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SummaryAn alright game, Earth-Clan
The GoodVery detailed landscapes and spacescapes
Plenty of lore and fun races to interact with
Main story is not the most difficult to follow
Surface exploration is pretty cool.
The codex has been nicely organized and is voiced.
The BadAll menus are terribly designed and unintuitive.
More tutorials would have been nice or at least tutorials that don't disappear instantly when you press a button.
Dialogue options are often incorrect; Shephard just says whatever the hell he wants.
Too much managing to do between two team-mates and yourself because you always wield four different weapons with mods.
Economy is broken.
The AI is terrible.
The Bottom LineStory
Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepherd, a human working aboard a revolutionary spaceship called the “Normandy”. As the game starts you are prompted to select a background story for him and then you’re ready for the first mission. What seems like a routine pick-up goes horribly wrong however when a special agent commits treason and jeopardizes the mission. Upon reporting back to the alien council with proof, Shepherd is promoted to the rank of “Spectre”, meaning he’s an intergalactic agent with no rules keeping him tied. Naturally, the next course of action is to pursue the man who ruined your mission before his evil plans can be realized.
This is one of your typical Bioware stories, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side it gives you a very well-crafted world with different races and a good sense of uniqueness. On the other hand, though, it also suffers from some of the very common Bioware clichés. What I really liked was that all the races were very originally written and also in a way that didn’t require me to read codex entries or a wikia page. Everything is explained in-game over the course of several events and it does a really good job at keeping you interested. For all its’ flaws, it was seeing the story through to the end that kept me hooked to this game.
The game is also riddled with several moments where you need to make choices based on how you want your version of Shepherd to develop. These can be very contained, such as how you want to respond to the dialogue of a crew-mate or affect galactic peace, such as the one on which the game ends. What makes this even more intriguing is the premise of loading up your old save-file when you get the sequel (and the one after that) and see your choices return to pay off or bite you in the ass once more. It’s a very revolutionary way of dealing with an RPG-series and makes sure that people stay hooked for future installments.
On the negative side, though, the story has some of the generic elements that always make it into Bioware games lately. First of all, the story revolves largely around racism, but in the most bland and uninformed way possible. Most of the time it just gets down to humans going “lol aliens” and the various alien species saying the same vice versa. Every situation Shepherd comes across is also portrayed unrealistically negative, such as every distress signal been a trap or every colony been destroyed. It’s supposed to raise the stakes, but you’re more likely to start wondering how poorly defended everything is. Finally, I am somewhat disappointed with the role-playing aspect of this game. There are plenty of times where you must choose the dialogue for Shepherd, but he never says the exact line and instead says something that would be close to it on the moral spectrum. You won’t accidentally say something evil when playing as a good Shepherd, but one situation that stands out was early on when an alien backed up his arguments during a court-session with insults towards humanity. The option “Insults, typical” came up, which obviously sounded like I discredited his argument and made him look like a whiny little kid, but instead Shepherd started rambling about other things that were way less to-the-point and stingy.
Mass Effect largely consists of navigating through levels while landing in cover-based combat at every turn and bend. The combat itself is adequate, but also very unremarkable and simplistic. You always have four weapon equipped: a pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun and a sniper. With those you can aim and shoot and if you shoot enough, the enemies will eventually go down. There are also grenades involved in this, but the enemies don’t seem to know that yet and you usually won’t either. A few tweaks I do like is that there is no ammo, but instead weapons fire plasma and continuous fire will eventually overheat the gun. This forces you to take breaks during combat to cool down the systems, so fights turn into both shoot-outs and hide ‘n’ seek at the same time. You can also use a variety of skills which you learn by investing points in the talent trees, such as force push or resurrection ability. Finally, looting enemies has been made easier; all you have to do is open the inventory after combat and you will get a load of toys.
This doesn’t mean the combat is good either, though, because the game suffers from an AI that is about as broken as it gets. I was playing a sniper throughout the game and eventually came to a point where a load of enemies were in a hallway, ripe for the picking off. I took cover behind a wall, prepared my aim, and then my two team-mates ran past me and stood right in the opening. Way too many enemies also seem to rely on blindly charging towards me and then standing right in front of my face while shooting. Fighting is also not made any easier what with the terrible tutorials that might have glitched out for all I know. I was explained maybe half of the mechanics and the rest I was left to figure out for myself, such as that exiting the vehicle is done with the Q-button, which is used for that and absolutely nothing else while the ever-so-loyal F and E keys only do nothing while in a vehicle.
Shoot enough enemies, though, and you will eventually level up and get to select how to invest your points. There are a number of skill trees, which are based on what class you picked at the start of the game. You unlock some more if you get far enough in a single skill and there are milestones scattered around that give you new abilities or strengthen your existing ones. It sounds easy enough, but it’s also remarkably simplistic for a studio that should be capable of creating systems with more depth. Pouring points in Decryption and Electronics doesn’t make hacking or retrieving any easier, it just unlocks the higher difficulties. This means that a fully skilled Decrypter has just as much trouble with a simple lock as he had at the start of the game.
The game also calculates your damage based on your weapons, armor and mods, but this is just as broken as the stats-mechanic. Figuring out which weapon is statically better is easy enough, but the game throws way too many of them at you. Opening a random chest might yield between two and five items and a few combat-sequences can easily yield up to twenty of them nearing the end. All of these you will end up selling, which is a boring chore and comes with very little reward. I ended up with almost 10 million credits, but there was not a single thing to spend it on because all my weapons severely outclassed the ones offered in the store.
To end on a positive note, I am one of the few players who enjoyed the space exploration sequences. You can find these small planets with a few resources and secrets to trace down, but to get to those you need to drive around the landscape with the most uncontrollable jeep ever seen in video games. The dang thing bounces around like a tennis ball in a centrifuge, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to use. Whenever you discover one of the secrets, it’s also very rewarding to dig up, especially since you are slowly working towards the completion of some overarching side-quests.
I’ve said before in my review of Dead Space that setting a game in space allows the designers to do a ton of beautiful stuff with the presentation and it’s sad to once again see that potential gone to waste. There is one amazingly beautiful area in the game, which is The Citadel that serves as a seat of power for the races of the galaxy. It’s gigantic, it’s imaginative, it looks alien and even when you’re inside the place there’s still a lot to see and enjoy. All other areas however have the tendency to lock you up in generic, often grey areas that consist largely of tight corridors. I do very much enjoy the design of the spacesuits everyone walks around in. It’s generic and unrealistic, but that colorful and flashy spandex just looks so… spacey.
I also admire the character design itself, which for most races looks pretty good. Some species just look a lot like each other, but on others you can clearly see they bothered to make different models for various NPC’s. Each line of dialogue is also voiced, which makes conversations sound more lively and real. I however can’t forgive the game for the really poor side-quest areas it made, or didn’t make as the case may be. There are maybe six areas and the only changes they make with each side-quest is where the boxes are stacked. Same 2 spaceships, same 2 bunkers and same 2 science centers, it wouldn’t be too big of a deal if it wasn’t done so shamelessly. Then there are also the planet surfaces, which also have this copy & paste problem, but this time in the sense that each planet has exactly 1 anomaly, 1 stash of items, 3 resources and 1 mission-critical area.
Mass Effect offers the premise of choosing how certain events play out, so the most basic answer would be that you replay the game to see how else your adventure could have ended. However, Mass Effect also offers numerous different sets of skills and abilities. Not only are there six classes available from the get-go, but you also get to specialize further at a later level. These two combined can make for some good replaying. However, the story is also the game’s biggest handicap, since players will not take kindly to handling the same dialogue all over again. The second problem is that there is little fun to be found it having to do the surveying of random planets all over again, which is an alright grind the first time around, but can get very grating when done all over again a second time.
Why should you get it?
Mass Effect comes with the promise of been able to enjoy a trilogy of games based on your own choices, without having to start over with each installment. The universe Bioware painted is also a joy to explore and learn about, due to the interesting characters and races you come across. Gameplay is generally sufficient to string together the story and most of the flaws that are present start to fall by the wayside as you progress through the game.
Why should you leave it?
The story is just about the only thing Bioware put any real effort in and most of the other content just feels lazy; areas are endlessly copy/pasted, tutorials are left unfinished, AI is barely present and even the most generic cut-scenes that play every time you fly somewhere can’t be skipped. The game needed a bit more polish, so if you aren’t particularly into sci-fi or don’t see anything in the story’s premise, then it’s better to let this one go.