Mass Effect Revisited
by Meghan Watt
With a Platinum Hits edition of Mass Effect rumored to hit the shelves February 11, it’s time to dish out the love for a Mitch and Meghan favorite. According to the GameStop catalog , this 2-disc re-release includes the game, a documentary, music, design galleries, and the Bring Down the Sky DLC for a generous price of $19.99.
Unless a game has stellar multiplayer, I generally don’t keep it around for long. One play through the main campaign or story and back to the store it goes for credit toward a later purchase. Mass Effect, however, earned three complete playthroughs.
To start, I decided to go with a woman with balls the size of Knossos. She spit fire and bad-mouthed the galactic government, but she got the job done. And I think that’s what I loved most about the game. It was my choice to make Shepherd a hard-ass. It was my choice to befriend certain comrades and ignore the others. It was my choice whether I wanted to punch a civilian in the face or give him the drugs he wanted. And the aforementioned choices were all believable. It wasn’t like force-pushing a passerby into a chasm in Knights of the Old Republic despite being an honorable Jedi, or offing your sister in the first Fable even though you chose to be good-hearted the entire game. The relationships, quests, decisions, and overall progression of the story were fully developed and completely believable (in context of course).
After beating the game for the first time, I couldn’t wait to start another character and see what I could create next. The sidequests and conversation trees didn’t disappoint. The game didn’t change for the most part, but my experience did. As a more forgiving commander, having to ditch a fellow soldier halfway through the game tugged at my heart. During my previous completion, I had shrugged it off as a casualty of war. Deciding to complete an alternate series of sidequests and visiting the planets in a different order also had their payoffs.
Nonetheless, I would have liked it if the choices I made had larger consequences. For example, killing an entire species should have earned me more than the typical Council reprimand.
I could go on and praise Mass Effect for its epic story, compelling characters, and great graphics but the conversation trees are what really made my experience an unforgettable one. Peter Molyneux and other developers have boasted that their products truly offer choice. But I believe Mass Effect is the first to make those choices emotional, characteristically in-tune with the game, and believable.
I think what you’ve hit on with the conversations is what resonated with me the most as well. Conversations were the backbone of Mass Effect, and were as engaging as the exciting combat. You don’t get too many games where you want to be chatting with NPCs. But what hit the hardest wasn’t punching a reporter in the face for invading my personal space when I went Renegade, nor was it turning down rewards as an altruistic Paragon — it was digging into my crew’s personalities between missions as I scoped out my ship’s status.
Hearing about Krogan testicles, religious beliefs, rapists getting their due, psychological experiments or the near-genocide of an entire race from the soldiers you’re fighting beside is immensely fulfilling for a sci-fi nerd, and I reveled in the lore. I read the Galactic Codex because I wanted to know the intimate details of each race. I sought out every last one of the mysterious Seekers that stalk the Citadel. I cranked my charisma because I wanted to see hidden dialogue choices, simply so I could see more of this brilliantly crafted, and perfectly realized universe.
Little did I know that my affinity for yammering would make for some incredibly tense moment where I rammed a pistol up a Salarian’s nostrils instead of talking him down. Little did I know that the power of speech would transform a terrifying moment of certain death to emotionally impactful relief. And little did I know that the art of speaking would radically change the entire ending of Mass Effect, and replace what would have been a typical boss fight with the single most shocking event I have ever experienced in a game.
Chit-chat makes Mass Effect. That there’s a legitimately fantastic story beneath it all, with stellar characters, wonderful voice-overs, entertaining combat and loads of extra stuff to see and do is just icing on my Krogan-sized cake.