Third time’s the charm.
I distinctly remember playing Mass Effect for the first time. I was in college and a few of my friends were hanging out in my dorm room and I decided that that was the time to play Mass Effect. I booted it up and finished the very first mission on the planet of Eden Prime. My friends and I all had a great time as far as I can remember. I went to a new planet and then proceeded to get killed by a Thresher Maw and it was at that point that we all decided to do something else with our time. And that, my friends, was the last time I played Mass Effect…until now.
I still don’t know why I never finished Mass Effect way back then because, like I said, I enjoyed what little time I spent with it. What I can say for certain, however, is that I have now finished the game not once but twice and am about three-quarters of the way through a third playthrough. I can also say with confidence that I am not even remotely tired of the game even after almost finishing it three times. And, let me assure you, playing through a game multiple times in a row is truly rare for me.
So, why play through it now, you ask? Well, there were two reasons. The first was one of my friends (one of the ones who watched me play the prologue mission all those years ago) suggested that I should play it out of the blue one day. He thought that I would like it if I gave it a chance. Spoiler alert: he was right. The second reason was that the so-called Legendary Edition, which contains all three games in the original Mass Effect trilogy, conveniently came out within weeks of him recommending the games to me. From where I was sitting, the stars had aligned and I had little choice in the matter: I was going to be playing Mass Effect.
I mentioned that I have now played through Mass Effect twice and almost finished it a third time. I failed to mention the fact that each of those playthroughs has been on a different gaming platform. Let me repeat that: each of those three playthroughs has been on different game systems. I first bought the Legendary Edition for my PS4 since, like many of you, I hadn’t been able to get my hands on any next-gen consoles at that point. This was, as you might expect, the first time that I had played the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and I nearly got through the whole game (I was literally standing at Ilos which is one of the last planets in Mass Effect) but alas it was not meant to be.
I was on vacation for a week and during it I spied an Xbox Series S for sale at a Best Buy an hour away and I thought “Screw it, let’s go get it!” And so I did. I then decided that I should see what that little machine could do and thus I bought the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition for a second time and proceeded to play through the whole first game again. I actually got to the end this time which is quite an achievement for yours truly.
Not long after I had finished Mass Effect, my tire pressure light came on in my car and I went to the store to buy a tire gauge. As I was perusing the items in the automotive department, I heard someone say “Oh my God, they have PlayStations here!” The tire gauge quickly forgotten, I ran around to the other aisle and lo and behold they did in fact have the much-fabled PlayStation 5. A store employee saw me looking at the case and asked me if I wanted one and I said “Yep, I sure do.” I took my new PS5 home and promptly played through Mass Effect once again.
Why am I telling you all of this, you ask? Well, I wanted to demonstrate just how insane I am. Not only have I played through Mass Effect multiple times, which is bad enough, but I have also played through it on multiple systems. That’s how crazy I am. I can’t decide what game to play half the time let alone what platform to play it on. This explains why I never finish the games I start playing and is also the reason why I review games on an inconsistent basis and in a, dare I say, negligent manner. And I must point out the fact that you all come to me when I have an opinion on a game I just finished playing. Who’s the crazy one now? Anyways, back to Mass Effect!
In case you don’t know, Mass Effect is an RPG made by the folks at BioWare. If you’re not a fan of walking around and talking to people then you won’t enjoy this game at all. Luckily for me, Mass Effect was right up my alley and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s a shame I didn’t play it until now since, and I don’t want to spoil it before the end of this review, but Mass Effect has earned a spot way up on the list of my favorite games of all time.
I’m actually really glad I got to replay Mass Effect so many times right in a row because I discovered something new about the game each time. A few examples include this group of people hiding in a shed on Eden Prime (I didn’t discover them until my third playthrough) and the fact that there are multiple ways to approach the final mission in the hot labs on the planet of Noveria. I always love it when games manage to surprise me even if I’ve played them several times over and Mass Effect managed to do it on multiple occasions.
One thing I absolutely love about Mass Effect is that it is an RPG that doesn’t take forever to beat. Once the story starts going, it just goes you know what I’m saying? It does not waste the player’s time with needless exposition or by dragging out certain sections. Nothing felt like it ever overstayed its welcome.
This may be because there’s a sense of urgency underpinning the whole story. Mass Effect stars one Commander Shepard who is a part of the Alliance military otherwise known as Earth’s defense forces. He or she, depending on your preference, quickly finds themselves in the middle of humanity’s efforts to both explore the stars and interact with the other alien species who just so happen to inhabit the Milky Way galaxy. You know, the one we live in.
One thing I love about the world (or galaxy, haha!) of Mass Effect is that humanity is not the big dogs of the universe. Humans are not the most powerful species in the Milky Way. We are newcomers on the galactic stage and it shows in nearly every conversation. This makes it interesting because other species are quick to remind humans of their place in the universe. A few species even begrudge the progress humans have made in the relatively short time they’ve had contact with the other races. It makes for a fascinating backdrop for the story and I appreciate that the developers didn’t just make humans the biggest and baddest race in the galaxy right from the get-go.
I don’t think this is much of a spoiler (you never know) but an alien named Saren is the main antagonist of Mass Effect. The only reason I’m talking about him now is because it cracked me up whenever Commander Shephard would talk about Saren with new people. This is supposed to be a big, vast universe with billions upon billions of people and Shepard acts like everyone should immediately know who Saren is and what he’s up to. Literally every conversation with a person he just came across begins with something along the lines of “Are you working with Saren?!” And, to my undying surprise, not only had almost everyone heard of Saren but they also knew what he was doing at any given moment. I want to be clear when I say that I’m not criticizing the game or its writing here. I just found it funny that everyone already knew who Saren was no matter what part of the galaxy Shepard happened to be in.
The conversations and dialogue are, without a doubt, my favorite part of Mass Effect. As I said before, if you don’t like talking to a lot of people then this game is not for you. There is a lot exposition in Mass Effect, let me just tell you, which is understandable because it is literally laying the groundwork for an entire galaxy. BioWare essentially made their own Star Trek universe here. It was always going to take a lot of yakking to get you, the player, up to speed.
The best dialogue, hands down, has to be between Shepard and his companions who join him on his intergalactic journey. I’ve played a lot of games over the years which feature large casts of party characters and, for my money, Mass Effect has to have one of the best sets of characters ever. And I’m guaranteeing that. As I sit here writing this, I can’t think of any character that I actively disliked. There is one, however, who always seems to be everyone’s favorite whom I really didn’t care for. Who is it, you ask? Well, I’ll keep it a secret for now not only because I don’t want to cause an uproar but because they may grow on me as I play through the other two games in the trilogy. I will say, however, that Wrex is the best party member. Fight me.
The best thing about the party members is that, depending upon whom you brought on a mission with you (you can only bring two at a time), they can start talking with one another independently. Some of my favorite moments were when my companions would start bickering or simply chatting while Shepard was running around or while everyone was in an elevator. Remember when loading screens disguised as elevator rides were a thing? Well, Pepperidge Farms, Mass Effect, and I sure do.
The fun doesn’t stop there either. Companions can even chime in whenever Shepard is having a conversation with a non-party character. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life but you should really bring Ashley with you when you complete a mission involving a man trying to get his wife’s remains back from the Alliance military on the Citadel. The ability of companion characters to put in their two cents in a few conversations really added weight to those encounters. Extra dialogue like that demonstrated to me that BioWare really cared about its world and characters and obviously put in the effort to reflect that. I love shit like that and I couldn’t enough of it in Mass Effect.
It’s even better when both party members get in on the action and start arguing with each other or begin offering Shephard different advice. I don’t want to spoil too much but my favorite example of this is if you bring both Wrex and Kaidan with you when you explore the corporate world of Noveria. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed when you get to the big deciding moment on that world.
That’s right, folks, I’m going to keep on talking about dialogue right here, right now because one of the best parts of Mass Effect is getting to know your crew better in between missions. Once you complete a main story mission, I highly recommend that you go belowdecks and chat with the crew. I didn’t do that too much on my first playthrough. Why? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why. I made sure to correct that mistake on both my second and third playthroughs of the game.
Also, why does it look like Shepard and Kaidan are about to make out whenever they talk on the Normandy? This is the ship they use to fly around the galaxy in case you didn’t know. I mean, just look at the little cutscene that plays each time they talk. First, you click on Kaidan to talk to him. The camera focuses on Kaidan who slowly straightens up from the computer terminal he’s looking at. He wipes the beading sweat from his brow. We then get a view of Shepard as he steps closer with his dead, mannequin-like eyes fixed on Kaidan. The only thing missing is them locking lips and getting it on, am I right?
No other companion has a scene of this kind. Liara has a little scene too but it doesn’t look like they’re going to skip the talk and just get right to the action. Regardless, the cutscene with Kaidan always gave me a chuckle because it’s obvious that they should just get a room.
As I was saying, your companions not only have interesting things to say about what’s going on in the story but they all have intriguing backstories. What’s truly amazing to me is that I found out new things about my companion characters on each playthrough. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much but there are a couple quests you can get from talking to your companions on the Normandy. If I’m being honest, these missions weren’t the greatest in the game but they did pave the way for more interesting things to come later on in the series.
I know you all want me to move on from talking about dialogue but I have a few more things to say about it. The first thing I want to mention is that I appreciated that dialogue options appear before someone has finished talking so I can think for a second or two about what I want to say. I did not appreciate, however, the fact that the dialogue skip button (X on Xbox and square on PlayStation) selects dialogue options as well. This means that, when I was skipping a few lines I had heard before, I would accidentally pick the wrong choice. It’s a baffling design choice that I haven’t been able to figure out why the developers made in the first place.
The last thing I want to mention is one of my favorite aspects of the dialogue in Mass Effect and that is how you can bail out of any conversation at practically any moment. You could be deep into an emotional conversation with someone or a character could really want to talk to you and you can have Shepard straight up say “Ok, bye!” and then walk away. This probably wasn’t intentional on the developer’s part but it sure kept me entertained whenever I did it to someone.
I guess it’s time I talk about the shooty-shooty bang-bang part of the game, huh? At its core, Mass Effect is a third-person shooter. There are a few classes you can choose from when you create your Shepard. There are classes, like Soldier, which are purely weapons focused while a few of the other ones include what are called Biotic abilities. They’re basically magic attacks and I won’t go into how humans gained their magic powers because you can learn all about that if you talk to your companions on the Normandy. Therefore, you’ll just have to play the game to find out for yourself.
The one thing I will say about the Biotics is that a few of them are fairly fun to use. My favorite was the one (I forget the name of it now) that slows enemies down and they can start flying through the air of their own accord. You can use the powers of your companions in combat but I found it to be a little clunky since you have to use a radial wheel to select them. That’s also why I didn’t use Biotics in general during any of my many playthroughs of the game because although you can hotkey a few powers, you can’t do that for all of them. I didn’t like pulling up the wheel all that often hence they weren’t used.
I personally picked Soldier for my playthroughs since I’m boring and because I wanted to be able to use all of the weapons. You will collect a variety of more powerful weapons throughout your adventure which you can of course give to Shepard or one of his many companions to use. These weapons can also be modded to increase damage or to add a whole host of other effects to them.
Perhaps my favorite part about the weapons is that they don’t use bullets. Let me repeat that, they don’t use ammo. They can be fired as many times as you want so go ahead and shoot to your heart’s content. Just be wary doing that though since they can overheat and you’ll then have to wait a bit to use your favorite weapon again. I know this section may come off as sarcastic but I really did like this mechanic because I didn’t have to worry about how much ammo I had left. I hope the developers kept this design for all of the later games. Oh, hold on, I’m being told they didn’t keep that design choice. Of course they didn’t.
One last thing I’ll say about the combat is that there isn’t that much in the way of enemy variety in Mass Effect. You will mostly just be fighting the Geth, a synthetic lifeform, over and over again. This would usually bother me but I had to keep reminding myself that this game originally came out in 2007. And, if you’ll check your calendars with me, that’s a whopping fifteen years ago. Once I remembered that, I really didn’t have a problem with the lack of diversity in the enemy combatant category.
Another area lacking variety are the buildings you’ll explore and fight in during the game. The main missions all feature unique building structures but the side missions do not. If you end up doing a lot of the side missions, you’ll inevitably find yourself marveling at how every building looks exactly like the last one you were just in but with different set dressing this time around. Again, this would have bothered me except for the fact that I always remembered that this is a fifteen-year-old game. Once we all accept this fact, we’ll all have a better time for it. I know I did.
There are a few more things of note that I want to mention here before I wrap up what has become a huge review of Mass Effect. The first thing I want to talk about is the galaxy map on the Normandy. This map is used to choose the crew’s next destination and that’s all well and good but there’s no way to access the journal while looking at it. This created a problem for me many times because I had to remember which galaxy had what mission. Nine times out of ten I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to go between the time it took me to close the journal and open up the map because my memory is apparently not what it used to be. Don’t let this happen to you, always be sure to remember where you’re supposed to be heading.
I have to give a shout-out to the planet Feros before I go because it certainly was a special place. And by special, I mean it had one or two glitches no matter which playthrough I was in nor on what game system I was on. The first two times I played Mass Effect, my companions wouldn’t activate properly in the boss fight at the end of that planet. They would just stand there dumbly while I went and did all the fighting by myself. Not to be outdone, on my final playthrough, a Geth transmitter completely blinked out of existence thus depriving me of the ability to finish one of the side missions on that planet. These occurrences were all really strange because I didn’t have problems on any of the other planets.
I know I said that I was done talking about the dialogue but I just can’t help myself because there’s one more aspect about it that I want to discuss. The Paragon/Renegade system adds one extra wrinkle to all of the conversations in Mass Effect. The Paragon/Renegade system is fairly easy to understand. Think of them as a karma system or more simply the Light or Dark side from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic which makes sense since BioWare also made that game. What it boils down to is how harsh do you want to sound in your conversations with the other characters in the game. If you’re a dickhead throughout the game then you’ll gain Renegade points and if you’re more understanding then you will gain Paragon points. Accrue enough points in either category and it will unlock new dialogue options.
The only reason I bring it up is because I usually play as the nice guy in video games. I don’t know what came over me but, on a whim, I decided that I would be a complete dickhead in Mass Effect. Thus, I began my journey down the Renegade path(please note that my third playthrough was a Paragon run). By the end of the game, my Shepard had come to be affectionately known as “Asshole Shepard” because he clearly did not give a f*@k about anyone else. It was truly a sight to behold.
Seriously, I can’t recommend the Renegade dialogue options enough since it was such a joy to behold Shepard telling people off left, right, and center. I must point out that I didn’t do an entirely pure Renegade run since there were a few dialogue options that even I couldn’t bring myself to pick because of how horrible they were. I did, however, stick to my roleplaying guns and pick a few Renegade options that led to some morbidly funny scenes.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed Mass Effect. Like, play-through-it-nearly-three-times-in-a-row-levels of enjoyment. While the combat was nice, what really drew me in were the characters, the story, and the whole universe that BioWare created for this game. I couldn’t get enough of it and, in fact, I still can’t get enough of it as I’m currently wrapping up the trilogy as we speak. I’m glad I finally took the plunge and played the game as I now understand what all the fuss was about. Mass Effect is awesome and you should all run out there and play it if you haven’t already. Or just play through it again or even three times even if you have. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have two more Mass Effect games to play. We don’t talk about that fourth one.
Thanks for reading and thank you all for your patience since it has been a really long time since I’ve posted anything. I hope to post more stuff in the very near future so please stayed tuned. Thanks again! Bye!