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Sunday May 14, 2006 10:24 pm

First Impressions of Mass Effect

Mass Effect

After being completely blown away by Gears of War early in the day, I was admittedly jaded by the time I got the chance to look at Mass Effect. Space games just aren’t my thing and the endless pitch of “we’ve got the new new thing” from each product demo starts to wear thin. So when the BioWare team launched into a demo of Mass Effect, I had my guard up. Turns out Mass Effect is exactly the kind of space game I might get into. I’m a huge fan of Bethesda’s Oblivion, with open-ended questing, divergent storylines and interaction with non-player characters throughout the world. Think of the Oblivion concept as the jumping off point for Mass Effect.

The game ratchets things up a notch in several key areas. Interaction and realism in interactions with NPC entities inside the Mass Effect galaxy are at the forefront of the non-combat experience. Where Oblivion occasionally gives you a couple of approaches for talking to a character, with different outcomes depending on whether you’re a jerk, polite or manipulative; Mass Effect takes this to the next level, offering multiple conversation options for each stage of the conversation, offering more ways to succeed or fail in getting the information you need out of a conversation. Combat scenarios offer a range of complex options as well. Instead of flying solo on every mission, you’ve got two NPC teammates who either focus on whatever target you aren’t currently aiming for or can be positioned for strategic strikes on target objectives.

We’ll see how the story plays out once the game finally hits retail. The foundation synthetic beings returning every 50,000 years to purge all humanoids from the galaxy. Part of your job is to figure out why. It seems like many RPGs borrow the Tolkien end-of-days approach where the monumental quest of a few will rescue the many from the brink of eternal darkness, but it often comes off feeling contrived. The 30 minutes I spent looking at Mass Effect leave me feeling like the story line works, but you never know until you actually play.

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