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SummaryThe importance of having heart
- Detailed, expansive, and interesting universe
- Charming, likable characters with solid voice acting
- Can be visually appealing when it wishes to be
- Highly accessible: A good "Starter" RPG.
- Decent overall story
- A good chunk of content to work with
- Excellent soundtrack
- Engaging & immersive
- Gameplay tries to be everything and excels at nothing
- Inventory clutter
- Sloppy controls
- Many side quests rely on boring & recycled content
- Dialogue & writing sees frequent dips in quality
- Many classes feel useless
- Squadmate progression feels like an afterthought
- The story feels shorter than it should
- Marred with technical issues on PC
- Mako sections drag and are generally not fun
- Veterans of the RPG genre may find it shallow
- Awful UI
The Bottom LineMass Effect is, in my eyes, a thoroughly mediocre game. And yet it is one I will always cherish and remember. It is a game I have returned to multiple times and I am likely to play it once again in the future.
It all comes down to the fact that Mass Effect has a big heart. One full of life that never stops beating. You could tell that the developers and writers cared about the world they have created, and that love and passion shines so brightly that the universe portrayed in Mass Effect has become one of my favourite universes in the video game realm.
The game follows the exploits of one Commander Shepard. You can pick Shepard's gender and tweak their backstory. My preferred Shepard is typically female, though I have played through the game as different kinds of Shepards. In my latest playthrough, Shepard was a ruthless general who was known for botching a job and sending many brave men to their death. Yet despite her hard edged attitude, she was still always helping people. She wasn't cruel or evil... just a bit thorny.
It isn't the most complex or in-depth roleplaying system out there but I feel it is a very good "Starter" system. If you have not played many RPGs and are intimidated by the depth and complexity of many other RPGs, then Mass Effect is a great starting point. It gives you the thrill of crafting your own character with their own personality without forcing you to stare at complicated character sheets or manage an unruly amount of stats. Hardcore RPG veterans probably won't be massively impressed, as a huge fan of the genre I myself wished it had more depth to it, but I still enjoyed tinkering with it nonetheless.
In general the actual GAME portion of Mass Effect is its greatest fault. If you've played many third person action games from the last console generation (and this is very much a console game) then you may be familiar with many of Mass Effect's mechanics. You dive into cover, you pop out, and you shoot the other dudes popping in and out of cover.
This system is functional but only just. Cover is somewhat fiddly and your AI partners often fail to get into cover even when you order them to, which can lead to many frustrating incidents. The guns don't feel particularly fun or punchy unless playing on the easiest difficulty with the shotgun. Weapon mods and in particular elemental based mods DO add a little more fun, particularly the chemical rounds that reduce foes to a green smudge on the wall.
But much of the game's true appeal comes down to the characters and advancing the story. It isn't necessarily the most well written space opera out there, and in fact the dialogue and writing quality does fluctuate. Sometimes it is genuinely nuanced and well handled but other times it comes across as painfully corny. This is especially evident with the initial antagonist, Saren, who is far less interesting than the game's TRUE foe and never really manages to be all that intimidating. It's the rest of the cast (and even the game's other villains) who make it all so compelling.
At its best, you really do feel a connection with your crew. Commanding the ship is a fun power trip although the sequels do admittedly do a much better job of this. But that is something I will touch upon later down the line as I review them.
The game suffers in other areas as well. The UI is clumsy and in general a pain to work with, and it doesn't help that the game is constantly drowning you in useless items and it is all too easy to make the mistake of keeping them around as the game never actually informs you that there is a weight limit until it is too late and you are forced to melt items into Omni-Gel just to escape the menu. No, the game does not allow you to just leave items you don't want in a crate. If you open up the dialogue, you must either take all the items or melt them.
The game was clearly designed & optimized for a console and this does reflect not just in the UI but how the game controls as well. It is not an ideal set-up and takes quite a bit of time to get used to, especially during combat.
The PC port is also marred with various technical issues. One replay on my previous machine was even brought to a screeching halt due to an issue on modern AMD processors that caused part of the game to be nigh unplayable without making tweaks to how the processor handles the game. Needless to say not everyone will have the patience for that. And when playing it again for the sake of this review I encountered many hiccups and micro-stutters.
Yet it is still all saved because it opens the door to a world I didn't want to leave. The series would improve in many ways, but that is a topic for a different review down the line. Would I recommend Mass Effect? Yes, provided you enjoy a good sci-fi space opera. It is a rocky start for the franchise but if you find the universe compelling and the characters interesting as much as I do you may very well find yourself forgiving its many shortcomings.