I recently wrote about wanting to play through all of the Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles on their highest difficulties. Today, I can finally say that I have taken steps towards making my plan a reality, as I finished the first Mass Effect on insanity, the highest difficulty in the game. This is only the second game in my life that I have beaten on any difficulty higher than normal, so while it may seem like a small accomplishment in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually quite proud of myself for making it all the way through and am eager to share some of the takeaways that I had throughout my experience.
In order to unlock insanity, players have to beat Mass Effect two times previously. While I have actually beaten the game multiple times, my playthroughs have been divided across multiple consoles over the years, so I decided to instead play the PC version in order to
cheat make creative use of console commands and unlock insanity from the start. Additionally, on the harder difficulties, I expected to make much more liberal use of the tactical aspects of the game’s combat system, pausing constantly in order to aim attacks and fire off biotic abilities. While it may be up for debate, I personally find that the PC interface for the tactical overlay is much more intuitive, removing the risk of accidentally pressing the wrong ability while scrolling through a wheel.
Picking a class was pretty simple. My very first playthrough of Mass Effect was as an adept, and I still have a soft spot for space mages. Unfortunately, adepts are rather squishy in combat situations, which I knew would lead to a lot of one-shot kills in insanity. The Vanguard class turned out to be the solution to my dilemma, as it had most of my favorite biotic powers, while also giving me the ability to get more damage reduction and stronger armor. After finishing the game, I read online that vanguard is a fairly overpowered class for insanity, so I chose well.
There is an interesting issue with harder difficulties in the RPG genre that doesn’t always occur elsewhere. The game is often hardest at the very beginning when players haven’t been able to invest skill points into their chosen playstyle. For example, the hardest battle in the entire game was the fight against the krogan battlemaster while rescuing Liara. If I had gone to grab Liara later in the game, specifically after leveling up my lift ability, the battle would have been a breeze. I was stuck there, in a circular room with minimal cover, for hours trying to figure out how best to wipe out all of the enemies. Keep in mind, for comparison’s sake, that I only died once to the final boss.
In terms of my companion setup and strategy, I ran through the entire game with Liara and Tali. Tali was the all-star when it came to taking out the geth, as she could hack one geth to take out the rest of them while we hid behind cover. Maybe it isn’t the bravest way of surviving battles, but sometimes (like the horrid moon base mission with the automated turrets everywhere), it was necessary. Whenever there was a boss, I could use Tali’s damping and sabotage abilities to prevent it from attacking while I did crowd control with the smaller enemies to level the playing field a little.
Liara had most of the same abilities as Shepard, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted her in my party until I realized that we could double lift an enemy into oblivion, instantly killing them, as well as making me say, “Team Rocket’s blasting off again!” so many times that I thought my husband was going to go insane from the repetition. In addition to taking cheap kills with double lift on a regular basis, I also learned early on that incapacitation is the name of the game in insanity mode. A significant portion of the enemies I fought could kill me in one shot, so the best way to avoid that unfortunate fate is to simply prevent them from shooting in the first place.
I also learned that there are a number of ways to, let’s just say, creatively use the game’s mechanics to my advantage. For example, many side quests take place inside of bunkers, so I could easily jump into the room, take out two enemies, run out of the bunker to automatically revive my dead companions, and then quick save. Since enemies don’t infinitely respawn, I finished a number of difficult side quests by wiping out the enemies slowly. Not the most glamorous way to take on insanity, but as someone who isn’t great at shooters, it helped me get through some difficult missions.
Part of the reason that I wanted to replay Mass Effect on insanity is to see how my experience is affected by the difficulty. I have always played games on normal or easy, believing that too much frustration would lead to me being angry at the game and not enjoying it as much as I should. While I still strongly believe that I would never play a game on anything higher than normal for a first playthrough, this has been a positive experience that opened my eyes to how much fun it can be to get a bit of a challenge. Throughout my playthrough, I got a chance to learn how all of the abilities interplay with each other, instead of just blindly rushing forward with my pistol out. In fact, I love this game so much on insanity that it may have overtaken Mass Effect 2 as my favorite of the trilogy. Of course, I will be tackling the sequel on insanity next, so it has a chance to redeem itself.
Overall, I am thrilled that I gave Mass Effect a shot on insanity. I had a blast and cannot wait to keep going with this project. I’m revisiting some of my favorite games and getting an opportunity to master their mechanics at the same time. Have you ever tackled your favorite games on their highest difficulty? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below!
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