Mass Effect




Genre:   RPG – Role-Playing Game

Developer:   BioWare

Publisher:    Electronic Arts

Released:  May 28th 2008

PC Requirements:   See review below.







by Trail_Mystic


Years ago I was impressed by the story, game play and dialog of Knights of the Old Republic. When the sequel was released, everyone (including me) wanted the game to be even better. Everyone wanted to have that emotional bond with a game that had characters of depth and a storyline that kept you playing for hours. Everyone wanted to be that Jedi again; to save or to conquer.

Unfortunately, KotOR 2 -- although it did have a great story and (in some cases) even better game play than its predecessor -- came to us neutered. Lack of time and budgeting restrictions forced the developers to tie the knot too quickly and get it out of the door. We were left wanting, waiting for the fabled KotOR 3 that would never seem to materialize. Flash forward to a few years later....

I'm sure that, unlike myself, many of you have already read at least one or two of the on-line reviews about the console release of Mass Effect. I thought that, like Halo 3, the game would always be exclusive to consoles and I am a dedicated PC gamer. Even then, the Mass Effect trailers tickled my game playing nerves into a virtual frenzy. It made me attempt to justify purchasing a console for only a few games -- but I still could not do it. Then the wonderful day came when BioWare made the announcement that Mass Effect would be re-engineered for PC and would even have new content! I thought, “THAT is an instant preorder for me!” On looking back, I have to say it's one of the best game purchases I've ever made. That empty feeling created by the void left from Knights of the Old Republic 2 has finally been filled. While you may not take on the role of a Jedi in Mass Effect, your part will be equally heroic and adventure-filled in a similarly epic struggle between good and evil.


In the year 2148, Human explorers come across ancient technology hidden on Mars that will change the face of Humanity forever. Still further in the future, when that technology has been utilized and the Human race is part of an ever-expanding alliance, we begin to venture out and find that the universe is anything but empty. Unfortunately, first contact comes in the form of a war that -- it not for the intercession of a galactic ruling council -- would have brought great tragedy to our race. Thus begins the introduction of Humans to the rest of the known galaxy, and not all are enthused about it.

With the introduction of Humans into the current galactic political structure, an embassy is founded at the location of the ruling group called Citadel Station. You, along with your commanding officer and the Human ambassador, are called in front of the Council. The Council presents you with a unique opportunity -- to become part of the Council's Special Operations group known as Spectre. This is a great honor and will go a long way toward helping Human relations over all. Only the best are chosen to join the organization and, as such, you first need to be observed by an established agent. You are sent on your first mission with Spectre agent Nihlus, a Turian. Turians are the race with which Humans almost had a full-scale war until the Council intervened. Luckily, this Turian is fair-minded and looks only at your abilities, not the fact that you are Human.

When you arrive at the location of your first mission, a remote colony outpost, you find that it has been over-run with a race of synthetic beings known as the Geth, who have not appeared in this part of the galaxy for centuries. This first exposure to action in the game is also a training mission for you as the gamer. It takes you through the main game controls and gives you a small introduction of what is yet to come. Your eventual mission will be to find out why the Geth are attacking. This sounds fairly basic, but the story becomes much, much more complex.

The storyline in Mass Effect makes you feel as if you are part of a science fiction novel brought to the gaming format. The paperback novel Revelation, a prequel to the game, is available separately. My guess is that this was written either prior to or during the making of the game as a way to keep track of the detailed back story. The work put into this storyline is evident in many aspects of the game. I don't usually refer to the now overused term “epic,” so when I say this game is epic, believe it.

The main story is expansive, with truly imaginative locations, species, and complex subplots. The dialog in the game is fantastic, dealing with timely and relevant content. Those subjects or scenes responsible for the Mature rating of the game are well done, adding to the plot every bit as much as other aspects of the game. It can take up to three to five minutes or more to get though all of the information in one exchange. Subjects of conversation range from the game’s ever-expanding back story to debates on the morality and ethics of drug use and genetic engineering. There are several places in the game where your dialog selection will determine how that particular mission will end -- and even some that will change the outcome of the end game.

There is also no shortage of “quests,” referred to in this game as missions or assignments. If not reviewed on a regular basis, you will find your journal filling up with missions. “Where do I begin?” was one of the first thoughts that came to my mind when the game really picked up speed. In the words of one of the game's characters: “Embrace Eternity!” and just dive in.

Game Play, Controls and Interface

While Mass Effect is classified as an RPG (role-playing game), it also contains some elements of a Third Person Shooter. There is plenty of action and you are well equipped to handle it. Your artillery consists of an ever-increasing supply of assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles and a limited number of grenades. Even though this game makes use of these seemingly conventional weapons, the story and setting place it far outside of any conventional war or military game. This is a thought-provoking RPG in the best sense of that acronym; don't be put off by the thought of weapons battle and combat.

Throughout the game, you will find or purchase upgrades for your equipment. Upgrades for weapons include such items as better bullets and sighting gear or equipment to give the weapons better stability or make them cool faster while firing. It is important to keep track of the items that accumulate in your inventory. Make sure you and your squad have the best they can acquire, and then immediately sell or convert your excess. Keeping the quantity of items under control goes a long way in making the interface easier to understand. The inventory has a 150 item limit for you and the other members of your squad. It's easy to forget what is contained within your inventory with the distractions of so much action and story. You can end up hitting the limit just as you come across a more powerful rifle or a superior piece of armor that might end up being sacrificed because you are at the inventory's limit.

If your character has Biotic powers he will have the ability to lift, throw, crush and generally cause havoc among your enemies at a distance by using enhanced telekinesis. This is accomplished by a combination of implants and an external amplifier that can also be upgraded. These qualities also increase in potency as the character or squad member levels. The default Soldier Class does not have access to Biotics, but eventual members of your squad will, and they can be very valuable in battle.

On the subject of character class, you will have the ability at the beginning to customize both your character's class, disposition and gender. Each class has varying combat, technical and/or Biotic (telekinetic) abilities. You will also be able to modify the appearance of your character. The amount of variation available is a welcome addition, compared to the usual hair and eye color changes that were available in previous BioWare games.

Control of the squad team members is done through use of an interface that appears by pressing the space bar anytime during the game. This interface, although not intuitive at first, is worth getting to know. There are times when a good strategy of squad member placement can make all the difference. The space bar interface pauses the game and gives you a chance to place and select weapons and skills for you and your squad. The arrow keys also control basic squad commands, giving quick access when needed. Quick slots are conveniently placed in the upper left hand corner of the game. You can drag and drop abilities into the slots and engage them by hitting the respective numeric key.

Movement is accomplished using the usual W, A, S, D keys with the mouse controlling the camera and character direction when in forward motion. The camera is an extremely effective over-the-shoulder view that switches angle depending on the location. I have to applaud BioWare for this aspect of the game. Not once did I ever think about adjusting the view, except in cases where I wanted to zoom in to a target with one of my weapons -- an action that is readily available using the right mouse button. The left mouse button is used to fire your weapon and the scroll wheel allows you to select your weapon of choice on the fly.

Leveling your character is straightforward, with intuitive prompts and an interface that is easy on the eyes as you craft a warrior ready for whatever the unknown may produce. The game has the option to automatically level you, only your squad, you and your squad, or level all manually. 

With games that I perceive as possibly being a bit complex in the controls department, I will play for an hour or so at the easier settings until I have a good idea how the game will handle, then switch to a more difficult setting. Mass Effect has five difficulty settings: Casual, Normal, Veteran, Hardcore and Insanity. Insanity is unlocked only after playing a complete game through at the Hardcore level. Most experienced gamers will probably feel comfortable starting the game at Normal and then moving to Veteran if more intense game play is desired. The difficulty level can be changed anytime during the game, so if you feel yourself being overwhelmed, it should not a problem.


I experienced only a few minor bugs during the game; most were associated with character movement. In one case, my character became trapped and could not move. Luckily, I had a saved game very close to this scene, as even restarting the game did not free him. In another case, one of my squad members stopped responding to the “follow” key command and I had to shut the game down and restart to get him to move. Occasionally, the inventory would freeze when attempting to upgrade or convert, but switching back and forth between items or squad members appears to take care of the issue.


There are some truly intense and wonderfully imaginative scenes throughout the game. The composition and variety of alien species is well done. Only once in the entire game did I feel that the graphical subject matter was below the standard set by the rest of the game. Overall, the backlighting, character movement, backgrounds and action graphics are outstanding.

Sound and Voice Acting

Excellent. There were several recognizable actors voicing characters for the game, such as Keith David and Marina Sirtis. Checking the Mass Effect listing on the Internet Movie Database, I was impressed by the number of actors engaged to do voice overs. As for the music, again, excellent. All pieces fit the scenes perfectly and added that much more to the sense of immersion. Sound effects -- gunfire, ship engines, and alien machinery -- were equally impressive. The one item missing in the gaming machine I used for this review is a good sound card. While the motherboard has excellent on-board sound, there were a few times when I could tell that its capabilities were being strained by what the game was feeding it. No fault of the game at all; just gives you an idea how much the designers put into it.

Summary and Conclusion

While the game is not perfect and has its moments of oddly placed dialog and the occasional glitch, the only other adjectives I can use in reference to Mass Effect are immersive, imaginative, expansive and just plain fun. BioWare has a potential dynasty on their hands with this game if a game editor is ever made available. Apparently, additional content is already up on BioWare's website. Due to the ability to select different Character Classes, Dispositions, and the multiple directions that decision and dialog trees can run, re-playability is high for this game.

While I know that there are some political issues surrounding the game’s copy protection, and the need to have an Internet connection the first time you start the game (which for me was a seamless process), I cannot help but wholeheartedly recommend this game. It is definitely worth it.

Score: A+

Game Requirements


Internet Connection: Required

Operating System: XP or Vista

Processor: 2.4GHz Intel or 2GHz AMD

Memory: 1GB RAM for XP, 2GB for Vista

Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 6 series (6800 GT or better), ATI X1300 XT or better (X1550, X1600 Pro and HD2400 are below minimum system requirements)

Hard Drive Space: English 12GB, French, Italian, German 14GB

Sound Card: 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers (I will add “or comparable on board sound”)


Internet Connection: Required

Operating System: XP or Vista

Processor: 2.6GHz Intel or 2.4GHz AMD

Memory: 2GB RAM

Video Card: ATI X1800 XL series or higher, NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX or higher

Hard Drive Space: English 12GB, French, Italian, German 14GB

Sound Card: 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers – 5.1 sound card recommended

 June 2008

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