Caught Up in The Mass Effect

Caught Up in The Mass Effect

I didn’t know much about Mass Effect series when the DayKnights Writers Group recognised my affinity for role playing games (RPGs) and strongly recommended that I play it. They (especially Rob, Carter and Musaab) said something along the lines of, “Leave this Hangout right now, buy that game and start playing it tonight!” I laughed and added it to my Steam wish list without another thought. A few weeks later the Mass Effect Collection which includes Mass Effect (2008) and Mass Effect 2 Digital Deluxe Edition (2010) went on sale for USD $8.74.  I took that as a sign from God and bought it immediately.  What an incredible bargain!

After finishing the first mission, I knew that this was the game for me. The writers called it straight like the bosses they are. (Thank you, Stephanie and Sarah!)  I started playing Mass Effect 2 the same day I finished the first game including all the DLCs (downloadable content) I could afford. The plan was to wait a couple months until I could blow my gaming budget on the third game and hopefully the Citadel DLC I’d heard so much about.

By the way, Mass Effect spoilers are rampant online which is often the case with a beloved series of any kind. Casual internet search brought up suggestions with spoilers, forum posts and YouTube video titles sell out all kinds of juicy storylines!  Even a YouTube video that doesn’t say “spoilers” in the heading will contain spoilers, so it’s best to avoid them altogether…and get your Mass Effect info from me. (Wink!)  God smiled on me again when Mass Effect™ 3 N7 Digital Deluxe Edition (2012) was suddenly 50% off on Origin for USD $14.99 and I finished the trilogy. In case my enthusiasm doesn’t suffice, read on to find out why Mass Effect could be the game for you.

Humanity needs a hero

When Mass Effect begins you are Commander Shepard, an N7 Alliance Marine aboard the SSV Normandy’s executive officer under Captain Anderson.  You, the player already chose gender, ethnicity, physical appearance, psychological profile, professional history and combat class from the options provided. The general idea is that you carry your Commander Shepard throughout the trilogy.

Commander Shepard is an extremely capable and highly respected officer who has made a name for themselves throughout the known galaxy.  A big theme in this game is humanity’s struggle to prove themselves worthy peers to the elder alien races who have been pretty much running the galaxy for thousands of years. Shepard symbolises that and will do whatever it takes to stop an antagonist seeking to subjugate all organic life.

Despite interplanetary renown, few people know Shepard personally so you dictate finer personality points through the conversation wheel. It controls how Shepard interacts with non-playable characters (NPCs) and for the most part, those decisions will affect the storyline later on.  Some of your choices may come back to bite you in the butt, while consequences of major actions will be felt throughout the entire trilogy. Mass. Effect. Get it?

Shepard’s actions are scored on a sliding morality scale between Paragon and Renegade extremes. According to , Paragon (blue) represents “compassionate and heroic actions” while Renegade (red) ones are “apathetic and ruthless.”  You can avoid confrontation using their Paragon charm or Renegade intimidation, depending on how many points have been accumulated by then. As a result it’s possible to make specific choices in order to secure a desired outcome.  However don’t mistakenly equate Paragon with weakness because sometimes you’ve got to be a rebel to take the high road.

There are numerous online resources that will tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get what you want, but where’s the fun in that really? There’s nothing wrong with going with your gut. Although sometimes a situation takes an unexpected turn and you really don’t like how it all shook out. These moments have led to many replays and you’ll see why keeping multiple save files can be quite a timesaver. (Thanks for the tip, Rob!) When you boil down the bhajji, what’s going to happen will happen regardless of how sympathetic or ruthless your Shepard is.  Just have fun playing as the Milky Way’s most heroic adventurer!

‘Cause you got to have friends…and lovers

Commander Shepard may be the best thing since sliced bread but rarely goes into battle alone.  The squad consists of Shepard’s inner circle.  You start out with a human team but the ranks will include allies, ride-or-die friends and maybe a lover if you’re so inclined. Their varied expertise will make up for your combat class’ shortcomings. Also their varied backstories enrich the overall experience and most importantly form the basis for Shepard’s friendships that will last the entire trilogy…if they live.

Indeed Shepard can romance another character but only if you make the right choices. I didn’t know this until chatting with the writers about my Mass Effect 1 experience. I was asked, “Who did you hook up with?” and responded, “I could do that?”  Not unlike real life, you should be warm and friendly towards the person you like. Unless you’re me and miss all the dialogue cues but that’s a spoilery story for another day.

My perpetual crush, Seth Green, voiced a character my Shepard can’t romance, which took me a while to accept.  Not because it didn’t make narrative sense but hello, Seth Green? EA, BioWare and Demiurge Studios toyed with my little black heart there. By the way romance and sex aren’t mutually exclusive in the Mass Effect trilogy so keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. You know what I mean? In Mass Effect, there was a homosexual love interest for female Shepard but not for the male version.  This wasn’t changed until Mass Effect 3. FemShep’s options became delightfully colourful in the subsequent games.

It’s interesting that fans have played as both male and female Shepards regardless of their own genders for the full experience. I’ve recently restarted the series with a male character and tried really hard to make him look like Sullivan Stapleton as an ode to his Strike Back character, Sgt. Damien Scott.  After three failed attempts, I settled on a cheeky rogue named Damien S. Shepard who’s easy on the eyes and will hopefully have much better hair in the other games.  Feel free to make girlfriend suggestions for him in the comments below.

Traversing the Attican Traverse

What has got to be the best thing about a futuristic space adventure video game?  Space travel! Shepard and the dauntless Normandy crew visit some very alien worlds. I enjoyed defying all the rules of off-roading in the M-35 Mako, or wandering around on foot and looking at scenery when not taking down baddies with my buddies. Then again, I’m the kind of player who spends time reading lore.  Speaking of, there is a lot of it which is mentioned in conversation: wars, peace treaties, revolutions, corporations, alien races (biology, government, religion, etc.), planets, combat tactics, and more.  I was impressed that the first game in a series had so much content for story nerds like me.

I have no comments on Mass Effect’s combat system because this was my first go at fighting with guns instead of bows and swords.  However it was fun once I got the hang of it and eventually nicknamed my Infiltrator FemShep “Mama Headshot.” I actually know a couple people who never finished this game because of the combat which is truly unfortunate because they would have probably enjoyed it and completely missed out on the sequels. So I’ve told them to watch a play-through of this game and start with Mass Effect 2.

Since this was a 2008 release of course we’ll see things that wouldn’t make it into a current AAA game like duplicated responses on the conversation wheel, cut-and-paste combat scenarios or super-advanced alien races leaders’ display of astounding stupidity. Trust me on the last one. You’ll know it when you see it.  However you can’t knock the visuals, witty dialogue with superb voice acting and a soundtrack I’ve come to love.  Well done, EA and BioWare!

Mass Effect was a space opera where we can fly around the galaxy on a beautiful spaceship with interesting characters and be humanity’s hero for a little while.  It’s big and ridiculous in the very best way. As a lifelong science fiction fan, I feel like this game was made for me. By the end credits I was charmed, satisfied and now I’m ready to see what happens when Commander Shepard and the Normandy crew go to the dark side in Mass Effect 2.

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