Yes, I Did Pick the Soldier Class in Mass Effect
Contributed by DJMMT
Some weeks back, the Mass Effect Twitter account posted an infographic sharing data on the various choices people made in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Soon after the infographic was released, Rock Paper Shotgun posted an article questioning the fact that 40% of players chose the Solider class. Meaning an overwhelming majority of players chose Soldier. Thinking back to my playthrough of the trilogy, I chose Solider as well. The Rock Paper Shotgun article poses a valid question: Why in a game where you can use magic powers and hack technology would you choose the power of just having more guns? So I wanted to examine this question by explaining the reason I chose Soldier in my playthrough of Mass Effect.
The first thing I need to address is my general approach to games. I am a believer in the path of least resistance from the UI. What that means in simple terms is the less complicated a game is to play the better. I am not talking about difficulty. I am not saying games need to be easy for me to enjoy them. I’m saying they need to be as simple and straight forward as possible.
This “lazy” approach to gaming applies to most genres I play. Because of this, I have a deep abhorrence for combat wheels. I absolutely hate having to keep bringing up a wheel menu mid-fight to defeat an enemy. Sometimes I will change weapons/approach in the middle of the fight when my current method isn’t working, but I do not want to have to bring up a hot wheel more than one time in a single encounter. Even when I play a game like Ratchet & Clank, which I love, I don’t constantly change guns. I play one to two guns at a time and stick to them while trying to level them up. I almost never change guns mid-encounter. The only time I would do that is if I’m desperate for a specific weapon to save myself from imminent doom, like a rocket launcher.
Over my many years of gaming, I’ve played very few games that weren’t games about magic that did magic gameplay well. RPGs that include the ability to use magic, but don’t require you to use magic, often make the gameplay slow and complicated. I think about Dragon Age Origins, the best Dragon Age game, a lot when discussing this issue. That game was great when you played a non-magic class. But it was terribly slow and annoying when using magic spells. Having to manually target each spell mid-battle completely ruined the pacing for me. So I just didn’t use magic at all, save for a bit of healing magic. Champion class for the win! Now it’s not that I don’t want to use magic. Quite the opposite. I just don’t want magic to be troublesome. One of my favorite games to play the mage class is still Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning, because magic played smoothly. The gameplay for mage class functioned like every other class, in a real time RPG. It was glorious. No start and stop. No annoying aiming mechanics. You just attacked with magic like you would a sword, war hammer, or spear. This is how I want special abilities in games to work. I don’t want to have to go out of my way to use innate abilities to the class.
The second thing I have to address is specific to shooters. I’m bad at them. Whether first person or third person, my aim is often pretty shit. I’m better at third person shooters, but in general I’m a terrible shot. What this means is that I tend to use sniper rifles and auto rifles in a majority of shooting games I play. I either want hundreds of bullets and no reload time while trying to get a single kill or one shot one man damage ratios. There is nothing I find more annoying in a shooter than having to reload while trying to kill the same enemy. I also don’t like getting up in people’s faces in shooters, so shotguns are mostly out of the question, unless we’re playing DOOM of course. But the other thing I don’t like about shotguns is the mag size. As I already said, I hate reloading. So unless I’m getting consistent one hit kills, a two to six shot gun is not gonna fly. So to summarize, when going into Mass Effect, a third person shooter, I required a super straight forward and simple system with as little time spent in menus and wheels as possible and the ability to kill from long range or midrange without reloading.
When I was picking my class in Mass Effect, I read through all the classes. I honestly didn’t want to pick the Soldier class, but by the time I had examined all the classes it didn’t seem like I had any other option. Without even getting into powers, there are only two classes that let you use a sniper rifle, which for me was immeasurably useful in Mass Effect 2 and 3. In 1 it was pretty shit, but I didn’t go into the game knowing that. That meant that the only two classes that were even viable were Solider and Infiltrator. Now I could have forgone sniper rifles and just decided to go full midrange, but that meant I needed an assault rifle, because I’m not good enough to kill with pistols and I would never go into an RPG relying on the AI companions to get the kills for me. I actually do consider the squad mates in Mass Effect useful, but I didn’t know that going into the first game. So that meant either go full powers and have no intention to use guns to get kills or I had to pick Soldier. Because I wasn’t going to make it through the game using a pistol or shotgun as my main weapon.
When I considered going full powers, I was drawn to both the Sentinel and Adept classes but I was very reluctant at the idea of playing through a shooter without using guns at all. The other key factor for me was the Soldier’s class talent. Soldiers get increased health and health regeneration. In a game that I don’t expect to be good at, because it’s a shooter, increased health and rapid healing are clutch. The reasons I chose the Soldier class were very pragmatic. I was playing the game on normal expecting to be terrible at it and needed the advantages that made the most sense to me with limited information.
The reason I stuck with Soldier class through Mass Effect 2 and 3 was mostly about consistency. I carried my Commander Shepard forward from my original play of the first game. But they also did a lot to improve the Soldier experience with each sequel. Like giving players the ability to use one power from your squad mates while using Solider class. That was an amazing innovation that made the Solider class superior because now you had all the guns, health regeneration, and could still use a power. And you weren’t locked into that power. Also, by Mass Effect 2 the sniper rifle was way better. Widow for the win. I don’t see how anyone could question the popularity of the Solider class because it’s objectively the best class for a third person shooter first playthrough. All the other classes require very specialized gameplay ability or experience with the specific game beforehand. And honestly that’s by design.
The real question isn’t why was/is Soldier the most popular class in Mass Effect. That’s obvious. The real question is why are the classes so restrictive in that game at all? Or really any game. Why are classes still a thing? I’m so tired of games forcing me into a box that reduces my level of enjoyment as the player. Instead they should let the player design their gameplay experience by using the classes as a customizable framework. Take the Adept class as an example. It comes with basic armor, the ability to use one type of gun (pistols), six biotic powers, and faster biotic recharge times. Why not instead make it basic armor, six biotic powers, the type of gun of my choice, and my choice of class talent? I happily would have played Mass Effect with six biotic powers, assault rifles only, and boosted health. But that class doesn’t exist. You can have assault rifles and boosted health or six biotic powers, but you can’t have both. Why not? Why can’t a military commander use an assault rifle and have powers? He doesn’t need access to four types of guns, but he should be able to choose the one type he does have access to. That’s the real problem with the class system in Mass Effect and most games in general. The classes are arbitrary and limiting to the gameplay experience in defense of “balance”. I agree that 40% of players missed out on a lot of potentially amazing experiences by picking the Soldier class. I’m part of that 40%. But the reason for that comes down to the developers segregating the gameplay to the detriment of the player’s experience. Not because people are unimaginative and hot for guns.