We all know that Mass Effect was a marvelous game- when it came out over two years ago. But how have the years treated it?
Short version? Not very well. It suffers in comparison to Bioware's more recent games, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins.
Mass Effect was rife with problems, but most people got past these problems and enjoyed the experience and world that Bioware had crafted for them. But now that the sequel has come out and improved on it in almost every aspect, Mass Effect doesn't seem quite so incredible. The combat system seems clunky, the levels poorly designed, the inventory system a mess, and that there's a bug everywhere you look.
The cover system works okay, but sometimes it's hard to get out, and the peek and shoot function doesn't work as well as it could. It's annoying to pause in combat, at least for me, and the AI doesn't seem to act logically. I had a bunch of rocket-wielding robots rush me one time, and I just couldn't hit them because they're moving so quickly and are right in front of my face. The skill system seems pretty well designed, but I prefer ME2's idea of having a cooldown skill after any skill before you can use the next. Oh, and it takes a really long time to get up when you get "pushed", but that's to be expected... I guess. Sometimes you'll go into a fight against biotics, get pushed immediately, and never get back up.
The levels are extremely repetitive. This was a big issue with the first one, and it's even more evident now, after having played ME2 and DA:O. There are maybe half a dozen layouts for the dozens of side quests, and the only differences are the enemies and the way the boxes are laid out. I didn't know caves were being mass-produced now! Combined with the relative (and I mean relative) lack of story in the sidequests, it seems the only reason for the sidequests is to level up and get the completionist achievement.
Aside from that, occasionally there will be an annoying fight that you have trouble with simply because there isn't enough cover in this very cover-based game. The ONLY time you should ever be out of cover is fighting melee enemies, and those are relatively rare. Having an invincible boss be able to shoot at you pretty much where ever you are is not a good idea. (ok, only in about half the room-the half you start in.)
Another common area of critique is the inventory system. I've never seen so many USELESS guns. You'll change guns maybe a dozen times (not quite arbitrary, but pretty close) per type and character, (which, assuming you're not giving people guns they can't use, comes out to 20 or 30) but you get and sell hundreds, maybe a thousand. The upgrades are even worse, and I much prefer ME2's system of having the different ammo types as skills-despite how unrealistic it is.
ME is fairly glitchy. You can get caught somewhere without being able to get out, freezing when you open the inventory screen (hey, I would too), and one time I even had half the ground disappear while I was in the rover on one of the main missions. Really annoying when you can't see the deadly lava.
All of this seemed like minor issues with the game originally, but taking out the still incredible writing and voice acting and the revolutionary conversation wheel, it is definitely starting to show its age -- at least compared to Bioware's more recent games. ME2 has been so thoroughly polished it shines, making ME seems a little rusty in comparison, and Dragon Age is so incredibly deep and varied, it makes ME seem like you're doing the same thing over and over... which you are, sometimes.
Don't let any of this fool you, Mass Effect is not a bad game by any standards, but if you've played it before and know the story, as well as played the ever-so-much-cleaner sequel, it's kind of hard to go back. I can't get into as much as I have before for the character I'm making now for my second ME2 playthrough, but I'm also trying to do it as fast as I can- which means skipping dialogue. That doesn't help immersion very much, especially considering that is easily Bioware's strongest point.
In some ways, ME may even be better than ME2- the pacing is more traditional, and there seems to be more major choices. I think this is less because the devs thought ME2's way was better, so much as the story in ME2 dictating the way it had to be.
Mass Effect was an incredible game, way ahead of its time. Overall -- its still ahead of its time. Other games are starting to do what it did, bridge the gap between action and story, shooter and RPG, but ME is still ahead of the curve. The only problem is, ME2 is even farther ahead!