For May’s RPG Monthly, Star Wars Day inspired me to look to the stars. So, keeping with the space theme, I decided that fr the next three months, we’d take a look at the Mass Effect series, kicking off with ME1. WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD.
Ironically, ME1 was my second game in the trilogy, with Mass Effect 2 being my first. So when I picked it up, I had a general idea about what Mass Effect was and who I was. Despite being an old game now (it was released in 2007), the graphics still stand up to some of the newest games, with the facial software being detailed and intricate. A good example is that the mouths actually move with the words, rather than just flapping up and down as many games did (and some still do).
Moving away from the facial software, the worlds, environments and species all looked amazing. Arriving on the Citadel for the first time, I was awestruck by how beautiful the Presidium was compared to its follow-up in ME2; the synthetic paradise design stretched for miles. Being able to run around on the Presidium and admire it from the ground floor was great, it felt very regal and almost upper-class, and seemed like only the wealthiest aliens could afford to live here. Meanwhile, below the Presidium was the Wards, and these were the polar opposite. Corruption, shadiness and criminals were rife in the Wards, and the dark emptiness of space that was visible from every window seemed to embody that. The aliens that inhabit the Citadel also felt unique from one another. Be it the elegant Asari, the militant Turians, the intelligent Salarians, or the intimidating Krogan, each species felt special and different from one another, and that’s often hard to accomplish – many games end up having other species that simply feel like a copy paste.
But let’s return to the beginning. As I loaded the game, I was greeted by the character creation screen, and I was blown away. I hadn’t experienced such in-depth creation options before, aside from Dragon Age perhaps, and it was all pretty confusing. To this day, there are parts of the character creation that I don’t touch.
After finishing off my character, named Cameron Shepard, I was given a list of options for origin and class. I loved the idea of creating a background story for characters, and this earned the game big points in my book.
The class system, meanwhile, offered a variety of playstyles. Classes were divided into three categories, and six classes total:
- Soldier (Combat)
- Adept (Biotic)
- Engineer (Tech)
- Vanguard (Biotic/Combat)
- Infiltrator (Combat/Tech), and
- Sentinel (Biotic/Tech).
Each class felt different to play, with different powers and weapons. Biotic classes use Force-like powers to obliterate organic enemies and close the gap using the Vanguard’s shotgun. Tech classes debilitate and deactivate enemy weapons and mechs, while hanging back to provide cover with the Infiltrator’s sniper rifle. The Combat classes suppressed the enemies and dropped them one by one using the Soldier’s assault rifle.
While the classes did offer different playstyles, the combat didn’t really utilise this until Mass Effect 2, and alongside clunky movement and a quirky cover system, the combat left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t BAD combat – it was certainly better than a few third-person games out there – but it wasn’t the smoothest.
The game is a roller-coaster of emotions and action, as you chase the rogue Spectre Saren across the galaxy in order to stop him and his robotic Geth army. Along the way you build your team of aliens, each with their own personalities and ideologies – be it Ashley Williams, a military-oriented human that’s trying to repair her tarnished family name and cautious of aliens (and no, that DOESN’T make her a xenophobe, as many of the fanbase call her), Garrus Vakarian, everyone’s favourite Turian badass with a sniper rifle and all-round bro for life, Urdnot Wrex, a pissed off Krogan who feels like the grumpy uncle of the crew, or even Liara T’Soni, the Asari archaeologist who captured the hearts of most of the fanbase (except a few of us). Similarly to the alien species, none of them feel like a copy and paste of each other, and each have their own personalities. Even Kaidan Alenko, despite being as fun as a tub of grey paste, feels special. Their uniqueness causes you to develop different feelings towards each, and this is where the romance option in the game kicks in. Its much more involved than in Dragon Age – where you could just buy them gifts until they liked you and then sleep with them. Mass Effect requires you to actually TALK to them and get to know them. This does develop a bond between you and your favourite character, which is why the fanbase often…”discusses fervently” about who the best romance is (I romanced Ashley, so I’m basically a pariah).
The story itself is full of decisions that any sane person would hate to have to make in real life. Be it leaving an entire species of alien parasites alive because you pity them or wiping them out, trying to avoid killing brainwashed colonists while they try to shoot you, by being very, VERY accurate with your gas grenades, or the infamous Virmire mission, where you can lose two of your squadmates at worst, and lose one at best, by having a high enough paragon/renegade level, and completing a couple side missions for them. My first playthrough, I had put points into both and ended up becoming a Paragade (a mix of both), and so I had no choice but to *SPOILERS* let Ashley kill Wrex. That was a huge blow to me, especially as I COULD have saved him, but failed due to my incompetence. That was then followed by having to choose who would stay behind with the nuclear bomb, between Ashley and Kaidan. This one I couldn’t avoid, and HAD to choose, and I honestly spent about 10 minutes trying to decide. The game plays with your emotions as if they’re pieces of string, and in the end I had to choose Ashley.
The dialogue in the ME trilogy is separated into four different categories; the selfless and caring Paragon options at the top, the plain and slightly boring neutral options in the middle, the militaristic douchebag Renegade options at the bottom, and the questions which give you more and often useful information on the left. While, theoretically, you can level up both your Paragon and Renegade bars side by side, it often means you don’t have a high enough ranking in either of them to make important decisions, which are represented by the super Paragon/Renegade options (blue for Paragon, red for Renegade). This means you will likely have to specialise in one or the other, and while being Renegade often makes you feel like a bastard, it sure is fun punching that reporter in the face…
Overall, Mass Effect is a game that, despite its age, continues to entertain and outclass many newer games. If you haven’t played it yet, you’ve missed out on one of the best sci-fi operas out there. Next month, we’ll be discussing its sequel, Mass Effect 2, so stay tuned!