Mass Effect is a role-playing, science-fiction, action video game developed by BioWare. This review will be all about the first installment of the trilogy.
In Mass Effect 1, the player controls the main protagonist, Commander Shepard. The ship the player travels across the universe on is called the SSV Normandy, otherwise referred to as the Normandy. The player is part of the Alliance military, which is a mix of aliens and humans that work together to maintain the peace within the Milky Way galaxy and explore space.
When the player begins the game they are given many options to choose from to personalize the avatar the player will control throughout the game. The first choice is a simple male or female choice, along with their first name. The first name doesn't matter that much, since the player is referred to as Shepard throughout the game.
The second choice the players are represented with is Shepard’s prehistory story. There are three options which include Spacer, Colonist, and Earthborn. Spacer says that both of Shepard’s parents were part of the Alliance military. It also states that Shepard spent his/her childhood on ships and stations as they transferred around. When Shepard was old enough he/she would join the Alliance military as well. The Colonist options says Shepard was born on Mindoir, which in a small border colony. When he/she was sixteen, slavers raided Mindoir, killing Shepard’s family and friends. Shepard was saved by an Alliance patrol and a few years later, Shepard enlisted in the military. Lastly, Earthborn means that Shepard was an orphan on Earth, who was raised on the streets. He/she escaped petty crime and underworld gangs and enlisted with the Alliance military when he/she turned eighteen. Each of these option have a unique mission or assignment catered towards them.
The third option the players have is to pick their psychological profile from sole survivor, war hero, or ruthless. If the player chooses sole survivor, that means that a previous mission went horribly wrong and Shepard was the only survivor from the unit. Since it was an extreme survival situation, Shepard had to overcome psychological stresses and physical torments that would have broken most people. The next option is war hero which states in Shepard’s early military career he/she found him/herself facing an overwhelming force from the enemies. Shepard risked his/her life to save the soldiers that were still standing and defeated the enemies against the slim odds of survival. Shepard’s bravery earned him/her medals and recognition from the Alliance. The third option is called ruthless. This mean Shepard follows one rule; get the job done. The soldiers around Shepard are wary of him/her because of his/her ruthless efficiency.
The fourth option is to choose which military specialization and set of talents Shepard will have. There are six options: soldier, engineer, adept, infiltrator, sentinel, and vanguard. Soldiers are warriors able to deal different combat situations. They get improved health, the largest selection of weapons, and, eventually, are able to wear heavy armor. Engineers are tech specialists. They can manipulate the environments with talents and repair or modify technical equipment. They can only wear light armor and have medical talents. Adepts are ultimate biotics. They can affect the physical world with the power of their mind. They can weaken their foes and protect themselves, and, like engineers, they can only wear light armor. Infiltrators are tech-savvy warriors. They have a mix of tech and combat talents and they can wear light and medium armor. They also have special training with pistols. Sentinels are able to mix tech and biotics to manipulate the environment. They can use kinetic barriers to protect teammates and they can heal with advanced medical training. Lastly, Vanguards are powerful in combat, combing adept and soldier talents. They focus on taking down enemies with brutal force, working quickly. The can wear light and medium armor and they can have specialty training in pistols and shotguns.
After all of the personality choices are finished, the player can change what Shepard physically looks like, from the head shape to facial features, they can change the skin tone, eye shape and color, jaw shape, mouth shape, nose, scars that appear on the face, and different hair styles. If Shepard is a female, the player can choose makeup and if Shepard is a male, the player can choose to have a beard. The player can also choose from preset customization options or the default settings. However, if the player decides to go with all of the default settings, Shepard will be Earthborn, a Sole Survivor, and a Soldier. If playing as male Shepard his first name will be John and female Shepard’s first name will be Jane.
The game starts out with a cutscene, telling the player about the missions they will be going on. The mission is on a planet called Eden Prime, where the player is trying to find an ancient artifact, called a Beacon, created by an alien race called Prothean.
While the player is on the Normandy, they can meet characters that will serve as members of the player’s crew. One of the main crew members is Jeff Moreau, otherwise known as Joker. He is the main pilot throughout the game. However, he is not a member that the player can choose to go on the missions with. If the player talks to Joker, he explains how he received his nickname. He has a disease called Vrolik syndrome, which causes him to have extreme brittleness in his bones, because of this he was made fun of in the academy, but he also joked about it and came out top of his class. The second main crew member on the ship, in the beginning, is named Kaidan Alenko. He is a human Sentinel, which mean he can use tech and biotics to manipulate the environment, track enemies, disable enemies, or defend the party.
During the dialogue, the player has a wheel in the middle of the screen at the bottom. This is how the player chooses whether they would like to go down a paragon or renegade path. Some options later on in the game will not be available if the player does not have enough points from either side. Paragon points refer to the choices that are more compassionate and heroic. They are indicated by the color blue. While Renegade points are more ruthless and apathetic, which are the color red.
Once the player gains control of Shepard, they will see that they now have access to the Codex and the Journal. The Codex contains all the background information that is learned throughout the game, from different location and characters to the different alien races. The Journal is the player’s quest log. It shows the missions that players pick up as well as the missions that have been completed.
The player’s dialogue wheel, as mentioned before, can also help gain information about the current situation or quests from different characters, or non-playable character (NPCs). On the left side of the wheel, there will be options to choose from to further the conversation and gain more information from the NPCs the player can talk to. The options on the lefthand side that are blue or red gain points towards paragon or renegade. Those options are only available if the player has enough points from either side.
As the player walks around the ship, he/she can talk to an older woman named Doctor Chakwas. She is the main, and only, doctor that is aboard the Normandy. She patches up the crew after they come back from a mission and she also looks after Joker, to make sure he takes all of his medication. The player can also talk to Charles Pressly. He is the navigator for the Normandy. Through the dialogue the player can have with him, his personality shows that he is more loyal to Commander Shepard than he is to the Alliance military. Along with them, the player can also talk to one of the crew members named Richard Jenkins, or Corporal Jenkins. The player can gain information about Eden Prime, or what was once Eden Prime, since he grew up there.
Once the player continues the mission, he/she meets Nihlus, the Turian spectre the crew was talking about. When they say “Turian” they are talking about the race that Nihlus is. Turians come from the planet Palaven. And “spectre” refers to the group of elite soldiers that do not fall under the Council’s rule. They are able to go under their own discretion and they have access to information that the rest of the military do not have.
The next character the player meet is name David Anderson, otherwise known as Captain Anderson. He is the one, along with Nihlus, that explains the Eden Prime missions further. This mission has more intent than what was originally known. They are looking for a Beacon that was left behind by the Prothean race, which have been long extinct by now. Nihlus and Captain Anderson also explain that Nihlus is there to evaluate Shepard’s performance in becoming the first human Spectre.
After the cutscene, the player is back in control and they are on the planet Eden Prime. They are accompanied by two soldiers, Kaiden and Jenkins. At this point the game tutorial starts and teaches the player how to aim and shoot hostile creatures. There are other controls the tutorial teaches the player as well. Eden Prime is essentially a tutorial planet, if you will.
Something the player will notice is the user interface in the bottom left corner. This shows the health of Shepard and his/her teammates. And there is a minimap in the opposite corner. The minimap does show nearby enemies indicated with small red dots.
Something else the game teaches the players is how Shepard is able crouch or stand behind objects to take cover from enemy fire. This is good for different reasons. (1) The player can get out to the line of fire and can shoot around the corner at the enemies. (2) The player’s weapons can cool down, with it shown above the player’s health. When Shepard gets hit there are blue bars that will be eliminated first. This indicates the player’s shield. After the shields are gone then the red health bar will begin to diminish. The player can heal themselves and their teammates throughout the game.
As the player reaches the end of Eden Prime they will meet another human, called Ashley Williams. When you go and talk to her she will mention the Geth. The Geth are artificial intelligences that were created by the Quarians. After the conversation, Ashley joins your team.
The player eventually makes it to the Beacon. When Shepard goes close to the Beacon, it triggers and the players see a vision of a new alien, called Reapers. This was a warning sent by researchers on Ilos, another planet. However, Shepard will not understand what is being said, since the message was specifically coded so only Prothean minds could understand it. The way the Beacon works is instead of audio playing or a video displaying, they were made to directly connect with the person’s brain.
The next thing the player will learn about will be talents, which are the skills or abilities. Each class has 12 talents, which are broken down as four starting talents and eight unlockable talents. These will depend on the class the player chose, but there are 21 in total, which are broken down into six categories; combat, weapons, armor, tech, biotic, and health.
As the player progresses through the game there will be other teammates to gain and more information to receive from different alien races and planets. The player already has two of the six teammates, who are Kaidan Alenko and Ashley Williams. The remaining four are recruited throughout the game. One of them is named Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, or Tali for short. She is a Quarian. Quarians are original from the planet Rannach but the player learns it was conquered and the race now lives on a spaceship called Migrant Fleet. The player also learns that Tali will become the mechanic genius of their crew. The next one is named Garrus Vakarian. He is a Turian from the planet Palaven. They are known for their military roles. Garrus was formerly part of C-Sec’s (Citadel Security Services) Investigation Division and later became a C-Sec officer. The third one is named Liara T’Soni. She is an Asari from the planet Thessia. She is a researcher and has dedicated her life to studying Prothean technology and culture, as well as the Prothean extinction. Along with her knowledge of Protheans, she is also well trained in using biotics. The last one is named Urdnot Wrex. He is a famed Krogan from the planet Tuchanka. Wrex is a mercenary and a bounty hunter. Tuchanka is known for its harsh environments, overabundance of vicious predators, and scarce resources. There is more to the new teammates then just having them on aboard Shepard’s ship and fighting with them. They have loyalty missions the player can choose to complete in order to have their full respect in the final battle.
The player has the choice of doing a romance route throughout the game. In the first game, there are only three options. Two of them decide on the gender the player chose at the beginning. If the player chose male, they can romance Ashley Williams. Female Shepard can romance Kaidan Alenko. Then, regardless of gender, the player can choose to romance Liara T’Soni. There is also another for a one night stand with an Asari consort named Sha’ira.
One of the main locations, and arguably the most important in Mass Effect 1 is the Citadel. The Citadel is a deep-space station that acts of the capital of the Citadel Council. The Citadel Council is the government, essentially. The Council is the ultimate authority and it passes judgment for any violations of the Citadel law, settles disputes between governments, and maintains law and order, which is often through the use of the Specters, which are the covert intelligence service. The Council is made up of one representative from each member species; Asari, who are seen as diplomats and mediators, Salarian, who gather intelligence and information, and Turian, who provide the bulk of the military and peacekeeping forces.
Throughout the game, the player also learns more about the Geth, the Reapers, indoctrination, Sovereign, and Saren. Earlier we discussed the Geth, which are the artificial intelligence created by the Quarians. They were designed to be laborers until they became sentient and questioned the Quarians. This led to a war and ultimately, the Geth won. The Reapers are a machine race of synthetic-organic starships, who are highly advanced. They reside in dark space, which is the vast space between galaxies. Indoctrination is what the Reapers use to essentially brainwash organic beings. The main mission Shepard is trying to work to complete is to expose a Turian Spectre named Saren Arterius. Sovereign is the name of his flagship. The Citadel Council does not believe Shepard when he/she explains that Saren went rogue and is working for the enemy. Eventually, all of this leads to the final battle that takes place in the Citadel against Saren.
With all this said, there is one major thing I would change. In my opinion, the player does not get much information about the paragon and renegade options in the beginning. Later on, these options will vary and give different outcomes, but only if the player gained enough points on either side of the spectrum. If the player did not gain enough points on the renegade side, for example, they will not be allowed to chose that text option. Sometimes these do make a difference, depending on the situation, they may be trying to be avoided or the character the player is trying to convince.