Welcome to a brand-new series of articles where we look back throughout the history of Xbox and celebrate the games on their anniversaries. First on the list is the original Mass Effect, which celebrated its tenth birthday this week.
Back in November 2007, we saw numerous other releases this week: In cinemas was the first Hitman movie starring Timothy Olyphant and Enchanted with Amy Adams. Gaming saw the release of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3. Musically, OneRepublic released their debut album and Kylie Minogue her tenth. Steve McClaren was also sacked as the England manager for failing to qualify for Euro 2008. Do you remember the hell of those days?
To lift the gloom and doom though was a brand new IP. Mass Effect released a couple of years into the 360’s lifecycle on 20th November 2007 in the US – 23rd November in EU – and was originally a console exclusive following the successful Xbox release of Knights of the Old Republic, another game Bioware released to critical acclaim.
For those that don’t know, Mass Effect is a third-person shooter action-RPG set in space. You play as Commander Shepherd – male or female – who becomes the first human Spectre, a select group of people and aliens who are held in highest regard across the galaxy. Shepherd is tasked with investigating a prophecy given to him predicting the return of the Reapers who are going to wipe out all life across the Milky Way. But to do so, he needs to bring together an elite team to help him on his task.
This elite team helped Mass Effect stand out at the time because these characters, despite many of them being very alien, all felt very human and very personal, allowing you to form complex relationships with each of them throughout the game. Despite following the same plot, many people would have had many different experiences with the supporting cast simply due to the dialogue choices available during every conversation.
Estimations put the amount of dialogue at roughly 400,000 words and 20,000 lines of dialogue. Most movies only contain 1,000 lines. Lacking depth Mass Effect was not.
It was also a game designed for repeat playthroughs – if only to experience everything about it.
It wasn’t without its issues though, most notably in its combat and vehicle controls. The Mako vehicle received constant ridicule and was best described as ‘clunky’. The gunplay similar. But it’s the relationships between the characters which players remember so fondly.
Reviewers were all in agreement though that the game was a very personal journey navigating space. This was due to being able to completely tailor Commander Shepherd to fit your playstyle, and the relationships you nurtured. Personally, I always treated Garrus and Liara a little bit better than the rest of them.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary, Jonathan Cooper, one of the lead animators, released a few interesting titbits regarding the design process. Most interesting of which is how the camera choices were made for the conversations. He said that it was inspired by Ricky Gervais’ sitcom about movie extras called Extras. With the whole show “built on awkward, close conversations” this was adopted into the Mass Effect game and has stayed with the series throughout the original trilogy and into Andromeda.
When the game did release though, a lot of controversy surrounded it, in particular to a cutscene involving sexual activity. When word got out that an intimate moment could be seen between a human and a humanoid alien, a lot of news publications jumped on the bandwagon to discuss once again whether or not these intimate moments had a place in gaming. Mass Effect was just the next AAA game in the firing line. It caused the game to be re-classified, though not directly: When the UK ratings board moved from the BBFC to the European rating board PEGI, it went from a 12 to an 18 overnight. PEGI felt the sex scene was inappropriate for a younger audience and upped the rating when they took over responsibility.
I must admit, I missed Mass Effect when it first released. Having just bought an Xbox 360, upgrading from a PS2, online gaming was all I was interested in and like many others spent most of my time playing Halo 3, released a couple of months earlier. And also finding love with Viva Pinata…
It wasn’t until coming home from work one night on the train, and taking a diversion into my local Blockbusters, that I happened to come across Mass Effect – pre-owned for £7.99. It was so cheap because Mass Effect 2 was already out, which I then went and purchased a few weeks later after being totally absorbed by the first one.
Mass Effect was always designed as the first in a trilogy and when looking back at them as a whole, the first one only really sets the scene for the best-in-series second instalment. Whilst this is a retrospective on just the first entry in the series it’s impossible to recommend the first one, without insisting the second and third follow straight after. Andromeda though? Well…
So there we have it. A little look back and reminisce of the good old days of Mass Effect. What are your memories of the game? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below, dropping in on our forums, or via the usual social channels.