Posted: December 24
What can be said about Mass Effect that hasn't already been said?
Mechanically, it's a third-person shooter/RPG hybrid with interactive, choice-driven cinematics interspersed regularly.
There are certainly problems with that. The conversations and cinematics wind up taking up, quite literally, most of your time--except of course the endless backtracking on the Normandy and Mako portions--and making the game feel more like a visual novel than a Western action-RPG at times. It feels more like a story and less like a game, some of the time. Most of the time, really.
The RPG leveling is good, but nowhere near as good as, say, Skyrim's, or the original Deus Ex's. (I say the original because I have yet to play Human Revolution, not because I object to it in any way.) The levels you wind up focusing on are Charm and Intimidate, whose primary impact involves, you guessed it, the cinematic conversations. There's the electronics and decryption skill trees, sure (although they're more just lines than trees--for a game centered around choice-based narrative, there's not much choice-based gameplay) which allow you to access increasingly more advanced resources, but if you just bring one of your three tech-savvy squadmates and fully spec them to those trees, you can deal with any of those unlicks from about three hours in, which kind of renders the piont moot. That's good, though, because the alternative is yet more Mako scenes as you backtrack to planets you've already seen once you can access the resources on them.
The shooter portion, which is the part you actually play, has fewer concrete issues. You point and shoot. It's just lackluster. The sniper rifles are unsteady in a rather blatant nod to Deus Ex--they get better as you level them. Pistols are pretty much slightly slower assault rifles. Shotguns are bizzarely effective over long ranges. Assault Rifles, which only Soldier-class characters can train, are actually quite viable for non-soldier characters, to the point where on higher difficulties the game is almost impossible if you forget about them.
The biggest issues I have are with certain enemies and level design. The Geth units which jump around the area are almost impossible to hit, especially if you haven't got a controller mod installed. There is the occasional open level where sniper rifles are viable, but a lot of the game is played at close-quarters to the enemy, which renders snipers useless. Annoying, since I like the Infiltrator class's tech abilities combines with combat proficiency, since biotics are very hard to use in this first game.
But in spite of all that, Mass Effect works, mechanically speaking. Nothing is broken. I wouldn't come back to it for the gameplay, but it's not painful to play--unless you're in the Mako and trying to 100% every planet, in which case, you have my sympathies.
Where Mass Effect--and Bioware in general--shine is in narrative. Mass Effect--the first game, not the trilogy--does a fantastic job of creating a setting and telling a story in it. It's a bit bland compared to its two sequels, I'll be honest. It doesn't have the thematic subtext those games do. Mass Effect 1 is nothing more than it claims to be: a story which provides you a template--Shepard--and lets you play with him or her how you choose. But that much it does incredibly well.
There are few scenes in a video game that have aged as well as the first meeting with Sovereign on Virmire or the conversation with Vigil on Ilos. Despite the ridiculous texture glitch on Garrus' face, we start to get a real feel for one of the best characters in gaming in this game, and he is fun, especially when in an elevator with Tali or Wrex so they can yell at each other.
The less said about elevators, the better, of course.
The romances are a bit dull, I will admit. Your choices are Kaidan, Ashley, and Liara. Kaidan is bland, Ashley is xenophobic, and Liara never uses contractions because at this point Bioware still thought that was a cool way to make a character mysterious. I guess Liara's the best choice, but it's a bit like deciding which cheap shoe looks least cheap.
Wow, I'm really bashing the game aren't I? Yeah, it's flawed. Really flawed. But it works. The first playthrough can be incredibly immersive. Saren is a great villain, most of the time, and a good one overall. Sovereign is truly chilling. You feel like something is at stake, by the end of the game, although it never quite reaches the emotional peaks at the last levels of Mass Effect 2 and 3.
All in all, it's not a masterpiece, but it's a fun game, and one well worth a purchase, even when it's not on sale. When it is on sale, you'd be a fool not to get it.