Mass Effect (video game)


Mass Effect (video game)
Mass Effect
Mass Effect poster.jpg
Developer(s) BioWare (Xbox 360)
Demiurge Studios (Microsoft Windows[1] & Pinnacle Station DLC[2])
Publisher(s) Microsoft Game Studios (Xbox 360)
Electronic Arts (Microsoft Windows)[3]
Designer(s) Casey Hudson (Project Director)
Preston Watamaniuk (Lead Designer)
Writer(s) Drew Karpyshyn
Composer(s) Jack Wall
Sam Hulick
Richard Jacques
David Kates
Series Mass Effect
Engine Unreal Engine 3
Version 1.02[4]
Platform(s) Xbox 360
Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) Xbox 360
AU 20071116November 16, 2007
NA 20071120November 20, 2007
EU 20071123November 23, 2007
JP 20090521May 21, 2009
Microsoft Windows
NA 20080528May 28, 2008
AU 20080605June 5, 2008
EU 20080606June 6, 2008
Genre(s) Action role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s)
Media/distribution Optical disc, Download
System requirements

See the Windows edition section

Mass Effect is an action role-playing game developed by BioWare for the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows by Demiurge Studios.[3] The Xbox 360 version was released worldwide in November 2007 published by Microsoft Game Studios. The Microsoft Windows version was released on May 28, 2008, published by Electronic Arts.[8]

The game takes place in the year 2183, with the player, assuming the role of an elite human soldier named Commander Shepard, setting out to explore the Galaxy on a starship, the SSV Normandy. The titular mass effect is a form of inertia-suppressing technology, allowing faster-than-light travel.

A sequel, Mass Effect 2, was released on January 26, 2010, and takes place two years after the events of the first game. Mass Effect 2 also directly uses players' completed save data from the first game to influence events and storylines within the second game, basing certain events and narrative threads on decisions and actions that the player made in the first game.

In addition to the sequel, and a third in development to complete the trilogy, BioWare plans to release episodic content online to fill in the story between each game, though these episodes are not essential for understanding the main plot line.[9] The first downloadable content package, Bring Down the Sky, was released on March 10, 2008 (with a PC version released on July 29, 2008). The second downloadable content package, Pinnacle Station, was released on August 25, 2009 for the PC and Xbox 360. In 2010, the game was included as one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.[10]

Contents

Gameplay

Player creation and character classes

Although most of the game's screen shots and concept art show the same "default" male Commander Shepard, it is possible for the player to fully customize his or her character's appearance, gender, abilities and even military background.[11]

The game includes six character classes.[12] Each class contains several "talents"; as each talent is leveled, the character either gains stats (extra health, stamina, etc), unlocks new abilities (for example leveling the Shotgun talent unlocks the "Carnage" ability, which allows the character to fire a concentrated explosive blast from the shotgun), or unlocks other talents. Each class also possesses a unique talent with the same name as its respective class; the characters may also have talents tied to their background.[13] Characters who have reached level 20 will unlock a "Rogue VI" side-mission on Luna (Earth's moon) in the Sol System, upon the completion of which the player is allowed to choose a new specialist class, which in turn unlocks a new talent bar. The specialist class the character is offered depends on the base class.[14]

When characters are first created, six classes are available: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard. Soldiers are the most skilled with weaponry, Engineers make the most use of the omni-tool and tech-abilities, and Adepts are the best at using biotic powers. The other three classes are combinations of the first three: Infiltrators are a combination of Soldiers and Engineers, Sentinels are a combination of Engineers and Adepts, and Vanguards are a combination of Soldiers and Adepts. While the combination classes do not have the focus of the main classes, they are versatile and offer unique game-play opportunities. (Vanguards, for example, have access to half of the soldier skills and half of the Adept skills).[15]

Players also have some control over their character's back story. They are able to choose to have been either a "spacer" (born and bred in space), a "colonist" (born on one of Earth's extra-solar colonies), or "Earth-born" (hailing from the streets of one of Earth's cities). They also choose whether they have been the sole survivor of a terrible battle, a war hero, or a ruthless soldier. These backgrounds have only a small effect in the game, although many characters will reference the player's chosen background when talking to Commander Shepard. The character's background can also affect whether some side quests are available or not. With only a few exceptions, the character's background does not directly affect the player's dialogue choices.[16]

Dialogue and morality

Previous BioWare titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire employed a conversation system where the player chose from several responses after non-player characters (NPCs) had finished speaking. Mass Effect has a system in which responses to NPCs are displayed as the general tone of the message, rather than a word-for-word transcription of the message (e.g., if the player chooses "You're worrying too much," Shepard might actually say, "You always expect the worst").

A radial command menu, divided into six equal sections like a pie chart, is shown at the bottom of the screen when a conversation is initiated. Each section is assigned a brief description of the response's intent, usually a short phrase such as "What's going on?" The response is selected by moving the analog stick (or the mouse in the Windows version) in the direction of the desired response on the circle and pressing a button. The command menu is organised such that each section is assigned a particular inclination (being nice, aggressive, etc.), so that after players have become comfortable with the system they no longer have to read the menu, and are able to respond appropriately, immediately, if desired. BioWare intended the system to allow the game to be more cinematic and free players from reading large amounts of dialogue, as would be required with the commonly used system of simply having the player choose from complete, sometimes long, written statements.[17][18]

Dialogue is central to the game's morality system. The side story and the number of character interaction choices in Mass Effect are affected by the player's chosen morality. Unlike in BioWare's previous titles, emphasis on becoming a pure "good" or pure "evil" character is lessened. The overall story is also affected by the player's personal choices. Project Director Casey Hudson of BioWare has said "[the player's] style of play throughout the game will result in diverging endings that determine the fate of humanity itself," affecting not only the first installment, but also the planned sequels.[19] Morality is mostly determined by the player's choices during conversations.[17]

Hudson has further stated that instead of the "good" and "evil" approach that past BioWare games have taken, Mass Effect morality is based on giving points as a "Paragon" for choosing more polite and professional military actions, or as a "Renegade" for taking a more ruthless and take-no-prisoners approach. "Paragon" and "Renegade" points are scored on two separate scales (i.e. taking a "Paragon" option does not negate a past "Renegade" option), as opposed to other BioWare titles such as Knights of the Old Republic in which morality points were scored on a single scale so that making a "Light Side" choice negated the morality change characters underwent for making a "Dark Side" choice.[20] NPCs react differently to a character depending on their past morality choices.[21]

Combat and abilities

Combat in Mass Effect takes place in real time, but the player can pause at any time to change the squad's weapons, select different abilities for the squad members to use, or to give general squad orders. The player and his allies use firearms (modifiable with various upgrades throughout the game), Tech abilities (to interfere with enemy equipment and abilities), and biotics (similar to magical attacks or Force powers in other games) to fight their enemies. Players directly control their character's actions as well as their squadmates' attacks, but cannot take direct command of their squadmates. They can, however, issue commands using the directional pad,[17] allowing the player to tell other characters to get behind cover, regroup, attack a specific target, or to scout ahead. Weapons and abilities of the squad members are selected via the use of two "wheel" interfaces: one for the weapons at the squad's disposal, and the other listing the available powers of each squad member and their respective recharge times. The command interface was reworked for the Windows version into displays on either side of the HUD for each squad member.

The abilities and special powers that characters have at their disposal are determined by the skill sets assigned to them at the beginning of the game and how further earned experience points have been allotted since then. Some special abilities include a biotic lift that can be used to pick up objects and enemies, and a tech ability that reduces the shields of enemies. Two other abilities, Charm and Intimidate, are dependent on points, storyline progression, and the amount of Paragon or Renegade points the player attains; raising the levels of these will not unlock any attacks, but instead open new dialogue options within the game.

Special abilities that the player can use in the game are tech abilities and biotics. Tech abilities are support powers used against enemy weapons and technology, as well as biotics. They are activated through the omni-tool, which three of the main classes can use: Engineers, Infiltrators, and Sentinels. These abilities include destroying enemy shields, sabotaging enemy weaponry, and hacking robotic enemies to fire on their own squad. Tech abilities also have passive uses, such as the Electronics talent, which allows the party to open locked crates or salvage components from wrecks. Biotics are powers accessed by the characters using implants that enhance natural abilities to manipulate dark energy, with mass effect fields. These abilities include hurling enemies around with the mind, raising shields that are resistant to enemy fire but still allow the player to fire through them, and creating small singularities that cause enemies and destructible parts of the environment to swirl about. Three of the main character classes are able to use these powers: Adepts (the main biotics class), Vanguards, and Sentinels.

Weapons and equipment

Mass Effect features four classes of conventional firearms (pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles) and grenades, along with a variety of weapon and armor upgrades. The player can pause the game at any time and change the equipment used by the members of the party. This is a major strategic aspect of the gameplay, as choosing the correct equipment can mean the difference between a quick victory and defeat. Equipped items are visible on the characters; the armors have different appearances and all weapons fold up into compact versions that are stored on the character's back. Weapons can be retrieved by using a weapon wheel similar to the talent wheel.

Ammunition is unlimited; instead of needing to reload, a weapon will build up heat until it overheats, and cannot fire until it has sufficiently cooled down. In-game, the reasoning for this is that weapons are loaded with "blocks" of ammunition material, and each round fired is sheared off from this central supply of ammunition. The rounds themselves are described as being the size of a "grain of sand" and are launched through mass accelerator technology at extremely high speeds. Firing a weapon continuously or using a weapon that one is untrained with will result in decreased accuracy, represented by an expanding targeting reticle. The more Talent points that are spent on a weapon type, the greater the weapon type's accuracy and damage.

The characters wear dual layer hardsuits which serve as combat and EVA suits. There are three classifications of hardsuits: light, medium, and heavy armor. These suits provide a limitless supply of oxygen, as well as temporary protection from many planetary hazards like heat and radiation. Heavier suits are vulnerable to fewer hazards, but cause characters to move slower. The suits also come equipped with kinetic barriers, which act as shields against incoming fire. Aside from Liara, who is able to wear human armor, each non-human character requires a different type of armor corresponding to their race. Biotic- or tech-wielding characters can also upgrade their biotic amps or omni-tools to give bonuses to their attacks or reduce their cooldown periods.

The equipment found by the player generally increases in both stats and cost as the player levels up, denoted by a class marking from I to X. Higher class weapons and armor also have more upgrade slots than their lower-class counterparts. Upgrades found in the game fall into one of four categories: weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, ammo upgrades, and grenade upgrades. Weapon and armor upgrades add to certain stats of the item they are put in, such as accuracy or shields, while ammo and grenade upgrades grant such things as fire damage or reduced speed when shot or thrown at enemies.

Travel

The SSV Normandy, the player character's ship, and a technological marvel in the setting of the game, serves as the primary mode of transportation.

Since the game spans the galaxy, many trips have to be made from planet to planet. Players choose destinations by selecting them through a galactic map of the Milky Way.[19] The galaxy is divided into numerous levels of organization, shrinking in scale from star clusters, to star systems, and finally down to planets.

Travel through the Mass Effect universe is aided through the use of Mass Relays, which are technological artifacts that are capable of transporting vessels nearly instantaneously between star clusters and systems, and resemble a gimbal having two rings. There are two types of Mass Relays: primary and secondary. Primary relays are linked with a twin, and so have a single line of travel, but can span as many as a hundred thousand light years, according to the game's Codex. Secondary relays are omnidirectional and can send ships to any relay within its limited range of about a hundred light years.

Once the player decides on a system to visit, several options are available. Some planets are simply there to complete the system. Others can only be surveyed for valuable materials. Some astral bodies such as asteroids, moons, and small space freighters are also available for survey. Finally, some planets can be landed on and explored. The player can move about on foot or using an all-terrain armored personnel carrier called the M35 Mako. Some segments of the game feature combat requiring the use of this vehicle. Most main story segments (and many side missions) are geared toward on-foot shooter action.

Although the game follows a main story, Mass Effect includes a large number of side missions and free-roam "uncharted worlds" that can be reached by selecting them through the galactic map. Virtually every world is part of a side mission, whether the player has uncovered the mission or not. Normally, Shepard will be contacted as a solar system is selected to be briefed on the side mission by Admiral Hackett, of the Alliance Fifth Fleet, if the system contains a side mission that's of direct interest to the Alliance military.

Synopsis

 Mass Effect series chronology 

Evolution
Revelation
Mass Effect
Incursion
Redemption
Ascension
Galaxy
Mass Effect 2
Retribution
Inquisition
Mass Effect 3

"Mass Effect"

Project Director Casey Hudson explained the term "Mass Effect" as follows:[22]

Inside the game universe, mass effect is a newly discovered (for humans) physics phenomenon that has properties along the lines of other physics forces such as gravity and electromagnetism. It’s what physicists in real life are currently calling "dark energy", as an explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe — which has only recently been discovered and flies in the face of the previous notion that the universe’s expansion should be slowing down because of gravity.

Hudson explains that certain creatures are evolved to sense and manipulate mass effect much like some real-life creatures such as sharks and electric eels can sense and manipulate electromagnetism in peculiar ways. Some humans are preternaturally capable of these abilities, which can be enhanced via brain implants, and the trained manipulation of Mass Effect is referred to as "biotics".

The game's technology centers around a fictional substance called "element zero", or more informally "eezo". When element zero is exposed to an electrical current, it creates a "mass effect field" which alters the mass of anything inside the field; a positive current causes increases, and a negative current decreases. This allows the creation of "kinetic barriers," science-fiction style artificial gravity, and faster-than-light travel, amongst other things.

Setting

Mass Effect is set in the year 2183. Thirty-five years earlier, mankind discovered a cache of technology on Mars, supposedly built by a technologically advanced but long-extinct race called the Protheans. Studying and adapting this technology, humanity has managed to break free of the solar system and has established numerous colonies and encountered various extraterrestrial species within the Milky Way galaxy. Utilizing alien artifacts known as Mass Relays, the various space-faring races are able to travel instantly across vast stretches of the galaxy. Within the game, humanity has formed the Human Systems Alliance, one of many independent bodies that make up the collective of "Citadel space".

The Human Systems Alliance is a rising power in the galactic stage. The only war they have participated in was the "First Contact War" in 2157. A human exploration expedition was activating dormant mass relays (which was a practice considered unsafe by Citadel races, as it resulted in the Rachni Wars described below). The turians attacked the small fleet and proceeded to capture the closest human world, Shanxi. The turians proceeded to starve out the remaining humans and occupy the planet. Facing starvation the human garrison surrendered to the Turian Hierarchy. One month later, the human Second Fleet responded by annihilating the turian fleet around Shanxi. In response the turians prepared for full scale war. The Citadel Council saw that humanity would either be annihilated or annexed by the turians and stepped in. The humans were then given an embassy in the Citadel Council.

Citadel space, as a whole, is ruled by a conglomerate body of governments known as the Council, which is made up of members of the three prominent alien races: the asari, a race of unisexual aliens which closely resemble blue-skinned human females; the short-lived salarians; and the raptor-like turians. Other alien species seen in the game include the reptilian krogan, the four-eyed, humanoid batarians, the aquatic hanar, the methodical, monotonous-voiced and quadrupedal elcor, and the environmentally suited quarians and volus. Dozens of other aliens are asserted to exist throughout the galaxy, but are not seen or mentioned in the game.

Much history and exposition is related by the "Codex," an in-game encyclopedia whose entries expand as the player investigates new locations and asks questions of its residents. Three historical wars, predating human presence in Citadel space, are of particular relevance to players.

  1. The "Rachni Wars" began around 1 CE; these insectoid aliens were discovered when Citadel explorers opened a dormant mass relay and accidentally introduced them to the galaxy. Over almost a century of conflict, the rachni came close to overwhelming the Citadel races, until the salarians discovered the krogan, a warlike species who had evolved redundant organ systems, a tendency to aggression and incredibly high birth rates to survive conditions on their homeworld of Tuchanka. The salarians "culturally uplifted" the krogan, gifting them with advanced technology, medicine and access to planets unplagued by nuclear winter, toxins or an overabundance of vicious predators. The flourishing krogan joined the war against the rachni and pursued it to completion, eventually exterminating the species entirely by about the 3rd century CE.
  2. The "Krogan Rebellions" began about 700 CE and stemmed directly from the uplift during the Rachni Wars. The now-uplifted krogan displayed an aggressive colonization policy, eventually claiming worlds already populated by other Citadel races. Diplomacy failed, with the krogan literally daring the Council to stop them; and even with the turians (then Citadel newcomers) on their side, the Council once again found itself on the receiving end of a losing war. The final solution came in the form of the "genophage," an artificially induced and true-breeding genetic mutation created jointly by the salarians and turians. It causes pre-natal neural failure in all but 1 in 1,000 krogan pregnancies, resulting in stillbirths and miscarriages. Though the genophage was deployed before 800 CE, krogan culture is still struggling to adapt to it in the "present" day (2183 CE).
  3. Finally, the "Geth Wars" were the result of efforts by the quarians to build robots for labor and military purposes. The geth were deliberately designed so that each individual was a relatively limited hardware platform, relying on wireless networking to achieve higher processing power, but the quarians tweaked their programs extensively, allowing the geth to evolve into true artificial intelligences. The terrified quarians ordered the destruction of every geth once they realized what they had done, and the geth, defensive of their lives, declared war against their creators. The geth won: in 1895 CE the quarians made the decision to abandon their home planet and have since resided largely aboard the "Migrant Fleet," a flotilla consisting of 50,000 starships. The geth, for their part, have not been seen since the end of the war, and their current agenda is completely unknown.

The game takes place primarily in two locations: the prototype frigate SSV Normandy, and the Citadel, a gigantic, ancient space station supposedly built by the Protheans and which currently acts as the center of galactic civilization. Throughout the game, however, the player may navigate the Normandy to various planets, moons and other destinations.

Characters

Garrus, left; Commander Shepard, center

The player takes control of Commander Shepard, a veteran soldier[23] who can be customized by the player. The character's appearance also varies based on the weaponry and armor the player uses.[17] In addition to customizing Shepard's gender and appearance, players can also choose a back story for the character, which influences dialogue throughout the game, as well as which side missions will be available to the character.[24]

The player's main character is almost always accompanied by two additional characters, providing support during battles and contributing to dialogue.[25] These characters are not created by the player, and control over them is limited to directing squad movement and to the utilising of their technological/biotic abilities. While aboard the Normandy, the player may construct relationships between Shepard and these characters, potentially opening up further assignments. There are six characters met in the game who will join the fight; each has a detailed back-story and hence their own reasons for wanting to help. Two of the characters are human and the other four are aliens.

The voice cast of Mass Effect includes:

Plot

The game begins aboard the experimental SSV Normandy, commanded by Captain Anderson and his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Shepard. The Normandy is sent to the human colony of Eden Prime to recover an unearthed Prothean beacon. To assist, the Citadel Council, the galaxy's primary governing body, sent one of their top agents, Nihlus, a turian Spectre. He has also been assigned to observe Shepard, who is a candidate for Spectre membership. Spectres (agents of the "Special Tactics and Reconnaissance" office) are above the law and work directly for the Council. No human has ever received the title, and the human Systems Alliance, particularly Council representative Donnel Udina, hope that by achieving the title, humanity will receive increased stature in the intergalactic community.

Nihlus, Shepard, and biotic Kaidan Alenko land and meet Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, who reveals that the Eden Prime colony is under attack by the robotic race known as the geth. The geth are led by a rogue turian Spectre named Saren Arterius, who kills Nihlus. After the battle ends, Shepard locates the beacon and receives a vision showing Protheans being overwhelmed by mechanical forces.

The Normandy and its crew are summoned by Udina to the Citadel. Unfortunately, Shepard is unable to convince the Citadel Council of Saren's treason without solid evidence. Citadel Security officer Garrus Vakarian and krogan mercenary Urdnot Wrex lead Shepard to a quarian mechanic named Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, who possesses a recording of a conversation between Saren and an asari Matriarch named Benezia, discussing their victory on Eden Prime. The recording also mentions an artifact called the "Conduit" and the return of a force known as the Reapers. Confronted with this evidence, the Council revokes Saren's Spectre status and makes Shepard the first human Spectre. Shepherd is ordered to hunt down Saren with the assistance of Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, and pilot Jeff "Joker" Moreau.

Captain Anderson relinquishes command of the Normandy to Shepard, who uses it to follow several leads provided by Anderson and Udina. On Therum, Shepard rescues the archaeologist Dr. Liara T'soni, Matriarch Benezia's daughter. Because of her biotic abilities and expertise in the Protheans, Liara joins Shepard's squad. On the colony of Feros, Shepard fights off forces whom Saren has sent to investigate the Thorian, a sentient plant-like creature that has the power to control individuals. From these agents, Shepard learns that Saren's flagship, Sovereign, also possesses unique mind-control capabilities. On Noveria, Shepard tracks down Matriarch Benezia while fighting off both geth and the insectoid Rachni. Benezia is eventually defeated, and she reveals that she and Saren are being controlled by Sovereign. Shepard is also confronted with a Rachni queen and must decide whether to re-exterminate the race or release them. In between missions, Shepard has the option of romancing a crewmember; a male Shepard may flirt with Ashley and a female with Kaidan, while Liara is available to both.

After completing these missions, the Council informs Shepard of a salarian infiltration unit, which has uncovered Saren's main base of operations on Virmire. Upon arrival, Shepard learns that Saren has discovered a cure for the krogan disease known as the genophage. Using it, he plans to breed an army of unstoppable krogan warriors. When Wrex finds out about the cure, he betrays the team. Shepard must either kill Wrex, have Ashley kill him, or convince him to trust Shepard's decision. Once this conflict is defused, Shepard agrees to assist the salarians in destroying the base by planting a nuclear improvised explosive device in it. Shepard leads the infiltration team, while salarian Captain Kirrahe leads a diversionary attack with either Ashley or Kaidan.

Inside the base Shepard discovers another Prothean beacon, which transfers its knowledge to him or her. Shepard is then confronted by Sovereign itself, an actual Reaper. Sovereign reveals the true nature of the Reapers: The Reapers remain inert in the "dark space" outside the Milky Way Galaxy, waiting for millenia for organic life to develop, discover the mass relays and expand throughout the galaxy along those pre-existing routes. Once these races have reached a certain level of expansion, the Reapers awaken and purge all organic life. In truth, the Protheans never built the Citadel or Mass Relays, which were constructed by the Reapers. Rather, the Protheans were the latest victims in a long succession of races systematically sowed and harvested by the Reapers as part of an inexorable cycle.

After planting the nuclear bomb and attempting to escape the facility, the team is attacked by Saren. He claims that his allegiance to Sovereign will save organic life forms by showing their "usefulness". Shepard refuses to accept Saren's plan and fights him off. However, both Ashley and Kaidan have become pinned down at their respective positions, and Shepard has only enough time to save one of them while the other to be killed in the nuclear detonation.

With the information Shepard's party has gained, Liara is able to pinpoint the Conduit's location on a Prothean world known as Ilos, a planet accessible only by a long-lost Mass Relay located deep within the hostile Terminus Systems. Shepard returns to the Citadel and requests permission from the Council to pursue Saren. However, Shepard's request is denied by the Council, concerned of risking a war with the Terminus Systems. Ambassador Udina and the Alliance lock Shepard out of the Normandy, but Captain Anderson secretly helps Shepard reclaim the ship .

On Ilos, Shepard follows Saren into an ancient ruin and encounters a Prothean computer intelligence named Vigil, which explains the Reapers' methodology. Vigil explains that the Citadel Station is actually a huge mass relay, which the Reapers use to invade the galaxy en masse. During the last cycle of extinction, a few Protheans survived on Ilos via cryogenic suspension and then re-entered the Citadel via the Conduit, a reverse-engineered miniaturized Mass Relay system disguised as statues. They managed to sabotage the process that would summon the Reapers. Saren plans to use the Conduit to infiltrate the Citadel so he can re-activate the Citadel's Mass Relay and bring back the Reapers.

Shepard pursues Saren through the Conduit while Sovereign and a massive geth force assault the Citadel. Sovereign connects to the central tower of the Citadel and begins activating the relay, while Saren uses the Citadel's defense systems to protect it. Shepard fights through Saren's and confronts him for the final time. Saren reveals that he has become increasingly subserviant by Sovereign, even accepting cybernetic augmentation. Shepard can fight Saren or convince him to rebel. If convinced, Saren commits suicide, removing the Reapers' vital tool.

The Citadel Fleet has custody of the Council but is losing the battle; meanwhile, Joker informs Shepard of a human Systems Alliance fleet. Shepard can order the Alliance fleet to save the Council, go directly after Sovereign while risking the death of the Council, or even abandon the Council to death. Regardless, Saren's corpse is reanimated by Sovereign who attacks Shepard via Saren while simultaneously fighting off the Alliance in ship form. Eventually, humanity prevails, and Saren's corpse is destroyed while Sovereign is dispatched by the Normandy.

The precise ending of the game depends on several factors, including the fate of the Council and whether Shepard has a higher Paragon or Renegade meter. If Shepard chooses to save the Council, the Council will thank the humans and let the humans join the Council. The other two choices will result in the death of the Council but humanity's ascendance to galactic leadership. Shepard is then asked to nominate Anderson or Udina as a human Council member. Regardless of the choice, Shepard expresses the opinion that the Reapers are still a threat and must be stopped.

Themes

Mass Effect's story primarily falls within the space opera genre and explores themes such as freedom of thought, space colonization, vigilantism, and artificial intelligence. The story, with its human-vs.-machine elements, has drawn comparisons to both Fred Saberhagen's Berserker novels and Battlestar Galactica,[28] as well as to Frederik Pohl's Gateway novels.[29] The elements of machine culling organic life are similar to Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space. While the Citadel and its governing structure seems to draw influence from Babylon 5, with the SPECTREs being comparable with the Anla'shok (Rangers) of that same universe. According to Casey Hudson, the project director at BioWare, the films Aliens, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Starship Troopers all served as influences for the game.[30]

Development

BioWare announced Mass Effect on October 4, 2005, as an Xbox 360-exclusive game.[31]

In January 2007, IGN interviewed BioWare's Casey Hudson, Project Director for Mass Effect. Hudson gave IGN a lot of information about the game, including: the inspiration for the game, details on how BioWare has moved video game morality beyond simple good and evil, and information on character creation and combat.[32]

IGN had another interview with Hudson in August 2007, detailing about the character creation process.[16] That same month, Mass Effect received a release date of November 20, 2007 in North America. BioWare's CEO Ray Muzyka stated "With Mass Effect, BioWare is delivering an incredible next-gen gaming odyssey, our fans will journey through a vast, futuristic universe as they are challenged to make impactful decisions that will determine the very fate of the galaxy." Greg Zeschuk, President of BioWare, stated "The best games bring players into an immersive, realistic world that is fun to explore from beginning to end. We've achieved that in Mass Effect by putting the player at the center of a compelling, cinematic storyline full of realistic characters and hundreds of exciting locations."[33]

Marketing

Retail editions

Mass Effect was released in both a Standard and Limited Edition of the game. The Limited Edition was available through pre-order only at online retailers GameStop, Electronics Boutique, Amazon.com, and Best Buy within the United States, and in-store in Mainland Europe. The Limited Edition features are as follows:

  • A fiction book titled Galactic Codex: Essentials – A 36-page guide to the Mass Effect universe, including a Citadel timeline, and a guide to all non-human races, biotics, and the key locations in the Perseus Arm of the galaxy.
  • An art book titled A Future Imagined, which includes a collection of concept art from the game.
  • A bonus DVD of exclusive Mass Effect background material and additional content, including:
    • The Vision of Mass Effect documentary.
    • The Making of Mass Effect documentary.
    • Interactive Storytelling documentary.
    • Inside BioWare documentary.
    • Eighteen Mass Effect themed gamer-pics.
    • Four dashboard themes.
    • Ten songs from the Mass Effect soundtrack.
    • Five historical trailers from X05 through E3 2007, and the official TV trailer.
    • A demo for Blue Dragon and videos for Lost Odyssey, Halo 3, and Halo Wars.
    • Design galleries featuring 600 concept-images with full audio commentaries by the game's art directors.

The Limited Edition was made available for pre-order at online retailers only in the United States and Canada, as well as in-stores only in Mainland Europe. A DVD containing content concerning the development of the game was also distributed to all those who pre-ordered the game in the United States at GameStop, Electronics Boutique, and some Best Buy locations. The bonus content DVD was also made available for those who pre-ordered the game in Australia at selected retailers, but the Limited Edition was not.

A Platinum Hits edition was released in North America on February 10, 2009, which included the features of the Limited Edition as well as the Bring Down the Sky expansion and additional developer documentaries, videos, and music.[34][35]

Windows edition

Official system requirements[36]
Minimum Recommended
Windows
Operating system Windows XP or Windows Vista
CPU Intel Pentium 4 2.4 GHz or AMD Athlon XP 2400+ Intel Pentium 4 2.6 GHz or AMD Athlon 64 3700+
Memory 1 GB (2 GB for Vista) 2 GB
Hard drive space 12 GB of free space
Graphics hardware NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT or ATi Radeon X1300 XT NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX or ATi Radeon X1800 XL
Sound hardware 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers – 5.1 sound card recommended
Network Internet connection required for activation

A Windows version of the game ported by Demiurge Studios was released May 28, 2008, with aspects of the game rebuilt in order to address criticisms of the earlier Xbox 360 version. In addition unlike the Xbox 360 version, the Windows version also includes an extra DVD (Disc Two) containing different language versions of the game. BioWare has announced that no collector's edition of the Windows version is going to be released. However, CD Projekt, the Polish publisher of Mass Effect released a limited edition version. This edition features:

  • Game in two language versions: original English and full Polish dubbing on two DVDs. (Also features subtitles of the alternative language).
  • Documentary of making Polish version.
  • Instructions and a walkthrough in Polish.
  • Mass Effect themed postcards.
  • N7 T-shirt.
  • Artbook containing concept art from the game.
  • USB flash drive with Mass Effect logo.
  • Mouse pad with graphic of the Normandy.
  • Mass Effect key holder.
  • Box containing all elements.

The European edition of the Windows version included a second DVD with the game localized for German, French and Italian languages. A localized Japanese version of Mass Effect is in development for the Xbox 360.

Differences between the Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 version

For the Windows version of the game the following changes and gameplay improvements have been implemented.[37][38]

  • Streamlined equipment and item management
  • New HUD control screen replaces power wheel for easier mouse input
  • Ability to give both squad members individual commands
  • Customizable hotkey system for biotic and tech powers
  • Considerable decrease of texture pop-in
  • Dedicated forward and reverse buttons replace view-dependent control of the Mako
  • New minigame for decryptions

Franchise

Mass Effect was originally conceived as a trilogy, but EA has confirmed that Mass Effect "will be a franchise for [EA] for a very long time" indicating that the franchise may extend beyond the planned trilogy.[39] The next title in the series, Mass Effect 2, uses much of the same game mechanics as the first title in the series. One of the first things known about Mass Effect 2 was that players could import their Mass Effect save-files into the sequel and that decisions made by the player in the first game would continue to have influences on their character in the sequel. Players who have not played the first Mass Effect or choose not to import a save-file will start a new character in Mass Effect 2, will be brought up to speed on the story elements that have taken place thus far in the series.[40]

Mass Effect 2 was released on January 26, 2010 in North America and January 29, 2010 in Europe.[41] A Teaser Trailer for Mass Effect 2 was released by BioWare on February 20, 2009.[citation needed]

An iPhone iteration in the Mass Effect series was unveiled by BioWare on May 2, 2009. Titled Mass Effect Galaxy, the game is a side-story in the series focusing on the character Jacob, who appears in Mass Effect 2 as a party member. BioWare's Chris Priestly confirmed the iPhone is not a prequel in the series, but rather a part of BioWare's plan to expand the series' universe.[42]

Soundtrack

The Mass Effect Original Soundtrack was composed and produced by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick, featuring additional music by Richard Jacques and David Kates. The soundtrack was published by Sumthing and released on November 20, 2007, and features 37 tracks including the song featured at the game's end—M4, Part II performed by Faunts.[43] According to the liner notes and press release, the music was inspired by classic sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner and Dune. Pieces of the soundtrack are featured in Video Games Live.

Downloadable content

Bring Down the Sky

The first piece of downloadable content (known as DLC) was announced on February 6, 2008. The Bring Down The Sky pack was released on March 10, 2008 for the Xbox 360 as a paid download and on July 29, 2008 for Windows as a free download.[citation needed] It should also be noted that as of late January 2009, the DLC was made compatible with the Steam version, titled revision a. As with retail box copies, players will need to register their Steam serial number on BioWare's website in order to receive the serial number required for installing the DLC.[44] However, later PC versions released had the DLC included within the original game itself.

Bring Down the Sky includes a new uncharted world that introduces the notorious and feared batarians, a humanoid species with four eyes. A batarian extremist group has hijacked a mobile asteroid station in the Asgard system, setting it on a collision course with the nearby colony world of Terra Nova. Only Commander Shepard can save the millions of innocent civilians before the asteroid completes its deadly descent. This mission is concurrent with the main storyline. BioWare has stated that the adventure should take ninety minutes to complete. The expansion also features an additional achievement awarded upon completion of the mission titled as "Colonial Savior" with a value of 50 points.[45] Additionally, in the PC version of the game, a message may be found in a small music outpost on the asteroid when the computer inside is read twice. The message appears to be a humorous jab by the developers at those who stirred up the controversies surrounding the game's romance scenes upon its initial release.

Pinnacle Station

A documentary included with the release of the Platinum Hits edition of Mass Effect discussed the next downloadable content for Mass Effect. Preston Watamaniuk went into further detail about the DLC stating: "Things we are working on right now, for the Mass Effect universe next ... we had something in Mass Effect 1 that again, we were not able to pull off just because we did not have the time and we did not think we’d be able to do it well enough, which was a fight club or an arena. So we are actually working on that for our next downloadable content piece and we are hoping it will be really special..." Casey Hudson, project director for BioWare also added: "So we wanted to be able to give people a much more combat-oriented, lighter-story experience. You’re going to go to a kind of casino gaming fight club space station."[46]

The DLC pack was revealed to be titled Pinnacle Station after it was leaked on the Swiss Xbox website; the only other information revealed about it was that the DLC would take approximately 2–3 hours to complete.[47] The events on Pinnacle Station take the form of mission styles such as Timed, Hunt, Capture, and Survival. Once the player has beaten the eight initial missions, they are rewarded with four extra missions. When all twelve have been beaten, the player is able to attempt a five-minute Survival mission in which the odds are against them. The DLC pack was released on 25 August 2009 to mostly mediocre and negative reviews due to a lack of content and ingenuity.

Reception

 Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings (X360) 91.15%[48]
(PC) 89.43%[49]
Metacritic (X360) 91/100[50]
(PC) 89/100[51]
Review scores
Publication Score
1UP.com A[52]
Computer and Video Games 9.0/10[53]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9.17/10
Eurogamer 8/10[54]
Game Informer 9.75/10[55]
GamePro 4.75/5 stars[56]
GameSpot (PC) 9.0/10[57]
(X360) 8.5/10[58]
GameSpy 5/5 stars[59]
GamesRadar 9/10[60]
GameTrailers 9.6/10[61]
IGN 9.4/10[62]
Official Xbox Magazine 10/10[63]
X-Play 5/5 stars[64]

Xbox 360 reviews

Game Informer awarded Mass Effect a 9.75 out of 10, declaring it "the next big franchise for science fiction junkies to latch onto... a huge step forward for video games," and that it "rings in a new age of interactive storytelling." The key negative points of the review were the balancing issues and problematic AI of the combat system.[65] Official Xbox Magazine gave Mass Effect the sixth '10' in the magazine's history, raving, "Mass Effect is a great science-fiction novel in video game form. Meaning, it mixes the highest caliber of pure story with the decision making and raw action of the best games." The OXM reviewer also praised it saying "It's the best game I've ever played" and remarked that it had "The best story ever told in a videogame. Period."[66] Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded Mass Effect a Gold Award with scores of 9, 9.5, and 9, also citing that the negative points of the review were balance issues with the character classes, as well as a steep learning curve with the Mako IFV.[67] GameSpy and X-Play both gave it a 5 out of 5 and a special episode "Mass Effect takes interactive entertainment to breathtaking new heights and is wholeheartedly recommended. This is one of the best games of the year, and will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest games ever made."[68] Shacknews praised, "While the core gameplay is nothing new — sometimes disappointingly so — Mass Effect represents a generational jump in storytelling artistry."[69] Slashdot's review also praised the storytelling, saying "[The] storyline Mass Effect will have you laughing, furious, and deeply saddened — in some cases all about the same character." GameTrailers gave Mass Effect a 9.6 out of 10, one of its highest reviews ever.[70] GameSpot reviewed the X360 version as "a great game with moments of brilliance and a number of small but significant obstacles that hold it back from reaching its true potential." It subsequently reviewed the PC version and gave it a higher score calling it "best choice for experiencing this excellent game."

IGN awarded the game a 9.4 of 10, and while saying it was "a new high mark for storytelling in games," it also pointed out a common criticism in most of the reviews for the game, that while "the RPG elements are outstanding," the "glitches, poor AI, and weak squad mechanics weigh the game down."[71] Eurogamer stated in its review, "Mass Effect is most definitely a great game with an awful lot going for it — but one that does not quite deserve unquestioning praise."[72] Awarding Mass Effect "The Best RPG of 2007," GamePro raves about the tremendous amount of depth to the game, from the character customization options to the world at large. The negative to the game they mention is that "the elevator rides are ridiculously long."[73] In October 2008 IGN declared Mass Effect the Best Xbox 360 game.[74]

According to updated figures from Microsoft, in the six weeks after the game was released, it had sold 1.6 million copies.[75]

Windows reviews

Early reviews of the Windows version by Ars Technica and PC Zone have hailed it as the "definitive" Mass Effect, and an outstanding port to the Windows platform. The game entered the US Windows game charts[citation needed] at number 3, beaten by two different versions of Age of Conan at 1 and 2. The first mainstream print magazine review of Mass Effect for Windows was from PC Zone, scoring 92%. PC Gamer US gave the game a 91%, despite stating that "inventory management is a nightmare".[76]

Awards

Mass Effect's showing at E3 2006 was well received and resulted in the game winning several awards during the expo, including the Game Critics Awards' Best Role-Playing Game.[77] One of the most recent and arguably more significant awards the game has been awarded the #1 spot on IGN's list of "The Top 25 Xbox 360 games.[78]

Following its release, Mass Effect received numerous awards. During the Spike TV Awards, the game won "Best RPG."[79] GameTrailers awarded the game "Best RPG" and "Best New Game Franchise."[80] During its Reader's Choice Awards, TeamXbox gave the game awards for "Best RPG" and "Best Story," as well as its "Game of the Year" award.[81] GameSpot gave the game "Best Voice Acting" and "Best Original Music."[citation needed] IGN awarded the game "Best RPG," "Best Original Score," and "Best Story."[82] The New York Times recognized Mass Effect as its "Game of the Year."[83] A complete list of awards can be found at the game's official website.[84]

Controversies

Media coverage of the sex scene

Mass Effect has an optional romantic subplot. Shepard can develop a relationship with a human party member (Kaidan Alenko or Ashley Williams), or with a blue-skinned alien (Liara T'Soni). The couple can sleep together close to the end of the game; a cutscene then shows a series of fast cuts of a sexual encounter, although no specific sex acts or depictions of nudity are clearly shown. A New York Times article compared the contents to U.S. evening network television.[85]

The scene first came under fire in neoconservative blogger Kevin McCullough's article, "The ‘Sex-Box’ Race for President."[86] McCullough employed strong, false statements such as "Mass Effect can be customized to sodomise whatever, whomever, however, the game player wishes," and "with its ‘over the net’ capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away."[87]

McCullough’s article was met with outrage from the gaming community. McCullough issued an apology by saying, "I DO apologize to the gaming universe!" He went on to say, "I still do concur with my original position that the objectionable content in Mass Effect is still offensive."[88] McCullough’s handling of the situation was parodied by popular gaming webcomic Penny Arcade[89] and online comedy site LoadingReadyRun.[90] His host website eventually took down the article.[citation needed]

Jack Thompson said about the controversy, "The guy who shot his mouth off about it had no idea what the Hell he was talking about. This contrived controversy is absolutely ridiculous." [91]

On January 21, 2008, a Fox News segment "The Live Desk With Martha MacCallum" discussed Mass Effect[85] with the heading "'SE'XBOX?' New video game shows full digital nudity and sex." MacCallum stated that the game "leaves nothing to the imagination" and features "the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex" where the player gets to decide what happens, cited critics as saying that the Mature-rated game is marketed to children and teenagers, and read a rebuttal from publisher Microsoft stating that the company abides by rating systems and provides monitoring tools for parents. Psychology specialist and author Cooper Lawrence and video game journalist Geoff Keighley were interviewed. Lawrence described sexual content in video games as teaching their active users, adolescent boys, to consider women as objects of desire valued solely for their sexuality. She added that the game's player character is a man who decides how many women he wants to be with. Keighley focused on challenging the accuracy of previous statements, saying it is a choice to play the protagonist as a male or a female. He also described Mass Effect as having an optional, brief sexual situation as the culmination of a romantic relationship in a 30+ hour game, and argued against the extremely false accusations of graphic, full-frontal nudity within the game. MacCallum and Lawrence admitted that they had not actually played the game.

Electronic Arts, BioWare's parent company, requested a correction of "serious errors" from Fox News in an open letter.[85][92][93] Fox News responded that EA had been offered a chance to appear on the channel.

On the 25th, Lawrence, who had since watched someone play the game for about two-and-a-half hours, retracted her earlier statements in an interview. She added that she had been told the game was similar to pornography, and noted that she "has seen episodes of Lost that are more sexually explicit." In the interim, largely as a reaction from an offended gaming community, her latest book attracted hundreds of customer reviews on Amazon.com which rated it one star out of five. Many of these reviews noted with irony that they had not read her book, but heard from someone else that the book was bad, and thus voted low.[85] In an editorial, G4's Adam Sessler referred to the interview as a "litany of falsehoods" and parodied Lawrence's statements.[94] The controversy came to be known for the fact that the most explicit content actually shown was the side profile of a breast and led to the popularization of the internet meme "alien sideboob."[95]

Singapore M18 rating

Mass Effect was banned in Singapore for a short time before it was lifted with an M18 rating. Censors in the country said that a scene with an alien and human female caressing was the main reason why the game was not allowed to be sold in Singaporean video game stores.[96][97]

Street date violations

On Friday, November 9, 2007, 11 days before the official release date of the game, news on the internet surfaced that the game was available for sale at several Kmart stores in the United States. This was later confirmed by BioWare Community Coordinator Chris Priestly on the official Mass Effect forum.[98] The street date was also broken in Australia on November 16, 2007 by EB Games who received their copies of the game early and took it as a sign to begin distributing. This was repeated by several other game retailers, including JB Hi-Fi, Gametraders, Zellers, and GAME.[99]

Digital rights management

On May 6, 2008, BioWare confirmed that it would be using the latest version of digital rights management software SecuROM with the Windows release of Mass Effect.[100] This decision attracted criticism as SecuROM would require online activation after installation in addition to a "check-in", where the product must re-validate itself every ten days or it will cease to operate until the next successful check-in.[101] On May 9, 2008, BioWare decided to remove the ten day periodic re-authentication, saying that it "listened very closely to its fans and we made this decision to ensure we are delivering the best possible experience to them." Players will still need to connect to the server before they launch Mass Effect for the first time or download new game content.[102][103] The game can be authenticated three times. After that players will have to contact EA Customer Support, who may then on a case-by-case basis "supply any additional authentications that are warranted."[104] EA has since released a De-Authorization Tool for certain SecuROM Protected games released after May 2008, which includes Mass Effect.[105]

The March 2009 Steam release of the game removes the SecuROM DRM and replaces it with Valve's online distribution and DRM system, which ties the game license to an online user account.[106]

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