I'm a Bioware fan. They really pay attention to storytelling and have some very awesome games under their belt. Mass Effect is definitely one of the awesome games, but it's not without some frustration.
The in-game visuals are ugly at their default setting, but if you turn off the "Film Grain" effect, everything gets better. I'm not sure why they made that effect enabled by default. I wish there was an anti-aliasing feature to make everything smoother, but you can run the game in windowed mode, which is a major bonus when you like to have Skype or YouTube running.
The menu system is functional and pretty. The start screen is gorgeous, and the music you hear during the start menu is simply my favorite music in the game. It is soothing music that you might end up falling asleep to.
Unfortunately, the 3D sound system is buggy. When the system uses hardware-accelerated audio (enabled by default), the background noises get extremely loud, making the voices extremely hard to make out. Subtitles don't like to show up until the characters finish speaking. This buggy sound system was a major turn-off to me, but when I turned off the "hardware audio" setting (using the config tool), the noise problems were fixed. This issue seems to be related to hardware accelerated audio in general, not just Mass Effect. (Mirror's Edge has similar problems.) The game shouldn't have such technologies enabled by default, yet it does. If you can get the bugs worked out (or play the Xbox 360 version), the game's audio is top quality. The music is magnificent, and the voices are simply top notch. I sometimes felt like I was watching a show on Syfy.
The character animations are nothing amazing, but the character models are nice. I think the main character looks awful when he walks, but he looks okay when he does anything else. The main character's mouth can get messed up when he speaks, because his face is dynamically created at the start of the game, much like something you'd see in Oblivion or Fallout 3. Keep in mind that most games don't give customized characters as much animation as seen in Mass Effect. Dialogue is much more interesting than anything I saw in any other Bioware game. I suspect the sequel is even better.
This game has a lot of shooting in it, yet even if you like shooters, this is not at all a shooter at heart. In fact, if you play expecting a shooter, you'll be disappointed, because the shooter elements are not well polished. You have the Gears of War-style cover system, but you can't control where and how you hide very well. I discovered that when you have your gun out, you can run faster, but you also feel obligated to take cover at anything you happen to walk next to. You have to put your gun away to move more easily, but you can't move as fast without your gun.
When aiming your gun, you will often miss your target, even if you have perfect aim. This is because the game is a RPG at heart. Stats are what matters most. In essence, you are playing combination of squad-based shooter and RPG elements, and if you are prepared for a RPG with some strategic combat elements, you will feel right at home during battles.
Battles are only a small portion of this game. They are not the focus of this game, and you should not get the game because of them. ME is about interactive dialogue and making choices to alter the story. It's about exploring an interesting world full of interesting characters and creatures, learning what each character is like and why everything is the way it is. To put it mildly, Mass Effect is an interactive novel.
That said, you have a lot to explore, and there's a lot to find off the beaten path. You also have a lot of items to unlock and a fair amount of stats to level-up. You will be given a lot of choices throughout the game, and depending on what you do, the story will change. This fits the title, Mass Effect, in my opinion, and while the story is focused on making decisions, the primary plot is pretty straight-forward: a bad-ass alien dude goes rogue, causing bad stuff to happen, but you don't have proof, so you have to find evidence of his wrongful behavior. Obviously, I can't say anything else without ruining the story for you, but the story is very interesting.
The game was clearly designed with the low end computer in mind, so if you just barely meet the system requirements, you will still enjoy the game, if you lower the graphics options. You can also use a gamepad or joypad with this game, but the keyboard/mouse controls work well enough.
The story can be altered slightly by whatever choices you make, which is standard practice by Bioware. They like to give alternate endings in all their games. So far, my experience of ME's story has been very enjoyable, but certain gameplay and audio flaws make the game slightly less enjoyable and more of a headache. If you like Bioware's previous RPGs, Mass Effect should be a welcome addition to your game library, but I think Jade Empire should be your first choice.
Just a run-through:
- Story is long and interesting.
- Audio is superb, as long as you edit the options.
- Menu is simply awesome. (Easy to use and nice-looking.)
- Controls are hard to learn but easily customized.
- Battles are boring, but the game is focused on interactive dialogue.
- Graphics can be either pretty or ugly depending on your settings.
- Animations are usually nice but sometimes ugly.
Another thing to look for when browsing PC games is the system requirements. There are really 4 things you need to worry about: RAM or memory, processor, video card, and finally, the hard drive space. Memory can be upgraded fairly easily, and it shouldn't cost much. We recommend having at least 1GB memory, 2GB if possible. Your processor needs to be fairly modern, and a Pentium 4 probably won't cut it. We recommend a 1.8Ghz Core 2 Duo or better. Your video card should support DirectX 9 (or higher) and have a minimum of 256mb memory attached to it. We recommend 512mb or greater. Hard drive space is subjective, but we recommend having a fairly large amount of space. You could settle for as little as 40gb and be able to play most games, but we recommend having 80gb or more space to make sure you have room for multiple games at once. Most PC games don't run straight from their disc. They usually require an install process, and most modern games require around 8gb of free space to install.
PCs are the ultimate game console, because they can be upgraded, and they will never go out of style. PCs can also play most old game systems through emulators, so if you lose your Playstation, you can just play your games on your PC. You can also play classic arcade titles and have infinite coins!
A lot of people complain about having to use a mouse and keyboard to play PC games. This isn't a requirement, fortunately, and we have what we call gamepads or joypads. Yes, we can use game controllers! We can even use Xbox controllers! That said, it's not as plug-and-play as a game console, and some games simply will not work with your joypad. Fortunately, Steam tells you if games support controllers, and if your favorite game doesn't support them, you can map the controllers to keyboard and mouse controls.
Just be careful when buying PC games. Read reviews carefully. If a game gets a 1/5, don't buy it. If your PC is a cheapie, don't expect modern 3d games to work. Read the system requirements very carefully. If you don't know anything about your system, you can find help in the PC Stuff forum.