I remember playing through the original Mass Effect back in 2007 (holy crap it’s been over ten years!) and being totally enamored with it. The whole thing. I loved the universe the game created, I enjoyed the not-quite turn-based tactical squad combat, I thought the Geth were a really cool idea, Tali was like an adorable and super awkward younger sister, Garrus was bae and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed the fight against Saren and Sovereign, and was extremely excited to jump into the next game – assuming there was going to be one, which wasn’t necessarily a given at the time.
Here’s the thing: for as much as I did enjoy the original Mass Effect, and will forever appreciated how it set up one of my favorite Western RPG franchises, it just doesn’t hold up. I wouldn’t call it bad, per se, but hooboy is it super-dated.
So many people – so, so many – decried the sequels because they supposedly got rid of what made the original so great. Things like being able to openly explore vast planets, the freedom to walk around larger areas like the Citadel, having an inventory system – all stuff that was unceremoniously cut or simplified with each follow-up. The thing is, the stuff that was cut or refined kinda sucked in the original. Or at the very least it was unnecessary fluff.
Even staunch defenders of the first game admit that the Mako sections (open planet exploration) were crap. The oversized ATV handled like shit, driving wasn’t fun, and the planets were all devoid of anything interesting, save a few scattered pickups or mission locations. Also, I found space monkeys on one planet but you couldn’t actually do anything with them. So yeah, axing that nonsense was a great decision.
Exploring the Citadel? Well, it was a neat idea in theory, but people who fondly remember it forget one thing: It was boring as shit. Running around to the various locations took way too much time with nothing really happening in between, save the occasional companion banter. Remember the side quest where you had to scan all of the weird little maintenance aliens? I sure do, and it was really fucking dull because the Citadel’s interior was big and empty and Shepard would just saunter along and take forever to get anywhere. Give me the much more contained but far more visually interesting corridors of Omega or Mass Effect 2/3’s Citadel, thank you very much.
I’d say “don’t even get me started on the inventory system” but that’s the whole point. The inventory system for the original Mass Effect was garbage. You’d pick up items automatically after encounters or completing missions, as well as finding stuff in the environment, which is fine. What’s a lot less fine (read: not fine at all) is how there was limited inventory space. In my first and only playthrough – because I’m never playing this plodding fossil again – I ran out of space. I ran out of space and for several more hours of gameplay I would earn stuff after a fight and then the game would inform me that my inventory was full and I’d either have to make room or forfeit my winnings. Woo-hoo. I finally got sick of it and started tossing stuff I didn’t want or need. Of which there was a ton. I enjoy BioWare games, but this is not very good design.
There’s more to Mass Effect that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny (modern or otherwise), such as the “I should go” followed by a glance to the side and a walk towards the edge of the screen that would take place at the end of pretty much every single conversation, but the point is it just doesn’t. It’s Knights of the Old Republic but without the Star Wars and, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s not super great. The story is good and it sets up the other two games extremely well, but the second and third entries are just better games. Sorry.
Rob Rich has loved videogames since the 80s and has the good fortune to be able to write about them. Catch his rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne