Bioware are responsible for such great titles as; Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Throughout the years they have never ceased to amaze us, and never failed to deliver.
When I first sat down several years ago, with a massive clumsy Xbox controller in my hands and ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ in the disk drive. I didn’t know what to expect, because even though all the hype was there I had never played a Bioware game before. I was amazed at the incredible story telling and pacing the game provided, and at the role-playing aspects giving the player actual choices to impact the way the story plays out. I must have replayed that game at least 10 times these past few years, and I can still to this very day pick it up and have a hell of a time playing it.
So in the face their history, how does their brand new title “Mass Effect” measure up?
Mass Effect puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard, you are humanities face to the galaxy as the very first human Spectre. You’re tasked with the mission to hunt down and stop a rogue Spectre named Saren that has allied himself with the Geth, a sentient machine race. Every action you make will determine how humanity is regarded, but also decides the very fate of the galaxy.So how does it start?
The player is given the option of completely customizing his character, from the color of the eyes to the width and shape of the cheekbones down to the scars that decorate the Commanders face. Whether you want to make a gruff looking army man, butchered by scars or a beautiful flawless woman with blue eyes that is sure to make any Geth overload at sight; there are plenty of options to keep you busy for a very long time as you build your very own Commander Shepard. Personally I made the gruff one, with a constant frown on his face even when he smiles.
You get to shape your characters past as you pick and choose between where and how you grew up as well as your military background. Were you born and raised on the streets of earth among the criminal gangs until you managed to escape the life of petty crime by enlisting in the Alliance?
Maybe your parents were spacers, forcing you to never remain in one place for too long; and then to make your parents proud you enlist in the Alliance as soon as the time came?
Or perhaps you're a colonist, raised on a distant planet living a happy and content life until one day the when your colony was suddenly and without warning attacked by slavers. Forced to watch your parents killed, you are saved by the Alliance and later enlist.
Given those first options as your background you are then given the other option of choosing your military career, were you the sole survivor of an unimaginable destruction, a war hero decorated for valour or a ruthless soldier willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done?
I was amazed how big of an impact all these choices had, depending on your combination of choice it actually opens up different missions and dialogue choices as well as how people regard you and your past. It goes a long way to establish who your character is and how you interact with your friends and foes. Without spoiling, for example if you chose to be a war hero – people may regard you with awe and respect and treat you in such a manner. However if you chose to be ruthless they will instead fear you or hate you for what you are and what you represent.
The first thing you’ll notice after creating your character and being introduced to the world is the amazing eye for detail that has been put into creating not only the world but especially the characters. I actually felt as if I was watching a movie being played out in front of my eyes, but I was the star. The facial animations and body language immediately convey the emotions of the character, sometimes even more so than any amount of voice acting talent could. Combine that with an all-star cast with some of the best voice talent I have seen in a game to date, and you have a very good start of what is already building up to be a great experience.But how does the game play?
The new dialogue wheel is the first thing you’ll notice in the game, which gives you real-time access to a conversation that plays out very fluently like any conversation would. Rather than like in past titles such as Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire, where you see your entire response listed in your dialogue choices. In Mass Effect you are given the idea of what your character is about to say, and then you get to hear Shepard say it. With even the main character voice cast, this really does feel like a cinematic experience. There is nothing I hate more than to enter a game and find out that the main character sounds like a donkey stuck in a tube, thankfully that’s not the case here.
Every time your character learns something new, it is added to the codex of the game. There is a primary codex and a secondary codex, I myself liked that the primary codex was actually narrated. It was a nice listen after a long gaming session when my eyes were about to pop out due to the pressure of my brain about to explode and all I wanted to do was lie down and relax. If learning about the world of Mass Effect through the codex isn’t enough, you also get some experience points from learning it. I haven’t seen such a detailed world in a long time, it’s obvious a lot of work has been put into the creation of this universe; and it has become like a breathing entity of its own.