Mass Effect review
The Galaxy is in YOUR hands
Control over the main characters actions
Repetitive side quests
Boring planet landscape
Poor equipment acquiring system
What would you say if someone told you that they could pluck you from your mundane existence and plant you in the centre of a fantasy filled world where many of the rules of reality do not apply? Well, unless you find Jumanji buried under the earth’s surface then your chances are slim. On the bright side, at least game developers are doing what they can to give you this experience by pumping out Western RPGs. Here, the concept is simple: give the player as much control over their actions as possible. Most WRPGs released in the past few years do this well, but at the expense of an engaging, focussed plot. Mass Effect however, not only allows the player to determine the fate of the main character AND the entire galaxy, but it also provides an engaging story that is usually lacking in this genre. It seems that most RPGs these days tend to focus on either freedom OR story so it was pleasing to see that Mass Effect found a good balance between the two.
I may be a big fan of sci-fi, but I am also in my twenties, so when I come across a quality film or game of the genre, I tend to leave the jumping and squealing with excitement to the constraints of my own bedroom (or the admirals quarters on Galactica). ME was no exception. You are John Sheppard, (eventual) captain of the Normandy. You call all the shots, which includes galaxy exploration. You will also eventually shape the fate of not only humanity but the many other races that you’ll encounter along the way.
As mentioned before, the story is really quite enjoyable. Early in the game you discover that a Spectre (elite, handpicked warrior working for the government), Saren, is up to no good. To make matters more interesting, John touches a beacon from an ancient, extinct civilization which results in strange, incomprehensible visions. What do these visions mean, and why has Saren gone rogue? Your mission is to explore the galaxy and find an answer to these questions. In all honesty, it really is a simple story, but the way that it’s presented within the universe is what sparks the magic. The biggest downfall is the length of the game. This is a big budget RPG but even with the completion of many of the side quests; it only took me 18 hours. At least I can be thankful for Mass Effect 2 which is a direct sequel. Below is a graph of the enjoyment level in ME.
The entire development (apart from the past) of the main character, Sheppard, is entirely up to the player. Absolutely every piece of Sheppard’s dialogue in the game comes from a series of choices. Most of the time, you are given the choice from a good response, a neutral response, and a bad response. These choices not only affect how others will react towards you, but also directly dictate key points in the game. For instance, in one situation you work your way through a dungeon of enemies and find that a life form thought to have been extinct has been mind controlling other life forms. You can decide to either kill the beast which will be the end of its species forever, or take the risk by trusting its final plea and letting it retreat to an uninhabited planet to reproduce. There are many of these options throughout the game and the best part is that they carry over to the sequel. This game brings a new meaning to RPG replayablility.
To make things even more interesting, your character can develop romantic relationships with several other characters. Although the game unfortunately doesn’t endorse being the ships resident slut, if you play your cards right you can still spend a magical moment with the desired. Don’t get me wrong, you should not be expecting a hardcore cyber porn experience, unless you’re a 12 year old who hasn’t seen a booby before.
The other main characters are easily one of the games strongest points. It isn’t often that I become so eager to find out more about their pasts and what makes them tick. Through your travels, you can recruit 6 party members, two of which you can select to fight alongside you. Apart from being given the opportunity to find out more about them, you are also able to learn about their race and explore the cultures and historical events associated with their people. The developers went all out in creating these dynamic races and the politics involved between them within the galaxy. The Krogan were my personal favourite. Most games would just present them as a powerful race of warriors, but Mass Effect dives deeper. Thousands of years ago the Krogan were intent on taking over as many worlds as they could, and it seemed that nothing could stop them. This was until the Turians developed a virus called the Genophage which drastically reduces their fertility rate to about 1 in a 1000. So naturally, they’re a dying breed, and they’re not afraid to let the world know of the anger they hold. There is so much to learn about each race and the complex relationships they have with other races. This depth is certainly one of the games most engaging features. Below is an image of just some of the races you will come across on your journey.
Each of the six party members will join your cause for their own reasons, and their feelings towards you will be directly linked to how you proceed throughout the game. I already mentioned that playing your cards right will land a lady in your bed, but it doesn’t stop there. You are the captain of the ship, so naturally you will be forced to make all the calls. Each of your party members will at one stage present you with a personal issue that has been bothering them and you can choose to help them resolve whatever that issue may be (through a side quest). In doing so, as well as taking the time and conversing with them regularly, you will open up further conversational topics which will teach you even more about the characters attitudes, values and beliefs. While learning about your crew is entirely optional, it is something that you will want to do.
While the battle system certainly has its flaws, I can’t see it unappealing to too many gamers. It’s essentially a Third Person Shooter with added RPG elements. There are four gun types to choose from (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, and sniper rifle) and an array of special abilities that can be learnt through killing enemies and levelling up. A typical battle will involve running to cover and using a selection of guns and abilities until your enemies are defeated. This system is quite simple and was good enough to retain my interest throughout the game. The only problem is the way your other party members assist you in battle. They are AI controlled by default, but you do have the option to select their gun, which abilities to use, where they move to and their behaviour in battle. Unfortunately they have a hard time listening to you. You may choose to order an ally to move behind the tree in front of you, but instead, he’ll take the long way there and get himself killed in the process. What’s worse is that at times, telling your party to attack will result in them standing on the spot until the battle is over. This is like trying to set an obstacle course for your goldfish. It would have been much less of a headache if all party controls were taken away. Below is a screenshot taken from a typical battle.
As touched on before, your characters grow stronger by levelling up and allocating points to skill sets. In addition, you can also equip specific armour, weapons and upgrades to these characters. While this adds a nice level of customisation, it is deeply flawed. Often when travelling through a dungeon, you will find over 50 pieces of equipment, and you won’t know what they do until you enter the ‘Equip’ screen. The issue here is that in no time you’ll be maxed out (you can only carry 150 items) with pointless equipment which forces you to spend a few minutes clearing out your inventory. While it may not sound like much of an issue, it is. I cannot imagine a worse way of acquiring items.
Although simple, the main story is enough to keep you wanting more. However, like Sarah Jessica Parker, the side quests are in serious need of a makeover, or a paper bag in her case. Initially, the excitement of exploring hundreds of planets is like winning $100 on a $1 scrath’n’win (which is very exciting in my books), but you soon come to realise that you can’t exactly land on and explore 99% of these planets. Instead, you can read a bit about their history and atmosphere. When you finally find one you can land on (through sidequest information, or searching aimlessly) you’ll find that it looks and feels exactly like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that. To make things worse, there are only three types of dungeons on these planets (space stations, caves and buildings), all of which have the exact same architecture. Talk about repetitive. Just about every side quest is as follows: Find the planet, land on the planet, drive to the structure, enter the structure, kill some enemies, and walk into the final room. These become a bore after you realise they do not offer anything new. I should point out that the main story focused locations are all unique and offer something different each time. The main city that you’ll go to, the Citadel, is worth a mention here. It’s huge, allows for a lot of exploration, and offers a number of internal side quests which are in fact quite interesting. Too bad there weren’t a few more locations like this one.
All good things must come to an end, and this game did in 18 hours, even with the completion of many side quests. The game should have been longer but I can forgive it thanks to the replayability being incredibly high, due to certain choices affecting major plot points and the multiple difficulty levels. I should also mention that your completion data can be loaded by Mass Effect 2, meaning every decision you made in ME1 will affect an incredible amount of plot points in ME2. Playing ME1 first is essential if you want the full Mass Effect experience.
Despite its flaws which are almost entirely gameplay related, Mass Effect will be a dollar well spent. Unlike many games today, this game offers a perfect balance between freedom and story. The most rewarding aspect is how your choices affect everything around you and it’ll take many play throughs to experience everything the game has to offer. This comes recommended, especially if you’re a sci-fi fan.
About the author
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