Mass Effect review

Mass Effect is a series I used to really love. I think I first played the original when I was 12 or so. And I still think its combat system was good, although none of the incarnations were perfect. But over the next few years I became extremely disillusioned with the intense statism in the game.

Why you should be an anarchist

I also accuse the first three games of misogyny. Of *most* of the alien races, you actually never see a single female across three games. The Asari don't make up for this, and aren't the right way to make up for it (they're a canonically all-female race with a culture closely based on human ideas of femininity). As a more minor point, it stands out to me that in Mass Effect 1 all three of the women in your squad are recruited after saving their lives (albeit only one of them is a true damsel in distress situation). This is true of none of the men.

Why representation matters

Andromeda does away with sexism, but at the cost of doubling down on the statism (see above).

Let me also make the case that all four games are *racist*. One facet to this is the way the games focus to a ridiculous extent on humanity.

Honestly, I think they should've made the player character an alien. Maybe not even have humans. Andromeda was a perfect opportunity to change to this since you're switching characters anyway. This is a huge missed opportunity to do something extremely unique and challenge the anti-alien slant that our sci-fi industry generally upholds.

Another facet is the way the races are treated by the writers as monolithic. The universe's history is filled with war between "*the* humans" and "*the* Turians", or between "*the* Krogans" and "*the* Turians".

Observations on linguistic connotations

Races are very diverse groups of people who have internally vastly different beliefs and values from each other; you would never have a war between two *entire* races in real life.

The nature of some of these wars themselves treat races as unrealistic hive minds. The Krogan Rebellions started with "the Krogans" invading other races' worlds unprovoked. If that were the case, surely *the vast majority* of Krogans wouldn't have been involved, and many would have even fought against their own as mercenaries (almost every Krogan you meet in the series is a mercenary). But there's no mention of anything like that, it was *the* Krogans, like they're a hive mind.

Most generally, the intense in-universe racism in the way the races feel separate from each other is fine as a world element, except that none of the story focuses on challenging that. When you put racism in your universe and make four big RPGs in it each with hundreds of quests and you never let the player seriously challenge the systemic racism, you're validating it.

I won't bother analyzing the plot in detail because Shamus Young has already done it better than I ever could.

Shamus Young's 75-part Mass Effect retrospective


I do believe Mass Effect is a genuinely good team tactical shooter. The concept of powers is really innovative; it adds so much depth over a game like Call of Duty where all that matters is your aim and taking cover. The ability to pause the otherwise real-time combat system and look around and think wasn't a source of serious degeneracy because it's a singleplayer game and unlimited reading doesn't apply to shooters likes it does to turn-based ones; on the contrary, it made the game deeper since it enabled you to act with more information (since you can look around from the power menu). In traditional shooters, since you can't see everything at once, you're always acting with blind spots.

The Mass Effect games were very fair and fun to play on the highest difficulty, especially Mass Effect 2. (Mass Effect 1 insanity got too much of its difficulty from overstatting the enemies defensively, and 3 and Andromeda were honestly too easy on insanity.)

Cheap difficulty

The biggest thing to improve about it would've been increased control over squadmates. You can use their powers and to some extent assign them positions, but that's it. You can't assign them targets or tell them to take cover when they're being shot (which they don't always do properly and that's a big problem, see below).

There are a few more things I want to say about the pros and cons of each implementation of the combat system.


I liked that Mass Effect 1 had separate power cooldowns so you were incentivized to use them all instead of just spamming your most upgraded one, and I also liked the diversity of the powers. There were actually different kinds: disablers, damage dealers, defensive powers, weapon enhancement powers, you name it.

But in 2 and 3 most of the powers do the same thing: damage. The only difference is which type of defense they're good against. Powers like Throw, while they still exist, were pretty useless because they only work on enemies with no armor, shields, or barrier (and when Throw does work it still seems to do more damage than debilitation). That said, I definitely liked the later games' idea of letting you wield any type of weapon instead of being limited to the pistol if you're not one of the Soldier classes.


In all the games your allies go down frequently and there's sometimes not much you can do about it.

See: Healing in action games


Forking interests

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