My Take On Mass Effect…
The last few weeks have seen me tearing through the Mass Effect trilogy of video games with a vigour that I haven’t experienced for a title since The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
This is a game for which story is of paramount importance. To play this trilogy with a lengthy break between each installment would simply be the wrong approach. In order to experience Mass Effect at its very best, you have to digest the story as a cohesive whole, one body of work from beginning to end in much the same way as the Lord of the Rings ‘trilogy’ is really one gargantuan book.
Make no mistake about it, Bioware’s epic science fiction space opera is one of the definitive examples of the video game medium as an art form (and believe me, video games ARE art, despite what Roger Ebert will have you believe), even with its giant space robots and copulating alien creatures.
From your first visit to the flagship human colony of Eden Prime, gazing at the horizon on the Asari home planet of Thessia, or your first encounter with one of your colossal space adversaries ‘The Reapers’, every locale and every moment in is so beautifully constructed and realised that you may even find yourself frustrated at the intangible nature of these worlds.
While most visually stunning video games will be content with their visual accomplishment as their main selling point, Mass Effect delivers on many fronts. The storyline is as incredible as the visual presentation, and is supported by some of the most intriguing back story and lore that I have ever experienced within any medium. There is the ‘Morning War’ that resulted in the entire Quarian species being exiled from their home planet, the Salarian engineered Genophage virus that has rendered the majority of the Krogan species infertile, or ‘The First Contact War’ between Humans and the Turians. These examples are never explored directly within the trilogy, only referenced and discussed; their sole purpose is to create a deeper more involved world for players to immerse themselves in. It feels like the Star Wars encyclopedias; packed with information that is not necessary to enjoy the films or understand the story, but the information is there for the few die-hard fans that want to hurl themselves into the vast pool of content, improve their experience and digest every succulent morsel of story that this universe has to offer.
A great story is nothing without great characters, and Bioware delivers some of the most likable video game characters of the last decade. Each character’s expertise have to be recruited to your team, and this requirement serves to increase the freedom of experience, and to give the player an emotional investment in each individual. The ‘Suicide Mission’ at the end of Mass Effect 2 was one of the most exhilarating and intense experiences I have ever had on a dedicated console, and the relief and sense of accomplishment I felt when I managed to orchestrate the mission flawlessly (and get the ‘No One Left Behind’ achievement in the process) is one of my fondest memories of the series, and would not have been possible without some form of emotional investment in these characters.
Some of my main grievances with the series stem from the transition from the first game to the second game. While the combat system, the vastly superior handling of load times (no more 5 minute elevator rides), and fewer glitches throughout made for a better experience as a whole, the removal of some of the series’ more detailed role-playing and customisation elements seems like an odd choice in a game that focusses so heavily on player choice. Surely being able to choose precisely which armour and attributes your character has serves only to further the immersion and complement the dramatic story decisions you are faced with?
Now that this particular trilogy is concluded, I would love to see a spin-off following a new hero and exploring the intricacies of the First Contact War, playing out as a Star Wars / Independence Day hybrid. I’m sure that this has probably already been covered in one of the many comics or novels that have been released following the massive success of the franchise, but I started my Mass Effect adventure with video games and I would like to be able to further that experience without having to drop the controller and venture away from the medium that introduced me to this world.
I would even go as far as saying that the world of Mass Effect rivals the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings franchises when it comes to successfully creating a detailed and captivating world of its own, and maybe even exceeds it in some areas. If the upcoming feature film doesn’t bomb, then this genuinely could be one of those trilogies / franchises that defines a childhood and becomes ingrained in popular culture. Whether it will is anyone’s guess, but at least you can be sure that you will never see a Krogan on a Vodafone advert (ala, Yoda).