The fate of the universe lies helpless, and yet so overwhelmingly heavy in your hands. You have heard it so many times, so many ways, and seen the destiny of the cosmos saddled to so many heroes. Some times they are reluctant, some times they are passionate and ready to defend the planets, the stars, the existence of all, but rarely has it ever been you. An oldie, but a goodie, and with two other successful titles following this initial space opera, Pixels and Pies pulls up a seat and binges on the first game of the deep-space trilogy: Mass Effect.
But ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, does love really matter? A Council-appointed space Punisher, also called a Spectre, also known as Sarren has gone loco for the locomotion of robo-organic death harbinger Sovereign. Armed with the power of dubstep powered lasers and a Cthulu-inspired horror horde, Sovereign represents one of sci-fi’s biggest batch of assholes after the Cylons, better known as the Reapers.
So, basically, a long-ass time ago, organics and synthetics never got along, because it’s a sci-fi back-story so of course they didn’t, and the Reapers were created to maintain balance between the two, but they went rogue, turned on their makers and anything else within existence-shot, and retreated into space, leaving behind a couple nifty trinkets for future races to discover. Trinkets like, oh, the mass relays you use in the game to get around, and the Citadel you use to not know where the fuck you are going. Anyway, civilizations reach their peaks with the help of these wonderful tech-turds the nightmare cuttelfish leave behind, and when civilization is totally rocking it, the Reapers come back, harvest the living Hell out of everything and everyone, and retreat back to dark space fully replenished, and ready for round who-the-fuck-keeps-count-at-this-point-really? in the next bathousand years.
Cut to character creation. You start the game with a blank slate, creating your character from the ground up. Look at that, you have your very own Mary Sue, but somehow… BioWare makes that work. Whether you walk the path of the Paragon or the path of the Renegade, the walking tabula rasa known as Commander Shepherd is a fairly awesome protagonist no matter how you spin the dialogue wheel. Going forward, and for consistency’s sake in write-ups, I went with a FemShep hailed as Commander Cade Shepherd, a space-kid who grew up to become a ruthless commander, trending Renegade to maintain her ship and stomp out BioWare NPC bullshit (I had a lot of Renegade points…), but paragon where it counts. She’s a bitch with a heart of gold…ish. Like most of their games, BioWare flawlessly connects you to your avatar within the first half hour of gameplay. Yes, I know the actual in-game intro is only so many minutes long before your Shep is introduced, but I like hanging out in character creation for a bit, because me and my custom-made ShepFace will be spending a lot of time together, so the less like a Picasso painting she can look, the better.
From here, you are launched into the game, tutorial be damned. I actually really, really dug this. I, frankly, can’t stand modern tutorials. After pop-up advertisements, they are the worst thing I can see on a screen. They’re like that friend who tries to MST3K movies, and sucks at it; yes, they have the right idea, but the execution is nettlesome. I grew up on those little books that came in my games that weren’t just filled with long-ass codes to input to my X-Box Live. Call me crazy, but when it comes to playing video games I believe in nature, not nurture. So, that all being said, BioWare’s unapologetic boot into the game is welcoming for me. The first stretch of the game is peppered lightly enough with challenges that don’t punish error, but help you learn from it. There are some helpful hints, but compared to the PRESS X TO DO IT ALL, PRESS B TO GO BACK, PRESS LBRTSELECTATHENMAYBEQ TO RUN ON THAT FUCKING WALL OVER THERE… they are anything but jarring to the first level. This is good, because the first level focuses on building suspense and easing you up a learning curve, as opposed to overloading you with verbiage and cut-scenes-in-lieu-of-game-play. By the way, save as often as possible, because you have a lot of decisions ahead of you, and BioWare doesn’t forgive dumb very easily. Save border-lining miserly if you can.
The game unfolds as most RPGs tend to; a big bad bully threatens your proverbial sandbox, and forty to sixty hours later? Showdown time. Along the way, you get buddy-buddy with a crew made up of awesome aliens and idiot humans, one being a coyly racist trigger-happy she-bitch, and the second asserting himself with about as much character intrigue as the chair I am currently sitting in. For the most part, I chose to run around with Wrex who makes his aggression perfectly clear and therefore navigable, and Garrus… because I like a Turian in uniform. I don’t know what crop of voice acting BioWare harvested their Turian cast from, but almost every bird-faced, lizard-man alien I encountered in this game sent my ears into a hot’n’bothered tizzy.
Gameplay works mostly through the Power Wheel, which comes in two flavors: weapon selection and ability selection. Want Ashley to hang back? Of course you do, so order her to the back of the formation, and arm her with a sniper rifle. Want to hit a geth with waves of fuckery?Access your abilities in the other Power Wheel. At first, the mechanic is surprising, but in just a few levels you’re loving it. Just a cool spin on turn-by-turn that I can really get behind. So, that being said, one of the best ways to approach this game, and really get the most out of the Power Wheel(s), is to balance your team more impressively than a tower of double-jointed Cirque-du-Soleil kids. Okay, it’s not that hard. Go tech, biotic, combat, and you’re golden. The more physical act of combat in this game — over the shoulder shoot ’em upping — is a little wonky and disjointed, but the technical end of things? Really smart, really fun, the beginnings of something further perfected in following Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles. As the games progress, the impression is that BioWare is always fine-tuning their work, listening to their audience’s feedback, and even catching the little bits that some of us as gamers never considered migraine-inducing until BioWare came through with the cure. More on that in a future review.
Another allure of Mass Effect would be the relationship aspect. In the midst of humanity (and life) teetering on the precipice of annihilation, Shepherd finds her hands full with the personal drama of the Normandy Love Boat. The goal, ultimately, was to romance Kaiden and Liara, choose Liara, lose Kaiden on Virmire, and re-encounter Liara in the second game to perpetuate some nice drama, because at the end of the day I am really just saving myself for Garrus. That would have made a love triangle that could make Chris Claremont pop a halfy, and that dude knew his way around angles. I’m. Just. Sayin’.
In any case, at the drop of a single dismissive syllable, Liara shuts her shit down, and I’m stuck with bedhead biotic Kaiden, who has a lovely speaking voice, but is alluring in the “I guess I’ll just get my taxes over with” kind of way. As much as I love BioWare games, over the years I have come to expect a certain personality when it comes to potential male suitors in the varying BioWare universes. Oh, they start funny, and plucky, and complicated, and then they get needy, demanding, soft, bi-polar, and possessive. Alistair, I’m looking right at you, buddy, you wishy-washy won’t have a threesome with a pirate asshole. Anyway, different game. In any case, BioWare, I come to you for escapism, and you give me a character that reflects that which in life drives me to hide away and play video games. I don’t need your needy, man-boys stinking up my ship, which is why I
blow them up make a bad call on Virmire.
So, I’ll probably get in trouble with this, but you know, fuck that. Aside from back-story and general plot fluffiness, the relationships are not super integral to the game. Sure, they are something (or someone) else to do on the ship other than pick your nose over the Galaxy Map, while you wish that Admiral Hackett would get his silver-fox ass to your captain’s quarters. I’m sorry, I’d tap that, I’d drop and give that twenty. Aside from appeasing this secret place in some sort of gland or other organ for romance, intrigue, and drama, the relationship status does not serve too much of a purpose toward the end of the first game. There are ripples throughout other games, sure, but ultimately the power of love is not what defeats Sarren at the end. This was probably my only complaint about the relationship options. Entertaining, sure, but functional? Not really. The impulse that has you bumping Barbies and Kens (or Kens and Kens/Barbies and Barbies/Barbies and Stacies? No, that’s fucked up. Aren’t they related? Anyway…) is ultimately appeased… I guess? I mean, the love of my space-life was basically stuck in the Mako cabinet with no-balls-to-the-walls Wrex, and the “That 70s Show” violent Jackie space knock off racist known as Ashley, drooling Tennyson all over the place like she even knows who the fuck that be-stanza’ed mid-term English major trap is. So, I wasn’t really fulfilled in that character-building respect, because my options were racist, snoreville, and the overly-sensitive Liara. Thaaaaanks. I mean, sure, there are echos of your personal decisions in the sequels — that’s fine! — and relationships are affected (depending on your outcomes), but unless you’re a story-crafting completionist like me… you really won’t care.
Speaking of the Mako, I’m going to let my multi-terrain vehicle flag fly here, and say I legitimately loved that machine. I mean, God forbid you ever have to throw that big-booty into reverse, but the planet exploration was cool. This element is further refined in the sequels in a R.I.P. Mako kind of way, but the idea of a planet exploring tank that could flip end over end with the suspension of a pogo stick and STILL deposit all my team in one piece was astounding to me. I took that white thunder for a spin countless times, and just imagined it being picked up by the Normandy, Liara popping the hatch, and the broken-boned bodies of Shepherd, Wrex, and Garrus dumping out into a pool of compound fractures and internal bleeding.
At the end of the day, how do you really review an RPG though? A lot of friends vouch for the technicality, others for how you mold your character’s stats, many love the un-ending vanishing points of the virtual sandbox you can explore, and then some go for the story, the characterization, the surrounding cast, all the things that generally make movies and books and other story-telling mediums go tick. Frankly, I’m a fan of each, sampling these aspects like a picky buffet customer. I want the best parts of all these things every time, every “visit”. Every bit should be tasty, and worth the fact that you can’t take buffet food to go (seriously, what the fuck? Don’t give me a food-cost lecture either, I’m uninterested). Now, I have certain sections that I annihilate with a stomach that could rival dark space; like how I just pick up a dim sum basket and take it with me to my table, but I still have some lo mein, cookies of unknown origin, and spicy pork, too. Despite my preferences, I think that a good RPG still focuses on all aspects of what I (and friends) believe make up the difference between an “okay” game, and a GREAT game. Much like picking your team, much like balancing your relationships, much like the path between the ultimate Paragon and the edgiest Renegade, and much like navigating the best strategy for taking out a whole room of geth, BioWare does everything I want it to do when it comes to an RPG: balance. From there, we can make the choices that will ultimately save the universe, or doom us all. Or, you know, determines who visits the Commander’s quarters – bang. Replayability 2
Gameplay & Mechanics 1
It is easy to fall in love with this game again. The story is a pretty straight-forward space opera plot, eclipsed by entertaining character development. An epic score and fantastic foley that blends sci fi with realism highlights intense, suspenseful and intimate moments. Although it boasts innovative game play and game mechanics, it is clear that the best of what this BioWare series has to offer is yet to come.
Final Score: 8 nightmare cuttlefish out of 10