With the release of Mass Effect 3 last month, I decided to sit down and play through all three games. I'd heard a lot of good things about the series, and there was a sale on Steam for the first two. This will be the first of a three part review of the Mass Effect franchise.
So I powered up Steam, launched Mass Effect, and started a new campaign. I changed the name to Brandon and made a customer face and dove right into the campaign. I sat for hours on end playing the game, absorbing the lore, and sorting my guns. I scoured the Citadel for side quests, then went to find this Liara chick. I made stops at all the clusters on the way, and had explored pretty much every planet before I finally wrapped up the main quests and made my way to Ilos.
Overall, I felt that the storytelling was really strong, which is what I expected from BioWare, and what I had heard from most everyone else. The lore was intriguing, and for science fiction, I felt like a lot of research went into how to make the game feel authentic. I was especially impressed with the variety of species, many of which were starkly different from humans. The main quest line felt a little actiony, but that was ok. Having to choose between Kaiden and Ashley was hard, mostly because I'm a completist and losing a character I was devoting time to was a hard choice. I ultimately chose Kaiden because he reminded me of Carth Onasi, and I knew Carth would have wanted to sacrifice himself to save a damsel anyway. I also really appreciated the news system implemented in the Citadel: it made me feel good about completing side quests, especially when it was hard to stick to the path of the Paragon.
I also am very fond of the gameplay in Mass Effect. I thought it was an interesting choice to forego a proper ammo system, and that their explanation for why was satisfactory. The combat in the game tended to be somewhat fast paced because the cover system really wasn't that useful and was ultimately ignored, but it fit the game's mood. There would typically be brief, frantic combat, followed by dialog and exposition. I found that I used Unity a lot in Mass Effect. The inventory system was admitadly pretty clunky, especially when you wanted to sell items. I did, however, appreciate the variety, both in weapons and mods. There were maybe three or four of each type of weapon that were lovely, four or five that were decent, and then four or five that were just garbage, but I enjoyed the challenge of deciding which character got the best weapons and mods, because there was a limited supply. I'd heard a lot of things about the Mako, but I really enjoyed those sections of the game. The Mako controlled horridly, but it was also a lot of fun to ramp off a mountain and spin end over end wildly half a dozen times before hitting the ground. The length of the game was just right for the Mako not to get dull for me. Just as it was getting dull, I had landed on all elligible planets.
I felt like the character development of the squad members was a bit lacking, as compared with Knights of the Old Republic, but overall, I enjoyed my regular chats with my team. I wound up bringing Tali and Liara on basically all of the missions, occasionally grabbing Wrex or Ashley if I felt like I needed some serious muscle. The ambience of the game was pretty strong. I mentioned that I liked the news system, but I also liked the side quests and how they were typically presented. I was also quite pleased with the handful of choices that weren't necessarilly purely moral in nature. For example, towards the end of Noveria, you have the option to let the Rachni queen go or kill her. On one hand, she promises not to harm others and that her people were forced into the Rachni Wars, but on the other, she represents a dire threat to the galaxy if lying. I liked being presented these choices that clearly would have repurcussions on future games that weren't necessarily a matter of chosing either Paragon or Renegade.
I encountered only a couple bugs in the game. The first I noticed was that, despite having struggled not to kill any researchers in the biotic attack on a Sirta lab, the news noted that the Alliance retaliation to the biotic attack had turned into a bloodbath and that the facility would likely never reopen. It was relatively minor, but it was frustrating given how difficult it had been to kill all those biotics without getting stun-locked by Throw and then focused down, and the researchers just loved to wander right into the middle of it all. The other I encountered was that, during the final mission on Ilos, when I got back into the Mako for the second half of the mission, the Mako was bugged such that it handled as though in slow motion. It accelerated at normal speeds, but turning was painful and I frequently overcorrected because the response was so delayed. I almost didn't make it through the Conduit at the end because when I ramped off the ledge, it flew as though in slow motion, even though everything was shooting at me in regular, real time.
At the end of the game, I was surprised by how short it felt, but then I checked my Steam logs and realized I'd spend 35 hours over the course of three days playing Mass Effect. Overall, it was a lot of fun.
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