Mass Effect, A Franchise for the Ages :: Kenholic Monthly #11

With the forthcoming release of the third Mass Effect game, the final entry into Captain Shepard's journey, I thought I'd take some time and reflect on my time in this universe. Garrus is the best, btw.

Choices. You arrive late to big party, the known universe is on the line, the last stronghold for all of civilization is in space flames, all your haters on the intergalactic council are getting their collective butts kicked by invaders from the far end of space, and you get the choice to watch 'em all burn or to come to their rescue.

You think this is an easy decision - hell yeah! Let's go avenge the universe and get some brownie points, but when faced with this decision, I admit I paused for a minute. Does my Shephard - ignored, denied, and constantly put down by this ignoramatic group of alien supremacists otherwise known as the Citadel Council - save that sinking flagship, and in the process risk losing even more of his crew and friends; or do I let him wait for a more optimal window to enter the fray ...

There's no doubt that at the end of the day, my Shephard is going to wipe the floor with the invaders, but at this moment, with one swipe and click of a mouse, I can tip the balance of power in the universe towards humankind forever ... not just for this game's ending, but for all future games as well. Let's just say when I was reacquainted with the Council's ungratefully smug faces and demeaning attitudes in Mass Effect 2, I was almost tempted to re-install the first game to rectify this "mistake".

That's the type of fascinating dilemma that Mass Effect constantly puts in your face. Do you blackmail? Do you negotiate? Do you brute force? Play it as straight or honorably as you can? You punch the annoying reporters that get in your face every game (not even a question for me). Or do you want to be the super rogue black-ops dude? The beauty of this game - no matter how you do things, you still end up feeling like the ultimate captain badass.

Mass Effect is one of the most complete sci-fi game packages around. Granted, the over-arching story is not all that original, but like all great adventures, it doesn't really matter. It's character and detail driven from start to finish. The universe is just so deep, you could spend hours just reading through political backstories, histories of various alien races old and new, or just brush up on the latest in Citadel technology. The fact that you are making the choices that affect your canon immerses you into this story on a different level than your basic book, movie, or even game. The introduction of the Illusive Man (voiced by Martin Sheen of all people) in Mass Effect 2 just made this story bonkers for me; I'm still waiting for the consequences of double crossing him.

At various junctures of the first two games, it surprised me how permanently life-altering and abrupt some of the choices you make can be. True to the recent Bioware games, life and death, romance options, even the mental health of a few station go-ers seem to be at your hands. But the difference here is that a true re-play through cannot be limited to a "single game"; since many of your decisions carry over into each sequel, you're going to have to play through the entire trilogy each time to get a complete experience, to understand the breadth of the aftermath of your choices. Mass Effects indeed.

Story aside, as a game, it's stunningly pretty. I don't understand why more games can't look or feel like this one. As a shooter, it's relatively simple but still very satisfying. It's very much like the original Knights of the Old Republic with guns and jedi psy powers but slightly augmented with more modern features, like a cover system ala Gears of War. Some days, I just got the itch to shoot up some Reaper scum and couldn't wait to resume my game. As an RPG, well that depends ... are you talking about the first Mass Effect or the second? The first one, I probably spent hours optimizing and customizing gear for every occasion. I specialized my crew down to the last skill point. Mass Effect 2, not so much, due to a pretty significant simplication of the skills and weapons systems. In either case, I wouldn't call it groundbreaking since more complex systems existed in say Dragon Age, but each Mass Effect game is well executed from beginning to ending credits.

Case in point, I'll argue that the way Bioware staged the ending act for Mass Effect 2 stands out among all current video games. Again, the story/ending itself is whatevers, but while you're there experiencing it, it's like planning and enacting your own Ocean's Eleven heist - only instead of diamonds or some stuff like that, you're saving the universe. And let's just say that depending on how you accomplish the objectives, some members of your crew may or may not around for the third game.

Which brings us to Mass Effect 3. I want Mass Effect 3. I can't wait to start kicking in some Reaper teeth while giving that boorish Council in the Citadel the finger, all while overcoming any notion that the probability for success has anything to do with anything Captain Shepard related. Just like old times.