Mass Effect Review

Mass Effect was one of the “big three” new IP’s Microsoft has counted on, as far back as before the launch of the 360, to make their new console the clear winner this generation (I said “new,” Halo doesn’t count). The other two were Gears of War and BioShock, and look how well those turned out; both games have lea the list of awards their respective years of release. Gears took home a number of GotY wins last year, and BioShock is on the short list of games people believe have a shot a GotY 2007. Mass Effect is, at least in my mind, the third AAA promise Microsoft made to console shoppers, and now that it is out, it’s safe to say that Microsoft is three for three with their new IPs.

Mass Effect is the newest game from the revered RPG company Bioware, the people behind Jade Empire and the two Knights of The Old Republic Star Wars games for the original Xbox. While those games all hold a special place in memory as some of the more enjoyable post-16 bit RPGs, after playing Mass Effect I feel like Bioware was limited in its ability to craft the kind of RPG they wanted, simply because of the restrictions of the original Xbox hardware. With the 360’s upgrades, Bioware has created not only one of the best RPGs ever, but possibly one of the most involved, customizable and complicated games this side of World of Warcraft or EverQuest.

The game puts you in charge of a fully customizable character named… well, whatever you want. John Shepard is the default name, but I chose to name my character Vinz Clortho (anyone get the reference?). Selecting names is only the beginning; you’ll be selecting gender, a backstory, a character specialty and best of all, exactly what you want your character to look like. I was unenthused over The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion’s customization mode; all the races and faces were either completely hideous or near identical to about five others. Mass Effect uses the same ideas for character creation, except the end result doesn’t end up looking like something that lurks in an eight-year-old’s closet waiting for the light to go out.

Once you’ve got your character, get ready for the best thing to happen to space since Star Trek was cancelled. You’ll be tossed almost immediately into a burgeoning galactic war. It seems a sinfully ugly alien named Saren is after some ancient relics and has enlisted the help of a sub-human mechanical race called the Geth to help him out. Sure it sounds like, well… every single other game ever made, but trust me; what I’ve just told you is only the first half-hour of a game that could take you well over 200 hours to complete. Soon, you’ll be tossed into wars between governments and races, a love story and so many characters that you might need to take notes on who’s who.

On top of that, your decisions in the game affect everyone and everything around you. If you decide to be a jerk, your story will have a more negative, hostile streak to it. Choose to be good and you can save the entire universe. This is the first time I’ve even seen a “choices” game that isn’t a sophisticated Pick Your Own Adventure storybook. Every response, every action… everything has an impact on where the story is going and why.

I see Mass Effect the same way I see Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ or Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections;’ the stories and characters are so well-crafted, you’ll find yourself missing them long after you finish. This could possibly be the very best video game story of all time, and yes, that includes Final Fantasy VII.