And so it came to pass that Commander Jan Shepard finally got the better of Saren. After 24 hours and 18 minutes of gameplay (over an hour of which must have been spent running round and round, keeping out of Saren’s way while taking pot shots and biotic blasts at him) Mass Effect (henceforth ME) was finally completed. It was only the second time that I’ve pursued a game with such single-minded dedication from beginning to end, Deus Ex being the first, which says more about my impression of ME than words will do justice.
But anyhow, a
short review follows.
Mass Effect is the first of a trilogy of role-playing games based in the 22nd century. You play as Commander Shepard, an officer of the Systems Alliance Navy, who is essentially tasked with the job of saving the galaxy from malevolent aliens. The game installed without a hitch on my system (late 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro, running Windows 7 on Bootcamp), though at first it kept crashing whenever I tried to play it. After Googling for a solution, it turned out that an update was needed. Subsequently, everything ran smoothly. It does not need a disc inserted in the drive to play.
ME has a pretty interesting storyline and I won’t give anything away. In a first playthrough, the amount of information one has to process regarding the world can get a bit overwhelming at times. I found that concentrating on my progress mission by mission was less distracting—you eventually catch up with the story anyway.
I played as a custom-created character: Jan Shepard, female, Spacer by origin, and a Sole Survivor by psych profile. Her class was Infiltrator, which gave her a good combination of tech and combat talents. There’s some hand holding in the first few missions, easing you into the story and the game’s universe, as well as the interface. You learn to use your weapons, powers and the heads-up-display, and also how to control your squad.
As an RPG, you will, of course, get plenty of decisions to make. How your character develops is up to you, though, broadly, you can take a Paragon or Renegade path for Shepard, each unlocking a different set of abilities. As you go along, Shepard also collects a bunch of allies who are available to go on missions with her. You can at most select two other squadmates in your landing party, so it’s a tough choice sometimes.
The gameplay took a little bit of getting used to, but felt quite intuitive afterwards (and now I’m in the process of unlearning it all for Mass Effect 2!). The combat is just about difficult enough to give you a challenge and easy enough that you don’t get frustrated. In many other squad-based RPGs I’ve played—Neverwinter Nights comes to mind, as does Dragon Age II—I found the controls for manipulating my team, using their powers and giving orders pretty cumbersome. ME, however, made it relatively simple to hurl appropriate powers at mechs and organics and what have you.
Most of the missions can be played in random order, and there are plenty of opportunities for side missions to pick up experience points and goodies. It is also one of the few games where you get to play as a male or female character with absolutely no difference in your abilities, strength or powers. Girl and boy Shepards walk, talk and behave in exactly the same way (though, of course, they have different voices). In fact, the same template (or whatever the technical term is) has been used for the movements of both male and female Shepards, and there isn’t the usual focus on various body parts that a female protagonist might have otherwise inspired. (That said, I’m not sure this extends to other female characters of the series.) There is also scope (albeit limited) for some same-sex romance. Rumour has it that Bioware wanted to go the whole hog on this, but chickened at the eleventh hour.
You can import your ME character into the sequel—in which case you retain your relationships, and the choices and decisions you make are reflected in the world. Overall, ME has immense replay value—I’ve already started a new broShep playthrough: Derek Shepard, on veteran mode.
If I had to rate ME: 8/10. It reminded me exactly why I love RPGs so much.