It has been years since Knights of the Old Republic debuted on the original Xbox. Now, one generation later, BioWare raises the bar even higher with Mass Effect. Gone are simplistic, un-spoken lines of ‘dialogue’. Removed is the at times clunky dependency of d20 combat system. The speech system and combat system are the peanut butter and jelly of this delicious sandwich, or sammich if you prefer. Improvements from Knights of the Old Republic don’t stop there though. Sheer content alone makes Knights of the Old Republic feel like a pilot to a TV show as apposed to Mass Effect’s strong entry into trilogy territory.
Where as KotOR had lines of dialogue your created character ’spoke’ to others, Shepard takes center stage with a personality crafted by the hands of the player, even if the voice for both versions of Shepard sounds flat compared to other characters. Keith David and Seth Green give very memorable performances as Commander Anderson and the witty pilot Joker. I can only begin to imagine the lines of dialogue yet to be discovered.
While there is no strict dark side and light side dichotomy many games offer, Shepard feels more akin to the other side of the alignment table, leaning more towards Chaotic and Lawful as apposed to Good or Evil. Regardless, Shepard picks his or her words wisely, without seeming to harsh, but still sounding like a loose cannon, assuming that is the path you choose. These choices don’t have an effect on your character, allowing you a sense of freedom personality wise.
The customization of Shepard has depth as well, with options ranging from a strict military background to a simple life of a torn citizen. While most games add this just to add ‘depth’, BioWare makes sure you remember what you picked, with consistent references to Shepard’s past, although it would have been nice to see them cut of quests depending on background.
Speaking of quests, there is a fair amount, although I expected more. There are a few that stood out, and others that felt very under-developed. One of the best ones is the quest you must complete to gain access to certain specializations, depending on your class. Poor ones range to doing a quick time action event to analyze something in a certain way to simply talking a character out of working at a certain bar due to safety.
Combat is well realized, with the ability to issue complex commands to your two squad members at a moments notice. There is one major flaw in the combat is the cumbersome cover system. Sometimes it works, and other times your character stands and takes bullets without locking into an obviously nearby piece of cover. That and your squad mates AI sometimes likes to hug bullets, but that could be due to the assignment of squad command to the Xbox 360’s crappy D-Pad.
The biggest part of Mass Effect though is it’s well flushed out universe and story. The Codex feature adds novels worth of depth to even the smallest of races in the game. The team at BioWare are truely masters of their craft, creating a unique blend of art, story, and gameplay. The fact that this game is getting overlooked by shallow First-Person Shooter’s is a real shame, as depth should never be ignored.