This was originally posted to my livejournal on August 27, 2009. I will post my new thoughts at the end.
As many people know, I love games by Bioware. That Canadian RPG house is one of the few game companies that consistently makes good games. Every game of theirs I've played, I've enjoyed immensely. Baldur's Gate 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and now, Mass Effect. (Never played Neverwinter Nights or the first Baldur's Gate, but that's because I don't own them.)
And that's what today's review is of; Mass Effect. A scifi adventure that takes place in the 22nd century, Mass Effect is a story about a galaxy on the brink of an apocalypse that nobody is willing to admit to. Only Lt. Commander Shepard, a member of the human Systems Alliance, and her crew know the truth, and are trying to stop it.
Now, I say her, despite the fact that you can choose the gender of your Shepard, because I prefer the voice actor for the female Shepard. Jennifer Hale gives Shepard more emotion, more character than Mark Meer.
First off, I want to talk about the voice talent. With the exception of Mark Meer, the voice cast is awesome. First off, anyone who's played past Bioware games will recognize 3 voice actors; Cam Clarke, Jennifer Hale, and Raphael Sbarge. Hell, two of them are KOTOR alumni; Hale and Sbarge. However, there are a few awesome voice actors as well. Seth Green for example. He does some great work as Joker. There's also two voice actors I remember from when I was a kid; Keith David and Marina Sirtis. These two voice two of the main characters from the 1994 Disney series, Gargoyles.
Character creation is pretty detailed, allowing for some very unique avatars. Of course, that meant I've spent several hours creating characters, playing through to the citadel, seeing my character in that light, and then abandoning. Of course, after realizing that I could take OFF the helmet, that meant I only had to wade through a half an hour of gameplay. I've actually taken to looking online for good looking faces so I don't have to deal with creating, playing and then abandoning a character before I've gotten them just right.
The characters are pretty well done, but then again, Bioware's pretty good at that. While most don't have a detailed backstory, they are fleshed out enough to make them individuals. Not perfect, but ages beyond what most game companies do.
Next, the character classes. They have there specialist classes; soldier, engineer and adept(which is a biotic, which is essentially a mage character), and the "hybrid classes", of vanguard, sentinel, and infiltrator. My personal preference is for the soldier, vanguard and adept classes, mostly because I like tanking, high damage and crowd control. My least favorite class is engineer, but I don't have any real reason for not liking it. I just don't.
I like the combat, for the most part. I believe this is the first Bioware RPG that goes completely with ranged combat, and it works very well with the context of the game. Controlling Shepard is easy an fluid. Changing out weapons was easy, as was using the combat abilities. And the biotics were fun to play with.
Speaking of weapons, I really like three of them; the pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. They do a good amount of damage, and, with the frictionless material upgrades, they don't overheat. And they're pretty good at close to mid range combat.
That said, there are some flaws; first off, squad control. Controlling their abilities in combat was easy, but the inability send one off to a specific place, was just horrible. And, more than once, my squadmates got in the way. For example, today alone, Ash got in my life of fire 3 times, and Tali at least twice. Not to mention the times I've tried to slide over from where I took cover so I could get a better shot, only to find Kaidan blocking me from doing just that.
Next is some of the issues I have with combat. Trying to get cover is annoying. More than once I tried to get cover, and all Shepard did was hold her rifle up, signifying that something was blocking it. Other times, I retreated to bet better cover, only to have Shepard press up against a wall and get shot repeatedly. I'm just glad that ME2 is going to rectify this, because the cover mechanism doesn't work properly. When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it gets you killed.
Third is how annoying it was to level up. I don't know about anyone else, but going to those uncharted worlds to grind out levels is NOT fun. It takes too long to get the levels I want. And the only reason I bother with grinding levels is because the higher levels abilities are more fun. And, the better quality the weapon, the slower the overheat rate.
And then there's the weapon I don't like; the sniper rifle. I don't like how inaccurate it is without a shitload of points in the skill. Even the Master Spectre versions of the gun suck ass.
And finally, the supposed "twist." Sovereign being a Reaper was not a surprise. There were plenty of hints dropped throughout the game, and that revelation moment where Sovereign reveals itself to Shepard, I'm like "how can you not see this?". I mean, the entire game is talking about sapient AI, so of course Saren's ship was a Reaper.
Finally, I can't talk about Mass Effect without talking about the "sex scene" controversy, which was, of course, complete bullshit. For fuck's sake, they don't show anything raunchier than what is played on daytime soaps. In fact, daytime soaps are far more explicit and raunchy than what is in Mass Effect. There's only two sex scenes available; the one with the asari consort, where you DON'T SEE ANYTHING, and the other is the natural progression of a relationship. Both are noninteractive, neither shows anything explicit, and BOTH ARE OPTIONAL! Anybody who made a big deal out of that never played the game, and there's proof of it.
Okay, as for my current take having played all three games; this game is the beginning of the trilogy. A LOT of universe set up, a LOT of character introduction, a LOT of exposition. Through the "we have to stop Saren" story, you learn who the Reapers are, what they are planning, and what Shepard's mission will be for the next two games. You also gain information on indoctrination, THE most important thing that the Reapers are capable of; yeah, they are big fucking starships that take the entire citadel fleet to destroy ONE, but indoctrination shows what the Reapers did to Saren, and later, Shepard. Yes, I believe in the indoctrination theory. It's the only way the ME3 ending makes sense, and you get hints to that STARTING IN THIS GAME.
So yeah, I still love Mass Effect. I love it enough to plan out a trilogy of stories based on that. The only real gripe that I have is how Bioware fucks up the military structure. But, I doubt Bioware has anyone who has ever been in the military, or a military advisor, so its fine. I actually started my ME story with that in mind, with the "Shepard lost her biotics" story hook after.
I'm gonna post my first impression of ME2 from my old livejournal, and then complete the review from there. Then, on to ME3.
EDIT: Yes, I'm aware that later this day, the Extended cut DLC was released, and the indoctrination theory has been debunked. But, if you play all three games back to back, you do see hints of why it was plausible until the DLC was released. So, rather than the intent of going through the rest of my reviews pointing out moments that gave credibility to the indoctrination theory, I'm just gonna do the merits and flaws of the games.