Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 11/20/07 | Genre: RPG
Move Over Star Wars, There's A New SciFi King... The original Xbox console was a great system. It introduced the console world to hard drives, clean system architecture, a world class online system and of course Halo. There were plenty of great games available on the system, but one notable genre was almost completely unaccounted for: RPG’s. With a lackluster entry here and a horrid one there, the Xbox had almost nothing to offer the story-loving role playing fans. At least, that’s how it was for a few years until heavy-hitting PC RPG developer Bioware stepped up to the plate and brought Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Microsoft’s big black box. The game was an instant classic and is a prime example of why Bioware is one of the industry’s best talents.
Now here we are with the Xbox360 and this time around, RPG’s are a bit more plentiful than they were for its predecessor and Bioware once again enters the ring with the juggernaut that is Mass Effect. The game is a fantastic, galactic romp that pushes the boundaries of game development and story-telling. The epic tale will keep you enthralled from start to finish; exactly how long that is depends on how many side quests and how much exploring you do. Bioware has always been great when it comes to their stories and Mass Effect is no exception.
The gameplay in Mass Effect falls into two distinct categories: the action play and the role playing elements; both of which are executed extremely well and work together to make this unlike any RPG you’ve played before. The combat, unlike KoTOR, is all real time. There’s no more queuing up moves and waiting for your turn. Instead, you’ll have to think fast and act fast or the merciless enemies will turn you into space dust before you can draw your sidearm.
Depending on the class you selected, you’ll have access to different weapons, armor and powers (called biotics). For example Adepts can use a large variety of biotic powers, but are only capable of weilding a pistol and equipping light armor in battle. Soldiers, on the other hand, can utilize pistols and assault rifles right from the start. They are also capable of equipping medium body armor and throughout the course of the game can gain skills to use shotguns and to wear heavy body armor. They are however, limited in the use of biotics and are not as skilled in security as say, an engineer. The other classes are combinations of those three base jobs. The Infiltrator combines Soldier skills and Engineer skills; the Vanguard combines Soldier abilities with some biotic powers and the Sentinel uses a combination of biotic powers and tech skills to take down enemies and bolster defense during battle.
You can draw your firearm at any time to enter combat mode. In combat mode you can sprint by holding the A button down as you move your character. In fact, here’s a helpful little tip; sprinting is a great way to determine if there are enemies around. Your character will sprint much faster if there are enemies nearby. In the event that there are enemies around, seeking cover is probably a good idea. Once behind cover, you can pop out for quick shots by pressing the right trigger or use the left trigger to lean out and take aim. You can also throw grenades by hitting the back button. The grenade can then be remotely detonated by hitting the back button a second time.
The other key to combat is the use of your biotic powers. You can map your favorite biotic power to the right bumper for quick and easy use. To use others, you hold the right bumper in and the power selection wheel will come up on screen. This is the only time combat pauses. You then use the left stick to highlight the power you want to use and press A to use it (or X to map it to the right bumper). In my experience, the use of biotic powers is one of the highlights of the game. There’s just something completely satisfying about using the Throw (think Force Push) ability to send an enemy toppling out a window or over the side of a bridge. Aaah, good times. You can also throw out small black holes that draw everything in the effect radius towards a single point. Again, fun for the whole family…unless said family is caught in the event horizon of your singularity.
The enemies in the game can be downright brutal and you’ll need to utilize all your abilities to come out on top. Battle can be made easier by using the right equipment and installing the proper upgrades on your weapons and armor. You have the ability to customize these settings through the equipment menu and can also apply upgrades to the gear of your party members. Switching ammo types will help immensely as certain types will give specific bonuses towards enemies. For example, some ammo types are particularly effective against fleshy targets while others are more suited for dealing with mechanical adversaries. By properly utilizing these upgrades, cover and biotic powers you’ll be a force to be reckoned with in combat.
The RPG mechanics come into play largely through conversation and leveling up during battle. When you level up, you earn talent points that can be spent to upgrade an existing talent which at times also opens up other areas. For instance, upgrading the Throw ability to a certain level will unlock the Lift ability. Completing certain side quests will also allow you to choose a specialization class which offers even more abilities.
Seeing as conversation plays a large part in the game, its good that Bioware included the dialogue tree which makes it easy to select your respones. You can even queue up responses to make a conversation flow more naturally. In the event that you die and have to go through a conversation a second, third or fourth time, you can skip dialogue by pressing the X button. Be careful though, as pressing it too quickly will automatically select the default choice for your character’s response. The conversations are one of the game’s biggest highlights. I didn’t realize how fun it was to be mean to everyone! Selecting different responses will steer the conversation in varying directions. You can play nice or treat everyone like they’re idiots and see different outcomes to every bit of dialogue.
Mass Effect is a huge game with so many different parts that it’d be almost impossible for it to get away bug free. Unfortunately there are some issues with the game that keep it from receiving an A+ here at CVG. Yes, there are framerate issues, but those don’t seem to have much of an effect on the gameplay and in the heat of combat, I rarely even noticed it. A bigger problem is that it is possible for your character to get stuck seemingly in random places. More than once I’ve been out in the open and suddenly was unable to move. Thankfully, this never occurred during combat, only while exploring cities or planets. I was always eventually able to get moving again, but only by moving the left joystick wildly and frequently entering and exiting combat mode. There is just one more issue I had with the game; exploring the unsettled planets can be incredibly boring. For the mos t part you drive over a bland, rocky surface for several minutes to come across a downed space probe or some other debris which you can investigate for items or as part of a side quest. Since these quests aren’t required to complete the game I guess it is somewhat forgivable, but this still stands out as the game’s greatest fault.
One of the other problems Mass Effect does not have is audio trouble. The audio in the game is fantastic. The amount of dialogue in the game is staggering and made even more so by the fact that they had to record both male and female versions of each piece for the main character. The other characters you meet along the way all sound convincing and pull you into the game. The sound effects are great as well and the music is incredible. With so much done right, Mass Effect easily stands as one of the year’s best titles, a solid Game of the Year candidate and a definitive reason to pick up an Xbox360 if you haven’t yet “jumped in”.