The original Mass Effect trilogy was one of the most beloved gaming series of the previous console generation. PC & XBox (and later, Playstation) users spent 100’s of hours exploring space and different planets with their own custom character, tailoring the way the game plays out with simple dialogue options. All three games received fantastic reviews, and the only negative I really heard was about the ending of the final game. Now, over 5 years later, BioWare is relaunching the series with new characters and a new setting. Is the new game another classic entry in the series, or is it the first misstep?
Before I get too far into this review, I’m letting everyone know that I’m playing this as a Mass Effect noob – I’ve never played the original trilogy, and I know very little about it besides the fact that it takes place in space and that the ending of the third game supposedly sucked. If I write something or don’t understand something relating to the previous games, my apologies.
STORY: 600 years after the events of the original series, a space station full of humans in cryosleep is headed towards a distant planet that can support human life. A few select people are awakened to investigate the new world, but find things aren’t exactly as expected. Now you and your team must visit dozens of planets across the galaxy to find other areas for habitation. Of course, nothing is ever that simple… B
CHARACTERS: You are tasked with creating and customizing Scott or Sarah Ryder. Through story missions, you find different characters of various alien races to join your crew. Each of these crew members has distinct personalities that makes them standout as fully fleshed out supporting characters. Each combination of team members (you can bring two with you at any time) results in different conversations as they get to know each other better. Relationships change based on dialogue choices. Truthfully, the characters make the game. Just an FYI, if you want some comedy in your game, I highly recommend bringing PeeBee along on your adventures. A+
GAMEPLAY: Besides the main story missions, there are literally tons of things to do in the game. Multiple side quests are available as you progress through the game. Audio and text logs are scattered throughout the galaxy to help flesh out the story. From friendship to romance, their are relationships you can pursue with the crew of your ship. Every habitable planet has areas where you can travel around gather resources. You can create strike teams and deploy them to earn credits. There are dozens of random planets you can gather quick loot from. The list goes on and on, so yeah… there’s lots to keep you occupied. Slight negatives for the constant backtracking though. A
COMBAT: For such a large game, there is remarkably few variations of things to fight. Most enemies fall into the category of beasts, aliens or robots. However, different tactics are required for taking down different mobs. You also have loads of combat powers at your disposal, so feel free to choose your favorites or experiment with different combinations. Choose a team with skills opposite of yours and witness some cool combos. Or you can just sit back and let your two companions do all the work for you, but where’s the fun in that? There are many ways to play, so set it up any way you wish. A
CONTROLS: Typical third person shooter controls. Some buttons serve more than one purpose, which can lead to errors during a fight. The melee button is mapped to the triangle/A button instead of the R3 for some reason, and on multiple occasions I found myself punching my vehicle instead of entering it. Another issue is that you can’t loot anything or talk to NPC’s without looking directly at them, so you may find yourself trying to fix your position just to grab something. C+
MISSIONS: All missions in the game fall into one of four categories. Primary ops, which advance the story. Tasks, which are random quests that can either take the whole game to complete or are timed. Zone specific quests, which make up the majority of the side missions, are all given and turned in on certain planets. Finally, there are relationship quests, which result in improving how your crew feels about you. Some quests don’t have defined points where they must be completed, so a few of them may be somewhat complicated. Yet, unlike other recent games with multiple side missions, I never felt like I was doing the same thing over and over (too much backtracking though) B
GRAPHICS: This is one area where the game is severely lacking. Landscapes look alright, but are somewhat bland. Each planet you can land on has a certain biome (desert, winter…) but there doesn’t seem to be much variation in what you see except the odd mountain. Character animations range from average to poor. I know getting facial expressions 100% correct can be tough, but here they just seem really off. Basically, we have PS3/ X360 graphics on a next gen title which isn’t really acceptable. C-
MULTIPLAYER: You can team up with 3 friends or random people and you must survive multiple waves until an extraction occurs. It’s fun, but wow is it hard. There is four difficulty settings (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) but even the bronze is tougher than expected. Sure, you can level up and get better weapons to make things easier, but it is a long process to max yourself out. Don’t even think of trying this without a full squad. One major problem with the multiplayer is that you need to level up each race/gender/class individually. For example, if you max out the male human adept, you must level up the female human, male krogan, female asari, etc. versions of the same class as well. I recommend finding the race/class combo you like best and sticking with it. C
REPLAYABILITY: As the game is fairly lengthy, the desire to play it again solely rests on how much you enjoyed it the first time. Going back and starting over means you can make different choices and have different relationships, but my understanding is that non-romance choices don’t have as much of an impact on the story as in previous games. In any case, if you enjoy the online I expect that is what will keep you playing. C
FINAL THOUGHTS: Coming into the game as a first time player, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been told the Mass Effect games are similar in tone to the Dragon Age titles, which I totally see. The game is frequently funny, sometimes tragic and ultimately satisfying. Unfortunately the good story and characters are somewhat hurt by poor graphics and some clunky controls. As a starting point for the series, I recommend it. For the fourth game in the series, fans may be somewhat disappointed.