The Mass Effect games have practically defined a genre. BioWare’s sprawling space opera has earned its place in the annals of gaming history, a rare beast that managed to become a commercially successful AAA monster while also gaining unanimous critical acclaim for its maturity, innovation and downright balls-to-the-wall ambition. Mass Effect: Andromeda may have slightly soured the flavour of an otherwise delicious intergalactic pudding, but the main trilogy of games, especially the peerless Mass Effect 2, took the action RPG into the cosmos and made it soar among the stars.
A new Mass Effect is coming, but details beyond its mere confirmation remain frustratingly sketchy. As such, if you haven’t managed to fill the Shepherd-shaped hole in your life, you’ll likely want to check out similar games that share many of the elements that made BioWare’s sci-fi showstopper such a revered gem. Whether it’s via deep player immersion, expansive lore or consequential role-playing elements, here are ten games like Mass Effect you should play as you wait to board your starship once again.
Games Like Mass Effect
10. Halo 3
Developer: Bungie Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360
If you enjoy games like Mass Effect for their immersive and consequential role-playing aspects, look elsewhere. If you enjoy games like Mass Effect for their vibrant, absorbing alien worlds and involved lore building, you can’t afford to skip over the franchise that pretty much accounted for around 60% of Xbox 360’s sales this century. Probably.
In all honesty, it doesn’t matter how, why or from where you arrive at the Halo franchise — there’s really no excuse at all for not experiencing one of the most influential sci-fi sagas gaming has ever seen. Although the original Halo is rightly considered a masterpiece and Halo Infinite pushed the franchise into a new generation, Halo 3 is the one to go for if you’re fresh off the bows of your Normandy S1 Starship. Bringing together everything that had made the first two Halos so phenomenal, Halo 3 pushed the franchise into the seventh generation of consoles with breathtaking confidence and style.
As far as sci-fi campaigns go, even Mass Effect has a hard time keeping up with Halo 3’s relentless thrill-ride of a story, while its multiplayer mode is about as good as playing online ever, ever got.
9. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Developer: BioWare Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Also developed by BioWare, Inquisition acts as the third mainline installment of the fantastical Dragon Age saga and follows your journey as an Inquisitor who has the power to heal the rifts that have occurred between the game’s worlds and dimensions. With a rip in the dimensions known as “The Breach” now allowing all manner of beasts into your realm, the player must close the rift and prevent a brewing civil war across the lands all at the same time. Piece of cake.
It may all sound like quite a lot to take in on paper, but BioWare are such a safe pair of hands that they succeed in building the game world with the same conviction and flair as demonstrated in Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic. Inquisition obviously has a more fantastical flavour than the space-based exploits of Mass Effect, but that shouldn’t in any way put players off. These are the guys that made Baldur’s Gate, remember. Great exploration, excellent writing and deep customisation. yet another winner.
8. XCOM 2
Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: 2K Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Many games end up being picked up, played, maybe even completed, before taking their place on the dusty shelf of shame, never to be returned to again.
That isn’t a problem that XCOM 2 ever suffered from. Firaxis Games’ seminal sci-fi hit is very much an “if you know, you know” sort of a game, the kind of thing that sounds lethargic and dull superficially but that has shown the capacity to utterly absorb and immerse long-term fans to the point of genuine obsession. Like Mass Effect, XCOM 2 gets its alien claws into you and simply doesn’t let you go again.
Set 20 years after the events of Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 sees the eponymous military organisation attempting to hit back against the totalitarian regime of its alien occupiers. Because XCOM 2 features procedurally generated maps and because there are a hundred ways to skin an alien lifeform, you can find yourself commanding your squadron in different ways and to different effects until the only thing likely to intrude on your strategising would be an actual extraterrestrial invasion. You have been warned.
7. Deus Ex
Developer: Ion Storm Publisher: Eidos Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS2
The Deus Ex franchise has seen its ups and downs, always striving in its ambitions but occasionally stumbling when it comes to the execution. That isn’t a criticism that you could level at the original Deus Ex, however, Ion Storm’s groundbreaking dystopian blockbuster that many have now credited as having propelled the genre into the 21st century.
Set in 2052, Deus Ex introduced many of the major themes that would prove that video games could tackle weightier topics like state intervention, mass surveillance and the ethics of bionic body modifications.
What makes Deus Ex so revered, however, is that its gameplay was genuinely innovative for the time, finding ways to make the player experience more than simply an “on the rails” affair in which the actions of the protagonist didn’t matter. To use those tired RPG buzzwords, Deus Ex placed great stock on consequence and choice, the idea of player agency central to a game that many now speak of in deservedly reverential tones. Deus Ex paved the way for games to become more mature, immersive and rounded in their design.
Developer: Irrational Games Publisher: 2K Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
Games like Mass Effect are defined more as action-oriented RPGs than true immersive sims, but they still share many characteristics with the game that helped to make immersive sims so popular: 2K’s unparalleled BioShock.
The BioShock franchise is a gaming sensation, a property that sucks you into its bleak, neo-noir world just as waves in a storm pull ships under into the crushing weight of the endless sea. While the third entry, BioShock Infinite, opted for a stunning steampunk vision with its shining floating city of Columbia, the franchise made its name with the nightmarish, Art Deco rendering of Rapture, the underwater metropolis in which the first two entries are set.
BioShock may not be an RPG, but its moral system and inclusion of player choices do hint at the genre that clearly helped inspire it. More importantly, what the game does have is a deeply engaging setting backed by Ken Levine’s exceptional worldbuilding, and the story of a fractured utopia ruined by scientific progression and social stratification is worthy of the best role-playing saga.
All three games are well-worth an investigation, but for its huge influence and boundary-pushing bravado, the first entry is unquestionably the place to start.
If you fell in love with role-playing in the trashed and scattered post-nuclear vistas of Fallout: New Vegas, there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty to love in The Outer Worlds, a sci-fi action RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the same studio responsible for New Vegas.
Set in an alternative future in which Teddy Roosevelt never broke up huge megacorporations with his ruthless trust-busting, The Outer Worlds demonstrates the fallout from these corporations’ attempts to colonize faraway planets and alien worlds.
The Outer Worlds is a more brightly coloured space exploration game than it is a more hard-hitting sci-fi saga, but its visually arresting palette does belie a much more substantial depth to the game’s overarching story. If you got a kick from the power and meaningful influence you wielded when playing games like Mass Effect and Fallout, it may be worth risking a voyage to The Outer Worlds.
4. Baldur’s Gate
Developer: BioWare Publisher: Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment Platform(s): PC
The phrase “greatest of all time” really does get thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to lists on the internet, but it’s hard to shy away from the enormous legacy of 1998’s groundbreaking RPG Baldur’s Gate.
In truth, Baldur’s Gate is such a colossus on the gaming landscape that it’s fair to say that the modern RPG simply wouldn’t be where it is without it. At a time when the appetite for role-playing games was seemingly waning, Baldur’s Gate has been credited with pretty much single-handedly rejuvenating interest in the genre for a whole new generation.
What Baldur’s Gate gave players at the time was a feeling of complete immersion, that they were part of a world that lived and breathed independently of the whirling motors of the PC which created it. Playing the game is like opening a window to an intimately crafted realm, a realm in which you are both an intrepid guest and a hugely significant participant.
Just like Mass Effect, the choices you make in Baldur’s Gate are varied and have genuine consequences, consequences that make your experience unique from the legions of others who have trod similar paths. As gaming royalty goes, Baldur’s Gate really has earned its crown.
3. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Developer: Eidos-Montréal Publisher: Square Enix Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X & S, Xbox One, Switch
Crystal Dynamic’s effort with the other great superhero mega-team in the form of Marvel’s Avengers had wound up as an exercise in wasted potential and money, while it would later transpire that publishers Square Enix, later sold to Embracer Group, were somewhat in turmoil at the time. When Square Enix teamed up with devs Eidos-Montréal to take on the infamous band of intergalactic rebels and their kooky adventures in space, it seemed like an act of desperation rather than one borne out of a burning creative desire.
Yet Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy surprised everyone to go down not just as a solid piece of work but as one of 2021’s best games, It may have a lighter tone than games like Mass Effect or Halo 3 and its combat may leave a lot to be desired, but GOTG still manages to recreate so much of what made the gang’s original movie such a hit: a rollicking story, a distinct aesthetic and style all grounded by sincerity and heart. Not such a bunch of A-holes after all.
2. System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games, Looking Glass Games Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC
Published in 1999 and developed by Irrational Games, System Shock 2 represents a time when the games industry was on the cusp of a small revolution.
As a new century came into view, so too did a new dawn for an industry beginning to find its feet not only as a medium designed to provide an increasingly cheap and accessible form of entertainment but as a vehicle for complex storytelling, boundless design and a realisation that the possibilities inherent in the format were practically limitless.
System Shock 2 was very much at the vanguard of this mini-revolution and demonstrates games increasingly telling stories with grit, weight and depth rather than the three lines expository text that had once been the source of derision from rival industries. Set on board a cyberpunk starship in 2114, players assume the role of an anonymous soldier charged with constraining an infection spreading through the vessel.
An RPG survival horror at its heart, System Shock 2 managed soul-swallowing immersion even with its relatively limited hardware by constructing a gripping narrative combined with a consequential player choice and sublime world-building. Shockingly good.
A relative outlier in terms of Star Wars game adaptations, KOTOR takes the form of a traditional RPG in which players can choose from three main character classes: Scoundrel, Scout, or Soldier. These are then replaced by three Jedi classes in the form of Guardian, Sentinel, or Consular), with the ability to build skills, access tiered feats and Force powers all accumulating to make you feel like you’ve gone on a journey from a wet around the ears Padawan to a true Jedi Master. In terms of player freedom, KOTOR melds fantasy and fiction to give the truest, most immersive Star Wars experience it’s possible to have.
In fact, it’s no coincidence that both the Mass Effect games and KOTOR were developed by BioWare, the two properties clearly sharing a common ancestry in the way that their worlds are constructed and in how they emphasise choice and role-playing as essential features. If you want sci-fi role-playing immersion and you’re looking for your next intergalactic adventure, there is no excuse for sleeping on KOTOR.
An absolute masterpiece, and easily one of the greatest sci-fi RPGs ever to see the light of day.
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