Dale and Kim both have been on my case to start one these, so it's about time I sat down to write something. As documented by my lovely fiancée, I've been playing Mass Effect almost non-stop since I got it. 33 or so hours into my first play through, I felt it might be helpful to drop some impressions regarding my experiences so far.
The game starts innocently enough, you go through some menus and are offered to create a background for your character. You're given a list of options, all of which will somehow effect the way your game is played. The characters you interact with respond to you differently depending on your choices. Presumably, this will allow for some fun replay value. That said, you might not enjoy your first play through with the choices you make and that could easily leave a bad taste in your mouth. My only advice here is to pick what you feel would best represent what you want the first time around, no point in waiting to be disappointed even more. You're also presented several options for editing your character's facial features and while you are able to change quite a bit, there are still limitations. My guy looks like a cross between Ryo from Shen Mue and Kaz Hirai. You probably could make Kaz Hirai exactly, if you took the time.
After you start, you're thrown into a story heavy intro. This will seem very similar to Knights of the Old Republic as it take a bit before you get into the meat of the game. If you just kind of roll with it, you can wade through most of that. You'll have a better grasp of what's going on later in the game. If you're into the story though, which I can relate to, you'll have no problem soaking it up.
Once you get past the prelude, you're open to explore the galaxy. You get to visit planets, systems, etc. You'll encounter new enemies, and all kinds of fun quest stuff. You also have plot points which are fairly obvious and allow the story to progress. Due to the sandbox nature of the game, you can choose to postpone those as long as you see fit. Thanks to this, you can take your time and really enjoy these aspects of the game. Choices you make will ultimately effect other quests you may or may not get, which adds some depth to the game.
Despite all the awesome exploration, and quest content, and freedom you're given, the game is by no means perfect. Occasionally I've managed to glitch through objects, becoming stuck, or not being able to proceed. This is rare, but has happened. Death can sneak up on you, making you wish you had remembered to save often. As Jim Sterling noted is one of his community posts, the combat can feel sluggish and frenzied at the same time. That said, it doesn't bother me anywhere near as much and thankfully decent AI from squad members provides you cover for most of that. Any confusion with the plot can be easily cleared up by an in-game codex you're provided. While it's long-winded, if you need to find something, it's usually there.
My main personal gripe, and maybe it's just a hold over from the days of KotoR, would be the repetitive mines, buildings, and ships you find while you explore. While objects are placed differently within these maps to give a feeling of uniqueness, it really doesn't quite change the fact that they use the same maps. The cockpit is in the same place on every ship. Each mine has the same shafts. Though some passages may be cut off, the doors are in the same place. It's bad enough that one out of five girls you encounter have the same haircut. I guess when you make a game this massive, you have to cut corners where you can.
Makes me wonder if they were just running out of space on the DVD.