I’ve been meaning to play Mass Effect for a while; when I first heard about it, the idea of flexible gameplay where the story depends upon your decisions appealed to me. I was unfamiliar with the concept of an RPG video game, having never really played one before. The Grand Theft Auto games don’t seem to be classed as RPGs despite a couple of them having some of the characteristics (e.g. improving a character’s stamina or skill with weapons). Recently, after being encouraged by a friend, I bought the Mass Effect trilogy, since that’s the only way to get all three games for the PS3.
Mass Effect takes place in the 22nd century, where the discovery of alien ruins on Mars has led humans to unlock the potential of ‘mass effect’, a bending of spacetime which permits rapid travel across the galaxy. This brought humans into contact with other races, allowing them to become part of the galactic government. Your character is Commander (insert-first-name-of-your-choice-here) Shepard, a human soldier who is initially sent to secure the discovery of an ancient beacon around a human colony. This brings Shepard into conflict with Saren, an (alien) government agent who is searching for something called ‘the Conduit’ to bring back a vanished race called ‘the Reapers’. Shepard is assigned the task of bringing Saren to justice; onboard his ship the Normandy, with a crew of different races and specialisms, he/she sets out to find out just what Saren is planning.
As you can probably guess from the above paragraph, the character you’re playing as is extremely flexible. The game begins with you selecting Shepard’s gender, appearance (the face is customisable, but there are some set ones if you can’t be bothered), background and specialisms. Throughout the game, you then decide the kind of person that Shepard is, through the decisions he/she makes and which options he/she chooses in conversations. This subsequently determines how other characters respond to Shepard, and options that you will sometimes have in conversations for being particularly charming or intimidating. Because I have a soft heart, my Shepard is very much a good guy. Here’s what he looks like: personally, I don’t think he even looks like the renegade type.
So this factor alone gives the game plenty of replay value, but there’s far more besides that. You have a massive world to play around in: this is the entire Milky Way galaxy we’re talking about, after all. There are only a few locations that you’re required to go to for the main story, but besides that, there is a very large number of side missions – which you’d be recommended to complete, if nothing else so you can get more experience and level yourself up for the more challenging parts. There’s an incredible amount of detail: the game features a codex which gives you articles on just about every race, piece of technology and important location in the game. When you visit a new star system, you can look up information on every planet there, even if you can’t actually land on it and drive around. The story itself is incredibly well-done, complex and exciting, with a range of inventive characters who you can choose to accompany you on every mission (only two at a time). There’s a part towards the end where Shepard has a conversation with an entity who provides him with a lot of backstory, which not only fills in some gaps but provides new twists on things we’ve already experienced through the game – I absolutely loved that part.
I found the gameplay to be very challenging at first. The combat is third-person shooting with manual aiming, which is more difficult on consoles than with a mouse. I managed to get the hang of this quite quickly, but the enemies were so tough that I was getting killed a lot. Also, while I was picking up a lot of useful upgrade items all the way through, it took me a while to actually realise just how to utilise them on the main menu. Once I understood this, it did make things easier, as did increasing my level with time, and understanding proper utilisation of my squad members. Particularly cool are the squad members who use ‘biotics’, which enable them to do such things as make enemies float helplessly in the air. In the beginning, I chose for my Shepard to be an Infiltrator, making him a tech and combat specialist (it’s between those two and biotics for what you specialise in) trained in using sniper rifles: unfortunately, I didn’t find the sniper rifle very useful most of the time, and so didn’t use it too much.
There’s not much I can say against this game. Some of the indoor environments on side missions were repetitive, as were the enemies and combat at times. Also, I occasionally got hemmed in by my squad members and was unable to move anywhere or tell them to back off. But aside from those nitpicks, this was a really fantastic game that I put a lot of hours into. I’ve already gotten started on Mass Effect 2! Rating: 4.5/5.