Mass Effect is the first game of a planned trilogy from BioWare. Being an entirely new IP that branches away from BioWare's established D&D rule-based games, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Fortunately, Mass Effect delivers on every front and is one of the finest RPGs of this generation.
The fine folks at BioWare have always had a knack for writing, and the universe they've created for Mass Effect doesn't disappoint. I won't go into any great detail about the story here, but it's a rich universe that leaves you begging for the sequel. You assume the role of Commander Shepard, a human captain of the supership Normandy. Early on, you discover a SPECTRE (think this Galaxy's INTERPOL) named Saren has gone rogue and it's up to you to track him down. In classic BioWare style, you beginning hopping to planet to planet chasing him down while he remains one step ahead of you. It all culminates in what I consider one of the best climaxes I've ever experienced in a video game.
The gameplay and presentation overall just screams Knights of the Old Republic. You have two other squad mates at your disposal the entire game and you can equip them and level them up as you see fit. All the characters are extremely well developed and interesting. The dialogue trees are extremely fun and usually branch away from the standard good, neutral, and bad response format. The gameplay plays out in real time and is all projectile based. There aren't any swords or anything, although you do possess a melee attack. All targeting is manually input and the gameplay equates closer to Gears of War than a standard RPG. However, if this would put you off, the aiming isn't stringent like a shooter and RPG elements still govern the rules of combat. You basically do more damage and become more accurate as you level up and this matters more than how good you're aiming.
The game's scope is pretty remarkable. I remember when I was first proposed with the task of picking the next destination; I was shocked from all the places I had to choose from. There are literally hundreds of planets to choose from, but you're not able to land on all of them. While the main story missions are entertaining and very well crafted, most planets and side missions are almost like filler. Environments look the same and all the side missions kind of blur together.
The game has some minor technical issues like pop in and some wonky load times, but these are never really overbearing or detrimental to the game experience. The elevators in the game take an absurd amount of time, which is kind of odd since we're half a millennia in the future. The tank driving sequences have frequently been lambasted by critics, and understandably so. While it's not completely broken, the driving segments are vastly inferior to the on foot combat. The controls are rather loose and imprecise and you aren't given much instruction on how to actually control the vehicle. I've heard many people mention it took them two playthroughs before they even found out the tank has an artillery cannon. The inventory system is a real mess. About halfway through the game, you'll constantly be nagged to manage your inventory as you're only able to carry 150 items. This problem is compounded by the fact that you're simply not able to drop items, only convert them to "omni-gel." This process can take a while as you have to manually scroll down the list and press X every time. I've heard that the PC version has a far superior system and I'm sure they'll rectify it in the sequel.
My only other complaint is the lack of DLC or formal announcements for the sequel. BioWare promised DLC packs after release, but have only delivered on one so far. Nothing is known on if they're working on anything, but I'll keep my hopes up. I'm surprised we've yet to hear anything about Mass Effect 2 seeing as how we know it's a planned trilogy and we know the game is actually in development.
Mass Effect stands out as a game that tells an excellent story and is extremely competent on the gameplay front as well. There are certainly some minor faults that should be addressed, but they do little to interfere with the overall experience. Any 360 or PC owner should do themselves a favor and play through this game at least a couple of times.