Mass Effect: A Comprehensive Review
In 2007, gamer giants Bioware and Demiurge Studios joined forces to create the explosive, space-based RPG Mass Effect. Released in 2007 for the Xbox 360 console to almost immediate popularity, Mass Effect takes place in the futuristic year of 2183 and revolves around one main mission: saving humanity from ultimate destruction.
The main character of Mass Effect is either the male or female Commander Shepard, depending on the preferences of the player. The default character is the male Shepard, however I chose to play a female Commander and was provided with several personalization options that molded the suggested appearance to one that was almost unidentifiable. I personally tweaked every appearance aspect, from the depth of her cheekbones to her hair and makeup, and provided her with a tailored personality suitable to her final appearance.
Class selection is available at this point as well. Mass Effect provides the player with several options in this department: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Sentinel, Infiltrator, and Vanguard. The individual class that is chosen affects your personal abilities further on in the game. Soldiers demonstrate the greatest proficiency with the game's vast expanses of weaponry; Engineers are capable of demonstrating great skill with technical abilities; Adepts are those individuals that are the most powerful users of biotic powers (the ability to manipulate mass, force fields, etc.) Sentinels are cross-trained between the classes of engineers and adepts; Infiltrators are blended Soldiers and Engineers; and Vanguards are a powerful mix of Soldiers and Adepts.
In addition to the ability to select a class, the player is also provided with the option of personalizing their character's personal and military background. Several paths exist for your character to choose between, and each selection in this area of character development affects both your personality and your actions later on in the game.
The ability to personalize every aspect of your character is usual for role-playing games, however I have yet to play another that demonstrates the all-encompassing approach that is displayed in Mass Effect. So far, so good.
Overall, the controls are quite easy to get accustomed to. After recently defeating Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, I was fresh out of the RPG-world, so perhaps I had a bit of an advantage. Commander Shepard is capable of looking around and even focusing on important viewpoints that are highlighted by the game. Shooting is easy, however use of the sniper rifle tended to frustrate me as Shepard is unable to hold the sight steady without upgrades to his or her ability. The usual forward push on the left stick sends Shepard jogging, however even after beating this game I am still unsure of whether or not he or she can actually run. The Commander is unable to leap over barriers, much less slide into them as cover, and this oftentimes proves to be a problem. Shepard is capable of using standing cover, such as walls or beams, and this greatly improves his or her chances of survival during combat.
So, in conclusion for this section, good basic controls. A little shaky on the sniper rifle and some of the other types of weapons, but this usually improves as Shepard levels up.
Now that we've addressed the basics, let's talk missions. These are designed to earn your XP, hone your combat abilities, and further the storyline. Some of the missions that were required were a bit redundant for me personally. A lot of the main missions seemed repetitive; for example, a few of the assignments that Shepard receives from Admiral Hackett involved the recovering of probes. This has to be done several times and eventually just becomes boring. Other missions are heart-pounding ventures into enemy territory, and a few are difficult to the point in which they elicited some expletives. The really exceptional aspect of Mass Effect's missions is that the adage "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" comes into huge play here. On several occasions, I bombed the first few attempts at a mission. Then, I changed my approach and nailed it. Mass Effect seems to require its players to actually think , which is new to me.
The concept of squad controls is included in this section. For every mission you undergo, you are required to select two squad members to accompany you. Like Shepard, each member specializes in some aspect of combat in alignment with their classes. I will go into more depth in terms of supplementary characters later, however squad controls during combat situations are essential. There will be missions that you can absolutely do by yourself, and others that would be impossible. Your squad controls allow you to remotely direct your fellow members, and allow you to command them to attack, attack your target, take cover, or regroup. I used the attack and regroup options more often than the other two, and experienced success in most combat-related situations.
Overall, the missions are appropriately balanced between mundane and essential. I suppose that the life of a soldier pretty much involves the same types of things.
There are several members stationed aboard the Normandy that are available to assist you with missions. Six such individuals exist and are listed below with short descriptions.
Ashley Williams: a Marine that joins your crew after her unit is decimated on Eden Prime. She is bold and bossy, but is the most proficient as the only Solder-classed character in my squad.
Kaidan Alenko: a powerful biotic who somewhat lacks in combat abilities. He is only trained in the use of a pistol, however more often than not his biotic powers more than make up for this. Sentinel-classed and wired with an outdated L2 implant which causes him to experience extreme migraines and (in my opinion), spontaneous mood swings.
Garrus Vakarian: a turian agent and one of my favorite squad members. He is well-trained in the use of sniper rifles and sometimes managed to get off better shots than I did. He possesses a surprising sense of humor and is fully devoted to any mission.
Liara T'Soni: an asari researcher with an innocent nature. She possess well-developed biotics and, unlike Kaidan, can handle herself in battle. I didn't use her very much, but was pleasantly surprised when I did.
Urdnot Wrex: a bull-headed, stubborn Krogan mercenary who demonstrates exceptional proficiency in the use of shotguns. He presents a personal issue towards the end of the game that only Shepard can resolve, but afterward he becomes more fully devoted to the cause. He is also large in size, which posed a problem to me at times, as he often became hopelessly wedged in spaces that everyone else could easily slip through. Very frustrating.
Tali'Zorah Nar Rayya: a sweet Quarian whom Shepard rescues from the Citadel. She is also adept in the use of firearms but, in addition to this, is considered to be a technical genius. During Mass Effect, Tali is undergoing her Pilgrimage which Shepard is capable of helping with, if the player so desires.
The possibility of the romance is available to the player through Commander Shepard, however it is usually up to the player to initiate. Conversational topics that will lead the Commander down that path need to taken when available, lest the opportunity be missed. If the player wants to begin a romance with a NPC squad member, the romance will last for the entire game (if not interrupted by the start of another romance.)
For a male Shepard, the romance options include Ashley, Tali, and Liara. Conversation options exist that would appear to initiate a relationship with Kaidan, however I don't believe that you can actually follow through with this.
For a female Shepard, the romance options include: Kaidan, Garrus, and Liara. As with the male Shepard, conversational topics exist to initiate a relationship with Ashley, however I don't believe that this is possible either.
My romance with Kaidan was one of my favorite aspects of this game, not for the actual romance but for its realistic development. Kaidan was capable of having his feelings hurt, and he even got angry with me on several occasions. Romance in the game can end disastrously, or can survive until the end of the game.
The storyline involves the destruction of mankind by a superior and ancient race of aliens called the Reapers. In Mass Effect, Shepard battles the Geth, a synthetic species designed by the Quarians for labor-related reasons. Eventually becoming self-aware, the Geth rebelled against their Quarian overlords, sending the entire species in space to live in a flotilla. Shepard takes the Geth- and their liason, Saren- on after learning that they are working for the Reapers, a nearly indestructible and horrifying race of bug-like aliens that destroy anything and everything in their paths to domination.
The good thing about Mass Effect is that you can pursue the storyline as quickly or as slowly as you want to. By doing only the major missions, the game would end rather quickly. But side assignments provide distractions and other things to do in order to earn more XP. The storyline is engaging and entertaining to follow. It's easy to personally take up Shepard's cause after witnessing the reactions and behaviors of the crew members. The excitement is infectious, and everyone involved in the mission is anticipating the final battle against Saren and his Reaper friend Sovereign. The last fight is intense, difficult, and requires concentration. I died several times before I finally learned the pattern required for success.
Great storyline, well-developed characters, and interesting dialogue options.
I loved Mass Effect. It was a wonderful introduction to space-based RPGs and immediately after I finished it, I rushed out to purchase the second one. I will also write a review on Mass Effect 2, once I get a little bit further into the game. But generally speaking, the game itself is incredibly engaging and rarely boring. There are a few moments of annoying downtime, but these are fleeting. Character development is amazing, and the NPCs are so lifelike during conversation that it's almost unbelievable. Combat is decent in Mass Effect, but as you will eventually see is more honed and complicated in Mass Effect 2.
I am a little less than halfway into the second Mass Effect and I can honestly say that I miss the first Mass Effect. The game is simple but in an interesting way, and the storyline is capable of drawing you into it.
Try the game. Or, if you already have, share your opinions with me. I know I didn't cover everything- but that would be an IMMENSE hub.