Mass Effect ReviewAugust 13, 2009
|Game Name:||Mass Effect|
|Platforms:||Xbox 360, PC|
|Publisher(s):||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Release Date:||November 2007|
Mass Effect: World’s Ahead
I’ve been a ruthless soldier who stopped at nothing to get the job done, focussing only on the mission with no time for making relationships. I’ve been an earth born biotic adept, so bad with a gun it was laughable, who tried to do the right thing but went insane with grief and turned his back on the world after trying so hard to save it. I’ve been a serious sentinel tech specialist, born a spacer, who struggled with the confusing attachment she felt towards a teammate and made some bad decisions because of it.
I’ve been a sneaky assassin like infiltrator, a charming biotic playboy, an intimidating female soldier… Mass Effect casts you in the role of Commander Shepard, and after over 15 full playthroughs of the game there are still ways to play I haven’t yet tried….
Where Were We?
The year is 2183. Some years ago humanity finally made an outpost on the moon, then Mars, where they discovered artifacts from an ancient race. Utilising this technology, they were able to discover the means to travel massive distances in the galaxy, Mass relays – which allow almost instant travel from one place to another.
This led to the discovery of a vast ancient space station known as the Citadel, populated by many other races who found it like we did.
Now this is travelling in style!
Enter Commander Shepard. Evil threatens the galaxy, as it so often does, and you are tasked with saving the day – however you choose to do it.
It’s very difficult to explain the game spoiler free, but essentially you will travel round the galaxy on your ship, completing missons and gathering team mates, in order to achieve your goal.
Who is Commander Shepard? You decide.
As well as the now obligatory character appearance customisation options, you get to choose between 6 character classes. Three of these are pure classes so soldier for full on combat focus, adept for full on biotic mastery (think Jedi powers), and Engineer to be a full on tech specialist.
There are then three muted classes which are the sentinel (biotics and tech), infiltrator (combat and tech) and vanguard (combat and biotics). Each class has certain talent trees available to them, and certain ones they can’t ever have. How you distribute your skill points is up to you (within the trees you are allowed/unlock) so your Shepard will truly be unique.
Use exp points to make your Shepard bigger and better…well maybe not bigger.
All character classes offer very different styles of play, and if that wasn’t enough, you also have three background options as to your life before the military, and three psychological profiles to choose from. When you take into account these background options, the skill point distribution, your chosen character class and the secondary class you later unlock, the number of combinations is astounding – and that is before we even touch upon the many story related choices you will make along the way!
Ahhh bask in the glory of Predator armour!
If it all seems a little overwhelming there is also the option to automatically level up yourself and your teammates so you don’t have to concern yourself with character building – the game will automatically choose the best place for the points. There is also a pre-built male and female Shepard so you can quick start the game if you aren’t interested in getting the slant of your cheekbones just so.
The combat is akin to a third person shooter but with the background mechanics based on your skill points, so it is, despite appearances, very much an RPG.
In addition to standard gunplay you also have access to various powers; biotics let you create shield barriers, lift enemies into the air, or throw enemies across the room, tech abilities let you hack AI enemies, sabotage enemy weapons into overheating, decrypt locked containers, and weapon based powers will let you do extra damage with the weapon for a period of time, regenerate shields even when under fire, and so on.
Holding the right bumper pauses the action so you can choose a power and plan your next move.
You have the usual light, medium and heavy armour, and four weapon types; pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles.
There are innumerable amounts of weapons and armour available which can be further customised by installing different upgrades; such as heat sinks which reduce how fast your weapon overheats, added shields and health regen in your armour, and polonium rounds which add toxic damage to each shot.
Don’t expect this game to play like a typical shooter though – the combat is actually the weak link of the game, hampered by annoying AI, unbalanced powers and many limitations to squad commands. Despite all this, the game is no less incredible, but it is something to bear in mind upon playing.
Life, the Universe, and Everything Else.
The universe Mass Effect sets you in is wonderfully crafted. You have a holographic galaxy map which is fully interactive. You start on the Milky Way, from there you select different clusters to travel to, from the clusters you select individual star systems and in the star systems you finally have the planets!
The fully interactive Galaxy Map lets you explore the universe, and it looks pretty too.
All the planets have details such as orbital period, temperature, gravity and so on, and there are over 100 you can view, however out of these only a select few can actually be travelled to, with most being gaseous or just too inhospitable. Some can be surveyed where you scan them for resources and other collectibles; some have hazardous atmospheres so you must limit how long you stay out of your vehicle. It is a shame that the majority of the planets you go to are dead, with nothing on them except a military base or two, which all have roughly the same layout. Because of this you will know your way to where you need to be, even on bases you visit for the first time, which decreases the enjoyment and immersion somewhat. Note: in the future we need more architects.
What?! No McDonalds? On to the next planet…
The alien races however are fantastic creations! They all have differing ideologies, cultures, and functions within the story and the universe. You will come to know all of them well and the details from how they look, to what they are like, are just magical.
Even secondary alien races like the Rachni, the Hanar, and the Elcor, to name a few, are represented wonderfully, and are all given fantastic codex entries which you can read or listen to that give you even more of a feel for the universe. The depth of background makes the whole game so much more immersive and so much more believable. However it is all completely optional, so if you aren’t interested in any of that, you’re not forced to experience it.
Now Where Did I Put My Morals?
Taking a new slant on Good vs Evil, Bioware adopted a more Jade Empire-esque morality system by awarding your actions with Paragon points or Renegade points. Your actions are not said to be right or wrong, but how you achieve your goals is either an attempt to find a peaceful solution, or the resolution of a problem no matter what the cost. The two bars are not mutually exclusive – you may have a percentage of paragon points as well as a percentage of renegade points.
So many choices.
These morality options extend with the dialogue in the game, where you should choose your words carefully. Investing skill points in either charm (related to your Paragon level) where you can persuade someone to see your side of things, or Intimidate (related to your renegade level) where you can force people to agree, will open up whole new options to the dialogue. You can solve entire problems without needing to get out your gun, learn secrets that characters would never have shared otherwise, and even talk your way out of impossible situations.
It’s Good To Talk.
The dialogue in the game is the absolute best I have ever known, and not just because of the excellent lip-synching. You have interactive cutscenes where your Sheperd actually voices all his or her lines, you just select with the thumbstick the basis of your reply then listen to what you say. No pauses, (unless you need time to think) so the conversations run smoothly and naturally.
Sometimes what you expect to say and what Shepard comes out with are very different though, so be warned! I will always remember a console that asked me for a password which I didn’t know and one of my options was “mumble something” which I naturally chose, and it was just hysterical!
When in doubt, mumble something!
Your teammates will also exchange dialogue throughout the game, and it’s worth replaying with different combinations of teammates just to hear what they will say to each other next. They also have comments about the missions you are on, and about your actions on those missions, and they won’t hesitate to speak up about it!
Probably my favourite line of the game was where a certain team mate replied “…they’re fools, you should eat them.” I literally cracked up laughing. Essentially you really do get a feel that the characters have opinions and emotions about you, what is going on, and about each other, in short they feel like that they are real.
Does this look like the face of a man who wants to save them?
Even better is how the game knows which options you chose – you access unique missions depending on your chosen background, you hear unique dialogue referring to you, your past, which even differs whether you chose to be male or female. This, as well as unique dialogue from your teammates, means each time you play you will see, hear and be able to do different things, story wise, as well as in combat.
Choice Is A Three Edged Sword
The choices you are given in Mass Effect are funny, interesting, but often brutal. The same mission can turn out completely different just by a single line of dialogue and when you go back and try things differently you will be shocked and amazed at the changes. There is often no obvious right or wrong choice, you will frequently be unsure as to what you want to do, let alone know what is the right thing to do!
Wrex – he really knows how to persuade people.
This game has had me crying with laughter, almost paralysed with shock, torn with indecision, and completely silenced with sorrow. The way you will feel about the characters on your team, about the situations you are put in, about where the story leads you, make Mass Effect a game you will never forget. It truly is storytelling at its very finest and I wouldn’t dream of speaking about the plot, but you will be hooked by the politics, drama and intrigue from the moment you take your first steps on the Normandy.
Game, and you shall be rewarded!
Finally the achievements! You receive in game bonuses for unlocking 32 of the 45 achievements, which I thought was a great touch. These can be applied to characters on their next playthrough. These range from an extra 5% damage increase for completing two full playthroughs, to an awesome couple of gamerpics for completing a playthrough on hardcore and insanity difficulties.
The weapons achievements for x number of kills give you the ability to unlock that talent tree for characters that can’t normally access it. For example, I gave one Biotic Adept character the assault rifle talent, (normally Biotic Adepts can use pistols only.) which further extends the different ways you can play.
The remaining 13 or so achievements are related to the main story and are given for just running through the game, so offer no bonuses.
I will say that just blasting through this game once is a massive waste, in fact you will get less than half the total gamerscore for doing so, as the real joy, the real heart of the game is in all the details, the extras, the sheer amount of options and choice, the same story told in so many different ways that it is a different story each time.
Hey! I can see my house from here!
One of the Elite?
+1 Unsurpassable storytelling. I can’t say anymore than that! The plot is everything we would expect from the creators of KOTOR and it more than delivers.
+1 Innovative interactive dialogue system which makes conversations really feel like conversations.
+1 Interesting, imaginative, yet believable characters you will actually come to care about.
+1 Deep and fascinating backgrounds to all the places, races and faces you visit and meet along the way.
+1 Incredible replayability with the multitudes of choices from your character and team customisation, to your story and dialogue choices, weapon and armour finds.
+1 Brilliant and terrible choices that really do make you stop and think and want to play all over again to see how different the world becomes.
-1 You are level capped at 60 – after 2 to 3 playthroughs with one Shepard, you will hit maximum, though I suppose it is a good excuse to create a different one!
-1 Optional planets are sparse, unappealing and all look very similar (apart from different coloured rocks an the occasional snow) making exploration a chore rather than a delight after the first few.
-1 The Mako is very overused and even worse, doesn’t have the best control system, though the combat system in general is rather limited.
-1 There is almost constant texture pop and general slowdown makes the experience a bit painful sometimes, though it isn’t by any means unbearable.
-1 The AI is pretty stupid, and especially on the harder difficulties – where every squad member counts – you will die because of it, repeatedly.
-1 Inventory system is somewhat clumsy and can be an irritation at higher levels when you amass a lot of items and equipment.
Making friends, and who wouldnt want to be friends with HIM.
The Resulting Effect?
Not Perfect, But Still Out of This World
Exploration, Combat, Customisation, Story – Mass Effect has it all. This is one of those games that you simply must experience, for despite all its problems, it is one of the greatest RPGs, perhaps even game, on the Xbox 360 to date; in its depth of vision, intensity of story, the characters, the dialogue, the universe itself.
It doesn’t really stand up as a shooter, but as an RPG it definitely shoots down all competition with a plot that easily rivals that of a film, characters you will care for like never before, and choices so brutal you will stare at your screen for ten minutes because you truly don’t know what to do. The other beauty of the game is that you can skip all dialogue and simply shoot your way through, if all this RPG nonsense isn’t your thing; but even if you only like shooters, I still urge you to give it a try, because it’s quite simply worlds ahead of any other game.
And I made it through this entire review without mentioning the lesbian sex scene with an alien even once…