A review that is long overdue.
I won’t hide it and I won’t waste your time. I’ll go ahead and say that Mass Effect is one of my favorite games ever. I’ve even said that it is the best of the series before. If you disagree, I’ll fight you.
Whew, now that I got that out of the way, we can all agree that I’m right and that Mass Effect is an amazing game.
Mass Effect: 10/10
Oh right. This is supposed to be an actual review… I’ll put my serious face on.
All joking aside, my intention is to take the rose-colored glasses off and give as close to a complete review as possible. I’ll also be reviewing Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 in the time before Mass Effect: Andromeda releases, so keep an eye out for that too.
So without wasting any more of your time, here’s my review of the original, OG Mass Effect.
Mass Effect plays in many ways like Bioware’s previous game, Knights of the Old Republic. Heavy emphasis was put onto the RPG elements, requiring players to level up in various skills in order to increase combat effectiveness, gain special abilities, and have additional conversation options. Combat took a bit of a back seat compared to everything else, as Bioware clearly saw that the story took precedence over anything else, which I can’t really say is a bad thing.
At best, the combat is serviceable. Early on, your combat abilities are borderline useless. Weapons are effectively bullet-hoses that lack punch. Your powers, if you choose a class that has Biotic or Tech abilities, are weak and have long cooldowns. Cover is sticky and unwieldy to utilize, and firing from cover leaves you exposed for an inordinate amount of time.
Once you get further into the game however, the gameplay improves exponentially. Your attacks and abilities become far more powerful and useful as you progress, and playing around with Biotic abilities once they are leveled up a little, are a lot of fun. Playing around with Lift and Throw is particularly fun, making you feel like a Jedi (or Sith, I guess). The Tech abilities tend to be functional, allowing you to disable enemy weapons or bring down their shields. Tech characters can also adopt the role of medic, healing your party by using your stores of Medigel (think of it like magic, liquid bandages).
For a game from 2007, the gameplay is pretty solid. Actually, the gameplay was groundbreaking to say the least. Mass Effect introduced the conversation wheel, as well as conversation interactions that matched the player’s previous decisions. Many games tried their hands at the morality thing before, like Fable. However, none really gave actual benefits for moral integrity.
Choosing to be an ass constantly in Mass Effect fills your Renegade bar, which allows you to open up the option to take higher difficulty Renegade options. Similarly, morally good choices reward you by filling your Paragon meter, which give you the option to take Paragon options in conversations. At first, it mostly gives you an optimal path through a conversation, or even talk back to a commanding officer without getting sent to the brig. In some cases however, you can skip some boss fights entirely or even convince quest givers to give you bonus rewards for completing a mission.
Sadly, the inventory system is a different story. Scrolling through your items is slow and unintuitive. There are tons of different weapons and armors, but the actual models for them are limited to two variants each. The inventory management boils down to a numbers game in the worst way. Weapons have few noticeable characteristics besides damage and accuracy and while some armors have unique abilities, their properties don’t really come into play. It’s safe to say that you’re going to be selling or destroying literally tons of items during each playthrough.
Oh, and then there’s the explorative elements. Bioware put enormous detail into the various systems that you can visit in the galaxy, offering extensive background information on planets and other celestial bodies. It’s unfortunate that the same attention to detail wasn’t carried into the rest of exploration.
Most planets that you can land on, and drive around in the Mako on, are a topographical map covered with basic textures and scattered with some areas of interest. The most interaction you get during the planetside exploration segments are when you end up fighting Thresher Maws, which are large, worm-like creatures that spit incredibly damaging acid. However, these fights generally devolve into driving back and forth to avoid the acid while whittling down the Thresher Maw’s health.
It’s worth noting that on consoles, players are treated to playing Simon Says A LOT. Unlocking a door? Simon Says. Examining an artifact? Simon Says. Disarming a thermonuclear weapon? Simon Says. I heavily recommend breaking down any items you aren’t going to use or sell into the wondertool Omnigel, so you can skip these segments as much as possible.
From a perspective of 2016, Mass Effect looks alright. The textures are muddy, but again, it looks visually impressive for a game from 2007. Bioware implemented film grain into Mass Effect, making it look like you’re playing your way through a movie. A movie made by J.J. Abrams… With lens flare. Lots of lens flare. Basically, J.J. Abrams stole his cinematography ideas for Star Trek from Bioware.
More seriously, the visual and audio design of Mass Effect is unique. It’s clear to me that Bioware wanted their new IP to feel like a movie as much as possible, in both cutscenes and in the actual gameplay, and it honestly works. This same approach has been tried in many games (Heavy Rain comes to mind), but I don’t think it has been as excellently executed as it is in Mass Effect.
The soundtrack and audio design also deserves to be applauded as well. The voiceovers, musical score, and various sounds are genuinely good. Weapons sound like they have real impact. The Geth sound mechanical, yet alive. Even the music, which is orchestral and electronica mixed together, sounds amazing to me. So much so that I bought the soundtrack for the original game so I can listen to it whenever I want.
Bioware struck gold with Mass Effect. The unique universe that they created is dripping with fresh ideas that, while they’ve previously been explored in other media, haven’t really been fleshed out together in meaningful ways. The Milky Way galaxy is a far from perfect place to live, and is full of many of the same issues that we face today. Politics take a front seat in Mass Effect, where the infamous Citadel Council hand down edicts from on high, often to the chagrin of the majority of non-Council races.
Humans are viewed with suspicion and interest due to their nature; a wildcard that can be used as a way to influence change. Bioware took great care to create the backdrop for a lively and full galaxy that players can grow to love, for one very good reason… They want you to care enough to not want it to be destroyed
The story itself is one that I find to be rather masterful. The escalation that takes place over the campaign is drip fed to you as you traverse from quest to quest. What begins as a simple mission slowly widens to reveal a plot with enormous consequences, bringing to light old evils that had been dormant for millennia.
Saren Arterius, the main enemy you will face throughout the story, is wonderfully crafted. The fact that you aren’t immediately force fed his motivations, and are instead required to rely on discovering his plans, makes him that much more interesting. I won’t go so far as to ruin the basis of the plot if you have yet to play through the game yourself or had the plot explained to you. I’d much rather you experience it for yourself.
Aside from the story itself, there are a number of characters that you get introduced to that will likely burrow their way straight into your heart. Your party members; Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, Garrus Vakarian, Urdnot Wrex, Ashley Williams, Kaidan Alenko, and Liara T’Soni will be characters that you’d love to have around (despite some of their odd tendencies to get super-attached to you for no reason whatsoever).
You will learn to hate the Citadel Council for their general lack of care for your work. You’ll want to strangle Udina the moment you meet him. You’ll want to bring along Captain Anderson on your mission. You’ll also want to simultaneously hive-five and slap Joker constantly. Bioware did an amazing job with the characters. They have perceivable depth to them instead of the normal one-dimensional nature of characters in video games. They’re almost a story in and of themselves.
WILDCARD: THE UNKNOWN EVIL, INTRODUCED
What I love about Mass Effect is the approach that Bioware took to creating the true enemy. The Reapers, as seen through the raw power of Sovereign, are portrayed as incredibly dangerous, ancient evils that honestly don’t require a motivation to be known. Their purpose is largely irrelevant because the reasons behind their actions are not really required. All that needs to be known is that they are more than capable of wiping out all life in the galaxy, and that you need to stop that from happening.
It’s honestly a shame in my opinion that the wonder of the unknown was stripped away in the Mass Effect 3, because that was one of the things that really sets the first game apart from other science fiction media. Regardless of the sequels’ treatment of the true, big bads, the first game opens with a masterful introduction for the Reapers. It’s something that deserves to be remembered and applauded.
As you might have already guessed, I absolutely adore Mass Effect, even to this day. I’ve replayed the series dozens of times, and consistently enjoy the experience. Sure, there are some major issues I have with the original… The terrible framerates, the clunky controls, and the stiff gameplay animations; but all of these things are heavily outweighed by the story and atmosphere. The characters are unforgettable. Both the background and playable story are incredibly deep, warranting the reading of the Codex and exploration of the game as much as possible.
Bioware created one of the most interesting science fiction IPs that I’ve ever played, and kept my attention on them for roughly a decade now. Mass Effect made such an impression on me that I have become a fan of their company’s creations as a whole.
It’s with that in mind that I honestly have to recommend the first Mass Effect as a must-play for anyone that enjoys not only roleplaying games, but story focused games in general. I’d even go so far as to claim it as a must-own.
That said, thank you for reading. Now I’m going to continue working on my 15th playthrough of Mass Effect 2.
What are your thoughts about the original Mass Effect? What did you love? Hate? Bioware should totally remaster the game, shouldn’t they?
When you’re done here, head on over to read my reviews of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3!
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This game is on my “Really need to play someday” list. It’s high on that list so I hope to get to it sometime next year 🙂
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Nice review! I agree with a lot of this. I’ve also played it numerous times (though not dozens, that’s impressive!!), and it’s so true that the story and cinematic experience just make it such a stand-out, despite all of its flaws. I’d say the clunky controls are the biggest downfall of the game. I used to think the game was just getting dated, but it’s actually the way they’re set up; now that I’ve played the much older original Halo, I realize it’s a Mass Effect thing! At least the next games improve a lot in that respect, but the original still has such a strong story, and being the first, it just feels so revolutionary!
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I’m Commander Shepherd, and this is my favourite game of the console generation.
I thought I’d played this through a lot, but dozens is very impressive! I found the controls in the second and third games sharper than the first. Also, some of the enemies here on the hardest settings were nothing more than bullet sponges. Other than that I can’t really fault it. The story at this stage is simple but very engaging and well told. Because this trilogy was so good, I’m NOT looking forward to Andromeda, I just don’t think it will come close to matching up.
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I’m throwing caution to the wind with Andromeda. I’m deliberately trying to stay in the dark as much as possible to avoid getting too hyped.
I’m hoping that Bioware can catch that lightning again…
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I only skimmed parts of this because I haven’t played the game and haven’t read much about it, but I’ll definitely come back to your review whenever I get around to finally playing. From what I’ve heard here and elsewhere, this game series is amazing and deserves a remaster of sorts! I’m glad that there’s another installment coming out in the near future!
I really enjoyed Mass Effect, but I admit I played it because I’m a hardcore Dragon Age fan and… oh look, BioWare did a thing in space, too! I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the game. I came into the series long after the hype (and hysteria over ME3) wore away, and even playing it for the first time years later, I found the game to be pretty solid in terms of story. Combat improved, like you said, but it doesn’t detract enough to make the game “unplayable” by any means.
I think that the plot sort of spiraled into a huge Reaper-sized drama by the end, but I also think BioWare painted themselves into a corner with the slow burn happening beneath the story of the previous two games. Dragon Age: Inquisition tried (and failed) to do this with the mage/templar war, but in regards to Mass Effect, I thought the insanity was handled well, and was at least consistent with the chaotic nature of galactic war with sentient robots.
…also, I realize I’m the only person who thinks this, but I LOVE the Mako!!!! I haven’t had so much rip-roaring fun in a vehicle since I used cheat codes in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City!!
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I definitely agree that Bioware ended up leaving themselves without a ton of options for the overarching narrative. It’s kinda a shame, because there were a few plot threads that never got addressed.
And it’s okay that you like the Mako. It’s definitely easy to drive in the sense that it’s very hard to mess up. I just never liked how it didn’t drive the way it looked it should… Like a tank.
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The worst part of this was after dozens of playthroughs i found out the mako has a cannon making the exploration missions go ten times faster. Other than that I think a 10/10 is justified.
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Yeah that cannon is a lifesaver. Of course, I rarely used it because I tried to get as much XP as possible, so I fought almost everything on foot.
You are a brave soul fighting thresher maws on foot
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The trick is to whittle them down with the Mako, then take a last few shots on foot 😉
Seeing as I JUST FOUND OUT that the Mako has this SUPER NIFTY STRONG SHOT when you hit RB (for real… all those stupid turrets would have been so much easier if I would have – what took me so long?!?!) I am kind of happy/okay with the weapon set-up with Mass Effect. I had to take a SUPER long break (sorry for the cap happy day -ahem) I was able to pick it up and refigure out what in the world I was doing. (I love Journal entries so I can jump to a mission and get back into the flow). I feel bad for Liara because I am pretty sure she fell in love with me instantly according to my choices and how I had to put her softly down because I was apparently with Kaidan (and he asked me about this).
I…. had a point at one point in time…
Anyway, this was fantastic game!
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