I Am Going To Cannonball The Entire Mass Effect Series. Wish Me Luck

The last time I played Mass Effect was in 2008 and then only for a few hours. Subsequently, I never felt the need to bother with the sequels. As a thoroughly depressing New Year's resolution for 2013, I decided to rectify the situation in the most extreme way possible by cannonballing them.

Cannonballing? Is that common vernacular? I don't think so, even though I've used it many a time.

It's derived from the title of the 1981 film The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds. In the movie, the "Cannonball Run" is a cross-country car race where one cannot afford to stop for anything, including the police.

I can't remember where or when I heard the word, all I know is it was used to describe the act of forcing oneself to engage in several activities in succession, or to do something in one go. Say, drinking an entire slurpee or watching all the Lord of the Rings films in a single sitting. Perhaps it's more common than I think, but I've never heard anyone use it in the same context... or any context.

So yes, I'm cannonballing the Mass Effect games.

About three days ago I cracked open the DVD case for first game and installed the it onto my notebook, a UX32VD with an NVIDIA 620M GPU. Seeing as the game came out in 2008, I had high hopes it'd run on what is, by today's standards, a fairly low-end graphics chip. For 2008 though, it's actually a solid performer. Factoring in the architectural improvements between generations, it's only a bit less powerful than a 8800 GS.

And surprise, surprise, it ran just fine. I had to disable motion blur and the grain filter — two settings I'd have disabled even on a meaty machine — and drop the resolution to 1600 x 900 (from the notebook's native res of 1920 x 1080), but with FXAA on and every other setting on high or ultra, the game maintains 30fps in most circumstances and regularly runs at 45-60fps. Hopefully, I can find equally happy compromises for the two sequels, but I'm prepared to jump onto my main machine if I need to.

Progress So Far

Currently I'm nearing the end of Mass Effect and I have to say, graphically the game has held up remarkably well. It was cutting edge back in 2008 and today it still looks great.

The planet-side missions, complete with barren environments, frustrating mountainous terrain and hilarious physics, remain somewhat disconnected from the rest of the game. You adjust to their presence as a necessity, in much the same way as bowel evacuation is to human existence — an unpleasant, though oddly relaxing activity.

Even with 24+ hours played, combat is... awkward. Try as I might to be strategic, it's often easier to just run in and blast away. This probably has to do with the fact I'm playing a Vanguard / Shock Trooper with a maxed out Barrier biotic and a shotgun of doom; I imagine an Adept takes a more cautious approach.

Thinking more on combat, what aggravates me is party management. Sure, you can micro-manage the abilities of your squad if that's your thing, but to keep the game moving at a decent pace, it's not something I'd engage in. I've never been a fan of RPGs where you have to control a party — this is a matter of taste over any strong criticism — as I enjoy focusing on myself without the tedium of AI partners who inevitably disappoint.

This stems from a desire for mastery, to have complete control over every aspect of gameplay that influences success or failure. Without precision control over my squad — say the sort of power you have in a tactical game such as XCOM — my hands feel like a pair of poorly-tuned prostheses mashing wildly at keyboard and mouse. I can confidently say I've observed my AI compatriots shoot into the wall next to me as regularly as they sink rounds into opponents. Good thing there's no ammo.

Speaking of ammo — I love the heat system. Elegant and immediately understandable, its a masterstoke of design. Apparently this changes in the sequels, but I'm content to wait until I fire up Mass Effect 2 to find out exactly how, rather than read up on it.

Originally I was going to play a renegade all the way, until I found out that increasing your maximum skill in Charm requires upping your paragon points. Cue my Shepard playing the equivalent of a bipolar, equal parts generous as he is brutal — sometimes in the single conversation.

I might give my thoughts on the story once I've wrapped up the first game, but for now, I haven't much else to add. If you have any suggestions or warnings regarding how one should execute a continuous playthrough of all three games, please comment... as long as it remains spoiler-free!


    Here is a tip. Don't be too disheartened by the fact they butcher the skill system and The Citadel in the 2nd and 3rd games. Just go with the flow and enjoy the story.

      Citadel, Skills, Renegade/Paragon system.. you name it. By the third game not much was recognisable eh?

        Just be happy it didn't turn into an fps, ala CoD in space.

    Number 2 improves on the first in so many ways.

      List them.

        Improved gun mechanics, smoother and faster paced combat, removal of tedious inventory system, cleaning up of skill trees... etc. Of course stuff like that is mostly subjective, and I enjoyed ME2 and 3 a lot more than I did ME1. But that's just me.

          I've been doing the same as the author: I'm now 20 hours into ME2 having just completed the original two days ago. To add to @toraneko's list above:
          Amazingly improved graphics, greater autosave frequency, seamless game (auto)saves, decreased loading times, less obtrusive galaxy map, better team management capabilities, improved team AI, ammunition limits, better & more diverse weapon classes, more varied (and simply more) side-missions, greater character development, more interesting implementation of the paragon/renegade system... Seriously I could go on and on and on.

    I've done this with movies, never with games, sounds good.

    Are you doing DLC, such as "The Arrival", or just the main games?

    It's been a while since I played number one, be interesting to hear your thoughts on story progression and gameplay progression once you've played all three, on second thoughts, here's a tip, pretend number three doesn't exist ;)

    If you're cannonballing the series, surely you shouldn't be allowed to take breaks to write articles about how you're cannonballing the series before you've even finished the first game?

    ME2 strips does simplify things a bit, but the combat does improve (albeit hobbled by the crutch that is cover-based shooting). The over-arching story is weaker than ME1, but the individual components feel more fleshed out and provide much better characterisation. ME3 brings back a little more customisation, and has some fantastic story segments, and there are a few good combat set pieces, though not as many as I thought there would/could have been after ME2's DLC. There are also a few that are just plain horrible and I don't understand how someone didn't stop and get them cut.

    The first game is definitely the most "open", and you feel increasingly railroaded as the series progresses. I'd still like to wipe the ending (extended or not) from existence, but that ship has apparently sailed. Thanks to that, I can't bring myself to go back to any of the games again.

      Agree with a lot of this, yeah. ME2's characterisation was pretty great, all things considered.

    I've played through this numerous times (despite it's few flaws, ME1 is still by far my favourite of the 3), but only recently I played through as Vanguard, primarily using the shotgun (maxing out the shotgun skill) and was amazed at how it just destroys everything sometimes in one shot. Overpowered? Maybe, but it is a hell of lot of fun . :)

    I thought ME1 was my fave, until I'd played me2 through. Then I just couldn't get enough of the awesomeness that is ME2. Still my fave. It is too streamlined though. Could definitely do with more guns, upgrades, abilities. But I love the story, love the atmo.

    One thing I've found, not just in ME titles but in all bioware titles, is that if you play the character as you want to play, as a normal person, sometimes being nice, sometimes being ruthless (to those that deserve it) then you'll never unlock the higher paragon or renegade levels, meaning that you don't get to access the coolest abilities and cutscene options.

    If you want to do the coolest stuff like talk your way out of combat, or just see cool cutscenes, then you need to play as a cardboard cutout super-villain or hero. Something to be aware of. I still can't be nice all the time. Some of the people you deal with deserve some shepard justice. Noone else is going to give it to them.

    Also, why are you playing on a notebook? Your neck man! Desktop so much more comfortable.

    I loved the heat system they used for the guns in ME1, and thought it was a massive step back when they changed it.

      i know right, they even had a codex entry that was all "in the future we dont use bullets, ammo is unlimited", to "disposable heat clips" in ME2, and then finally in ME3, just straight up ammo

    I just started the same thing on my new Steam Big Picture mode box. Nothing looks better than doing it all over again on a 100" Projector with a controller :D Good luck mate and stick it out. 2nd best story game of the last 5 years.

    I thought the term was "marathoning", but okay.

      "Cannonballing" somehow seems more apt, even if it does sound a bit like "teabagging".

    Personally unless a game only lasts like 5 - 10 hours this is not advisable. I played Yakuza and beat the crap out of everything and jumped straight into Yakuza 2 and very soon felt like a had overdone it.

    I wouldn't want you to at any point stop enjoying Mass Effect just because you've had too much of it at once.

      Call mee crazy, but I "cannonballed" myself through the whole Assassin's Creed saga (the first 4 games, that is) and never felt like I overdid it... I completed all games to a 100%, got all the achievements and all the collectibles, and never got tired... Two months playing Assassin's Creed and nothing more, and boy, that is one of my favourite game experiences ever :-)

    Good luck to you. The control scheme for the first game absolutely sucks, but the game is still very solid. The second and third one really make it better. The planet side missions are just plain bad, but there are some ocassionally interesting pieces.

    The term "cannonball" is also used in the classic golf comedy, "Caddyshack"
    Bill Murray uses the term to describe to Chevy Chase how to smoke his joint, whilst drinking alternately.

    What's missing for me in your write-up is why you're doing this. Perhaps I'm not reading your article correctly but it comes across that you are treating a play through of the ME trilogy as something to tick off your list of things to do as quickly as possible - which baffles me.

    One of the biggest strengths and talking points of the Mass Effect franchise (and Bioware games in general) is the story, so if you're speeding through just to 'get it done' then I'd respectfully question as to why you'd bother. Sure, the visuals are great, the combat mechanics are adequate (and are refined as the series progresses - cover as an example), etc.

    However, it is the over-arching story - and your personal choices within it which can (and do) bring about a degree of emotional investment are where more value lies here - in my opinion. This can be especially true when treating the paragon/renegade options as choices you might actually make in that situation - hence a Role Playing Game.

    Not actually a spoiler:This is why there was such... spirited (?) discussion among fans at the ending to ME3, eventually causing Bioware to make some amendments. Not sure if (or how) you might have managed to remain spoiler free on that front but bravo if so.

    My only suggestion (without trying to be condescending) is to take your time to enjoy the setting, the lore, the story / your story. Then come back and tell us about your whole journey through the trilogy - not just the technical details. That's what I'm looking for here anyway.

    Last edited 06/01/13 3:24 am

      Yeah I agree. It's a mistake to try and smash through ME. It should be savoured and enjoyed. And that takes time.

      I mean, you can scull a nice drink and you can say you had it. But you didn't really enjoy it. I really loved the ME series. Even not digging ME3 as much, I'm looking forward to replaying it when all the DLC can be had for a pittance.

    I bought myself the Jak and Daxter Trilogy for Christmas and played through all three games in a solid week. Good luck keeping your sanity Cannonballing through Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3!

    I've already done this, in Septemeber of this year, i merked through all three games in a week, then went back again to do it again, and It's been a nonstop vicious cycle


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