This review is something I’ve been meaning to type up. While everyone in the blogosphere is talking about Mass Effect 3 and the backlash that is the endings to the final game in the series, I’ll be going into my own thoughts about the first game. As a newbie to the Xbox 360 world, I do have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to playing the best games out there. Playing Mass Effect now may be old news for most gamers who have played it since its release in 2007, but it still can be a joy for those who discover it for the first time.
Mass Effect is considered to be a “sci-fi space opera” third-person shooter RPG which comes from the developers at Bioware. This is the same developer that made an instant fan out of me when I played Dragon Age: Origins and loved every second of the experience. The story starts with a player created main character named Commander Shepard. Like Dragon Age, you can customize Commander Shepard the way you want him/her to look like. You can even choose which class and personal background you want your Shepard to have. There are six classes to choose from which are: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard. Each class has its strengths and weaknesses depending on if you want your Shepard to be skilled in weapons combat but weak in other areas such as tech abilities or biotic powers. The same can be said in a vice versa scenario, weak with weapons but strong in hacking or the like.
The background choice for Shepard is also extensive. You get to choose Spacer, Colonist, or Earthborn for Shepard followed by if he/she is the sole survivor of a past mission gone terribly wrong, a war hero, or a ruthless soldier. Whatever background you choose, it gets referenced to some extent by the supporting characters or people you meet in the game. There are even special side-assignments that are related to your chosen background for Shepard.
I have only done one playthrough of Mass Effect and I will have to go back and play the other classes and backgrounds at some point in the future. I chose to play as a female Shepard with a Vanguard class, Spacer background (this background entails that my Shepard comes from a military family, both parents served in the Alliance, and she has followed in their footsteps), and is the sole survivor from her past mission on Akuze (she watches her entire unit die and she manages to escape with her life).
Playing as Shepard, you are tasked to stop a rogue Spectre agent by the name of Saren from leading an army of synthetic lifeforms known as Geth from conquering the galaxy. As you get further along into the story, Shepard finds out that stopping Saren and an army of Geth is the least of Shepard’s problems. He/She finds out that an even bigger threat looms on the horizon in the form of what is called the Reapers. Saren is controlled by a Reaper vanguard known as Sovereign whose main purpose is to initiate the complete annihilation of sentient lifeforms. By using Saren, Sovereign is trying to unleash the Reapers back into the galaxy to complete the extinction of all life as they know it. It is later learned that the Reaper invasion happens in cycles and it occurs every 50,000 years. Shepard may have defeated the baddies at the end of the game, but the threat of a Reaper invasion still lingers long after the first game concludes.
As a third-person shooter RPG, you get to shoot enemies, explore new planets, and form bonds with your squadmates. Like the Bioware games I have played so far, Mass Effect also has a romance subplot you can choose to pursue in the game. The only available romance options in Mass Effect are the biotic lieutenant Kaidan Alenko (for a female Shepard), soldier Ashley Williams (for a male Shepard), or the Asari alien Dr. Liara T’Soni (for both male/female Shepard). Mass Effect also has a morality system in place known as Paragon and Renegade. You can choose to play Shepard as the do-gooder, by the book soldier or you can be a cold and ruthless dictator. Whatever you choose, your actions and choices will have consequences. The game also sets up major moments where you have to make a decision. The decisions are so great that you actually get to choose who lives and who dies in the game. Be prepared to live with the choices you make in the game.
When I picked up the game, I really wasn’t sure if I would get into it. I got into Dragon Age quickly because I love medieval fantasy type stories in general. I enjoy swords, magic, and exploring mystical, far off lands. I’m not a big science fiction geek, but there have been some exceptions in the past. As long as the story and characters are well-written and compelling, it won’t take me too long to follow a science fiction series. This ended up being the case for Mass Effect.
Starting the game, it really took some time for me to warm up to the story and characters. Not only did I have a whole new universe and set of characters to explore, I also had to get used to the combat system in this game. I am terrible at shooter games. I either manage to get myself killed or I wind up shooting empty space before the bullets connect with any alien baddies. My scores after finishing an online campaign in Halo Reach with friends is embarrassingly low compared to their scores. I definitely can’t say I’m much of a badass with first person or even third person shooters. Hacking and slashing with swords is more my thing, which is why I got cozy with Dragon Age. With a bit of practice, I eventually got the hang of the shooting aspect of the game. I even grew to love it, although, at times I was already longing for a sword or mage staff from Dragon Age while playing Mass Effect.
Immediately I got sucked in by the characters and dialogue in this game once I kept playing further. I kept interacting with every possible character I could from Shepard’s crew on the Normandy ship to a flourishing city known as the Citadel. You have to hand it to Bioware for being really good at immersing players into the worlds they create. It’s very easy to get lost for hours in a game like this and Dragon Age.
There were a few things in this game I wasn’t fond of such as the scanning planets/collecting items side assignments. I started doing them for a while in an attempt to do all possible side assignments available in the game, but they got tedious after a while. I also loathe driving in games. Controlling the planet exploring vehicle called the Mako and having to shoot things at the same time gets pretty annoying and frustrating sometimes. The only time I found the Mako helpful was when I used it to run over bad guys the size of ants trying to miserably shoot at my vehicle. I’ll admit, I did this with so much relish. Small enemies + big military tank type vehicle = instant kill without having to get out and shoot the enemies myself.
Considering this is just the first game, the story and world is far from over. After finishing Mass Effect I immediately went ahead and started my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. Combat and other game play mechanics have improved since the first game. I (dare I say it?) am a better shot than I was from the first game. But I’ll save my impression on Mass Effect 2 for when I actually finish it.
This is a really great RPG. It’s hardly a surprise that I found another new favorite video game to love. While Bioware may be coming under fire right now for the ending of Mass Effect 3, I still praise the developer for making truly enjoyable games. If you are a big RPG gamer who wants well-crafted stories in their video games combined with third person shoot ’em up action, then look no further than Mass Effect.
Reviewer Rating: 10/10