Bioware, famous for developing some of the better RPG's on the market like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, launched a new Sci-fi IP in 2007 known as Mass Effect. The results are a sweeping storyline, fascinating characters and a deep third person experience that blurs the lines between shooters and RPG's.
As I've hinted before, RPG games are one of my least favorite genres in videogames today. However, after being encouraged by a friend of mine, I gave Mass Effect a try. Being "big" on story and character development, Mass Effect struck a chord with me right away. While the monotonous weapon, abilities and character screens take plenty time away from gameplay (as with most RPG's), Mass Effect does it's best to simplify the experience. That said, the load screens are awful and boring.
The player controls the main character, John Shepherd, on his quest to stop the extinction of life in the universe. At his command are a host of characters who are met throughout the game and joins Shepherd. As the game unfolds, the main character can choose to play as a Paragon (good guy) or Renegade (self-centered bad guy). Story elements definitely play into the choices made by Shepherd... The sound and voice acting in ME is wonderful. Characters are varied and add plenty of humor and variety to the experience. Romance, charm, intimidation - they all come into play in Mass Effect, giving the game lots of depth.
Gameplay is fairly decent in Mass Effect. A cover system is effective, although not perfect. Some glitches occur during heavy battles and the AI can be deficient at times. That being said, the abilities and weapons made available to the player are expansive and fun to use.
Level design is fantastic and the graphics are stunning - especially for a game that is nearly two years old. Environments range from lush jungles to mountains amidst a snowstorm. Character models are solid and movements are realistic, for the most part. Some mo-cap during talking scenes is sketchy, but given the game's scope, it seems forgivable.
The Mass Effect engine running the game struggles during many parts of the game. When running or moving through a chaotic level, AI and texturing fails to keep up. This is something many of the franchise' fans are looking to see 'cleaned up' for the upcoming sequel, Mass Effect 2. Hopefully it does, as the engine can distract from an overall wonderful game.
I'd recommend Mass Effect for any gamer, especially those new to RPG's. It's one of the few RPG's that is done very well on the Xbox 360, and other than Fallout 3, one of the few done well in the past couple years.