The Mass Effect series has been around for a long time now, and with confirmation that a new game from the series is being developed, it's a good idea to look back on what started the whole thing. Mass Effect was released way back in 2007, to critical acclaim. The game featured third person combat, with gunplay and "spells" in the form of tech attacks and biotics. When not on foot, Commander Shepard and his squad would travel in the Mako, a fast moving tank that could traverse long distances on hostile alien worlds.
By far the biggest draw of the game, however, is the story, the setting, and how both develop through conversation. The game takes place in the distant future, the year 2183, where humanity is just one trace among dozens. Humans aren't even considered significant enough to have a say in galactic government. That all changes with you, the player, in control of Commander Shepard. Commander Shepard is being considered for appointment to the galactic government's special task force, the Spectres. If you're considered worthy, it would greatly increase humanity's prestige and perhaps lend their voice more gravitas on the intergalactic stage. Once you gain control of Shepard, the plan immediately goes awry. What was supposed to be a routine evaluation of your skills becomes a life and death invasion of a human colony by hostile sentient robots. The prologue introduces you to many new words and concepts, but it immediately draws you into the action by putting you in such a high stakes arena. I won't spoil the plot, but it gets more intricate as the game continues, and it keeps your attention as the stakes get higher and higher.
Beyond the setting and plot itself are the six squad members that you recruit to aid you in your mission to save the galaxy. Every squadmate is an interesting character with a fascinating backstory. These stories slowly get revealed to the player over the course of the game every time Shepard goes down into the hold of his/her ship and talks to them. My personal favorite character to talk to is Wrex, the Krogan mercenary. He starts out as an undeniable badass, who can take and deal a lot of damage in battle. As you talk to him, you discover his past, why he became a mercenary, why he's fighting for you, and it hints at his future in the sequel games. All the characters are worth talking to, and they're all unique enough in their abilities that you won't want to have a single squad make-up for the entire game.
Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect and it hasn't aged particularly well. The graphics are pretty subpar by today's standards. Maybe it was my old computer, but I experienced several graphical glitches, especially when using biotics. Other than that, the textures were downright ugly in places. Graphics are just a minor issue though, the greater flaw is the combat. Combat can be clunky in Mass Effect, especially when spell casting. I played as a Vanguard, a class that mixes gunplay and biotics. I found myself ignoring my spells and just running up to people with a shotgun. For a long time, I forgot I even had abilities. By the end of the game, I was only using abilities that let me tank more damage. Your squadmates, so brilliant and fascinating in conversation, are dumb and nearly useless in battle. I found myself having to micromanage my squad to get them to do anything. If not, I would often find them shooting at a wall or standing out in the open when cover was 3 feet away.
The game was also very short, only 6 main missions before the final climatic battle. When the game started and truly opened up, I was expecting a grand epic that would last dozens of hours. By the time I finished the game, I had less than 17 hours on record, including quite a few side quests and the DLC missions. The game feels very short for what it is. What makes this short run time even worse is the padding through the forced use of the Mako tank. A full third of the gameplay is spent inside the Mako. Every time you visit a planet, you go down in the Mako. Almost every main mission has a Mako section somewhere in it. The Mako sections are dull, usually straight corridors with easily defeated enemies sprinkled along the way. Even the enemy "tanks" are no threat, you just have to stand in one spot and tediously blast them while you lazily avoid their slow attacks. These sections are also extremely long, dragging on far longer than it has any right to. The worst is the controls for the Mako. The Mako is huge 6 wheeled tank, but it controls as if it were weightless. There's no traction, no gravity, it drives like a toy being thrown by a toddler.
The bad parts of the game are bad, but the good parts of the game are great and more than make up for its deficiencies. I enjoyed Mass Effect for the most part, and I took great pleasure in talking to my crew and learning their stories. The combat was decent, if clunky. The only part of the game that really detracted it for me were the graphics, which are only rough by today's standards, and the tank sections. The plot, setting, and characters are what will carry you through this game if you get discouraged from the combat.
I recommend this game for anyone who enjoys good storytelling and world building, or even just good sci-fi. My recommendation comes with a caveat, however. If you play Mass Effect, and enjoy it, then its sequels are absolute necessities. As I play through Mass Effect 2, the nods to the first game add so much lore and continuity, it brings the game even more to life than it already is.Pros:
Counselor Troi and Seth Green are voice actors
Choices matter and are referenced in Mass Effect 2Cons:
Tank sections are just north of tolerable
Final boss is a bit goofy
Pinnacle Station DLC was a disappointment