Last week I posted about balance issues in Mass Effect 1. In particular the crowd control (CC) biotic effects seemed to be exceedingly powerful in some situations (beating up regular.dudes) and weak against bosses. I think that balancing CC effects is really tough but my impression of how well ME managed it is much brighter now. Against the one boss that I found extremely difficult, the krogan battlemaster, my CC effects seemed exceedingly weak and that really coloured my perceptions. Having completed the entire game on Hardcore difficulty though I have changed my mind: There are definitely some spots in the game where CC effects are weak but overall they are very useful. Even the majority of boss fights have times where the boss is vulnerable to such effects or at least have dorks that can be tossed around.
One thing I found very strange in that game is that finding gear is completely tied to level. If you visit Zone A when you are level 10 you will find rank 2-3 equipment and if you visit it when you are level 50 you will find rank 8-10 equipment. This ensures steady loot progression throughout the game regardless of what order you do the fights in. It also has some really weird balance repercussions though because if you decide to simply do every mission, visit every zone and kill every enemy in the game you end up extremely high level; this leads not only to having more hitpoints and skills but also to having completely absurd gear. The other very strange thing about this mechanic is that money acquisition follows a scaling formula based on level too; it was utterly bizarre to collect one piece for an early mission and get 100 credits and then get 6,000 credits for collecting another piece just because I levelled up a bunch in the interim.
I don't know how I feel about the this gear mechanic. In some ways it is great that you can't just slip ahead to high level zones to get overpowered gear and that you have consistent gear progression throughout the game but on the other hand it does make the game feel more grindy as you are massively rewarded for doing *everything* instead of picking and choosing. There is no possibility of catching up if you skip things along the way. This became really obvious as I got endgame gear because initially in Hardcore difficulty I had to play well and try hard but at the end I just mowed down every enemy I saw with utter disdain; my equipment was so powerful that there was practically no challenge at all. It certainly means that the challenge level of Insane difficulty would be fairly warped; I am sure the beginning would be an utter pain in the ass but once I get out in the world I can tour around doing mining and surveying to level up to trivialize the later encounters. I don't want the challenge of the highest difficulty level to be the tedium of driving my truck up and down annoying mountains to find more ore to survey.
What's that you say? I could stop being completionist and just go do the major plot points at low level? Unfortunately for me that just isn't fun. When I set a particular difficulty level I want to then do everything within my power to beat it. Having to constantly say "well, I won't do *that* because it makes things too easy" is frustrating rather than exhilarating. If all the enemies in the game scaled appropriately to your level it would work out all right but they don't. Apparently the bosses and minibosses scale somewhat but they sure don't seem to scale enough. I like the difficulty scaling in ME1 but I wish they did something to mitigate how much more power you get from doing all the random side missions somehow.