Countdown To Mass Eff3ct, pt 1: A Comprehensive Review - lmvalle Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

Countdown To Mass Eff3ct, pt 1: A Comprehensive Review

Folks, humanity has been counting down the days, and we've finally reached that inevitable moment: the Reapers are on the horizon, and will invade the planet Earth this March. Mass Effect 3 will be upon us, and all of the galaxy's Shepards - both male and female- will begin their journey to conclude the current gen's most definitive RPG franchise. This blog series will pay tribute to the franchise as we brace ourselves for the upcoming finale by chronicling my own journey and experiences with the Mass Effect series. We'll begin with my own complete review of the first entry.

I'll review the entire franchise thus far: the highs and lows, perfections and flaws. Keelah, this is a daunting task, but - Goddess! - this will be accomplished with the grace of the Enkindlers. It will be a momentous undertaking, perhaps even another suicide mission, but it must be done; Shepard has no alternatives. Hopefully, I won't have to remind you of why Shepard doesn't take no for an answer. DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE REVIEW, SPOILERS MAY BE PRESENT.

 

I'm an avid RPG player, which in some cases means that I love rich stories with lot's of detail and idiosyncracies. Characters I can identify with, or at least acknowledge as authentic and well-developed, are especially important. The Role-playing experience, however, is also one that in essence allows you to tailor your character in the fashion you'd like and, in the most superb moments, allows you to fully immerse yourself in the narrative and environment your protagonist is exposed to.

Just ask any of TES' players: each probably have their own history established surrounding the protagonists they created, from the most basic elements involving key gameplay choices - whether or not they joined a particular guild- to minutiae regarding their character's religious preference or favorite hobbies. Following in the tradition of similar games - KOTOR comes to mind - Bioware gave players a chance to create Shepard in their own vision, with a vivid palette of choices that honed our character's backstory and service history. I chose to make Shepard an Engineer with a history as an Earthborn who survived a surprise thresher maw attack on Akuze.

I must have spent more than an hour mulling over the varying ways I could modify Shepard's appearance and ethnicity, instead of choosing presets that seemed just a tad too... peculiar. I in fact modeled my first Shepard after my own physical profile, and marveled at my doppelganger once the deed had been completed. This was the beginning of a narrative that I would eventually be able to shape with nearly limitless influence.

As a story, one could argue that some elements aren't that unique, especially if you examine science fiction history. After all, humanity's just a fledgling civilization that ascended via Prothean technology - the mysterious race long thought to be the creators of Mass Relays and the Citadel you are later introduced to. They contacted other species, even warred with one of them briefly, and soon gained favor in the larger collective.

By the end of the first arc, Humanity had gained prominence, for better or worse. It's a rather outdated, yet classic trope that's constantly revisited. However, what keeps this space opera from being another run-of-the-mill story is perhaps best described through Shepard, who becomes a foil for Humanity, and possibly even intergalactic unity.

The story alludes to this in its opening, with Anderson, of the Alliance and Ambassador Udina having a conversation about Shepard, reiterating the backstory you've chosen for your character. It's clear from the tone of their speech that much lies at stake in choosing Shepard, and as the story progresses, we learn why: Shepard's been chosen as a prospective Spectre candidate, the elite agents of the Citadel Council, who manage affairs between the many civilizations of the galaxy. The mission: investigate a mysterious disturbance on the human colony of Eden Prime, where an important Prothean artifact is located.

A story of betrayal and corruption would evolve, with your antagonist Saren's actions masking a far more terrifying plot in the story's developments. You, as Shepard, were tasked with stopping this evil from completing a cycle of destruction long kept secret. However, you wouldn't accomplish this alone. Mass Effect introduced you to a vivid cast - and superb voice acting - that brought life to the already engrossing story.

There was Ashley Williams, an unabashedly prejudiced Alliance soldier with a penchant for reciting poetry. Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, a marine biotic that was a dead-ringer for Carth Onasi. Liara, the Asari whose radical findings were ignored by her older superiors. Tali'Zorah Nar'Rayya , the Quarian on a pilgrimage who had the evidence needed to reveal Saren's betrayal. Garrus Vakarian, the Turian C-sec agent with his own vigilante leanings. Then there was Urdnot Wrex, the Krogan Battlemaster who won our hearts with a personality that completely shattered the typical mercenary trope. I can't forget Mass Effect's other characters either, like Chakwas, or Joker.

What I admired most about these characters was how organic Shepard's relationship with each of them was. You could mold Garrus into a character that took more consideration into his actions instead of being a loose cannon - if you wanted that is, or you could encourage it, especially by helping him track down Dr. Saleon. You could give Tali the data obtained after stopping the Geth incursion so that she could complete her pilgrimage, or you could withhold it from her, and essentially cut off your friendship with her for the time being. Shepard could help Wrex obtain his family's armor, and players could also bring Liara along to confront her mother Benezia on Noveria.

The choices allowed ensured that players could mold their experiences on their own terms - with few exceptions - making Shepard's story unequivocally also your own personal story. Despite the disagreements you might have had with certain characters, they nonetheless respected you as an individual and trusted your decisions. The true highlight however, was how you interacted with them and the NPC's in the worlds of Mass Effect.

Instead of merely scrolling through dialogue balloons in traditional RPG's, Mass Effect's cinematic style and branching dialogue made conversations entertaining, in that the player remained actively engaged in the events transpiring. Earning either Paragon or Renegade points for various choices also allowed you to influence the people you interacted with in ways you normally wouldn't have. The galaxy's finer details continued to broaden as you learned more about it. In other RPG's, I often expected to wade through lengthy dialogue scenes while detached from events. In Mass Effect, I looked forward to these interactions, and explored every choice possible as I shaped my characters; choices which I will explore later.

The game's combat system allowed you to customize your characters to your own tastes by by assigning points or modifying abilities. You could also assign points to improve base stats, and in the case of your squadmates, focus on mastering their special class bonuses. In battle, Mass Effect employed a cover-system and power wheel with a weapon overheat system and class-specific weapon specializations. Parts of it were clunky - squad AI, and aiming- while other aspects could be exploited through the numerous upgrades you could equip to weapons and armor. Overall, Mass Effect's combat was kinetic. 

 

Traveling throughout the galaxy and visiting other planets was also exciting, although the admittedly sub-par controls of the Mako detracted from it. Mercenary bases that had little variety also were also low points in your exploits. However, the locales you visited in your quest to find the Conduit each had their own sense of character, including the main hub world of the Citadel. Be it the volcanic world of Therum, the blindingly frigid corporate world of Noveria, the Geth-ravaged colony of Zhu's Hope on Feros, the tropical climate of Virmire, or even the exotic Prothean ruins on Ilos, players were given a glimpse into a universe with a distinct and alluring aesthetic that was more than a rip-off of a popular series. The atmospheric electronica and orchestral blend from Jack Wall underscored this and emphasized the gravity of the choices Shepard had to make in each dire situation.

The final highlight of course, involved several factors: the narrative freedom players had, the well-written characters you came into contact with, and the emotional payout that your experiences with them gave you. Unlike in most games where players faced difficult situations with hollowed interest, the situations Shepard faced overflowed with emotion. Time invested in the relationships you developed with the characters, the burden tied to your control over these events, and the broader implications of your decisions made everything you did feel authentic.

Would you choose to sacrifice either Kaidan or Ashley when the time came for someone to protect the nuke on Virmire? Would Shepard authorize the death of the last known Rachni queen - and in essence, the extinction of their race? Could Shepard convince Wrex to aid him in the destruction of the Krogan breeding facility, or would their standstill end in conflict? Then, there was one of the most important choices players would make: would you risk sacrificing the Destiny Ascension and the Citadel Council to focus on Sovereign, or would you sacrifice Alliance ships in order to ensure their safety? Each of these choices, among countless others were dilemmas that players would have to wrestle with.

The level of influence you had through Shepard illustrated just how important the Spectre was to Humanity's role in galactic politics. Through your choices, Humans could become a dominant force in a time of great confusion, or Humanity could join the other races and recognize the importance of unity in the wake of the Reapers. As the cliché goes, the choice was yours.

 

THE VERDICT:

Overall, Mass Effect was a masterpiece. It was far from perfect, but it didn't need to be in order to appreciate its depth, its wit, suspense, and wonder. An exceptional story, characters, gaming experience, and a protagonist that players could mold and shape in nearly every way possible transformed our expectations in RPG's. Yet, it was only the beginning of something far greater in scope; Shepard's work, after all, is never done.

 

9.75 out of 10

 

 

comments