The first place I go when I’m stressed out is space. I should clarify – when I need to escape life for a bit, space stories are my favourite. Blade Runner, Alien, Interstellar, The Martian. Philip K. Dick stories, Ian M. Banks novels – I devour that stuff. Games-wise, maybe you’ve played FTL (Faster Than Light), or Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. Does anyone else remember Tachyon: The Fringe? The main character was voiced by Bruce Campbell. Weird, right? Never mind. As I said, my favourite destination for escapism is a nebula somewhere. Mass Effect is full of those. The entire series is a massive space opera. It’s packed with politics, relationships, xenophobia, racism, betrayal, light-up guns, funky armor, and of course, SPACE. If you haven’t already, you should play the Mass Effect trilogy.
The developer Bioware released this little gem in 2007. Bioware had already worked on titles like Baldurs’ Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, so they knew something about RPGs. This game wasn’t quite as polished as games like Gears of War, but it had some serious depth. The combat was in third-person and action happened in real-time. What gave this a fresh feel was that you had two squadmates and could use their powers on the fly.
Powers you ask? Powers. You had Technological skills like hacking enemy robots and converting them to your side. Next was ‘Biotic’ abilities which functioned a bit like psychic powers. Some people could make physical barriers or create gravity pools to unbalance enemies. You had a selection of special abilities and finally, good old firearms. The combat was dynamic and fun, but the real strength of Mass Effect was the story. It’s the year 2183 and aliens exist. Lots of aliens. They have histories and baggage and cultures and prejudices and phobias and some of them speak funny. It’s great.
You are veteran soldier Butch Mc Tough – I mean, John Shepard. The Galactic Council (the people in charge) send you and some friends to a planet called Eden Prime. You’re there to collect an Artefact left behind by an ancient civilisation (The Protheans). The council has super-commandos called Spectres and one of them comes with you to see if you’re any good. His name is Nihlus, and he’s a Turian. Turians are generally pretty chill, if a bit cold.
You guys find the artefact (called a Beacon) but a rogue Spectre by the name of Saren shows up and kills Nihlus and turns on the beacon. Shepard touches the beacon and gets visions of all sorts of badness. The council don’t believe any of this but after some stuff happens then they do. They make you the first human Spectre in history and then you have to go and stop Saren.
That’s only the first hour or so. Mass Effect has morality choices, branching storylines, interesting characters and a pretty in-depth character progression system. There’s also a driving mini-game that seems to be like Marmite to people. Love it or hate it – space driving!
Mass Effect 2
As Shepherd we’ve done some stuff. Some stuff was did. The sequel picks up pretty soon after the first game, but the story takes a sparrow-turn pretty quick. That is to say, something happens at the start of ME2 to shake things up, and it works.
Mass Effect 2 is my favourite of the three. If a game can marry narrative and mechanics together well, I am more than sold. ME2 does just that. Without giving much away, the hook of Mass Effect 2 is that the endgame is a suicide mission. Commander Butch Mc – Shepherd, Commander Shepherd, only has a certain amount of time to complete missions before he (or she) and his (or her) crew have to jump into the bad-guy part of space and pull off the impossible.
This is a great hook. It means that each mission costs the player something. You can only do a certain amount of missions before scripted events happen, so you have to act wisely. Not only that, if you don’t accomplish certain things, the scripted events don’t go as well. The ending can be downright depressing if you don’t come prepared.
I have to be more vague about this so as not to ruin it, but the sequel is a lot more… settled. Its RPG elements are simpler, the characters are more fleshed-out, and there’s no more driving. ME2 is a classic space-opera that you don’t need any prior knowledge to play. Also, all of the decisions you made in the first game carry over to the second. Your save data informs character interactions and alters the game a little. Neat, right?
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 is the big, bombastic finale. It’s also a bit like Halo: Reach. Many people die. Seriously, it’s genuinely a little depressing.
I took a little bit of getting used to ME3. The colour palette is a lot darker and grayer and in general, the story is less fun-space-times and more the-universe-is-ending-space-times. This installment does veer close to being “gritty” sometimes, but once you get into it, it’s a nicely crafted drama. Basically, there’s a massive threat to the universe and you have to unite it’s various disparate people for a final defence. This sounds a little cliché, but it’s not. ME3 really is the culmination of the whole series. Some of the sub-plots are properly grim and affecting, the combat is much more fluid and weapon customisation is fun without being taxing.
I can’t say much more. Except to mention romance. Mass Effect is famous for it’s romances, and with good cause. Each game has people you can romance but the romance mini-games are far beyond GTA quality. So, no worries there, and they help to flesh out (no pun intended) the characters. Also, the game carries certain relationships in the first game all the way to the third. How cool is that?
I can’t say any more without wrecking it. You should play the Mass Effect Trilogy. Do it now.
Where do you escape to?