Mass Effect – Review

The Xbox 360 box art for Mass Effect.

Mass Effect is a game developed by BioWare, noted for the work on many previous, and very popular, role-playing games. It’s set in space and follows Commander Shepard as he improves the perception of humans and ultimately attempts to save the universe. I’ve been aware of Mass Effect for a long time now. I’ve been told that I need to play it more than a few times. Starting out I didn’t quite know what to expect. I know it’s a role-playing game of some sort, but I also know it’s a third-person shooter, so how does that work? The dialogue system has been heralded as something truly cool, if not groundbreaking, adding to the replay value and the sense that your Shepard is somewhat different from your friend’s Shepard.

I don’t know where to start with Mass Effect, it’s a culmination of so many things that I enjoy in video games. I felt like I was out there in space, exploring these barely-known planets, mapping the unknown and making discoveries along the way. I communicated with hundreds of humans and aliens and had conversations with them; I wasn’t just reading text pop-ups but poking and prodding them for answers. The conversations usually led to a linear outcome, but I had different options on how to get there; perhaps I could negotiate with two parties that are having a dispute and work it out peacefully, or I could kill one of them and be done with it, saving myself time. I took care of some of the galaxies worst criminals, fighting alongside a squad of unique teammates, both personality-wise and ability-wise. And I did this all while gaining experience and attributing points to skills in an RPG fashion.

Commander Shepard talking to Liara T'Soni.

There is an open nature to the progression of Mass Effect. I could proceed through the primary story at my own pace while completing the considerable amount of missions. The universe was quite large, made a little bit smaller once I realized I couldn’t land on every planet but baffling anyway. There was maybe too much similarity between the planets however; they’d differ geographically and climate-wise, but usually contain the same sorts of findings. Traversing the more mountainous planets became tiresome as well; I’d have to travel around the impassible parts attempting to find a way to get where I needed to go, which sometimes took a while.

One aspect I particularly enjoyed about Mass Effect was the way it distributed experience. For every enemy killed, I’d get a popup telling me I received so much experience. Whenever I completed a mission or made progress in one, experience; even when I’d resolve something through a conversation, which was usually associated with a mission, experience. I like that BioWare incentivized talking as a means to resolve situations, and rewarded you for it. And like many games currently, you can position your Shepard as being “good” or “bad”.

Mass Effect is a third-person, cover-based shooter, kind of. You have your choice between a few weapons and abilities, and you gun down all sorts of enemies like a similar action game. However, games that include cover usually structure themselves so getting into cover is required to survive, in Mass Effect I rarely used cover and was able to blow through most everyone without difficulty. Unlike the cover, loot played a relatively large role in the game. Practically everywhere there were containers that Shepard could hack into and receive their bounty. The weapons and equipment received, of which there was copious amounts, all differed slightly, just enough to warrant the decision to equip or trash. There were numerous add-ons that boosted stats as well, and the loot aspect added to my interpretation of Mass Effect as an RPG, as I was able to customize and make my Shepard different from someone else’s.

Considering that Mass Effect is now three years old, I think it’s still strong visually. Mass Effect has a film grain camera filter, which can be turned off, but I liked it. It’s not overbearing, but it’s noticeable and it gave the game a unique look, which at first I thought might not mesh with the general concept of sci-fi, but it turns out I was wrong and liked it a lot. I enjoyed the design of most everything in the game. It all looked familiar, but it was its own at the same time. I’m not the biggest Star Wars or Star Trek fan, but it’s apparent that anything following in the vein of those juggernauts will crib something; but I’m not the person to tell you about the similarities between Mass Effect and those universes.

Checking out the galaxy from the deck of the Normandy.

On a technical note, it’s easy to tell that Mass Effect was developed a few years ago. It seemed that every time I got out of a load screen, there was massive texture pop-in. Characters and objects were visible, but their outer layers, the textures, weren’t. This isn’t a massive fault but after each load I waited a few seconds for it to finish, and it did distract, especially once I got into the groove where I’d play for a few hours at a time, and that’s easy to do with Mass Effect.

Mass Effect has pulled me in and grabbed me like no other game in a very long time. Throughout my adventure I’d go on hours-long benders, not noticing the time go by. It always seemed like I had something to do, I was always busy. As soon as I’d complete a quest, I’d have a dozen more in my backlog. I’d explore the bountiful amount of planets, exploring the terrain and finding minerals, random junk, and occasionally an enemy base or another mission. This all kept me busy, and while at first it was a lot to cope with, I soon got my spacelegs and was able to let myself get sucked in.

I spent thirty-odd hours playing as much as I could of Mass Effect.  I enjoyed so much about it, the universe, the story, the conversations, the exploration, the RPG aspects and even the combat to a lesser degree. There were minor annoyances like small mechanics not being explained well or random technical issues, but I can ultimately overlook these as Mass Effect brought me many more positive thoughts than negative. It has become one of my favorite games and has made me a fan of the series for a long time to come.

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4 thoughts on “Mass Effect – Review”

  1. I personally got into Mass Effect way more than I thought I would of. Part of because I’ve always enjoyed the Bioware games, from PC on up to their debut on consoles. The idea of Shephard is a tired one, and the lines he gets are possibly the most corny thing, but I think that balances out for presentation. In the end I think overall I prefer Mass Effect over Dragon Age, even though you’re a silent protagonist in Dragon Age.

    Still playing through Mass Effect 2 however, and I’ll post my reply to that when I’m finished. 🙂

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  2. I don’t remember paying much attention to Mass Effect until Mass Effect 2 came out and every podcast I listened to talked glowingly about it. It was my first BioWare game so I can’t compare it to their other works, although I’ll probably have to check some older BioWare games out now.

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