So a lot was made about Mass Effect's storyline and the freedom it offers the player. I was looking forward to a vast suite of options, as well as deep and involved characters. Was I disappointed? Well, I'm sorry to do this, but I'm going to have to be cowardly and say 'kind of'.
Sometimes, it's the simplest of things that can work incredibly well. During character creation you're asked to pick a particular background and a formative experience in your upbringing. Then, once you start the game, you are privy to a short conversation between a couple of mysterious fellows discussing your suitability for some mission or other and they make references to the background you've created. Such a simple thing, yet blindingly effective at sucking you in to the world.
Speaking of which, there is a whole lot of world here to discover. Alien races, technology, history, background on planets, and so on. None of this is required reading, and it's introduced to you at a reasonable pace, although it's really more than is strictly necessary.
I have three major gripes with Mass Effect. The highfalutin story of which so much has been made is really not all that amazing. I mean, it's okay by videogame standards, but why are we still judging these things by different standards to books or movies? It's time for better writing throughout the genre. There really arenâ€™t any mind-blowing twists or even particularly complex characters (other than your own). I suppose it's a step up from Doom, but I still crave more and better.
Power creep is a big problem. While the game starts out with a pretty balanced combat system, by the latter half of the game there's not much that you can't solve with a sniper rifle and a smile. The fancy new equipment that makes such awesomeness possible is delivered to you in an almost unimaginably dull manner, and the bad guys don't seem to power up in accordance with the loot they spawn. Loot is a really big part of any RPG, and dropping the ball on it is enough to ruin an otherwise good game.
The last thing though had me screaming flecks of irate spittle over anyone who'd listen: There are, at my best estimate, four maps in this game. Lots and lots of sub-quests to keep you busy, it's true, but each and EVERY ONE of them will take place on one of these four maps. Over and over again. You'll learn the layouts back to front, and there are never any surprises. Why? Did they run out of time?
Despite these gripes, it's a pretty good game. The main plot is significantly more interesting than the side quests, and some of your interaction with the NPCs can beâ€¦ well, let's just say somewhat unusual territory for a videogame. I can't help but feel that the negatives just outweigh the positives.