Jump back to young me, pestering my parents for the right to play games rated far older than I am, like all my cool friends at the time. The compromise? Mass Effect, the original, rated only 12, low enough for my parents to take the risk. The game was a revelation for young me, and the grotesque transformation of the husks alone probably influenced my love for modern horror. This enjoyment lasted for about 5 hours before little me got lost on the Citadel and gave up attempting to navigate the games unforgiving UI.
It is based on this experience that I bought the trilogy, knowing I came across the original at the wrong time, but that the core of the game was good. And, upon replaying, it was. I could utilise the interesting squad selection system, with each of your two chosen teammates having individual loadouts and abilities at your disposal. It gives each encounter a range of approaches, and therefore a variety that compensates for at times plain environment design. The storytelling is reliably engaging and your ability to align yourself with certain characters is still some of the best usage of the "choose your response" mechanic even compared to all the games since its 2007 release.
Obviously, certain aspects such as facial animations have been far surpassed by modern technology, and the sound design lacks a certain atmosphere during combat with noise fading in and out almost entirely alongside the actions in battle. But for the most part I was caught off guard by how well the game had aged. I didn’t feel like I was playing a 15-year-old game. Until technical issues began to rear their head.
Enemies’ bodies clipping through surfaces, AI occasionally acting up before snapping back to functionality; these are annoying but manageable. However, I soon found myself on the receiving end of a crushing glitch that would have set me back hours and hours. It really succeeded in sucking my enjoyment from the playthrough.
Going into the laboratories of Noveria, I noticed one of my companions had vanished; "annoying but manageable", I thought as I continued to battle through the complex. Puzzles, trains, fetch quests, legions of the bug-like Rachni enemies, and even a significant boss battle and story moment, the labs provided a sprawling if somewhat repetitive level, which after a few hours was beaten.
With the labs cleared and enemies defeated, the objective changes to take the train back out of the complex, which would teleport me to the end of level screen and a job well-done. Except, confusingly, the game spat me out at the other end of the line, where I had previously fought through on my travels.
I tried going back to the labs a few times, I restarted from my most recent save a few minutes earlier, spawning my lost squad member back from the abyss, but still nothing. I looked online, and after sifting through discourses regarding 3 other huge glitches from the same level, I found that my situation was hopeless beyond going back to my most recent save before the level and going from there.
I am not used to older Role-playing Games, I often play First Person Shooters or more recent horror, both packed with frequent autosaves with manual saving taking a back seat. To restart in Mass Effect would set me far, far back, and I didn’t have the energy to claw my way back to where I was - at least not until I have waited long enough for the experience to feel fresh again, like waiting to forget in order to re-watch a movie. It stopped all the momentum, yanked me from my immersion in the story, and essentially destroyed my experience with the game.
It is truly a shame to let a good experience fall to such an occurrence, and I would still recommend to anyone who hasn’t played Mass Effect to give it a go and brave the risks (just with frequent manual saving just in case) to reach the unique core lost under the years of visual glossing and polish we’ve come to expect. I have cut my losses and started with the sequel in the collection, which so far promises a similarly varied experience, though the threat of a glitch will loom throughout.