Anyone who knows me knows that I love Mass Effect. I’ve played the game multiple times, and I’ve fiddled around with it in various unfinished playthroughs even more than that. I should preface this by saying that this is only a review for the first game, and I will not address any of the current controversy regarding the ending of the trilogy, although I’m sure I’ll get to that eventually.
I first came to Mass Effect after playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age: Origins. When I realized the games were made by the same company, I decided to give Mass Effect a try. I bought my 360 just to play the game, and it eventually became my favorite system, so even if I hadn’t liked it, it would have been worth it, but of course, I fell in love. However, that love was not instantaneous.
To be honest, I didn’t like Mass Effect the first few times I started it up. It didn’t grab my attention the way Dragon Age and other RPGs had. Still, I kept trying, especially since I purchased a whole system just to play the game, not to mention the fact that I’d also purchased Mass Effect 2 at the same time (it had just come out). I’m not sure exactly what the turning point was, but eventually I got far enough to be hooked, and I’ve never gone back since.
Mass Effect is a great accomplishment in the RPG genre. Its story is uniquely spectacular and it boasts some of the best characters to ever grace video games. Mechanically, the game leaves a little to be desired, but it’s not ultimately enough to drive players away from the game. The game also has excellent graphics (for the time it was released, of course – now they’re kind of ugly), sound, music, and superior voice-acting, which only helps contribute to it being a standard of the genre.
The player takes on the role of Commander Shepard, a promising military operative thrown into a galaxy-wide conflict that is centuries old. Shepard is largely defined by the player, who can specify name, gender, looks, and certain elements of the character’s past history, as well as personality through conversation. This customization adds to the story of the game, meaning that it can be slightly different based on how each player’s Shepard approaches events, and also makes the player feel more immersed, as if they have a certain amount of control over the game, and can therefore make it their own.
At first glance, Mass Effect may seem like any other average save-the-world RPG, only set in space in the future. However, the great intricacy of the story, along with the incredible emotion built into the game through various events and characters, makes it anything but average. What keeps players coming back to Mass Effect is the desire to experience the story again and again, whether it’s the same or not. The lore of the game, present mostly in codex entries, planet descriptions, and in some conversations, adds to the feeling of not just a game, but an entire world existing before the player, just waiting to be explored.
That’s not to say Mass Effect doesn’t have its faults. While the RPG elements of the game are amazing, the mechanics leave a little to be desired. The combat is not very sophisticated, and doesn’t really give players lots of choices, although the biotic element of the game is very cool and adds something special to the battle sequences. The inventory system is mind-bogglingly annoying, requiring players to sift through massive piles of loot, most of which is basically interchangeable. The vehicle exploration and combat is the worst, since the vehicle is hard to drive and not very good in combat. The exploration sequences also get a little repetitive, although there are unique missions on each planet, some better than others.
This may sound like a veritable pile of flaws for a game that I’m giving such praise to, but these things really end up not mattering much in the overall scheme of Mass Effect. It’s such a great game at the core that you don’t mind putting up with a few ill-conceived mechanics to live through the story. That’s what makes Mass Effect such a great game, and that’s why I highly recommend that you give it a chance, even if it’s not your normal thing. You might be surprised. I certainly was.