I have to admit going into this that I have never been a Bioware fan. Sure, Jade Empire and KOTOR were excellent. Baldur’s Gate was legendary. But those were all nearly 10 years ago.
It’s more or less impossible to produce a space game, especially one with a rich and sprawling universe, without drawing comparisons to your three big hitters in the space “genre” – Stargate, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Star Wars in particular is something you might think of when playing Mass Effect, as the funky aliens, rogue murderous robots, space secret agents and many more common elements are there, and it’s fortunate that this isn’t a Star Wars game because BioWare has already done that, and done it well.
In Mass Effect I found probably the best sleeper hit RPG in many years. I bought it because I assumed I’d like it – I’m into basically all of the themes and elements that make the game what it is. I just don’t particularly like Bioware. Dragon Age left a very bad taste in my mouth. The combat was dreadfully boring, the learning curve didn’t exist, and the characters would not shut their mouths. Look, I like dialog and story as much as the next guy. It’s a vital part of RPGs. But the characters in Dragon Age droned on and on, and none of it was ever interesting. Fortunately for Mass Effect, I hung on every word that characters had to say. Even if I got tired of hearing them talk, I read the subtitles and hit the spacebar.
Obviously, the story in the game is not 100% original. I’ve seen many people draw comparisons with System Shock – though I’m not so sure how given the ending of this trilogy. Many elements draw blatant parallels with the big three, again – how couldn’t they? With thousands of hours of film and even more of novels and comics between them, those three franchises have covered as close to everything as possible. I also knew the ending to the trilogy would be shit beforehand, thus the thing about playing games way too late. Regardless of all this, I found it to be entertaining, and robust. The game has so many factions and side-quests to deal with that I found myself having to pause to remember exactly what was going on at times, more-so in the sequels than the first entry.
I have only two real criticisms First is the games handling of other species sex, and the Asari were somewhat well written. However, why must every character be overly sexualized? Do I need to see her tits as she dies? Just like early Star Trek and most of Star Wars, most species just seem to be a green or blue human with boobs tossed on them. We can’t speak for the quarians because we don’t know what they look like, but from what little you can see through their visors they appear sort of reptilian. The Asari, who even knows, with their tentacles on their heads.
The other is….the morality system is basically meaningless. If you play RPGs properly, that means you talk to literally every NPC all the time, and do every quest possible. Simply talking to everyone whenever possible gives you paragon points. The only way to get renegade points is to intentionally take renegade actions. Even so, you would have to only do the renegade type of thing every single time, to be a renegade. Just like Fallout 3, the balance of morality has basically no effect whatsoever on anything because even if it did, it will take you 4 seconds to fix it.
The voice acting was very well done, even in the first game, and combined with the dialog itself I felt a sincerity to the things people were saying to me, or to others. In addition, the dialog and story seemed rather well written, to the point that I wasn’t being taken out of it to question the authenticity of the plot developments.
I flew back and forth around the galaxy, doing 100% of every side-quest and quest possible. It reminded me of long dead games like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger where you controlled where you go and what you do, when. Even better, it seemed that every single one of these quests remained relevant after the game was over. Looking back, the only things I didn’t do all of were probes or beacons or containers that required too high of a science level I didn’t have.
Surprisingly, the fact that the combat all controls as a third person shooter didn’t even bother me. Occasionally I ran into some frustrating battles like Benezia or basically everything else on Noveria, but most of that boiled down to playing the game too much like a shooter. It seemed an interesting way to handle the combat – not many RPGs have tried. Although I do feel that if you’re going to make a third person shooter and make it with consoles in mind, it would be nice to have a functional gamepad control scheme on PC as well. I typically play PC games with keyboard anyway, but the option would be nice. The only thing about this game that bothered me, other than the god awful handling and boringness of the Mako, was the 150 item limit. I was picking up at least 50 – 100 items per planet and mission. And then having to turn them all into omni-gel or sell them, seconds later.
I don’t know what the graphics in the game looked like originally, as I played with the MIUTM mod. It doesn’t drastically change things, but it does replace most of the textures with high quality ones. And it looked pretty decent for an ancient game.