If there’s a genre that I love without a doubt, it would have to be sci-fi. Science Fiction can be really fascinating if done right, but it can definitely be an easy thing to get completely wrong. For sci-fi to be truly good, you need an interesting world, great lore, fantastic characters, and excellent writing. A few of my favorite series managed to pull this off very well: Phantasy Star, Star Wars, Star Trek, Digimon, Captain Harlock, etc.
There was also another sci-fi series, one that I didn’t get into until my teen years. I’m talking about Mass Effect, the series that changed my outlook on science-fiction. For those of you don’t know what these games are, let me explain. Back in the early 2000s, the amazing developers at Bioware put out “Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic”. Released in 2003, this game was a Star Wars game like no other. It was a fully realized 3D RPG with an emphasis on customization. It let the fans live out their dream of being a Jedi and travelling across the galaxy.
Of course, Bioware didn’t own Star Wars. They wanted to continue KOTOR’s legacy, but under a new branding and universe. Thus, Mass Effect was born! Mass Effect threw us into a brand new sci-fi universe, one that merged elements of our own universe with the epic storytelling of Bioware. What resulted was a science-fiction tale unlike few others, and a franchise that we wouldn’t soon forget.
Unfortunately, this series isn’t what it used to be. Andromeda came out last year, and effectively killed the franchise. Sure, they claim it’s on “hiatus”, but I doubt we’ll ever see this franchise make a solid return. Still, I felt it would be good to go back and give this series a thorough look. With that, let’s get down to the Mass Effect retrospective!
Mass Effect 1
The first game in this tremendous new series came out in 2007. Both 2007 and 2008 were both great years for gaming, bringing us classics like Fallout 3 and Fable 2. Mass Effect 1 told the story of Commander Shepard, a protagonist that the player was fully able to customize. Commander Shepard had a voice, which was unlike previous Bioware protagonists.
However, what Shepard did and said was completely up to the player. While morality wasn’t a new concept to games, Mass Effect did a good job of making it feel realistic. You’re actions would fall into either “Paragon” or “Renegade”, which comprised the game’s morality system. Of course, neither Paragon or Renegade were considered “good” or “evil”, but instead contained elements of both. Paragon was more about being righteous in what you did, while Renegade was doing the right thing, but in the wrong way.
For example, you are badgered by a reporter near the start of the game. She insults you and mocks you, which leads you into choosing 1 of 2 choices: Debunking her argument using logical fallacies and well-meaning statements, or by punching her in the face ruthlessly. Both actions work towards the same goal, but differ wildly in what they accomplish. The first option makes you look more well-mannered and caring, while the second option makes you look like a heartless monster who can’t take criticism.
The game is full of choices like this, which works well in its favor. The game was also technically “open-world”, with each planet having its own expansive landscape to explore. Unfortunately, most planets had very little to do on them, aside from salvaging items and the occasional side-quest.
Still, there was a ton of customization and a massive amount of things to do. Mass Effect’s universe felt alive and vibrant, unlike most games of that era. You got stronger not only by accomplishing tasks, but also interacting with the world and the characters within it. The game itself rewarded you by becoming a part of its world and trying to learn more about it.
That being said, the game certainly had its fair share of problems. The graphics weren’t super great, even for the time. As such, the game has aged incredibly poorly. The awkward graphics during both the cut-scenes and gameplay are definitely one of its weaker points.
On top of this, the gun-play isn’t as refined or polished as it is in later seasons. Despite being part RPG and third-person shooter, the elements between the two don’t blend very well. Sure, this game has all the stat-building that any number-crunching RPG fan would love. The problem is that it doesn’t blend well with the shooter elements at all.
Certain stats just out-weigh others, and some are completely negated if you’re solid enough at shooter games. Not only that, but the game’s story tends to drag. A lot of this comes down to the planet exploration missions being way too long. Still, it’s a well-written story, if a bit too long for the first game in a series.
While I certainly have complaints about this game, I can’t say that it’s a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It introduced a new sci-fi universe in a believable way, offered a ton of memorable characters, and felt like a grand addition to Bioware’s repertoire of excellent games.
I loved this game back then, and I still love it now. To me, ME1’s story and world have stood the test of time, even if its gameplay and graphics haven’t. I’d keep talking about ME1, but I’ve already reviewed it in the past. I feel I’ve reminisced enough about this classic game, so it’s about time I move on to the second game. Join me in a week or two for the second part of the Mass Effect retrospective!