The Mako Was Fine, You’re Only Annoyed About Mass Effect’s Checkpoints

The Mako was mentioned several times during a Mass Effect: Legendary Edition preview event I attended a few weeks ago. It seems that BioWare received quite a lot of feedback (see: flak) from fans about the original Mass Effect game’s space rover, designed for traversing rough terrain on alien planets with different atmospheres and gravity.

I’m here to tell you that, actually, the Mako was fine. I’ve been playing the first Mass Effect on Game Pass all week and I’m really enjoying the driving sections. The Mako is a bit wobbly, sure, but only in terms of how it looks. Functionally, it steers like a slower Halo 3 Warthog with vertical thrusters. It’s a bit sluggish, but it feels good. Also you’re literally driving across weird space rocks who knows how many light years away. It was never going to be bloody Forza.

I’m not saying that changing the Mako is an inherently bad thing. I thought Andromeda’s Nomad had some excellent quality-of-life improvements over the Mako – I missed my missiles, sure, but it drove like a dream. The thing is, Andromeda’s level design is much more vertically inclined than Mass Effect’s. For example, I recently voyaged across to the Artemis Tau cluster and touched down on Therum. If you can’t remember this world, it’s where Liara’s dig site is situated. Anyway, Therum has some windy gradients that lurch ever so slightly uphill, but it’s mostly pretty flat with long stretches of bumpy, magmatic rock. It’s a fairly enjoyable drive from the drop zone to where Liara is located, with plenty of geth turrets and colossi to bombard with the Mako’s heavy artillery along the way.

But the fun doesn’t last – at least, it didn’t for me earlier this week. I had honestly been one of those people who yelled “Mako bad!” at every given opportunity, but also I hadn’t actually played the first Mass Effect in almost a decade. So when I went back to it now, in 2021, and realized I was actually enjoying the Mako sections, I was a bit confused. “How was I this wrong all those years ago?” I thought. I know our tastes change, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why I hated the sickest hot rod in space.

Then I died – I’m still not sure how, because it was after I already killed the enemies around me – and was given the option to load a save. “Sure, who cares?” I thought, blissfully unaware of what was about to go down. “It was just a freak accident and I’ll beat these robot idiots again in no time.”

Nope. No checkpoint. “Back to the beginning of Therum with you,” says Mass Effect. “Better be more careful next time!” That’s when it hit me: the checkpoints are the problem.

I’ve already said that I think the original Mass Effect is the best game in the trilogy, and that I’m curious about how people will engage with it when Legendary Edition drops in three months’ time. By extension, I’m curious about what the Mako will look like these days, and how it will feel to drive. I hope it’s better, and that people have a great time playing one of my favourite games ever made – but also, I can’t shake the feeling that this didn’t need to happen. We lost out on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, one of the best wave-based co-op shooters ever made, because BioWare had to sink so much time in Legendary Edition. How much of that went into fixing a problem that people shouted about for nine years without actually going back, like I, an ex-shouter, did, and realizing, “Actually… this is fine.”

I played the first Mass Effect game a month before Mass Effect 3 came out. I was 16. Dying and being brought back to the beginning of the level annoyed me, to the extent that I’d blame anything but my own ability – and so, it was the Mako that was broken. In reality, the checkpoints were just a bit unfair. Even after you get out of the Mako on Therum and go through the little gap between two massive rocks, leading to the on-foot progression towards Liara’s actual dig site, the most recent checkpoint is still the one at the beginning of the level. It’s really unforgiving, and this persists across pretty much every other planetary expedition involving the Mako. It’s not because the Mako is bad that people hated it – it’s because, like most games, it can be hard not to die once or twice on a mission, and when it came to the Mako, dying meant going right back to the beginning.

Mako levels are like pseudo-roguelites without any of the benefits of currency carrying over, or perks to collect along the way. They’re hard as nails, but that’s not because of the Mako – it never was. It’s because the checkpoints are stupid. I think fixing that issue while revamping textures and improving depth of field would have been more than enough to rocket jump the Mako into 2021. Like the drastic changes to Eden Prime, it seems as if maybe BioWare might have gone that small step too far and confused enhancing something to make it better with changing something not just in its functionality, but its identity, too.

Next: Saren Arterius Is The Best Villain In Mass Effect

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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