Here we go everyone, we’re approaching the home stretch here with my feature with only 5 articles left before it officially retires. “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn Part 32” will focus on the outrageously awesome Mass Effect trilogy. When it comes to video games, movies, and what not, I’ve always been a bigger fan of fantasy over sci-fi, yet I heard so many good things about Mass Effect that I just had to give it a shot; and that’s a shot I’m glad I took. The series seamlessly combines third-person shooting action with RPG elements, and the storytelling is on par with, if not better than, anything I’ve seen this side of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Each of these games have a lot of similarities and several differences in terms of gameplay, but the way the story progresses based on your choices was truly astounding. A particularly difficult choice you make in the first game could have consequences that go well into the third game.
And unlike in the Infamous series, main character Commander Shepard doesn’t have to stick to one extreme end of the spectrum with regards to being a saint or an evil bastard. He/she can walk the line between good and evil, be a mostly good person with a bit of a rebellious side, be a huge jerk with some remnant of a still barely beating heart….it’s up to you. This is without a doubt one of my absolute favorite video game series in existence, right up there with Metal Gear Solid, in fact it might even be better. Let the discussion of this epic space opera begin.
Mass Effect (Xbox 360/PS3)
The first game of the series was originally released for the Xbox 360, but then it was released along with the other games in the Mass Effect Trilogy, which was my only way of getting a physical copy of this game for my PS3. You are Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance, and naturally, you’re the only one who seems to be aware of an impending threat that could destroy the Alliance and possibly everything else in the galaxy. As Shepard, you will form alliances and make enemies of many different characters, and the many decisions and dialogue choices you make will have a strong effect on how missions play out and even how the game ends. The first Mass Effect has the strongest focus on RPG elements out of all three games in the series. Commander Shepard and his/her allies have a number of different abilities exclusive to their classes that can be improved upon in many different ways as they level up. Different characters have specialized abilities revolving around the use of different guns, engineering/hacking skills, and biotic powers (telekinetic-like abilities).
Exploring the different solar systems and planets in the galaxy and speaking with NPCs will provide you with many side-missions to undertake, many of which are just as engaging as the main missions. Most of these missions will lead to Shepard finding new armor and weapons for his/her allies, which will certainly make all the difference when fighting higher leveled enemies. Some of these missions will also improve the bond between Shepard and his/her crewmates, and doing so is basically a must, especially if you want your favorite allies to make it through the game alive. Probably the game’s only real weakness is that the combat and controls in general are rather stiff, similarly to Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but they’re still more than functional. Flying Shepard’s ship, the Normandy, to different planets pretty much consists of simply choosing a planet to fly to, pressing a button, and you’re there. While on these planets, you will typically be navigating large, open areas in the APC-like Mako, often battling enemies and alien creatures, and some of these planets will have hazardous atmospheres, forcing you to limit the time you spend on foot outside the Mako. Exploring planets in the Mako was a rather polarizing element that some fans of Mass Effect didn’t appreciate, but I personally liked it since it made this game feel somewhat more open and less linear than its sequels. Truly a great game for its time. Mass Effect gets a score of 95%.
Mass Effect 2 (PS3)
The second game in the series is often considered to be the best by most gamers. This game is not quite my favorite, but don’t let that statement drive you to think I’m bashing this game, because it certainly does not deserve any kind of bashing. Opening some time after the first game, Mass Effect 2 begins with Commander Shepard and his/her crew in the Normandy exploring more of the galaxy. A large ship belonging to the mysterious alien race known as the Collectors attacks the Normandy, forcing the crew to abandon ship. Shepard takes it upon himself/herself to rescue the last few crew members who couldn’t make it off the ship themselves, then the ship goes down and takes Shepard along with it. The clandestine organization known as Cerberus that previously made an enemy of Shepard went to great lengths to revive Shepard from death, then the organization’s leader known as the Illusive Man offers to help Shepard find and destroy the Collectors since they are allied with their mutual enemies, the Reapers. After being hooked up with a new ship and a new crew, Shepard goes on his/her next adventure to protect the galaxy from a threat that no one else is doing anything about.
The gameplay is very similar to what was in the first Mass Effect, though there were a few changes that made it a smoother and more streamlined experience. The RPG elements were stripped down so that you didn’t have to spend as much time in the upgrades screen deciding which abilities you wanted to spend points on; the number of different abilities for Shepard and his/her squadmates were also stripped down to a more practical level and made more effective. Also, instead of acquiring all kinds of different armors for all squadmates like in the previous game, in Mass Effect 2 you focus solely on Shepard and get to choose what upgrades and perks get added to his/her armor. Your choice of class for Shepard also has less limitations than were present in the first game, so that’s another plus. Whereas in the first game you were stuck with whatever weapons or abilities your chosen class was able to use, in this game you are given the option to open up the repertoire of your arsenal and use weapons your class would not normally allow you to use.
Space exploration was also changed. While traveling to different solar systems and planets, you would actually pilot a miniaturized representation of the Normandy along the galaxy map and choose where you would want to go, using up fuel in the process. Finding more fuel and other resources for ship upgrades requires scanning different planets and retrieving these resources. It could become a time-consuming process, but it made visiting different planets more engaging overall. Going down to the different planets had also changed since now there were no longer large, open areas to explore in the Mako like in the first game, now there were more linear areas to explore on foot, usually with enemies to deal with. However, there were a couple of areas that allowed for some exploration in the new Hammerhead vehicle, which was much faster than the Mako and could jump great distances in the air, but it could also be destroyed by enemy fire very easily. And of course, many missions could be undertaken in these planets, not the least of which are the missions that let you strengthen Shepard’s bond with his/her new squadmates, which is more necessary than ever now due to the nature of the totally awesome final mission. All in all, this game is an overall improvement over the first, though I find the story to be just a tad less interesting, but not by much. Mass Effect 2 gets a score of 98%.
Mass Effect 3 (PS3)
This is my favorite game of the series. Yeah, that’s right, not Mass Effect 2. This game. Mass Effect 3. And I’m not ashamed to admit that, not in the least. Lots of gamers were apparently very disappointed in this game’s ending for not letting it play out as a direct result of your past decisions in the trilogy. Instead, at the very end (don’t worry, no spoilers) Shepard is faced with three choices (and a secret fourth choice) that will have a profound effect on the fate of the galaxy, and apparently this was not a satisfactory approach for many entitled gamers out there with impossible expectations. I personally thought it worked just fine, and it was a very memorable moment for me. Though I am easy to please. However, the endings that resulted from our choices were very vague and lacked any kind of closure, but thankfully BioWare added the free Extended Cut DLC which expanded on the endings to a much greater degree. The full endings for Mass Effect 3 were, to me, the perfect endings to a perfect game series with a fantastic story. Many of Shepard’s past decisions, as well as any unfinished business he/she had with previous allies and enemies, will eventually play some role in his/her final quest to defeat the Reapers that are threatening to consume the galaxy.
The gameplay in Mass Effect 3 was even better than in Mass Effect 2. Like before, you can upgrade Shepard’s armor and weapons with useful attributes, only now you have even more freedom with the upgrades and can change them up even during missions through use of conveniently placed workbenches. The controls are smoother than ever too. Unlike in the previous two games though, there are absolutely no vehicles to take control of like the Mako or Hammerhead, yet the lack of vehicles somehow doesn’t detract any of the fun factor from this game. Enemy variety was also greater in this game compared to the previous two, and certain sections were quite challenging given the number of different enemies coming at you from all directions and threatening to overwhelm you.
Space exploration was very similar to the way it was in the previous game, but a couple more features were added in. Scanning different planets for useful resources has been greatly streamlined so that it’s much less time consuming and repetitive. More specifically, while guiding the Normandy through different solar systems, it can send out a scanning pulse that can pick up signals from multiple surrounding planets at the same time. However, scanning too many times in certain solar systems will attract the Reapers, and should they catch up to your ship…you’re dead. This feature added a real sense of danger and urgency to the proceedings, as well as some strategy. As before, visiting different planets will allow you undertake a number of fun side-missions to acquire upgrades, make your squadmates more loyal to you, and gain you more allies to assist you in the final battle against the Reapers. In short, I find this game to have the best mixture of epic storytelling and engaging gameplay. It is truly one of my favorite games of all time, and it appropriately closes out the Mass Effect trilogy. Mass Effect 3 gets a score of 100%.
This brings an end to my discussion of the Mass Effect series…for now. I hope to one day provide you all with a review of the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I’m really looking forward to playing. I have faith that BioWare will provide us with another space epic that could possibly outdo their previous efforts. I should also add that this is my last feature article that will be dedicated to a specific video game series; my remaining articles will be discussing a number of mostly standalone games I’ve played that are not tied to series or at least have not yet had any sequels released. So, join me next week for Part 33 of “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” where I will discuss two particular games some among you may recognize known as Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Vanquish. In the meantime, here are more articles to look over:
Emiliano burns some rubber in his review of the Game of the Year Edition of Project CARS, so check it out here.
Jorge reviews the Wii U edition of the super difficult Super Meat Boy right here.
Kane goes back to making the tough decisions in life in The Banner Saga 2, so find out if he handled the pressure as well (or as badly?) as he did in the first game by checking out his review of the sequel here.
Ian has spent the weekend working through possible anger issues by tearing off demon heads in the new Doom, so find out what he thought of this highly anticipated title by checking out his review here.
Michael’s latest “Retro Respawn” focuses on his very complicated history with the totally awesome Star Fox 64. It’s a story full of suspense, drama, tragedy, and humor, so as gamers you owe it to yourselves to share in Michael’s life changing experience by checking out his article here.
Steve reviews the new horror themed indie game Left Alone over here.