07 November 2012

Reflections On Five Years Of Mass Effect

When - in the August of 2009 and almost two years after Mass Effect was originally released - I walked into GAME branch in the Ilac Centre which, like all GAME stores in Ireland, is now gone I saw the Classics' Edition of Mass Effect sitting on the shelf. I had never heard of it yet I bought it nonetheless.

And I am eternally grateful that I did.

Mass Effect was a not a perfect title by any means. At its core however was what remains the strongest RPG in the series to date as well as one of the best games of all time. To some extent both the graphics and gameplay were gimmicky and both control of the Mako and combat were largely viewed negatively by the community.

Indeed such was the hostility to the Mako that driving, and by extension planetary exploration, were all but cut from the subsequent titles. This was an opportunity for refinement, not elimination even so the combat and Mako were sufficiently small aspects of the massive entity that was Mass Effect as to make their overall impact negligible - or at least inconsequential when compared to the overall experience.

The game's true strength lay in the complexity and believable nature of the world BioWare had created. With massive areas to discover such as the Citadel's central area, the Presidium and characters that players would learn not simply to endure but to actively love and if possible, pursue as a romantic interest in the game.

The naivety of Liara which some considered over-stated felt to be alluring by others. While Garrus and Wrex were the very essence of powerful, substantive NPC's who didn't need your help, something many games still cannot properly balance and Tali, at once innocent and yet also decidedly deathly. Of course there were the human squadmates as well. Ashley, who had a complicated history with aliens and Kaidan, who won many hearts - on and off the battlefield.

At the opposing end of the spectrum was most notably Saren who remains to this day one of the most powerful antagonists in videogames.

And then there was the music, if Halo showed the world how important music could be to a game experience Mass Effect cemented the score of a game as one of its potentially defining features. The synth-style soundtrack complimented the game in a way which few titles, with the exception of Mass Effect 2 & 3, have been able to replicate.

Mass Effect 2 came with high expectations and delivered beyond most of them. Criticised by some for the removal of RPG elements in an attempt to reach a broader audience and by others for essentially distracting away from the main goal of the trilogy's story arc - defeating the Reapers - by instead concentrating on the Collectors, a race in thrall to the Reapers.

Some also argued that their Commander Shepard would never cooperate with Cerberus, a terrorist organisation and one the first human spectre had often battled against in Mass Effect though in hindsight it's clear that BioWare were not aware of the transformation Cerberus would undergo from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 when they began.

This sequel was a game about people. It was a game wherein the majority of the missions involved either hiring squadmates and then earning their loyalty. Over this course of this game you found characters to love (or to hate) - I have previously written of my affection for Miranda but there were a host of memorable NPCs returning to the game or newly added.

The salarian doctor Mordin, the thief Kasumi, the justicar Samara. They were personalities with depth something rare in so many titles. And yet again the score for the games was superb. The Illusive Man, the End Run, Suicide Mission to name but a few remain some of the finest tracks to be committed to a videogame or indeed any piece of entertainment.

No post on the Mass Effect trilogy can justifiably ignore the controversy surrounding the ending of the series. Mass Effect 3 was wonderful game, make no mistake, yet the ending ruined both it and the trilogy for some. Others merely felt that BioWare could, and should, have done significantly better. Regardless BioWare listened and implemented the Extended Cut DLC. No not everyone was satisfied, the developer admitted before releasing the additional content that that would be the case.

Regardless of how the ending was originally handled or whether the Extended Cut was enough BioWare listened and distributed the content for free. They should be regarded most highly for trying, even if they haven't met everyone's expectations - an impossible feat.

Without Mass Effect 1 & 2's main writer and score composer Mass Effect 3 still provides for an epic experience and an excellent game. Even if things fell apart at the end.

There will be more Mass Effect and though that will be without Commander Shepard and I'm once again grateful for walking into that shop and buying a game I had never heard of. I always will be.

Happy N7 Day everyone.


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