minigames you encountered, but they were certainly pretty frequent and in some cases, thoroughly annoying. Mass Effect 3 ditched these annoying concepts entirely in favor of a simple in-game cutscene showing Shepard using an omnitool to bypass security doors.


2) LOYALTY MISSIONS

I've already mentioned in my first comprehensive review of the Mass Effect series that this concept seemed to be in the works in the first game, via special side missions like the hunt for Dr. Saleon or Wrex's family armor. In Mass Effect 2, they made these special side missions integral to preparing your squad for the inevitable Omega Four Relay jump in a mission that could very well end with their deaths. In addition to preparing them however, some of these missions delved into intense personal issues they'd been hiding from Shepard - Thane's past relationship with his now-troubled son, for instance - while others allowed us to glimpse into previously unexplored cultural dilemmas - the Quarian race's continuous war with the Geth, or even Grunt's coming-of-age. The missions, apart from being an important gaming feature, also gave players a bond that elevated the player's relationship with the narrative and its lore to a level that has been hailed by many as "art worthy". Ignoring that debate, it is undeniable that this new feature gave the story a meaningful new twist and stands out as one of my favorite improvements in the series.


3) BRANCHING ABILITY TREES

Mass Effect 3 never gave us the deep customization and leveling system that the original Mass Effect had, but it did give us a fairly unique set of abilities that branched at a certain point and allowed us to uniquely customize our character how we saw fit, optimizing the strengths and weaknesses of our squad according to our own playing style. I enjoyed enhancing the effects of the biotic and tech abilities for the combos I loved using, and enjoyed using Liara's Singularity once I'd tailored it to have an incredibly short recharge time. Others I've spoken with enjoyed exploiting the infamous Nova-Charge-Omniblade combo that Vanguards could spam ad infinitum, turning them into nigh invincible killing machines. There's countless more strategies and possibilities that can be unlocked that give Mass Effect 3 the RPG experience we were lacking in the second entry.


4) INTERRUPTS

Who didn't love pressing the right or left trigger each time a Paragon or Renegade indicator popped up the first time they played the game? These moments - used at key points in conversations - introduced players to entertaining cutscenes that would not have been accessible otherwise. Some of these - such as one that allowed you to prevent a gunship from being repaired - gave you the edge in missions, while others - knocking out an annoying reporter - were simply there to gratify the player and enhance their immersion. I'd tell you my favorites but I already devoted a couple blogs to cover these nifty events, so feel free to offer your own instead.


5) BETTER COMBAT

If anything needed a reboot in the Mass Effect series, combat was a priority. While people loved the combat of the first, terrible AI and a somewhat lackluster cover system detracted from it and in some cases served to cause more trouble than solve problems. In Mass Effect 2, a cover system, dramatically improved power system, and better squad and enemy AI made for an action-packed experience that added a needed component to the series that many felt was missing from it in the first game. The third game, however, upped the ante with an even more complex - although occasionally convoluted - cover system that included dodges, rolls, and Kinect squad commands that added method to the madness.


6) HACKING MINIGAMES

As I mentioned before, these sequences were a chore in the first game, especially if you didn't have your character leveled up to handle the respective difficulty level, which effectively made hacking harder containers and safes impossible. Instead of fixing this problem in Mass Effect 2, they simply chose to replace these minigames with timed ones that players frequently encountered. To make it worse, Bioware had effectively removed omnigel from the game; this material normally harnessed by dismantling equipment could be used to bypass most of these security segments. This was definitely not a welcome change, although special upgrades that increased the time allotted to these segments slightly alleviated their tedium. Slightly.


7) STREAMLINED JOURNAL

This is a change that merits a huge WTF from the audience. Mass Effect 1 and 2 both featured a Journal that not only recorded your missions, but updated them with new objectives during each part of them, from telling players which system to travel to finding an item or person in specific areas. It was detailed, organized, and easily prevented players from becoming confused or lost in tedium. Yet, the unthinkable happened in ME3: the new Journal system simply recorded the barest of facts - generally the mission objective - with no hints or suggestions whatsoever, leaving most players scavenging throughout star systems or wandering aimlessly through the different levels of the Citadel for terminals. This only made the tedium - since some of the items could only be found during specific missions - worse and stands out as one of my primary criticisms of Mass Effect 3's gameplay, though there are worse ones that I will discuss later.


8) MINING/PLANET SCANNING

This by far was the worst improvement in the first sequel in the Mass Effect series. Players spent hours upon hours scanning random planets for the appropriate minerals needed to research various upgrades - mineral deposits found during missions were relatively miniscule. Although an upgrade increased the amount players earned with each probe, the relatively slow-moving radar drained any source of entertainment from this exciting concept. A patch allowed the scanners to move dramatically faster in ME 2, and in ME 3, the tedium that came with the process was all but abandoned in favor of a simplified system.


9) LESS DIALOGUE CHOICES

One of the defining features of the Mass Effect series involved its implementation of a deep branching conversation system that engaged players and made them enjoy the cutscenes that transpired with realistic and in-depth dialogue options. In Mass Effect 2 this staple of the series remained relatively untouched, just as lovable as we remembered. Yet, in ME3, this trademark feature of the series was practically dismantled in favor of a more cinematic experience. For the most part this seemed to work, until moments that would've featured this system were omitted, especially without the inclusion of neutral choices, leading to jarring moments that frustrated players. There's a statement often used, that "less is more", yet in this case, due to how shallow the system became, "less" might as well have been "none".


10) FETCH QUESTS

Yes, these abominations are without a doubt the worst change in the Mass Effect series. While Mass Effect 2 made tasteful use of them by using them in moderation and allowing the players to find the items during other diverse missions, Mass Effect 3 bombarded us with them, requiring players to visit random planets in different systems across the galaxy and mine them for the resource needed. While this added practical value to the fight against the Reapers, it also divorced the player from the normally engaging side quests Mass Effect 2 had introduced and completely wasted several thrilling mission possibilities. These fetch quests all being picked up in one single hub in the entire game cheapened them even more.

 

The Verdict

I've listed my choices and I hope they've got you thinking. This blog's purpose isn't to bash or point fingers, but to celebrate a series we loved, flaws and all. Of course this list is subjective, so feel free to differ in opinion and offer your own input in the comments section. We've passed another hurdle in my series, and I hope you'll enjoy the next entries in this series.

 

 

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