Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mass Effect - Looking Back

Today is N7 day, November 7th. Admittedly Bioware came up with it, but why not, I'll take it. It gives me an excuse to write about Mass Effect, which I'm always, always ready to do.

It being N7 day, today is a day to appreciate the series and what it did well, the memories it gave us. So let's talk about that instead of the negatives (like we don't do enough of that in my LP... more on that later).

Mass Effect 1

Mass Effect 1 was released, as an Xbox 360 exclusive on Nov 20. 2007, almost 5 years ago. It was developed by Bioware, then mostly known for Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect was the first game they'd made in an original setting, although both of those significantly developed their settings, especially KotOR, which brought a whole new time period to the KotOR universe. I got the original Mass Effect, for PC... I think it was the fall of 2009. I was hooked.

They got so much right. The shooting mechanics were clunky, the pacing was occasionally a little odd, it definitely had the formulaic plot structure Bioware is famous for, but it nailed the setting and the characters. It brought us Commander Shepard, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara, Joker, Saren, still some of my favorite characters in gaming. It brought us the Asari, the Turians, the Salarians, the Krogan, the Quarians, and more, a stable of sci-fi races that was new, diverse, and distinctive. It brought us the Genophage, the Rachni, and the Geth, introducing morally gray conflicts that shaped the entire universe and gave you a chance to affect those conflicts.

Mass Effect 1 still has some of the most iconic moments in the series. Remember Eden Prime, where we first saw Sovereign and began to learn the of threat of the Reapers. Remember the Citadel, where we got our first good look at the culture of the universe and became a Spectre. Remember becoming commander of the Normandy, and giving a speech to the crew that gave you one of the first big opportunities to establish your Shepard's character. Remember Noveria, and discovering the Rachni Queen. Remember Feros and the insidious influence of the Thorian. Remember Virmire, confronting Wrex, the "Hold the Line" speech and meeting Sovereign. Remember Ilos, and Vigil explaining the last effort of the Protheans, flinging a warning to the future. Remember the ending, remember convincing Saren that his was not the way, remember the Normandy leading the charge and defeating Sovereign for good.

Mass Effect 2The hype for Mass Effect 2 was intense. EA had acquired Bioware and with it the series, and ME2 was being promoted as a true blockbuster (despite the January 26 release). It looked like it was going to be great.

And it was, in a lot of ways. The shooting itself was a lot tighter, although the customization RPG aspects suffered. The base mechanics, at least in my opinion, were a lot more enjoyable.

Mass Effect 2 introduced many, many new characters, just as iconic as those from the original games. This is the game that brought us Mordin Solus, Thane Krios, Legion, Grunt, Samara, Miranda. ME2 had a huge emphasis on these characters, with every single squad member (of which there were about a dozen) getting one full mission devoted to them, apart from the recruitment missions for all but Miranda and Jacob, and these missions were easily the best part of the game. This is the game where we killed a Thresher Maw on foot, where we stopped an Ardat-Yakshi from terrorizing Omega, where we helped Mordin stop terrible experiments on the Krogan, where we saved Miranda's sister from her controlling father, where we saved Tali from accusations of unleashing the Geth on the Flotilla, and the game where we flew, and survived, the suicide mission.

Mass Effect 2 was definitely an improvement from Mass Effect 1 in a lot of ways. Conversations were more fluid and integrated into the plot, instead of the ME1 style where typically you got your quests and then you went and did them. It was much more cinematic, with some really great scenes. It had a ton of terrific character development for its huge stable of characters. It further developed the setting, letting us see the impact of the Genophage on Tuchanka, the plight of the Quarians on the Migrant Fleet, and the height of Asari culture on Illium. The suicide mission was an interesting experiment in gameplay mechanics, fusing character input and a cinematic experience in a way that hadn't really been seen before.

Mass Effect 3

Again, Mass Effect 3 was hyped up for months before release. Fans of the series, like me, hoped that it would combine the plot and customization of Mass Effect 1 with the shooting and cinematic experience of ME2, while keeping up the tradition of setting and characters the previous games had established.

Again, in a lot of ways it worked. There's been a lot of negative discussion of ME3, even without the controversy of the ending, but ME3 did succeed in fusing the first two fairly well. It further developed the skill systems and gave much more variety to the  enemies and weapons, making the combat much, much deeper than in ME2. It had a resurgent focus on the plot, with every main mission directly related to the main objective, unlike Mass Effect 2.

War was upon the galaxy, and no punches would be pulled. Right from the very beginning, Shepard tumbled from catastrophe to catastrophe, trying to find some way to save Earth and defeat the Reapers. We went from Palaven, seeing the discipline and heroism of the desperate Turians trying to save their homeworld, to Tuchanka, where we finally resolved the longstanding issue of the genophage, to Rannoch, where the Geth and the Quarians were engaged in their final battle, to Earth, where the Reapers are defeated and Shepard wins. (mostly)

Mass Effect as a series was a grand experiment, Bioware trying to make a series in a completely new world with a grand epic story that the player had unparalleled influence on. Sometimes they stumbled, sometimes they fell backwards, but overall I think they succeeded.

So next time you're discussing the ending, or Cerberus, or nitpicking at some small aspect, or whatever, take a step back, just for a moment, and remember the memories and experiences that the series has given us over the past 5 years. I certainly have, and I thank Bioware for giving me one of my favorite series ever, despite the mistakes I made and the potential for so much more that was squandered.

Happy N7 Day. Maybe next year seeing the bright side will be a little easier.

P.S. Oh, btw, I'm planning on starting my ME2 LP up again next week. It's published now so I have to do it. Someone remind me this weekend that I need to do that. Also if you'd like being a guest commentator for a week or two, and I know you, feel free to volunteer on twitter or in the comments. 

1 comment:

  1. I do think that the franchise's strongest moments are when you are interacting with the characters under your command and learning about the culture and world.