Gaming Talk: Mass Effect series

As anyone who has listened to our podcasts knows, I’ve become completely addicted to the Mass Effect game series.

This is not an exaggeration or hyperbole, I’ve become completely addicted.  I find myself thinking about the game when I’m not playing, wondering what choices I could do differently, what other story options can I unlock?

Before we dive too deeply into this game, a little background information.  I’m not a Role Playing Game fan, I really just don’t have the attention span to do it, and it’s very hard for me to muster up the ability to just pour hours and hours into a game for a single story.  I am usually more of a fast paced action game fan, leaning heavily towards the First Person Shooter genre.  So, this really says something about Mass Effect and it’s creators BioWare for how they can just grip you with these games.

Before this, the only RPG style games I was ever able to really get into were the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, also produced by BioWare.  Really and truly, if these were not Star Wars games, I don’t know if I ever would have played them.

I played the first Mass Effect game sometime after it was released in 2007, borrowing it and trying the game out.  I very quickly fell into the traps of why I don’t like RPGs.  The games are so massive and the universe is a wholly new thing, that I got confused.  I wasn’t sure what I was doing, where I was going, and frankly why I should even care to find any of that out.  A few hours into the game, I gave up.

Fast forward to 2010 with the release of Mass Effect 2 and it’s huge critical acclaim and very positive reception.  I was interested to hear what this was all about, but quickly got sidetracked by something else and forgot about it.

One more jump ahead to 2012 and the release of Mass Effect 3.  Once again a huge critical acclaim and a massive positive reception, followed quickly by controversies of varying degrees.  I was again very interested and this time I actually bothered to follow up on that.

I picked up the first game cheaply and dove in.  It happened to a perfect time as I was craving something with a deeper story and content than you get out of a game like Call of Duty.  After some initial confusion and a few missteps I found myself quickly sucked into the world of Mass Effect, playing through the game multiple times in just a few weeks.  I didn’t just play this game, I devoured it.

After exhausting much of the first game, I got my hands on the second.  The story immediately grabbed me, but I was initially unhappy to see that they changed some aspects of the game.  However, after playing the game longer I could see that nearly everything had been changed for the better.

The second game features a revamped, much more streamlined and intuitive inventory system and a much faster paced combat system.  That is to say, the game was faster, more intense and easier to play.

Again, I devoured this game.

Some might ask, why would you play the same game over and over and over again?  You beat it, what else is there?  Why would I play these games so many times? Why was it so addictive?  Why could I not stop thinking about it?

The best analogy I could think of would be watching your favorite movie.  We all have that favorite movie that we watch and instantly feel good.  We know the characters, we know the world, it’s familiar and comfortable.  Now, what if you could take your favorite movie, with all those great characters and story, and make it different, but it’s still the same movie.  However, this time the hero acts a little different, makes different choices, romances the brunette instead of the blonde, maybe the hero tragically dies in the end, or maybe he lives.

That is why these games are so addictive, choices.  The choices you make in each game carry on with you, propelling the story forward.  You can choose not only to save the galaxy, but who on your crew is your best friend, who is your lover, who is your rival.  Then you can carry those choices forward into the next game and see the long term repercussions of your actions.  How does the story change when you are the ultimate hero, how does it change when you are the flawed dictator?

The third chapter is the culmination of all of this.  Choices you made back in the first game still carry forward, shaping your game years later.  Maybe you should’ve tried harder to save that person, because you could really use there help now.

The Mass Effect series has had it’s share of controversies.  The first one got attention because of it’s romantic storyline and love scene, which some didn’t like because you could have a psuedo-lesbian affair.  But, it’s a very tame and tasteful scene, equal to what you see in most Hollywood movies, and is it really a lesbian affair if one of them is an alien whose species has no males?

The third game has had some negative feedback regarding it’s endings and some smaller parts of the story.  BioWare even had to release a downloadable “Extended Cut” of the ending that further “clarifies” the ending.  Now, I can’t speak to this, as I only experienced the “new” ending and never experienced the original.  But, I have to say this was a very satisfying ending, one that not only wraps up the story but also gives you emotional closure.  You have to say goodbye to your friends, some goodbyes being more permanent than others.

I can’t say enough about the story behind these games.  The universe that they created and the story that is told is on par with the classics of the Sci-Fi genre.  Possibly going even deeper than what we have experienced in some of the Treks and Wars.  You feel connected to these characters, you care about them.  You are sad when they die, and they do die along the way.  In every game you are forced to choose who lives and who dies.  You are confronted with that choice of who do I sacrifice so that the rest may live?

Not since Master Chief in the Halo games has a character so embodied the player.  You are Commander Shepard, you choose if you are male or female, you choose what you look like, you choose your backstory, you decide if you are the ultimate hero and savior or if you are a selfish renegade.

In the end, it’s games like these that elevate gaming to an art form.  Well written, emotional stories that deliver a truly unique experience that could only be poorly imitated in other mediums.

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