the problem with console rpgs

I’m playing Mass Effect now. It’s pretty good, although I’m starting to find it a bit tedious, mostly because I keep having to repeat the same bits. This is especially frustrating when I have several dialog options that look very similar but end up coming out of my mouth with very different tones of voice.

That’s a problem specific to Mass Effect, and it has some others. The thing that annoys me the most, though, is that it suffers particularly badly from a case of Stupid Game Economy. I wrote about the stupid Cyberpunk 2020 economy before, and it’s a problem you can find all over the place if you look.

Mass Effect is a space opera. It has laser guns, super armor, space grenades, and holographic healing gauntlets. You start out with some of these, but they’re bottom of the barrel and you have to acquire better ones as you play. You acquire these, sometimes, as spoils of war, but a lot of the really good stuff needs to be purchased. For example, some of the best weapons and armor I can get right now sell for six figures.

It not easy for me to acquire that kind of capital. It might be impossible without hours and hours more gameplay to even get close to it.

A minor upgrade to one of my weapons costs maybe 3000 credits. A license to preach on the main space station’s promenade costs 150 credits.

So, let’s say these are dollars. One hundred fifty dollars for a license from the government is not insane. Three thousand dollars for a pretty nice gun is not insane. One hundred thousand dollars for a really badass shield generator… well, let’s say it’s sane. Let’s say all the prices make sense.

I ran a smuggling job for an alien. I used my status as a Spectre to bring experimental weapons into a tightly-controlled facility for him to resell. For my trouble, he gave me $250. I broke into an office complex and murdered something like twenty (corrupt) law enforcement officers. The guy who hired me to do that gave me about $700. What the hell is going on here?

Oh, so I mentioned I’m a Spectre? A Spectre is a super-elite ultra-secret agent who reports directly to the triumvirate that rules the galaxy. I’ve been sent to capture a rogue agent. They sent me as an alternative to sending an entire fleet. “Here,” they said, “have a starship.”

Not pictured, of course, is the conversation where I say, “Wow, thanks, that’s a fantastic starship, and I know it’s the best one in the whole human fleet. Do you think I could get some better kit for my team, too? Maybe one of those Ripper IV assault rifles and some shield generators?” The Council of Galactic Omnipotence then says, “Sorry, no. We know your mission is going to prevent the destruction of all life in the galaxy, but… we want you to work for it.”

This is present in any game where the hero is known by all to be, you know, a hero saving the world from destruction, but he still has to pay for a glass of milk to heal.

“I need an ice hammer.”

“Sure thing, Hero of Eternity. That’ll be 350 gilootnis.”

“Um… I need the hammer to get into the mountains to defeat the dragon that’s been attacking your village.”

“Yeah, I heard. Thanks!”

“So, really, can’t you just give me the hammer? Or loan it to me? I’m trying to save you and, you know, your family. The Great Deity Thrumboat didn’t give me a budget or anything when he imbued me with the Master Spirit so I could save you. I guess he figured people would be reasonable and want to contribute to their own salvation.”

“Ho! That Thrumboat! Always figuring.”


“Yeah, seriously though, tree fiddy.”

Written on November 28, 2008
games   videogame