I started Mass Effect last year, but it got lost in a storm of Fallout 3 and TF2. Finally I went back to restart and finish it. It’s a great game, with reservations.
Like Jade Empire, which I loved, it has a complicated main plot, different specializations, romance, fantastic art direction, and superlative voice acting.
It’s a lot more explorable than JE– you can go all around the galaxy, and there’s an impressive amount of backstory available on everything from your squadmates to the major weapons manufacturers. The side quests are rather watery, though. (Though it’s cute that you can visit Sol.) There are also side side quests that are really dull– find X of Y macguffins.
Reservation one: it’s just. so. Star Trek. You’re a starship captain, all the sapient species have a taste for ’60s decor, and everything is washed in earnestness. (Thankfully, the world is a hell of a lot more internally consistent.) You can choose to be a “renegade” (which mostly means being arrogant, impatient, and xenophobic), but there’s nothing like the moral range (and dark humor) of Fallout 3. Some of the more corrupt choices just seem jarring… it’s like watching Capt. Kirk take bribes.
A special attraction of Bioware titles is romance, and this is definitely one of the fun parts of ME, complete with a tasteful sex scene. (Two, if you’re a bit naughty with the Asari Consort. What can I say, Ms. Cmdr. Shepard has a thing for mysterious blue aliens.)
The combat isn’t as fun as JE, though it may just be that I played it on too low a level. The biotic abilities are neat, especially once they get powered up; but combat gets a little repetitive and the energy weapons don’t feel different enough from each other. (TF2 and Fallout 3 have both spoiled me since they both excel in that area.) Inventory management also gets tedious. Merchants also seemed kind of pointless since you can get everything as loot anyway.
I almost always ended up with Liara and Garrus as squadmates, which made for reasonable balance with my weapons/biotics abilities. It seemed like a pity not to be able to use Wrex and Ashley more.
It’d be nice to have more varied gameplay, and maybe some physics or puzzles. All too many missions just involve going to point B and clicking on something, or talking to person A then B then A again.
The last couple missions are great, however: lovely environments, good fights, crawling over the broken Citadel. The game knows how to go out charging. (I have a bone to pick with the ending, though. I chose to concentrate forces on the Reaper ship. It was the biggest threat, and I figure you could always elect a new Council. But it seemed that there was no actual distinction between “concentrate on Sovereign” and “let the Council die”.)
One bit from JE that I missed: the “what happened to everyone” vignettes.