I play numerous video games. My tally lists 34 games over the past two years, excluding ten previous years of gaming on several consoles. Mass Effect is my favorite franchise of all those. A year after the finale's release, I replayed Mass Effect to experience the entire trilogy. 

Story is the strongest part of Mass Effect. The hunt for the traitor Saren accelerates into a sweeping sci-fi adventure when you learn the truth. An ancient race of sentient machines, the Reapers, threaten the galaxy's existence and only you can stop them.

Developer BioWare delivers the story so cinematically that friends often mistook it for a movie. Wide visual shots, a clever dialogue system, and the exciting plot make Mass Effect feel immersive and exciting. The story engrosses until the finale, my favorite in gaming.

The game follows a human soldier, Shepard. Describing this character is difficult as you can customize Shepard's class, gender, face, and backstory. I created a female engineer, the sole survivor of a massacre. 

You develop Shepard's personality through decisions. Branching plots and dialogue options reveal whether she is cruel, kind, or forceful. Shepard decides the fate of individuals, groups, and an entire species. No choice is easy, to the game's credit.

Side characters form the emotional core of the epic space opera. Mass Effect's teammates are interesting, likable, and well-written. Talking to them between missions is rewarding.

Sadly the gameplay falls short of the story. Mass Effect is an unbalanced mess. Choose the wrong class or mission and you'll die repeatedly from class inadequacies. Engineers get only pistols. Only adepts get the best powers. Only soldiers get the regenerating health--other classes make do with armor.

Managing said gear is confusing and inefficient, inundating the player with cryptically labeled duplicates. BioWare's misguided attempt at tactical depth obfuscates the game under tedious micromanagement.

Then there's the Mako. You drive a glorified dune buggy around uninspired levels with a rocket launcher that removes challenge. Vehicle levels become staid shooting galleries. The controls also separate steering and shooting, making driving wonky and awkward. 

Driving is often part of side quests. These are universally loathesome. You land, drive, enter an identical bunker, and kill everyone. Nothing else. Even worse are the Rare-esque rote collection quests. How is finding turian insignias fun?

You often receive such grunt work from characters on the Citadel, a labyrinthine hub world that confounded me for three hours. Who hid the Alliance elevator in C-Sec?

The elevators "cleverly" hide lengthy load times. Mass Effect tends toward slow and glitchy. Textures pop up and still look muddy, especially on Therum.

At least story missions are wonderfully written. Would that every mission were as creative as Feros. Exploring lost Prothean worlds and discovering the Citadel's secrets compensates for the boring side quests.

Mass Effect has problems. The gameplay feels dated and stiff, the inventory system defies comprehension, and the side quests lack imagination. 

However, the engaging story and compelling characters make a phenomenal experience. Mass Effect has the best character writing in gaming, no contest. If that trade-off is acceptable to you, play this. 

If not... there's always Mass Effect 2.