2007 gave us the first in what ended up being one of the most popular trilogies of games for the last generation of consoles, Mass Effect. The game introduced players to Shepard and their fight against the Reapers, a race of machines that harvest all organic life in the galaxy in a continuing cycle. Since it’s launch, I have revisited Mass Effect several times, and have recently done so again. In the last 13 years, my response to various aspects of the game has changed, although my love for it has only grown.
Mass Effect gives players Shepard to control. You can choose between three unique backstories as well as three options for their behavior in the military. These choices will actually impact a few side quests and how things unfold throughout the series. For instance, only one option means that Shepard will have surviving relatives. These little details throughout the series are nice, although they don’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Still, there is something to getting an email from your mom in Mass Effect 2 that you obviously won’t get if you picked a different backstory. It is also rather compelling that from pretty much screen one, you are shaping who Shepard is and how you want to play her (cough).
Shepard is on what is supposed to be the first of several missions where she will be tested to join the elite ranks of Specters, but of course, right away, you stumble on something much bigger. From here, you slowly work out the story to discover that your main bad guy is really not your main bad guy at all, but rather someone simply working for the larger enemy you will face.
What Mass Effect does so well is introducing us to the world. There is a lot of world-building that needs to happen, and this can easily fall into tedium, but Mass Effect manages to give players enough information that they don’t feel lost in the game universe, and enough freedom to fill in as much or as little of the details as you want. The more side quests you do, the more conversations you have with the crew and random people, the more you explore, the more details you have, and the more you can connect with the world and characters. Likewise, you can skip it all and focus in on the main quests. The consequence is that you will miss a lot of interesting details and even some understanding of the world at large, which can make certain choices difficult.
It is also something that I wouldn’t recommend with the characters. Throughout the series, the characters have managed to keep Mass Effect still well-loved even when the fans were disappointed with some of the directions that Bioware decided to take. Mass Effect introduces players to a large chunk of who will be major players throughout all the games. Garrus, Tali, Joker, and Wrex are all personal favorites, as well as fan favorites, They are introduced in the game, and allowed you to start building a backstory and your own developing interactions with them. While all of them saw a greater depth of development in the later games, the foundations laid in this game were wonderful and truly helped shape what were later interesting “relationships.” I have spoken before about being a sucker for great characters, and it remains true, and Mass Effect is a major highlight for me. The characters are so damn good across all the games that it becomes a treat to go through all the conversations and learning about each of them.
(on an entirely personal note Seth Green is fantastic as Joker, and it’s pretty rude Bioware doesn’t let you romance him lol)
It is also well written, and I think possibly the stronger story in the series. Mass Effect 2 felt a little like a massive side question, while 3 had some hiccups that really left a bad taste in fans’ mouths. The first Mass Effect’s story is not nearly as detailed as the later games, but that works to its advantage in many ways. It feels the most thought out and developed to me.
The gameplay is fairly standard 3rd person action game. You do have powers, and to use them, you bring up a wheel that stops time. I personally appreciated this because I can get easily overwhelmed, and so having a built-in way to break from action is nice. It’s why I lean towards games like this or Fallout (V.A.T.S.). Action heavy but with a degree of freedom if I choose. There are a decent amount of classes to experiment with, and I did find myself trying out different character types than I normally would have with this type of game. I do appreciate that the game found a way to work through classes that you might find in other games but in keeping with the sci-fi theme. Instead of magic powers, there is biotics as a case in point.
Gameplay has not aged perfectly. Getting in and out of cover can be more of a hassle than it’s worth, but the game is really designed for coverage. This leads to battles being slightly annoying at times if you can’t quickly pick off the enemies. There are also several instances where you might feel overwhelmed simply because you “chose” the wrong class.
However, the game does reward you for playing through and trying different classes and powers by awarding you the ability to add extra training to your character in new games. Unlock the warp achievement, and any character can learn warp (if you choose), etc. I do appreciate games incentivizing players to experiment with different ways of playing, and as mentioned, I did try classes in this game I might not have otherwise.
This game also had a sort of freedom that I felt was lacking a bit in the follow-ups. You would actually land on multiple planets and moons and explore and find different things for side quests and other enemies to find, or just drive straight to your objective. Of course, this also meant having to use the Mako which… all Mass Effect fans can attest to the frustration that that vehicle causes (although you will get some hilarious moments out of it too).
Unsurprisingly being the oldest in the series, Mass Effect is the one that I think has the most issues, although I definitely have a strong sense of nostalgia for it. If pressed on, which is my favorite in the series and I hem and haw and want to give it to the first game, despite knowing the issues that I have with it. However, it does hold such a unique and special place for introducing such a great trilogy of games and the characters that I ended up falling in love with.
And that’s really what it comes down to. Mass Effect is just such a great starting point. It introduced the parts of the game we came to expect, gave us things that we sadly lost in the later games, and was a well written and designed game. There are issues, but for the time it was a powerhouse of a game, and even with its issues, it is still a damn amazing game. It is fun to play, to explore, has great characters and story, and is worth revisiting and replaying.
Every subsequent revisit to this game reminds me of why I love it so much, and why more than ten years later, I still get excited to experience it all over again.