Emotional. Epic. Engaging.
Mass Effect is one of those games that just went over my head when it first came out. I hadn't tried it until my friend lent me the 360 version of it a few months ago. To put it simply, I played for about 6 hours and realized that I just had to have this game. So a few days later I returned Mass Effect for my friend, purchased my own (for the PC), and ended up beating it (twice).
This prelude to Mass Effect perfectly introduces the player into the universe of Mass Effect and in a few sentences, firmly holds the Mass Effect universe and story together. In Mass Effect you play as Commander Shepard, a high ranking member of the Alliance Military, the representative organization of Earth and humanity in outer space. A few of the more influential and powerful races in the galaxy have banded together to form an intergalactic Council who's aims are to maintain intergalactic cooperation, progression and order. The humans want a greater voice and hand in intergalactic policy and peacekeeping and have been wanting to become a part of the Council for some time now. Soon after you begin playing, it is brought to your attention that a special operative of the Council has been dispatched to your starship for a secret mission. It just so happens that this mission will also serve as an evaluation of Commander Shepard's abilities as a potential candidate to join this group of special operatives (know as “Spectres”). As the events of the secret mission unfold, you discover (for reason that I won't disclose) that there's a traitor amongst the Spectre ranks. Starting off, the story is centered around this rogue Spectre it unfolds accordingly into an epic.
The story has to be one of my favorite stories in videogame... not because of it's originality (because at it's root, the setting is fairly generic) but because its presentation and depth truly drew me into the game.
- The Codex (which is, basically, the game's encyclopedia) does a great job at explaining and detailing pretty much everything that there is in the galaxy. It really makes the galaxy you're playing in seem really believable and it adds a bunch of depth to what, for some, may seem bland.
- Most of the main characters and squad members in Mass Effect are fleshed out very nicely. Your squad members each have distinct personalities and unique backstories of which they'll offer you more insight into after each mission. You'll likely end up having your favorites amongst your squad members, and probably ones you don't really like. In fact, some squad members and characters really grow on you... personally, I was emotionally attached to the Asari squad member, Captain Anderson and definitely Commander Shepard too. This is a good segue into mentioning that there is also a romantic subplot in the game, which was a nice diversion from the main mission and was fairly well done I'd say.
- Mass Effect lets you choose to either be a destructive renegade with little regard for rules and regulations, or a honorable paragon that upholds the law. When you first create your Commander Shepard, you can choose from a number of psychological and military profiles (which are later reflected in character conversations and quests) that effectively construct a backstory for your Commander Shepard; the profile decisions you make will allow you to really get into the role of your character, and they serve as great guidelines on how to let your character unfold as far as the Renegade vs. Paragon concept goes. Some decisions you make and dialogue responses you pick are clearly either Paragon or Renegade, whereas in others.. the lines separating Paragon and Renegade are not all that visible; some will certainly make you really think and others will really get under your skin. I'd say that one problem is, however, that less then a handful of the major decisions you make in the game actually impact the game in the long run, besides one or two dialogue conversation changes. While this is a low note in all of this, it will certainly be exciting to see how the decisions you've made in Mass Effect are reflected in Mass Effect 2 when you've uploaded your save file. One other minor setback (if you will) would be that sometimes you pick a dialogue option and your character wouldn't exactly say what you would have expected them to say... but that's very minor.
The story in Mass Effect is very compelling, the universe is deep and it's all very well crafted. It's all something you'll definitely remember. The cutscenes in the game feel very movie like and do a great job at presenting and progressing the story, they're very will done in my opinion and not annoying at all. I could think of two scenes that really got under my skin, and one scene that honestly almost brought me to tears.
PresentationPersonally, I feel that sounds and especially music in video games are very important. They help invoke emotions that you just cannot feel or see on the screen with the game by itself. That being said, with a game like Mass Effect, great music is important and could really make or break a scene into a much more memorable moment. I'd like to say first and foremost that overall, the sound in Mass Effect is absolutely superb. When the music NEEDS to be epic, emotional or impactful – it delivers one hundred percent. I can think of atleast one or two scenes in Mass Effect that wouldn't have been nearly as emotional were it not for the amazing music to back it up. And when the music is not intended to be
The PC version of Mass Effect boasts a considerable upgrade in the graphics department (provided you have a capable rig to run it). Both versions, however, have some spectacular vistas and planets. Though, admittedly, many of the optional planets aren't usually very exciting and seem to be, at times, near copies of each other... the main planets and space stations you go to are diverse, vibrant and sometimes even breath taking (my favorite Planet being Virmire). The character models are excellent, especially those of the Krogan squad member and the facial animations and just the animations in general are great. The cutscenes are very sleek and fit into what's going on perfectly and, as I talked about early, they feel very movie like. There are still texture pop-ins in the PC version, but it usually takes about a split second for the detail to kick in if it ever even happens. Also, even though the elevator load times had been greatly reduced in the PC version, the still seem a bit too long.
GameplayI'd say that Mass Effect plays much like Dead Space but tied in with heavy RPG elements except that, in Mass Effect, you would be able to choose what you wanted to specialize into specifically, or if you wanted to be some sort of hybrid. You can either specialize in guns, biotics, tech or in any combination of two. Guns are pretty obvious, you can choose from pistols to machine guns and from shotguns to sniper rifles. For Biotics, think Star Wars force powers like Force Choke and Force Push. Tech abilities are along the lines of overheating weapons and armor, and hacking. Also for each specialization you choose there are also sub-specializations, which means more customization. The ability to map your important abilities to the number keys is very effective and makes for very fluid combat. However, if you want to pause the game and think about your plan of action, you can still do that. You can also control each of your squad members to move and take cover in the PC version, but sometimes you do get issues with getting members to the exact spot you want them to go to for c over... it's effective but it has it's shortcomings.
The typical RPG elements are there, most should be familiar but some do stand out. For example, you can get attachments for your weapons and armor that allow for a lot more strategy. They can be changed whenever you want and they would, for example, make it so your bullets do toxic damage or break through enemy barriers. Also, there is a skill for Intimidate and Charm, each of which unlock new dialogue options as you put points into them.
On some of the planets you'll have to go to, you'll actually be deployed inside of the all-terrain vehicle called the Mako. The Mako has machine guns and a cannon mounted on it which you can pretty much mow through enemies with, though things can get overwhelming when your outnumbered. The Mako also has a self-repair feature you can use provided you have enough onmi-gel to use it. The Mako can traverse a lot of tough terrain and you can get out of the Mako at any time, however sometimes the Mako controlling can get a bit weird in regards to the compass and pointing.
One thing that I will say needs some work is the inventory system. The inventory system can sometimes be very frustrating to manage when your back from long missions and your managing your inventory. First of all, there should be a sell all button. Secondly, the inventory is in DIRE need of sorting options. There also needs to be a easier way to go back and forth between equipping your squad members when you're on your starship. I'd say that the difficulty of the game is average and will require a decent amount strategizing with your skills and such at the higher difficulties, but it could be harder for the higher difficulty... the second hardest difficulty wasn't much harder then the third, and atm the hardest isn't much harder then the second hardest.
Oh some things I forgot to mention.. your body armor has a barrier and when that is broken through you start losing health when you get hit. You'll need “medigel” that you can loot or buy from medics to recover your health. Oh, and there are grenades and grenade attatchments =D.
Lasting Appeal and Closing RemarksMass Effect's main mission, unfortunately, falls on the fairly short side... it's about 6 to 9 hours. There are, however, a lot more hours to be had in side missions (the downside being that a good chunk of the missions seem to be the same thing with different coverup on it, but there are some really good ones). I'd say that if you do everything in the game, it'll take you about 20-25 hours depending on how much you like to read extra stuff. There is a lot of replay value in Mass Effect because there are a number of different classes (what I referred to as specializations previously) you can choose and different squad combinations. You can choose to drive your character in a completely different direction as far as morality goes and you can explore a different love interest. Some quests definitely unfolded differently during my second playthrough. In Mass Effect there quite a few hard decisions that have to be made in the game... you can explore those decisions in the second and third play through.
Mass Effect is probably in my top 10 favorite games of all time. I'm a huge fan of RPG's and I'd say Mass Effect is one of the better ones. It's the kind of RPG that makes you care for what's going on – and some RPG's just don't do that anymore. The storytelling is amazing, and the music supports it superbly. The Gameplay is solid and there's a lot of replay value. Right now Mass Effect PC is about 20$ on Steam... that's a DEFINITE steal in my eyes. Mass Effect 2 is a first buy for sure.