Sure, Mass Effect has been out some time so some might say the bandwagon is over. But the price has dropped enough for hesitant gamers to finally hop onboard, and I am one of those people.
By now, most people know what Mass Effect is generally about and have probably heard about some controversial softcore lesbian love scenes, which, by the way, are totally optional (or accidental, depending on your situation) and some ways into the game. As a fan of BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic series, I felt a bit of nostalgia as I created my Shepherd and guided her through space, from planet to planet, colony to colony. The story is a bit more engaging without all the Star Wars baggage, and the original characters possess deeper backstories. I am content to spend my Christmas with this title.
But every game has its shortcomings, and Mass Effect provides an endless buffet of flaws for nitpicking gamers. It's a wonderful game, but I'm willing to look past that.
Loading times. Have you already heard this one? Well, you're going to hear it again because the loading times for this game can vary. When my friend found out I was playing this game, he warned me about the loading times, and I laughed it off because in the beginning, you don't experience too many of them. Besides, I thought Devil May Cry 4 had topped my list, or Fable II. Turns out, I was wrong, because the load times in Mass Effect for the Xbox 360 can get downright atrocious as far as such things go. I remembered pretty early on that the long load times were a trademark of KotoR as well, and I wondered if there were some way BioWare could have alleviated the problem yet chose not to. Speaking of unaddressed issues, let's move on to...
Bugs. No, I don't mean the kind you spray with Raid. For some of us, the word "bug" means something else. Bugs in video games have always been problematic because they can seriously hamper the playability. Little things like getting stuck on a staircase or being unable to complete your quests because the game decides to freak out on you can get irksome. KotoR had plenty of bugs, many of which could be exploited to benefit the player, but countless negative quirks could really throw things off. The same can be said about Mass Effect, though I've encountered less of these debilitating problems. Again, I wonder if BioWare could have addressed these bugs more effectively. Hell, I wasn't even prompted to download any updates! You'd think that the devs would read up on their own game forums often enough to realize there are bugs, yet no fixes have been released.
Elevators. Back before I exhibited any keen interest in Mass Effect, Penny Arcade poked fun at the game's elevators:
Like with the loading times, I was skeptical. Honestly, who complains about elevators in a video game? Since then, however, I've learned not to doubt those guys so easily because elevators are everywhere and take a very long time. You'd think with that progressive Prothean technology, they'd at least be able to build faster elevators. They try to alleviate some of that restlessness by playing news broadcasts, through which gamers learn more about the universe of Mass Effect. As you progress, you'll hear more reports, some regarding your actions as the protagonist. Hell, now and then your party members may even converse. But when the news announcer starts repeating things, it gets a little annoying.
Asari. These are a species quite similar to the Twi'lek from Star Wars. Both are more or less humans with wacky skin colors and tentacles-for-hair. Well, only the Twi'leks can really claim to have tentacles on their heads, while the asari simply have folds of skin that make their heads look like butchered cuttlefish. Yet the two are sexual icons for their respective sci-fi universes, commonly portrayed as consorts, slaves and dancers. While Twi'leks clearly consist of dual genders, the asari do not, perceived as females by other races only within conventional contexts. Blah blah blah, yeah whatever, they're just there for fanservice anyway, and I find it very difficult to take them seriously because of this.
Limited character interaction. Alright, I'll admit, I really meant the romance aspect of the game. My beef is that Mass Effect really pushed the relationships between characters further than the KotoR games did, but as it stands, that elusive sex scene can only occur between a human or humanoid female (asari). Fine, but how much more of an effort would BioWare have had to put forth in order to insert a couple more cutscenes as alternatives for those who wanted to pursue a relationship with another character like Garrus or Tali? Even a few extra lines of dialogue! Browsing various Mass Effect forums, I've noticed that both are popular with fangirls and boys, respectively, and it's surprising to me that instead of allowing gamers the option of pairing their protagonist with either alien, they simply let the opportunity go to waste. I'm not asking for more sex scenes, just more options. After all, relationships aren't just about sex.
I love Bioware. I love them for making awesome games like KotoR and KotoR II, but both games left a sense of wanting. Sure, they've done a little more with Mass Effect, and the formula is a good one -- so why not recycle it? Because recycling gives us more of the same thing. So it's a fun game, and BioWare does the sci-fi genre justice once again. That isn't an excuse for developers to repeatedly pass up missed opportunities, BioWare has left a lot of unexplored potential in their wake.
And I hate them for it.