I finally got around to Mass Effect. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This is a game where so much went so right that it’s to forgive a few things that went horribly wrong.
First, the good. The elements of the conversation system – the quality of the voice acting, the fluid interjections from your companions, the ability to pick your responses before the NPC has finished talking to you so that the conversation flows (and so that you can fast forward if you want to), the consistent placement of options on the dialogue wheel – all combine to form something that’s lightweight and simple to use, and yet at the same time far more involving than conventional systems.
Another aspect that worked, that I think is underappreciated, is that, on the core plot planets, they got the balance between combat and exploration and conversation right. Noveria and Feros (the first two major plot planets) are a little conversation-heavy up front (which is especially unfortunate if you’re coming right off of spending a bunch of time at the Citadel) but overall it felt like they found the right balance and pacing.
I was also satisfied with the overall scale and scope of the plot. I know there were some bits of core plot that were cut, but I thought the main story arc was just right in terms of length. I’ve played a bunch of Western-style RPGs (including all the Bioware ones) and this is one of the only ones that I’ve actually finished. My most recent failure was The Witcher. It’s a really solid game, but I got so bogged down in the middle that I’ll probably never go back and finish it. In Mass Effect, on the other hand, we get a full, compact story arc told within this beautiful and deep universe.
And speaking of universe, what a wonderful job they did creating aliens who felt alien, and yet at the same time were readily relatable. There were enough species for the game to feel diverse without there being so many that it was impossible to keep track. Best of all, they felt like individuals, rather than falling into the Star Trek trap of each species being defined by one or two prominent character traits.
Next time: The bad of Mass Effect, and some thoughts on how to fix it.