I finished Mass Effect the other day. I usually need some time after a good book, TV series, or good game to ruminate on my thoughts and feelings. Depending on the extent of said feelings, sometimes I have a bit more to sift through. Video games can be complex sometimes, with Mass Effect combining experiences of a great novel, an engaging TV series, and cramming those together into a video game.
At the end of the day, I almost regret not playing Mass Effect earlier. It has two sequels now that are practically begging to be played (in fact, I’ve already started Mass Effect 2 at the time of writing this since Pouty-Lips just wouldn’t shut up about it). Had I played it earlier, I may have had much more time to replay, and re-replay the game, exhausting all options of stories, then replaying others to remind myself of their conclusions.
Released in 2007, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then. Until I saw some of the textures. It’s true the graphics are not up to par, but I was surprised that some of the textures seemed a bit muddy, mostly clothing. It was easy to get distracted by the rather beautiful graphics shown by the characters faces. I can tell Bioware spent a fair effort in making sure the faces, even the most alien ones like Wrex, were “alive” enough to warrant some kind of engagement.
Otherwise, the graphics did their job quite well in most other ways, and I can certainly see myself booting up this game again and not being turned off by the older graphics engine, and part of me can’t wait. While I consider myself a junkie for PC RPGs, I rather enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay presented here. The 3rd-person running and gunning kept me on my toes and didn’t get too cumbersome, even if it flatlined in terms of complexity about half way through.
Mixing in the vehicular combat via the Mako, turned out to be a welcome change of pace in many of the missions, even if its controls were often a bit wonky. Learning the controls was all part of the fun, and we “older” gamers did our fair share of making due with terrible controls all through the 90’s in some cases.
The gameplay was well suited for experiencing the story and giving me a tour around the galaxy and the setting constructed for this experience. If there’s one thing Bioware does exceedingly well, it is that they know how to integrate the setting and gameplay so that you definitely feel like the game you’re playing is a “natural” way to experience the setting. Whether it’s an adapted setting (like D&D or the KOTOR games) or more original fare like Mass Effect, they rarely have left me feeling like my gameplay experience and the story or setting were disjointed in a game-breaking way.
The most attractive features to this game, for me, turned out to be the ones I was most skeptical about, and those are the setting and its story. I’m wary of sci-fi and fantasy settings in my games nowadays, because its been done so many times that they some times fail to feel exotic or fantastic as such settings should feel. Mass Effect did not fail here.
Almost immediately (even character creation was immersive!) I enjoyed the setting, and all throughout I always anticipated “resuming my career” from my previous save to see what was next. Characters, mostly, really popped but this time Bioware outdid itself with its characters. Very few of them veer too far into the extremes of stock characters like the cutesy innocent type, or the clumsy but heart-warming type. No, in Mass Effect I felt like I was among like-minded professionals and felt they deserved some respect.
Perhaps it was the militaristic feel and backdrop, but the entire setting had a professional sense to it, and some may find this to be a bit stuffy or drab, but I quite enjoyed it. It reminds me of the professionalism seen in the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation compared to the swashbuckling style of Kirk & Kids from the Original Series. Again, some may be bored by it, but it was right up my alley.
There were a few points that didn’t quite sit well with me though, but nothing tragic. First of all, the inventory system was a mess. I actually felt anxiety when I got warnings that I was approaching some arbitrary maximum capacity. While the action based gameplay allowed for a bit more skill-based gameplay, it was nice to have some stat-juggling with the inventory and items. I just felt like I was acquiring gear for the entire crew of the Normandy, not just my squad mates, and having to take five or so minutes to sort through was distracting.
In fact, despite the presence of numerous merchants, I never shopped in my play through. Not once. Maybe I missed some pretty good gear, but I wasn’t really hurting for it, and beat the game with what I picked up as loot.
Another minor off-key note was that the planetary exploration missions. I liked the whole concept and it really made me feel like I had some leeway to roam the galaxy. The side-quests issued by Admiral Whatshisname also feel inline with my character’s role in the fleet so that I didn’t feel like the objectives were too trivial compared to the main quest. However, the missions got a bit grindy and I’m glad they lasted only about 10 minutes or so.
Finally, the character customization was a bit underwhelming and I wound up with Jane having a nearly permanent duckface (and that’s not a type of alien I’m talking about) after I unwittingly boosted her lip size with space collagen or something. Just standing around, she reminded me of a sorority girl roaming around space stations looking for places to pose for a selfie.
Accompanying the setting were other great productions values like dazzling effects (though the mood lighting seemed a bit crazy sometimes, shining right though peoples’ heads), superb voice acting, and a wondrous soundtrack. The song that played over the ending credits (M4 by Faunts) chilled my spine and provided the adequate eargasm climax to this experience.
Aside from her sometimes humorous disfigurement, the story that Pouty-Lips Jane starred in was a rather good one. One of Bioware’s best perhaps, at least among its more recent games. There were no big surprises here, but it’s how it was done that impressed me so. Ancient foes returning from outside the galaxy, mind control, the greater good, it all came together in such a way that mixing in some character development and romance had me hooked liked some kind of TV show on Netflix. I just wanted to shotgun the whole thing, which I nearly did and had to force myself to slog through some of the side quests.
The branching storylines (Kaidan or Williams? How can I choose?!), Paragon/Renegade paths, and even multiple endings left me wanting to replay just to explore other options, and even regretting how I handled things at the end. The show must go on, however, and the ability to import Pouty Lips Jane Shepard into Mass Effect 2 means she has to deal with her regrets as well as whatever other galaxy-threatening problems pop up. The structure was the tried and true 3-main locations for main quest/good or evil choices/romance chats/sidequests Bioware has perfected over the years, but it’s wheel that worked just fine on this road and needed no reinventing.
Quite early on, I realized that this was a more entertaining game that many TV shows I’ve tried to watch. I’m glad there are sequels to play, excited that I can replay it, and even surprised that gameplay elements I don’t normally associate with RPGs succeeded wildly in keeping me engaged while other typical RPG elements fell by the wayside. It’s modern classic to be sure.
If you’ve played this game, share some of your favorite memories or experiences from the game in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them!
And here’s some of that end credits goodness for you: