In the year 2007, developers at Bioware created a title that spanned the vast reaches of space and touched the hearts of many. In the years that followed, sequels would be released that would prove incredibly divisive among gamers, enabling many heated debates and discussions. The origin for this acclaimed series was a title spawned a series that would dominate internet discussions across different boards.
They called it one of the greatest sci- fi RPGs of all time.
The gamers of this world call it…
Mass Effect is a sci-fi role-playing game that revolves around the plight of one determined yet frustrated man and the people around him that never listen to him. During his galaxy-spanning quest to get his managers to actually open their ears and take him seriously, Commander Shepard encounters a whole host of both loveable and deplorable characters to interact with, clashes with an army of sentient lamps and occasionally goes for a nice, smooth Sunday drive.
With an enjoyable narrative, an interesting universe and the gameplay of a late PS2 game, Mass Effect makes for a loveable package that will both frustrate and charm you from beginning to end.
Primarily, Mass Effect is a basic third-person shooter. You take cover behind things, occasionally popping your head out to take quick shots at people. Pretty standard stuff, nothing too revolutionary. In fact, it’s not actually that great. Aiming and movement feels a bit sluggish and the weapons don’t really feel like they pack much of a punch. It’s okay though because the rest of the game makes up for it.
The menus are exceedingly cumbersome, and since you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time in them sorting through different ammo types, guns and upgrades the tedium begins to set in. Hitting your item limit is the absolute worst, because you are forced to dispose of your goods. Not only do you have to spend a good few minutes scrolling down your list and clicking things to get rid of, the list will revert back to the top every time you delete something. Get used to scrolling down, picking duplicates for deletion then scrolling all the way back down AGAIN.
Mass Effect‘s RPG side (probably the main side) leaves some room for experimentation with character building and setup. After choosing from a selection of character classes that each come with their own abilities and weapon proficiencies, you’re well on your way to becoming the biggest badass in space. You’ll earn XP for most things such as completing quests and killing enemies, with which you can use to pump into your stats and proficiencies. Do you improve your skills with weapons such as shotguns and pistols, or do you use those points to boost your health and shields? Maybe you’d prefer to make your biotic (SPACE MAGIC) skills improve instead. These decisions have more of an impact in the early stages of the game where you’re pretty terrible at every conceivable action, but later on you’ll just be putting points into things just for the sake of spending them.
The real crux of the RPG comes from the way you shape your character’s narrative and the Paragon/Renegade system. While the story itself is pretty solidly set in stone, your interactions and choices along the way can vary greatly, having different levels of impact on it. A character that you choose to kill at some point in the story won’t show up later on, while they might have had some more plot significance or dialogue if you chose to spare them. It’s enjoyable playing the game in different ways to see what outcomes you can experience.
The Paragon/Renegade system is a bit hit or miss for me. Essentially, you can be one of two extremes: A crap-talking (debatedly) badass space commando who takes shit from nobody, or a messianic galaxy warrior who could smooth-talk the salt out of the ocean. The problem is, many key moments in the game have outcomes that rely on you being deep into either Paragon or Renegade, leaving little room for neutrality. Picking the middle option in conversations will rarely get you anywhere. For players who prefer to make conversation choices based on their own decisions without leaning too far to either side, it can be annoying when you are locked out of important choices due to not being Space Jesus or his Renegade counterpart.
And lastly, there’s the Mako. Oh yes, the Marmite of videogame vehicles.
As Mass Effect is a large sci-fi game with a large galaxy to explore, you’d expect to have some sort of vehicle to ferry you across the various planet surfaces while you shoot aliens or scour for materials. In Mass Effect, that’s the Mako. With the controls of an RC car designed by a disabled 6-year-old and no concept of physics whatsoever, the Mako definitely makes driving across planets quite the experience. You will often find yourself getting stuck on the environment, dangling precariously over a mountain peak and bouncing around like a university student on MDMA. It’s a tough son of a bitch, able to survive massive drops and flips. Some people absolutely detest the Mako and I can see why. It’s not exactly fast, and awkwardly navigating your way to artifacts and materials can be a chore but I find it quite charming and was sad to see it gone from the sequels.
Mass Effect feels like an awesome sci-fi tv show, with each mission or planet exploration being its own episode. From the slowly unraveling mystery of the true villain, betrayals and relationships and standout sequences, every moment fits in together to make an engaging ride that you should enjoy from beginning to end. The villain actually has an understandable motivation and is despicable enough that you actually want to take him down, which is a nice change from some other games I’ve played with other less interesting villains. There’s enough twists and turns to keep you interested throughout, including a truly memorable moment in which you meet the ultimate evil in the galaxy face-to-hologram.
I really like the sense of exploration and learning in this game. Landing on planets and exploring got a bit repetitive after a while with all the reused environments and enemies, but I was honestly able to look past that as my enjoyment of exploring unknown worlds and finding resources or sidequests was able to outweigh the gameplay niggles. The game features an extensive codex, giving you information on pretty much everything you’d need to know, fully voiced too! It’s entirely optional, but it’s there for you to find out if you want to learn more.
The characters are awesome, plain and simple. Commander Shepard, whatever path you choose to take him, is a charismatic badass that’s going to get the job done, no matter who believes in him or not. You have a selection of teammates to choose from that you will recruit in the early hours of the game, and they each bring their own soup to the table. You have a member of the police force that is frustrated with the lack of action being taken and is determined to pursue his own justice, a gruff, stubborn warrior that is very bitter over something that was done to his race, and others. I found myself using alien squadmates throughout the entire game because I felt that ‘hey I’m a human, I wanna play with aliens!’
Mass Effect is a flawed, yet richly detailed experience that, if you don’t get bored by walking around and talking to people for an hour or exploring relatively samey planets, will draw you in with an engrossing universe and likable characters. While the sequels would vastly improve the gameplay and presentation, I think the more open-ended science fiction exploration elements were lost in the transition. Maybe you prefer that, but after playing through the trilogy again, I came to realize that I actually miss it. I even miss the Mako!
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