If you have paid any attention to the media, and the game industry’s involvement, you have probably heard of Mass Effect, BioWare’s epic sci-fi trilogy. While it should be publicized for its incredible lore and universe, it is instead recognized for its liberal beliefs and being particularly scandalous. While this can be labelled many things, such as a publicity stunt, there is one thing that it should undoubtedly be labelled; justifiable. Mass Effect is a character driven franchise that is possibly the most personal experience in the entire medium. The series revolves around personal choices and how these choices affect the overall story. Most people experience the game differently, by nature. This, of course, is not to be compared to Skyrim, where there are a multitude of quests and options, but lack of a narrow and guided narrative. Mass Effect is different. The game projects the gamer into the shoes of Commander Shepard, and is given the authority to complete tasks the way he/she sees fit.
Commander Shepard is the first human spectre and the commander of the Normandy, an advanced starship. As Shepard, you are responsible for the lives of many. This can technically be said about most games, but not in the same context. Your decision will determine the fate of NPCs, and most character-driven events or encounters are completely avoidable. This is what separates Mass Effect from the rest. While Mass Effect is certainly cinematic, it is more interactive than other cinematic franchises, such as Uncharted or Gears of War. While Uncharted has you play through the adventures of Nathan Drake, Mass Effect goes a step further. Commander Shepard’s actions and reactions are not predetermined, and are completely dependant on the player’s morals.
Unfortunately, Mass Effect boasts this unique feature in order to compensate for the lackluster gameplay. Mass Effect is a shooter-RPG hybrid, meaning that players can level-up and customize their equipment, as well as their squad’s. This exclusive play-style would have been completely welcomed, if only BioWare was kind enough to teach you the basics of the mechanics. While tutorials are annoying, simply teaching the player the basics of combat would have made the experience flow nicely. Instead, players will naturally learn these mechanics five or more hours into the game. Additionally, the combat also feels unbalanced, depending on your class. If the player chooses to play as a ‘soldier’, most of the unique combat options will be unavailable for the entire game. Furthermore, this isn’t the lowest point of the combat. Enemies are programmed to run close to the player, requiring Shepard to rely on melee attacks. This would be tolerable if there was a dedicated melee button. Instead, the game chooses when the attack button changes functionality. This results in sloppy close-proximity combat.
Thankfully, the combat isn’t as frequent as you’d expect. Firefights don’t appear as often as you’d expect from a part-shooter, and that is not a complaint. Because of such a sloppy and unbalanced combat system, Mass Effect is best when progressing its story. This is to say that most other aspects of the game are not up to par with the standards. Graphically, the game is passable. While the character models are impressive, textures and environments are noticeably dull. The only exception would be onboard the Normandy, where the detail and scale of the ship is appreciated. The Normandy is three floors, and equipped with a medical bay, a navigation room, a conference room, and much more. In fact, the scale of the game itself is impressive, allowing you to explore many planets and systems, even if they are not involved in the plot. This incredibly realized universe is sightly victimized by performance issues. Texture pop-ins are the least of your concerns. Much worse, the game may neglect the function of any given button, requiring you to save and quit. While these bugs are not game-breaking, they are huge annoyances that definitely break up the pace of gameplay.
Mass Effect clearly has some substantial issues, but must be appreciated for its ambition. Simply put, a character/story driven game of this scale and innovation has never been done before. The game itself is not nearly perfect, but sets the foundation for an excellent franchise. With subtle improvements, Mass Effect could have been a masterpiece. While its execution was not perfect, one must applaud the game for its deep lore and compelling story. Mass Effect is not for everyone, considering its steep learning curve and abstract style of gameplay, but sets the path for this generation’s greatest and most believable science-fiction universe.