The Mass Effect trilogy has to be one of the crowning achievements of computer gaming. Irrespective of whether you enjoy shooters and role playing games or not, the fact that the games were conceived as a trilogy where the character’s actions in one game have resonate throughout the rest of the series was never attempted before. Sure, there were games that were sequels to previous titles with branching storylines, but there was always a canonical ending and storyline such that the story in the sequel would be relatively simple to write. This is fine to an extent for series like Command and Conquer, where the writers do have a storyline idea and allowing you to play as the opposing faction was just a matter of fun.
Mass Effect is a little different. From the get go, you knew that if characters died, they wouldn’t be able to follow you into the second or third games. There are no second chances – unless you started all over again of course – but it made the virtual stakes that much higher and each playthrough unique. Even minor characters get honourable (and sometimes dishonourable) mentions if they’re alive and kicking in the sequels. There is an overall story arch of course, but the end outcome will be vastly different depending on how you do in the previous titles. Hell, in Mass Effect 2, it is possible that you do so badly your character won’t even make it into Mass Effect 3!
The original Mass Effect was released for PC in 2008, ancient now in the world of gaming, especially in the graphics department. The monitor resolutions available don’t even match monitor sizes these days! Feeling a bit nostalgic, I recently started a playthrough with the aim of getting through the entire trilogy again with some differences in how my new Commander Shepard would resolve the myriad problems of the galaxy.
We start the saga by creating a brand new Shepard, in this case a female Shepard who is a ruthless Earthborn soldier, specialising in the Sentinel class, a caster that can manipulate both technological and biotic attacks, or in classical RPG speak, mana and magic. We’re dropped on to the command deck of a state of the art warship – the Normandy – on its first voyage, a supposedly easy pickup of an ancient alien artifact. This turns out not to be the case and so begins the real story of the trilogy. Amidst conspiracy, gun fire, political apathy and encounters with great characters, the imminent arrival of a massive galactic threat unfolds piece by piece.
The best thing about Mass Effect is the sense of awe and wonder the galaxy gives you. The fact that there’s a well written backstory, rich universe of races, characters and their individual arcs are captivating. Of course, this is a Bioware specialty, all of their games have a well written background and fantastic worlds to explore. The missions that put you on the surface of planets giving you free roam to find hidden bases, pirates, treasures and even some pretty scary monsters. This sense of pioneering exploration is scattered throughout the game, both the the way humanity is depicted as being the youngest but one of the most powerful races in galactic politics and when it’s revealed one of your team mates has been sent on a bewildering journey on her own – after just reaching adulthood – away from all her family and friends.
Sure, the combat system is a bit crap and the graphics are definitely not aging gracefully, but it’s still a rip roaring good time. It’s definitely much better than most of the other crap coming out like Call of Duty.