Mass Effect is a game for everyone, however if you are a fan of RPGs and SciFi you simply cannot afford to miss this one
LtWarrior wrote this review on .
2b) Enemy AI
2d) Friendly AI
3c) Nonlinear game play
4a) Main Character
4b) Your team
5a) The Mako
6b) NPC interaction
6c) The Races and The Places
7a) Graphics and Sound
1a) Most of the reviews I have read and people I have talked to can all agree. Mass Effect is a great game, but it has a few drawbacks. This is the reason why I waited so long to buy it. If I had known just how awesome the game was, I would have preorder it and waited in line for the store to open on its release day. Everything this game does right makes it extremely easy to completely forgive anything it does wrong.
2a) To say this game is an action RPG is only telling the half of it. There really is no currently defined genre the accurately describes what this game is. The action in the game plays a lot like Gears of War with the exception that Mass Effect is just as fun and adds quite a bit more. You can snipe, run and gun, dash to cover, pause the game while being able to look around, and issue commands to your team. The action is fast paced and can be a bit overwhelming on the harder difficulties. Being able to pause and look around is a huge feature that lets the player slow things down to something more manageable. The mini map shows the location of enemies (ones that do not have the capability of jamming that is) and pausing lets you plan your attack which you quickly find out is a necessity. Just this one aspect of the game can easily stand up to the best tactical third person shooters available.
2b) The AI is the best I have seen, and I have seen plenty. The enemies are defiantly designed with quality over quantity in mind. This works well with learning to save often. Enemies are usually spread out and found in groups. By developing the habit of saving after every encounter you will spare yourself a ton of heartache. For one of these encounters I saved right before and it took me several tries to get past. On one attempt the enemies rushed and mowed my team down. On the next I stayed back under cover and the enemies did the same. Nothing I did could draw them out, and faced with no ambush options, I engaged them while they were undercover to less than desirable results. Grenades got the baddies moving on my next attempt, but this time they actually gave each other covering fire while advancing under cover. Just think about the replay value this hints at.
2c) Enemies come in a delightfully wide variety. They have unique strengths and weaknesses which encourages you to learn them and learn the best strategies and equipment to use against them. You will face anything and everything from an elite squad of biotech solders to a mass of mindless zombie behaving creatures. Mass Effect features a more or less comprehensive log that is updated as you encounter new types of enemies. Weapons can be customized to provide extra utility in damage types, impact affects, and overall efficiency. Armor can be customized to mitigate all weapon affects, or provide bonus attributes to the wearer including health regen, extra protection, or extra shields. The list of effective combinations of upgrades is a long one, and will take much more time to explore than I have had to play. Items that are dropped by enemies you kill are automatically available in the menu screen to be added to your inventory. This saves you the hassle of sniping an enemy then running over to the body to get the goods.
All characters in your team have the same four weapons at all times. The weapons are sniper rifle, assault rifle, shotgun, and pistol. There is no need to search for or conserve ammunition in the game and this actually has a surprisingly plausible technical explanation. The limiting factors on the weapons are first and foremost how well the character can use the weapon, heat conservation, and combat situation.
One of the relatively major downsides to the game is the menu interface. It is not nearly as flexible or user friendly as one would expect from a game of this caliber. All of its quirks can be learned and lived with, but in my option there really is no excuse for this. A lesser game would have gotten a rating hit, but in my book Mass Effect is still a perfect 10.
2d) Your teammate's AI can seam a little less sophisticated at first. Sometimes your own guys will get you killed simply by being in your way. Sometimes they charge where they should stay under cover and get themselves killed. Sometimes they hang back when they should advance. Having AI controlled allies has never been perfect in any game and even with all this considered, your buddies in Mass Effect are again, the best I have seen. It took some time to change my play style to pay more attention and react to what my team was doing. The habit that other games with inferior AI causes players to develop is one where you concentrate only on the target and ignore your team because they are either useless or have to be micromanaged. Paying attention to your team and reacting to what they do as well as reacting to the enemy unlocks the true depths of strategy and tactics that this game can offer. Your team will seek cover, but if there are only 2 spots (like a corridor with boxes on either side) and you take one, that leaves one of your guys with nowhere to stand except out in the open. Try to spread out a bit and let your buddies get the easy cover while you dash to another. If your team is hanging back, advance while they provide cover fire. If they are charging, provide cover fire or charge with them. The more you learn how to work with your team, the better your team will become. And I can't say it enough, SAVE OFTEN. Charging is fun but also very risky. Losing an hour of playtime will take the enjoyment out of the game faster than anything else. Remember to save, plan your attacks, be gutsy and glory will be yours.
Unfortunately there are not many options to modify the behavior of your team. The options available are use all abilities, only use defensive abilities, and use no abilities. Giving the AI full control over special abilities results in your buddies burning all cooldowns at first opportunity. There are some abilities that are annoying to assign every time, and others that you want to save for when you need it. There is also no queue for commands so you cannot issue one while one is already being preformed. Because of this, taking the AI down to defensive makes it easier to give orders. Turning AI control of abilities off gives maximum control to the user, but is a little heavy on the micromanaging side. I usually run with abilities on and turn to defensive only for exceptionally tough fights and everything works out well enough.
You also have the ability to tell your units to move to a specified location, follow you, stay put, or concentrate fire on the enemy you select. Telling them to move somewhere is handy to make them advance or move to a safe spot, but in practice I rarely use it. My default routine is to tell them to stay put while I scout ahead, then tell them to follow if the coast is clear or run back to them if it is not. This keeps them out of the way while preparing them to ambush enemies that are bold enough to charge.
3a) The history of Mass Effect is as rich, interesting, and entertaining as the best novels and movies out there. It doesn't take a scifi junky to appreciate the effort and inspiration that went into they story's creation. However, a scifi junky will eat up the plot like a starving man would eat up a 5 star 5 course meal. It is very possible for a completionist to completely lose touch with reality while exploring the vast cities and combat areas. Side quests not only plentiful, but also well thought out and well rewarding. Background stories and social alliances are also available for exploration for an impressive number of characters that you will meet. Professional quality voice acting for the host of noble heroes and infamous villains unfold this story of plots within plots.
3b) The creators of the game must have done their homework. You will not find any cheesy technical explanations or solutions like reversing the polarity on the warp field generator to stabilize the flux coupler in the antimatter chamber. The technology in Mass Effect is based off a single discovery that revolutionizes the way we do pretty much everything including interstellar travel, manufacturing, and military power just to name a few. The game's log explains how everything works early in the story to great detail. Enough is provided so that any gaps or inconsistencies can be easily filled in by the player.
3c) It may be a relief to the non completionists out there that wading through all of the side quests and information provided is not necessary to understand the big picture. There is a great deal of flexibility when deciding which quests to do, which to skip, and where to go next. Losing track of where the main plot went is no problem at all for someone who occasionally checks the game's log.
4a) While creating your character, it would be wise to give careful consideration to choosing which class to play. Each class has it's strengths and weaknesses that will determine the style of combat that you will be stuck with for the entire game. This is a double edged sword. You cannot have it all, but the game is worth playing again to experience it all. You can also choose your characters history, which is mentioned repeatedly throughout the game by people who have heard of you.
The 3 primary classes are Soldier, Tech Specialist, and Adept. Soldiers have the most flexibility in play style because they can become proficient in all weapons and can be effective in long range and close up engagements alike. Techs have powerful special abilities that can hurt and debuff enemies, improve efficiency in healing, and access locked or encrypted containers. Adepts use basically magic (that has a technical explanation) to put a hurtin on the bad guys. All three classes have a unique feel to them and open different styles of play. The Tech and Adept classes are limited in the equipment they can become proficient in, and as a result are more limited in overall effectiveness in certain situations and strategy options. 3 hybrid classes are available for a mix of the primary class's talents. While creating your character, enough information is available to make an informed choice. Veteran gamers who already know which style they prefer will have a distinct advantage on players who try a class, play the game for 2 hours, decide they want something else, then start all over (like I did).
4b) Along your journey you will be able to unlock up to 6 characters to join your team. Any weakness that your main character may have can be compensated by the strengths of your teammates. Choosing who to bring along is available only when you exit your spaceship, and while onboard your main character is the only one in the party. Because of this, it is a good idea to check your team's inventory before entering your ship to remove valuable equipment upgrades. There is a way to do this while inside the ship, but the location you have to be in to do it is in the furthest part of the ship away from the airlock that it possibly could be. There is a merchant onboard that updates his inventory every so often that is also found in the same location.
There are a few features regarding your team that are a godsend. Any ability that your teammates have (unlocking a secure container for example) is at your disposal, and is executed in the game as if your main character had the ability himself. There is no real penalty for your teammates "dying" in battle other than they are unavailable for the remainder of the engagement. When it's over, they get back up. The main character even gets a trainable resurrection ability a little later in the game. Experience is gained universally even for members that are not in your current party.
5a) The Mako is basically a tank with 6 wheels instead of treads. It is equipped with shields that slowly recharge over time, a main turret, machine gun, and jump jets. The controls for the Mako are a bit awkward at first, but if mastered can be a genuine joy to use. You can drive in with guns a blazin, roll over and knock down a few enemies while you're at it, then bank hard and hit the jump jets to do a 180 in the air in preparation for a second pass. The targeting reticule is a bit misleading in that it can move at large vertical angles, but the turrets on the Mako cannot match those angles. This limitation seams intentional, as the power that a veteran driver commands is already quiet formidable.
6a) Another genre that could be attached to Mass Affect is action/adventure. Containers that store equipment, equipment upgrades, and valuable clues for side missions are scattered everywhere and are easy to find. Extra bits of story can be learned by having the proper skills to unlock extra doors and talking to whomever may be inside. The scenery by itself is reason enough to explore every nook and cranny that is accessible.
6b) When talking to NPC (nonplayer characters) extra dialog options can be unlocked by possessing the required amount of skill in either charm or intimidation. The overall impact of choosing what to say is a bit unclear. I have found myself saving before a conversation just to see what happens when different options are chosen in other games, but in Mass Effect I did this once and then never again. The one time I did this, different things where said but the outcome was same. In other conversations, it was obvious that the outcome would be different. There really is no need to save and try the other option when your choices are either saying "You must die" or "I welcome you as a friend." The dialog interface is conveniently arranged so that hero responses are generally on the top right, neutral the middle right, and vigilantly on the bottom right. These options progress through the conversation while the left side is reserved for informational inquires that can usually be repeated later. Your responses affect your reputation and the unlockable responses have a significant affect on what happens immediately after the conversation. You can talk your way out of a fight, instigate one, change someone's opinion about you, or talk them into giving you gear that they intended on keeping for themselves. Conversation is what you make of it. Cut scenes can not be skipped but conversations can. If navigating through dialog trees just is not your cup of tea you can skip them nearly entirely without fear of any negative affects on the main story.
6c) DISCLAMER: This section may be considered to be a spoiler by some but all the information given is background information that is part of the enormous foundation that supports the main plot while reviling nothing about the plot itself. Every race in the game has a story to tell, and all are worth listening to. My personal favorite is an entire race of powerful warriors. Because of harsh conditions on their home world, these warriors were forced to evolve into the toughest biological beings in the known universe. In a time long since passed these warriors were called upon to rid the galaxy of the menace that threatened all humanoid life. After the threat was eliminated, with no other space bugs to fight, they turned on all the other races. Fighting is what they do; fighting is what they will always do. They ended up losing that war to a biological weapon. With only warriors and no scientists to create a counter, they were defeated and doomed to eventual extinction. This summarized example of the back story of this one race is typical to all races in the game. Every place of interest also has a history that just begs to be learned.
7a) There really isn't much that needs to be said about the graphics. Cutting edge affects and extremely impressive character models and animation speak for themselves. The graphics and sound play a key role in immersing the player into this alternate reality. The sound quality is right up there with the graphics but for the most part is not remarkable. This is as it should be. Sounds and sound affects that annoy and remind you that you are only playing a game are very rare. Music naturally complements the current situation and mood.
8) I really cannot say enough about this game, but what I can say is that I have spent waaaay too much time writing about it instead of playing. I sincerely recommend this game to everyone. Mass Effect's epic story and experience of playing is destined to stay in fond memory for as long as video games are played.