I’ve come quite late to the Mass Effect franchise. Despite it being my most recommended game series to date, I just never really felt the urge to pick it up. With such an extensive Steam back catalogue, and being primarily an MMO player there have always been other calls for my time. Being an adult sucks like that. But when I saw the launch trailer for Mass Effect Andromeda (the music supervisor for that trailer deserves a huge raise by the way) I was blown away and decided that I just had to play the series in preparation.
I’d tried Mass Effect 1 before, and while I enjoyed it, I found the Citadel quests a little monotonous, so when I stopped playing for a few days I just didn’t start it up again and promptly forgot about it. But with all the constant recommendations I decided that this time I was going to stick with it. And I was not sorry!
The overarching story is deep and immersive. The attention to detail is second to none. Walking past characters you can’t even interact with and listening to their conversations made the world seem real. It’s the joy and danger of truly immersive, interactive, player-driven storytelling. Commander Shepard wasn’t just a character I was playing. I was her. She was an extension of me. Her choices were my choices. I didn’t treat her as an object to move through the game. I treated her as an extension of myself. I refused to let myself restart missions for different outcomes. I committed to my choices having a lasting effect. Which is why the ending let me down so much.
Mass Effect 1 was a good game, but not a great one. The story was brilliant, and the way my Shepard created her own little family on the Normandy was exceptional, but the side quests and planet exploration were repetitive and clunky. The combat was enjoyable, and I liked speccing my character to suit my play style, but overall the game experience of ME1 didn’t blow me away. Still, the story kept me going for Mass Effect 2, which is where the series really started to come into its own.
My female Shepard had romanced Kaidan in ME1. The romance was a cute distraction at the time, but I didn’t feel any deep connection. It was masterful in ME2 that, despite Kaidan being only in a few minutes of the game it actually made me care about him in a way that the first game hadn’t. The storytelling and interactive dialogue really improved in ME2, and for the first time, I was invested in all the characters. Building a new team and creating a sense of loyalty in my crew gave them all depth. I’d briefly considered setting up a new romance in ME2, but when I met Kaidan on Horizon, his reaction to seeing me with Cerberus was so real and believable that I was pretty shocked.
That moment in ME2 on Horizon seemed to get a pretty negative reaction for Kaidan, but for me, it appeared to be a very real way to react. I was a little disappointed when he walked away from me in anger, but I understood, so I let my reaction to that filter into my conversations with other characters. I thought then that I could probably move on and try to romance someone else to get the full game experience, but every time I went into the Commander’s quarters I saw his picture there, the truth was that I as a person just couldn’t do that to Kaidan, especially after his apology message, so ultimately my Shepard just couldn’t either.
While the romance seemed a little gimmicky on paper, by Mass Effect 3 it had me completely immersed. It made me personally invested in the characters. They weren’t pixels on a screen. They were my friends and family. Everything my Shepard was doing wasn’t just to save the earth and a bunch of strange NPCs I’d never meet; they were to protect these people who had been with me from the beginning. That is why, when the ending came, at first I wasn’t too disappointed. Part of that reason for me was the fact that I was so hooked that I’d played all three games non-stop in less than a week. I played for full days, sometimes until 4 or 5 in the morning. I just couldn’t stop! I had to know what happened to these characters, and having my Shepard sacrifice herself for those who she loved made sense. It hit me right in the feels, but it didn’t feel wrong.
But, after the buzz of non-stop play and the immersive story came to an end, and I had a chance to sit back and think about it, I found myself getting a little angry. The story up until that point had been masterful. It had an internal logic, but on closer inspection, the end just didn’t. It would have made sense to have all the existing options there as other players had made other decisions up until this point, but there was a fourth option that was what my Shepard had been building toward that the game simply didn’t address.
Every decision I’d made up until that point would have brought my Shepard to one, logical conclusion. Convincing the Crucible of the fallacy of his argument. The narrative and my decisions had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cycle could be broken. I’d negotiated peace between the Quarians and the Geth, and the Geth were helping rebuild Rannock, the Quarian homeworld. EDI was free to self-actualise and discover her individuality and was a valued member of my team. The inevitable ending that the Crucible had foreseen was not inevitable in my world. That should have been my ending. But instead, my Shepard’s decisions and choices were bastardised for shock value. And that’s what it felt like. So many hours that players spent investing in the character and their future ripped from them in a moment, thanks to a blatant plot twist for the sake of it.
I’m not going to lie, the franchise is still probably the best video game series I’ve played to date, and despite my disappointment at the ending, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The suicide mission of ME2 is probably the most immersive well developed final mission of any game I’ve ever played. Ever.
Mass Effect Andromeda has some pretty big shoes to fill, but I’m definitely excited to play it.