The Case Against Updating Mass Effect’s Combat

After much speculation, it would seem that the highly anticipated Mass Effect trilogy remaster has now been all but confirmed and slatted for an early 2021 release. Even before this announcement, however, there had been much fan debate over whether or not the most dated of the games, Mass Effect 1, should receive more than just a cosmetic upgrade. A large segment of the fanbase is in favor of upgrading the game’s combat system and mechanics. This proposed update would  bring the first game’s combat system in line with the combat of the later two games. While that certainly does seem appealing, I am going to argue that Bioware should not do this.

Mass Effect was, from its inception, a ‘lore-first’ franchise. In the Mass Effect universe guns don’t need to be reloaded, as the all carry a block of ammunition material inside. An onboard computer in the gun calculates the size of the shard needed and then accelerates it to impact speed. Effectively, such guns could fire thousands of shots without needing to have their ammo source changed. To offset this, guns in Mass Effect 1 were prone to overheating if fired too much too fast. The rate was different depending the weapon’s power. Pistols could fire many shots, while shotguns and snipers could potentially overheat after only two. Thus, players had to be tactful in their rate of fire and be wary of enemies that wielded special attack powers that could instantly overheat the player’s weapons.

Timing your shots carefully added a layer of strategy to the original Mass Effect’s combat

It’s immediately obvious why many players want this gone. Along with the sudden frame rate drop and and freezing that would accompany the more intense combat in Mass Effect 1, the system was rather clunky on the whole, and counter -intuitive to what many players would be used to. Bioware went on to change this mechanic in the sequels and introduced the concept of ‘thermal clips’ into the lore. A thermal clip essentially absorbed all the weapon’s heat and, after doing so, would be ejected. In game, this introduced a sort of ‘reload’ mechanic without standard magazines. This was a rather neat in-universe workaround to introduce reloading weapons.

Now, why should Bioware not replace it? Because Mass Effect 1’s combat, AI, and level design are all designed with this overheating concept in mind. Changing it would seriously alter how the game played in an unforeseen number of ways. Take the previous attack I mentioned, the one that instantly overheated weapons: in the new combat system those enemies suddenly become a lot less threatening. Even the game’s final boss uses this attack.  We’ve seen example of this having been done in remasters before. For example, when Doom BFG edition was remastered, a PC mod that allowed players to wield the flashlight and their gun at the same time was made a part of the game. The result? The game becomes ridiculously easy. The game was initially designed around the player being able to use only one of these at any given time.

No Demon is sneaking up on you without getting a face full of lead in DOOM 3 BFG

It is unlikely we will get a full rebuilding of Mass Effect 1 from the ground up just to accommodate this new feature. Moreover, we shouldn’t want this change anyways. This leads me into my less pragmatic (but more highbrow) argument against making this change.

Saren was always a tough fight, but he would lose some of his challenge if weapons didn’t overheat

Video games, I think we would all agree, are an art form.  A game is ultimately a product of the time it was made. Forcing older games to start doing modern tricks can be as troublesome as it sounds and is essentially antithetical to what a remaster should be. We don’t want a rebooted version of our beloved game. Instead, we want the old experiences we fell in love with as we remembered them: looking ‘modern.’

As a remaster, Bioware will no doubt make some tweaks. The frame rate and freezing problems were an absolute nightmare, and enemy designs back on those almost ancient graphics made it hard tell a lot of them apart. All of this, I imagine, will be rectified. Just these few changes alone may help alleviate a lot of our issues with the combat system. I recognize the position of those who want the combat changed and I admit validity to many of their arguments. That being said, I think I have made a strong case as to why Bioware should keep Mass Effect 1’s combat the way it was. A combat change would go against the game’s intended design and alter the experience as it first was.

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