For this week’s blog post I am going to ‘ramble’ about a new topic, a video game that I love called Mass Effect (ME) and its sequels. Now, for those of you not familiar, ME is a science-fiction, role-playing video game where you play as Commander Shepherd and you fight to save the galaxy from the return of the Reapers, mechanical monstrosities determined to wipe out organic life in the Universe. Clearly nice, light-hearted fare. ME spans three games and a huge amount of extra content and will eat a considerable amount of your time, if you love it like I do, and with ME the creators have produced an expansive Universe with a impressively in-depth experience and a focus on world creation and character. It’s wonderful!
Now, I am not a particularly big video gamer. Having said that, I have owned gaming machines all my life, from a Sega Mega Drive when I was much younger, through a PC as a teenager and an Xbox and then an Xbox 360 in my twenties and thirties. My gaming history has included such classics as Sonic the Hedgehog, Command and Conquer and Halo. I now have a PS3 and will likely upgrade to either a PS4 or an Xbox One when ME4 finally arrives. I bought my current console second-hand with a ton of older, but still great, games that I have been waiting to play until after I am done with ME but it has taken a really long time to get there for there is a lot of ME to enjoy!
My ME journey started with the second game, I played it through several times and loved it. I was fortunate and did not then have to wait long for the third game to be released and I played that through as well. Then I moved back to the UK, sold my console and games, and was able to grab the three games cheap from the PS3 store, along with all of the DLC for a bargain price. So I then began the ME journey in its entirety and experienced all that these games have to offer. And it is a lot!
The first Mass Effect plays as a straight role-playing game with limited (and frankly not great) combat while the second focuses more on the combat and is a much better shooter. The third game combines all that has come before together into an incredible journey, with superb combat and an in-depth experience unlike any I have ever played. But as great as the combat in the second and third games is, you should really play ME for the characters in the universe. They are the series strength and the truly impressive thing about it. I am sure that other, more experienced gamers out there could tell me of other games that provide better combat experiences, or more immersive worlds, or could describe things that they may dislike about ME, but for me this is the one that I adored, the one who’s characters I love.
And, as I conclude my second full play-through of ME all the way from the beginning to the end, I can see that this is the way to experience it. A case could be made that the extra content should really be considered a part of the games and sold as part of the package but then I think they are so fantastic that I don’t mind paying a little more to get them. Also, I got them all on discount, so I can’t really complain ;). But even if you had to pay more, I think they are worth the time and money. And if you’ve never played the Citadel DLC for ME3 then you are missing out on some of the finest character work that this incredible series has to offer! It’s also worth playing the games back through simply to see what happens when you make other choices to the one’s that you have previously made. Even now, on my umpteenth play through, I am still discovering things that I have not found before and this is quite remarkable. I have never played a game with as much depth and this series and I don’t know if I shall again.
One of the best, and core components, of the ME universe is the focus on character. For every hour spent in combat, you spend more time than that talking and interacting with the people who inhabit this universe. So you get to know them, you can romance them and you come to love them. I adore many of these characters from Garrus to Joker, Jack to Kaidan, Tali to Ashley and all of the rest. And there are a lot of them. But for me, the real love story in this game is between Shepherd and Liara, your Asari comrade. I didn’t know Liara well the first time I played ME, starting as I did with the second game. She makes a brief appearance, which I didn’t understand the significance of, and so when she joins your team in the third game I was unfamiliar with her and Shepherds’ history. But playing the series from beginning to end it is Shepherds love for Liara that really strikes me as the heart of the series. And both times playing the game through that is who I have chosen to romance although there are also opportunities to form relationships with others even while doing so. The relationship between female Shepherd and Thane is also an incredibly beautiful piece of storytelling that I was glad that I found.
And there are character deaths, oh the character deaths. I think ME is the only video game where a character death has really hurt, where I can respect what the makers of the game have achieved by making me care so much for the character. A significant number of these characters can die, depending exactly how you play the game and I have cried many times when playing ME through. But I am glad that I did for I am too invested in this world and with these people to not care when they die. The game has such heart and depth and is written with such humour that I can’t help but love it. Also, if you never found the scenes in ME2 where Mordin Solus singing the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan then you need to go back and find them. They’re wonderful!
Now, I know that the ending of ME3 caused consternation among a large number of people but I never understood why. ME is a sci-fi odyssey that starts with a small scale story and builds to an all encompassing epic that ends with an invasion by a fleet of Reapers and the resulting battle. And I could see that there was only ever one way that this story would end. So when I reached the ending, and it was what I thought it would be, I merely felt a sense of closure and respect for the story-telling involved. I was also saddened that I would not be spending more time with these characters but Shepherd’s story should have an ending. We should not want to be playing this character forever, however much I would love to do so, nor should we spend every game interacting with this part of the universe. Every story should end at the best point to do so.
In case it’s not clear from my gushing praise, I adore Mass Effect and if you are at all interested, I would recommend that you start with the second game. You should be able to grab it pretty cheaply and if you play it and you enjoy it and you want more then think about playing the other two games. ME3 is a truly incredible game and ME is worth playing if you want the full play through. And then there is the DLC if you want even more. I think it is the best video game experience I have ever had and I doubt that it will ever be bested. I honestly do not see how another series could grip me and mean more than this one has and I’m heartbroken that I have now finished what will probably be the last time I play the series through from start to finish. I will doubtless play ME3 again, once I have completed a couple of other games, but I am unlikely to play the entire trilogy and all of the DLC again. It simply takes too long to do so and instead I will now await the arrival of ME4. For it has been a very long time between the third and fourth installment but now there is only one more year to go! And I can’t wait…
Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!