Bioware’s Mass Effect series has become one of the biggest and most respected game franchises in recent years with legions of fans and influences on the gaming world. For the longest time I did not understand why. I remember playing the first game around when it was originally released in 2007 and I wasn’t very impressed by it at all. As a result I didn’t really pay attention to the rest of the series until Mass Effect 3 came out last year and sparked controversy with its fans over the ending. I saw this as more reason to avoid the series. After my Top 5 Games of 2012 article, I got many requests for Mass Effect 3 and that it should be on there. Naturally, my lack of interest in the series kept me from playing it but I ultimately decided to give the series another look. I found the three games on Amazon for fairly cheap and bought them. And I gotta say, sometimes it’s good to be wrong! For the past 3 weeks I’ve been playing the Mass Effect trilogy back to back and it was damn near life changing. This isn’t really going to be a review as more of just going over my experience with these games. They’ve been out long enough to where there isn’t much new I can say about them that has not already been said. My ultimate goal for this would be for those who doubted the series, like I did, to maybe give it a second look. I’m not going to go too much into the stories in detail but there may be some spoilers here and there.
MASS EFFECT (2007)
The first game of the series aimed to be a sci-fi RPG with many ways to go about the story. To me felt like a more gritty kind of Star Trek. I played this game back when it came out in 2007 and I wasn’t very impressed by it. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to playing this one in my Mass Effect-a-thon. I will admit that I had very different tastes in games back when I first played ME1. I was a huge FPS gamer and was all into Call of Duty at the time so I was used to my games moving at a much faster pace. Ironically, Call of Duty has killed my love for most FPS games that are found on the market these days. However, my taste in games has changed since then and I was more open-minded about it this time around and Mass Effect was better than I thought it would be but still doesn’t hold a candle to the sequels.
In case you don’t know, you play as Commander Shepard, a war hero and the new commander of the SSV Normandy, the Earth Alliance’s most advanced star ship. Shepard is one of the most interesting game heroes out there as you can customize him or her (I went with female Shepard) to look however you want and act however you want throughout the course of the game. As a result, everyone will look at this character differently and like their own version of Shepard. Anyway, after discovering that a Turian Spectre has betrayed the galactic council, Shepard is promoted to being the first Human Spectre to track the rouge Turian down and bring him in dead or alive. Of course, this leads to some unusual alliances and some shocking discoveries that could lead to the fate of the entire galaxy. The big thing that sets Mass Effect apart from other similar games is that all the decisions you make in the game really matter and effect the rest of the game and the following games. In addition to that, the size of the game is huge, having an entire galaxy to explore, and a morality system that can ultimately define your character. Mass Effect was very ambitious for its time.
However, there were quite a few technical problems. The overall game play feels and acts very clunky. There were many times where the frame rate would drop suddenly (in combat) and one time I found the frame rate was so bad I thought I was going to have to restart the game as it took me 4 minutes to walk a short distance because the frame rate had dropped so violently causing the game to slow down insanely. This happens in the combat more and more as you progress through the game. However, it never caused any cheap deaths or anything. Mainly because the game’s combat is stupid easy. The combat acts like an average third person shooter, aim the cursor at the enemy and shoot. You have a variety of weapons but the only one you really need is the assault rifle. I found myself using the assault rifle about 90% of the time and it got the job done. Being that you technically have unlimited ammo for your weapons (only governed by an overheat gauge) you will probably never really feel the need to use your other guns. Also becoming stuck on geometry in the game was a problem to the point where I had to restart a mission because I couldn’t get unstuck.
Aside from its technical issues, Mass Effect just starts off at a snail’s pace. It takes a good 7 to 8 hours of game play before things start really picking up. The first few hours of the game are spent on exposition and setting up the universe this game is set in and there is a lot to set up. In the menu screen when you pause the game, there is a codex with a library of information on the alien races, planets, technology ect of Mass Effect and I found myself spending a good deal of time listening and reading information from it to better understand the characters, worlds and such. I doubt every gamer will have the patience to do the same. There is a lot of time explaining how the galactic council works, how the politics of other alien governments work, how their cultures work, and, of course, character development with lots and lots of talking ahhhhhhh… Yeah, it gets pretty boring at times. I was seriously considering skipping this game and moving onto the sequel even though the decisions you make in this game directly affect ME2. However, I stuck with it and I will say that it got better in the second half of the game. I feel the characters are the strongest part of this game and the series. I came to love the characters of the Mass Effect games and naturally it started here. I actually rather enjoyed the conversations that you direct throughout the game which leads to many of the major decisions and the relationships you built with your crew (especially the romantic ones). The planetary exploration was also pretty fun. As someone who finds astronomy fascinating, it was neat to be able to explore the Milky Way and the many worlds in it. Many lead to little side missions where you land on an uncharted planet and explore it in this rover tank thing. Yeah, it was annoying to travel over miles of nothing to get from way point to way point but it made me think of what it would really be like exploring an alien world for the first time.
In the end, ME1 does a good job for setting up the ground work for the next two games but it’s hard to recommend for everyone. The clunky game play and slow story makes this one a chore to sit through at times and I could see why I didn’t care for it back when it first came out. However, I am ensured by other Mass Effect fans that they feel the same about the game. If you want the full experience of the trilogy, then you should play this game, especially if you are going to carry the same character throughout all three games. However, if you’re not, you might want to consider finding some kind of abridgement on internet or something and jump into Mass Effect 2 instead.
MASS EFFECT 2 (2010)
Wow! What a difference! This is how you do a sequel. Keep everything good from previous game and greatly improve everything else. I went into ME2 knowing very little about the game other than friends telling me it is amazing and they weren’t lying. ME2 has significant improvements in game play, graphics, and story. It starts off with a bang with Shepard dying as the Normandy is destroyed. Her body is then recovered and is rebuilt by the fringe human rights group Cerberus which is headed by the mysterious Illusive Man voiced by Martin Sheen. With a new Normandy built and Shepard given a crew to put together, she sets out to find out why human colonies have been disappearing around the Terminus system and being taken by the mysterious and frightening alien race known as the Collectors. Unlike the first game that took forever to get started, ME2 throws you right into the action in within the first 10 minutes. This is where you discover the combat system has been completely retooled. Now instead of feeling like a mediocre third person shooter in an RPG, it feels like a really good third person shooter in a really good RPG. Having finished ME1 a couple hours earlier, this new combat system was a bit jarring at first but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and liked it far more than the combat in ME1. Having limited ammo was a good way to ensure that you find a use for your other weapons instead of relying on just one gun the whole time. It adds a more tactical element to the game which was missing from the first. Planetary exploration in this game is also more fun. You need to scan planets to harvest for resources for weapon upgrades and other skills. You also discover side missions this way.
Visually the game is beautiful with improvements in the character models with showing more emotion and detail. The alien models look especially impressive and live up to even the most current game graphics today. I was sad to see that my character’s romantic interest, Liara T’Soni, was not part of the Normandy crew in this game. I found my emotions running high in this game and really didn’t want it to end. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a video game has been able to do that for me. Much like the first game, the characters are easy to get attached to and this time there are even more characters that join your crew including some even more unlikely alliances. The Collectors make for more terrifying enemies than the Geth made in the first game. The final part of the game is just plain epic and I liked how you got to make use of all your crew members on the assault on the Collector base.
Overall, there isn’t much more I can say about this game. I was extremely impressed and loved it. There were a couple minor things that I ran into. It froze on me once and the loading screens are a little on the long side at times. Also while the in game cut scenes are improved, the pre-rendered cut scenes appear to have less image quality and can cut away too fast sometimes. It’s hard to explain without seeing it for yourself but it’s really a minor issue. I didn’t like that there were no grenades this time though but once again, a minor complaint. Mass Effect 2 is an amazing game and a favorite among many fans. If you didn’t like ME1, I highly recommend giving Mass Effect 2 a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.
MASS EFFECT 3 (2012)
And so we come to the final and most controversial game in the Mass Effect trilogy. The fan outrage over the ending was heard around the world and, at the time, I found it kind of amusing. I did watch the ending at the time to see what all the anger was all about so when I went into playing the game I already knew what the ending would be but we’ll get to that later. As for the rest of the game, it’s freaking amazing. This is my favorite in the trilogy. This time the stakes are higher than ever as the inevitable Reaper invasion has started and Earth is the first world to fall. Commander Shepard must head out into the rest of the galaxy to try and unite all of the alien races to defeat the Reapers as this time all live in the galaxy is at risk of being eradicated and harvested. Now you’re engaged in full scale war and obtaining war assets is a major part of the game. The battlefields with Reapers walking around in the distance make for some terrifying but awesome set pieces and the combat in this game is top notch and exhilarating.
The combat system is more or less the same from the previous game only with a dodging mechanic added in. While it is useful, I found myself clinging to walls for cover by accident more than in ME2. I really liked that the Omi-tool into a melee weapon. It was fun to use. The mission list is a bit of a mess in this game. They decided to combine the primary and secondary missions all into one list instead of having two separate lists in the previous games. It makes the mission list cluttered and confusing as tasks to complete will quickly pile up. Also the galaxy map only high lights primary missions now which can make hunting down side missions a real chore. Planetary exploration is down played in this game as well. You still have to explore the systems in the galaxy to recover war assets scattered by the Reaper attacks but they have a new risk/reward system for exploring planets. You use a sensor to scan for abnormalities in space to ping an asset however this also attracts local Reapers to come after you. If they catch you, it’s game over. While it adds an element of danger to what was something that had no risk before, it gets kind of annoying when you’re trying to find a well hidden asset in the middle of nowhere and you have no choice but to keep hitting the sensor button over and over getting the attention of Reapers in no time.
The music on the hand is the best in the series. In the previous games, the music was fitting but just there. ME2 had better musical scores but it was only a couple parts, not through out. ME3 has a beautiful and epic score that really gets you pumped for the battles and tugs at the heart strings when it comes to the emotionally heavy scenes. The slow piano score by Clint Mansell is especially heavy on the feels. Listening to that at the beginning of the game as you fly away from Earth watching it burn is one of the most powerful openings to a game or movie I’ve seen in a long time. This game is filled with heavy emotion and it weighs down on Shepard and the player. I’ve played many games where the fate of humanity hangs in the balance but this is the first game to truly make me feel the weight and gravity of the situation. So be ready for an emotional rollercoaster, especially if you’ve played the previous games.
It’s a powerful ride up until the ending… Oh boy, the ending… While the ending itself isn’t terrible, all the build up over the game and previous games make it a tremendous let down. The supposed three different endings is bullshit. You just get a different colored explosion. That’s pretty lame and lazy. Even then the end is pretty vague and short like 90% of game endings these days. There was such a big fan outcry from this and demanded a new ending which Bioware actually made as a DLC. I have not seen it but I’m told it’s really no better. I could tell how it would be disappointing when I first saw the ending but now having seen it with full context, I feel that disappointment. If there was more to the choices you make at the end and some explanation to what happens next or at least show what happens to your comrades. I care more about them than what happens to civilization. There isn’t even really a cliff hanger ending for the upcoming Mass Effect 4 to work off of.
Outside the massive let down of an ending, this game is amazing and I loved it up until the last 5 minutes. I highly recommend this game and I am going to actually amend my Top 5 Games of 2012 to include ME3. However, I will say that I only recommend ME3 after you have played Mass Effect 2. They go hand in hand more so than the first game. As for the trilogy as a whole, it’s hard to recommend ME1 unless you want to full experience of making all the critical choices and keeping the same character throughout the trilogy. If not, definitely start with ME2. I’m very glad I gave this series a second chance and it has definitely made me into a hardcore Mass Effect fan. Now I know that there is a Mass Effect 4 in the works and from the rumors I heard, it might be an FPS game. I really hope that’s not true. BioWare, we don’t need another Halo or Call of Duty wannabe. Just find an amazing way to keep the story and characters going somehow.