DraugenCP / Member

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A decade later, I catch the Mass Effect virus

Went back to this place after many years of inactivity and long periods of disinterest in gaming. I don't know if anyone is still reading this or if the community of yore still exists. Last time I posted was 3 years ago when my Xbox 360 broke down and I needed a place to vent and rant about it. Never did get it fixed, by the way. €79 is too high for a repair that should've been free, and too low for my dignity. Luckily Grand Theft Auto V got ported to the PC and I've never really had to look back. Shame about Red Dead Redemption and Forza Horizon, but I was done with those games anyway.

My interest in games somewhat rekindled in the past 6 months. I started playing Elder Scrolls Online on occasions, and lately I played through the entire Doom series (Doom 1, 2, 3 and... well, DOOM). Doom 3 had been on my "still need to beat this damn game since I bought it for 2 platforms" list, but I never could get over the Great Martian Ducttape Shortage of 2145. Apparently the BFG Edition changed that so I bought that (third time's a charm) and beat the game in a weekend. Perhaps the last true old school shooter until Half-Life 2, FEAR and the Call of Duty series changed the genre forever in their own respective ways; not all of them for the best.

While those games made for many hours of good entertainment, that whole experience paled in comparison to what I experienced when I finally dove head-frist into that other series I still had to play but somehow never did: Mass Effect.

Having beaten Mass Effect 3 yesterday after well over 100 hours spent on that trilogy I'm still processing the entire experience, but suffice to say the hype is definitely worth believing.

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I recall one of the main themes I ranted about in my blogs from long ago is how video games that try to tell a good story often end up with hamfisted disasters of narratives. Even if the plot itself is interesting (in most cases it's not), the developers are unable to push the story ahead in meaningful ways without making the gameplay seem redundant. While the details have escaped me by now (it's been 7 years since I beat the damn game), Bioshock's story was pretty poor to begin with, but even if it had been as amazing as its reputation suggested, it was hampered severely by most of the game consisting of shooting stuff with the occasional "a-ha!" plottwist crawling out from under the woodwork with the weight of a Tolstoy novel but the impact of a jump scare (WOD' U KINDLY?!). Man am I glad I stopped playing Bioshock Infinite after 2 hours.

The Mass Effect trilogy was one of the first game series where I felt invested in the story in a way similar to a movie or novel. I mean, I'm an Elder Scrolls fanboy like no other, and its lore is second to none, but Bethesda's virtually non-existent storytelling has the habit of turning many an interesting plot point into a clunkfest where you just have to soldier through questionable voice acting, shitty animations and all the bugs a man couldn't want.

But Mass Effect had none of that. Sure, there is a noticeable upgrade of production values with each game, so particularly Mass Effect 1 might not feel as 'epic' (an overused word, but nevertheless appropriate) as the other games, but damn if BioWare didn't succeed in creating a universe - in both senses of the word - that made me care greatly about what happened to it and its inhabitants. In the first game alone, we have the introduction of Garrus, perhaps one of the most likeable, interesting NPC buddies in recent memory. We have the conversation between Shepard and Sovereign, in which the latter's cold indifference and existence outside of nature and morality painted the picture of an adversary that was as ruthless as it was elusive (not 'illusive', mind). None of that "I want power/revenge/whatever" crap that villains resort to so often you get the impression they get the motivation for their nefarious actions through a claw machine that assigns them causes to pursue from a small selection of clichés. And while plenty of sci-fi tropes still maintain an inavoidable presence in the Mass Effect universe, BioWare managed to create a game world that feels unique, alive and full of wonder. Why they decided to throw all that away and go to Andromeda I still not understand, but that's a different story.

Not too much can be said about the finer details of the game's plot without giving away major spoilers, but more generally speaking the idea to make your decisions in Mass Effect have ramifications throughout the entire trilogy was a magical thing. You can give Shepard unique personality traits that aid in moving the game along a linear path without creating a unipolar experience. It is a compromise between having a fully scripted character that you either hate or love (GTA), and a custom character that can't be fleshed out too much in the story-telling because there are simply too many variables for the writers to work into a high quality narrative (Elder Scrolls). By the time Mass Effect 3, Shepard has become your Shepard. A character that has been shaped by you, and is an extension of your personality. As such, you feel attached to him in ways that more static protagonists couldn't hope to achieve.

That also goes for the crew(s) you assemble along the way. By talking to them, doing stuff with them, you can cultivate their personalities to a modest degree, occasionally even influencing story decisions they make. This emotional investment in the characters makes it extra difficult to work your way through the series and stay true to the principles you had envisioned for your Shepard at the start of Mass Effect 1. Will you sell out your comrades for a tempting reward, or will you stand by them in spite of the dire consequences your loyalty may generate in the bigger picture. It's role-playing the way it's supposed to be.

I could talk about the series for literally hours, but for now I'll conclude with one last observation: the games are damn great shooters. Especially Mass Effect 3, with its huge arsenal, countless upgrades and modifications. Even without the amazing game world and story, the Mass Effect games would've made for great shooters. But the fact that they do have all these things makes them more than just great games: Mass Effect is among the defining series of its generation.

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