Mass Effect: Do the Shepard!
Mass Effect was released in 2007 as the first Sci-Fi western RPG. This caused quite a stir in the gaming community, as the game’s developer, Bioware, had been known for their excellent renditions of RPGs in the past, such as Jade Empire and Baldur’s Gate. Anticipation mounted, and upon release, this game made a mark as one of the greatest western RPGs in existence. Set in a futuristic universe, Mass Effect is a squad based RPG, which blends combat, characterization and story into one, unique being.
Mass Effect has a deeply engaging storyline, and one that still holds up to modern standards. You play as Commander >Insert Name Here< Shepard, a marine for the UNC. Shepard serves on a ship called the Normandy SR1, under the command of Captain Anderson, one of the best characters in the game. You begin on a routine mission to a planet know as Eden Prime, or at least it would be routine, if the race of synthetic super-robots, the Geth, hadn’t attacked it. You are introduced to Nihilus, a Turian S.P.E.C.T.R.E., an elite group of individuals who represent their races, and the Council, a galactic body who organise and rule over galactic affairs, who tells you that you have the honour of being selected as the first human Spectre, all he has to do is evaluate you. Unfortunatly, some bad things go down on Eden Prime, and it is revealed that another SPECTRE, called Saren, is a traitor. It then becomes Shepard’s mission to uncovered Saren’s plot, prove his betrayal, and stop his diabolical plan no matter what the cost.
The story of this game is simply epic. A space opera consisting of every sci-fi lovers wet-dreams. The player will be introduced to interesting characters of every race throughout the game. The characters themselves are well-rounded, each with their own motivations and backstories, and we are even given some major insight into the role of humans, and their history with other races, along with the attitudes other races hold towards humans. Xenophobia and jealousy are just some of the undertones of this game, and really help set up a world that seems real…you know…despite talking jellyfish that sound high all the time…but I digress, the voice acting in this game is also top-notch. Both male and female Shepard’s sound the part, and the supporting cast are no different, with each voice matching the race or look of the character. Among these characters, a notable mention goes to Seth Green, who voices Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau, and does an amazing job, being as believable as he is funny. This kind of voice acting and characterization also helps draw the player into the narrative and the universe. Squadmates are also fleshed out well, each having their own back stories and motivations, and as the game progresses, they grow and change given the events they have been through. These points help solidify the level of depth that this game establishes front minute one, and helps the player ease into the world of Mass Effect. You can also romance one of three possible squadmates, which isn’t really that hard, but it’s nice to have someone, isn’t it? It’s a nice touch, just a little something extra for the player who wants a complete RPG experience.
The soundtrack is also worth a mention, as a lot of the orchestral scores hit the emotional nail on the head, and help inform the scenes the player is witnessing. None of these scores ever miss the point, and are really something to marvel at, as they can make your heart soar, or dive, at the change of a beat.
The graphics of Mass Effect still hold up to today’s standards. All of the character models are well rendered, and the alien characters are highly detailed, perhaps even better than the human models. The galaxy of Mass Effect is heart-breakingly beautiful, with large planets with amazing skylines, back drops and excellent levels designed around them. Some of the side-mission related planets have amazing backdrops, with some epic views, such as a planet where the sky is filled with falling meteorites, or the moon, with the full, breathtaking view of Earth off in the distance. Really and truly, the scale and ambition required to make every environment so appealing to the eye, to make them all seem to real and possible, took immeasurable skill and commitment that has to be commended. This really is a fine looking game, of that, there can be no question.
As RPGs generally go, you choose between either a male or a female Shepard, along with hair colour, eye colour, and the usual array of facial choices, if not more, you get in a game. The fun element of this set up is being able to give your Shepard a backstory, surrounding their lives and military records. On top of all this, there are a total of six classes: Soldier, Infiltrator, Engineer, Vanguard, Sentinel and Adept, each with their own array of abilities and weapon choices that will help you throughout the game. The class powers are a mix between pure combat, technology or Biotic (think psychic only cooler) to combinations of abilities and powers. Each class is fun, and powerful, in their own way, and it is really up to the player to choose what kind of abilities they want in the game. These classes effect the strategies you take in combat, along with the squad mates you bring with you on missions.
The game mechanics are an interesting mix of morality choices, strategic, squad-based combat, and exploration, which gives it an interesting charm, as it is set in a galaxy-wide setting. The main modes of transportation are Mass Relays, allowing ships to travel faster than the speed of light to locations across the galaxy, where other mass relays are located. Upon arrival to different systems, you can survey planets for resources, or collectibles that can yield money and experience. There are also side-missions that take place on planets, far off the beaten track.
Exploration mainly takes place via the Mako, a six-wheel vehicle with a mounted machine gun and rocket launcher. With this, the player can travel the area map where they land, seeking out crash sites, or points of interest on the map, as some planets will have hazard warnings, and will not give the player much time walking on its surface before a painful death. The only issue with the Mako is the control system. The right thumbstick is used to drive the vehicle, while the left thumbstick is used to aim. This poses a major issue with the control scheme: aiming also controls the direction of the Mako. This can severely hinder the player’s ability to run-and-gun in heavy fights, and can lead to more than a few irritating deaths. Other than this issue though, the Mako is a solid concept, and one that adds an extra layer of exploration to a game universe that adds to the overall atmosphere of the game itself.
Throughout the game, you will have to make several decisions that affect the overall outcome of situations you are involved in. These topics of morality come up quite a bit throughout the game, and through your actions, you will gain either Paragon (good) or Renegade (bad) points. These points help unlock conversation options from the conversation wheel, which allow you to get more information, or in some cases items, out of the people you are talking to. These are especially handy in tense situations, where fighting would spell a quick death for you. The choices are nice, and the good/evil options are quite diverse. There are also some key choices throughout the game that hold greater consequences for the universe you are part of. The mix of morality, along with the excellent voice acting for Shepard, makes this game fun. Combat, however, is somewhat lacking.
Mass Effect attempts to bring cover-based shooting to the table, and does so in a kind of sloppy, glitchy manner. Taking cover requires you to press down on the left thumbstick, which is as odd a place as any to interface the most important function one could have in a firefight with laser spewing enemies. Squadmates are also hard to control, as you cannot control either one separately. Weapons vary from pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and assault rifles, and each have their relative strengths and weaknesses. Not all classes can use these weapons, with soldiers being the most versatile class, and biotic and tech users having a mixture of pistols, shotguns or sniper rifles. Though restrictive, this system reinforces the squad-based aspects of the game, and forces the player to actually rely on their squadmate’s independent skills and weapons, in order to emerge victorious in difficult situations. These weapons can be upgraded, and given alternative ammo types, along with stat-related customization, such as recoil dampening, sensor distance upgrades, and heat-dampening, as in this game, there exists no ammunition per sea, each weapon has infinite ammo, but the slug types you can augment will affect the heating of the weapon. This requires the player to think of what they actually want from their weapon of choice, and allows them to suitably augment it for their own purposes. This accommodates to the player’s specific needs, and is a nice touch. Weapons vary in accuracy, overheating and damage, and more access to more advanced weaponry is given to the player the higher their level. The same can be said for armour, which has the same upgrade and stats system behind it. This constant, balance-related item distribution keeps the game fresh, and never leaves the player high-and-dry, with crappy, useless armour, weapons, or even biotic and tech amplifiers. Upgraded shields can range up to six layers, allowing the player to take more damage, and with the right upgrades and tech amps, the player can recharge and bolster their shields to a respectable level. Grenades are also upgradable, allowing for different explosive outputs, which vary in strength and effect.
Mission variety is important in a game of this type, as RPG’s tend to move along solely on the basis of missions, and optional side-missions the player can take on in the course of the game. Side missions are extremely diverse, ranging from investigative missions, to full on combat missions. The game even throws in moral choices, which earns a large chunk of respect, as these are still side-missions. The main missions consist of going to a range of different planets to uncover Saren’s plot, each giving the player more and more information on the goings on of their nemesis. Each mission requires the player to make choices that will directly affect the rest of the game, shaping the character of Shepard. They have some nice variety, and the player will never feel a want for anything different to what they are getting.
Although Mass Effect is a game of many good points, there are some negative issues that could be discussed. Upon gaining levels, and points along with said levels, the player will be able to spend these points of talents and abilities that they can use in both combat, and outside of combat. As the player continues to add points, they will unlock more powerful abilities. Unfortunately, there is a slight issue with this system, as you will need to upgrade either your Shepard’s, or a squadmate’s decryption or electronics abilities to full as quickly as possible. You see, as you play through the game, lockers and boxes will be lying around the levels. Some require a certain level of electronics or decryption skill to unlock, and will hold some nice, powerful loot the player might need. To open the boxes, you will have to push the Y, X, A and B buttons in a certain order, as quickly as possible, as they flash onto the screen. So not only is the player forced to put points into skills just to unlock boxes and lockers, they are also forced to sit though an annoying timing minigame too. However, there is a way around this: Omni-gel. This can, for a certain amount, unlock boxes and can repair the Mako when it is damaged. The only downside to this? The game never gives the player enough. The player basically has to enter their inventory screen, find items that are no longer any use, and convert them to omni-gel. This won’t be an issue later in the game, when loot is given to the player as a result of killing an enemy, along with the gel needed, but it is still a hassle, and some almost ancient game design, that can get a little irritating for first time players. It doesn’t break the game, but it is still a sloppy design flaw that should have been rooted out in testing. Another major issue, one that has been pointed out on several occasions, is the elevator ride times. These sections separate areas of levels, allowing the game time to load. While they aren’t all bad, some of the silence broken up by radio chatter relevant to the players actions, again, nothing negative can exist without the positive, they can go on for just a little too long. The AI can also be a little slow to the game, often forgetting that lasers to the face are not something that should be taken up on an average basis. Some enemies may just stand around waiting to be shot, while others have insane abilities, such as rushing you in an instant and shoving a shotgun right up your ass, killing you instantly while your squadmates just watch, awestruck.
The enemy and NPC variation, on the other hand, is nice and diverse, ranging from Geth initially, to Krogan, Asari and Turians, along with humans, each with their own abilities and weapon loadouts. Some get variations are just re-painted versions of old models, but larger versions are well designed, and have aesthetic values you’ll really appreciate, as you see them two feet in front of you, following an insane charge. While a lot of NPC’s do look alike, it won’t really matter, as the different races of the ME universe: Asari, Salarian, Elcor, Turian, Krogan and Hanar, all have their own personalities, each interacting differently when spoken to. This allows the player to still feel immersed in the world of Mass Effect despite its issues.
Overall, Mass Effect is an excellent WRPG, giving players enough overall content to suit any and all wants and needs of the player. While far from perfect, it’s flaws won’t drag the game down, as the story, characters and universe the player is part of will immerse them so deeply in the sea of sci-fi and galactic-scale beauty, that they might never look at gaming the same way again.
- Amazingly detailed universe
- Excellent graphics
- Epic-scale story
- Excellent voice-acting
- Excellent supporting cast (Joker)
- Musical scores immerse the player in the game
- Customization options are vast
- Combat system, while not perfect, can flow at a fast pace.
- Cover mechanic is somewhat glitchy
- AI can be dodgy at times
- Difficulty curves are merely a result of imbalanced AI
- Mako control scheme works against itself
- Elevator load times can become annoying
- Must-have talents can break the feel of customization at times
A great classic game, with more than a few glaring flaws, but nonetheless, the epic story scale, the morality system and the level of customization should be enough for any fan of sci-fi, or RPG. A definite recommendation.
WTF? Moment: So, the guy who looks sounds and acts evil, who commits acts of murder to get the job done, and has a history of anti-human sentiments, is more trustworthy than a human soldiers with a clean rap-sheet? Fuck the Council.