The Mass Effect Trilogy: Sci-Fi Storytelling at its Best

The Mass Effect games are a series of third-person shooter action role playing games developed by BioWare.  You assume the role of Commander Shepard, whose mission is to protect the galaxy from the Reapers and their multiple operatives who are trying to destroy civilization as it is known in the universe.  They are games full of interesting characters, unique aliens, moral quandaries, steamy romance, intense action, and anyone who hasn’t played the games should go do so now.

Glorious

Glorious

I feel that the Mass Effect series is a huge milestone, not only in science fiction and video games, but in storytelling as a whole.

The first Mass Effect game that I played was Mass Effect 2.  This might have been a mistake, as I have never been able to go back and enjoy the first Mass Effect game.  I have read in-depth about it, but the first game feels entirely too clunky and unpolished after playing 2.  I’ve gotten several hours into 1 but everything was so very stiff and unintuitive that I had to stop and move on.  If you’re going to get into the game, I recommend starting with Mass Effect 1 to avoid what happened to me.  I feel bad for not enjoying it and giving it up, and some may dismiss my opinions on the trilogy because I haven’t played through it to Saren’s bitter end, but regardless, I’m going to forge on ahead anyways, cuz fuck those people.

shepards

You know who you are.

There are several reasons that I find this series to be so compelling, the first being that it’s incredibly personal.  You are able to customize your shepard to be a male or female, look how you want, and act how you want.  I know that this isn’t a new feature, but it’s hard to think of a game that does it better.  If you want to be bad, you’re bad.  If you want to be virtuous, you’re virtuous.  You can romance different people, even being able to engage in homosexual relationships, should you choose (which is commonplace and unremarkable in the game, an awesomely progressive aspect).  While your actions and responses are limited, as there is still a narrative that the game follows, by and large you are able to be your own character and play how you want to play.  And your actions have consequences.  Even small things that you would consider unimportant can have very happy or disastrous effects on the story and the galaxy as a whole.  These are reasons that you come back for, over and over.  “What if I killed this person instead of sparing them?”  “What if I tell this person to stay and be brave instead of running and hiding?”  “What if I love this person instead of that person?”

Even though everyone loves Liara.  Dem frecks.

Even though everyone loves Liara. Dem frecks.

The next reason I love to play is the galaxy the games present.  You are a part of an alliance of planets, comprised of different aliens and political movements and factions, all with different relations to one another.  Some have a long galactic history while others are newer to the fold (humans being the newest), some have bloody histories with others that they haven’t quite forgiven yet, and some have formed symbiotic relationships with one another to survive.  You meet interesting creatures and characters who all have their own motivations in the game, be it stopping a violent loved one, returning home after getting in over his head on a pilgrimage, or curing a genophage that destroyed an entire species’ population.  It’s a complex galaxy, and everyone you meet wants or needs something, and unlike most fetch quests in games, these side missions generally feel very important, and like every little thing you do matters and has an impact on the galaxy as a whole or at the very least advances your capabilities.  Though, the scanning mini-games in ME2 get old after a while, I will admit.  But aside from that gripe, side missions are rewarding and fun.

Pictured: The best moment in any game ever.

Pictured: The best moment in any game ever.

Finally, the game play in the Mass Effect series is remarkably enjoyable.  You will run and shoot and take cover like many games, but then beyond that you have a slew of extra abilities that you can use.  Depending on what class you select and what powers you upgrade, you can throw shockwaves at enemies or deploy a drone to fight for you, you can charge bad guys from 20 feet away or turn invisible and sneak up on them,  you can augment your bullets or levitate enemies.  It truly does cater to your preference and makes the experience unique and incredibly enjoyable.  You also have control of your squad and the way they use their powers, which, depending on who you choose to take with you, can create some fantastically devastating attacks.  You can have a squadmate levitate an enemy and have the other use a concussive shot to blast them out of the air. Or one can throw a shockwave and another can- you know what?  You get the picture.

Your personal army/ hug patrol.

Your personal army/ huggie wuggie patrol.

The teammates become so real to you during the game.  They are characters who you will become attached to and come to rely on, and when they die, as some are destined to do, you absolutely feel it.  I won’t spoil things here, but this game series traumatized me more than once.  It’s got to be part of their plan to get you to come back and play it again, because more than once I decided to play through again to try and save a character from a tragic fate that basically incapacitated me when I witnessed it.

In summation, if you haven’t picked up on it, I love this game series.  I think it takes the best things about Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, The West Wing, Gears of War, Halo, Friends, Will & Grace, and mashed them all together for an incredible gaming experience.  There are so many things that I could talk at length about that I’m sure I will post again about this series, but for now I will just say that I think that BioWare did something amazing that is the best sci-fi out there today.

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3 thoughts on “The Mass Effect Trilogy: Sci-Fi Storytelling at its Best

  1. So I love Mass Effect (still only played the first one), but the whole binary choice system bothered me. You can be a really nice guy, or sort of a dick, but either way the game basically plays out in the same way. That’s my problem with most binary choice games: you can’t REALLY affect the larger story beats since they aren’t going to program two different games for both morality paths.

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    • It’s true, in the end, Shepard defeats his enemies, but it can all play out so very differently. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s subtle, but the galaxy is very different depending on how you play. It’s astounding how much they did program differently, even if it’s not two completely unique gaming experiences, it’s damn close.

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      • I think I need to play the sequels, because it sounds like they do a lot more with changing the in-game universe than the first one does. In the first one some guys are just ruder to you if you pick the “bad” side.

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