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Anthony Capone
31 Aug, 2009

Love to Hate #10

PALGN Feature | Massively ineffective exploration of the planetary kind.
Greetings, dear PALGN readers. By now, you would have become accustomed to our ranting and raving in the weekly Love to Hate. Over the last nine editions, our fantastically talented writers have tackled some very important issues in videogames, such as art taking precedent over gameplay. Our staff have also discussed their personal gaming experiences. Just weeks ago, one of our writers confessed to running away like a scared little sissy at that sight of a menacing alien. But I digress. As usual contributors Denny and Adam are otherwise occupied penning their next existentialist thesis, the Love to Hate baton has been passed to yours truly for the time being.

So far, we've gone toe to toe with some of the industry's biggest names – Shadow of the Colossus, Sonic the Hedgehog and Ninja Gaiden, to name a few. When it came time for me to nominate a target of my, it took less than a second for it to come to mind. As regular listeners of the podcast and readers of the forum will know, I have an affinity for a certain science-fiction epic made by the Canadian masters of the role-playing genre. BioWare's space opera Mass Effect rates as my favourite game of all time. Normally, I would banish critics of Mass Effect to the furthest ends of the earth. However, on this occasion, I will cross the demarcation and dissect one element that undermined what was otherwise a superb gaming experience.

What I really, really love to hate most about Mass Effect is the tedious planetary exploration. Potential Spectres will know of the numerous 'uncharted worlds' scattered throughout the game's cosmos. These planets lie outside the main story and are home to various side-quests. At its heart, the concept of venturing out and exploring the galaxy is fantastic. The Mass Effect universe is a rich tapestry of fascinating and diverse planets, and if you take the time to delve into the game, you will discover that each world has an extensive back-story. Aboard Commander Shepard's vessel, the Normandy, players can live out their childhood dreams of going out to explore the depths of space. Unfortunately, when it actually comes time to shuttle down to a world, the dreaded process of planetary exploration begins.



On each world that you can land, there's an absolutely massive area to explore. Credit to BioWare on that point. Planets, for the most part, also look fairly different. One world could be a barren rock scorched by the hash rays of sunlight, while another could be dark, desolate and icy, much like Hoth from Star Wars. Kudos to the Canadian developer on that point as well. However, when it comes to comes to exploring your chosen destination, that's just about as good as it gets. Indeed, upon touching down in your all-terrain vehicle known as the Mako, listening to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard seems like a leisurely pastime.

Mountains. Hills. Mounds. Peaks. Call them what you like. Whatever the case, Mass Effect's developers have had an absolute love affair with them. Regardless of the world you land on, your starting point is always in the middle of the equivalent to the Himalayan Mountains. You can literally spend hours going up and down great piles of dirt driving to your objective and looking for loot. And it isn't a good type of driving either. On more then one occasion, the Mako has to manoeuvre up a hill perpendicular to the ground. Because of some super-duper sticky wheels, driving on a ninety degree angle is possible, but it's an incredibly slow and painful process (a non-Mass Effect devotee could be forgiven for thinking an advertisement for a futuristic 4WD was screening). Going up a mountain can take anywhere in the vicinity of 5 to 55 minutes, and if you take your hand of the thumbstick for even a microsecond, the Mako will come crashing down to the ground. Then, you have to start the process all over again. Definite controller through the television screen moment.



Driving to an enemy bunker to complete a side-quest takes long enough, but if you want to explore an entire world, setting aside an hour or so is recommended. Going through the process of gathering all the collectibles littered about a planet is definitely the lowest point of Mass Effect. To demonstrate, I'll recount my experience of exploring Planet X:

Battlestar Galactica-style zoomed-in cinematic of Normandy entering the atmosphere. Mako deploys and descends to the planet. Mako lands on planet. Game automatically saves. Textures and models begin loading. Textures and models still loading. Decide to get self drink. Return to game, but textures still loading. Decide to get self a snack. Return to game, textures finally loaded. Consult in-game map. Collectible all the way in the north-east corner. Enemy base in far south-west corner. Decide to find collectible first for a valuable 100 experience points. Take off in north-east direction. Mountain range ahead. Begin to drive up mountain. Driving up mountain. Still driving up mountain. Finally atop mountain. Begin driving down mountain. Still driving down mountain. Finally down the mountain. Drive up and down another ten or so mountains. Finally arrive at collectible. Complete mindless 'mini-game'. Rewarded with a Salarain ID tag. Awesome. Only ten Salarain ID tag's left. Take off in south-westerly direction towards enemy base. Begin driving up mountain. Still driving up mountain.

So you don't fall asleep, I will stop there. I'm sure you will have got the gist by now.

Overall, Mass Effect was a brilliant videogame. The planetary exploration, however, could have been implemented so much better. Given that it represented such a large chunk of the game, many of us were left utterly frustrated and bored brainless by the experience. Thankfully, the overlords at BioWare have promised to vastly improve the planetary exploration system in Mass Effect 2. The possibility of being parachuted onto Mars with nothing but a Hummer by a horde of angry fans (me included) should be motivation enough.

Until the next adrenaline-pumping edition of Love to Hate, may the force of hate be with you. Now, I think I'm still missing that second Salarain ID tag…

Related Mass Effect Content

Xbox Live Deal of the Week - 18/01/10
19 Jan, 2010 A massive trio.
Mass Effect 2 release date announced
17 Oct, 2009 What a start to the year.
Brand new Mass Effect achievements unveiled
21 Aug, 2009 New DLC finally on the way?
12 Comments
4 years ago
Pigs fly and Anthony grills Mass Effect icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
You had to drive up 90 degree inclines? I've not played the game, but that sounds like a ridiculous design decision. Surely there would be another path around there somewhere.
4 years ago
grim-one wrote
You had to drive up 90 degree inclines? I've not played the game, but that sounds like a ridiculous design decision. Surely there would be another path around there somewhere.
Slight exageration there, but when your going up some of those mountains it feels like 90 degree, but its probably more like 70.

Thankfully though it isnt a compulsory part of the game, you don;t have to run around collecting Salarian ID Tags because they were nice enough to not include that stuff in any achievements where you complete a "majority" of the game, its only for the extra xp really,
4 years ago
I really looked forward to exploring the planets. Some of the vistas were really breathtaking. It was also great to get the opportunity to experience planetary navigation, albeit virtual, its the closest I'll ever come.

The XP though was definitely important if you were trying to reach level 50 or 60 to unlock extras.

I'm currently replaying the game so I can work my way up to getting the DLC. I'm playing on insanity level and I can't get past that damn Benezia...so I gave up on my favourite game for the X360. Eh, at least it got 3 other play throughs icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
Hah! Awesome write up. I agree with you 100%; Mass Effect is an awesome game, one of the stand outs for the past couple of years without a doubt. However, planetary exploration was dull and a drag (you never really found anything that exciting either), and it was made even more frustrating thanks to the 'controls' of the Mako. Ugh, I thought I had erased that experience from my memory, remembering Mass Effect only as a faultless game.
4 years ago
PALGN wrote
Going up a mountain can take anywhere in the vicinity of 5 to 55 minutes, and if you take your hand of the thumbstick for even a microsecond, the Mako will come crashing down to the ground.
Clearly if anyone has spent 55 minutes climbing a mountain, then too much of 'because it was there' was swimming around in their head. Everything on every world has a pathway you can access, there's no call to drive over massive hills, just go around them.

And when you can't go around, you go up the pre-existing pathway.

A little too much 'duh' in your coffee this morning Anthony.
4 years ago
I'm surprised you never discovered that you can drive horizontally along those very steep peaks and once you build up enough speed you can flick yourself up. I loved driving the Mako however I did manage to sink myself into a hole I couldn't get out of while fleeing some hostile fire.

Also the mission in Sol was the best Mako mission purely because of seeing the planet rise.
4 years ago
If there was one thing I could have changed about Mass Effect... well, it would have been the inventory system. But second would have been giving the Mako a horizontal boost as well as a vertical one. I loved that game, and I loved Dukes of Hazzarding around in the Mako (I played the PC version, so the controls were perfect), but it could get bogged down when you needed to get over a mountain range that was just sliiightly too steep. Being able to boost forward would have helped immensely.

By the way, third and fourth on that list would have been a flyable Normandy (that thing was so awesome; almost Millennium Falcon awesome), and a grainier grain filter.
4 years ago
oomlot wrote
Everything on every world has a pathway you can access, there's no call to drive over massive hills, just go around them.
Indeed you can, if you have enough time to find your way around the mountain. In my experience, it took just as long to go over it as it did to drive around it. icon_razz.gif

nikack wrote
I'm surprised you never discovered that you can drive horizontally along those very steep peaks and once you build up enough speed you can flick yourself up.
It is quicker when you drive up a mountain on an angle, but it's still tricky and time-consuming.
4 years ago
stick_theory wrote
The XP though was definitely important if you were trying to reach level 50 or 60 to unlock extras.
mmm...but if you did 3 runs on the one character (eg normal/insanity/hardcore) then you'd end up with more than enough xp to reach lvl 60 without ever completing any of teh collection missions. the collection missions seemed to mostly be good for getting more money- and after finishing a playthrough, money usually isn't a problem.
4 years ago
I hated that part, on the harder difficulties if you died you would have to restart. Worse mission was with the monkeys as it was really boring.
4 years ago
Agent 042 wrote
mmm...but if you did 3 runs on the one character (eg normal/insanity/hardcore) then you'd end up with more than enough xp to reach lvl 60 without ever completing any of teh collection missions.
Yeah, i realised that, but i was also trying to get the achievements for skill usages, so i had to make a new character to change class icon_razz.gif
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  22/11/2007 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Genre:
  Action RPG
Year Made:
  2007
Players:
  1

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