Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TUESDAY TANGENT: Mass Effect and Difficulty

My favorite kind of video game is the ‘role playing’ type. Just what constitutes an RPG is open to debate— but to me, it is something that allows me to play the role of a character- to make decisions that impact the world around them and shape the story of the game. However, I am also a fan shooters (first or third person). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Mass Effect game series is one of my favorites. These games combine incredibly well-done storytelling with increasingly more ‘visceral’ gunfighting combat. But if I were forced to choose one or the other, the RPG aspect would definitely come first.

This attitude and the desire to experience the story of these games often causes me to do my initial run-through on very low difficulty settings. In fact, most of my subsequent run-throughs are on the ‘casual’ or ‘average’ settings. This allows me to focus more on the story and worry less about the combat (which is, in my opinion, ultimately peripheral).

That being said, once I have completed the game (usually several times over), I have made a point of going back through on the most difficult setting available- or at least I have done so with both Mass Effect games thus far. I have recently finished doing so with Mass Effect 2 and discovered something quite interesting along the way— a sense of real accomplishment and a whole new appreciation for a game that I have played literally dozens of times.

Oddly enough, instead of detracting from the RP elements, the incredibly difficult combats often made me much more ‘involved’ than I normally am. A case in point is the whole last act of Mass Effect 2- the final confrontation with the villains. The fights were incredibly difficult, requiring me to really make use of ALL the ‘bells and whistles’ of the combat system. I had to think tactically, ordering my companions into advantageous positions. I had to make use of the variety of special abilities that I and my companions had- I couldn’t just shoot bullets into every problem to solve it. I had to always be mindful of my ammo and medical supplies. And in the end, this playthrough really made me feel as though I were part of a ‘unit’ rather than a lone gunman.

For example, there was a part of the game where zombie-like beasts were swarming my small group. We had to keep falling back, until at last we were cornered. Things were looking pretty grim. Then one of my companions- Grunt the Krogan (big brick lizard dude) does his battle cry. “I. AM. KROGAN!” and suddenly charges forward, trampling down and destroying most of the zombie horde. I had heard him use that cry dozens times before. I’d even seen his charge before. But in that desperate situation I actually cheered out loud.

There were plenty of other situations like that throughout the playthrough. More than once, my companions saved my butt (or vice versa) by a well-timed shot or Biotic body slam. And in the midst of actual adrenaline filled combat, those actions had a lot more impact. The climactic string of battles were especially intense- most notably those events that were time dependent. No way I was going to let Tali die in those ventilation shafts!

In short (too late), it was almost like playing a brand new game.

It also got me thinking about my table-top gaming and some of the ‘best fights’ we’ve ever had there. In my Star Wars group, in particular, we have had a LOT of fights. But the ones we really remember were the most hard-fought- where the players really had to pull out all the stops in order to just survive. So yeah. Next time we play, I might crank up the difficulty setting a few notches and see what happens.

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