It’s no secret BioWare are one of the most passionate development studios in the world. Every game they have ever laid hands upon becomes a rich, full experience with absolute realisation. Just ask anyone who has spent more than a few hours with classic Baldur’s Gate series or the legendary Star Wars epic, KOTOR. Now, BioWare are set to deliver an Xbox 360 exclusive with their incredibly deep space drama, Mass Effect, due for release in the US this November (with no confirmed date for Australia yet).
Ushered into yet another of Microsoft’s small hotel rooms for a live demo, yours truly walked in on the tail-end of an earlier demo, and so had to deal with catching up fast, and preparing for dual amounts of the same information once the next demo began (though this ‘mix up’ would in fact be a grand example of one of the game’s more appealing features, so bear with me). At any rate, my initial critique came with the Mass Effect’s overall presentation and visuals. Here we have a title that does push the 360, but not nearly to its limits. With that being said though, Project Director, Casey Hudson, did mention to us the game is fully put together, in that all the sound, music, voices, visuals, menus – everything, are all finished and tied together, which means between now and November when the game is released, it’ll all be about ironing out the kinks and bugs; making sure everything flows right and there are no hang ups, so people like me can’t complain. But from this earlier build, it still looks mighty impressive, so I’m holding off final judgement for the final
version of the game.
The first area of the game I’m privy to, has our hero, John Shepard, running through a creek bed. The planet is called Virmire and splashes of water, intensely thick tree lines and hidden structures built into mountain-sides create stunning geography making this look all the more enticing, but it’s the action-ised element of this supposed ‘RPG’ that really grabs me. There are countless options for character customisation, and you can choose to be either male or female, and given BioWare’s pedigree, throwing the words “role playing game” amidst a Mass Effect spiel is definitely a bonus, but small touches like the steady-cam Gears of War-esque camera behind Shepard as he runs tells me this isn’t all about talent trees and experience points. This is further cemented when we see an example of using dark powers to throw enemies around like so many ragdolls. There is definitely a RPG element to the game, but it never once seems to outshine the action portion.
After some demos of the skirmishes you’ll face, it’s on to an even more important aspect – story and communication. Mass Effect’s true selling point hangs in the way in which you
shape not only the story, but the entire matrix of events from beginning to end. We were shown but one very small example of this, and were equally asked not to spoil the details of the event. Suffice to say, a particular team member whom you’ve travelled with and grown fond of, forces you to face a myriad of decisions. The choice Hudson showed us (bearing in mind, I’m still sitting in on the tail-end of a previous session) had a pretty dire outcome, and proved just how formidable some of the decisions you need to make in the game are. What was equally cool about this, was waiting the 20-odd minutes to re-reach this point with a new batch of journos in the room, only to have Hudson accidentally
hit a different converse decision, and a completely different outcome to the event presented itself, showing me, in real-time, an even more robust example of the ‘choose your own adventure’ element of Mass Effect (apparently it was the only time they’d screwed up in that portion of the demo as well, so I felt especially lucky).
Beyond the main story (which I was told, rushing through without exploring or accepting side-quests would take around 30 hours), there are countless side-quests and tangent paths you can walk along. What’s specifically cool about this is your game-world map, which is actually an interactive map of the Milky Way that looks unbelievably cool – amidst the stars you’ll find unchartered worlds just waiting for you to set foot on, and thanks to this system, you can literally double
your play-time if you should choose to seek out side-quests or simply explore all the untouched planets.
Mass Effect is a fully realised world (well, in the encompassing sense of the word “world
”, it is a full galaxy, after all), and the depth of it and its rich history are going to find many, many devoted players (we were even given a prequel novel set in the Mass Effect universe written by BioWare lead writer, Drew Karpyshyn, called Mass Effect Revelation
, so keep an eye out for it if you want some real
background information on the Mass Effect universe). The multiple-paths you can take – and shape – the story with are incredibly enticing, affording you the opportunity to play as either a nice guy, a diplomatic person, a renegade, an asshole and more. And couple this approach with the concept of various final outcomes to each and every in-game decision you make (as well as the cool action/RPG elements and great visuals), and you have one helluva must-have title for Xbox 360. We’ll keep bugging M$ Australia for an official release date for you, but for now, be sure to check out the accompanying screens and vids
to see what all my fuss is about.