Rated Mature; Reviewed on PS3 and PC
The Mass Effect games represent a grand experiment in game design and story-telling. Instead of reviewing the games individually I’d like to spend some time considering the evolution of the trilogy as a whole. In this first part I’ll set the stage by explaining how much I’ve invested in these games and clarifying what they promised to deliver.
My Time with Mass Effect
I first played Mass Effect on the XBox 360 shortly after it was released. During the course of completing the game I had to replace two consoles due to the “Red Ring of Death” issue that plague the early 360’s. Eventually I ended up replacing four separate units (and spending way too much due to the insulting 90-day warranty of the original units). I decided to simply never play anything on the XBox 360 again unless I absolutely had to.
So, when Mass Effect 2 was finally released I initially considered getting it on the PS3 but was irked that I wouldn’t get the “full experience” as the original game was unavailable on the platform. Taking advantage of a timely sale on Steam I ended up buying both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 and playing them on the PC. However when Mass Effect 3 was released EA decided to ignore Steam and play dirty with DRM on the PC. I also had significant issues getting Mass Effect 2 to recognize my Mass Effect save games on the PC which soured the experience. When Amazon had a Gold Box special for the PS3 versions of Mass Effect 2 and 3 as a package I bit. This meant using the abbreviated “motion comic” to set major decisions from Mass Effect and replaying Mass Effect 2 before finally completing the series.
In review: I played Mass Effect twice (XBox 360 and PC), Mass Effect 2 twice (PC and PS3) and finally Mass Effect 3 on the PS3. All told I’ve spent something over 350 hours in the Mass Effect universe. That’s a significant investment – even by gamer standards.
The Promise of Mass Effect
The primary draw of Mass Effect was a tightly interwoven epic story where your decisions radically affected the progression of the story and outcome over an expansive trilogy of games. While there had of course been other game series where the protagonists continued to evolve over the course of many games they tended to be completely linear in nature ending where the pre-defined story, not your decisions, led them. Persistent worlds were more common, but often presented (as with, for example, the “Elder Scrolls” series) with multiple protagonists across different eras.
That the game was produced by Bioware was encouraging. One of the most respected names in fantasy roleplaying games with “Baldur’s Gate” and “Neverwinter Nights” Bioware was also responsible for what, until Mass Effect, was considered to be the pinnacle of science-fiction roleplaying, “Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic”. This pedigree gave gamers hope that the seemingly exaggerated promises of Mass Effect would actually be kept.
Never before had such extensive resources been dedicated to such a grand experiment. A published with incredibly deep pockets, a beloved developer with the experience to pull it off and, no insignificantly, hardware platforms with both the horsepower and storage capacity to present it in style. The massive critical and commercial success of the first game validated the gamble completely. EA and Bioware had a hit on their hands.
With the stage set I’ll spend part 2 of this series discussing of the gameplay mechanics and how they evolved across the three games.