Mass Effect is a sci-fi action role-playing game set across planets in the Milky Way. You play as your own customized Commander Shepard, leading your ship and your squad to save the galaxy from indoctrinated forces.
Pro Calm and thoughtful atmosphere
There's something calming about Mass Effect's atmosphere that really gives you the space to think and reflect. Exploring places like the indoor trade port Noveria feels special because of the cool blue color scheme, the blizzard blowing outside the full pane windows, and the ambient, yet quietly emotional synth music looping in the background. Even the title screen has a thoughtful song playing over the beautiful sight of Earth from orbit. The atmosphere is wonderful in a way that's almost nostalgic, making you feel right at home each time you start up the game.
Pro Good romance subplots
The romance subplots in Mass Effect are great. Playing as male Shepard, you can romance either Liara or Ashley, while female Shepard can romance Liara or Kaidan, your human male squadmate. There are certain consequences for being unfaithful where your partner will confront you or the person you're cheating with in a heated showdown. Sticking with one person for the whole game rewards you with a romantic scene near the end of the story. A lot of care and attention went into these subplots, giving you the chance to see each of the characters in a new light.
Pro You can customize your protagonist Commander Shepard
There are lots of ways to make Commander Shepard feel like your own character. The character creator at the start of a new game lets you change all sorts of options, from your hair, to your skin color, the shape of your nose, mouth, and ears, and so much more. Or, if you prefer, you can simply stick with the default male or female Shepard. You also get to pick which class you want to be for combat: soldier, infiltrator, vanguard, adept, or sentinel, each with their own unique abilities, like the adept's helpful "magic spells" and the infiltrator's specialty with sniper rifles. You can role-play as Shepard however you want, with plenty of options to customize your looks and your combat specialties for whichever role suits you the most.
Pro Your choices have true consequences on the story
Your choices have direct consequences on how the story plays out, not only in this game but also across the rest of the Mass Effect trilogy. You get to choose between options like sparing or killing off an entire race of potentially dangerous enemies, saving or sacrificing one of your own squad members to finish an operation, and dealing with an enraged teammate who feels betrayed by your actions. How you handle certain side objectives during story missions can also have an impact on how the galaxy at large reacts to you. Each of your decisions, big and small, carry over through your save files to Mass Effect 2 and 3, opening things up for many different playthroughs to see how things turn out with other choices.
Pro Memorable cast of authentic characters
Mass Effect has an amazing cast of both human and alien characters who feel like real people. While just about any NPC you meet is fantastic, your squad members are the ones that stand out the most. They all have backstories and traits that are believable and natural.
Ashley is a human soldier who joins your team early on. As you chat with her in between missions, you get to learn about her history with her family and religious faith back on Earth. But then as you explore the Citadel, the game's main hub area, she makes snide comments about all the aliens around, keying you in on her true feelings about non-humans. By contrast, your scientist team member Liara is an asari: Mass Effect's species of blue female-only aliens. Despite being reserved and shy, Liara often jumps at the chance to gush about her research. Talking to her gives you the chance to learn more about the asari and why exactly she's so devoted to her academic studies.
Getting to know everyone through dialogue and squad banter is a lot of fun, making it easy to grow attached to your favorite characters.
Con Tedious inventory management
The game overloads your inventory with weapon upgrades, modifiers, equipment, and all sorts of duplicates of those items. Clearing out your inventory can take several minutes at a time since there's no quick way to select the things you don't want and get rid of them. If you're diligent enough to trek to a store to sell things off every single time you're low on inventory space, you can make quite a bit of money, but it's not always convenient to do this, like when you're out in the middle of a remote planet. It takes a lot of patience to not get annoyed with managing all of your items and components.
Con Clunky third-person shooting combat
The third-person shooting part of Mass Effect isn't that fun because of how janky it is. Your character gets glued to cover whenever you're close to a wall instead of letting you press a button to enter cover whenever you want. The actual shooting mechanics are slow and heavy, and with guns that overheat if you keep firing them for too long. Suicidal squadmates run around getting killed unless you remember to keep directing them to hide behind cover everywhere you go. The combat is just unsatisfying, clearly taking a backseat to the game's story and characters.
Con Vehicle controls with the Mako are absolutely terrible
Driving around on planets to get from place to place in the Mako is awful. Controls aren't as responsive as they should be and the vehicle's physics are all over the place. Just trying to make basic turns is bad enough; roving up a rocky mountain, for example, makes the Mako bounce and spin around like it's in zero gravity. These driving parts are mandatory and unskippable, so there's no way around them. It's so bad that the developers got rid of the Mako in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but you unfortunately still have to deal with it here.