Mass Effect - Staff Review  

Wrex N' Effect
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Mass Effect
Xbox 360
Less than 20 Hours
+ Wrex and all of his dialogue is great
+ Lots of customization
+ Great start to the trilogy
- Loading times can be annoying
- Main quest is a bit short
- Not enough Wrex or sex
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   I was a BioWare virgin when I first tossed Mass Effect into my Xbox 360 over two years ago. I tried playing it for about thirty minutes before declaring it "too much of a shooter" for my tastes and returning it to the shelf. So fast forward two years and I still haven't played Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, or any of the Baldur's Gate titles, but I've been able to finish Mass Effect and am glad I did.

   The initial assessment of Mass Effect being nothing but a shooter was not the case at all. While the battle system does have a strong focus around real time, run-and-gun action, there are plenty of other combat options. Players have six classes to select from, each with its own skills, talents, and equipment to use. It's easy to customize the game's protagonist, Commander Shepard, around a specific play style, and the skills offer more than just shooting from the hip. Complementing the customizable main character is the availability of six party members, two of which can join Shepard during missions. While players could treat the game as a shooter and attempt to merely gun down every enemy, it is not the most efficient method. By pausing and selecting offensive or defensive skills, combat is made more manageable for players who don't want a fast-paced action game.

   While the battle system is solid, the inventory system is a complete mess. Players will be bombarded with tons of weapons and armor, but nothing is organized in a meaningful way. On top of that, there is a limit on how much a person can carry and no easy way to sell off equipment, as most of the time this problem will occur in the middle of a mission. There is an option to convert unwanted equipment into an item called omni-gel that is used to help unlock doors and lockers, but that is just a waste of resources. While this isn't a problem that will stop gamers from progressing, it's an annoyance that will encourage players to merely ignore equipment and plow through the game without worrying about it. The same could be said of the vehicle sections. It's easy to complain about them, but it's simple enough to just ignore all encounters and race out of range. Most all of Mass Effect's issues can be avoided if they are particularly problematic.

Wrex N Effect The original rump shaker.

   If someone was to look at Mass Effect from the perspective of only its combat, one would be hit with lots of action elements that might not appeal to every RPGamer out there. The story and character development is where the game truly shines. Starting with the character creation process, players are making decisions that will change the ways things play out in the game. Not only do gamers get to select their character's gender and appearance, but they get to decide their pre-service history and psychological profile. This and all of the other dialogue decisions in the game will shape Shepard into either a justice-seeking paragon or a hard-to-control renegade. Players can mix up these options to make their Shepard a shade of gray, but dialogue options will be shaped by the selections made.

   As much fun as making decisions about dialogue can be, if the surrounding story is dull then what's the point? Thankfully, Mass Effect weaves a truly fantastic tale as it begins a planned trilogy of games. While there is a set beginning and end to the game, there are limitless paths to travel in between. Players can explore the galaxy in search of adventure. They can confront their own past as well as the past of their crew to gain a deeper understanding of who they're working with. Or they can ignore all of the excess content and just attempt to fly through the game.

   Whatever choice players make, they will meet very well-developed characters with unique and likeable (or purposefully unlikeable) personalities. It would be a shame not to mention the dry, sarcastic wit of Wrex, a brutal warrior of a dying race that would rather shoot first and not even worry about asking questions later. He's just one of the many characters that gamers will get to know and care about throughout the game. Players can also develop strong emotional bonds with certain characters, which can lead to intimate encounters. There are also a few areas in which players will have to make tough choices that will affect the rest of the game. Considering that this game is the first in a trilogy, it does a great job of building up the plot, resolving the current storyline, and still leaving enough open for more games.

A new meaning to light em up Load in an elevator, loading it up as you're going down.

   The difficulty of Mass Effect can be modified during play, so the game should be accessible for RPGamers who aren't very skilled at action-based games, along with those looking for a face-paced challenge. The game also offers varying lengths depending on how it's played. If someone just rushes through the main story content, they'll be done in around ten hours. Those looking to do everything will end up spending a good bit of time flying around the galaxy. Some of the game's side quests are entertaining glimpses into the background of party members, where others are just simple fetch quests that are not worth the effort. Most players should find a comfortable mix somewhere in the middle.

   Mass Effect comes across with a solid presentation. The visuals are quite impressive. From the level of detail available when customizing Shepard to the action-paced cutscenes, they all help bring a level of immersion that complements the game perfectly. The soundtrack is quite enjoyable, but the vocal work is what really stands out in terms of audio. The sheer amount of voice acting in this game is staggering and it's all noticeably good. Even the horribly long elevator loading screens are made somewhat more bearable by the occasionally humorous exchanges between characters, especially Wrex.

   Though not perfect, Mass Effect has a lot going for it. The story is satisfying and self-contained, though it clearly builds a foundation for the rest of the trilogy. The presentation is top notch and that helps the characters become even more endearing. The only faults I can level against the game are that the main quest is a little too short, loading times are a little too long, inventory management is an exercise in frustration, and the driving sections can be awkward. All of these problems do little to hinder the overall experience of Mass Effect, as they are minor issues that take nothing away from the quality of the game. If anything, it just shows where BioWare needs to focus its efforts for the next game in the trilogy, a game that I'm now looking forward to playing.

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