I made the decision that I would play through and finish the Mass Effect series this year. The first game had been sitting on my shelf for over a decade, and it always bothered me that I never got into the series. I picked up the two sequels on eBay, set up the old Xbox 360 and dove right into the world of Mass Effect.
The first thing that hit me is that this game does not run well. The games graphics are quite pleasing, but the frame rate is absolutely shocking. I’m no snob when it comes to performance but Mass Effect is like a stuttering slideshow on the Xbox 360. Loading times are also really bad, with long elevator sequences poorly disguising the transitions between areas. It’s a mess.
Combat is also not good, which is a huge problem since a large chunk of the game is focused around it. The cover system is primitive, the gunplay is clunky and your AI crew mates are pretty much useless and need to be baby sat during combat. Combine this with the aforementioned frame-rate issues and it’s a pain to endure.
The inventory management system is a chore. You’re constantly getting new weapons and armor and you must manually equip and upgrade them for each of your NPC squad mates. I found myself largely not bothering, since the AI was so useless that it didn’t seem to matter what gear I equipped them with anyway.
The game has an autosave feature that is utterly redundant. It saves so infrequently that it might as well not save at all. I quickly learnt to manually save to prevent myself from losing hours of progress.
Where the game does shine though is it’s story line, atmosphere and world building. After pushing through the technical issues I found myself really getting into the world of Mass Effect.
Each of the Alien species has their own culture and history and I enjoyed learning about the inhabitants of the world around me and the history of the larger galaxy.
The crew of the Normandy began to feel like a family, and by the end of the game I was quite connected to the characters and felt invested in the outcome of the story.
Visiting new planets was always exciting, and I enjoyed exploring, even while driving the Mako, which handles like a busted shopping cart.
Going in to Mass Effect 2 I can already see that the game has fixed all of the technical issues that plagued the first game. Many people said to skip Mass Effect 1 and go straight to 2 but I’m glad I didn’t. The payoff so far has been worth it, and I’m thoroughly enjoying visiting old locations and discovering what happened to the world after the events of Mass Effect 1.
I’m glad I finally persevered and finished this title. There were many times when I considered quitting, either because I felt bored or because the combat was frustrating, but I’m glad I didn’t. Mass Effect is a unique example of a game with a great story let down by it’s gameplay. Usually it’s the other way around.
If you’ve played Mass Effect before and were put off by the issues I listed above I recommend giving it another shot. Play through the main quest, save often and persevere. The story gets significantly more engaging as you progress and it’s definitely worth experiencing.