I’ve made a decision, I’m diving back into the world of Mass Effect before the release of Andromeda. It’s not a hard decision to make really, these games mean a lot to me and have had a profound impact on my life. I’m going back into them so that when I play Andromeda I will have a fresh sense of what the original trilogy was really like, not how I fondly remember it being.
I’ll be honest, though, I am omitting the first Mass Effect game from my playthrough and won’t be reviewing it. Not because it is bad, quite the contrary. I’ve made this decision for a number of reasons, including:
- Mass Effect has an RPG Adventure Genre, while ME2 & 3 have an action adventure genre, which is similar to what ME:A will contain (I assume)
- I still have trophies to earn in the original Mass Effect, and I would prefer to not let my love of meaningless achievements cloud up my playthrough
- I’ve played the first Mass Effect game many times over, much more so than 2 & 3, and so I feel I will gain little from replaying it other than nostalgia and trophies
- With Andromeda coming out in about 5 weeks time, and each game taking anywhere between 20-50 hours to complete, I am in a bit of a time crunch.
So my journey will begin with Mass Effect 2. This review will contain lots of topics and subtopics, and will either be super short or super long. Because Mass Effect 2 is mostly a character driven story, there will be a lot of discussion about the characters you come across. As such, each character will have his or her (or its) own section. I’ll also touch on the main missions outside of character collection and retention, as well as key gameplay mechanics.
One last thing before we start. Mass Effect has a rich history in my life. I’ve been in love with the characters, the story, and the worlds for the past five years, and have no intention of falling out of love. As such, there will occasionally be references to past emotions, previous playthroughs, or asides to how things could have gone had I made different decisions. One of the neat things about Mass Effect is that almost everything matters, even if it is in the tiniest of ways.
Also spoilers, so stop reading Sam.
“She’s one woman, one very specific woman…”
It was a snowy Sunday afternoon when I loaded my Mass Effect 2 disc up on my Playstation 3™ system. The game installed and I began to think about the journey before me. How would I play? Who would I invite to my cabin to bang? Who wouldn’t I invite? Will I enjoy a now seven-year-old game as much as I did when I was a youthful boy who had his best years ahead of him? A lot of uncertainty, a lot of doubt.
One thing that is highly celebrated in the trilogy is the opening to Mass Effect 2. It is regarded as the best introduction in the series, and in last generation games by some. Looking back to my first playthrough, it was very powerful. I played the game immediately having beaten Mass Effect 1 and was riding high on kicking some Reaper behind. For those of you who don’t know, the game opens with your ship and crew being absolutely decimated by an unknown enemy. You see the original Normandy be torn apart, and you’re forced to evacuate the ship. Depending on certain choices from the first game, a squad mate will appear in the opening, your love interest, or Liara, if no love interest had been taken in ME1.
The cinematic and score were definitely moving, and walking through the old Normandy as it burns and falls apart is quite the experience. Most notably when you reach the old Galaxy Map, all sound is drowned out, other than your own breathing, as the room is open to the vacuum of space. It’s quite an experience. Anyways you get Joker and tell him to stop being stupid and to abandon ship. Long story short, Joker survives, you don’t. Shepard is thrown from the husk of the Normandy and begins to fall slowly and slowly to the planet below. You’ve died.
Now normally, most players jump to the next segment of the game, but because I did not import a character, a small graphic comic loaded up that detailed the events Mass Effect 1, and let me make the choices that would matter in ME2. This was very jarring and took me out of the moment, but it did allow me to set the game up in the way I wanted, so for that, I did appreciate it. I made the following choices:
- Romanced Kaidan
- Left Ashley to die on Virmire
- Saved Wrex (You’re welcome Dada Spez)
- Killed the Rachni Queen
- Saved the council
- Choose Udina to join the council
I made these choices mainly because I want my Shepard to be a soldier, through and through. Not much of a goodie-two-shoes or a dick, but just a girl trying to get the job done. Hence I killed the Rachni queen because it made military sense, and saved the council thinking it as saving military heads of state.
After the comic was done, the game continued as normal. Shepard wakes in a Cerberus facility after being revived with the “Lazarus Project”. As a veteran of the series, I know now that the writing of Mass Effect is not perfect, in some big ways and some little ones. It never quite sat right with me that they revived Shepard in this way. Mass Effect is (mostly) grounded in reality, and this is a little too much science fiction here, but whatever.
So you wake up, you shoot some robots, you meet an armed black man who is also shooting robots, and you get some instructions from a stern but sexy lady. You learn that someone within the station is a traitor and is staging the attack. This section acts as the tutorial, but I found it to be pretty clunky. In fairness, I find most tutorials are clunky. For example, I would complete an objective like “Take cover!” before Miranda would finish telling me what to do, and the dialogue would cut out and she would start her next instruction.
As far as opening missions go, it’s pretty standard, action-packed and fairly quick. Along the way, you meet a guy named Wilson, who helped revive Shep, and he joins you as you and Jacob try to escape. At the end of the mission, Miranda shows up and caps him straight in the dome for no reason. This is the first instance where I really feel that the game trips over itself. You are able to object to the random execution (sort of), but you can’t ask for nor are you provided any proof that Wilson was the traitor and deserved to die. Shepard just kind of accepts it. The game gives you dialogue options during this encounter, and Miranda and Jacob talk about how it was all for you, and that you’re the most important person to them right now. I suggested we go back to look for survivors, and RBF Miranda looks at me and says “Listen this is the only shuttle out of here so unless you want to rot here I suggest you come with me.” UH EXCUSE ME? You literally just said I’m the MOST important person and I’m all that matters, and now you are threatening to leave me to die? Lazy writing, nothing else can be said.
So you are forced to leave with Jacob and Miranda, and they take you to see the Illusive Man. Along the way they talk a little, you find out a little more about Miranda’s crappy demeanor, and you kind of glaze over while Jacob tries to talk to you. It’s something to be said that the worst companions Shepard normally has are both starting characters and humans, and have similar traits. Ashley and Miranda are loud mouth racists and Jacob and Kaidan are soulless hunky husks of men.
You meet the Illusive Man, the only interesting character in the game so far, and he gives you a little backstory to what’s been going on. Humans are going missing, it’s up to you to find out why. This is the story to the game. It’s simple and straightforward. I appreciate the game for being very blunt about it. I think it works a bit better than ME1’s story overall, as it allows for time between main missions that makes sense. What I mean by that is that in this scenario, Shepard can do a side quest or help out a friend, because he’s waiting for the next clue or the next attack. Where as with the first game, it’s not very logical for you to not be hunting down Saren at every opportunity.
Tim (The Illusive Man), sends you along to a colony that has recently been abducted. There you find an old crew member, Tali, who is surprisingly calm about you not being a burnt corpse anymore. Tali and her crew are looking for a fellow Quarian, who acts as a witness to the disappearance of all the humans. You propose a team up, but the other Quarians don’t trust you and rush off ahead.
I would not call Mass Effect an overly violent game, but man there is some gore in this section. The quarians run into a mech which rips them to shreds. A most memorable moment is when the mech steps on a Quarian and blows her head off with its arm shotgun, covering the mech in blood. It’s awesome.
Anyways, mech goes boom, you go “yay!” and you find the witness who explains how the humans were abducted. The crew realizes the mysterious race of Collectors are at fault, and we don’t yet know why.
After a brief discussion with Tim, you reconnect with Joker, who has joined Cerberus to pilot for you, along with a brand spanking new Normandy. The prologue ends with you jetting into space to a very moving soundtrack.
“Damn it, Shepard, I trusted you!”
Aside from a writing hiccup and bland companions, the only other thing I have to critique is the graphics. I know the game is from 2010 and the way it looks should be taken with a grain of salt. The facial models are for the most part very good, and stand up well. But holy cow did I notice some issues with mouth movements. And teeth in this game look like the fences in Paperboy.
All in all, the opening sucked me back into the world again. The loading screens even gave me a feeling of emotional nostalgia. I’m very much looking forward to reintroducing myself to these characters, both good and bad, and referencing this experience to old impressions and additional lore.