Bioware is certainly one of my favorite game developers. It utilized D&D to perfection in video games and the Star Wars: Knights Of the Old Republic duology was an excellent combination of a fringe style of gameplay (D&D’s “D20” system was used) with a more mainstream brand. Mass Effect is really no exception, as it is pretty high-quality as well. The main difference is that it is purely science fiction instead of fantasy.
Plot: 10 out of 10
This game has commentary on our society similar to that of Star Trek and a sense of adventure reminiscent of Star Wars. We humans are a relatively minor member of an interstellar alliance. We aren’t even allowed an attempt to climb very high because we’re looked down on. That is ultimately changed by Commander Shepard. You choose Shepard’s gender, appearance, profession, background, and can govern his/her personality in dialogue however you see fit. Because Shepard proves to be exceptionally capable and a higher-up named Saren turns traitor, Shepard is assigned the task of pursuing him. Saren turns out to be in league with cybernetic beings called the Reapers, who have conquered and even destroyed many species in the past. Can Shepard and his crew stop them?
There are subplots as well. I’ll give two examples. Shepard’s crew includes aliens, which not all the humans are OK with including the navigator. Also, Shepard can get into a romance with a party member (obviously, this depends on which gender you chose). This can go as far as PG-13 sex, which led to a bit of controversy.
From beginning to end, you’ll be making “Paragon” or “Renegade” choices, depending on whether you want to be orderly or rebellious. You can’t directly make Shepard evil, although it is possible to have the humans use the Reaper threat to take power (and the guy who urges you to this uses the most twisted, opportunistic logic imaginable).
All said, the story is very interesting and lots of twists and turns, including the deaths of major characters. Also, the characters are very good, my favorite probably being Joker, a phenomenal but cocky pilot who nonetheless has legs so bad that he’d shatter them if he tried to walk. Eat your heart out, Stephen Hawking.
Graphics: 5 out of 10
The graphics could be better. While they are perfectly passable, they’re not to be compared to pretty much any other first rate 360 or PS3 game. This is especially true of the skin on models, which lack the near-real textures seen on so many other games. Also, the load times are pretty long for a console. For hardly the most visually spectacular game out there, that’s hard to believe.
Part of the problem is that Bioware is trapped in its past. Neverwinter Nights was a PC game that wasn’t all that demanding, hardware-wise, so its graphics weren’t up to date. But this game was also on the consoles with their more unified standards. So Bioware may have been on a bit too unfamiliar ground.
Sound: 9 out of 10
Great voice acting. This is something that’s sometimes lacking in Bioware’s games. Great music too.
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
You might call it the sci-fi equivalent of the Legend Of Zelda or the Elder Scrolls. Most of the game has you exploring space to find Saren. You search for clues and and do sidequests on planets. Most of the action is laser gunplay similar to most tactical shooters. Difference is, your blaster has unlimited ammo but overheats if you shoot too much for too long. Also, you have personal shielding to knock off. But then, you’ll be dealing with force fields a lot.
There’s an experience system and plenty of equipment to find for the RPG elements of the game. They fit in rather nicely.
All said, this is truly a futuristic RPG done right. The only problem is that the Mako (ground vehicle) could handle better. That makes the sections where you have to use it a little harder.
Challenge: 7 out of 10
Easy on the easiest setting, tougher on harder settings. Overall, I’d say the difficulty is just about right. Although the fun is hurt a bit because the optional planet can fall into the trap of having you do the same thing over and over again in much the same sense that the original Assassin’s Creed did.
Overall: 8 out of 10
I haven’t actually played any of the sequels yet, but I will at some point. I have to say that this first installment is a very good sci-fi game., although a little overrated.