Role playing games have come a long way from the slow-paced, menu-driven “Boy and ragtag band of warriors grow up/fight evil wizard” days. A lot of the credit for that goes to BioWare, whose previous titles Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire combined old school role playing with action packed lightsaber battles and kung-fu fighting respectively. BioWare’s next step in innovation is Mass Effect, which fuses a third-person squad shooter with role playing elements in a completely original outer space science fiction setting. Mass Effect‘s problems (mediocre combat, hiccuping framerates) might be slight annoyances, but the game’s breathtaking graphics and absorbing story more than make up for them. In Mass Effect, you play as Commander Shepard, a mid-level military officer who must pursue a rogue Spectre, the intergalactic equivalent of a CIA operative. Unlike most sci-fi plots where humanity is still the center of the universe, humans are relatively weak in Mass Effect, tolerated by some alien races, hated by others. Combat with guns and “biotic” powers is a big part of the game, but conversation via BioWare’s signature complex dialogue trees is where you make the important and sometimes ethically challenging decisions. Those expecting Halo should stay away, but all role playing fans should check out Mass Effect.