Two years have passed since Bioware released their last game, the critically acclaimed Jade Empire. If you`re counting its been four years since Knights of the Old Republic. It seems every two years Canadian developer Bioware opens their doors and releases another landmark title. In 2007, Bioware sends Mass Effect into the sweaty hands of anticipated gamers worldwide. It`s the next generation of gaming and Mass Effect is everything Bioware fans have been longing for. Mass Effect is nothing short than epic, delivering an amazing role-playing experience exclusively on the Xbox 360.
The hardest part about writing a review for Mass Effect is putting the controller down long enough to ramble on about the unparallel gaming experience that I’m enduring. Mass Effect warps itself full of hype into the 2007 holiday season which is also filled with another Microsoft futuristic adventure, Halo 3. Microsoft has to love space marines because they are showcasing some of the best gaming scenarios that are driving the console into the must-own category for gamers. Unfortunate for Microsoft that EA will determine the fate of Mass Effect in the future, but for now get ready to put your life on hold as you jump deep into the epic space drama known as Mass Effect.
It’s Good, Really Good.
Straight up, Mass Effect is good... really good! although it might not capture Bioware’s top spot which is largely recognized as Knights of The Old Republic. Mass Effect has a few issues that keep it from being the second coming of the original KOTOR, nevertheless Bioware has still achieved a remarkable feat in developing Mass Effect, and yes, it’s definite game of the year material. Mass Effect is inspiring, it is everything you need to escape into another world. This doesn’t guarantee its efforts will cross the border to mass appeal. Mass Effect is hardcore science fiction that moves along in a slow to medium pace. If you’re the type of gamer who wants to be constantly in non-stop action then the interesting plot developments, character development and arguments on humanity role in the galaxy will have you looking for a way out. Mass Effect lets gamers itch their trigger finger, but it’s usually after a long stint of dialog and running around. Don’t be mistaken Mass Effect has its action sequences, although its heart is clearly that of a RPG.
In true RPG fashion, Mass Effect is a long winded adventure filled with interesting characters, branching storylines, multiple objectives and stat building. Then it transforms into a 3rd person shooter with vehicles included. The formula is derived from a mixture of Bioware’s two RPG games from yester year. In one aspect you have the space formula, ship navigation and plot development perks from Knights of the Old Republic, and real-time action that started to take form in Jade Empire. It’s clear that Bioware still has a grand future ahead of them when Mass Effect is their first next-generation product. I know a lot of Bioware fans have been waiting for this one and I can proudly announce that it was well worth the wait.
Dark Corners of the Milky Way
The storyline in Mass Effect follows Commander John Shepard who can be renamed, first name only, and gender swapped if you want to explore the galaxy in female form. Shepard uncovers a threat that could destroy all life in the galaxy and is given the task to stop this from happening. From there the stars are the limit as your granted your own space craft and sent out into the dark corners of Milky Way. The universe in Mass Effect is larger in scale than I originally expected, I know the team at Bioware are ambitious and it shows in the massive amount of content, not only in environments, but also in the script and creativity of the entire game. From the beginning of your space travels which will take about 3-4 hours to begin, you will be thrusted into a saga that pulsates with life.
Beyond those details I`m not going to give away a second of the plot line because discovering it on your own is the games major appeal. Besides the basic elements of the game, rest assured we’re spoiler free. Mass Effect is a huge undertaking filled with thousands of lines of dialog. The beauty of the storyline aspects in Mass Effect is that you can involve yourself as deep as you want. There is a convenient skip button if you don’t want to go through the sometimes dry dialog between characters. If you’re one who is with the force, or wished the could take a ride on the Enterprise then you'll never once hit that button.
Aside from the main story-arch Mass Effects loose nature gives you the freedom to dig deeper by exploring the entire galaxy. There are a number of uncharted worlds and mystery in every quadrant of the universe. When exploring new planets you will can scan the planets in a solar system, or send an away team down to the surface to survey the planet. This is when Mass Effect introduces you to The Mako, the six wheeled all terrain armored personal carrier that hosts three members of your team. The Mako extremely versatile with its equipped jump jets and the ability to traverse any surface including steep inclines. On alien planets you can also leave the Mako and explore on foot, but I wouldn’t recommend it until you stumble onto a point of interest. Exploring new planets is sadly not as exciting as it sounds after you visit a few lifeless planets. Exploring the galaxy beyond the main plot line gives you a chance to up your XP, find rare artifacts, and mine precious materials along with a few other surprises. Depending on your curiosity, basic exploration of the galaxy along with the main story arc will push your hours into the forties.
It seems three is the magic number in Mass Effect because besides three members being able to go down to the surface, it’s the restriction on your team throughout the game. Without revealing your team mates you will gather them quickly and be able to morph them into your own specialized force. Like your character, all the NPCs in your squad can be upgraded which goes beyond basic stat boosting. Mass Effect is a true RPG with all the equipping, adjusting, and fiddling around that you’d expect. I wouldn’t even want to know how much time I’ve put into the weapon upgrade screen.
Your team in Mass Effect are made up of a number of the imaginative races presented in the game and the also boast a specific area of expertise. These special classes that are divided in the NPCs can also be pre-made in your lead character. In the very introduction of Mass Effect you’ll be asked to create your version of Shepard, either female or male, no aliens allowed. Then you can shape their appearance, change their background story and pick their classification. There are six classes to choose each unique talents and balancing issues. By default John Shepard is an earthborn soldier who can handle a gun and heavy armour, this was my choice by chance and I assume a good starting point. Now that I have joyfully thrown too many hours into Mass Effect, on my eventual second play through I might try something a little different.
The main difference between the character classes goes from straight forward soldier adept with weapons and armour to the sci-fi aspects of Mass Effect including ``Biotic``, think magic abilities and ``Tech``, think hacking and demolitions. Three of the classes waver blend the talents and the other three are all business. Developing these talents during the game by upgrading your players or from the introduction is tricky business which is hard to do in your first run in Mass Effect. Carefully try and map your character slightly before you start your adventure with thoughts to your individual playing style. Playing the brute is the easy choice, but thinking before shooting is a nice element that will change the entire feel of combat and how you approach situations.
Your team rolls through Mass Effect using very basic squad-based combat. In A.I. respect this is Mass Effects weakest area, but makes up for with on the fly customization. The tactical system used is mapped to the D-pad and can command your troops to target an enemy, move to a way point, rally tighter and go on defense. Using squad commands in combat will be effect, just don’t expect revolutionary A.I. Combat situations. Winning a battle usually come down to how effective you can be with your character. The over the shoulder action gets a little tricky because of the games fast movement and wide redial aiming, but it falls under control once you spend enough time taking shots.
I was surprised on the focus of action in Mass Effect despite the success Bioware had with the turn-based combat in Knights. Even though the combat is more polished than I expect, I still feel like I did with Jade Empire, that the real-time combat is a little forced and could have been smoother. In combat you’ll always feel a little out of touch with the action taking place. This is party because you’re character and the enemies never really portray a proper sense of power and ability. The action is happening, but it’s a guess to the damage either party is dealing out. Sure, there is a health gauge on both sides, however the combat usually is in high speed, it will be depleting quickly.
This problem could be faulted on the weapons that look the part, but don’t act the part. The assault rifles and shotguns seem vastly underpowered and don’t have the punch you get out of other games. Half the fun of using a shotgun is to get that big bang and the kickback and blown away body part reaction. I guess they’ve figured how to silence the shotgun in the future, ahh... future tech isn’t always a good thing... don’t even get me started on those grenades. If you’re into Mass Effect looking for a shooter, it’s not going to be able to live up to your expectations. Mass Effect can not compete with anything like Advanced Warfighter or Gears of War even though it tries to emulate qualities in both. If you’re reeled in to Mass Effect, it has to be the whole deal, which includes a bit of loose shooting.
Let's Give Them Something to Talk About
After the last bullet has left the chamber there is more than enough words to quill your violent ways. In Mass Effect you’ll hear enough dialog to put any nearby watcher into dreamland. Luckily Mass Effect`s dialog system is quite clever. The conversation’s call up a response selector that can be pushed a desired response via a click knock to the analog stick. The choices play out in a neutral, good or bad attitude, or more like a sympathetic, friendly, or cocky brash attitude. Like KOTOR’s light and dark side of the force you have a Paragon and Renegade alignments. These alignments basically helps you talk you way around situations with a good or bad attitude. It is unfortunate Mass Effect`s alignments did have a deeper effect past words like their other two RPGs.
Conversations can last a long time, so be prepared to listen if you want to learn the most from Mass Effect. You have the ability to drag them out the more your character develops his skills which fit into two categories charm and intimidation. Both selections are exactly what they sound like and can be used as persuasion to accomplishing goals. Using the analog stick to convey quick emotional responses makes response time seem more natural, keeping the responses realistic and fresh. I know Bioware will be catching the eyes of developers around the world because this system is a vast improvement over the traditional approach in role playing games.
If all that wasn’t enough Mass Effect still has the future promise of downloadable content which could keep you busy exploring new content just like The Elder Scrolls performs each time it rolls an expansion. If you are an achievement gamer then be prepared to be addicted. Mass Effect keeps half of the achievements close to the traditional finish a level, and then gets tougher with achievements that require you to experience Mass Effect multiple times. If you’re one of those gamers who need to crack 1000, then Mass Effect will provide an adequate challenge.