• Review: Mass Effect

    Single Issue XIX (Written by Meelis13)

    Mass Effect

    Hello again. Today i have in store for you a review about probably one of best-known space exploring games (if you can call it that). And yes, i do plan to review whole franchise, including any dlc-s that add for story. Naturally im talking about Mass Effect (duh)

    Basic introduction

    Mass relay- one of devices, that galactic civilizations use to travel the stars

    Mass Effect is action-RPG and 3rd person shooter. It was released back in 2007 (xbox 360) and 2008 (windows PC-s) and it was largely developed by Bioware (EA did buy Bioware just before release, so it does bear EA name as well). Gameplay focuses on both shooting and exploring Milkyway galaxy, but more on that in gameplay section.

    System requirements (from Steam):

    • Supported OS: Microsoft Windows® XP with SP2 or Windows Vista*
    • Processor: Intel P4 2.4 Ghz or faster / AMD 2.0 Ghz
    • Memory: 1.0 GB RAM or more (2.0 GB for Vista)
    • Graphics: DirectX 9.0c compatible, ATI X1300 XT or greater (ATI X1300, X1300 Pro, X1600 Pro, Radeon 2600 HD, and HD 2400 are below minimum system requirements); NVidia GeForce 6800 or greater (7300, 7600 GS, 8500 are below minimum system requirements)
    • Hard Drive: 12.0 GB or more free hard drive space
    • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible
    • DirectX®: 9.0c


    Commander Shepard. I decided to go with much credited FemShep and keep default looks. You can also see chat options at bottom of screenshot

    Story starts in 2183, 35 years after humans discovered ancient data cache on Mars, supposedly Prothean, long extinct alien species. That data cache allowed humans to discover mass relays- devices that allow near-instantaneous travel between great distances. Trough that, humans established many aliens and also had first contact war- war, where humans (under the Alliance- earth's face in galaxy) fought race named Turians. Before things escalated, the Council, basically governing body of galaxy formed by 3 leading species (turians, salarians and the asari), stepped in and prevented full-scale war and introduced humans to the Citadel, de facto capital of galaxy and council's location. Humans were given an embassy (not to be mistaken by being part of the council), but politicians wanted more power with council.
    This sets up start of our story. Commander Sheperd, hero of Elysian blitz (well, at least in my chosen settings (war hero)), where she/he (depends on gender you choose- from now on i refer to Sheperd as she due to choice i made) held off overwhelming enemy until reinforcements arrived, is sent to Eden Prime (first human colony) on a mission what seems to be shakedown run on board of Normandy SR-1, captained by Captain Anderson. But something doesnt seem right.. Namely theres a turian spectre Nihlus on board. Spectres are operatives of council, who are above the law and answer to council itself. These guys dont come to just shakedown runs.. Turns out theres a Prothean beacon discovered in Eden Prime- a piece of technology with huge value. Plus Nihlus is apparently evaluating Sheperd's worthiness of becoming a Spectre.
    Fast skip forward to Eden Prime. Colony is unexpectedly under attack by synthetic race known as the Geth. Thats odd because they werent seen in that sector of Galaxy or near it for nearly 2 centuries. It also turns out that Geth are led by another spectre Saren. And rest of story is set- you try to stop Saren's plans.

    Story itself is beautifully crafted- it can start off as very slow, especially if you do assignments, but in the end, you dont want it to end, it sucks you in. It is lighter themed than sequels, but does have serious moments in it. But, it can (and most likely will) also make you smile. I think this is first time i have had to divide story sections, but on to it.

    First, main story. Without going to spoiler territory, whole main story is only about 8-9 missions long. Seems few, but each mission can give you few hours to chew it trough (unless you speedrun it), making it already longer than likes of call of duty and such. Still, you could power trough it within a free saturday.

    Second- assignments (basically sidequests). These vary from collecting collectibles from planets in galaxy to missions with story behind them- with latter in majority (though in ME1, assignment stories are given trough texts mostly). If you are completionist, like i am, you will spend about a week doing them all- theres just so many of them. You can get these assignments by talking with people or listening to conversations, while admiral Hackett sends you some as well when you look at galaxy map.

    Third- romance. One of first things i remember ever hearing about Mass effect was someone explaining who he romanced in Mass effect. In ME1, there are 3 options among your crew members to romance- Kaidan Alenko (if you are female), Ashley Williams (male) and Liara T'Soni (she doesnt care). To romance someone, go talk with them about personal questions in middle of missions- but beware, it can be akward, especially if you happen to romance multiple people at once (they make you choose) or give them false hope. In my first full playtrough, i accidentally romanced both Kaidan and Liara.. luckily i noticed it before it got really akward.. Sorry Kaidan, i chose Liara. Fun and interesting addition.

    Fourth- codex. Codex is section in your menu, that is basically encyclopedia of Mass effect. It contains info about, well, everything from council races to history. I tried to read it all, but it took up hours already. Still, it had some interesting reading and main sections had voiceover. Seriously, huge praise to whoever tought it was good idea to include it, because, well, it was terrific idea! Im still absolutely thrilled about that feature, wish more games had this to this extent.

    Fifth- choices and path you take. In Mass effect, actions you take, choices you make have heavy weight. But you also can choose if you are more caring in your approach to situations (Paragon) or more reckless and show no mercy (Renegade). To get full experience, you should try to play one playtrough as paragon, one as renegade and one as mixture of the two. Namely, following these paths give you certain chat options in certain situations. It can be very useful in certain story aspects, if you have high enough paragon or renegade level.

    Sixth- Commander Shepard. Your playable character already affects bit of story (and gameplay) when you make it. You can choose origin, gender, looks, base personality and military specification (though this one only affects gameplay). All in all, these choices affect story to some degree- not much though. Each origin has certain sidequest for example, gender opens romance options or closes them and base personality adds few lines.


    example of planet's description

    Again, its best if i divide it into chapters.

    Combat. Since first mission drops you into combat zone, combat is pretty much first thing that pops up. You get 2 types of this- infantry and in Mako, basically exploration vehicle.
    Infantry combat is largely affected by class you choose. Soldier class has training (i.e you can aim down sights) on all weapon types (shotgun, sniper, pistol and assault rifle) and access to heavy armour, but doesnt have tech or biotic powers. Engineer has tech capabilities, but only can aim down sights on pistol and either assault rifle or shotgun (depends what talent you choose) and also has only light armour. Vanguard class offers access to pistols, shotguns and biotic powers, while adept class only has pistols, but powerful biotics to work with. Infiltrators use techs, pistols and sniper rifles, sentinels only tech and biotic powers.
    Now, it might seem that soldier class is best- however aside from not being to aim down sights aside from weapons mentioned in correspondence to classes, each class has strength that allows to even odds up. As engineer, for example, i found hacking ability most useful..
    When you level up enough, you get to choose specialisation for your class.
    First thing you notice about combat, however, is that there is no ammo. The thing you have to keep an eye out is in fact heat of weapon- fire too much and it gets overheated. Thats because single weapons one mag can contain about 10 000 rounds, making ammo effectively non-issue. It is very interesting concept, however it can be very annoying as well.
    You can improve your weapons and armour by collecting or buying new stuff- despite the fact i didnt see need to buy anything in ME1, loot was more than enough. New weapons- and mods- improve damage, accuracy and shots before overheating. you can also come across specie-specific armour (makes sense, considering build difference between species in your team)
    AI in infantry fights is also rather good- it tries to outmaneuver you, outflank you or just rush you when you are hurt. Tough to beat even in normal at times. When you see krogan rushing towards you, run.
    Oh and should your 2 choosen squadmates "die" during combat, use unity or just win the fight (i felt silly after discovering about half-way in that you can do those options..)
    As for enemies- they come in every shape and size. From geth colossus's (basically tanks) and Tresher maw's to human thugs, this has lot of different enemies to fight. Heck, you can even go and shoot some wildlife for fun.
    Vehicle combat is bit different story- you can have most open-field battles fought with Mako, which has heavy MG and cannon. AI can still defeat you, but rather with en masse. You still have to keep eye out on heavy weapons, but Mako can easily outmaneuver those either by driving or just using thrusters to lift itself bit off. And should you get enough, just run these pesky geth over like its GTA.

    Squadmates. You can choose 2 squadmates for missions between 6 total (if you accept them). Kaidan Alenko is first you get, tech/biotic strengths. human (also love interest, if you play as femshep). Then theres Ashley Williams (love interest when you play as male shep), combat strength, human. From love interests, there is also Liara T'Soni, young ("only" 100+) asari, biotic.
    From non-love interests, probably first you encounter is Garrus Vakarian, former C-sec operative, combat/tech strength, turian. You also get Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, young quarian on pilgrimage (i like Tali. Tali's fun. And that enthusiasm!). Tech power. And last, but not least, you get Urdnot Wrex, a grumpy krogan, combat/biotic.
    Since each companion offers different opinions on missions, i reccommend trying them all, though i did went with Tali/Liara team so far. But you should also consider what tactics you want to use.

    Exploration. Game offers lot of exploration, though much of it follows same pattern (as do assignments): go to star system, survey planets, land, unless its a main mission planet, drive around interest points in planet, rinse and repeat. Of course, you can also roam freely around most main mission locations, such as the citadel, which is actually quite interesting.
    But yeah, exploration should be this game's one of strongest points, yet its actually rather horrible in most parts. I mean, yes, locations are beautiful and diverse, but in most locations you can land, you are literally climbing mountains in your mako. Almost no flat-ish land and if there is, tresher maw. Its as if game developers tought: "hey, we got this great game, we put so much effort into making this exploration option. What could we do to make it better? oh yeah, lets add mt. everest every 2 meters in explorable planets, that really should appeal to players". Like seriously, what. the. hell? Its as if developers tried to make players hate it- at least in my case it didnt work (i thorougly enjoyed diverse planets), though it did leave bad taste.
    So yeah, exploration is fun, just be prepared for a LOT of mountain climbing.

    Elevator rides. Thats probably second thing i heard about ME. Long elevator rides. To be fair, they are long, yes, but tolerable, though you might prefer fast travel in most cases..

    Graphics & sound

    Normandy SR-1 approaching Citadel

    Graphics may look outdated in modern sense, but for a 7 year old game, i'd say its rather good. Though i do admit i used graphics mod to get full use of my monitor's pixel count and to make game look bit prettier. Still, ammount of detail is astounding in everywhere in this game and graphics and sound are no exception. It's especially noticable while watching aliens. There is one thing that disturbs me, however- in talking scenes, characters warp in position a bit. Not much, but enough to disturb you.
    As for sound, music is usually seamlessly in backround- unless it wants to intrude. Voice acting is also very good (there are few exceptions, but these are very few). I particularly enjoy how crew- including Joker, Chakwas and Pressley- are voice acted as well. While not as good voice acting as later mass effect games or some newer games, its still very decent job.


    Mass Effect is decent game, that is hard to get into, but even harder to let go after finishing. It has astounding level of detail in almost every aspect of the game, though there are few flaws as well, that cannot be overlooked. Still, it is very much worth playing, even despite its age.

    Rating: 8/10


    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Sheperd in front of star map


    inventory screen

    Sheperd and her crew meeting council. From left: Ambassodor Udina, commander Sheperd, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya and Garrus Vakarian

    Council. Races from left: turian, asari and salarian

    exploring star system

    exploring alien planet

    good to be home.. almost..

    Mass Effect