Think about computer RPGs and the name BioWare will come to mind almost immediately. Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights were undoubtedly some of the best PC-based RPGs (Um, you mean best games ever, right? – Joe), and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is certainly up on that level for the original Xbox.
Mass Effect is BioWare’s latest offering, a title for which the company has big plans.
The game is the first part of a trilogy, with plans for downloadable episodic content which link the separate parts of the trilogy together. This really is storytelling on a grand scale, and if anyone can pull it off, it’s BioWare.
BioWare has already made detailed plans for the whole story arc of the trilogy, which hopefully means that the whole lot will play like one story rather than three disjointed games. Think the original Star Wars trilogy, not the latter catastrophe.
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The first game has a story which takes place in 2183, less than fifty years after humanity discovered ancient Prothean ruins on Mars which taught them how to master inter-stellar travel and bought human technology on in leaps and bounds. The Protheans were an ancient race that died out thousands of years ago and developed technology so advanced that it’s still not understood by most races.
Prothean technology is used by all races in the galaxy, and gives rise to the name of the game. The basis of Prothean equipment utilises element zero, which can increase or decrease the mass of a volume of space-time – that is, it has an effect on mass. You see what they did there?
Low-mass fields allow for faster-than-light travel; high mass fields allow for artificial gravity, amongst other things.
Humanity has joined the other races in the galaxy as an associate member of the Citadel Council, a loose association of different races. Interestingly, humanity is not at all central to the running of the galaxy, but is a wannabe race sitting on the sidelines waiting to get invited to the party. It’s refreshing, and quite rare, that a game should have such a non-humanocentric viewpoint. Practically every sci-fi game I can think of casts humans as the leaders and defenders of the universe, so getting to play on the other side of the fence is a nice change.
What is it about blue skinned ladies which sets my loins a-tingling?
Players take over the character of Colonel Shepard, a battle-hardened veteran of the human military forces. During the start of the game you are enlisted as the first human Spectre, which is the name of the galaxy’s ultimate police force. Very quickly, Shepard is thrown right into the very deepest of ends.
The mission is simple at first; to chase down Saren, a rogue Spectre agent.
Unfortunately for you and the rest of the galaxy though, Saren has allied himself with the Geth, a race of virtually intelligent robots that have an obsessive hatred for all organic lifeforms. Together with the Geth, Saren tries to bring back the Reapers - a group of killer robots credited with wiping out the Protheans as well as several advanced civilisations before them.
Aliens, killer robots, faster-than-light travel and intrigue by the oodleful – Mass Effect is a game which seems to have it all!
So, the fate of every living being in the galaxy lies on your shoulders. Not much pressure, then, as you race round the galaxy, meeting new races, making friends with some of them and killing others like freaky alien dogs.