Friday, February 18, 2011

Shepard Begins

Given how remarkable an experience the action-RPG Mass Effect 2 was, the player who may want to delve deeper into Bioware's universe is likely to pick up a copy of the original Mass Effect, as expectation for the third chapter rises. ME1 may initially be unwelcoming due to the seemingly demanding combat. Yet, as it is customary in the RPG tradition, the character attributes need to be built up, and the game slowly but surely begins to unravel before the player soon thereafter.

ME1 chronicles Commander Shepard's first steps as a Spectre, the tension with the Citadel Council, and the fight against the robotic Geth, led by Saren, the turian, with some, well, rather strong allies. It is very much an origin story, hinting at parts of the backstory which are fleshed out in the sequel. The end result is reminiscent of Star Wars: A New Hope, in that a fresh character like Luke (or Solo, depending on how you play) learns the ropes and how to interact with the team.

Having read the Mass Effect: Redemption comic book beforehand, it was apparent how important a character was Liara, the asari. She's arguably the most interesting team member in ME1 and it is partly through her that we learn that humans are regarded as the bullies of the galaxy. As for the length, while the main adventure is contained in only one disc, it is indeed massive. One surprising aspect is just how much coherent backstory there is, which is exemplified by the game's Codex, as well as various spinoff novels.

It's interesting to note how well Bioware performs at the so-called Bechdel, or female presence, test. Not only can the main character be a female, the developer seems to depict a conservative and a liberal female character clashing against each other on both episodes so far. This speaks volumes on how detailed the series is. The game also features one of the toughest puzzles in gaming history.

The game may offer wonderful setpieces and adecuate combat, but it truly shines during character interaction. The squad characters are well fleshed out, kudos to Bioware's writers. From Kaidan, Tali, Liara, Garrus, Ashley, all the way up to Wrex, each character brings a powerful backstory which further deepens the mythology. The themes which later become preponderant in the sequels are hinted at here; the visit to Ilos, once inhabited by the ancient Protean race, makes for a great gaming moment.

I got the good fortune of getting the Platinum Hits edition of the game, which comes packed with documentaries and concept art, which go a long way into showing just how much effort it took to bring this world to life. The game's save file can be imported into ME2, which is likely to make me replay said game, and I don't mind it one bit. Bioware's releases, and this game series in particular, almost single-handedly brings hope to the emotionally arid and trigger-happy current generation of gaming.