Mass Effect Preview - 09/01/2007

I’m going to be brutally honest. This preview is highly likely to be biased. I loved Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, with Jade Empire sharing an equally large place in my heart, so if I get a little excited when talking about a sci-fi RPG, you’ll have to forgive me.

Of course, BioWare are also responsible for such classics as Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, and have a strong place in RPG gaming history. I fully understand that RPGs are not for everyone, especially BioWare’s previous turn based ones, but I hated the genre myself until I met Knights of the Old Republic. Thankfully for the mainstream audience though, Mass Effect is all in real time.

It’s coming in as a Xbox 360 exclusive, although speculation suggests it could well end up on the PC eventually. From the movies and screenshots shown so far (see the bottom of this page for a roundup), it’s already looking like one of the best games graphically on the Xbox 360, and in the next generation altogether.

As players of BioWare’s previous games will testify, they do Sci-fi pretty damn well. Jade Empire was more mystical and tied in with the historic past of the Far East, but Kotor and many of their other games have all been drenched in special effects, gorgeous, awe inspiring scenery, and great plot lines – usually a rarity in Sci-fi games (and movies).

You take the role of the first people in the human race to join the galactic stage, and are tasked with uncovering a possible threat to all civilised life. Discovering the truth will not be the only challenge – you must spread the word, and prove it to others.

The ever-growing universe will be the scene for the game, and it sounds as though you’ll receive an intergalactic ship like in Kotor, taking you to vastly different and contrasting worlds. On this quest, a discovery will be made; that the end of the world is nigh, and you and your intrepid band are the only ones that can stop it. The really interesting thing here is that you will be exploring uncharted territories - the first humans to explore beyond the known realms, and as such, you will be greeted by vastly different receptions from vastly differing species.

BioWare state that you will be leading an elite tactical strike force across the universe, to stop an ‘entity so malevolent that it threatens to tear apart the very fibre of galactic civilization.’ As we’ve heard a lot recently, there will be morally complex situation, as in Splinter Cell (but hopefully of a greater quantity), which will not only effect the characters in game, but all life in the galaxy.

From what we’ve read, heard, and seen, it sounds as though you will be free to choose where you go, and presumably with some form of space transport. You will be able to explore an uncharted world in the game, many of which have no bearing on the main plot, and are simply side quests. Think the towns and dungeons in Oblivion, but on a worldly scale.

‘At any time during the campaign, a player can choose to explore one of these planets and have an opportunity to discover new alien life, resources, ruined civilizations and powerful technologies.’ Sounds very promising to us. (Taken from a recent BioWare press release).

The character customisation promises to be as deep as ever, with apparently photo-realistic character appearances available for choice from the offset. Like in Fable and indeed Kotor, what you do in the game will affect your appearance, and you may well end up with scars, a missing arm, and a squawky parrot on your shoulder – if you decide to be a space pirate and get your arm blown off by the space police as just one superb example from weeks of thinking (you can see why I haven’t taken up writing sci-fi novels). Vehicles and weapons will be highly upgradeable, again effecting appearance, and of course an in depth levelling system will allow you to go to town with the RPG stuff, if that’s your thing.

The combat system is set to depart from the previous turn based method. Now, you will play in a squad-based, real time system, which will allow for all the intense, third person combat you would expect from such a game. As with previous BioWare titles, you’ll be able to build up an elite squad from around the galaxy, and can employ the use of ranged weapons and covering fire, biotic powers, science-based magic, and technological powers — ‘all of which will be accompanied by amazing visual and physics effects that will add tremendous excitement and drama to the battlefield’.

The developers are particularly proud of the acting in the game. There’s a huge amount of realistic NPCs (non player characters), with top voice acting and animation promised. They’ve created a new dialogue system, which should mean each character will be a good deal more engaging than previous RPGs, and BioWare have even gone as far as to call them the first ‘digital actors’ in a video game. From the videos so far, we have to agree.

With all these actors running around keeping you interested, the world will be thriving and buoyant. In games such as Oblivion, people follow paths throughout the world, but it all seems pretty rigid and fixed. People don’t have fights in the street for no reason – it always has something to do with a quest or story, and hopefully, in Mass Effect, we’ll see some surprising and unpredictable, human (and alien) behaviour. They also have a huge amount of scope to include alien cultures, perhaps the baby eating festival of Cylon 12, for which people from all round the galaxy travel huge distances to watch. Again, if BioWare need some intelligent ideas for the story, and they like our examples so far, we’re here all year.

The next-generation power could potentially make this game a superb RPG, and it’s certainly down as my most anticipated game of 2007, even surpassing Halo 3. You could say it will have a Mass Effect on my year in general *cough*.

I personally can’t wait for Mass Effect, as I’m sure you’re now aware, but there’s surely good reason for optimism. The developers have great pedigree, a huge amount of work has gone into this since (and probably even before) Jade Empire was finished, and now, I just can’t wait to be able to explore the rich, futuristic, and potentially mind-blowing world of Mass Effect. Anyway, I was right about Oblivion and you laughed at my 9.6 prediction, and for that you paid with your unprepared wallets come release day – I’m vividly hoping that this will be just as good, so start saving. We’ll have a review online around release day, which should be in the summary box to the top-right, whereas below is a selection of gameplay movies from our Internet trawling.

Gameplay Movie Archives at - Featuring in game footage from X06


Xbox 360