Up until now I’ve never played a Mass Effect game. Nothing against the much-loved space romance simulator series, I was just too busy playing other games so it completely passed me by. With Mass Effect: Andromeda recently arriving with a new galactic adventure it felt like the perfect time to go back to the start to see where all the fuss began. How does the original hold up almost ten years later for someone who doesn’t see it through the loving goggles of nostalgia?
It definitely hasn’t aged that well in the looks department – characters are stiff and dead-eyed, textures are flat and dusty, and edges look a little ragged – but that’s easy to see past given its age and the fact that its sense of space fashion still feels remarkably fresh. The tech may be old, but the underlying design choices keep it feeling timelessly modern.
I roll my Shepard as an ‘Infiltrator’, but soon discover that I can’t actually infiltrate anything because I’m rubbish at sniping and can’t figure out how to open locks. Luckily I had enough foresight to choose the casual difficulty so I can at least progress while awkwardly fumbling with all of the different control wheels. Pointing and shooting feel fine, but navigating equipment, levelling and special abilities are a chore.
I also have no idea what I’m talking about most of the time. Part of the appeal of Mass Effect is the relationships you form but I constantly find myself putting my foot in it – picking a response that sounds reasonable but then something far harsher comes out of Shepard’s mouth. Like my mum trying to give advice for a generation she’s out of touch with, I’m sure she means well but her input never quite seems to relate to what’s being said. Like when Wrex tells Shepard about his entire species dying, and Shepard responds by trying to compare it to the plight of humans. Not cool.
It also doesn’t help that I can’t tell if I’m choosing the nice paragon option, or the bad-guy renegade one. Even when I am being nice, Shepard has all of the subtlety of a Reaper harvest. The crew are just as awkward as I am, but somehow we make it work – broadcasting random statements at each other with no sense of gravitas until we reach a molecule of understanding or I’m given a new mission.
It’s endearing really. Every utterance feels like I’m auditioning for an Eastenders death-filled Christmas special. It’s all very dramatic and cliché. How the Council can’t see that Saren is obviously a bad guy with all the ominous piping on his armour, grey skin and the high death toll from all of his missions, and yet are then easily convinced by an audio recording, seems mad. I can both convince someone to change their opinion in a single sentence, yet get denied for no good reason until the plot is ready to progress. All conversations feel clumsy as a result, like you’re eternally having to make agonising small talk at a party.
Despite that, it’s still a good party, and there’s a spark there that makes fumbling with conversation wheels worth it. It’s more than just a spark with Garrus though. He’s direct and his heart is in the right place, and who doesn’t fancy a sleek carapace?
While the story feels a little wobbly and the environments are a bit plain I’ve become enamoured with the world building of Mass Effect. All the tech feels swish despite some creaky textures and the lore behind each race is incredibly thorough. I enjoy sidetracking important conversations with time-consuming questions like a toddler asking ‘why?’ 14 times in a row. I’m also tucking into the Codex to learn more about the galaxy – trying to stop Saren’s evil plans can wait.
Arriving at the Citadel is still breathtaking even with the blurry scenery – Mass Effect does such a great job of making it feel like this massive, high-tech wonder. And I love how filled with mystery it is – why are the Keepers there? How long has it been here? It does a fantastic job of feeling full of people despite the limited tech. I’d love to see the whole thing remade for Xbox One to see how far it could be pushed.
Even after just a few hours with the game I can see why everyone fell in love with it when it first came out. A lot of it definitely doesn’t hold up today and the story beats are full of clichés, but that’s weirdly comforting. By having such classic story beats, it hasn’t dated as much as it could have, and the underlying design choices shine through all of those old Xbox 360 textures. It’s made me want to keep going, not just to see how things work out with my babe Garrus, but to explore the beginnings of a great gaming universe.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.