Initially released in November 2007 on Xbox 360, Mass Effect is a single-player sci-fi action RPG developed by Bioware studios. The game was later released on the PS3 and PC.
Bioware also released a remaster of the entire Mass Effect Trilogy called: Mass Effect Legendary Edition in May 2021. I wrote this review based on my experience on PS3 and Xbox 360 and updated it after playing the Legendary Edition.
Epic story, incredible atmosphere, great gameplay, and fantastic graphics, Mass Effect received a warm welcome from journalists and gamers (91 on Metacritic) in 2007.
But did it pass the test of time? Is it still worth playing Mass Effect so many years later? Answer in this late review.
Discover the Mass Effect Universe
From what we know, the Universe is infinitely big. And while we haven’t found any intelligent life-form, let alone any proof of life anywhere else but on Earth at this time, we’re desperately trying to answer the following question: are we alone in the universe? Well, Mass Effect provides an interesting sci-fi vision of what could be (or what many of us would like to be).
In the year 2148, we – humanity – have found the relics of an ancient civilization on the planet Mars. Those findings enabled a technological leap that soon led to a capital discovery for humanity; the Mass Effect, a way to warp space and time and, therefore, allow fast travel across our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The game itself begins much later, in 2183. Humanity is the latest sentient-developed species to have joined the intergalactic community. We are young, inexperienced, and with everything to prove to gain the trust of the well-established species — Quarians, Asaris, Turians, and Krogans — who have been ruling our galaxy for quite some time. To them, we are nothing but another alien race to govern and educate.
To make things worse, humanity went to war with the first species they discovered during what is now called the First Contact War with the Turians in 2157.
Create your Commander Shepard
In Mass Effect, you play as Shepard, a Commander of the Alliance – the human military.
One thing I like about Mass Effect is that you can either play with a pre-made — Male or female — character or create yours from scratch.
If you decide to create your character from scratch, you get to decide if you want to play as a male or a female. This is a personalization component that I found was missing from a title like Fable Anniversary, released seven years later, in 2014.
Once you select a gender, you can further personalize the appearance of your Shepard (ethnicity, haircut, signs of age, eyes, chin, nose, makeup, scars, etc.).
Another important detail will be your Shepard’s background; you’ll have to select a significant milestone that contributed to forging who you are, as well as where your Shepard grew up.
While this won’t affect your playthrough, it will unlock some conversations and small quests, as well as change how some NPCs interact with you.
Most importantly, you’ll have to select a military specialization.
You can choose between 6 specializations, which will really affect the way you’ll experience the game.
For instance, Soldiers will heavily rely on their weapons and be overall more resistant to damage, Adepts (see them as Mages from the future) will rely on their telekinetic abilities to get rid of enemies, and Engineers on advanced technologies to break through enemy lines.
For the most accessible experience, I recommend playing as a Soldier.
For more fun and challenging playthrough, try starting as an Adept. Combats might be more difficult at first, but you will enjoy unleashing your powers once you master the game’s mechanics. Or at least, I did.
So, what is Mass Effect about?
The game opens as you’re asked to investigate the remains of a Prothean relic recently discovered on Eden Prime, a human colony.
Protheans are a species we know very little about, except for the fact that they went extinct 50 000 years ago, leaving very few traces of their existence in the Milky Way. Before you get there, the settlement is attacked by a gigantic spaceship. A coincidence? Maybe not.
You’ll quickly learn that the Prothean relic hides a secret so powerful that it could change the destiny of the entire galaxy.
Betrayals and backstabbings are legions in the world of Mass Effect.
I can’t say much more without revealing important parts of the main plot. Just know that you’ll get to travel to all corners of our galaxy and explore countless planets to complete your mission.
Gameplay: Is Mass Effect still holding up?
From a modern perspective, let’s just say that Mass Effect’s gameplay is not impressive.
Without being as terrible as Leon in Resident Evil 4, Shepard is heavy, and moving around with him/her is not smooth.
For instance, simple actions such as getting to cover behind a wall feel forced; there’s no button to activate the cover, so you’ll have to walk with insistence towards walls to get to cover during fights.
It works, but it’s not as easy as you would expect any recent games to be. But then again, let’s not forget that we’re talking about a game released in 2007.
If you’ve never played previous generation video games, you might get irritated fast. If you’re willing to accept and overlook the game’s evident signs of age, you’ll be fine.
What was great in 2007 ≠ Great today
Have you played Mass Effect Andromeda? If you have, you can say whatever you want about its plot, but its gameplay was pretty sweet. Well, don’t expect gunfights to be as epic here. First, you’ll have to pause the game to switch weapons or use your powers.
Another essential element to mention about Mass Effect is the A.I; it’s far from being impressive. Enemies will rarely surprise you. They will either rush towards you or shoot from afar while taking cover if they can.
Six classes and as many gameplay variations
What’s interesting in Mass Effect is that each specialization favors a specific approach when in the battle.
As I mentioned earlier, soldiers can use all sorts of guns, from pistol to assault rifle, technicians are great with … advanced technologies, and adepts have out-of-this-world powers.
Note that, while soldiers can master all sorts of weapons and wear the heaviest armors, other specializations can’t. For instance, an adept will only learn to use one weapon and only wear light armor.
Up to LVL. 60
As in any other Role-Playing game, you’ll earn Experience Points as you defeat enemies and complete quests.
Each level up will be an opportunity to spend skills points to grow your skills.
Unlike more recent action games with a role-playing component, such as the latest Assassin’s Creed titles, the way you attribute those points matters as you won’t be able to master all abilities, even when reaching the highest level.
This means that you’ll have to think twice before attributing your talent points at each level to train a powerful yet flawless fighter.
Manage your teammates
When leveling up, so will your teammates. You will also have to attribute skill points to them.
Having said that, I can say that you shouldn’t count on your teammates to change the course of battles. You order them to go places or use specific abilities, but they are pretty useless otherwise. I, for instance, often relied on automated level-up for my teammates to speed up the process (you can activate it in the options menu).
A ton of side quests to complete and planets to explore (but…)
Like any good RPG, Mass Effect has a fair share of side quests to complete. From solving family drama to freeing hostages on the other end of the Milky Way, Mass Effect’s side quests are pretty diverse.
Explore many planets
As you take control of the Normandy, your spaceship, you’ll be able to explore star clusters all across the galaxy.
The best part is that each star cluster contains at least one system, which in turn includes one planet to explore. This alone is amazing as each world looks unique.
But that’s only in appearance. In reality, the planets you’ll be exploring during side quests all look alike: Empty, just with a different skin.
Except for a different look, all planets offer the same challenges; collect artifacts and attack outposts. And here again, you might get irritated by the lack of diversity. There are only three types of structures on those exoplanets:
- Underground labs
- And prefab looking outposts
And there’s more. On the inside, all structures look the same, regardless of the quest, or location. Really, except for some boxes and tables being placed differently, you’ll feel like you’re simply visiting the same buildings.
Your appreciation of the side quests will depend on your ability to forgive BioWare for not investing more time in creating unique structures. The eternal ‘quantity vs. quantity’ question, am I right?
Having said all this, having a chance to look at Earth from the Moon is special!
Meet your new best friend: the Mako
It’s impossible to talk about the first Mass Effect without mentioning the Mako. The Mako is the vehicle that you’ll use to explore alien worlds (see screenshots above).
The Mako is equipped with a heavy machine gun, can fire rockets, and will become your best asset to get rid of armored enemies.
But it also has one major problem.
It drives alright on flat surfaces (the controls are similar to those of the Warthog in Halo), but things get complicated on bumpy surfaces. Bioware developers made the Mako extremely light, and occasional collision bugs might send you up in the air for absolutely no valid reason (note that the vehicle’s weight and behavior are always the same, regardless of the planet and its gravity). While not convenient, you’ll get used to it.
99 % of the time, it actually won’t be a problem. But, it might become annoying when crossing bridges or driving on sharp edges during some of the main missions. Dying in the Mako means having to go back to your last save (manual or automated).
A galaxy with half a billion bugs
Collision bugs, freezes, or textures not loading, you name it, Mass Effect can do it.
Without being as flawed as a Cyberpunk 2077 on day one, it’s almost impossible to beat Mass Effect without experiencing a couple of bugs that might require a hard reboot to be fixed.
By the way, is Mass Effect an open world?
No, it’s not. The Milky Way galaxy sure is a big place and offers a vast playground, but Mass Effect isn’t an Open World.
Personalize and upgrade your equipment
If you are to explore and save the galaxy, you might as well look good while doing it.
You’ll have the opportunity to wear many different-looking armors, from light to heavy armor, based on your specialization and abilities. Of course, not all armors offer the same protection, and you might have to trade your good looks for higher protection against some enemies.
To see the end of the game, you will also need to upgrade your weapons with various mods. The challenge with mods is to find the right balance between precision, damage, and heat generation.
In Mass Effect, you need to monitor your weapons’ heat generation. You don’t use bullets and can fire as long as your weapon doesn’t overheat.
I also need to mention that managing items is a nightmare, at least on the console version. First, you cannot carry more than 150 items at once. When you reach that limit, you’ll be forced to destroy all newly added items (which can be very painful when you get your hands of premium gear).
You can either sell the items you don’t need or turn them into Omnigel. You can then use Omnigel to repair your Mako or bypass doors and safes.
Interesting crew and stories to explore
Enough ranting for now.
One great thing about Mass Effect is its universe and the stories it tells to the player. For instance, your teammates all have exciting stories that you can explore if you take the time to speak to them in between missions.
You can, of course, solely focus on the main mission and beat the game in 10-15 hours (don’t do that), but you’ll miss out on so much if you don’t take the time to chat with your teammates, learn from their struggles, and gain their trust.
You’ll be able to grow your team with six characters, all more interesting than the other – if you take the time to explore their world. Play your cards right, and you’ll even be able to engage some of your teammates romantically.
The illusion of choices
Each discussion with NPCs will open choices. The way you handle conversations will affect your alignment. You can either be good or bad.
The addition of an alignment factor is interesting, but I find that choices don’t really affect anything other than your own perception of yourself.
What’s more, except for some rare occasions, your choices won’t affect the course of the game. Let’s say that the game gives you the illusion that it does when, in reality, you’re powerless against the course of things.
Count 20-25 hours to beat the game
Mass Effect won’t keep you busy for more than 20-25 hours if you take the time to do all the side quests. Having said that, it does offer an interesting re-playability.
First, you can start a New Game + with an existing character once you’ve completed the adventure the first time. And, the most curious players out there will most likely want to complete the game using a different specialization.
What’s the best place to play Mass Effect?
If we count the PC aside (sharper graphics and countless mods), the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are pretty much equal. I’ve had the chance to complete playthroughs on both consoles and didn’t notice any difference.
Note that the title is fully compatible with the Xbox One and benefits from a slight performance boost that results in a more stable framerate on Xbox One X and Xbox Series X. On Xbox One X, you’ll get to enjoy an average of 25-30 FPS, when the PS3 and Xbox 360 will often drop to 15 FPS when in combat or during cutscenes.
What about the 2021 remaster? Is it worth buying? 🤔
So, what’s new in Mass Effect Legendary Edition?
In May 2021, BioWare released a remaster of the Mass Effect Trilogy. It means that you can now play all three Mass Effect titles with upgraded graphics and a (much more) stable frame rate.
(Up to) 4K Graphics
Mass Effect has never looked better. While the original title was already praised for its looks in 2007, it does show its age today.
See for yourself on those comparison screenshots:
Overall, everything looks a LOT better and credible.
On another note, I was extremely positively surprised to see how much more detailed uncharted worlds look and feel. In the OG title, uncharted worlds felt like empty rocks.
The remaster, its new textures, and lighting effects make each world more exciting to visit (in appearance only, planets are still empty, and strongholds still look almost identical).
A much more stable framerate
Besides the visual update, Mass Effect is now a lot more stable, with occasional FPS drops here and there – but it’s nothing in comparison to the original game.
Here’s what you can expect, depending on the machine you play from.
Base Xbox One and PlayStation 4
- Quality mode: 1080p, 30 FPS
- Performance mode: 1080p, 60 FPS
Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro
- Quality mode: 4K, 30 FPS
- Performance mode: 1440p, 60 FPS
Xbox Series S
- Quality mode: 1440p, 30 FPS
- Performance mode: 1440p, 60 FPS
- Quality mode: 4K, 60 FPS
- Performance mode: 1440p, 120 FPS
Xbox Series X
- Quality mode: 4K, 60 FPS
- Performance mode: 1440p, 60 FPS
Facelifted menus and improved inventory management
All in all, menus look the same, but they have received a much-welcomed facelift.
Other than thinner fonts and lines, what’s a lot more interesting, menu-wise, is the new inventory management (new might be an exaggeration here).
Managing the inventory in the first Mass Effect was an absolute pain. The remastered version’s inventory management isn’t much better, but it makes it possible to mark items and upgrades as junk so that you can sell or salvage all the unwanted things you carry at once, instead of doing it one by one.
A small addition that has a big impact.
Introducing ‘Legendary levels‘
You can pick between the Classic Mode and the Legendary Mode.
To offer a similar leveling-up experience throughout the three games included in the Legendary Edition, BioWare added an optional mode to scale down the number of levels from 60 to 30.
It doesn’t change anything in the progression of the game. You’ll level up left often, but get twice as many skill points to attribute when you do.
Shorter loading times
Loading times are a lot shorter in the Legendary Edition than in the original game.
For instance, in the original title, elevators were used as a way to hide loading times in between areas, and Bioware had added elevator dialogues to keep the players busy. In the Legendary Edition remaster, loading times are so much faster you can now skip the chatter to end the loading.
When some loading and elevator rides could sometimes reach 30 seconds, this is much appreciated.
Controls feel a lot better
Don’t get me wrong, Shepard still feels a little stiff, but moving him or her feels a lot nicer than before.
First, you can now sprint whenever, and not only when in combat.
On another note, combats also feel a lot nicer. Weapons somehow feel heavier, more powerful, and they sound much more credible. Talking about weapons, you don’t have to choose a soldier to use and aim with all weapons. As an Adept, for instance, you will only be able to improve your skills with pistols, but you’ll still be able to use all other weapons and deal a great deal of damage with them.
Upgraded Mako controls
The Mako also received upgrades:
- It’s heavier (and, therefore, less volatile).
- Its machine gun and cannon sound more credible.
- It now has speed boost thrusters.
- It’s more resistant to damage.
Note that, if you were allergic to the Mako’s controls, you might still not be a fan. However, the latest additions make it much nicer to maneuver.
Fixed trophies and achievements
More importantly, trophies make a lot more sense.
In the original Mass Effect, the Ally trophies and achievements were a real pain. It meant that you have to complete most of the mission with a specific crew member. From experience, you’d sometimes finish 100 % of the game’s mission (and side missions) with that character … and never unlock the trophy/achievement.
The Legendary Edition includes similar challenges, but in a much more defined way and you only need to complete 5 missions with each crew member in your team to unlock them.
Legendary Edition is everything but a lazy remaster
Let’s not forget that this isn’t a remake, so the controls still feel heavier than in any other recent games, and there are still odd collision bugs here and there. But, it’s a great remaster. For instance, compared to Resident Evil 4 HD, and MGS2 HD – which don’t add anything other than sharper graphics – this remaster actually adds more to the original title with tiny additions that make everything a tad more current.
Verdict: good buy, or goodbye?
If you’re looking for a modern Action RPG, I’m not sure Mass Effect is the right fit for you. Its gameplay aged a lot—even the Legendary Edition’s—, and the amount of duplicated assets might affect your overall appreciation of the game.
If, however, you’re a big dreamer and like anything space-related, you will love discovering the Mass Effect series.
Sure, the game bears evident signs of age and doesn’t play as smoothly as more recent games, but it is still damn good. If you’re just after a great story and don’t care so much for performance, you can even find the original 2007 version for less than 10 bucks. If however, you want a more current experience, the Legendary Edition and its three extraordinary games shouldn’t disappoint you either.