I'm quietly please with Mass Effect as a piece of science fiction. I'm not the most well read when it comes to proper scifi - I've always preferred my books to be fantasy and my movies to be scifi, which is probably a symptom of having grown up with both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars - but even with that, I can enjoy a good space opera when I see it.
There's whiffs of what I recognise as Babylon 5 and Iain M. Banks, and there's that overwhelming theme of identity and destiny that pervades so many scifi tales, and it's nice to see that the humans are the new guys in town, far away from Star Trek's galactic lynchpins.
Reading the ingame lore, it's obvious that there's a lot of depth to the Mass Effect universe and, coming to it late, I'm not as bothered as I might have been that there wasn't more effort to shoehorn a little bit extra in. There's Mass Effect 2 to look forward to, and a third in development. There have been plans made, I can tell.
That said, while it is definitively a good game, it's not a great game. The mechanics of the gameplay were jarring at times and, on more than a few occasions, made me try to bite my monitor in half. The decision to make almost every explorable planet in the galaxy consist of nothing but mountains infuriates me, especially when the only vehicle available seems to have a buckfast-fueled ADHD-suffering teenager in control of each individual wheel. And some of them have their Y-axis inverted.
I can see the idea behind the Mako, and I applaud it. It makes me think of a Big Trak mixed with the lunar rover, but I want a vehicle I can keep going in a straight line. This isn't it.
The combat is a bit... laboured is probably the wrong word. Stretched isn't right either. Schizophrenic is almost there. Mass Effect really wants to be an action game, but there's something wrong with the speed of combat. The type of game Mass Effect wants to be has more fluid controls and a faster player character; the type of game it's descended from has slower hostile NPC movement and far more control over the overall action. There's an awkward meeting in the middle that leaves combat feeling a little bit off-kilter.
The meat of the game is the story, and the action merely the sauce that aids consumption. I look forward to the sequel, and can only hope it at least matches the impact of the original.