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SummaryAn astounding experience from square one. Absolutely recommended!
The GoodI've played Mass Effect a couple years after it came out and already made a significant splash on the RPG community. Although largely considered one of the best games of 2008 and heartily recommended by each and every one of my friends and associates I didn't really know what to expect from this game. I haven't been a fan of other space RPGs (such as the highly acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic; coupled with intense feelings after playing the fantastic Fallout 3, I wasn't really expecting a genre-redefining game. Let me settle this right here and now: I was totally blown away. Mass Effect is by and large the best game I've played in years.
To start with, the game exhibits top-notch production values. The sheer scope is mind-boggling; not since Star Control II have I experienced a game of such breadth and scope, taking care and time to ease the player into a massive game universe with diverse alien species, each of which has its own history and cultural baggage that bears in ever-so-subtle ways on the progression of the game. From the militaristic but sentimental Krogan through the ancient, misunderstood Asari, the short-lived but brilliant Salarians and down to the exceedingly original Hanar the Mass Effect universe is teeming with life. The amount of dedicated work necessary to bring such a complicated game universe to life is simply beyond my comprehension. The game shines with a coherent, compelling narrative that guides you through the various settings the game has to offer while providing ample opportunities for various side-quests, as with any good RPG.
Mass effect is absolutely beautiful, so beautiful I spent most of my first hours of gameplay just wondering around and gawking slack-jawed at the awesome intensity of the visuals. Everything from the impossibly detailed character models (particularly the aliens) through the sleek, futuristic yet serene Citadel to the marvelous planetside scenery is sheer bliss to look at (and this is a two year-old game, mind -- an eternity in 3D engine time!). I do not make the comparison to Star Control II lightly; that game also featured space exploration coupled with combat and surface exploration, and it seems the Mass Effect designers definitely took a cue from Star Control II in providing detailed planetary descriptions and semi-random surface generation for surface exploration. All said and done, the game is technically as impressive as I've ever seen.
Sonically Mass Effect is equally impressive, with a compelling score by Sam Hulick and brilliant voice acting that, at its best, shines with terrific contributions by the likes of Seth Green and Armin Shimerman (Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space 9); at it's worst it's merely decent -- production values that are light-years ahead of most games and which truly herald an age where such aspects of games aren't treated as low-priority.
Finally, the control system works quite well, the characters are easy to control and even vehicle movement makes sense. This is a major improvement over the occasionally choppy control system in other contemporary first-person RPGs, such as Fallout 3.
The BadI have few issues with Mass Effect. The first two are quite trivial; first and foremost, inventory management is significantly less developed than it ought to be. It's hard to tell which items are improved over others, it's quite easy to "lose" upgrades in unequipped weapons if you don't read the instruction boxes carefully, it's almost impossible to track how close you are to the 150-item limit and you'll often find yourself having to dispose of important weapons or upgrades instead of the crappy Lance assault rifle you've been carrying since the beginning of the game because you just didn't expect it to matter.
Next: the hacking/decrypting/surveying minigames are too easy, not nearly varied enough and too random to be effective (I've occasionally failed cracking open an easy crate because the block arrangement was nearly impossible to navigate, whereas a hard-to-decrypt weapons locker merely required a few careless keystrokes).
The bigger issue, though, is the inconsistent depth experienced throughout the game; whereas at first it seems the game world contains infinite possibilities for research and exploration, this sensation doesn't last past the first two or three quest assignments. Although huge and exciting, the main storyline becomes increasingly linear as it approaches endgame; this is admittedly a problem shared by most major RPGs, with very rare games managing to provide comparable breadth towards the end of the game as at the beginning. This is perhaps the one point in which Mass Effect falls just short of truly succeeding Star Control II as the ultimate space opera. Don't get me wrong, the game is never boring, it's just that your choices towards the end of the game are significantly constrained in contrast with the sheer expanse earlier on.