I like the term “space-opera” when we refer to a great space epic, of which, in video games, we have enjoyed not a few: Halo, Dead Space, Elite: Dangerous… space-operas are plentiful but only one is Mass Effect. This is where the adventure of commander Shepard begins.
Moving away from the rigid rules of JRPGs, Canadians had already shown that an RPG doesn’t have to equal complicated turn-based combat. They made a more agile RPG, more fluid and that didn’t lose the essence of what the role should be; create and define a character. Shape your identity and shape your destiny.
With unforgettable titles to their credit such as Baldur’s Gate or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It was with their previous title, Jade Empire (developed for Microsoft’s first Xbox), where they established some bases and mechanics that they were already beginning to glimpse what would come next.
With a long and complicated development, what finally reached our Xbox 360 (at that time Bioware was still Microsoft’s “second party” to pass, years later, under the shelter of Electronic Arts) in November 2007 it was the culmination of all those ideas. That concept that Canadians, led by their “child prodigy” Casey Hudson, had been brooding over for years. An spectacular, fluid rpg, where the story was important, with great characters and well-constructed dialogues.
Commander Shepard: A Living Legend
The premise of Mass Effect follows the classic guidelines of the role and yet presents very interesting news. For starters, our character: Shepard. The commander of the Alliance who will star in the epic is not like in many games of this type a nobody who begins the adventure with rags and a stick as a weapon… No. Shepard is already a living legend when the game begins, with an interesting past that we can configure by choosing between various origins (raised in spaceships, in extra-planetary colonies or on Earth). This will have repercussions (because here everything influences everything) in your relationship with others and in many dialogues.
On the other hand, the things that made him a legend are also selectable from three possible options: the hero of an entire colony, the survivor who saved his platoon from certain death or the fearsome soldier who mercilessly slaughtered all the enemies in a bloody battle. This second choice will give us more Virtue or more Rebellion in the first and third cases respectively. And it will leave us “half and half” in the second. But it is not only for that; We’ll talk about this past that we have chosen and many characters will react according to the “fame” that precedes us.
Each bit of dialogue, in each game if we change these aspects, is different. We therefore begin to glimpse one of the first great virtues of the title. Although the main story is always the same, the game has replayability.
Welcome To Eden Prime
The story does not wait and in the first sequences we are already embarked on our first mission as commander Shepard. Here the amount of information is staggering, supported by extensive dialogues and a beautiful, comprehensive and very useful Codex. It can be overwhelming and you may miss details in your first playthrough. All this responds to a complex and very rich universe where everything is well thought out, told and designed.
From the history of humanity in the coming years to contact with the different galactic civilizations or the explanations of space travel or biotics (which is the “magic” of this universe). Everything remains coherent and credible.
As soon as the first adventure in the human colony of Eden Prime develops, the first threat, the origin of the enemy and his identity (unforgettable Saren, pure charisma) will become clear. But leaving many unknowns that wrap everything in a great mystery that we long to reveal (and that we won’t do it completely until completing the trilogy in Mass Effect 3, 2012).
We’ll be able to move freely through our ship and interact with the other characters that accompany us in the adventure through the long dialogues. Here the camera does not stay fixed looking at the character we are talking to nor does it follow the normal gameplay and “bubbles” or text windows appear… No, what we see is just like a dialogue scene in a movie: close-up, long shot, medium shot… It changes making everything seem, perhaps, like a cinematic experience.
This in 2007 I assure you was groundbreaking. Likewise, we had never seen a level of facial expressions like that back then. The characters really “perform” convincingly, which is helped by an exquisite voice acting. With the wonderful performances of Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale (Male Shepard and female Shepard) as absolute stars.
The Normandy Crew
This helps you become fond of the characters on a level that can only be compared to your favorite novels, movies, or TV series. You will love them! Garrus, Tali, Liara, Ashley, Wrex, Joker, Shepard… even though there are many, they all brim with personality and all are given their time to shine. In the second installment is where they really display all their charisma in many cases. Most of them in this first adventure have a lot of information to give about their races and cultures.
We’ll also move by land, exploring the different planets for the sidequests and main missions, aboard the MAKO; an all-terrain vehicle armed to the teeth where, we’ll look for anomalies, remains, ruins, and minerals. It’s true that the planets were a little “empty” and that the handling of the MAKO was, at least, peculiar. The beauty of the landscapes, the prodigious (for the time) lighting and the sensation of a true space explorer are formidable.
Almost everyone agrees that combat is the worst aging part. I do not agree at all; I believe that it isn’t a problem of the passage of time. It’s just outdated.
Bioware, which in the shooter genre didn’t have plenty of experience, focused largely on the third-person shooter par excellence: Gears of War. The camera on the shoulder when pointing is unmistakable. But they also opted for unique decisions in a shooter. That is why I say that it isn’t so much that “it has aged badly” but that it was already like that then. The automatic coverages, which work regularly, the absence of ammunition replaced by the overheating of the weapons… There are also things that continue to work very well, like the tactical pause we can do in the game. This tactical pause allows us to rotate the camera and point to an enemy for us to use our abilities. A tactical component that in high difficulties is almost essential to use and that gives moments of great epicity in the toughest combats.
Yes, inventory management becomes a bit cumbersome, which will make us accumulate hundreds of armors, weapons and equipment. Which we’ll have to classify, discard or sell and will make us invest a lot of playing time . In the sequel they erased all this at a stroke (they “went” a little minimalist). For me the balance was found in the third installment, with an inventory management that did not steal much time; it was very customizable to suit the user. player.
Fashion victim? No Problem
Also from the MAKO, when we are on the different planets, we’ll be able to fight, giving rise to very intense fights (especially against the fearsome “Thresher Maw”).
Another aspect where the game fails to shine is in some levels, which recycle scenery. Another thing that after the success of this installment they polished in the sequels since they logically had more budget.
And so, talking, meeting characters, exploring planets, fighting, leveling up and improving our skills and that of our companions, the absorbing and fascinating adventure will end in a flash.
It’s Your Choice, Commander…
But without a doubt the best thing Bioware did is the decision making and the consequences. Although again it won’t be until the following installments. Installments where we’ll become aware of how great is the work that they captured in this wonderful trilogy. It is no longer the important decisions; is that each dialogue, each “yes” and each “no”, each way of treating a character, will have consequences. In this first installment, in the second and in the third.
You have to replay it many times to see all the possible small (and large) possibilities. But also, with the second installment they brought us something wonderful. Something little seen before in the video game industry and even after: importing our character.
When we import our game from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, this second game will “read” our playthrough. I don’t mean the ending or the some decisions. EVERYTHING. A character that we talk to once or twice, in a small quest… when we see him in the sequel the dialogue and our encounter with him or her will change depending on what happened in the first game as commander Shepard actions affect all characters.
Of course, the story is defined from beginning to end, but the path that we travel through it’s full of options, of different ways to experience it. In our colossal adventure we can be kind, charismatic, cruel … we can fall in love or travel the journey like a lonely heart. We can lose several colleagues (and even choose in some cases not to take them with us).
The greatness of Mass Effect, almost thirteen years later, is not its wonderful, complex, coherent and rich universe. It is not its beautiful landscapes or its good graphics, which on Xbox One look especially good. In the Xbox One it’s technical flaws from the 360 era (late loading of textures, low fps) are fixed. It’s gameplay, fluid and innovative in the exploration part and somewhat rough in it’s combat mechanics. It’s characters, full of nuances, contradictions, defects and virtues.
The greatness of Mass Effect is that it transports you to an unforgettable adventure. The kind of adventure that really leaves you amazed, when you finish it, having experienced something very epic. A saga that began in this first installment in a masterful way.
The space-opera par excellence. If you haven’t discovered it yet, you are still on time to start your adventure as commander Shepard.
You can pick up Mass Effect from the Microsoft store for $19.99. Be sure to stay tuned to Generation Xbox for coverage from everything in the world of Xbox. And check out more from the Retro Rewind series here.