Mass Effect is an action role-playing game developed by BioWare for the Xbox 360 and then ported to Microsoft Windows by Demiurge Studios. The Xbox 360 version was released worldwide in November 2007 published by Microsoft Game Studios. The Windows version was released on May 28, 2008, published by Electronic Arts.
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 that transpired in 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 plans for a third to complete a 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. 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. And in November 2012 for Playstation 3
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 customise his or her character's appearance, gender, abilities and even military background.
The game includes six character classes. 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. 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.
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 don't 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).
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.
Dialogue and moralityEdit
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.
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. Morality is mostly determined by the player's choices during conversations.
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. NPCs react differently to a character depending on their past morality choices.
Combat and abilitiesEdit
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, 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 equipmentEdit
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 armours 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 armour, each non-human character requires a different type of armour 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 armour also have more upgrade slots than their lower-class counterparts. Upgrades found in the game fall into one of four categories: weapon upgrades, armour upgrades, ammo upgrades, and grenade upgrades. Weapon and armour 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.
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. The galaxy is divided into numerous levels of organisation, 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 armoured 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.
Project Director Casey Hudson explained the term "Mass Effect" as follows:
- 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 implants, and the trained manipulation of Mass Effect is referred to as biotics.
Mass Effect is set in the year 2183 AD. Thirty-five years prior, humankind 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. Utilising 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). 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.
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.
The player is assuming direct control of Commander Shepard, a veteran soldier who can be customised by the player. The character's appearance also varies based on the weaponry and armour the player uses. In addition to customising 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.
The player's main character is almost always accompanied by two additional characters, providing support during battles and contributing to dialogue. 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 game begins aboard the experimental SSV Normandy, commanded by Captain Anderson and his executive officer, Commander Shepard. The Normandy is sent to the human colony world of Eden Prime to recover an unearthed Prothean beacon. To assist in recovering the beacon, the Citadel Council, the galaxy's primary governing body, has sent one of their top agents, a turian "Spectre", named Nihlus.
A small team consisting of Nihlus, Shepard, biotic Kaidan Alenko, and the quickly-killed Corporal Jenkins, who is replaced by Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, discover that the Eden Prime colony is under attack by alien synthetic life-forms known as the geth, led by a rogue turian Spectre named Saren Arterius, who kills Nihlus. After the battle ends, Shepard locates the beacon and receives a vision. While initially struggling to understand the vision, it turns out to be images of biological creatures being slaughtered by machines.
The Normandy and its crew are summoned by Ambassador Udina, the Alliance's representative on the Citadel, to the Citadel station to report on the matter. 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 (Tali), 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 the return of a force known as the Reapers, as well as an artifact called the "Conduit." Confronted with this evidence, the Council revokes Saren's status as a Spectre. They then make Shepard the first human Spectre so that he or she can legally hunt down Saren alongside his or her squad, consisting of Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, and Tali.
Command of the Normandy is given to Shepard, who uses the ship to follow up on several leads provided by Anderson and Udina. On Therum in the Artemis Tau Cluster, Shepard finds and rescues Dr. Liara T'soni, Matriarch Benezia's daughter, who is an expert on the Protheans and joins Shepard's squad. On Feros, Shepard fights off an army of geth and destroys an ancient life form known as the Thorian, a sentient plant-like creature that has the power to control whoever inhales its spores. Shepard also learns of Saren's flagship, Sovereign, which seems to possess unique mind-control capabilities. On Noveria, Shepard tracks down Matriarch Benezia while fighting off both geth and alien insects known as rachni. Benezia is eventually defeated, and she reveals that her mind is not being controlled by Saren, but that her and Saren's mind are being controlled by Sovereign. She soon reverts to Sovereign's control, and resumes attacking Shepard at which point Shepard is forced to kill her.
After completing two of the previous three planets, Shepard learns a salarian infiltration unit has uncovered one of Saren's bases on the planet Virmire. Once he/she arrives, Shepard learns the base is being used to breed an army of krogan warriors. When Wrex finds out that Saren found a cure for the genophage, which makes krogan breeding nearly impossible, and that Shepard wants to destroy it, he briefly considers betraying them for Saren. Depending on the player's actions, Shepard either talks him down, kills him with Ashley's help, or if the player has enough Charm skill, he can avoid killing Wrex. Either way, with the salarians' assistance Shepard assaults the base to detonate a nuclear device inside its walls. Inside the base Shepard discovers another Prothean beacon, which transfers its knowledge to him or her.
Shepard is then confronted by Sovereign itself, which reveals that it is what the Protheans and geth consider to be a Reaper. Sovereign reveals the true terrible nature of the Reapers and their designs. The Reapers are patient predators that remain inert for millenia as organic life develops, allowing these species to discover the mass relays (themselves constructs of the Reapers) and expand throughout the galaxy along those pre-existing routes. Once these races have reached a certain level of expansion, the Reapers awaken and sweep across the galaxy rapaciously, always discovered by their prey far too late to effect any defense. In truth, the Protheans were not the originators of interstellar travel and galactic civilization, but rather were merely just another in a long succession of hapless races systematically sowed and harvested by the Reapers as part of an inexorable cycle that has gone unabated for eons. Sovereign sees Shepard and his kind as no different from those that have come and gone before.
After planting the nuclear bomb and attempting to escape the facility, the team is attacked by Saren. He explains that he has allied himself with the Reapers to save organic life by making it "useful" to the Reapers. Shepard refuses to accept Saren's plan, and escapes Virmire before the nuclear warhead is detonated, at the cost of either Kaidan's or Ashley's life.
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 to request permission from the Council to pursue Saren, but Shepard's request is denied by the Council, who consider the existence of the Reapers too unclear to risk a war with the Terminus Systems. Ambassador Udina locks Shepard out of the Normandy, but Captain Anderson steps in and helps Shepard steal the ship back. On the surface of Ilos, Shepard follows Saren into an ancient bunker deep within the planet, and encounters a Prothean computer system named Vigil, which explains the Reapers' methodology. Vigil explains that the Protheans on Ilos put themselves in underground preservation chambers in order to escape their destruction by the Reapers. Vigil also explains that the Citadel Station is actually a massive mass relay facility built by the Reapers to summon them from the dark space outside the galaxy. The Prothean researchers on Ilos created the Conduit, a miniaturized Mass Relay that allowed them to travel to the heart of the Citadel. Once inside, they sabotaged the process that would summon the Reapers. Sovereign planned to have Saren use the Conduit to storm the Citadel with a geth army past the outer defenses, and activate the Citadel's Mass Relay manually.
Shepard pursues Saren through the Conduit. At the same time, Sovereign and a massive geth fleet assault the Citadel. Sovereign lands on 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 a geth army, then meeting up with Saren. In this confrontation, Saren explains how he had Sovereign implant him. The player can either kill Saren in combat, or convince him that he's making a mistake, prompting him to commit suicide. The Human Systems Alliance fleet arrives to reinforce the Council fleets, while Shepard exposes Sovereign to attack. At this point, Shepard has a choice between ordering the Alliance fleet to save the Council or go directly after Sovereign. Saren's corpse then reanimates under Sovereign's direct control through the use of cybernetic implants, and begins attacking Shepard while the Alliance attacks Sovereign itself. Sovereign is eventually destroyed by the Normandy's main gun, and the reanimated Saren corpse disintegrates.
The precise ending of the game depends on several factors, including whether or not Shepard opts to save the Council during the final battle, and whether Shepard has a higher Paragon or Renegade meter. If Shepard chooses to save the Council, the Council will thank the humans for sacrificing many lives to save them, and let the humans join the Council. If the player chooses to let the Council die, humans, due to their bravery will be looked up to by the other species and, due to the Citadel's weakened state, step up as the new galactic leader. If Shepard chooses "Concentrate on Sovereign," the Council will die as well, although the player gets more Paragon points. At the end of the game, Shepard is also allowed to choose between Ambassador Udina or Captain Anderson as the new galactic leader or Council member in the aftermath. Regardless of the choice, the Council believes that the Geth threat is over. However, Shepard knows that the Reapers are still a threat and that they must be stopped. The scene is ended with Shepard walking away as Udina or Anderson make their speech.
Bring Down the SkyEdit
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. 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. 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. 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.
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’re working on right now, for the Mass Effect universe next … we had something in Mass Effect 1 that again, we weren’t able to pull off just because we didn’t have the time and we didn’t think we’d be able to do it well enough, which was a fight club or an arena. So we’re actually working on that for our next downloadable content piece and we’re hoping it’ll 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."
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. 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're 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.
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