Think of the last time you played a game that promised you consequences for your actions. Bioshock? Oblivion? Now think whether or not your actions really did impact on the game. The unquestionably good Bioshock
may have promised a revolution in interactive story telling, but it never really felt like what you were doing had any effect on the other characters, or on the outcome of the story.
In Mass Effect however, every decision you make has tangible consequences that not only affect the story, but also the way you can play the game. Deciding to leave a man (or woman) behind in a ferocious battle for a space station could end you up in hot water with the space council, lose you friends amongst your crew and leave you a crew member down for the rest of the game
Not all the decisions you'll have to make are at all clear cut either. You'll gain Paragon or Renegade points for 'good' or 'bad' actions respectively - but it's not quite like KOTOR
, which saw you swinging towards either the light or dark sides of the force. Instead in Mass Effect everything you do can be seen as being ultimately good - it's just whether or not you want to play the hero or be a dick. It's a great system that allows you to play a mix of good and bad guy, but also allows Bioware to challenge you to make much more complex moral decisions.
There are so many decisions to make, and paths to follow, that it's literally impossible to see them all with just one character - necessitating multiple play-throughs. And since each of these decisions and paths can change the shape of the game in such radically different ways it's actually compelling to want to go back just to see what happens if you select that
option instead of this
Which brings me to Mass Effect's main problem. You'll often be forced to repeat cutscenes and conversations throughout the course of the game. Not because there's not enough dialogue, but because you'll constantly be reloading. This game is tough. And the autosave feature is intermittent at best. In areas where you'd expect it to autosave it doesn't, meaning that if you forget to save every five minutes you'll be recovering a lot
of ground. Cutscenes tend to end in fights, fights tend to end in death, and because the cutscenes sneak up on you you often don't get the chance to save beforehand. It's one case where I feel save points would have been preferable to the "save anywhere, anytime" policy.
Texture pop-up is also a constant problem in Mass Effect. Your character's and party member's suit textures load unhurriedly; faces will render mid conversation - it's all a bit jarring. And when the graphics and sound are good, they're very, very good - but when they're bad they're, well not rotten, but a bit of a shame. Especially when the presentation values are this high.
Bioware has gone a long way to crafting a fantastic sci fi game - so compelling and enthralling that you'll look over the minor annoyances just to further along the story. Every line of dialogue is spoken (and acted fantastically), and the dialogue options and much touted dialogue wheel are genius.
Ultimately though, in a game with so many choices, there's only one you really need to make: should you buy Mass Effect? Let's hope you make the right decision, Commander.