Having finally gotten around to finishing the Mass Effect Trilogy I’m left wondering if we as the gaming community truly understood how powerful the series was. Despite Bioware’s somewhat shaky foray into the MMORPG genre it cannot be denied that the developers have a firm grasp on the creation of stellar and timeless console RPGs.
While not quite The Elder Scrolls in space; Mass Effect came as close as any game or series in recent memory to challenging the Bethesda powerhouse for the genre’s crown.
When attempting to digest the series as a whole I’m left contemplating if any part of the trilogy could eclipse the storytelling. Hell, does any game in history really hold a candle to it. It suspends disbelief in a way uncommon to video game culture. It’s one thing to create a game like Red Dead Redemption and have gamers believing they are trekking through the old west, an actual time period with details to mimic and lore to hearken back to. It is something altogether different to create a vision of a future universe and have it become so mesmerizing.
The bar is forever raised by the existence of the Mass Effect franchise when grading a game on story. It can be argued that the Metal Gear Solid titles place similar value on storytelling but it is my opinion that the player cares more about the characters that inhabit the Mass Effect games as a result of greater immersion and depth of character interaction. Good character development is at the heart of any great story and for my money Mass Effect trumps them all.
Aside from its unparalleled tale of galactic conquest is the now iconic ship that stood as the backdrop for all of Commander Shepard’s heroic endeavors, The Normandy. Named after the critical Word War II battle, the ship had a life of its own and was the perfect venue for intergalactic travel and felt like a home away from home for anyone who played the games.
When disembarking The Normandy for battle the action felt energetic and challenging. Using the pause-and-evaluate wheel of powers became second nature in short order. There were times I needed to make use of it constantly to survive and other times where I could allow the game to flow naturally, dispatching my foes with tactical expertise that made me feel like a SEAL team leader.
When I first played the game and learned that I had to bring squad mates along on missions I cringed, thinking the AI would stumble and inhibit my progress. But Bioware didn’t skimp on the gameplay design so your teammates became valuable assets that more often than not contributed to victories in the field. I can’t imagine Mass Effect 2 without Mordin at my side. I brought him along as habit due to his infectious humor and excellent battlefield utility. He was only one in a brilliant ensemble of excellent characters that made every game so magical.
Bioware got so many things right with this RPG trilogy it is hard to level a critique. It could be said that in the first game that the developers missed the mark with the bulkiness of the equipment screens and the seemingly unending numbers of upgrades to weapons, gear etc. They took steps in both of the sequels to eliminate the downtime between missions making the load out screens more user friendly.
The planetary scanning process in games 2 and 3 felt bolted onto a game that was already complete and came across as more of an unnecessary chore than an attractive optional mini-game between quests. It would be like putting aftermarket parts on a Ferrari. You just wouldn’t do it.
With those very minimal caveats I found the entire trilogy to be a wholly satisfying and timeless gaming experience. I remember when I first saw the original trailers and teasers for the game and held such high hopes for the title. It is one of the few games that have ever exceeded the hype making it a true rarity in today’s gaming universe.
In the end I’m left to ponder a singular lingering question. Did we respect its greatness enough? My gut tells me that we did…for a time. As gamers we always want to know what’s next. In that way we are human and expectant of evolution. But because of that expectation we sometimes fail to appreciate a work of art. Perhaps a decade from now Mass Effect will find a place in the pantheon of games that paved the way for the triple AAA titles of tomorrow. I’ll always remember it as a game that was ahead of its time and a master class in game development.