Space Lord mother...
I’m not exactly the kind of person who jumps for joy every time another sequel is announced to a gaming landscape that is peppered with sequels. (Some game sequels even have their own sequels; look at Call of Duty or the Tom Clancy games.) Yet, my brain will all but completely block out the existence of a new franchise, regardless of what, if any new ideas it may bring to the buffet table that is the holiday season. Mass Effect went unnoticed by me for a good seventeen months, and I only found myself finally making the dip into my wallet because it was a meager ten dollars. Perhaps it was the look; the game was presented as another science fiction RPG, ground that Bioware itself (among others) have long since explored with their Star Wars-or-Star-Wars-Like role playing games. But it also had elements of a science-fiction shooter, a genre explored by pretty much every other developer. In my mind of minds, combining two uninspired genres does not make for an original idea, so I left it to float in space and denounce its existence like scientists denounced Pluto as a planet.
If Mass Effect did one thing right, it made me feel bad for neglecting its existence all this time.
On the surface, the game struck me as some kind of fanboy’s twisted dream of the Star Wars and Star Trek universes combined. You play a Mister or Missus Shepherd; a proud human whose past is left partially to the player (you can’t, however, dictate Shepherd’s love of the gym for he/she is in tremendous shape.) You’re asked to represent humanity and some grand government council as a top law-enforcing superpowered Jedi-thingy and stop a renegade former law-enforcing superpowered Jedi-thingy from doing bad things. At first glance, I found myself getting into the habit of typecasting species and characters; you have your Jedi, your Klingons, your Vulcans, your Borg, your Jawas, your random evil alien monsters, and so forth.
But what I wasn’t expecting was for the game to come up with new and interesting plot ideas and twists for these characters. I’m halfway scared that a science-fiction guru will try to correct me on this statement and reference some book that I’ll never be made to read, but I can’t remember seeing many of the plot twists in the past, and I found myself being oddly intrigued by the unfolding events. Now, being that I’m trying to sell you on the game, I won’t be giving away any of these twists in this review. A lot of the story plays into the typical Bioware good vs. evil morality play. You have a rating for “Paragon” and “Renegade”, both of which are just fancier terms for good and evil. But there always seems to be a reasonable justification behind the “good” and “evil” arguments in all of your moral choices; there’s no “rob a homeless person because you can” type of options that Bioware’s long-titled Star Wars games resorted to. I will, however, say that you must be patient with this game. And brace yourself for the verbal dam to collapse and a flood of words heavier than my reviews to overwhelm you.
The characters in-game love to talk. They love to reveal their life stories and opinions on matters. There are dialogue trees that’ll make Treebeard proud with the size of their branches. It helps that the voice-acting is strong and most of the actual characters aren’t throwaways. Many RPGs have a tendency to feature tomes worth of optional text explaining the history and nature of their fictional homeworld, but Bioware may have risen the bar beyond the ozone layer. There’s a massive virtual universe, with virtual galaxies and virtual planets within them. You can highlight any of these NUMEROUS planets and get detailed geographical information. Like reality, most of these planets are gaseous, can’t be touched down upon and thus meaningless in the grand scheme of your main quest, but that they exist does add a touch of immersion to the game as a whole. And it gives Trekkies a chance to play Virtual Enterprise with their spaceship.
Now, when you’re not talking, then you’re probably shooting at something. The parts of the game where you’re not listening to the emotional woes of the captive-of-the-moment consist of going to an area and shooting things. This is where the game stops cloning Star Trek and starts cloning Gears of War. You take cover with a (usually) functional cover system, you shoot at enemies, enemies shoot at you, yippie-kay-yay. The biggest difference is that how you leveled up your character’s stats has a halfway effect on how badly you’re chipping away at enemy health. So if you’ve always imagined that Gears of War needed to be more statistic-based rather than, well, skill-based, here you go! It’s not quite as fluid and fun as the Gears games but the gun combat is still plenty times more fun than say….Eat Lead.
It’s the class of character that you choose your very own private Shepherd to be that determines the style of play. Soldiers try their hardest to be like Marcus Fenix and shoot things, with their unique twist being that they can use different kinds of weapons. The other two classes, in particular the Adept, proved to be much more interesting for me. The Adept is your equivalent to the “Mage” character whom has no physical protection and thus needs rely on cunning and sly magic tricks to survive. A good Adept must have an assortment of futuristic spells at the ready, including protective spells and ragdoll-physics-abuse traps, to stay alive. Granted, your pistol is still doing all the diplomacy in the end, but it does keep the gunplay more exciting.
The game moves at a mostly-brisk pace. There are never any moments where you are made to stand still and shoot an endless array of respawning goons with guns (thank you very much Knights of the .) Focusing on the main quest by itself, the game is about 12 hours long. That may seem paltry by RPG standards, but trust me when I say this is a game worth replaying twice, just to experience several classes and both sides of the moral spectrum.
However, there are a few flow-breaking moments. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to drive in a giant jeep-like vehicle for extended periods to traverse landscapes and shoot things smaller than you. On paper, it’s an idea for mixing up gameplay mechanics, but the vehicle is clumsy to control, and will easily fly into the air at the slightest speed bump. And the inventory system, oh how I hated thee.
The game has a lot of “loot” to raid from crates and other futuristic equivalents to treasure boxes. But none of them fall under the disposable powerup category; the only health items you find are the one single med-pack (of which you can only hold 5) and the only grenade-type weapon is well…the single grenade, of which only five can be carried. No, instead you’ll find weapons….many many weapons. There are about four kinds of weapon-types, along with numerous forms of armor (light human armor, medium human armor, medium Asari alien armor…you can guess where this goes), not to mention individual modifications for weapons and armour. Now, you can’t just tell the game to automatically sell weaker weapons or break them into “omni-gel” (a substance you use to repair/hack into things) and equip the best. For you see, one weapon may be stronger than another but have worse accuracy, so the game hopes that you’ll be the one that wants to make that decision. But each weapon has generic names like “Striker II” or “Stinger IV” that it’s hard to keep track of which brand of weapon is different from what. And you can’t view a weapon’s stats upon picking it up, so you’ll find yourself hoarding every power-up you can find, going into the equipment menu, and then spending more time than you’d like sorting through a long list of items and having to individually tell the game to break down each one into omni-gel. By the end of the game, the entire staff of my spaceship were greasing their hair with all the omni-gel I had hoarded.
And the final boss is a jerk.
That’s about all the bits of space debris that I can cast aside from the intergalactic wonder of Mass Effect. If you have a bit of patience (and I know patience is a dying commodity amongst gamers), then Mass Effect will reward the player with an interesting quest that begs to be played multiple times over. And as of this moment, the game is as cheap as rocks, so it very well may be the new king of the bargain bin. It makes a more accessible king than its former royal highness, Killer7, so I’ll consider this a worthy usurpation.
And there’s alien lesbian sex in the game. Though it’s a shade below soap opera sex scenes in terms of sensuality, so sorry boys.