One of my favorite genres of media are sci-fi, which is a little redundant to say. After all, isn’t there a stereotype about all nerds loving sci-fi? Regardless, it’s always been a unique subject for anyone to handle and it makes for some truly unique and memorable experiences in any form of media. However, I’ve always felt sci-fi was best depicted in videogame form. It’s really the only form of media that sends you into these bizarre sci-fi worlds, allowing you to live the life of an intrepid space adventurer, or a cosmic bounty hunter. Scenarios like this make sci-fi videogames very palatable indeed.
I think that’s why I gravitate towards Mass Effect so much, it really captures that feel of adventuring in space. It’s hard to find an RPG experience as solid and entertaining as the original Mass Effect. An open-world RPG that puts you in the cool-looking space armor of Commander Shepherd. Why do I love this game so much when compared to the other games in the series? Well, you’ll find out right here in this review!
Mass Effect was a game developed by prolific game developer Bioware, and was released in 2007. Bioware’s idea behind the title was to create their own sci-fi universe and game to go along with it. Bioware had previously done work on Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, and wanted to try their hand at a completely original property. Thus, the Mass Effect series was born. Mass Effect 1 was released to critical acclaim and ended up selling half a million copies in the span of a few months. Since then, Mass Effect has become a staple of the company and is one of Bioware’s best-selling franchises.
Plot and Setting
Mass Effect is set in a sci-fi universe that draws a lot of elements from both the real-world, as well as cosmic horror. Sprinkle in some more generalized science-fiction elements, and you have the making of what is essentially a universe that both feels real and feels very alien. This mixture creates something wholly unique, giving the player access to various star systems to fully explore as well as many adventures to undertake. Mass Effect did what few games before it have managed to do: Make you feel like a true star-ship captain in a world rife with both exploration and danger.
The game itself puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepherd, a protagonist who the player can fully customize. Shepherd is about to become the first human “Spectre” ever, a proud member of the Federation and one of the special few who are given full access to travel the galaxy. Unfortunately, during a routine mission on Eden-Prime, everything goes horribly wrong. A Taurian Spectre ends up dead, robotic entities once thought gone return, and an entirely new threat rears its ugly head.
It is up to Shepherd to take up the mantle of Spectre, form a team of various alien species, and do battle against forces that threaten the galaxy. I’m oversimplifying the plot quite a bit, as I don’t want to spoil too much of it. Mass Effect 1 has one of the best RPG stories I’ve seen in a game, and something that truly feels unique. The most unique pull of this game is player choices.
The story and outcomes of certain side-quests and events hinge on player choice. While most major events will remain the same no matter the choice, certain choices during the game will affect how people view you. Characters in the game will make reference to your behavior in certain scenarios. For example, Admiral Hackett will give you a firm scolding if you decide to punch out the female reporter. Another example is that you’ll have access to a ton of extra side-quests if you decide to spare everyone when saving this one colony from a mind-controlling plant. It’s stuff like this that makes the player feel more like an important person in this fictional galaxy.
The story isn’t perfect though, it has a large amount of flaws that I’ve taken notice of. Dialogue scenes are usually fairly awkward, with characters barely moving around at all. It seems like almost all NPCs share 4 or 5 different animations, causing them to feel more like robots than aliens. Also, I was annoyed by how almost all allies you can get in the game are acquired on either Eden-Prime or The Citadel. This is kind of annoying, since it means you’ll get 5 out of 6 possible party members right out of the gate.
Most RPGs make it so you acquire your party over the course of the game. Giving the play almost all of them within the first two hours feels a bit like overload. After all, we were just introduced to this world and setting. Having all of these party members available to the player just feels like overload. It just seems excessive, is all. Another problem with the story is that it often sends you on missions that don’t feel relevant to the story at all. You’ll be sent on missions that feel more like filler than anything else, ones that feel like they don’t factor into the overarching narrative. This makes the plot feel rather padded at times, which is something I wasn’t a fan of.
Despite the fluff and somewhat awkward intro, the game has a pretty good plot overall. It’s entertaining enough to keep you invested in the 20-40 hours you’ll spend playing this game. Just be warned that the game’s story doesn’t have the best pacing and that it’s awkward character animations may stand in the way of you getting fully immersed in this world.
I’ll say this outright: Mass Effect 1 is one of the few games I’ve played that have managed to expertly weave elements of role-playing games with third-person shooters to a masterful degree. It ain’t perfect and it’s got a lot of problems, but it’s still a good mixture of what makes both genres great. Allow me to go into detail on what I mean. Mass Effect is an RPG by nature and a third-person shooter by design. Combat often takes place in locations that may seem generic, but manage to feel like locations you’d see in an actual sci-fi universe.
You are given full control over Shepherd during combat, at which point the game plays like a typical third-person shooter. You can take cover behind objects to avoid bullets, fire back at your enemies using a multitude of different fire-arms, or use special abilities unique to your class. That’s right, the game boasts over 6 classes with a focus being on weapons, technology, or Biotics. Weapons and tech are self-explanatory, while Biotics are basically this game’s equivalent of magic. You can use Biotic powers to fling enemies around, throw them high into the air, or even freeze them in place. I honestly enjoyed playing as Biotic so much that every time I played the game, I made sure I chose a class that had some kind of focus on it.
While in combat, you are also aided by two allies. Unfortunately, their AI is pretty dumb, so their only real purpose is soaking up the hits for you. You can bark orders at them using the radial menu, but even then that doesn’t stop them from being stupid beyond all reason. Very often, your allies will charge ahead and get completely curb-stomped before you can ever fire a bullet. The enemy AI tends to be better, but it depends more on the kind of opponents you’re facing. Robots are easy to take out, since they barely take cover and can easily be destroyed by tech-oriented classes. On the other hand, Krogans are like walking tanks that can easily wreck you if they get the chance.
One of the most annoying aspects of gameplay comes in the form of the game’s various side-quests. Several side-quests help flesh out the world quite a bit, including introducing and focusing on concepts and characters that won’t become important until the sequels. On the other hand, most side-quests are meaningless fetch quests or obnoxious collection quests. The game has way too many collection quests, most of which are scattered all over the galaxy. So, you either need to scour every planet for the relics and dog-tags you need, or read through a walkthrough. I somehow managed to complete the one on The Citadel where you have to find and scan all the Keepers, who are bunch of bug-like aliens. This took me somewhere close to 2 hours, just because of how scattered these little critters are.
Another major problem is with the open-world exploration this game touts. You see, you can beam down and land on over 20 planets in this game, and explore a fair bit of the planet’s surface. The problem is that most planets are vacant with an extreme absence of life, very little activities to do on said planet, and are almost always difficult to navigate. The exploration becomes a chore due to the way the Normandy controls. It seems to spaz about uncontrollably with a mere tilt of the game’s camera. As a result, it becomes an arduous task to even drive in a straight line. God help you if you’re on a planet like Nodacrux, which is full of mountains that are nearly impossible for the Mako to properly traverse.
The game’s RPG elements are definitely the shining point in the gameplay department. There are tons of different weapons, armor, and upgrades to collect. Sadly, the inventory system is extremely chaotic. Choosing skills for both you and your party members and upgrading them the way you want is extremely satisfying. Sadly, few RPGs nowadays incorporate classic tropes like this anymore.
I felt the combat and exploration to be a bit sub-standard, but I definitely dug what the game was trying to do with its RPG elements. Talking to people, roleplaying as a space captain, and adventuring my way across the galaxy felt satisfying. Too bad the satisfaction was also offset with a lot of frustration when it came to driving controls and AI programming. Regardless, this game did a fantastic job of drawing me in with its gameplay.
The game looks great for its time and has aged remarkably well. Sure, character animations can be a bit stiff and repetitive, but the amazing voice acting brings their wooden emotions to life. This game boasts the voice-acting chops of veterans like Jennifer Hale, Keith David, Mark Meer, and even Lance Henrikson! Heck, even Seth Green sounded great as the wise-cracking Joker. That’s saying a lot coming from a guy who doesn’t enjoy Green’s work all that much.
The music is great and sounds very atmospheric. It manages to capture vibes of both sci-fi and horror, while at the same time managing to sound unique and futuristic. The effects are okay, but lack a bit of punch at times. Some of the sound effects really got on my nerves though, especially the one that sounds whenever you equip something. Still, some awkward sound effects here and they never really got in the way of me enjoying the game itself.
Mass Effect 1 is a great game and classic, but not without some major problems. This comes in the form of both the game’s somewhat archaic design philosophy, coupled with a company’s first attempt at blending FPS and RPG game-play styles together. What we have is a well-constructed game, that lacks polish in the gameplay department. Couple that with awkward character animations, and a crappy inventory system, you get a game that normally would be a chore to play through.
Luckily though, Mass Effect wins you over with its charm and its unique take on the sci-fi genre. It doesn’t feel like just another game that’s trying to be Star Wars or Star Trek, it feels like a game that is trying to surpass it. It may lack polish and refinement, but it’s definitely classy enough to remain relevant, even years after its release. It’s not a perfect game, nor is it some kind of “Ultimate Super Special Masterpiece”.
It’s a great game with a solid team behind it, who poured their passion and soul into this product. That’s why I can say without a doubt that this game is as sweet as syrup. However, I recommend it more for people who are fans of RPGs. If you’re a third-person shooter guy, you probably won’t enjoy this game too much. There are much better alternative for FPS games out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an action RPG out there that is as enjoyable and well-written as this game.