Mass Effect 2 just arrived in my mailbox in all its double disc glory! Bad puns aside, I must say that Mass Effect is probably the single digital game I've enjoyed the most for a long long while and I'm looking forward immensely to continuing the adventures of my very personal Quint Shepard.
It's currently being installed to the hard drive of my xbox so I've got a couple of minutes to kill. For people not aware of what Mass Effect is, it's a rpg trilogy from Bioware in the tradition of their earlier Star Wars rpg Knights of the Old Republic. However, this time around they are not working with a license but instead have created their very own universe filled with aliens and ancient mysteries. It's basically a space opera, but it has a hard finish to it which gives it a rather believable feel and the applied phlebotium (the titular mass effect) is used as a basis to explain all the things that we don't have a scientific solution to now (anti-gravity, FTL etc.).
Humanity is fairly new to the galactic scene after having found ancient aliens technology on Mars which led us to insterstellar travel and first contact about 70 years or so ago. Although humanity is being somewhat looked down upon as upstarts by the other galactic races (in "the Council") we are also feared because of our ambition and quick adaptability.
And it is at this time you take on the role of Shepard who is a commander in the Systems Alliance. You start out investigating an attack on the human colony of Eden Prime and are soon drawn into a net of intrigue and deceit as one of the mysterious Spectres - an elite group of special operatives that work for the galactic council - was part of the attack there...
I'm not sure how many times I've played through the first one just to see all the different permutations of the story, as well as my own character and my companions. Actually, running through it once more in preparation for the second one I still found a couple of things I'd never seen before. It's really and amazingly deep game!
My absolute favourite part however, is the new dialogue system. For anyone who's played KotOR or Fallout or basically any classic rpg you know the standard model: the npc says something and you get three or four answers to choose from written out at the bottom of the screen. Your character doesn't have a voice and usually (because the text needs to be brief) he's as eloquent as a wooden horse. In Mass Effect you instead get a little whel with a few different alternatives that show up while the npc is still talking showing genereal indications of how you'd like to reply, so instead of typing out the entire question it might just say "Why?" or something similar and then Shepard takes it from there. What this does is that the conversations are much (much) more alive and you find yourself actually watching and listening with interest in the same way you'd watch a movie. Of course it also helps that the characters are beautifully modeled with very good lip-synching. For a good example of this in action have a look at this video. It's a developer walkthrough of some alpha-fotage of the original Mass Effect. It's also a good general introduction to the game (although remember it's very old alpha fotage and some things are different in the finished game).
Anyway, the sequal has finished installing and I can't wait to get going! Until next time...
Oh.... just one more really cool thing about Mass Effect: all the decisions you do and adventures you have are of course saved in your save file and when you start Mass Effect 2 you can load that save file and continue more or less exactly where you left off! If you let that one guy die in your play through he's dead in ME2, if you decided to spurn that one really pesky fan he might be out for revenge, if you saved that one colony it'll still be there etc. etc.
It's a really cool way of making it your very own personal experience! If you haven't already get it for the xbox or PC. You can usually find it dirt cheap.