(Please note, this is only referring to the first installment of the Mass Effect franchise. I may do reviews on the other two sequels, if desired. Or if I feel like it.)
An oldie but a goodie, Mass Effect really introduced the video game industry to the first space opera of its time, delivering an intricate and expertly-woven story world with many different aspects and points of view and people to relate to. For being the first of it's trilogy, it had a lot to deliver upon in order to support the rest of the series, and as you'll find in the following review, I'd say it delivered well.
In a technologically advanced future, an elite human soldier takes command of a prototype star ship and works to defend the galaxy from imminent danger with a motley crew of aliens and humans alike.
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WHAT TO EXPECT
Well, for as good as this game actually is, it is still pretty old. If you've never picked up the game before in your life, don't expect top-notch graphics, game mechanics, or design choices. Keep in mind, this was made back in 2007, and they were good moves back then. 10ish years later? Not so much. You probably won't play for the gameplay itself, but rather the narrative and story world that it creates and sets up for the two sequel installments.
Perhaps you should expect some frustrated rage-quits over a few of the Mako vehicle sections, especially when you're traversing a planet with zero landmarks over 90% of it's searchable zone, and you are suddenly killed by a stray shot from a Geth trooper way off in the distance. Don't blame me if you also happen to break a controller because you threw it across the room in anger. I am not responsible for your actions.
PLOT / STORYLINE
To put things simply, you play as Commander Shepard, a male or female (your choice) elite human military agent who is aboard the Normandy space vessel, commanded by Captain Anderson, the best father-figure of all time and you can't change my mind. You won't realize this until the third game, but you are not to be blamed for your ignorance, child. Ahem. Anyway, proceeding forward...
As Command Shepard, you are accompanied by the Turian Spectre, Nihlus, and Major Alenko, a human biotic, to check out a strange transmission from a dig site team located on a planet called Eden Prime. The dig site contained ancient Prothean technology, a race of aliens who lived thousands of years previously, but were advanced in all aspects of their technology.
Upon finding the Prothean beacon at the dig site, you come to learn that Saren, a fellow Spectre who has gone rogue, is attempting to use the beacon to facilitate the a geth (sentient AI in synthetic bodies) uprising and the return of an ancient race of machines hell-bent on destroying all organic life in the galaxy. Of course, no one believes you, so you take your trusted team of both humans and aliens and attempt to take Saren down for yourself.
On paper, the plot sounds very cut and dry, and it can definitely come across this way. It's simple, to the point, and sets you on course for the rest of the game within the first mission. Of course, I wouldn't blame you if it seemed rushed and not entirely fleshed out in the first 20 minutes of the game. You're thrust into this new universe that you're still learning the ropes for, and suddenly things are going wrong in this huge, complex space society that humans don't seem to have any part of. Quite daunting indeed.
Once you reach the point in the game where you--minor spoilers here, but nothing really surprising--become the first human Spectre for the Council, things begin to pick up from there. You meet a whole range of characters that really bring the story along at a good pace, and as you learn the delicate constructs that compose the universe's judicial and economical system, things begin to make sense, and you start to explore for yourself how you fit in with the social scale.
Thanks to the Paragon and Renegade system (which has its flaws that I'll get into later,) you can easily choose which side of conflict you most readily lean to in order to resolve issues. Are you Paragon, where all life is precious and things don't always necessarily have to resort to violence? Or are you Renegade, choosing human life over all else, and ending discussion with a well-placed bullet? Each decision can be approached with your own standpoint and opinion, creating a unique experience every time you play.
Granted, it's not the most...astounding story line you've ever heard of, it has a lot of great points. The game can drag on sometimes, especially when gameplay requires you to explore planetoid in the Mako vehicle. *Shudder* Don't even get me started with that thing. So yes, while the entire game won't be fast-paced action and guns-blazing battle sequences, you'll get your fair share in between the story-building dialogue options, character development, and slow-paced travel of the main world hub, planet terrain, and long map sizes for the levels.
Ahh, and now we arrive to my favorite category. If there was only one reason you play the whole game through, I am willing to bet you would choose the characters. Mass Effect has such a diverse cast of companion characters, each with their own unique backstories, personalities, religious and moral beliefs, and goals all their own. It's so enthralling to get to know each one personally, and to see where they end up at the end of the game.
I can play the game multiple times and still feel moved when talking to my go-to companion Garrus (Best space boyfriend, you can't change my mind), and hearing him talk about his days in C-Sec. Or Wrex when he discusses the genophage, a sterility plague infecting all people of his race, and how it's affected Krogan culture and society.
The only downside I do see to the characters are actually the human ones. While I can appreciate what Ashley and Kaiden do for Commander Shepard's character, and the story as a whole, I wasn't able to connect with them as easily as I could the alien cast we were given, and found myself almost exclusively leaving them out of every single mission because I much preferred several other characters over them.
Perhaps this was in part to the developer team putting more emphasis into the alien companions to push the player to learn about these new and strange races we are greeted with at the beginning of the game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does come across as if the humans weren't given the same time and detail into their creation as with the other. It's easy to play favorites, and in a game like this, it's important to want to get to know as many of the characters as intimately as possible to maximize replayability.
Now, onto the Commander themself. Shepard, either male or female as you get to choose and customize how they look at the beginning of the game, is the central figure in this game. What is unique about Mass Effect is that you choose the Commander's backstory as well as their looks, so you can really feel as connected to them as possible. You're not just given a face to play, you're given an avatar of your own imagination, to live out the game as if you were stepping into the shoes of your custom-made hero.
It's a nice touch to bring the player into the immersion, and makes you care about the Commander just a bit more than you would any generic action game hero. Not only that, but the dialogue options and choosable play styles reflect this as well. You give the Commander a voice, choose what they'll say and how they'll say it, and decide if the Commander is a ruthless badass or a compassionate leader. You care about them, and you are invested in the outcome of the story, whether you realize it or not.
Mass Effect's strongest pillar is it's cast of characters, and a single play through will guarantee you realize that.
STYLE / PACING
One aspect that Mass Effect perhaps doesn't do so well is it's pacing. From the start, you're thrown into a level with fighting right out of the gate, and must learn and adapt the gameplay as you go. They don't give much of a tutorial, besides a few tips on screen to tell you how to crouch and shoot, etc.
However, once you arrive to the hub world less than a half hour in, you're suddenly surrounded by so many different people to talk to, so many places to visit, and so many things to learn at that one moment, that you could spend literal hours wandering around just taking in the information of the universe without progressing the plot at all.
At this point, it's worth mentioning that you could also pick up about 6 of 7 side quests that have not much to do with anything in the main story line. I don't know if that should score points for having a diverse and expansive world to explore with many different things to do, or take away points for suddenly dumping the encyclopedia labeled 'Mass Effect' in your lap and giving you the choice to read it at the very same moment you're suddenly given a clear objective in the game. I suppose that's for you as the player to personally decide.
This is a common theme throughout the gameplay, actually. You'll find yourself fighting through tough levels of reasonably fun action, only to half at a point where you're forced into dialogue for half an hour because you want to experience the full story that Mass Effect has to offer. This is especially true for a first play through, when you are not familiar with anything having to do with the series. In an effort to discover or piece together everything about the universe, you also bring the story's pacing to a grinding halt, filling the gaps in between action with large blocks of information that might or might not be significant down the line.
PROS / CONS
Pros for playing Mass Effect? Well, if you're looking for an expansive, diverse, and immersive story world to play around in, this is a very good option for you. There is so much for you to explore and discover that I would highly recommend playing through several times in order to keep a steady pace and learn a healthy amount about the universe in measured doses. Taking your time to really look around and get a feel for the environment is rewarding and often times just makes you appreciate the game for what it delivers well.
There's a whole host of characters waiting to be interacted with, all holding unique dialogues and experiences that you'll want to talk about and find out for yourself. Some you can help and become closer to, others you want to just punch in the face and that's ok too. (Looking at you, Conrad.) Either way, you'll probably start the game for the story and stay for the characters, enjoying everything that each of them have to offer to the story and to your heart. I don't care how cliche and cheesy that sounded. They all matter a whole lot.
There are hours of gameplay here, a good game to sit down and play for awhile and immerse yourself into. If you're only in it for the action, that's ok too. You can skip and bypass most of the dialogue and development-heavy side missions to only focus on the main story, and you'd probably still have several hours worth of gameplay here. Not to mention, most of the game is customizable to your play style. Several different character classes and abilities mix up gameplay and combat and offer countless different combinations with weapons and armor customization too.
Cons for playing Mass Effect? The Mako. Just...that damn vehicle. All of it. Everything that it is and everything that it stands for. If you end up actually playing the game if you hadn't before, you'll quickly discover what I mean by this.
The pacing can be a bit jarring if you're intent on playing the game to it's full potential, exploring everything you can and learning from the various dialogues and data entries the game provides. The world is vast, and it can take time to learn it. Unfortunately, this can mean slowing your immersion to a point. You can spend literal hours just uncovering information about the universe in the middle of a crucial point in the game that's supposed to be 'time sensitive' and really mess up how it's supposed to be pushing you to keep going as fast as possible. So, a bit jarring there, but I suppose that all depends on your play style and interest in the background information on the world itself.
Gameplay and some game mechanics are dated and seem clunky compared to today's widely-used ones. A cool down system for combat is a blessing if you hate having to find ammo throughout levels, but it sure does such when you're waiting like 10 seconds in the middle of combat just to shoot your gun again because it overheated. Given the right upgrades and weapon types, you can negate this entirely, but it costs quite a bit of money and time to do.
Mobility is frustrating and somewhat clunky, with an awful cover system. It almost feels like the engine itself wasn't ideal for combat, which perhaps it wasn't. But with Mass Effect being a combat-heavy game, this isn't much of an excuse.
7 out of 10
I hope you don't get me wrong. I absolutely adore the Mass Effect franchise. I would give it a 10 out of 10 if I thought I could justify or get away with it. But the thought of starting the series all over again always makes me hesitate when I remember the agony I have to go through gameplay-wise when it comes to the first installment. 422Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡcSyyxD89T8
I always take a second to ponder how bad it would be to start off from the second game and skip the first entirely, before finally coming to the decision that I love the characters so much that I'd go through all the frustrating rage quits and occasionally maddening combat sequences to see their origins stories all over again.
No matter how annoying it might be, this game is worth the play through, and will set you on a path to truly appreciate the Mass Effect franchise as it was originally conceived.
Do you agree with my assessment? Have something to say, or is there something I missed? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to let me know your thoughts on Mass Effect!