The Mass Effect series is a single player science fantasy RPG which, by and large, dudes seem to think is about shooting aliens and girls seem to think is about boinking aliens. I’m sure there’s a good amount of crossover, but if you’ve never played it, just be aware that those seem to be the general ideas.
Before we go any further, please press play on the following video in order to get the correct atmosphere:
Credit here to the wonderful Miracle of Sound and everything power metal video game thing he does.
History and Development
Because the series is (so far) one long story, I’ve chosen to write a single review on all three Mass Effect games. Mass Effect One was announced by BioWare (our old friend) in 2005 as part of a trilogy so it’s not like people were ever confused about it being one big thing. You play the same character through all three games – a character who gets more and more fed up with everyone’s bullshit – and NPCs have their own development and story lines throughout the trilogy.
The point of this game was to be an RPG, never a shooter. There have been other games where the main point is killing dudes but Mass Effect was never one of those games. The whole point was to immerse the player in the world and really get the story across. The developers wanted them to connect to the characters, to really feel like they had a stock in their well being. They wanted the universe they made to be important to the player. This is an RPG in the truest of senses because really you are supposed to take on the role of Commander Shepard, the PC.
Which like, isn’t hard, because Shep is a BADASS
Of course they also were making a shooter so they did a ton of development with that. In the second game they apparently spent the first three months of development just reworking that part of the system, which is admittedly weak in the first game. But as new technology and graphics and ideas became available, as they got feedback from their players, the games got better in that aspect.
Mass Effect is the kind of game where you play one and you gotta play them all. That’s what happened to me. I played the first one under duress and ended up getting totally into it. They really do immerse you into the world. The characters are really endearing – people disagree with me on some of this but they are wrong – and the game itself is really fantastic. Well, the games. The first one has some…gameplay shit that gets me down.
There are some other things too but we’ll get to that.
The PC in this game is Commander Shepard, hero of the human space army (that’s what it is). Commonly known as “Shep” by fans, Shepard is customization in gender, appearance, class, and the specifics of their history.
I think the first game explains classes the best. There are three “categories”: tech, biotics (it’s the force, guys, but they gave it a different name), and combat. Three classes are purely one of those and three classes mix them. You have a lot of range on what kind of character you want to play even with only that. There aren’t a lot of abilities either so it doesn’t get hugely confusing. Really you have a gun and you shoot people and sometimes magic comes out of your hands. If that’s what you’re into.
To the surprise of absolutely zero people, I play a vanguard which is basically like the Mass Effect version of the Incredible Hulk.
I’ve also played as a sniper which I totally frakking suck at so that is, I’m sure, entertaining to watch. My gamer bro keeps asking me why I am meleeing someone with a sniper riffle. I have no good answer for him.
Physically, I’m going to start this by saying that character creation gets better. In the first game it’s a little rough. I mean, graphically the whole thing gets better so that’s a big part of it, but the first game does seriously feel like it could have used some more love in the character creation front. It has the same problem that the earlier Dragon Age games do with darker skin tones, though it does seem to try a little harder to make them available and natural looking. I think the main problem here is that NO ONE looks natural in the character creation
By the third game, the bugs in character creation have run their course and it’s pretty streamlined. It’s a solid system and it does what needs to be done and I can’t really ask any more of it.
Bad things are happening in the galaxy. Commander Shepard and their crew of lovable misfits are sent to stop the bad things from happening. It turns out that the bad things are [SPOILERS] giant robot space bugs bent on galactic genocide for some mostly unexplained reason. No one believes Shepard about this for like, two games and then even then it’s a little iffy. It’s like that scene in “A Very Potter Musical” where the Minister of Magic refuses to believe Voldemort is back even when he’s standing right in front of him.
I’m reduced to using basically reaction gifs in blog posts to explain myself. A sad day.
The story is solid mostly. There’s a lot of side stuff because obviously when giant robot space bugs are attacking is exactly the time to help all of your friends deal with their personal demons. So yeah, also you deal with this hilarious bunch of assholes all the time who want shit from you constantly and make you do quests. Which honestly is a lot of fun because they are crazy people who do crazy things and make terrible decisions.
Yeah, ya’ll stand there and look heroic, I know what you really did.
There’s a thing about the end of this game that a lot of people don’t like but I’m actually not going to discuss that much. I’m a professional writer and I know that no matter how much people say your choices are going to matter in a video game, they probably won’t. So when people get up in arms about the end of Mass Effect 3, I just shrug and move on because it wasn’t surprising to me and it wasn’t a bad ending all things considered for a video game. I think people were looking for something that was literally impossible in regards to programming and writing so they can pretty much just shut up in my opinion. I’m not saying the ending was stellar or anything (because it wasn’t and it didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense) but I found it satisfying.
Also BioWare should maybe have not pushed how great it was going to be and how all your choices were going to matter because…yeah, that didn’t help.
This part I will break up into three sections.
Mass Effect 1: Solid combat but uninspired. A lot of focus on just shooting people which I am really bad at. There wasn’t really much to say about the combat in this game because it was sort of just…there. It did what needed to be done and didn’t do anything else for me at all.
The maps were a little large and sprawling and sometimes it was easy to get lost, especially on the citadel. I know our normal blog runner stopped playing Mass Effect 1 for a long long time because he once got lost and was unable to get unlost and got frustrated and quit (sorry to out you, bro, but like, not that sorry. He also quit Dragon Age: Origins because he thought he missed an item on the first big boss, which is HILARIOUS if you really think about it.)
ALSO WOW THE MAKO WAS A THING. Let’s give you a car that handles like total shit but can drive straight up a mountain. Have fun.
I think my morality system was sort of weirdly broken on Mass Effect 1 because I kept getting “good” (paragon) points when I did horrible shit like shooting people in the face. It was pretty awesome though. I laughed.
Mass Effect 2: They cleaned up combat a lot for this game and really went in to tweak abilities. It’s pretty smooth for the most part though I definitely still sucked at shooting things. They also went from a weapon overheat system in the first game to an ammo system in the second which I was less about because I can’t hit a target the first time ever and I ran out of bullets all the time. Hence why I was meleeing people with a sniper riffle (ha take that).
Things got way more linear which I don’t mind too much. Some open world games are great but Mass Effect 1 was kind of a wreck about it so I’m glad they scrapped that part. Travel is a lot easier and you don’t have to drive your shitty lemon of a space car around to find resources. You can just scan planets. Which is time consuming and kind of a total pain but it is at least kind of calming and meditative.
They introduced conversation interrupts in this game which are totally hilarious. What that means is you can pistol whip dudes in the face in the middle of cut scenes and it’s hilarious. Take the renegade interrupts. I promise you will (almost never) regret it.
Mass Effect 3: HAHAHAHA THE COMBAT IN THIS GAME IS GLORIOUS. I think playing a vanguard I fired my weapon probably twice. The rest of the time I spent running across the map at an enemy and punching the shit out of them. Heavy Melee was introduced in this game which meant you got to literally punch space aliens in the head and kill them. I loved every second of this because I am a bloodthirsty monster.
Also some NPC would be like “DON’T GO ANYWHERE NEAR THAT BRUTE!” and I’d take one look at this huge hulking enemy with three layers of armor and go “I’m gonna punch it.”
Companions! So much fun! Such a punch of assholes and I love them all even the ones other people hate (mostly those, I will not lie to you).
Later game combat! Great system, well thought out.
Most of the plot! Good plot. Well done.
Maps in the first game. Lack of cohesion of plot in the third. The Mako. The fucking Mako. I am never ever going to be over how crap that thing handled.
Sniper riffles and shooting people because I am terrible at it and also because the first game makes me worse at it.
Also like, there is some weird character design shit going on. I love most of it but then there’s like, Jack and Miranda and Samara in the second game which just like…they were so close to them being great and then like, somehow they fucked it up. At least Jack later gets a shirt so that part helped but it’s just like…wear something more then a band of leather across your nipples please.
Samara, well…it’s like they did well and then were like “BUT IT NEEDS TO BE SEXIER.”
Also did I mention THE FUCKING MAKO???
Oh my god, buy these games. I got all of them on sale for like twenty bucks a few months back. They’re pretty cheap, they’re really good, and they’re a classic. If you haven’t played these games, you’re missing out on a real pillar of contemporary gaming. Buy this to be able to tell your children you were part of the Mass Effect generation. I believe people will be talking about this series for that long.
Next Month: World of Warcraft! A fucking classic in gaming that honestly I had never played before I needed to for this blog!