Mass Effect Preview
Mass Effect box art
System: X360 Review Rating Legend
Dev: BioWare Corp. 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 20, 2007 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Bioware gives the RPG genre a kick in the mass
by Patrick Evans

June 25, 2006 - After Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware set its sights on the Far East, using ancient Chinese history and legend as the inspiration behind its Jade Empire last year. For the next generation, however, Bioware has its sights set on outer space in a completely unique and original universe with Mass Effect, a hybrid Action/Adventure/RPG set to release on Xbox 360. Having seen this title in action thus far, it is hard not to be excited about its prospects.

Bioware Community Manager at Bioware Jay Watamaniuk presented the demonstration behind closed doors at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. In opening our demo, he likened the graphics of this title to “a Science Fiction painting brought to life,” and we can honestly attest that this is an awfully close description.

The presentation began with the player’s ship docking at the Citadel Spacestation in search of some answers about a threat they are investigating. Facial animations are detailed realistically and reflect the emotions of the different characters in conversation better than the actual dialog. Watching the character models were distracting when trying to focus on the rest of the preview, namely the revamped dialog and morality system that Bioware has implemented.

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In this new universe that Bioware has constructed, SPECTRE agents are responsible for the continued safety of the galaxy through whatever means necessary. Unlike KoToR or Jade Empire, the threat against the galaxy is clearly evil, but choices made in combating this evil will affect humankind’s image in the galaxy. Brash and irrational reactions to various NPCs can cause difficulty in coaxing later interactions, while overly calm players may have to deal with tricksters trying to talk their way out of confrontations. This entire system is built not on the actual text used in a conversation, but on the choices that express emotion in the dialog. Choosing “I’ve had enough of this conversation” from a menu may lead to the character pulling a piston and threatening violence, so caution is vital in making any decision.

Along with this dynamic sense of existence, Bioware promises to provide an expansive galaxy bigger than we’re used to exploring. There will literally be hundred’s of locations to visit, including derelict ships, space stations, and various planets, each with their own opportunities for interactions and dialog. How many of these locations will be side-quests and how many will be involved in the main story, however, has yet to be seen.

There will be, of course, combat in Mass Effect and it will consist of futuristic gunplay mixed with tactical elements. For the demonstration, the main character and his squad were taken down a corridor where they were ambushed by a group of “synthetics.” After quickly dispatching the attackers, they continued into a wide chamber that contained destructible bridges and objects to help eliminate a larger group of hostiles quickly.

With this talk of destructible objects and squad tactics, Watamaniuk made it a point to state, “Mass Effect’s main focus is the storyline.” It is not an action title with RPG elements, but the other way around. In order to ensure action doesn’t clutter the experience, combat has been simplified by allowing a lock-on feature with the various weapons. The world itself will not break when fired upon, as is the trend in action games of late, but destructible items will be placed in various environments to allow tactical engagements. Also, the AI scripted in the support characters is strong enough that you would never have to worry about their safety before your own. In fact, squad-mates will only an asset as they can be ordered to take up flanking positions and begin firing, instead of being a liability by taking fire in the open or running straight at the enemy.

Using the newest Unreal Engine, Bioware has promised that the main character will be highly customizable, giving options on sex, skin tone, size, and facial features. In addition, Watamaniuk hinted that multiplayer options are being discussed for the game’s final release. The first in a proposed trilogy, Mass Effect is slated to appear on Xbox 360 within the next year at this time.

Features:

  • Incredible science-fiction RPG with a rich, engaging story line. On a distant planet an amazing discovery is made. Players must determine the fate of humanity as they lead an elite tactical strike force in an effort to stop an entity so malevolent that it threatens to tear apart the very fiber of galactic civilization. “Mass Effect” will take players to new depths for an action-RPG, where, unlike in most RPGs, they will be faced with morally complex decisions that have significant impact on the fate of all life in the galaxy. Players must succeed in their quest — no matter what the cost.
  • Exploring uncharted worlds and uncovering a mystery that defies imagination. In addition to the main story arc of the game, players will be able to visit a large number of uncharted, unexplored planets that are side quests independent from the main story. At any time during the campaign, a player can choose to explore one of these planets and have an opportunity to discover new alien life, resources, ruined civilizations and powerful technologies.
  • Real-time, squad-based combat. “Mass Effect” features a real-time, squad-based tactical combat system. Players will enjoy intense, challenging and exciting third-person action and squad-based combat. Players and their squad-mates will be able to engage the enemy with ranged weapons and covering fire, biotic powers and science-based magic, and technological powers — all of which will be accompanied by amazing visual and physics effects that will add tremendous excitement and drama to the battlefield. Whether they use powerful biotic powers or the latest in military hardware, players will be well-equipped to take on whatever comes their way
  • Credible digital actors. “Mass Effect” will feature a huge cast of incredibly realistic nonplayer characters, enemies and party members. Each of the characters encountered will have realistic facial and body movements. A revolutionary advanced dialogue and AI system gives them engaging personalities, creating individuals so realistic they will seem like the first true “digital actors” ever seen in a video game. The resulting experience is one in which players will feel as if they are part of a rich, living world.
  • Character customization and deep role-playing systems. Players will be able to choose from and customize a variety of stunning, photo-realistic character appearances at the start of the game, and can increase various statistics that will affect their performance during gameplay. The reward system in “Mass Effect” is deep, well-integrated and extremely engaging. New equipment, weapons and armor that are acquired during the course of the story will change the appearance of the characters.
  • “Mass Effect” will give players a huge breadth of additional customization options for their characters, weapons and vehicles. Talents and abilities will be upgradeable, and advanced talent options will become available at higher levels. Weapons and vehicles will be customizable to include various effects, abilities and upgrades. Each character class will have unique talents and abilities that will increase in power as players progress through the game.
  • Next-generation gaming defined. “Mass Effect” takes full advantage of the hardware of Xbox 360, providing players with exciting new experiences, including photo-realistic, high-definition graphics on an epic scale, and amazingly realistic characters who bring the world alive. Players will be immersed in a massive universe of unbelievable scale, meet characters who feel real and, most important, interact with them in ways that have never been possible before. As the future of gaming goes online, premium downloadable content and recognition of achievements will be available via the Xbox Live® online game service.

By Patrick Evans
CCC Staff Writer

Screenshots / Images
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