I'm a fan of Biowares games since way back. I can vividly remember arguing the pros and cons of various party members for Baldur's Gate 2 while when we were at uni. Knights of the Old Republic was one of the first must have titles for the xbox and was a game I played into the ground. I had so many saves on the disk for my many runs through the game to suck the last of the marrow from its bones that my xbox became impossible to use till I cleared them off. Neverwinter Nights was great fun. Jade empire though hampered by the slightly odd simplistic action mechanic that didn't really work was more than made up for by a fun story and I played that through with most of the characters on evil then good then hyper evil (tm) paths.
So it's fair to say I had been eagerly awaiting Mass Effect, chomping at the bit to play it on my xbox360.
Over Christmas I had the chance to finish the thing off on my first run through in the paragon path and have now started again on a different character class with the renegade path.
Starting off the game lets you pick your avatar, you can be male or female and have a reasonable amount of control when shaping your digital self. About the only thing you can't change is the last name this allows all the speech to work so no big deal.
There are three main classes soldier, tech, and adept. Soldiers get guns lots of guns and nothing else they can train in all guns and all armour types. Tech's get things like hacking or disruptive powers that take out shields or weapons, they can only use pistols and light armour. Adepts can use a wide variety of biotic powers like throw warp or my favourite singularity which sucks in all the enemys and spins them round the room. They can only use light armour and pistols though they get a biotic shield that is quite nifty.
There are also the three hybrid classes which have a bit of two of the types so a bit of tech and bit of adept or a bit of sodier and bit of adept and so forth.
For my first go I picked out the biotic adept class which is basically the games mage class. Then created a incredibly ugly woman with a scar running right across her face and called her Shep Shepard. I did want to call her Shep Sheperton Shepard but the game wouldn't let me damn it. I gave her the ruthless background and made her a colonist something the effect of which I'm not really sure of besides altering some of the conversations. Then off I went to swim in mass effect.
One of the problems of the game is the lack of any good training as to how it works up front. It does give you some but not really enough to not have you trip over bits without a clue of what to do. For instance the hacking as well as a few other things like mineral salvaging or recovering artefacts involves pressing buttons in a predefined sequence. It doesn't tell you how to do this, I thought it was like simon says where it flashes the sequence and then you repeat it but actually it was bash the button after they flash sort of thing. If you fail you can usually not try again, then you get to use some omni gel to open things. This stuff is just used for tech things like hacking or repairing you make it by melting down weapons. After a while you are carrying around so much of this you will never run out so it becomes a moot point so long as you have a tech with a high enough skill to hack then you can always get in.
You always have your main character along with two others, I tended to always take one of each type of class and there are 6 possible buddies to choose from. You can manage each of their inventories and level their powers, and even when you don't take them on a mission they get the same xp so you never get final fantasy syndrome where suddenly you have to use 2 people who are level 1 to your level 37. Though you can find their equipment gets out of date but even then it isn't too bad usually new stuff turns up fairly often.
Each character can carry 4 weapon types Pistol, Shotgun, Assault Rifle, and Sniper Rifle. They sort of stick to the characters back in this folded up state and when selected unfold in a cool animation that reminds me a bit of the part in Naked Gun 2/1/2 where OJ Simpson takes a small hand gun snaps on a load of stuff and it becomes a howizer. Anyway every character carries one of each weapon type and they can use all the weapon types but they can often only be trained in certain ones, with training you get better accuracy and damage to the extent that if you are not trained in a weapon you might as well not bother with it. By hitting the left bumper it brings up a little circular menu with 3 segments one for each of your party and their weapons you can then tell them what weapon to use and it also helpfully tells you which weapon the people have training in. One of the annoying things is sometimes the other members of the party decide to seemingly at random change to some other weapon often one they are not trained in. So I've occasionally found my assault rifle toting soldier packing a pistol which I haven't bothered to train them in or my biotics pistol only alien is now using a sniper rifle at close range. Most of the time things work OK though.
As the main character you also get access to grenades which you can throw for touch detonation or remote detonate with the same button pressed again.
Weapons in Mass Effect use no ammo they just overheat after some number of shots dependant on their stats and upgrades. With the main character you can shoot wildly or pull the left trigger for a more accurate shot with the zoom option on the sniper rifle.
Powers and skills are handled with a similar round menu on the right bumper with a third for each character listing all their skills and showing info about them. You also have rudimentry commands to order your party about. I've never used it except for one occasion where one of them stopped following me for some reason.
Weapons in the game a ludicrously overpowered, on my first character the mage I struggled in most battles often having to redo them loads of times till I got really kick arse biotic powers where upon it became fairly straight forward to win. With my second character (Rambo Shepard a soldier with a red mohawk and blue handlebar moustache) even though I have increased the difficulty setting most of combat so far has been a piece of cake. Just locate good cover set assault rifle to auto and blast away using the occasional sniper rifle to change things up. It also becomes more apparent in the more combat orientated builds that the party AI is a bit dumb. With the biotics I stayed as far back as possible and just blasted physic fire from cover firing the occasional pot shot at a enemy I had blasted into the air. With my soldier build my party keep getting in the way trying to occupy the same cover points as me and generally pissing me off. Usually they die off pretty quick and then I can just take care of the fight where upon the rez themselves and we can continue.
Unlike pervious bioware party based games if your main character dies it's game over instead of previous games where you would just switch to the next available party member and continue. This can be a bit frustrating if you don't spot a rocket or some such coming and get blown up in the first five seconds of a battle. It also exposes the games terrible auto save system it very rarely saves at before critical fights or big battles though it will some times do so in the middle. This means every time you fail a section assuming you had the presence of mind to save before hand you have to sit through the same cut scene and any dialogue associated with it.
A typical mission works like this you start off in the galaxy screen and then select the system you want to go to then the star cluster then the star. Then you have a series of planets and possibly ships and asteroids to choose from. Usually most of these are irrelevant other than some of the collection side quests since there is usually only one planet you can land on.
Landing then takes two forms if it's the main quest you either go to some hub area or first have a bit of driving in the Mako a sort of space buggy come tank with jump booster and big cannon on the roof then a hun area which will contain missions, dialogue, puzzles, and more of the story. Normal side quest planets you land in the mako and then trundle around shooting some indigenous life forms stopping to collect minerals or crashed space stuff and usually going into at least one inside area which is more combat stuff. It is a touch repetitive but it is generally fun to bomb around in the mako collect some stuff the find the main area blast your way through a base/mine/installation's outer defences then head inside and take out the defenders. The enemy Ai is also fairly simplistic they tend to hide shoot run at you shoot some more run away and repeat.
As with most bioware games there is the moral choice through out the game, this time rather than a good evil scale where evil deeds can be cancelled out all the deeds are one two separate tallys that accumulate. You can get either paragon and renegade points they don't cancel each other out. One of the issues is the whole paragon and renegade thing is a bit loosely defined. I do what I think is the renegade thing only to discover it's actually the paragon option. I sort of started intending to go the "evil" route but began accumulating "good" points till eventually I decided I had gotten so many I would try for that path.
This game does let you do things that are fairly evil I shot a person after interrogating him I killed off an entire species, and I casually use the intimidate option in general conversation. In someways it is freer with the choices you can make, but it could have done with a better way of making the good bad choices clear.
It also has the romance plot, you get the choice of two characters for seduction. If you're male you get female human and a sort of alien female. As a female you get human male or alien female. I seduced the blue alien woman, it was a bit of a laugh but hardly something to get worked up over. On my second run through I'm trying to seduce both the females but I have a feeling one of them gets ticked off if you try that.
The story and all the dialogue was good, it probably wouldn't be to everyone's taste but I found it good fun. The graphics are pretty good there is the problem of texture load from what I've heard this is another UE3 game, supposedly it sufferers a bit from slow down in the heat of battle but I cant say I've noticed it. Depth wise it there is quite a lot to do, it usually involves one or two template things though but I can't say I found any of that boring even second run through where the novelty has gone.
The voice acting is very good incorporating some decent actors people like Keith David, Seth Green, Jennifer Hale, Lance Henriksen, Marina Sirtis. It makes a game like this more immersive to have good voice talent.
As a game it is certainly engaging and has a fair degree of re-playability I've noticed different things given my different choices which is always the promise with these things though it's rarely delivered.
I would say it's probably not a good as it could have been but still a very good game most of the areas that could have done with a little tightening up are the action stuff but even then it is enjoyable.
If you have an xbox360 and like Knights of the Old Republic then I would say you would definitely enjoy this.