When Mass Effect was originally released last November on the Xbox 360, it unveiled a vast, beautiful galaxy populated by diverse, fascinating alien races. Players stepped onto this stage as Commander Shepard, a hero at the vanguard of humanity's ascension in the arena of galactic politics, and thus began an epic story bolstered by engaging characters and rich, branching dialogue. Exciting combat and robust skill management completed the package, but it was not without flaws. Many small issues have been addressed in the PC release, and the result is a more streamlined, more playable version of one of the best role-playing games in recent memory.
The bulk of Mass Effect remains the same, so for our thoughts on the story, character customization, dialogue, quest structure, and combat abilities, please read our review of the 360 version. This review will focus on the PC experience and how it differs from console play.
None of the changes are drastic overhauls, but they do have an appreciable effect on the gameplay. One of the biggest tweaks is to the combat system. In the 360 version, you have to temporarily pause the action to use any weapons or biotic/tech powers beyond the one you currently have equipped. On the PC, this pause is still available, but weapons and powers have been consolidated onto one screen, along with squad commands which you can now issue individually. Pressing the space bar will bring up a heads-up display where you can change weapons or powers and issue commands to your squad. Odds are you'll use this pause very rarely, because your weapons are mapped to the function keys and your biotic/tech powers can be assigned to the number keys.
Without frequent pauses, Mass Effect further distances itself from the ponderous, tactical feel of combat in previous BioWare role-playing games. Instead, it feels like a bona fide third-person action title. Gunning down small groups of enemies while barely breaking a stride is still immensely satisfying, as is blasting your way out of larger pitched battles--only now you can unleash multiple tech or biotic attacks on the fly. You can dart out from cover, take down enemies' shields, and explode their weapons--all while shooting them--and be back behind cover in a matter of seconds. The real reward of this faster, more fluid action is the sense of power it imbues. Wielding your formidable abilities with ease really makes you feel like the badass warrior you were meant to be, and it makes combat more exciting and fun.