Mass Effect Reader Review
Coming from the designers of Knights of the Old Republic the anticipation for Mass Effect was rather large, since the 360 is currently rather devoid of good role playing games and quite a lot of 360 owners rather wanted to enjoy a good yarn.
A great tale...
Starting off with the praise is easy � Mass Effect is a good game with a good story and some good characters. It�s enjoyable and is well recommended partly due to the complete lack of anything else to buy, and even if there were it�s likely that the game would be recommended anyway.
The main quest line has you visiting some varied locations before meeting some interesting aliens and killing them. The order is entirely optional and they are well designed, during this romp you get exposure to a pretty gripping story. This is actually pretty difficult to pull off - especially given that Bioware have created their own universe for Mass Effect, and we don't have the familiarity present in a Star Wars game. Plot exposition on the major worlds is well paced with the familiar plot of solving the jigsaw puzzle of what the enemy is up to before racing off to stop him. The designers should be commended for achieving a few moments of real moral choice in this game (beyond the age old question of 'who do I sleep with?') to give gamers some superb decisions to make.
The voice acting is generally of a high quality and helps propel the story forward well, and hearing the player character speak also gives the game a much more cinematic quality, akin to Deus Ex. However the characters you come into contact with while you�re exploring the universe seem rather limited in scope compared to previous games, while some have a lot to say what they say is often not of great interest or of use, by comparison the limited dialogue of some characters is very disappointing. The ship�s doctor, engineer and navigation officer (who is second in command) say nothing new after you first talk to them while half way through the game one of my party members limited his conversations to simply wanting to say �thank you�. On a positive note, however, the characters chip in quite a lot when following the main plotline, far more than I recall in previous games and it�s quite a nice touch.
Worlds, Weapons and Money...
Straying off the beaten path of the main quest, however, and things start to go a bit wrong. A big selling point of the game is planetary exploration, however after landing on a couple of worlds the repetitive nature of investigating a crashed probe coupled with some rather poor controls for your land vehicle start to turn this sideshow into a chore and the length of time it takes to visit a world and roam around for a bit makes me yearn for the quick land exploration from Star Control II back in the early nineties. Sidequests almost all take place on these worlds, requiring you to go to one of the three types of identikit building (bunker, warehouse or mine) and killing a batch of identikit foes. Exposition for these quests is often minimal and rarely is there one which isn�t solved by killing everything in sight. Of the dozens of visitable worlds and optional sidequests none have any long term implications or linger in the memory.
Visiting worlds and following the main quest also net you money and weaponry. Sadly it�s almost all junk � remember the excitement we used to experience in Baldur�s Gate on finding a new weapon? That mystery is never present in this game as you march along with a collection of 150 guns and weapon upgrades in your pockets. Every now and again you remember to sell items and soon you have well over a million credits in the bank � the problem is though that there�s nothing to spend it on other than a couple of upgrades that allow you to carry more grenades or healthpacks � surely I could have just put down a few of those guns I was carrying?
The other thing you net through the game which is slightly more useful is experience, which you can put (depending on your class) into weapon skills, biotic abilities (magic) or tech abilities (hacking and so on). Most of these are combat oriented however their usefulness is undermined somewhat since combat itself is poorly implemented in two key areas.
The first problem is getting your party to use their abilities � they can only use them on enemies they can see, which becomes something of an issue when you�re looking in the opposite direction to them. Being unable to switch to their point of view (like in Knights of the Old Republic) you can�t direct them very well and simply hope that they�ll survive on their own.
The second problem actually eliminates the first, and that it�s that combat doesn�t scale at all and very quickly you find that few enemies provide a challenge � death arises from bad luck or from small corridors and enemies with rocket launchers. Ironically this is an argument against going on all the side missions, since what you actually do is break the game due to the power of your own awesomeness.
Not quite top of the class...
In conclusion Mass Effect is a good game but one that ultimately leaves a feeling of missed opportunity � it fails to be top of the class in any of the key areas of RPG development, which is a pity given that it has been four years since Knights of the Old Republic. It depends where Bioware go from here - tighten up the RPG elements and keep the story top class and Mass Effect 2 could set a new high for the genre. The original, however, isn't quite there yet.
8 / 10