Review by LtCardboard

"An engaging world destroyed by bland combat."

Bioware, well known WRPG developer, welcomes you to the world of Mass Effect, a cross between a third person shooter and an RPG. You play as Commander Shepherd, a character that you must inject your own personality into. The game aims at stopping the villain, Seran, from unleashing the mysterious Reapers upon the world. You must follow numerous leads across the galaxy to track him down.

At the start, you customise Shepherd's appearance, battle abilities and even background. You see, Mass Effect has two central mechanics: shooting and moral choices. Every conversation branches depending on whether you choose the Good, Neutral or Evil dialogue choice. At key points in the plot, you will dictate the fate of certain characters, resulting in numerous ways of ending the game. Unfortunately, the mechanic isn't executed quite as spectacularly as it sounds. The vast majority of so called “moral choices” don't change the dialogue or plot in any significant way. They merely dictate how much of an arse your character is. More disappointing is the lack of emotional impact in each decision. Even in the most important of choices, you never witness the true consequences of your actions. Of course, you see the selected action play out, but you never see how this affects the world around you afterwards. Once an action is performed, it is quickly forgotten. Worse still, every evil choice loses its sting when the Council, who you report back to after every mission, let you off the hook, calling the action “necessary”. You never really feel like you've torn down the world around you, even if the plot has changed

The combat, the other central mechanic, is abysmal. Controls are awkward, and every engagement for me involved hiding behind cover until the “marksman” ability charged up, which basically allows you to enter god mode and rip every enemy apart with a pistol. You command a team of 2 AI controlled characters, but they're so thick that the vast majority of the time, you'll be fighting solo while they lie unconscious on the floor. A variety of powers at your disposal attempt to mix up the combat, but you end up relying on them so much that when they aren't charged, you'll stay hidden until they are, killing the pacing of the already awkward combat. There's also a distinct lack of memorable set pieces. There seems to be a continuous slog of forgettable enemies, with very little else. Worst of all are the vehicle sections. The “Mako” handles like a brick, and shooting enemies from it is hardly exhilarating.

The main plot is short for an RPG. Expect to finish it in around 12 hours. There are numerous sidequests to undertake if you wish, though they are more distractions than engaging insights further into the world. On top of that, it is possible to explore planets for items and lore, but the worlds are so barren and the rewards so irrelevant that it's definitely not worth the effort.

I can't help but feel that Mass Effect is a wasted opportunity. The game would play better as a first person shooter, if only to make you feel like the decisions are truly yours. That's not to say it's a terrible game. The setting and plot are actually very engaging. Seran is a genuinely interesting villain, and the rich history of the world is certainly one you will want to dive into. On top of that, the dialogue is excellent at times. If you're willing to overlook the sticky combat, there's certainly a world worth discovering here.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 03/15/10

Game Release: Mass Effect (EU, 06/06/08)

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