I’ve been wanting to play through the Mass Effect games for years, ever since seeing my friend play through most of the first game (an act that then meant I didn’t want to play it right away since the story was so fresh in my memory…) Well, after putting it off for years they release the “Legendary Edition” of all three games with some quality of life improvements and upgraded graphics so I saw my opportunity to finally experience the sweeping sci-fi saga for myself. As I haven’t played the original version this is purely talking about the Legendary version of ME1 which has had the most upgrades, so I’m afraid on this one occasion I have to ignore the original version of a game entirely rather than cover both at the same time like I’ve done in the past… With that said, let’s take a look!
This opening screenshot makes the game look like a futuristic racer! …. It’s not, for the record.
The original Mass Effect was released on XBOX360 November 20th 2007 in the US, with Europe getting it a few days later on the 23rd. Originally an XBOX exclusive it made its way onto the PC in May / June 2008 and eventually the PS3 via the “Mass Effect Trilogy” bundle release in December 2012.
As for the Legendary Edition, which does include all three games as well, that was released across the XBOX One, PS4 and PC on May 14th 2021.
Shepard makes sure to take off his helmet while in a fire fight. Don’t want to potentially deflect deadly shots!
Mass Effect, if you haven’t heard, is an action RPG, specifically of the third person shooter variety. You can take cover behind objects and shoot a variety of weapons, throw grenades and use special abilities that range from overloading opponent’s weapons to straight up Force powers like levitating people or pushing them away (a left-over from BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic days!) That’s the simple breakdown of combat but obviously with the RPG part there is so much more. For starters you can customise your character from first name (though the surname is always Shepard for the sake of audio dialogue) to gender, to looks and backstory, the latter coming up when other characters reference past events when weighing in on you, which is fun. Then you can pick a class that specialises in certain weapons and how much health / armour etc they have but most importantly what of the previously special abilities they can use during combat. You obviously also level up as you do missions and side quests and each level gives you points you can spend on upgrades like weapons skills, health, special abilities, the usual stuff, plus loot collecting and purchasing and selling things in shops. It’s a full-on RPG just in space!
As you play the central story you gain access to the Normandy, a large space craft that can travel between a good selection of planetary systems. As you do this you start gaining allies that assist you during combat for a total of six, though you can only bring two with you into combat at any one time. They each have a class and set of abilities like Shepard does and not only do you level each member up, select new weapons and armour for them and all that stuff but you can access their abilities during combat and command their use as well as direct your allies where to go and what to do during the action. You can automate this process, both levelling up and allowing the AI to decide where to go and when to use abilities, which frankly was the best option for most of the more simple skirmishes you encounter.
I always love a good bit of sniping!
In now-classic BioWare fashion there is a very deep and detailed conversation wheel system, where you can respond to questions or situations from a variety of non-committal answers, normally one that overly nice, one that overly harsh and one in the middle. Doing overly nice things give you “Paragon Points” while overly harsh ones give you “Renegade Points”, the more of each you have will open up special Paragon and Renegade answers or reactions to situations down the line, combined with the Charm and Intimidate skills in your skill tree. It makes for a greater feeling of control for “your Shepard”, and when combined with certain big moments where you have multiple choice in how to deal with them does give your play through a unique feeling. Decisions you make will come to effect things in Mass Effect 2 and 3 as well, giving a greater sense of immersion.
Other things you do, and what I often find the most fun, is just freely travel the galaxy on the Normandy, scanning planets, asteroids and other spaceships to find and report resources and at least once per system land somewhere, often on a planet’s surface in the vehicle known as the Mako. You can travel around the surface and find side quests and collect collectables, with the latter almost certainly forcing you to do a very basic button press sequence. In fact you’ll be playing this dead-easy button mini-game all the damn time: opening a crate? Button mini-game, looking at an artefact on the floor? Button mini-game. Claiming a resource for Earth? … Button mini-game! It drove me a little nuts about half way through the story. Fair enough for unlocking computer-locked crates or hacking into systems, it sort of matches what your doing, but picking up artefacts and sticking poles in rocks? Not so much.
I’m picking up a pot from the floor, why am I battling against a button press mini-game?!
People ragged on the Mako controls but I believe that was one of the major things they changed in the Legendary Edition and it shows because I didn’t have any issues. I mean fighting the giant sand-worm creatures was a little dull and there were times I got stuck on the terrain (though a lot of that was my fault, it wasn’t until about halfway through the game when I realised there was a boost button…) but overall I did enjoy plopping down on a random planet and having a nosey around. Apparently things like a melee button and enemy AI are also things improved in this version but again sadly I can’t actually compare these things…
Graphics and Sound:
I’m betting the XBOX 360 version probably looked a bit different here…
Graphics are good, though I will admit the heads and lip movement is a bit… odd. The humans especially have a very weird look to them that’s hard to describe but it’s there… Erm, anyway, lighting, textures all that stuff is good, very good in fact. You can tell it wasn’t built from the ground up for the Eighth Generation but it looks perfectly fine to my eyes.
Sound is great, thankfully. The voice acting is high quality despite the sheer volume of it and the soundtrack has a good sci-fi synth-y feel that works well. No tune will necessarily get stuck in your head, but it adds to the action as well as the quieter moments.
One of the many romantic options in the game…. ?
What is most impressive about Mass Effect is how lived in and established the whole story feels. Humanity is just one of many space-fairing races that now meet on a giant structure known as the “Citadel” and each of the races, both Council ran and not, have long backstories, religions, personality quirks and more you can read about. Hell every planet you scan has a description that varies from “gas giant comprised of this element” to “this is where a battle took place in such-and-such war 50 years ago”. It’s a remarkable example of world building to the point where it feels like this game is set in a long-established narrative rather than the very first entry in one. It’s not just the current races either, every race found their way to the already-build Citadel via “Mass Relays” which much like the Citadel was already there thanks to a previous civilisation known as the “Protheans”.
You play as Commander Shepard, as mentioned what gender and backstory is up to you (mine was a male who grew up on a colony world that was wiped out by pirates and was once the sole survivor of a mission that went wrong. I was trying to up the “finds it hard to get close to people because he fears losing them again” character trait, though sadly it didn’t really come up…) Shepard is soon given command of the new Earth ship known as the Normandy, piloted by the brittle-boned Joker and soon crewed by a whole selection of characters you meet on your journey: humans Kaidan Alenko (has “Biotics”, a.k.a. Force Powers) and Ashley Williams (normal human), a Turian (sort of insectoid humanoid) and former police officer on the Citidel Garrus Vakarian, a Krogan (giant reptile in armour) mercenary known as Urdnot Wrex, Quarian (pretty regular humanoid but has to wear a full body suit / mask due to living on a spaceship her whole life leading to weakened immune system) technician known as Tali’Zorah and an Asari (blue female humanoids) archaeologist named Liara T’Soni who specialises in Prothean ruins and technology.
The story is driven forward when a SPECTRE agent (a type of special lawman under the command of the Citadel Council but given freedom to complete their task any way they wish) named Saren Arterius uses a mysterious ship known as Sovereign and a machine race known as the Geth to attack the human colony on Eden Prime in order to access a newly discovered Prothean Beacon…
*SPOILERS FROM NOW UNTIL THE NEXT ALL-CAPS SENTENCE!*
It’s Saren! This picture is only a spoiler if you’ve just booted up the game… and even then not really…
It eventually turns out that Sovereign is a “Reaper”, a race of highly intelligent spaceship-like creatures that have, for millions of years, wiped out nearly all organic life in the galaxy, went off and hibernated for a few millennia until new races have risen, found the Mass Relays and spread out across the galaxy again, then reawaken to wipe them all out again. The Protheans weren’t the builders of the tech, they were merely part of the previous mass extinction event. Sovereign has the ability to influence people’s minds which is why Saren is on its side despite what it’s planning to do, and the Geth see the Reapers as machine Gods, unsurprisingly really. Shepard and the Normandy crew spend the game one step behind Saren, slowly uncovering this fact, until a big showdown at the Citadel (which turns out to be a giant Mass Relay that the Reapers use to jump from outside the Galaxy back into it) which sees you kill (or convince to commit suicide, apparently… I killed him *shrug*) Saren, then Sovereign reanimates him leading to you killing “Saren” and doing a bit of damage to the sentient Reaper, leaving him exposed to a full-on attack from the Citadel race’s ships including the Normandy. During this sequence you can send Humanity’s space navy in to save the Council at the cost of a good chunk of their numbers or let the council die in exchange for having a full armada to send against Sovereign. I did the latter, it just seemed logical at that point that a machine that was trying to wipe out all life in the galaxy should be the priority…
Anyway, now the Galaxy knows a major threat is heading their way, one that’s already committed mass-mass-mass… mass genocide before…
*SPOILERS END NOW!*
Overall it’s quite the fun sci-fi epic. Loved some of the twists and turns and some of the backstory on the races and technology. Looking forward to more! … Next year.
There were two DLC packs for the original game, “Bring Down The Sky” which put in a new mission where a new alien race that were ejected from the Council and blame Earth for it trying to destroy one of Earth’s most populous planets with an asteroid strike. It’s included here with no extra charge, obviously. It ends with a decision to either let the lead terrorist go and save the humans captured, or let the captured humans die for a shot at the head terrorist…
The second pack was “Pinnacle Station”, which was a bunch of multi-player modes like Deathmatches and Capture The Flag. It wasn’t included in the Legendary Edition at all apparently due to the loss of the source code. *shrugs* Not that bothered, honestly…
Headshot with a laser pistol in one of the many very similar looking warehouses…
I really enjoyed my time with Mass Effect, as I always knew I would. Great sci-fi world realised to extreme detail, fun 3rd person combat and planet exploration and a really fun story with great dialogue options and potentially impactful decisions. Really looking forward to spending some time with Mass Effect 2, something I haven’t seen play out before my eyes previously, at some point early next year…