I seem to be catching up with a few older Xbox 360 games lately, and Mass Effect has been the latest game I have completed.
According to my save game I played for almost 32 hours. I actually think I played for longer than this as I'm not sure whether it includes cumulative time spent dying and retrying sections. Either way, this is pretty long for a single playthrough of a modern game, bucking the recent trend for shorter (and arguably higher quality) experiences. However, in this case there was little lack of quality, and I now consider Mass Effect to be one of my favourite games of all time.
However, that's not to say it's perfect. There's the incredibly far reaching storyline, interesting dialogue, deep characters, fascinating background information in the codex, fun combat and truly significant moral decisions on the plus side, but a lot of annoyances that keep it more than a hair's breadth away from genius. The long elevator rides and poor inventory system (at least on the Xbox 360 version) have been mentioned a lot around the internet, so I won't repeat that here, but I think other problems detract from the experience in more significant ways.
The Mako vehicle has awful handling, especially since I played this game right after Halo 3 with it's fantastic Warthogs. It'll drive up near vertical slopes, but bounces wildly around all over the place going over the shallowest bump. There seems to be a huge amount of autorighting to prevent it from rolling over but this just feels like a physics code hack. It has the ability to do a little rocket powered jump for a couple of seconds but this facility is little more than a novelty. However, the most annoying feature of the Mako is that it's not upgradable, unlike all of the rest of your equipment. I think I ended up with a more powerful shotgun than the Mako's cannon by the end of the game. Also, there was no tutorial for the Mako, so it was purely by accident that I discovered its cannon and zoom features to go with the machine gun.
I also had surround sound problems which made some dialogue hard to hear - particularly when characters started chatting in the lifts. Sound designers for games seem unaware of the golden rules of speech that film and TV follow, which is to almost always keep it on the front speaker channels, rather than treating it as a normal 3D positional sound and panning it round to the back to be drowned out by background noise and music.
On the non-story arc planets, there is a lot of repeated geometry which breaks immersion slightly, though this is forgiveable as to produce unique environments for every single planet in the game would be an immense undertaking.
The difficultly curve occasionally has massive spikes, though for a branching storyline where you can't predict what skills and equipment the player and their team has it's quite impressive that the curve is as flat as it is.
For all these problems, I've been totally absorbed in Mass Effect, playing this game most nights for the last couple of weeks or so, till 1am and beyond (much to the annoyance of my wife - Sorry!).
One other problem remains. I downloaded the Bring Down the Sky DLC and decided to leave it till the end of the game to play. It was released after the game, so I think it's a fair assumption that I would be able to play it with my character after completing the game, but it turns out this isn't the case. I played the game using one save game and my last save would be in a position where I couldn't get back to the galactic map so couldn't go to the system that triggers the DLC. I could start a new game, but that would leave me with a low level character that would make the DLC very difficult. This leads onto another problem...
I'd like to do another playthrough, making totally different decisions along the way (be a renagade!) and specialise in biotics rather than weaponry. However, the press releases for Mass Effect 2 state that the game will use your Mass Effect save game to set up the story, which sounds great, but I'd like it to use my first playthrough as a template as any decisions I made were based to the information available to me at the time, so the consequences are real (or as real as you can get in a game). If the game uses your last playthrough, that's kinda like cheating to me. Therefore I'm leaving my save game well alone until Mass Effect 2 comes out, unless someone can clear up this quandry for me.