-- Mass Effect
Release Date: 20-Nov-2007
Developed By: Bioware
Published By: Microsoft Game Studio
ESRB: Rating PendingOfficial WebsiteWhere to buyAdd review
Mass Effect is an action role-playing game under development by BioWare exclusively for the Xbox 360. It is the first installment of a planned trilogy. The game takes place in the year 2183, with the player assuming the role of an elite human soldier named Commander Shepard. The story revolves around an ancient alien prophecy stating that, every fifty thousand years, machines come to the galaxy to harvest all organic life, and the time of their return is approaching. As the first human Spectre – sworn defenders of galactic peace – Shepard's mission is to halt the advancing armies of a legendary agent gone rogue. Shepard will lead an elite team across hostile alien worlds and discover that the true threat is far greater than anyone imagined.
Besides the plans for a trilogy, which Bioware claims "will cover the Xbox 360's five-plus year cycle," there are plans for episodic content to be uploaded to Xbox Live that fill in the story between each game, though are not essential for understanding the story of the other games.
The term "Mass Effect"
Inside the game universe, mass effect is a newly-discovered (for humans anyway) 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.
Certain beings are able to sense and manipulate mass effect much like some real-life creatures (such as sharks and eels) can sense and manipulate electromagnetism. These abilities will be augmentable via implants, and the manipulation of mass effect is referred to as 'Biotics'.
Commander Shepard is a veteran soldier, who's seen a lot of action in many engagements across the galaxy. And Shepard doesn't have it very easy either. Charged with the most important missions in the galaxy, Shepard is therefore authorized to get the job done at all costs – and it's up to you to determine what that cost will be. Often, something must be sacrificed to get further in your mission, and all of Shepard's decisions are important ones, where people's lives hang on the details of each choice.
Before any fighting began, we were shown how each character's in-game appearance was entirely dependent on the gear they wore. No characters in Mass Effect have a stock armor appearance. If you equip a huge, hulking helmet, it'll show up in real time. Same thing with weapons, which appear strapped to characters' backs and legs. This allows for a huge variety of character appearances, reinforcing the game's already impressive customization options."
It should be noted that, although the game's screenshots and concept art all show the same two Commander Shepards, you are able to fully customize his/her appearance, gender, abilities and even military background. 
Combat in Mass Effect will take place in real time, though the player is given the option to pause at any time to give orders to other squad members. 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 in other games) to fight their enemies. Players will directly control the selected character's actions, as opposed to control via menu systems used in other console role-playing games. Squad members can be given simple commands with input from the directional pad.
In combat, you'll be able to switch between all of the characters under your control on the fly, and we're told that the artificial intelligence of those accompanying you won't disappoint. However, you'll have the option to give them simple commands using the directional pad and even to issue more complex orders by pausing the game and using a Full Spectrum Warrior-style interface. The whole screen gets a yellow tint when you pause the game in this fashion--it's overlaid with a tactical-looking grid--and your colleagues are represented by 2D icons that almost look like chess pieces. Using this interface, you can tell the other characters where you'd like them to go (behind cover, for example) and which of their abilities or special powers you'd like them to use. It's an interesting control mechanic and one that promises to afford you a far greater degree of control over your allies than most.
The abilities and special powers that your characters have at their disposal will be determined by the skill sets you assigned them at the start of the game and how you've been spending your experience points since then. Some of the more memorable powers that we got to see in action on this occasion included a telekinetic "lift" that could be used to pick up objects and enemies, and a tech ability that let our alien friend drop the shields on a large, four-legged mechanical boss. We also got to see a couple of the game's numerous weapon modifications put to good use--namely an incinerator upgrade that set fire to enemies and a vaporizer add-on that made them disappear completely."
Weapons & Equipment
Mass Effect will feature four classes of conventional weapons, different types of grenades, "tech" weapons (see brief description of Tech abilities above), as well as other usable items. The player will also be able to outfit their character and squad with various types of armor. All equipped items will be visible on the characters; changing armor immediately changes the look of the character, whether adding a bulky helmet or switching to a sleek skin-tight suit of armor, and all weapons fold up into compact versions and are stored directly on the character. Weapons and similar usable objects can be retrieved by simply pressing a particular direction on the directional pad for each item.
Non-Player Character Interaction
One of Mass Effect's unique gameplay elements involves its conversation system. Previous Bioware console 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 introduces a new system in which responses to NPCs are displayed and can be chosen from before the NPC has finished speaking. This allows for more fluid and natural conversations, which gives character interaction a cinematic quality. There is also the possibility that the player can decide not to say anything leaving the next character to make his/her comment.
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 preview of the response that will be made, usually one word (such as "Threaten"). The response is selected by moving the analog stick in the direction of the desired response on the circle and pressing one of the buttons (most likely the A button). The command menu is organized such that each section is assigned a particular inclination (i.e. being nice, aggressive, etc.), so that after players have become comfortable with the system they will no longer have to read the menu, and will be able to respond appropriately, immdediately, if desired. BioWare hopes that the innovative system will 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.
The main story and character interactions in Mass Effect will be affected by the player's chosen morality. Unlike in BioWare's previous titles, emphasis on becoming a pure "good" or pure "evil" character will be lessened. Some characters may not like the player or leave the player's squad if the player's moral direction differs from their squadmate's too much. 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 will be mostly determined by the player's choices during conversations.
The Normandy, the player character's ship, and a technological marvel in the setting of the game, will serve as the primary mode of transportation.
Since the game spans the galaxy, many trips will have to be made from planet to planet. Players will select destinations by selecting them through a galactic map of the Milky Way. Videos have shown that the galaxy is divided into numerous levels of organization, from the galaxy as a whole to individual planets within their respective solar systems.
Certain unexplored or uninhabited planets will be navigable at the ground level using an all-terrain armored personnel carrier, controlled directly by the player, which can be upgraded throughout the game. Some segments of the game even require the player to fight an enemy using the weapons mounted on the vehicle (developers have said once such event involves a towering bestial creature native to an uninhabited planet).
Although the game will follow a main story, Mass Effect will supposedly include a large number of side missions and free-roam "unexplored planets" that can be reached by selecting them through the galactic map.
Geth -- The geth are a bi-pedal, humanoid race of networked AIs that resides in the Terminus Systems. The geth were created nearly 300 years ago by the quarians as laborers and tools of war. When the geth began to question their masters, the quarians attempted to exterminate them. The geth won the resulting war. The example of the geth has led to legal, systematic repression of artificial intelligences in galactic society.
The geth can learn and grow intellectually, but they progress far more slowly than an organic being. Still, the story of the geth's creation and evolution serves as a warning to the rest of the galaxy of the potential dangers of Artificial Intelligence.
The closer geth physically are to each other, the more intelligent each one becomes. Effectively, they "share" brain power. An individual geth has only a basic intelligence on par with animal instincts, but in groups they can reason, analyze situations, and use tactics as well as any of the organic races.
Over time the geth have evolved into numerous sub-forms - from the diminutive but highly agile hoppers, to the gigantic, lumbering geth armatures. It should be stressed, however, that in all forms the geth are to be approached with extreme caution as they are universally violent creatures.
This race has been revealed to be a member of the Citadel Council.
The reptile race of Krogans (sic) are merciless and cruel, and for unknown reasons harbor a deep hatred for other intelligent species in the galaxy.
Salarians are a race renowned for their technical skill as well as their high aptitude for espionage. In the interstellar community, they've created many of the major technological advances that now fill the galaxy.
The turians were the last of the Citadel races to join the Council. Their features are avian, making them resemble humanoid birds or raptors. They have a reputation for skill and bravery in combat, but they are not known to be bloodthirsty. A rigid code of honor and strict discipline are the hallmarks of any turian officer. This includes humane treatment of prisoners and conquered enemies. A turian patrol unit will never willingly leave behind one of their own, no matter what the cost of saving them.
Turian society is highly regimented and very organized, and the species is known for its strict discipline and work ethic. Turians are willing to do what needs to be done, and they always follow through. They are not easily spurred to violence, but when conflict is inevitable, they only understand a concept of "total war." They do not believe in skirmishes or small-scale battles; they use massive fleets and numbers to defeat an adversary so completely that they remove any threat of having to fight the same opponent more than once. They do not exterminate their enemy, but so completely devastate their military that the enemy has no choice but to become a colony of the Turians.
Other species see them as "men of action," and they are generally regarded as the most progressive of the Citadel races. Since their culture is based on the structure of a military hierarchy, changes and advances accepted by the leadership are quickly adopted by the rest of society with minimal resistance.
Little is yet known about the Volus, but their heavy clothing and breathing masks are apparently a necessary garb when away from the unique atmosphere of their home world.
A nomadic race of humanoid aliens, the quarians are generally shorter and of slighter build than humans. They dress in a scavenged assortment of materials, hiding their faces behind visors, goggles, or breathing masks. Some believe the quarians are cybernetic, a blend of machine and biology that can survive for a time in the cold vacuum of space. Others believe the quarians are simply so used to living on their substandard, makeshift ships that they never remove their survival suits. Three hundred years ago the quarians created the geth, a species of rudimentary AIs, to serve as an efficient source of manual labor. But the geth rebelled against their quarian masters and drove them into exile. Now the quarians wander the galaxy in a flotilla of salvaged ships, secondhand vessels, and recycled technology. Other species tend to look down on the quarians, seeing them as scavengers and condemning them for unleashing a dangerous synthetic life form on the rest of the galaxy.
* 2148 AD
Humanity discovers a small cache of highly advanced alien technology hidden deep beneath the surface of Mars. Building on the remnants of this long extinct race - known as the Protheans - humanity quickly masters the science of mass effect fields, leading to the development of faster than light travel.
* 2149 AD
Spreading out through their own solar system, humanity discovers that Charon, Pluto's moon, is actually a massive piece of dormant Prothean technology - a mass relay - encased in ice.
Once activated, humanity discovers that the mass relay allows instantaneous travel across thousands of light-years to a synchronized mass relay in another part of the galaxy.
There they discover several more dormant relays. Over the next decade humanity expands rapidly, establishing colonies and activating dormant relays to open up more and more unexplored regions of space.
* 2155 AD
To defend its rapidly expanding empire, humanity assembles a massive fleet and constructs an enormous military space station at the nexus of several key mass relays... even though they have yet to encounter another intelligent space-faring species.
* 2157 AD
Humanity makes first contact with another space-faring culture: the Turians. Unfortunately, the encounter is far from peaceful. Over the next several months a brief but tense conflict known on Earth as the First Contact war ensues.
This conflict draws the attention of the Citadel Council - a multi-species government body that maintains peace and stability throughout the known galaxy. The Council intervenes before hostilities escalate further, revealing the existence of the greater galactic community to humanity and brokering a peace between them and the Turians.
* 2165 AD
Humanity continues to expand, founding more colonies and establishing trade alliances with many of the other species who recognize the authority of the Citadel Council. In 2165 the Council makes official recognition of humanity's growing power and influence in the galactic community. Humanity is granted an embassy on the Citadel, the political and economic heart of the galaxy.
* 2183 AD
Commander Shepard - a promising young officer in the Human Alliance military - is assigned to the crew of the Normandy, the most advanced prototype vessel ever designed.
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