Blog 364: Mass Effect Tournament?

Since I paid the princely sum of £3.99 for Mass Effect‘s latest downloadable content pack, Pinnacle Station, I feel the right to lambast it horribly.

Well, I can’t lambast it horribly; it was all right. It wasn’t £3.99 all right, though — maybe closer to £1.99. Especially since the previous DLC, Bring Down the Sky, came out free for PC users.

Grumble grumble.

Since I wanted to experience it properly, and not with a level 56 super-character on a replay, I spent basically all afternoon failing to get my new Xavier Shepard to look good. I always go for the bald, slightly bearded look, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t get the sliders in the right places. If only you could export appearances from existing saved games…

Anyway, proper hours later (let alone the advertised 2-3 hours of gameplay the DLC was supposed to offer; Jack and I worked out that this is just a little bit less value for money than the full game, but not as much less as expected (taking the game as £34.99 and a full run as 20 hours) I finally got underway, and had to speed-run all the early missions until I managed to become a Spectre and get access to the mission.

The mod promises “thirteen unique combat scenarios”, and focuses around you getting to the top of the scoreboard for each of twelve scenarios, before finishing you off on the last special one.

False advertising one: there are four combat scenarios. There are three levels. Three times four may be twelve, but it does not make for twelve unique scenarios; it makes for four unique scenarios you have to replay on three different tilesets (difficulty varies a tiny amount, but not enough for that kind of advertising).

Since I started off at about level nine (and with appropriately rubbish weapons), all the scenarios except one of the survivals were impossible, so I went off and speed-ran Liara’s Dig site up to level twenty. This allowed me to thrash another couple of missions, so I speed-ran Feros. Again, another couple of missions, so I speed-ran Virmire. Finally, enough gumption to get through all of them.

Each scenario is short. We’re talking, for a successful run, no more than five minutes apiece. The game time advertised here is purely in you failing the missions a number of times because you’re not high enough level to cope (needless to say, I am a whore and kept repeating and repeating before going off to steal more levels). You only get experience points in this mod when you get to the top of a scoreboard for a mission; otherwise, you get nothing.

One plus: they finally re-used all the mission decorations. Pinnacle Station itself is full of bits and pieces from Noveria, from the Normandy, to a sumptuous space backdrop (shadowy planet with rings and debris floating all around through the huge windows). Finally, an indoor environment outside of the Citadel that isn’t a chocolate-box module system with the same brown rock through the glass even though this planet is all grey (Unreal Engine 2 could override static mesh textures in the level; I doubt they’ve removed that functionality for 3)…

It felt somehow low budget. As admirable as it is that they finally bit the bullet and started whoring existing decorations (as is, indeed, the whole point of static meshes), there is very little “new” artwork; and the non-Shepard voice acting (Sergeant Dahga in particular) feels just a little bit… Off (not enough chorus effect for a Turian?). It’s like the real team have moved on to Mass Effect 2, and now there’s just one guy in the corner of the office sellotaping leftovers together.

Because that’s how it feels — not like a glorious extension to a very fine game, but a mod. A one man mod.

They could have done so much more with it. In order to smooth out the real level requirements, there could have been some kind of virtual experience/equipment system — so that the number of times failing missions was rewarded with weaponry/skills that could be used only in the simulator, and you’d eventually grind your way through if you felt that way inclined (maybe your real level could affect your starting level in the simulator). So no matter what happened in the real game, I could just work my way up the simulator; maybe winning certain matches would translate into money, real experience or real equipment.

Like the bet with Vidinos. Beat all his scores, and you get to choose a weapon of his — there’s your simulated experience translated into real money by a convenient plot point. I also wish they had done more with the names on the scoreboard that you have to beat; bets, one-on-one grudge matches… You only see four of the competitors (scoreboards are top fifteen, including yourself), and only Vidinos actually says more than two words to you (Bryant doesn’t count, he’s part of the Vidinos “quest line”).

And it really needed a combo-kill system. Come on guys, I made one in under five minutes for Warcraft III; I think they could have managed one for this. Scoring combos could have given you more simulated experience…

When you “win” Pinnacle Station, you get given an apartment on a planet nearby. This is cute, but rather than a whole new uncharted planet with your hut in the middle, it’s just the hut. Granted, it has an activateable radio to blast out those elevator tunes, and you can pot-luck weapon purchase using the “personal computer”, plus there’s infinite medigel and grenade replenishment…

Release the editor, Bioware. I promise I’ll only make mods with no dialogue.

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