A top-of-the-line space opera, an above-average game
- Mass Effect has not only a fantastic story in terms of its scope and imagination, but the structure, pacing, and general presentation of the story to the player is truly superb. This game plays out more like a really well-written novel than a video game or (as some may be tempted to say) a movie. There is an incredibly detailed backstory, intertwining narrative threads, and a plot twist near the end of the game that caught me completely off-guard, yet turned out to be perfectly logical. This aspect alone makes the game worth playing, and sci-fi junkies will walk away extremely satisfied.
- Likewise, the game's characterization is fantastic. The myriad dialogue options allow you as the player to delve as much or as little as you wish into individuals' backgrounds. As a result, the player can become very emotionally invested in certain characters, and this does nothing but increase the game's immersion.
- There are often a number of dialogue choices in the game which can affect your character's good/evil alignment. Although this is by no means an original implementation, the ability to mold your character in such a way is always a welcome addition, and thanks to the game's brilliant writers, there are a number of different dialogue paths you can take through almost any given encounter.
- The voice acting in the game is mostly well-done. There are a few voice actors who noticeably overact occasionally (Ashley Williams tends to sound a little too passionate most of the time), but a greater number do the job very well (Garrus is probably the best example). In no cases is the voice acting stiff or monotone - it is well-balanced from beginning to end, and helps to make the dialogue portions of the game as interesting as any action part.
- The action elements in the game are top-to-bottom fantastic. Going into gunfights is simply fun, and the entertainment really doesn't wear off. There's also an interesting strategy element to such portions; your characters have biotic and tech abilities (the sci-fi analogue to magic in fantasy RPGs), some of which are offensive and others defensive, that can be used at any time in a battle. Although in many cases it's simple enough to just run in and blast everything that moves, just as often it's beneficial to take battles slower and use these abilities to maximize your squad's effectiveness. This gives combat a certain depth that enhances the game's replay value and keeps firefights from getting stale.
- There's a huge number of sidequests, all of which help flesh out the game's universe. Although many of the sidequests differ little from one another, they are a pleasant distraction that allow for extra experience and opportunities to find extra items. Most importantly, these sidequests can provide the player with abundant additional information on the Mass Effect universe, which gives the game significantly more depth.
- Mass Effect has an absolutely killer soundtrack. Most of the music in the game is of the spacey, electronic sort, but it fits the atmosphere splendidly, and often moderates the mood better than anything else. Also, the song played during the closing credits could not have been better-chosen.
- The game's graphics are gorgeous. Although the colors tend to be on the vivid side, I think the game's setting allows for it compared to a duller, more "realistic" color palette. Character designs are all well done, as are ship designs and cinematic sequences.
- The gameplay tends to focus too much on an exploration mechanic that quickly wears out its welcome. Whenever you land on a planet, you are dropped in an all-terrain vehicle known as the Mako, which you can drive around on the surface. The map is typically marked at objects of interest, the variety of which is unfortunately small - crashed probes, mummified corpses, abandoned bases, that sort of thing. Visit five planets at random, explore them, and you'll have seen just about everything you'll encounter throughout the Galaxy, with few exceptions. Although you get different things when you scan these anomalies, it's a little disappointing to constantly run across the same objects over and over.
- There is distinct evidence of laziness on the developers' part with certain aspects of the game. Planets don't really look all that different from one another, other than different terrain shape and color. There's never any vegetation, rarely alien animal life, and never any cities or anything of the sort, except in storyline missions. Beyond this, it seems that all bases and underground mines established on planets throughout the Galaxy have the exact same layout. You can go across light-years of space to the other side of the Galaxy, and whatever rogue base that you're trying to take down on whatever obscure planet it's on will have the exact same shape and size as a completely unrelated base elsewhere. Besides simply smacking of laziness, it makes the game much more boring, because now you can't even enjoy the scenery.
- Sidequests are all mostly the same. They're either fetch-quests or mercenary ones, where you simply go to a planet and wipe out the bad guys, and few stray very far from here. Although the combat is fun, going through the motions gets rather stale, and near the end I found myself getting frustrated with doing them.
- Absolutely horrendous inventory management. There is no way to organize any of the items you get, making scrolling through them to get to what you want a pain, more often than not. Although there is a basic organization feature built in to the game (all your items are divided by type), a simple "alphabetize" option would have helped enormously, especially because many weapons have the same name, but a different number after them (i.e. a Stiletto VI pistol, which is better than the Stiletto III). Adding upgrades to armor and weapons just complicates the inventory screen further, and as it is it's mostly a huge mess.
- Item overload. There are too many crates, too many secure boxes, too many weapons lockers, etc. that you come across in the game. When you open these (or hack them), you tend to get weapons and upgrades. It's nice, especially in the beginning of the game when you don't have much, but in the mid-to-late game, you find this stuff EVERYwhere, and it gets to be a hassle to manage, especially because you tend to get duplicates and it's hard to remember which guns you have and which you don't. I spent a LOT of time near the end of the game going through all my weapons and discarding what I didn't need, which was almost everything. There are simply too many versions of weapons, and the developers could have reduced the number such that coming across a new weapon was actually a big deal; instead, getting a new weapon is an entirely trivialized event that you'll eventually just get annoyed with.
- The game tends to suffer from occasional slowdown, something I feel should be absent from console gaming altogether. Although this only tends to happen right after entering a new area (i.e. the game is still loading when you begin) or right after autosaving, there were several instances where there was simply too much on the screen and the game slowed down. This is hardly a major issue, but it happened enough to be aggravating.
- The AI is not great. Although I did die several times through my play on Normal difficulty (which was otherwise a cakewalk), such instances were due more to my own stupidity or impatience than because the AI did something particularly clever. Most of the time, enemies will just rush at you and you can simply blast them away, or they'll hide in the same spot behind cover until you come up behind them and kill them.
- Elevators. These "loading screens" take forever - up to a minute or more on the worst occasions. Especially in the beginning of the game, when you're on Citadel, you have to use elevators frequently and too much time is spent in them.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Mass Effect
is a game worth playing for most, and there are a number of people out there who will play through it multiple times. It's a game that succeeds mostly on its writing and its design, less on its gameplay, and not at all in its organization. Ultimately, its a bipolar game in the sense that most people are going to be enjoying themselves most either when they're learning about the rich and detailed history of Galactic civilization, or when they're blasting enemies away with their Assault Rifles.
Even though the game is filled with a significant amount of filler material, the game is incredibly fun. I just finished and I already want to play through again, even in spite of the large amount of complaints I have. When the game gets it right, it gets it right
, and the result is an uneven but ultimately satisfying experience.