If your in anyway into your console RPG’s, you’ed of realized as i have that up to now the Xbox 360 really hasn’t unleashed many jems in the genre. Sure we had Oblivion but outside that the rest were sub-par at best. Blue Dragon, Enchanted Arms, Eternal Sonata, these games all tried to set the bar for future action RPG’s on the 360 and failed misrably. Our last glimmering hope for 2007 was a big budget title by renowned RPG makers Bioware.
Given Bioware’s long running history with superb titles in the genre, most were expecting a solid title from its first dip into the next-gen console market. But in truth we got so much more. Mass Effect is in a word ‘spectacular’. Though could you predict anything less from the creators of possibly the greatest console RPG of all time, Knights of the Old Republic?
Graphics – 10
Does it usurp Gears of War’s throne as prettist game on the 360. Well no, but its not far off. Being its an RPG title, ME obviously has alot more to render than GOW but its still by far the most beautifully crafted and textured RPG game engine ever created.
Character models are incredibly detailed, fully realised, wonderfully animated and almost photogenic. When engaged in diologue you really get sense of awareness and emotion from them. You get to feel every part of the story through them instead of simply reading it in text or through the voice work. And given there is so many different alien species in the game it is no mean feat to keep each one unique and at the same time fresh.
As with the character’s, the ME galaxy is extremely detailed and well textured. Be it a barren moon or an expansive space station, everywhere you go seems to come to life all around you. Much like KOTOR each world you visit has a destinct vibe which is really brought to life with the engine. This is one game thats trully uses GFX as a means to make the gameplay more immersive and fun instead of an expensive marketing ploy.
My only gripe here and the reason i came close to deducting a point is upon entering an area the texture buffer is too slow to keep up with the game. This basically means for 3-5 seconds character’s and elements of the world will be missing most details and look rather like globs of putty. This slightly breaks the atmosphere but not so much so that it ruins the game in anyway. This problem was also evident in GOW, hopefully future developers will be able to find a way around this problem.
Also all weapon models in the game are simply recolours. Don’t get me wrong they look cool but some variety would have been nice.
Sound – 10
Nothing quiet beats perfection now does it. As with the GFX the sound in ME really adds to the immersion factor and gameplay. Out of any genre, RPG titles really excel with good voice work and enviromental sound/music. And im pleased to say ME has all of the above.
What really stands out though is the voice work. In a game thats 20-30 hours you know thats got to be a big script. But unlike alot of new games ME is fully voiced, meaning every NPC character has a voice of there own. And even if some of them have but a few repeated lines, it again just helps to suck you into the game’s atmosphere.
Gameplay – 10
RPG’s over the years have always been for a certain type of gamer. Until Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series popularity really took off in chapter 7 most casual gamers thought RPG’s were just for ‘nerdy’ types with too much free time. But over the years the genre has been fleshed out and made more universal.
With that in mind i feel Mass Effect will have the same level of impact on the casual game market as FF7 did way back in 97. Unlike many other popular RPG series out now, ME is just a joy to play. It isn’t all statisics, nullifying elements and the like. It’s a really a fun action shooter with some complex customization under the hood. So don’t expect to get by with +100 fire damage or +50 shell defense, you also have to have a keen dead eye and make good use of cover.
As stated unlike most conventional RPG’s ME plays alot like a shooter. You move in a squad of 3 which you can customize with the characters you meet in your adventures. Each member has different core techniques, be it combat, tech or biotics (mage type). And you’ll need to really think about the mission before selecting your crew. For example if your going into a battlefield in open range having a good sniper covering your movements can be the difference between living and dying
You can choose to advance your crew member’s in any way you see fit, so for example Lt.Alenko has strong core tech abilites but if you wanted you good make him more rounded by upgrading his abilty with an assault rifle. And thats the great thing about the upgrade tree’s you can select different weapons or biotecs to be proficiant in. Meaning just because your character is well trained at healing doesn’t mean he/she can’t hold there own if they get cut off from the rest of the squad.
Why this is also interesting is as we know most gamers will connect or begin to favour certain characters in RPG’s. With the freedom available in this system it means you don’t have to change the way you play the game in order to have your favourite characters with you while progessing the story. Meaning if you like Alenko but prefer to destroy Security Droids rather than disabling them your free to do so.
Once you’ve assessed the mission and picked your squad you’ll be dropped into the area via the SSV Normady, the fastest ship in humanities fleet and piloted by Seth Green no less. When you come across enemies you’ll have complete control over your team mates, you can issue orders and formulate the best plan of action for that particular situation. This is all realtime, there’s no pausing to consider your options which just adds to the tension as you try to get your bearings under heavy fire.
I’m sure there’s probably some people thinking right now, “Is this another Deus Ex”, all FPS and little RPG, and i can safely say no. ME really takes equal parts, which makes it just as strategic as your fav RPG and just as entertaining and fun to play as your fav shooter. Its tough to explain the combat in ME since there’s never been anything like it. You really just have to play it to get a sense of how good it really is.
All in all i can safely say this is the most fun combat system i’ve ever experianced in an RPG title. I’ve been waiting for years for a developer to come along and take some of the monotony out of the genre and although Bioware came close with Jade Empire, this time around they hit it right on the button.
Replay Value/ Longevity – 9
The main story of ME will take you in the region of 20-30 hours to complete.Theres also plenty of side quests available on the different planets you visit aswell as missions you’ll be given from your commanding officers aboard the Normandy. Unlike many RPG’s the side quests are just as engaging as the main story and many have branching story lines taking you to different planets across the galaxy. Heck you even get to visit the moon, though unfortunitly i failed to find the lunar lander .
Outside of this you can also explore uninhabited planets in your Mako Hummer. By doing this you’ll be able to find rare items and it is nescesary to complete some of the side quests. One tip though, make sure you check the surface scanner (map) if your looking for points of interest. I didn’t realize this till close to the end of the game and had just been aimlessly wandering across the planet praying to hit paydirt.
There’s also plenty of 360 achievements to unlock, some of which will require several play through’s to achieve and some will even require you to play as certain classes. This i feel works as a great incentive to bite the bullet and see what the other classes have going for them. And since Mass Effect 2 won’t be hitting shelves for a long long time yet, why the hell not try em.
Mass Effect is stunning. With all the overly hyped up games of the christmas season coming out i totally overlooked this jem. But once i sat down to play it i couldn’t tear myself away. Bioware just got all the elements right on this one. The story is excellent, the GFX are slick, voice work is spot on and the gameplays a blast. If you’ve already zipped through COD4 or breezed through Crysis and just want something engaging and epic for the holidays ME is definitely for you.
Verdict – 10/10