Let us get this out of the way first. Like every chunk of this Retrospective, there are potentially SPOILERS ahead. So, if you haven’t played Mass Effect 1, you’ve been warned. Also, bear in mind that I haven’t played Mass Effect since December of… last year? So my memory may be a bit rusty. If I recall anything wrong (or blurred past something), then feel free to let me know.
What better place is there to start then the beginning?
(If you said “The end, because then we don’t have to read your stuff anymore” then I officially hate you.)
Anyhow, the beginning of Mass Effect is… a bit of a thing, honestly. For all that it does a lot of things very much right, there are quite a few things that it doesn’t impress right off the bat with.
But let’s cover the good first. As far as setting the stage goes, Mass Effect opens quite well. You’re introduced to Commander Shepard, given some exposure to what the background you picked means, given a chance to briefly meet the crew of the Normandy and gather a little bit of information about the universe. Concepts are introduced slowly and, if you want, you have a number of opportunities to expound on concepts that you’re given.
Then, all hell breaks loose and you’re dropped down to Eden Prime to shoot up some Geth and introduced to our (for the moment) main antagonist, Saren.
Just in terms of introducing you to the world, to the conceits of the world and setting the stage, Mass Effect performs pretty far above the average. By the end of the first… half-hour? forty-five minutes?… you’ve learned about the basics of the world (Humanity, the Council, the Alliance, Protheans), you’ve been introduced to the breadth of mechanics (levelling, combat, squad movement, conversation options) and you’ve even got an antagonist established (with decent reason to hate him and his bad-ass cred established). Nice and compact without feeling rushed in any particular regard.
However, where Mass Effect falls short initially is characterization. None of the introductions to the crew of the Normandy (outside of maybe Joke, who is helped by the very characterful voice of Seth Green) really provides much in the way of making the characters stand out.
Kaiden, in particular, is quite guilty of this. As one of your first PCs, he should be a little more memorable. Ashley at least establishes herself somewhat by being angry, but Kaiden… well. If I recall right, I was reasonably sure he wasn’t making it through the landing on Eden Prime on my first playthrough. He reeked of generic starter NPC.
This is honestly a really big failing and one that wouldn’t be too hard to address, I feel. I’m not, of course, asking that we know everything about a character right away. That would be silly. But it doesn’t hurt to introduce small character quirks early. I recall Alistair (Dragon Age, another Bioware title) came right out of the gate, establishing what he was like within his first few lines.
The trick is not to make it much. Give Prescott a little more disgust at the knowledge that Nihlus is on board. Give Anderson a bigger reaction to the fact that Shepard is being evaluated as a Specter. Give Kaiden… something. Anything.
Now then. With Shepard fresh off nightmarish visions, it is off to the Citadel to report what’s going on!