Mass Appeal: Mass Effect Previewed

Gamers all over the world know that Canadian RPG developer BioWare has a reputation for creating some of the best RPGs around. As the creators of beloved classics like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, BioWare has proven time and again that they know how to create deep game play experiences, and millions of fans await their next offering with bated breath. And for good reason… Bioware’s upcoming action RPG Mass Effect appears to be the developer’s most ambitious project ever.

BioWare titles have always been deep and satisfying affairs, but graphical quality has generally played second fiddle to both narrative and game play. The graphics have never been bad; mind you, just not the main attraction. Until now, that is. Judging from screenshots and videos from the Mass Effect Website, one can easily place Mass Effect toe to toe with the best looking games on the Xbox 360. The characters’ faces plausibly convey a wide variety of emotions, environmental designs are dramatic and varied, and special effects permit spectacles impossible on last-gen hardware. Finally the visuals appear to be on par with the game play.

See the Difference

And speaking of game play, Mass Effect looks to expand upon BioWare’s tradition of excellence in terms of how players control the characters. The majority of BioWare games have been turn-based in nature, often requiring players to pause the game mid-battle and queue up moves for their party members. BioWare experimented with a more hands on action oriented approach with their last release Jade Empire, which featured real time combat and took emphasis off of party management, indicating that the team was interested with expanding upon its turn-based roots.

For Mass Effect, BioWare has seamlessly blended their traditional turn based combat mechanics with real time third person shooter action producing an experience that should appeal to fans of both tactical shooters and RPGs alike. For the first time in a BioWare game, players will aim their ranged attacks using an over the shoulder view, similar to Gears of War. If things get hairy, players will be able to pause the game mid-battle and queue up a list of actions they would like their party members to perform, or simply let the AI control their squad mates if they just wish to focus on controlling the games protagonist, Commander Shepherd.

Conversing with NPCs has always played a big part in BioWare RPGs, and has traditionally consisted of a player choosing one of several text-based replies each with their own consequences. Although it worked well, your character didn’t actually vocalize the reply you selected, and as a result the games weren’t as immersive as they could have been. For Mass Effect, you now chose between different emotional tones (mean or kind, for example) instead of the variety of written dialogue choices. Upon selecting a desired tone for your response, Shepherd will reply appropriately and audibly, making the game have that cinematic feel lacking in many RPGs. Adding another layer of depth to this new emotive conversational system, you can choose to interrupt a character by making your choice while the NPC is in mid-sentence, effecting their reaction and producing a wider variety of reactions. The result is one of the most fluid and immersive conversation schemes ever created fore a video game.

Instead of choosing Characters from a fixed set of choices, as was the case with every BioWare game prior to Mass Effect, players will have complete control over their appearance using elaborate character creation tools similar to those found in games such as The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. This level of personalization also applies to the player’s ability to alter their land rover, called the MAKO, which can be deployed to the surface of the many planets you will be visiting in your adventure. By building or purchasing different equipment, BioWare promises you will be able to upgrade your rover to suit a wide variety of circumstances making the MAKO more like another member of your crew than just another way to get from point A to point B.

As a commander of a space ship, players will be given the opportunity to explore areas of space off the beaten path of the game’s main adventure, and although BioWare has yet to confirm the total number of ancillary quests, they promise that there will be plenty. You can ignore the main adventure altogether and wander the galaxy stirring up trouble or saving entire civilizations at your discretion. There are consequences for your actions, however. Since you are playing as the first humans to travel on an interstellar level, you will be an ambassador of sorts. As such your actions will determine the future relationships between humanity and any new alien species you should encounter, and since Mass Effect is slated to be the first game in an epic trilogy, the consequences of your decisions could conceivably echo throughout multiple games.

Tentatively scheduled for release this coming September, Mass Effect will likely be released within mere weeks of heavy hitters Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. With so many high profile releases scheduled in such a short time, the problem isn’t which game to get, but how to find the time and money to play them all.


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