Some Incoherent Thoughts on Mass Effect (Given through Tears, Filled with Regrets) – Part 1 of 2

I’m only a little kidding with that title.  I’m definitely bummed that there won’t be any more Shepard adventures, and I definitely made a bunch of blunders in ME 1-3 that lead to some less-than-desirable outcomes.  I think, however, that since I’ve gone through so many book and movie series coming to an end, I’ve had to deal with this feeling a lot.  LotR, Battlestar, Lost, the X-Files, the upcoming completion of the Kingkiller Chronicle (which I am DREADING by the way), etc. etc. We’re used to franchises like Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Elder Scrolls, Dr. Who, and others that either by design or by heavy contrivance can just be rebooted and rebooted endlessly.  These things are mostly great, with some exceptions, and I even like some of the more recent reboots – the new Star Trek movie was surprisingly enjoyable, for instance – but it can also be great to have a nice little trilogy or quadrilogy (is that a word? Did I just make that word up? oh well) that stands on its own.  Immediately, however, that opens your ending up to a lot of criticism; there will be no next story, no next reboot to redeem whatever flaws fans found in the wind-up. Anyway, now that I’ve jumped into the middle (I mean end), let’s go back to the beginning.

SHEP STATS

Name: Anna Shepard

Sex: Female

Scars: No

Class: Soldier (ME 1), Vanguard (ME 2), Sentinel (ME 3)

Pre-Service History: Colonist

Psych Profile: Sole Survivor (ME 1 & 2), Ruthless (ME 3)

Romances: Kaidan (ME 1), Garrus (ME 2), Traynor (ME 3)

Body Count: Wrex, Ashley, the Council, Legion, Kelly, and Chakwas.

Pissed Off: Tali

Rachni: Killed the Queen

Reaper Base: Didn’t Destroy

Genophage: Cured Entirely (R.I.P. Mordin!)

Geth or Quarians: Geth, All Quarians Dead

Left, Right, or Middle: Left

Phew, that about covers most of the major plot points for the overall.  Like a lot of other players, I went the route of trying to make decisions based on what I thought the character would do.  I know a lot of people also try to imagine what they personally would do when making dialogue and plot decisions, and to a certain extent that informed my thinking, but I have a much easier time creating a character in my head and inhabiting that character.  At least 50% of the time, I just went for whatever I thought would sound the most bad-ass or be the most bad-ass thing to do.  Unsurprisingly, I came out pretty much dead even between Paragon and Renegade on the ol’ reputation bar.  I had thought the character had drifted a lot towards the Renegade end of the spectrum since ME 1, but that might have only been in 2? Which is why I killed so many people? The great thing about playing this way is that it was honest, easy, and felt uncontrived.  The not-so-great thing about playing this way is that you end up missing out on a lot of the dialogue and action options. Regrets Number One and Two, count ’em!

Mass Effect 1 – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Plasma Rifle

Sadly, I can remember a lot of the finer details of ME 1, but at the time I really wasn’t paying attention to how well or not the game played, or Since this was really my first experience with shooting a ton of enemies with gun-based weaponry (I had been a player of the Super Mario games, Harvest Moon, Civ, Portal, and the Elder Scrolls games exclusively before this), I understandably died.  A lot. Especially in the beginning – if I recall, I had to do one of the first missions about 10 times over after dying in the same spot time after time.  After that, though, the learning curve kicked in, and I was fine.  I still died from time to time, but more had to worry about the endless game glitches that would leave me stranded in the Mako on some godforsaken dust planet unable to move or go back to the Normandy.  Countless restarts!  Also, I was surprised to discover I love shooting things.  I started ME 1 in a time of bad head space and emotional discomfort, so it was nice to be able to take out all my frustration virtually.  Not a new concept, I’m sure, but still, it worked for me! Somehow, it’s a lot more satisfying than, say, slashing someone with your long sword over and over, like in Oblivion. I always found the parts of the Elder Scrolls where you had to fight things significantly more annoying than cathartic.

I was definitely addicted by the time I picked up Tali in the Citadel, and from there it was love.  It was the writing, and the fantastic characters (Tali, Garrus, Wrex, Joker, and Liara especially), the same things that make me fall in love with books and movies and television shows.  I had never experienced that before, there always seemed to be an extra layer in video games between the game play and the viewer experience, which made it somehow more difficult to fully engage with the characters and the story.  I can’t say I ever felt any affection for my Oblivion Dark Elf or Mario.  I do love those little bee guys in Super Mario Galaxy, though. Anyway, I was legitimately bummed when Wrex died, when Liara got sad that I rejected her for Kaidan (Regret Three, check!), and when Joker made no show of wanting to get in my pants.  Ok, that last one was facetious.  Sort of.

As for the end of ME 1, I didn’t really think it was anything spectacular.  The Council decision (save outright, try to save but not too hard, and let rot in space hell) was a nice touch, however.  I was pretty happy at that point that ME 2 was already out, since I wanted to keep playing!  Nothing like driving around in the Mako for a billion hours being a space baller.

Mass Effect 2 – Shep is the Resurrection

Hands down, the beginning of ME 2 is my favorite video game opener ever.  I love crashing spaceship sequences (the drama! the fright!), this being the primary reason I got into Star Trek, so automatically I was on board.  But then, YOU DIE. My reaction was as follows: “Wait… what, wait. Is she, am I dead?! AM I DEAD?” Strangely, I was not perturbed by this for long, just disappointed that I was going to have to make a new Shep.  I think ME 2 was really when I solidified my love of my particular Anna Shepard, so I guess I wasn’t too attached just yet.  But wait, you don’t die, yay!  Like Lazarus from the dust, you get rebuilt by an eccentric rebel faction leader with unlimited resources and his anatomically impossible lead scientist. Still, I was overwhelmed by how bad ass that decision was.  Bioware had my in the palm of its hand at that moment, and from then I would follow ME anywhere, so long as it kept delivering story developments like that.

Smokin’ Man

Miranda, Jacob, Cerberus, and the Illusive Man were well done as characters toeing the lines of bad and good. I love me some Martin Sheen – The West Wing watcher from way back – so it was a pleasant surprise to hear his dulcet tones in that most excellent of star-side view offices.  In fact, the voice probably makes the character.  Actually, time out, we need to talk about the Illusive Man.  Particularly, we need to talk about how the Illusive Man essentially is the Smoking Man, from The X-Files. I mean, look at him over there, now look at the Illusive Man (below).  If that’s not a hat tip by the Bioware people towards my old buddy SM, then my mind will explode.  So, if they try to say it’s not, no one tell me.  Anyway,  thinking about Shep and Miranda as the Scully and Mulder of ME 2 really makes me happy, and I got a huge nerd reference boner when I made the IM-CM connection about halfway through the game.

Since Kaidan/Ashley isn’t on the Normandy for you to kick around anymore (too bad, I loved listening to Kaidan get all doe eyed and weepy, then Throw things across the room), you get Jacob, who I thought was a worthy replacement.  He’s a hard-hitting soldier, for sure, but he also seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and a good sense of humor.  Not bad for a throwaway character.  I was happy, though, to see him again in ME 3.  I still go back and forth about whether I like Miranda.  Her fate in ME 3 is interesting.  I think at the end of the day, the developers gave her a much larger back story than she might have needed.  It felt unfinished and thin in places, but did make me want to know more about her and her history!  I’m actually hoping, based on her storyline in ME 3, that one of the DLC’s will focus on her.  It’s likely, I think.

Image via Gamer Center Online

Let’s skip ahead a bit with a handy list:

  • I will always remember how long I spent mining for shit, entirely uselessly. Not the best game design decision, made me miss the Mako, but was better than the annoying little dodge the reapers game they make you play in ME 3.
  • I really feel like I made the wrong decision in deciding to get rid of Shep’s scars.  The horrible thing was, I knew it the minute I pushed the button to make that decision. (Regret 4, adding up).
  • This version of Anna Shepard reached the pinnacle for me of converting what she looks like in my head to what she looks like I the screen.  I am traditionally horrible at this, having more of a flair for words than pictures.  We’ll talk later about what ME 3 did to my beautiful Anna.
  • Love Aria. Love love love love.
  • Was not as enamored of Jack as a lot of people (well, a lot of my male friends) were until we got to the end and she used her biotic mightiness to get us through that Reaper base.  I actually felt a sense of gratitude for her after that, and she only improved in ME 3.
  • SPACE HAMSTER
  • Garrus love interest is the best ever.  And I don’t care what anyone says, I love Thane, he’s stupendous.  Garrus is my favorite character of the whole series, though, so how could I not romance him?  If I could have two men though, Thane definitely would have been welcome to that three-way.  I’m a little looser in my fantasy space adventures than in real life, I guess?
  • Strangely, can’t remember a lot of the side missions?  I can recall that I liked the idea of having a loyalty mission for every party member, of which there were a ton this game, which was one of the good parts of the game.  I have words about that for ME 3.  Also, Regret 5: totally messed up Tali’s loyalty mission, but ultimately I do think it was the right decision for the character to make, so I’m at peace with it.  If I’d known that it meant she wouldn’t be playable in ME 3, I might have reconsidered, though…

Ok, that about takes us to the end.  Holy hell, I killed a lot of people at the very end of the game by making some small, but ultimately epic, poor decisions. (Legion, Chakwas, and Kelly).  Having played through ME 3 now, I want to strike the Legion death from my regrets list, since the solution to bringing him back in ME 3 was actually really interesting, and I think it can impact the game play/decisions you make, if you ended up letting Original Recipe Legion get slaughtered by Reapers like I did.  However, major bums I didn’t get to drink with Dr. Chakwas again, and didn’t get to have Kelly do a striptease for me (Regrets 5 & 6).  I really thought they would be OK on their own, you guys!  Strong women, go!  Sadly, I overestimated them.  Overall, though, I enjoyed the end of the game.  You got a lot of control and it felt important, difficult, but also interesting, and the end sequence was very cool and just looked pretty. It combined the whole “beat on tons of enemies” aesthetic of much of the major game missions, little scavenger-hunt/side goals, and a big boss battle, all without feeling too grueling.

NEXT TIME: AN ME 3 BREAKDOWN

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