Interacting with the alien denizens of the various planets is simple, but multifaceted at the same time. During a mission that took us through a space saloon, we were charged with extracting some information from the fish-eyed alien bartender. The conversation trees have been distilled into six possible choices that correspond to six emotional stances... and they're always mapped to the same position on your analog stick. So, if you're a huge fan of intimidating everyone you come across, you'll be jerking the analog stick to the lower right all the time. We chose to intimidate the bartender and, once our selection was made, Commander Shepard whipped out a blaster pointed directly at the bartender's slightly oblong head... he was much friendlier after that.
Had that bartender been less friendly, however, combat is just as intuitive as conversing. Placing your view just over Shepard's right shoulder, Mass Effect handles combat like a third-person shooter - extremely action-oriented for an RPG. You can swap laser pistols on the fly and see every weapon you carry strapped somewhere on Shepard's body. Speaking of laser pistols, you can modify your guns to add new effects - we had a nifty immolator strapped to our sniper rifle that engulfed enemies in flames.
Your squad seemed pretty smart, but you can micromanage if you want by pausing the game and issuing orders, like "go here" and "shoot this guy." You can even have them blast away at bridge stanchions to drop the whole structure on enemies, crushing them to paste. Your team will support you intelligently, though, if you don't tell them anything at all... and they looked remarkably efficient, downing foes before we even noticed them.
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