In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.
They called it the greatest discovery in human history...
The year is 2183.
It has been 26 years since humanity made first contact with an alien species after an accidental confrontation with the Turians exploded into open warfare.
It has been 26 years since humanity has joined the galactic community and stands amongst alien races that have called the stars home for tens of thousands of years.
You are Lieutenant Commander Shepard, XO of the SSV Normandy and an N7, the best the Alliance has to offer. Your record is exemplary and you have caught the notice of the Spectres, the most elite military branch of the Citadel Council, the largest and most powerful alien government.
For more than twenty years, humanity has wanted one of their own amongst the ranks of the Spectres. You are to be the next candidate for induction. All you need to do is prove yourself as capable as your record states under the watchful eye of the Spectre Nihlus.
What is Mass Effect?
Mass Effect is BioWare Corp's (creators of the Baldur's Gate series, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire) latest RPG venture.
Combining a relatively robust character creation system, a new dialogue system, a new reputation system, third-person tactical combat, and a sleek and stylish but harsh and unforgiving original sci-fi universe, Mass Effect has made itself one of the finest RPGs in years.
Using a fairly easy to use character creator similar to, but more limited than, Oblivion's, you'll be able to make your Shepard look however you like.
There are six unique character classes in Mass Effect, three of which are specialized in either combat, tech abilities, or biotics, and three of which are hybrids, utilizing the talents of two classes, though they are more limited in scope.
Class information in spoiler:
Soldier Unlockable Talents
Shotgun - 4th point in Pistol
Sniper Rifle - 7th point in Assault Rifle
First Aid - 6th point in Combat Armor
Fitness - 6th Point in Assault training
Engineer Unlockable Talents
Basic Armor - 6 points in Pistol
Hacking - 7 points in Decryption
Damping - 4 in Electronics
Medicine - 5 in First Aid
Adept Unlockable Talents
Pistol - 5 in Basic Armor
Lift - 6 in Throw
Singularity - 7 in Warp
Stasis - 4 In Barrier
Infiltrator Unlockable Talents
Sniper - 5 in pistol
Fitness - 6 in Tactical Armor
Damping - 4 in Electronics
First Aid - 7 in Decryption
Sentinel Unlockable Talents
Lift - 7 in Throw
Stasis - 6 in Barrier
Electronics - 4 in Decryption
Medicine - 5 in first aid
Vanguard Unlockable Talents
Shotgun - 6 in Pistol
Tactical Armor - Assault Training
Lift - 7 in Throw
Barrier - 4 in Warp
Civilian and Military Background
You can't write your own biography for Shepard, but you can select his or her background from a list. These have the benefit of actually affecting dialogue involving your character while in-game and your civilian background will even open up a background specific quest for you and will give you alignment bonuses. And while these form your life and reputation leading up to the game, it will never limit your choices in-game.
Background bonus info in spoiler:
Earthborn - Grants a Renegade point bonus
Spacer - Grants Paragon point bonus
Colonist - Grants Paragon and Renegade point bonus
Ruthless - Grants a Renegade point bonus
War Hero - Grants Paragon point bonus
Sole Survivor - Grants Paragon and Renegade point bonus
Talents, Leveling Up, and Reputation
Like any other RPG, you will gain experience for successfully killing enemies or completing quests. As you gain levels, you'll earn talent points, which you can then invest into your talents and increase in skill.
Talent and talent point reward information in spoiler:
Level 1-5 Shep earns 3 points per level squad earns 2 points per level gained
Level 6-20 Shep and squad earns 2 points each level
Level 21-35 Shep earns 2 points squad earns 1 point each
Level 36-60 Shep and squad earn 1 point per level
Spectre Training - Elite agents of the Council the Spectres have access to special training unavailable elsewhere in the galaxy. Increases health, accuracy and the effectiveness of all attacks and powers.
Barrier - Bolsters your kinetic shields with a mass effect field that can absorb a massive amount of damage. Attacks that penetrate the shields also penetrate this barrier.
Lift - Projects a sphere of powerful contra-gravity. Any object or creature struck is lifted into the air Enemies are temporarily immoblized untill they fall back to the ground.
Throw - Projects a mass effect field powerful enough to hurl objects and enemies out of the way.
Singularity - Projects a sphere of dark energy that creates an intense mass effect field. nearby enemies and objects are drawn into the singularity unable to escape its gravitational pull.
Stasis - Creates a powerful mass effect field that immobilizes a single target.
Warp - Projects a powerful mass effect field that wreaks havoc on a subatomic level. It weakens armor and inflicts damage over time on enemies.
Assault Training - Increases melee and weapon damage, also grants Adrenaline Burst talent.
Armor - Enables use of better armor, increases damage protection in battle.
Assault Rifles - Increases accuracy and damage with assault rifles.
Pistols - Increases accuracy and damage with pistols.
Shotguns - Increases accuracy and damage with Shotguns.
Sniper Rifles - Increases accuracy and damage with Sniper Rifles.
Fitness - Increases health and grants the invaluable immunity ability.
Damping - Increases the explosion radius on your tech proximity units. Use damping to shut down your enemies’ tech and biotic abilities.
Decryption - Allows you to open secure containers increases tech mine explosion damage and grants Sabotage talent.
Sabotage - Overheats enemy’s weapon so they cannot fire, and burns them for damage over time.
Electronics - Increases the strength of your shields and lets you use the electronics skill to repair or bypass objects.
Hacking - Recharges your tech proximity mines more quickly and grants AI hacking ability.
First Aid - Increases squad healing by improving the effectiveness of the medigel.
Medicine - Improves the recharge time of squad healing and grants the neural shock ability that devastates organic enemies.
Soldier - Front line warriors that are trained to withstand the physical punishment that comes with combat. Increases health at higher levels and gives limited health regeneration.
Engineer - Tech specialists can use innovative tricks to get the most out of every resource.
Adept - Focuses training to optimize their abilities.
Infiltrator - Increases damage done by tech mines and reduces overheating on sniper and pistols.
Sentinel - Increases damage and accuracy with a pistol and grants marksman ability.
Vanguard - Can use abilities to counter enemy biotic attacks and get into short range positions Increases biotic resistance and damage with shotguns and pistols.
And you may notice those two bars around the character's face in the screenshot. Those are the reputation meters. They aren't really Shepard's alignment as similar meters have been in previous BioWare games. Shepard is always more or less good, but how you choose to conduct yourself while on your noble mission will change how you're thought of and whether you lean more towards impatience, brutality, and getting it done at any cost or more towards finding the best solution for everyone, patience, and leniancy.
Morality in Mass Effect isn't all about cartoon evil and being good isn't going to decrease your renegade meter. You'll be able to fill both at the same time and there's never a way to decrease one or the other. If you perform a ruthless act on your goody-two-shoes character, they're stuck with having done it. You can't change your past.
Reputation bonus information in spoiler:
5% - Opens 2 charm ranks and gives 1 free charm point
25% - Opens 2 charm rank, gives 1 charm point, and 10% first aid cooldown
50% - 10% Bonus health
75% - Paragon achievement, opens 2 charm rank, 1 free point, and 5% Shorter cooldown on all powers.
5% - Opens 2 intimidate ranks, gives 1 intimidate point
25% - Opens 2 intimidate ranks, gives 1 intimidate point, 10% weapon powers cooldown
50% - 1 health regeneration per second
75% - Renegade achievement, opens 2 intimidate ranks, gives 1 intimidate point, and 5% damage/duration on all weapons and powers
Let's talk dialogue.
Unlike BioWare's previous games, Mass Effect utilizes a brand new dialogue wheel.
Instead of being offered completely written out dialogue options that NPCs then respond to, you're given a short thought or feeling. The options are arrayed in an obvious logical order with positive responses being on the top, neutral responses in the center, negative options at the bottom, inquisitive responses that lead to more information on the left side, and options that advance the conversation towards its conclusion on the right. Once you select an option on the wheel, Shepard will then speak a full line or lines completely voice acted.
Or maybe even interact with the NPCs in more interesting ways. Such as punching them in the face. Or shooting them in the face.
Gears of Rainbow in Arms Theft Warfighter of the Old Republic
Unlike your average and traditional RPG, Mass Effect's combat is in no way turn-based and in no way Dungeons & Dragons or JRPG.
Instead, you'll play it as if it was a third-person tactical shooter. Because it is, in essence. It has a cover system like you've seen in plenty of games, but you can pause at any time and tell your squadmates to change their weapon or use their abilities.
You can also give them move and attack orders as a group in real-time. Or if you're playing on the PC, while paused you can give them individual move and attack orders.
Epic Scope burns more than it should.
Early in the game, you will gain command of the SSV Normandy, a small state of the art recon frigate.
Using the Normandy to get around the galaxy, you'll be able to travel to many different star clusters and solar systems, land on 32 alien worlds, and read about scores of others.
The Milky Way is a large place and you might not be able to go everywhere, but there's plenty to see in Mass Effect.
Vehicular Combat and Exploration
But you won't have to explore on foot. The planets you land on are vast and covered with rough terrain.
To compensate, you'll be able to drive the Mako, a heavily shielded and armed light all-terrain APC that is able to drop from high altitude from the Normandy for quick and relatively quiet insertions.
Drew Karpyshyn wrote a Mass Effect book once and his weird name is on the cover.
That's right, there's a novel!
Drew Karpyshyn was lead writer of Mass Effect the game and has written a prequel novel to the game. No, it's not a novelization of the game which wipes out everything you knew and loved about your Shepard by making something else canon.
Instead, it tells the story of Captain Anderson and his fateful mission with Saren twenty years ago.
There's also another book coming out this July under the title Mass Effect: Ascension
Available for 400 MS points for the 360 version, "Bring Down the Sky" adds one explorable planet, a new quest line, about 90 minutes of gameplay, and a new alien race: the Batarians.
Bring Down the Sky, along with the first patch, has been released for the PC at this here site here
. Installing Bring Down the Sky requires a BioWare Community account and a registered Mass Effect CD key.
* All screenshots are from the PC version and all class, talent, and reputation information is courtesy of LookFreeGrenade because I stole them from him and didn't even pay him for it because he doesn't deserve it.