The Good- Interesting and detailed plot, intense battles, support characters are well developed, high degree of customization in terms of making your character's choices
The Bad- Plot isn't very emotionally engaging, menus are very restricting, auto-save doesn't as often as it should, "fetchquests" are boring
Mass Effect was an enjoyable experience but it wasn’t very compelling and suffered from a number of technical problems. The first of which comes from the concept of creating your own character and choosing their actions. It may seem like a good concept but ultimately it leads to a very shallow character. There is some effort to make your character more interesting by letting you choose some of your character’s past, but it inevitably falls short since it really has little impact on the story or your decisions. However this is counter-balanced by all of your party members being wonderfully characterized, as long as you take the time listen to them talk about themselves. Once again though, it is kept completely separate from the plot, which makes the plot seem very flat and all about going from point A to point B and completing your assigned objective. That means that it’s not all that emotionally charged and it’s hard to really get into it beyond “I’m doing this because I was told to do it.”
Another big issue is the menus. The most annoying part is that you can only access characters’ inventory and stat pages if they are currently in your party. It makes clear that the developers want you to play through the game using the same two support characters, but I’m one of those players who likes to mix things up and rotate my party around a bit according to the specific needs of the situation. This makes it impossible to manage your entire party’s gear efficiently and a character’s gear is stuck with them unless you remember to remove it. Another big problem with the inventory is that it’s not sorted very well and there’s no option to sort it yourself. So you’ll find yourself mass selling all the items that you aren’t currently using and keeping maybe one or two upgrades to keep your party versatile in dealing with different types of enemies. Unfortunately selling items isn’t very easy either. You have to go down and sell each item individually with no option to select a large portion and sell it en masse. This can become somewhat tedious if you let your inventory fill up and need to make room as 500 items is a lot of items to sell. For all of its hype on being all about the player’s choice, I find it odd that the menu system would be designed to practically force the player to play a certain way. And that this was intentional is somewhat proved by the fact that the developers offer achievements for playing through most of the game with a certain character in your party.
Gameplay wise, Mass Effect is also somewhat of a mixed bag. It’s entirely gun and magic based, and it’s somewhat appropriate that you can’t take many bullets to the chest and survive, but it’s frustratingly easy to die if you don’t practice good taking cover tactics. And to add to the frustration, the auto-save is very fickle and doesn’t save very often so if you don’t take steps to make sure your game is saved, you’ll find yourself having to replay hours and running through the numerous dialogue trees that you lost. This does add some intensity to battles though, knowing that if you’re not careful you can end up very dead very quickly.
Most of the sidequests in the game come in two kinds, fetch quests and battle quests. Fetch quests are mostly boring and unnecessary. Most involve you wandering around a very large, barren world that while each looks unique and interesting, they’re all very... well, barren. It’s very much like the Great Sea from Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker only there’s less to do and navigation is much more difficult due to the often rocky and mountainous terrain that requires you to either drive around it or inch your way up the not as steep parts so you can slide down the other side. Battle quests are for the most part are like the main missions only they involve only one battle and almost no level to traverse through beyond the barren worlds of the fetch quests. The battle quests sometimes offer some interesting back/sidestory to the main so they’re usually worth it to do, but I wouldn’t recommend doing any of the fetch quests since they’re totally boring and don’t pay out very much. The Citadel, the “home base” world, has its own kind of sidequests which come down to you running errands for various characters you meet. Because you can quickly travel between areas on the Citadel, they’re not as annoying, but again, they don’t pay out much and consume time that might be better spent playing through the more interesting main story.
For the most part the graphics look good. Environments are nicely detailed and varied. Character models look good and the character creation is pretty easy to use and get a decent looking character. The one thing that I found weird was that they put a grain filter over the screen so everything has a slightly gritty look to it. I assume this is an attempt to make the graphics look more realistic but I’m not sure how a grain filter would achieve that. If it ends up bothering you there is an option to turn it off so it’s not that big a deal.
The voice acting for the game is good and feels natural. It felt somewhat strange how every race speaks English, but the developers make up for it by giving some races unique and often times humorous dialects. The soundtrack fits the game very well but it doesn’t really stand out as a work of genius. For the most part it’s there to fill the silence and cast a “spacy” feel with its synthesizer centered music.
Overall, Mass Effect is worth a look. If you’re into the whole space-shooter genre, which all the “hardcore” games seem to be these days, you’ll find much to like in Mass Effect.