I was pretty excited about playing Mass Effect. This game was proclaimed to be a "shooter-RPG" that would give a new meaning to open-endedness in video games. As I played through, however, I found that not only is the game still quite limited, but the wasted potential of this game was enough to make me wonder what could have been.
The opening of the game starts a bit slow, but then you land on your first planet and begin your epic journey. Almost immediately you are thrust into some basic battles, just enough to get a taste of combat and learn the ropes. The first mission was a blast...and that's when the entire game comes grinding to a screeching halt. After the mission ends, your character arrives at the citadel (basically the only real "city" in the game), and proceeds to walk around for HOURS before even being given the opportunity to depart on a mission. If you're any kind of completionist, I would estimate you will spend approximately 3-4 hours on the citadel simply talking to everyone and doing several boring fetch-type quests. It was nearly enough to make me consider bagging the game altogether, but I decided to stick with it.
The decision was quite rewarding. With several character class options to choose from, character creation plays a large part in the game. The ability to select from the four basic guns right from the start is a welcome addition as well. The game itself has quite a bit of meat. While some have a problem with its length, I did not. I scoured every planet and did every mission (similar to scouring the optional dungeons in a typical RPG) and ended up with a playtime of around 40 hours my first playthrough. Add in the "new game+" aspect (you can choose to play the game again using your leveled character WITH all their abilities and equipment) and the potential is there for more, albeit with a cap once you've played through a couple times and exhausted all the dialogue options.
Though it claims to be open-ended unlike any other game, the reality is that very very few decisions actually affect the larger plot picture, simply resulting in interesting or humorous dialogue. I thought I would reconsider everything the first time I was allowed to fly to other solar systems and land on other planets. I instantly saw endless possibilities opening; traveling to hundreds of different worlds and exploring them. Tragically this does not happen - a maximum of one spacial object in each whole system is even available to land on, and there's usually one small "level", combat or otherwise, on that planet. Much of the game is spent tediously navigating planets' surfaces in a vehicle that is extremely annoying to control. Now, on to one of Mass Effect's biggest problems: the aforementioned "levels" within each planet. The problem is that they are ALL THE SAME. If you go into a mine shaft in this solar system, and then travel light years away to a completely different planet and there happens to be a mine shaft, they are identical. Even the placement of objects within each level are identical. It's literally like whoever was designing the levels made one, then hit copy-paste for each additional level. It's really just poor and disappointing. Not to mention there are basically 3 types of enemies...
Another problem I kept encountering were gameplay glitches. Haven't we moved beyond characters getting stuck in walls or having to reset a game because it freezes? Come on. At many points in the game one of my ally characters would be on the map, but they had simply disappeared. They came back once I exited the level, but seriously, these issues should have been fixed. Another great moment was when I was calmly driving my planetary vehicle down a large skybridge when it proceeded to explode randomly and cause a game over. Of course there were no enemies in the area, I suppose maybe the game wanted me to take a break and lose my progress at the same time. Enemies just standing there while you open fire was another one. These all happened (besides the explosion) many times in one playthrough.
The sound was appropriate, but the music is abysmal. Each "track" is a variation of the same three notes played over and over again. Ooh, that one had a little cymbal in the background! Please.
I felt the graphics were a bit below par. Aside from the water effects, I didn't see anything here that couldn't have been done on the PS2. Also, custom character creation means no FMV, which I feel detracts from a game like this. To say it's an RPG is also pushing it. There are very simple RPG elements such as hit points and experience, but the characters don't really have stats or anything. For better or worse I suppose, you don't want too much RPG in your shooter.
Having to access the menu almost constantly to modify your equipped weapons was brutal. I found myself equipping weapons that were not great for a particular battle or sacrificing better upgrades for more general-damage ones, simply so I wouldn't have to break from the action and spend 5 minutes unequipping and reequipping all three characters.
I will say this about Mass Effect: It's one of the few 360 games that's really been able to draw me into the experience, and that's a great feeling. You forget about the real world for awhile and are concentrating solely on the game. That's a rare quality in any game, especially a shooter. The story here was fairly original, thoroughly enjoyable, and easily the best part of this game. I would say it's a worthwhile play, just be aware that there will be some gameplay issues.