If Star Wars is to film, then Mass Effect is to video games. Excluding actual Star Wars video games, Mass Effect wonderfully explores a diverse galaxy begging players to unwrap its rich culture, bringing to life a universe rarely assembled in video games. Few games or franchises define a console generation, and the Mass Effect series is one of the greatest to ever be created.
Players are placed in the shoes of Commander Shepard, a veteran soldier aboard the spaceship SSV Normandy. As Shepard explores the galaxy, he must stop the rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius from unleashing the Reapers; mysterious sentient life forms capable of destroying the Milky Way galaxy in genocidal proportions.
Mass Effect is one of the first games to have its main protagonist fully voiced by an actor. This ambitious task brings to life a character that otherwise would have no personality. One of the greatest things about ME is the ability for players to mold Shepard into their own special version, not just in appearance, but personality as well. Like many RPGs, players are given choices on everything Shepard has to say and do. These choices can shape the world in a permanent way. Shepard will have to make difficult decisions that will change characters opinions and even determine their life or death. Anyone who has played the ME series has a special attachment to his or her own Shepard because of how involved one has to be with Shepard’s every action.
Building relationships with the game’s assorted cast both alien and human is part of the reason why players feel so invested to their Shepard. Each character has his or her own personality shedding light on what it means to be Human, Turian, Krogan, Asari, and Quarian. Like what’s true in the real world, the galaxy has major prejudices towards one another, and an understanding can only be achieved through personal interaction and acceptance.
Future installments of the ME series have streamlined some RPG elements, but the original is more deeply rooted in its genre particularly with the leveling system. Stat increasing happens at a smaller pace, but there are many more categories (or talents as they are referred) to choose from. I prefer this version of leveling from the trilogy because it offers the option to more finely tune your characters. Like most RPGs, defeated enemies drop loot in the form of guns, armor, and other items. While I like the idea of looting, the number of guns and armor that can accumulate in your inventory can be staggering. There are also too many different ammo types suited for very specific scenarios, further clogging up your inventory.
To complicate things even more, the inventory setup is terrible. There is very little separation between categories, and you will often have to scroll down a long list of hoarded items. Although there are technically many different weapons in the game, they are all pretty much exactly the same except for stat boosts. All weapons use exactly the same model with a simple color swap making weapon acquisition quite boring. I like the idea of having many different weapons and items to choose from, but the lack of variation and poor inventory management lead to a cluttered mess.
Combat is an aspect that is weak in ME 1 compared to its sequels. Since there are no hotkeys for powers (at least for the PS3), using both Shepard’s and squadmate’s powers will frequently stop action breaking any pacing to combat. In general, powers aren’t that remarkable either. Combined with rigid character movement and weak cover system, combat is not the best in the series, and after playing ME 2 and 3, it can feel uncomfortably different.
A feature exclusive to ME 1 is the Mako exploration. The Mako is basically a weaponized land rover/tank. During your times exploring the galaxy, you can land on planets and explore the terrain to find missions and supplies. A lot of people hated using the Mako, but I am on the fence about it. Exploring alien planets sounds really cool, and it could be, but the planets lacked diversity with little to explore. Any building you may encounter is nothing more than a copy-and-paste interior layout. Each planet is massive in scale. Moving through such a huge landmass needs to be fun, and driving around the surface quickly becomes tedious and boring. I think it mostly has to do with fact that the terrain is so hard to traverse and obstructive there’s no room to cruise around and enjoy the scenery (when they aren’t just a color swap). Most of the time is spent climbing up super steep mountains that become more of a hassle than fun. It was a great idea that had a lot of potential, but was poorly executed.
Compared to the improved graphics of Mass Effect 2 and 3, Mass Effect’s noticeably appears outdated. Textures aren’t as defined and models appear stiffer.
The voice acting is outstanding, bringing to life every character. The celestial soundtrack compliments the essence of the game very well.
Playing ME for the first time instills a sense of wonderment unlike any other game. You will want to learn everything you can about this unique and diverse universe. Bioware managed to create a universe you wish you could live in. Each alien race is brilliantly designed with deep biological and cultural lore facilitating the illusion that they could exist in real life. The story to uncover Saren’s mysterious agenda, from a narrative standpoint, is the most focused in the series.
- Great character design and personality
- Strong story
- Fantastic voice acting
- Combat is unremarkable
- Mako exploration was executed poorly
- Terrible inventory menu
Style – Single-player, Third-person action RPG
Developer – Bioware, Demiurge Studios (PC), Edge of Reality (PS3)
Publisher – Microsoft Game Studios (Xbox 360), Electronic Arts (PC, PS3)
Release – November 2007
4.0 – Gameplay
4.0 – Graphics
4.5 – Sound
4.0 – Entertainment
3.5 – Replay Value