The long awaited release of Mass Effect from Bioware (of Baldur's Gate and Knights Of The Old Republic fame) follows the story of Shepard, a Human Alliance officer who becomes entangled in an intergalactic plot involving a renegade special agent (or 'Spectre'), Saren.
OK, to start: this isn't the free-roaming extravaganza that may have been billed, so don't bother comparing it with Oblivion. However, this game is huge, make no mistake. A number of systems and planets await exploration, alongside Mass Effect's answer to Coruscant: the Citadel, all of which are considerable in size and content. Be it pirates and slavers on one moon, thresher maws and geological surveying on another, there's lots to do. Gamers who stick to the main story will likely see the order of 20-25 hours, but if you want to explore and follow the intricacies of the sub-plots, there's easily 40+ hours in here ... and that's without the add-ons that are expected in the future.
The game looks stunning. That's probably an understatement. It does an excellent job of pulling the gamer into the story, with high-calibre graphics and superb score & voice casting. The main story is engaging and contains lots of twists and turns to maintain the interest levels. The main character is fully customisable, with a Paragon / Renegade system similar to KOTOR's Jedi / Sith feature. The dialogue wheels in particular are excellent, though again not far from KOTOR, and really add weight to the personality of Shepard, whichever direction the gamer chooses to take him.
Mechanics wise, the combat system is much improved from KOTOR's offering, with Shepard being fully controllable with an aim/cover system not far off Gears Of War. The team are also controllable to a considerable degree, though issuing commands via the D-Pad and the shoulder buttons (which manages weapons and special powers, or 'biotics'). The vehicle sections are mostly fun, though planetary battles with the thresher maws can be frustrating at times - say goodnight if one pops up directly underneath you.
In summary, it's not perfect, but it's hard to be overly critical once you've experienced it for yourself. It's obvious that Bioware have put a great deal of effort and care into crafting Mass Effect, and with such an expansive universe to explore and downloadable content promised, it's a title that offers a great deal of value and enjoyment for your hard-earned cash.
Better Than: KOTOR
Nearly As Good As: Oblivion
(but not quite)