The best part about Role Playing Games is the fact that they are made for the gamer to experience the adventure at both their own pace and for the most part, branch the story to their specification. Because of this, RPGs can last a long time and you will still only experience a fraction of what the developers have to offer.
Mass Effect is a perfect example of a solid Role Playing Game; one with a great story that is possible to play a number of ways. The game has you controlling a Human solider in the future where Species from different Galaxies interact with each other. Your character can be created from the ground up, with the ability to adjust your sex, look and even your character's history, all of which affect the story and the interaction of other characters. This is actually quite a common feature with Western-styled Role Playing Games but the developers at Bioware have taken this to another level considering the amount of dialogue involved in this game. Where in some games, the main character would be a silent one, here it's quite the opposite. Your character, Sheppard, is very talkative and there is full voice dialogue in both a male and female voice.
As stated before, the future has various species from around the galaxy interacting with one another. The Human race are the new boys on the block and have yet to gain the full trust of the rest of the species, to the point that they are still not given the same treatment as the other, more superior species. The Humans are eager to gain this trust including earning a spot on the high council and earning a spot in the Spectres, a sort of Galaxy police that helps to protect everyone.
Sheppard begins the game as a support character on the Human ship the Normandy and one a mission discovers that a Spectre called Saren has gone rogue and seems to be plotting something very diabolical. Sheppard witnesses Saren and attempts to stop him but because of his status and strength is unable to do so.
The council see that Saren is a threat and because of Sheppard's efforts, they award him as the first ever Human Spectre with the sole purpose of determining what Saren is upto and to stop him. This begins the key story and your adventure through the Galaxy will see you traveling to various Solar Systems and planets trying to uncover Saren's plot and try to stop it.
In terms of Gameplay, Mass Effect is played out very much like a tactical 3rd person shooter. All action is played in Real time with you and two other team members. Depending on your character class your abilities both with weapons and biotics, essentially your magic powers, will vary. Upon leveling up, you have the ability to allocate points towards various skills. When you create Sheppard in the beginning of the game, you determine which abilities you will have throughout the game. Some traits will have you stronger with your Biotics but weaker with weapons, or reversely, you might be have great knowledge of all the weapons and armor but your Biotic abilities are extremely limited. Regardless of how you develop your character, as long as you learn your characters strengths, you can be very effective on the battlefield.
Your team always consists of you and two other party members. As you progress through the story, you will have the ability to choose from more than 5 different people to aid you along the way. Each of the other characters have specific abilities as well and finding the right balance for each mission is critical. During fights, your teammates do act on their own, with fairly good AI, but you will be able to influence them and direct them to varying degrees. With the simple tap of the up button, you can direct your squad to advance or if the heat is on, you can tell them to retreat. It's a great mechanic that works quite effectively. You won't be able to tell them to run around crazy, but they are smart enough not to stand around and let themselves get killed.
The game itself is fairly long but only long if you decide to go through the plethora of side-missions made available to you. Through your journey, you will encounter various different characters with many of them needing your help. Some might ask for some simple tasks as aiding them with some research or you might have the daunting task of traveling to various planets and collecting resources. How you interact with others will also developer your character either as a Paragon (hero) or a Renegade (anti-hero). If you fail to help people or kill the wrong people will only make you look bad in the eyes of the public, but if you are willing to help and go out of your way to help will make people think positive about you.
The game's dialogue, which is extensive varies greatly depending on how your character talks. In every major situation, you are given the opportunity to answer in one of three ways that can lean neutral, positively or negatively. Also, if you decide to develop your charm and intimidate skills can open up other dialog windows that may be important a key points in the game.
Mass Effect is not an easy game in the beginning and it will take you sometime before you get fully adjusted to switching weapons and using your Biotics effectively. Once you do get familiar with the combat system, the difficulty does get a lot easier, but this is a game that cries to you to save every chance you get. Enemies are strong and if your character is not developed a certain way can also add to the possibility of having to restart key points numerous times.
The only real down-side to the game has to be with the controls of the Mako, your ground vehicle. It can be fun to drive, but often the controls are a bit too sensitive causing you to drive it erratically. The camera can also pose a problem as you can get stuck if you drive yourself into a rocky area.
The game's sound is absolutely incredible. I have already stated how impressed I was with the amount of dialogue in the game. The voice-actors are all really well done and the lines are delivered quite effectively. Because you can attempt every area with any of your characters, each one had to deliver the full lines of the game, so you can imagine how many hours were spent recording dialogue. The score is also fantastic and adds to the game's fantastic setting. The sound effects will impress you thanks to the distinctive sounds of the different weapons, grunts and shouts of the enemies and allies and the noises from the environment.
Graphics do suffer a bit. It's far from a poor looking game, in fact, for the most part, it's a fantastic looking game but there are some noticeable polygon issues throughout the game. This game suffers a lot from loading and you will often see models 'load' their polygons as a cut-scene plays out. It almost gives off the impression that the graphics were rushed at times since it happens at such weird moments. There will be points where you will be amazed at what you see, but other times you'll wonder why it looks so bland only to see the detail slowly pop in. The game is also a victim of 'cookie cutter' syndrome where many of the smaller levels and planets look eerily similar to each other. Because of this, you can essentially learn what to expect once you reach a destination. This problem occurs with your side-quests but considering how much effort was placed on all the other aspects of the game, this omission stands out more than it probably should.
Depending on how much time you spend on sidequests, Mass Effect is about a 20 hour game. If you decide to play through the various rescue and research missions given to you, you could spend a very long time before you actually complete the main story line. Also, once you complete the game the first time, you can take your character and go through the story again, experiencing it from a different and/or more difficult point of view. It's great, especially for those who like to find every possible nook and cranny placed by the developers.
I absolutely loved playing Mass Effect. It is a great game that any RPG fan will enjoy. The game strikes the right balance of challenge and enjoyment that you might not realize just how much time you've been playing. The story is very deep and very engaging with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Your experience with the game could be very different from your friend's. On top of that, the 2nd or 3rd time you go through the story, you might notice things you didn't the first time. If you're looking for a game to get lost in, this is your best choice and should not be missed.