For some time now Mass Effect has been on my radar. First only vaguely. (For years I'd almost exclusively played Japanese video games, only in the last couple years or so have I been opening up more to western productions.) Then last year I stumbled upon g33kWatch.com's charity Mass Effect marathon. I watched more because of the great team doing the event, though, than the game, which I knew very little about.
Since then I kept running into the game more and gradually my interest grew. However, one simple thing kept me from trying it out for myself: the first game of the series was only out for Xbox and Windows. As some of you may know, I wouldn't touch a Microsoft product with a proverbial ten foot pole. And, since I knew the series was pretty story-oriented, I wasn't too keen on jumping in in the middle, so I let it be.
One week ago, however, this changed at last. A box collecting all three games was released for the PlayStation 3. I got it... not actually on release day, but the day after, because no stores around here had apparently stocked it in time. Anyway, over the week I played through the first game, and I'm now a few hours into the second.
So, yeah, on to the actual review part. A couple hours into the first game I thought... well, it's an OK game with some interesting elements. But it didn't take long for me to get totally hooked. I think some of the game's appeal is due to the fact that it has a little of everything. It's not just action. It's not just exploration. It's not just story.
For the uninitiated, Mass Effect is basically a space opera action RPG. You play commander Shepard, a special operative investigating a threat posed by ancient sentient machines known as Reapers. The game has a pretty rich setting with many alien races and lots of background information. Although combat is a big part of the game, dialogue with various NPC's, and the choices you make during dialogue, plays a large role as well.
There's the main storyline, which is pretty cool, and lots of side quests. Almost too much, one could say. I ended up skipping much of them, 'cause few of them were anywhere near as interesting as the main story. You can also explore various planets in the galaxy, but this, like the side quests, can get a little tedious after a while. Doing at least some optional stuff is helpful, though, as it gets you more experience and better equipment.
Combat is presented in third person shooter style, with an 'over the shoulder' view and controls basically similar to FPS games. You're supported by two computer controlled teammates, and as you level up, you can unlock various powers you (and your teammates) can use in combat. It's pretty fun to play. You need to think a little, utilize cover etc., rather than blindly rushing in. While I usually tend to play action games on easier settings, I decided to go with 'normal' this time. And it proved a suitable setting for me. There were a few tough fights early on that required a bunch of retries, but once I levelled up a little it wasn't too bad.
Technically the game was... a little buggy, I must say. There were glitches with sound in dialogue, with whole lines skipped or sometimes played on repeat (luckily subtitles ensured I didn't miss anything), as well as minor glitches in animation, camera etc. Nothing that really detracted from the experience, though. I don't know how much of these issues were due to the PS3 port or whether they exist in the original. Other than that, being a five year old game already, it naturally looked a little dated by modern standards, but not too bad (I'm easy to please, graphics-wise). Music... wasn't bad, but much of the time it was pretty subtle, not so heavy on memorable themes and stuff.
So yeah, overall, if you like space opera, shooter action and RPG's, Mass Effect is definitely a title to consider. I'll undoubtedly return with thoughts on the other games in the trilogy once I've played through them...