While Mass Effect was originally released on the X-Box 360, this user review is based on the PC version.
It's a little late for me to be writing a review for the original Mass Effect, which was originally released for the X-Box 360 in 2007, before being released to PC in 2008. I actually didn't play this game until 2009, when I saw it for a heavily discounted price. I thought to myself, “I need a new game to play, I heard this is good”. I didn't know much about Mass Effect at the time, so I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that Mass Effect was made by Bioware, a developer responsible for other RPGs I have played and enjoyed before, most notably Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights.
Little did I know that when I installed Mass Effect on my PC, I was installing the first entry to my favourite video game franchise.
Set in the far future of 2183, the game begins with the creation of your character. You are Commander Shepard of the Alliance Navy, and you're either man or woman and an Earth born, or a spacer, or a colonist. You're a war hero, or a sole survivor or a ruthless soldier. These are the some of the characteristics you choose to begin with before selecting your character class. There are five classes to choose from including soldier, engineer, adept, vanguard, infiltrator and sentinel, each class having its own unique abilities which are acquired through gaining skill points via 'levelling up', similar to traditional RPGs.
As Commander Shepard, you and your squad are being sent to the colonist planet of Eden Prime for an investigation mission. A Council Spectre by the name of Nihlus is joining you on this mission, to essentially review Commander Shepard's performance as a potential recruit to the Council Spectres, the most elite soldiers in the galaxy, the hands of the Council themselves. Upon arrival to Eden Prime, things aren't all as they seem, colonists are missing, dead and video footage shows of what appears to be a massive unknown ship attacking the colony.
The plot of Mass Effect is very deep and complex but it is one of the best stories I have ever seen from a video game. This helps by the well rounded cast of characters, from humans to aliens that you will encounter throughout the game, as well as the amount of conversation. There's a lot of talking in this game, which for some might be bad while others may enjoy the conversations. I personally like it, the characters have a lot to say and all the characters of the game are deep and very well fleshed out, with tremendous back stories and past experiences for them to tell you, if you're willing to listen. Sometimes though, the cut scenes do feel a bit static in a sense, it reminds me of the cut scenes from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, e.g. characters just standing there talking. Some of the cut scenes have a bit more action and movement, but there aren't a lot of those unfortunately.
There's a lot of choice when it comes to dialogue and that's what this game is about, choice. Players will find that there will be times when they have to make a choice, whether it's through dialogue or through actions, and depending on the player's choice can affect the overall storyline. We've seen this in different games before, but I really enjoyed this element in Mass Effect, especially considering how your choices can affect the sequels, which we'll get into later.
Mass Effect plays like a cross of two genres, a third person shooter combined with an RPG. Players run on foot with weapon in hand, from assault rifles, to pistols, sniper rifles and so forth. You shoot the bad guys and they're gonna try and shoot you back. The game does have a cover system but it feels a bit clunky compared to other third person shooters, especially with shooters of the time, such as Gears of War. Movement is a bit tricky on the battlefield, sure Shepard can jog, sprint and take cover, but other than that he doesn't feel very mobile as other games. Should Shepard take damage, his shields will be the first to go, which luckily regenerate over time, however Shepard's health behind the shields will not regenerate and will require the player to use a medical kit of sorts in the form of Medical-Gel.
It's not just Shepard on the field though. Shepard is usually in the company of two of his comrades, or squad members, your 'squad' is your 'party'. At the beginning of entering a new mission, you'll need to pick two squad members to join you. Depending on the mission you may be forced to take a particular squad member with you, but either way it's up to you to balance out your squad between skills of assault, technical and biotics. Characters who specialise in assault tend to be soldiers and are good in a straight up fight, technical characters are good at using computers and may be able to do what Shepard can't, while biotics in a sense, act as 'magic' characters, the spell casters so to speak.
Going back a little, the game uses a lot of RPG elements because hey, it's an RPG. Throughout the game as you defeat enemies and complete tasks, you'll receive experience points that go toward your level. Upon levelling up, you'll receive skill points which you can use to better your character. Most of the skill points are passive, taking affect naturally such as being better at pistols, assault rifles, having more health etc. Some skills are used outside of battle, such as charm or intimidation (being able to talk your way through things to get what you want), computer hacking skills etc. There's a lot to work with. Despite the broad range of skills, I found that I could get through the game reasonably well as long as I upgraded only a few specific skills and specialised in them.
On the field of battle, you can command your squad mates and tell them what skills to use on specific targets. By holding down the space bar (PC version), the game will stop motion and essentially freeze time, this will allow you to freely look around and select specific targets, you can then order one of your team mates to use certain skills on certain targets. I didn't do this very much to tell you the truth, but it's a handy feature.
Similar to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect also utilises a sort of 'good' and 'evil' system for your character, being the Paragon/Renegade system. If your character does good things and good deeds, he/she will receive Paragon points. If your character is one of those people who will do anything to get the job done, or is a plain selfish douche, then they're going to receive Renegade points. Paragon and Renegade points affect overall dialogue and how other characters see your Shepard, while the charm or intimidate skills go hand in hand with either your Paragon or Renegade points separately.
As with all RPGs, there are a lot of weapons and other items like armour or accessories to collect. Sometimes there's too much. I found that my inventory would get so full of random stuff so quickly, and I would have to spend time cleaning it all out. This wasn't too bad but it did get annoying at times. You can also upgrade your weapons and armour by collecting accessories to go into them. This isn't that deep really but it does give you an edge.
For the most part, the environments are huge and they're beautiful to look at. It's a big galaxy out there and Bioware have done their best to showcase it to us. I found though when it came to storyline missions that the areas were large and unique, with a fair amount to explore and enemies to fight. Regarding side missions, and while there are a lot, side missions felt a little repetitive and often used recycled environments. I noticed this often when conducting missions against the pro-human group, Cerberus.
In between missions, players will be on board their ship, the Alliance Normandy. This ship acts as Shepard's mobile base of operations and this is where players can plot a course to their next destination. This is also the time and place where you can walk around on the Normandy and get to know its crew and your squad members. If back stories and dialogue interests you then this is a key point, however if it doesn't then don't worry about this.
I better bring this up now or else it'll be too late. I have to talk about this, the worst thing of the game? The vehicle sections. That Goddamn, stupid Mako. When you tackle a new mission, chances are you'll arrive to the mission in a tank-like vehicle called the Mako, having to drive to your destination before proceeding on foot. The Mako, is so annoying. It's a horribly controlled vehicle that steers and turns so awkwardly and it just feels like an absolute mess to drive. It's honestly probably one of the worst vehicles I have driven in any game.
Okay. Got the crappy Mako out of the way.
Graphically, this is a very beautiful game, for its time any way. The environments are usually large and bold and a lot of the aliens, particularly the Turians and Krogans look awesome. Sadly though, a lot of the humans don't look very nice at all, especially their hair, oh God the hair. As mentioned before, while there are a lot of cut scenes and are interesting and engaging to watch, the cut scenes feel quite static and there really isn't much going on.
One of my favourite things about this game is the sound track. I absolutely loved it. That synthetic, futuristic, almost cyber punk vibe going on, with moments of epic orchestra. The sound of the gunfire from yourself or the enemies? People shouting stuff in battle? This game has absolutely amazing sound. Most of the voice acting as well as the general writing is really good too. Despite the fact I played as a male Shepard, I believe the female Shepard (voiced by Jennifer Hale) is a lot better.
Once you've finished your twenty to thirty epic space adventure, be sure to keep your save file as you can import it into the sequel, Mass Effect 2, to continuing altering the overall storyline to your actions.
Mass Effect is only the beginning. If you're a fan of RPGs and for some strange, sick reason you haven't played this yet then I highly advise you to do so. Even if you're not usually a fan of RPGs I would suggest giving this a go. The third person shooting is pretty fun but the overall story is so engaging and interesting, I'm sure you'll get hooked. Just as long as you can tolerate the Mako segments, you're going to love it.
Mass Effect is available on X-Box 360, PS3 and PC.