Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Mass Effect

Originally posted at Accursed Farms Forums on April 2nd 2012.

Platform: PC
Released: 2008
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Buy on Steam

Sometimes you buy games on a whim, we all do, especially when they're on sale and you only pay like 5 bucks for them. Recently I got an account on Origin and, of course, I wanted to check out their game library. As it just happened, they had a sale on some action games and I saw this one called Mass Effect that only cost about 5 bucks, so I bought it along with Mass Effect 2, pretty much knowing nothing about the games to begin with. Now, in most cases when you buy bargain games, you end up with a game that is good but after playing through it once, you forget about it and move on...

... Mass Effect is NOT one of those games. Because Mass Effect might be the best five bucks I have ever spent. And the more I played it, the more I explored it, the more I simply got lost in it, the more it dawned upon me... that I might just be playing one of the best games ever made.


Set in the future, Mass Effect is a world in which humans have discovered ancient ruins on Mars that were left there by an extinct race of sentient spacefaring beings known as the Protheans. Using the technology from these ruins, we have basically discovered mass effect, the ability to manipulate space and time itself, allowing us to travel at faster than light speeds, mostly due thanks to a mysterious element only known as Element Zero. We discovered the mass relays, a network of transit devices allowing us instantaneous passage across thousands of lightyears. After travelling the stars, we discovered other alien races and began to establish ourselves in the galaxy.

In Mass Effect you play as Commander Shepard, and it is up to you to customize the character, choosing not only sex and appearance, but also your psychological profile and backstory, as well as your class, which affects what skills and weapons you are able to use. Your first mission is to investigate a Prothean beacon at a planet called Eden Prime. Soon you realize that there's someone else after this beacon, someone who wants to use it for his own reasons. What these reasons are, it is up to you to find out as you play the game and find clues to what is going on. You soon realize that you have the daunting task of saving the entire galaxy...

While not terribly original, borrowing heavily from classic sci-fi, especially Babylon 5, Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien and even The Matrix, the story is written quite well, and does a really good job at keeping you emotionally invested and engaged in the game, helped by the superb voice acting. It really feels like this game was meant to be a movie as the dialogue feels natural and the whole game feels like anything could happen, a feeling that few games really truly achieve.


Mass Effect is really all about effect, literally. Everything you do and say has an impact on the game, and will have an impact in the sequel as well. As previously mentioned, how you customize your character also greatly affects how the game is played and what your relationship to the characters will be like. In short, every Mass Effect playthrough will be unique in some way. As you can imagine, the replay value here is through the roof.

It can mostly be described as a third person shooter that has a heavy amount of RPG elements. You spend a lot of missions just blasting enemies with your powers and guns while taking cover, as well as using the Mako, a big 6-wheeled tank to defeat enemies and explore planets. What sets Mass Effect apart from the usual shooter though is that it's more squad based. Every time you go on a mission, you bring 2 companions, and choosing the ones that balance out the strengths of biotics (basically the ability to create mass effect fields, an ability given to humans through Element Zero), tech (technological powers, as well as decryption and electronics) and pure combat. You have absolute control over your squadmates' powers as well as your own via a menu you can bring up during gameplay. In the PC version, they have added hotkeys though which you can map powers to, speeding up the process significantly.

In classic RPG fashion, you gain XP from defeating enemies and completing quests, and every time you or your squadmates level up, you gain points that you can use to upgrade the powers and skills of yourself and your friends. Though you start out with 4 basic weapon slots, there are also a ton of other different weapons and weapon modifications to discover and try out, the weapons available to you becoming more powerful as you gain levels. Interestingly, the game has no ammunition system, instead your weapons have a heat gauge that you need to watch in order to not overheat your weapons during combat, and what weapon and mods you have greatly affect how fast or slow your weapon overheats. Among the loot you may also find additional armors, tech and biotic enhancers and other goodies that give you an edge against the enemy. The only downside to this is that you'll spend a lot of time with resource management, and especially on high levels, mostly you'll just sell everything or turn it into omnigel, which you can use to avoid decryption, but this is not a big issue and for the most part, it feels like an integrated part of the game.

Though it's not all combat, a large portion of the game can be spent merely exploring, talking to people and a lot of times, situations can be resolved without the use of weapons at all, if you choose the right dialogue, giving the game a lot of variety. In Mass Effect, you literally have an entire galaxy to explore, with planets that contain quests and resources, completing the game can take a long time if you plan on discovering everything and completing every side quest there is. You may also spend some time developing a romance between one of your crewmembers, which adds a lot of charm and personality to the game.


Honestly, Mass Effect might be one of the most impressive games I've played in terms of graphics. The skyboxes and backgrounds are filled to the brim with beautiful details, the models look very lifelike and the animation, especially on the faces, is just mindblowing. Most of the time, I felt like I was actually watching a movie while playing the game, which is a big compliment. There might be a few graphical glitches here and there, and some of the model textures might be a bit notably low-res, but nothing that really breaks the game or ruins the overall mood.

The sound design is pretty cool too, with excellent voice acting from both known and unknown actors, including Seth Green and Keith David. There's a lot of oomph in the weapon sounds, and everything just sounds like it should. The music is never intrusive and does a pretty good job at setting the mood for the game, as well as reflecting the battle between organics and synthetics with a score that mixes both orchestral and electronic elements in a very effective way. The end theme by Faunts sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it, and when I heard it, it was one of the few times where a game actually brought me to tears.


Mass Effect is quite simply one of the best games ever made. If you haven't played it, you have truly missed out on a masterpiece. As I said, this might just be the best 5 bucks I've ever spent. The game looks great, sounds great, and most importantly plays great. I have never felt more emotionally invested in a game before this, not since The Longest Journey anyway. I strongly suggest you get this game and play it. You won't regret it.

I give the game a perfect score of 10 out of 10.

- Alyxx

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