The Mass Effect series is well known by almost all gamers. Developed by EA and Bioware, it’s unsurpassable storytelling has marked it as an iconic series by RPG fans and adventure game fans alike.
The first Mass Effect I ever played was Mass Effect 2. I loved it so much that I bought the first game in order to make choices I could bring back to the second game. It was one of the first immersive experiences I truly had.
Now that Andromeda is beginning to slowly unfold before us as new hints are dropped every week, I thought it would be important to reflect on the series to give the people a summary of the strengths (and weaknesses) that the games offered. So, gear up, grab some thermal clips, and let’s get started.
WARNING!!! I will be spoiling all three Mass Effect games, but if you haven’t played them by now, then you deserve to have them spoiled.
To start, let’s give a brief summary of each game:
Mass Effect 1
Mass Effect’s storyline begins with Commander Shepard, a man or woman who has been chosen to lead a team to fight the Geth; sentient robots that are intent on destroying things. Shortly after he begins however, he learns of Saren, the leader of the Geth that has bigger plans for the galaxy. After Shephard touches an ancient relic, he gains knowledge that gives visions of a grand race that threatens the galaxy… The Reapers. The rest of the story in Mass Effect 1 is largely inconsequential and predictable. Shepard encounters some more relics and faces new types of enemies in an effort to uncover Saren’s plan and foil it. At the end, a single Reaper shows up to the Citadel, and Shepard must face off against Saren and the Reaper.
Mass Effect 2
At the start of Mass Effect 2, Shepard dies and is brought back to life by Cerberus, a corporation that commits heinous acts but claims to be misunderstood. Shepard is given a team to work with and must recruit members across the galaxy in order to uncover the truth behind a rash of kidnappings by The Collectors. After completing his team, he must then commit to a suicide mission in a location no one has been able to reach, and defeat the Collectors once and for all.
Mass Effect 3
The beginning of Mass Effect 3 starts with a disgraced Shepard facing trial for his acts in Mass Effect 2, since apparently his saving the galaxy is now frowned upon. But at the beginning of the game the Reapers show up in their entirety and (you guessed it) Shepard must now command a small team to fight them. In doing so, Shepard must gather resources, recruit allies, and mend (or break) relationships between species. This all accumulates into a final showdown with the Reapers and Shepard finally learns the truth behind their existence, and must choose the fate of the galaxy.
The storyline of Mass Effect was unique to its universe. It raised the stakes to a point that nothing else could touch. But while the storyline is congruent, it still feels broken. This is what happens when a trilogy must be able to carry over from one game to the next, but be open to new players at any point.
I played through the entire series from start to finish, and by Mass Effect 3, I was largely let down. Not because of the ending, (which I will get to in a bit) but because all of the choices I made seem largely irrelevant. At the end of Mass Effect 1 I chose to spare the council’s lives and instead sacrifice my own soldiers. I thought that at the beginning of Mass Effect 2, the council would be more open to me and my suggestions, but they were just as stubborn as the human council I played with my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. In essence, nothing changed but the skins of the NPC’s.
But while some choices detracted from the game, many added to its benefit. Where the story stands on its own is the large moral choices that Shephard faces that could possibly sway the fate of an entire race, or indeed the galaxy. The Rachni Queen is the best example of this. After fighting through some of her children, Shepard encounters the Queen and begins a dialogue about her race.
This was a genuinely well-developed point of the game. The Queen bargains and pleads with Shepard to release her so that her race doesn’t face extinction, as she is one of the few remaining. But we learn that the Rachni have been responsible for numerous atrocities throughout history, despite the Queen’s insistence that they are a peaceful race. We can choose to release her to let her race survive, or kill her and possibly cause the extinction of the Rachni race singlehandedly.
But even this is not the best part of Mass Effect’s story. The apex of the game is in its characters. From Liara to Thane, the characters are almost all engaging, except for maybe Kaiden. The character’s personalities and backstories offer the most immersion I have seen, but it’s something I’ve come to expect of Bioware. The writing and dialogue is good. Every character has an interesting story to tell.
But again, I faced the same disappointments I had before. While all the characters have excellent stories, a lot of them fail to develop past the point they were when we meet them, despite having missions especially designed to develop their character further. I spent all of Mass Effect 1 convincing Garrus to be a more understanding person, only to do it all again in Mass Effect 2. By the end of the series, I felt that Tali was still the same little girl on her pilgrimage, and Garrus was still the same cold-hearted cop. This brings me to my final talking point, the ending.
The ending was received by gamers as a disaster, so much so that the developers added more to them to appease those sharks. But I don’t think the ending received as much credit as it could have, even without the additions. I chose to sacrifice Shepard and meld human with machine. And the ending, although it didn’t show the direct fruits of my labor, (which is what most people wanted) it showed that my crew survived and a new dawn was on its way. It did a good job visually, and displayed Shepard’s legacy without long expositional dialogue, which is exactly what the extended endings did. All in all, it could have been better. Although, in a perfect world my Shepard could have lived, but the endings didn’t do a bad job of wrapping things up.
The gameplay of the Mass Effect series is largely the same. In Mass Effect 1 player’s had the ability to scout the surface of the planet in a rover, which was largely tedious and frustrating. By the 2nd game this was removed, leaving only third-person shooting sections.
If the story of the series’ biggest asset, then the gameplay is its biggest downfall. Unlike the story, the gameplay fails to evolve past third-person cover shooting. The addition of thermal clips is added to the second and third games, but the abilities and action largely remain the same. While the gameplay isn’t bad, it never goes beyond the simplistic style, and the new features added are largely arbitrary.
One of the biggest let downs was that virtually none of my squadmates from Mass Effect 2 could be squadmates in Mass Effect 3. They were replaced by 2D counterparts, and although my squad appeared in the game, they were mostly set pieces or parts of a cutscene, rather than full characters. In my playthrough I romanced Miranda, as she became my favorite character, but in the 3rd game she barely showed up at all. I met up with her once or twice for romance but she was gone from the story almost entirely.
Graphics and Sound
Being an Xbox player, I was never disappointed with the graphics, and the sound never posed any problems either. The cutscenes all played nicely, and the combat itself was smooth throughout the series.
Because the graphics are all good, the loading times could sometimes be unbearable. Going anywhere requires another loading screen, and the times can be ridiculous.
The newest facet to the game was the dialogue wheel, allowing the player to choose their reaction. Although this is now commonplace in Bioware games today, it was a new idea at the time and worked out very well.
For combat, the controls were typical of third person shooters, and didn’t try anything new or different. Having said that, the controls were all perfectly functional throughout the series. I never ran into any problems.
Mass Effect is what I would call an easy game. You can choose your own difficulty of course, but playing on normal I didn’t run into many problems. Mass Effect 1 posed the biggest challenge to me since the accuracy of the weapons were like throwing a dart at a target the size of a nickel. But the combat was easy overall and it never slowed the pace for me.
Replayability for the Mass Effect series is hard to judge. On the one hand, the work and effort that has to be put into just one playthrough requires more than 50 hours at best. On the other hand, playing as a different sex or choosing a different moral path can possibly provide you with a second helping of that fifty-hour block. For me, there wasn’t much use in doing a second playthrough, as I was largely concerned with the story and learning about the Reapers. I am sure however, that there are many out there that would love a second go-round.