AMD 2.4 GHz
AMD Radeon X1800 XL
BioWare earned its name through its solid history of amazing and in many ways, groundbreaking RPGs, one of its most memorable being Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). Mass Effect 1 was created after the first KOTOR game and was BioWare’s second sci-fi RPG. The developers said their main goal with Mass Effect was to create “the most cinematic game in RPG history”. So does BioWare hit the mark?
The game revolves around your character, Commander Shepard. It is up to the player how this character looks, what his or her background and class is. While there are certain things that are set, a lot of the game’s story is influenced by the player’s choices. The story starts off with what would seem like a simple mission and the recruiting of your character into the so-called ‘Spectres’, which is a type of elite universe police. Beyond this, I won’t spoil any more of the story.
One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
From the very first moment in the game. it becomes quite apparent that the developers were aiming for a cinematic experience. Not only are the cutscenes very cinematic with an amazing soundtrack to back it, but the dialogue is also equally cinematic, with facial close-ups and even actions that can occur in the middle of dialogue due to dialogue choices the player makes. Just as it was in KOTOR, in Mass Effect the player can choose out of a variety of dialogue options during conversations and certain cutscenes, these choices can range from simple questions to dialogue options that will entirely change the outcome of the conversation. There are also opportunities during certain dialogue to use a morality specific dialogue option, that is only unlocked once your character has reached a certain amount of morality type. This is either Paragon or Renegade, while you might think this classifies as straightforward good and evil, Paragon does not mean you are always good and Renegade is not always evil. It is all a matter of perspective. For example one Paragon action might mean that an entirely colony would die because the action required to save them is immoral and requires the sacrifice of perhaps one person, whereas a Renegade gets the job done no matter the costs and will generally look out for the bigger picture. While this game is an action RPG, a large part of this game takes place within dialogue and it is this story driven element that gave me the most fun in fact. As a result though, this game is perhaps not ideal for those who are mostly interested in pure RPG or pure action/combat. As a large part of the RPG in this game comes through its story RPG progression (meaning that your character and the world around you evolves and progresses in terms of story depending on your choices), though it also does have the more classic stat based RPG progression elements. It is important to realise that an RPG does not have to mean you evolve and level up in stats, it can also mean that you simply progress story wise and thus have the flexibility to shape the story the way you want to.
Houston, we have a problem
Getting to the pure stat based RPG elements in Mass Effect, just like in KOTOR, there are a large variety of abilities and stats you can invest experience into. These unlock both active and passive abilities, as well as special bonuses for certain dialogue. There are also many weapons and armours to find throughout the universe, as well as at certain NPC shops. You also have companions you will meet and acquire as you progress, these provide unique opportunities for special conversations while on your ship to learn more about their species, their background, etc. Depending on the gender of your character, certain ones of these will also provide romance opportunities for your character to build a romantic relationship with. In total there are six different companions you will acquire and while out exploring or doing missions you can bring two different ones along with you. As you progress you also gain experience for your companions, just like for yourself you can spend this experience on abilities. Also like for your character, you can change the weapons and armour of your companions. Some of these companions also have special companion missions that you can unlock after getting to know them good enough. It is important to note about the RPG elements in this game that the enemies scale up with your level, thus you will never be under- or over levelled. This also means that it is important to explore enough to keep your’ and your companion’s equipment up to snuff. Depending on your personal RPG tastes and preferences, you will have a different opinion on the RPG elements of Mass Effect. Some people (like myself) prefer more story based RPGs and do not like to grind or micro manage inventory or spend hours figuring out the optimal way to spend experience, while others might actually love grinding or love micro-management of the inventory and such.
Take it back or I will kill you with my finger!
This leaves us with just three other elements of gameplay that I have not yet discussed yet: combat, mini-games and exploration. In terms of mini-games there is only one in Mass Effect and that is the bypass mini-game, it is used to hack safes and electronic devices and is basically just a different take on the classic “frog crossing the road” game. You lead the arrow into the centre to unlock the device while avoiding the security blocks. In terms of exploration, Mass Effect actually has a substantial amount of this; there are many planets to fly to in the universe, some can be scanned and harvested from orbit, while others can be explored using the “Mako” infantry fighting vehicle. The planets you can land on will offer opportunities to drive around and find hidden resources as well as hidden bunkers that are for side quests, which can be found on the main Citadel station. Furthermore, there are many exploration opportunities in every area of the game in both combat and non-combat areas. The game can be divided into two elements of progression, main quests and side quests. The main quest will probably take around 6 to 8 hours to complete on its own, while doing all the exploration and side quests in this game can easily bump the game’s completion time up to over 20 hours. While not all quests involve combat, a large majority of them do, thus this brings us to the combat in the game. Combat in Mass Effect is probably one of its main weaknesses, this is either because most of the other parts of this game are so amazing and unique, while the combat is just bland and, at times, boring. The problem being that the combat lacks feel and impact, your bullets and abilities hit the target but the only thing that happens as a result is that their life bar at the top of the UI (user interface) will decrease. That being said, it is an RPG shooter and at the time that Mass Effect 1 was released RPGs had not yet gotten a good shooter hybrid. While the lack of impact does detract from the experience a bit (especially when you’ve played around 10 hours or more), the cinematic feel of the game on top of the amazing story and dialogue make up for it.
Cleaning crew! Assemble!
The game was originally released for the Xbox 360 and then eventually ported over to PC; this did not stop BioWare from improving the graphics and control scheme for the PC version. At the time that Mass Effect 1 came out, some of its graphics were actually pretty impressive, the only game that had come out the previous year that could make Mass Effect’s graphics look bad was Crysis, but then again Crysis made most all games that came out before and even after (for a while) look bad visually. Besides, amazing graphics alone do not make the game, it is the coming together of all elements of the game that make a game amazing (gameplay, story, content, music, voice acting and graphics). Mass Effect’s graphics are solid enough to carry the cinematic story driven experience through and at times even make it better, but never detract from that experience. The audio in this game suits the sci-fi mysterious setting of the game perfectly; everything from the small menu clicking sounds, to the music and voice acting is just perfection. It really shows that BioWare spent a lot of time messing around with different sounds just to find the right sound for even the menu buttons. Considering that is just a menu button sound, imagine how much effort they put into the gun sounds and all the other sounds in this game. Additionally, you can tell a lot of the game’s budget went into writing and voice acting, with amazing quality dialogue that is only made better by its amazing line-up of quality voice actors. For those curious, a quick search on the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) will show you a full listing of the voice actors of Mass Effect as well as their other roles throughout their career. The music soundtrack follows this quality perfectly and builds emotion during intense cutscenes and dialogue, while also working as an adrenaline pump during intense combat sequences.
While Mass Effect 1 does have its flaws, it is the first of its kind, namely a cinematic story driven gaming experience. There is not a single game before Mass Effect that even comes close to being such a cinematic experience; this experience is only made better by the quality voice acting, dialogue, story, music and sound effects throughout the game.
- Story: the story progression is influenced by the player’s choices
- The experience: Mass Effect is a highly cinematic gaming experience
- Voice acting: a full lineup of quality voice actors, all using well written scripts
- Content: plenty of optional side content and exploration to keep the completionists busy
- Visuals: anyone who has played Crysis might not be that impressed by this game’s visuals, that being said, the visuals are good enough to not detract form the overall experience
- RPG elements: some people will love this game’s inventory system and RPG progression elements, while others might not.
- Combat: the combat in this game is one of the few areas that falls short of the whole cinematic feel of the game.