Genre: Sci-fi RPG
Synopsis: The player character is Commander Shepard, a member of humanity’s Alliance military. Shepard becomes embroiled in humanity’s desire to join the upper ranks of the intergalactic community, along with species that have held the highest authority for centuries. But he/she comes across a high ranking and trusted agent who’s gone rogue. With humanity still relatively new and unproven, no one believes her/him, leaving Shepard almost alone in going after the danger.
Series: First in a trilogy.
Verdict: Really good.
A few years back, I’d posted on the Mass Effect trilogy once and only once. Now, with the upcoming release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I figured I’d replay them and talk about each game individually. (I don’t actually think I’ll finish before Andromeda comes out, but at least I’ll tackle the first game before then.)
Mass Effect is a good, solid game that kicks of an amazing trilogy, introducing us to its world and characters. The player is set loose to travel between galaxies, completing the main missions in whatever order and stopping for side quests as much as is wanted–and the choices made in this game affect both of the next two games. (Maybe not the trilogy’s ending, but changes in the journey and experience of playing Mass Effect 2 and 3 are huge.)
I really enjoy this game, though there are qualifiers to that. The dialogue choices are great, but follow only two viable pre-determined paths–the “good” one, and the “bad” one. Players are rewarded for picking one, and committing to it. The characters are cool, but it’s only in the next two games that the full extent of their complexity is fleshed out. The setting and gameplay is nice, but again, both are hugely improved upon in the next two games (partly because better graphics became available.)
That said, Mass Effect’s greatest asset is the freedom it allows. There’s something to being able to wander around however you like, and talk to whoever you want, that’s just so appealing. It’s not necessarily open world the same way the Fallout games are, but it captures some of that feeling. What makes Mass Effect unique is that it compromises between player freedom and character dynamics in a way that creates a unique blend. Not as much freedom as Fallout/Skyrim, not as much character work as the later Mass Effect or Dragon Age games, but something that’s still a satisfying balance in its own right.
Mass Effect has a lot to recommend it–a huge world players can engage with as much or as little as they want, many side characters with their own need and wants, a willingness to experiment with different styles of gameplay. It’s immersive, and it’s fun. As the first game in the trilogy, it’s a large part of the experience of enjoying the next two games. It’s truly good, maybe even great, but a little weird to think about in isolation from its sequels.
Because the three games really do form a trilogy, one continuous story following one character. Yet they have different play styles, and focus their depths on different things. And I can’t help but remember that my deep attachment to these characters was formed in the second game, not the first one. Even the characters that were more prominent in the first game than they would ever be again, I came to love later. Almost retroactively.
Still, I really did enjoy the experience of the first Mass Effect game, and how unrestricted it felt. Even though I usually care about character more than anything else, Mass Effect still manages to be almost as enjoyable as the next two games, for different reasons. I remember liking it on my first playthrough, but not as much as I did after returning to it again. So I’m wondering if this makes it less engaging the first time around but more fun to replay.
The only thing I would really complain about is the elevators. Which take forever.
Mass Effect is a good start to an excellent series that grows on the foundations it builds. It introduced several interesting mechanics, including the dialogue. It tried several gameplay mechanics, some of which worked better than others. One of the things I have to respect Bioware for, is that they don’t just find something that works and stick with it. They keep looking for new ways to engage the player, and when it works, it really pays off.
So the game is absolutely a worthwhile, engaging experience, though the next two games had a real power and depth of characterization that it couldn’t quite match. It’s probably my least favorite game of the trilogy, but that’s because the bar is really high.