Review by neonreaper
Great story, everything else falls flat. Worth playing, especially to import your Shepard into ME2.
Mass Effect is a Sci-Fi RPG and third person shooter. It has some terrific ideas but falls flat most of the time and suffers from some general execution issues. It's a game that offers a lot of gameplay experience, but can struggle to be compelling on the character level, which is probably the most important aspect of RPGs.
The strong points of Mass Effect? Well, the story is easy the best part of the game. It's a well realized storyline that is well planned out and paced pretty well. You'll be interested in the game, and kept guessing while never feeling as though the game is convoluted or scatterbrained. It's a nifty sci-fi plot, the twists and turns make for a good ride, and enough is left open to either try and figure out on your own, or perhaps explore the galaxy for answers... but really it's all stuff left open for the sequels. You won't be cheaped out of your story with some big WTF cliffhanger, so don't worry there. The ending is dramatic and provides a proper finish to the story, while keeping plenty open to fulfill the needs of the series. Well done.
Other strong points include the level of effort put into the setting. Some places are boring (hello Citadel), but most places are decent. And the amount of work that went into creating a galaxy full of lore and facts helps bring the game to life. The amount of content is pretty good, too, and if you like the game, good news: there's plenty of it. You can explore non-essential planets and rip through sidequests and even go back for multiple play-throughs, using different classes and parties and making different decisions.
Some characters are good, but most are not. Here is where the struggles of Mass Effect are most noticeable. Shepard is mostly defined by the player, but many of his dialog options lead to the same general reactions, and often the exact same reactions, from NPCs. Sometimes these choices are meant to measure if you are trying to be a 'paragon' or a 'renegade' and will give you points towards those scales, which essentially allow you to unlock more options later on in pivotal dialog sequences. Character interactions in general, however, are flat and empty. The romances are terrible, and whatever attempts the game makes at insinuating friendships exist, are a bit silly. You simply don't buy into any of the friendships or care about the characters the game suggests you should. However, if you choose the characters that innately act somewhat cold and shallow, the group makes a bit more sense. Everyone is united via a common goal, and Shepard is a terrific military leader. I wish they could have put in better quality dialog... it's not like they skimped on the dialog in the game. There are only a few times in the game where dialog options really matter, and those are excellent scenes, but everything else is kinda dull.
The action is all right. It doesn't necessarily fire on all cylinders, but it's good enough to get the job done. Some skills are even fun, but the combat balance isn't really an issue. You abuse a few skills and rip through most of the game. You gain the standard exp and put points into skills like you'd expect from an RPG. The computer AI is pretty dumb, and the basic cover system isn't good. Some fights are fun, most just aren't designed well and the combat gameplay doesn't shine on its own. It doesn't really detract from the game, luckily. That's a bit of a theme with Mass Effect - it doesn't execute very well, but it doesn't cause undue frustration. The design choices are often fine, they just could be much better for a current generation game.
You will drive around on planet surfaces in a vehicle called the Mako. It has some guns on it, and it's a bit too touchy and weird to be fun. It didn't typically ruin the game for me or anything, but there were times I was annoyed with it. The guns don't aim well when you are on a slope. There's very little challenge in the Mako sequences as well, you really need to just decide to stop and shoot and let the enemies lay waste to you for the Mako to start getting in trouble. For exploring open worlds that you land on, it works pretty well, but for tighter quarters and combat, it's not very good.
So we have a game that features a terrific story, well done, and certainly gives you an idea there is more coming. There's a lot to do, the main storyline takes like 20 hours, and there are tons of sidequests to do, and if you really like the game, it's worth trying harder difficulties, different classes and party makeups, different decisions in the few scenes where decisions actually matter, and so on. Characters are usually developed OK when you first get them, but they flatten out and character interpersonal relationships are terrible. The action and level system is good enough, at times it can be fun once you figure out new tactics, but it gets old quickly.
Oh and you spend a lot of time in elevators.
I peg this game at about a 6.5/10... it was fun and kept me playing, but it never really did a good job with the characters outside of a few scenes, and only one guy in the party was any fun (Wrex, of course). I tried sidequests a bit, but too often found myself essentially traveling to someone or something, pressing A, maybe shooting a few enemies, then traveling all the way back to someone and pressing A, and that was really all the sidequests really amounted to. Even one part of a main story quest was like that - walk to something, press A. Even under the guise that you are doing more (fixing stuff, collecting samples, recovering a beacon, etc) it never feels like you're really doing that.
Game falls flat, but the story is good, and it's not so bad you can't finish it. Worth the time, especially with Mass Effect 2 being out there and being awesome and being enhanced if you can just plow through the original. Yep, you can load your save file into Mass Effect 2, so you will see some immediate continuation from this game into that.
And I think I'm being critical of the action in Mass Effect because it attempts to be a third person shooter with a cover system, but other games with cover system are way better at it, the battles aren't really suited to much cover, the AI is terrible, and you can never really switch over to use other characters in your party. You can direct their actions, but it'd be nice to have a taste of other classes in battle without having to make an entirely new character.
Lots of people do love this game, most will admit it's flawed and will tell you Mass Effect 2 fixes up most of those flaws. They're right from what I can tell, so it's up to you - get this game pretty cheap, enjoy it a little bit, and let it really bring you into the world (galaxy, really) of Mass Effect. It's worth it to have 20+ hours into the series when you pick of the gem known as ME2, if nothing else.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Mass Effect (US, 11/20/07)
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