Reboarding the Normandy: Playing through ‘Mass Effect’ again (Part 1 of 3)
If there’s one series that has resonated with me this generation, it’s the Mass Effect trilogy. It took the action that I’ve loved in games like Gears of War, mixed in a few RPG elements, and added in one of my favorite features that video games can have, the permanence of choice.
Before this run through of the series, I had played Mass Effect once, Mass Effect 2 twice, and Mass Effect 3 once. What I really wanted to do was see Shepard’s story from start to finish without the several years in between releases. I also wanted to see how different I could make my story; instead of a Paragon member of the Soldier class, I played this Shepard as a Renegade Adept. In addition, as someone who actually enjoyed the ending to Mass Effect 3, I wanted to challenge my stance and examine how it wraps the story up (or doesn’t, as many assert).
Join me, as I venture back into the Mass Relays one last time and relive one of my favorite franchises ever in Mass Effect.
Warning: Due to the nature of this feature, this will contain numerous spoilers to all three titles in the Mass Effect trilogy. Read on at your own risk.
Mass Effect (2007)
I’ll be honest with you, when I rented the first game in the trilogy on GameFly, little about it impressed me. The combat, even at the time, felt sloppy, and the Mako sections, where Commander Shepard must drive an armored vehicle through various sequences, were enough to make me stop playing after only a few hours. In fact, it wasn’t until Mass Effect 2 released to critical acclaim that I revisited the original Mass Effect.
My first playthrough of the original game was rough. The combat that felt poorly-executed in 2007 felt downright antiquated in 2010. The Mako experience got worse and worse with each sequence, but the compelling story and excellent writing kept me plowing through. I eventually finished the game and moved onto what I consider to be one of my favorite gaming experiences of all-time in Mass Effect 2.
After playing Mass Effect 3, nothing about Mass Effect felt right. The combat was terrible, the graphics were a bit of an eye-strain and the game felt lacking in polish. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself reloading a checkpoint because of a glitch that rendered me trapped.
The worst time came after a decently tough boss battle. Shepard was unable to move from the spot he was standing in. No matter how much I jarred the controller’s analog stick, Shepard’s legs were about as useful as George Lucas’ sense of discretion. There was actually one time where I decided, in a rare Paragon-esque moment, that I would save the Rachni queen. After making this decision, the game glitched, and I was forced to replay that particular battle, and navigate through the long conversation following it. Unfortunately for the captive queen, I decided to take out my frustration the only way my bad ass Renegade Shepard knew how: genocide. Mass Effect‘s lack of polish angered me so much, that I ended the entire Rachni species. It’s a coping mechanism, alright?
One thing that stood out to me as a major difference between Mass Effect and its two sequels was the overall mission structure. Often times, the missions began with a Mako sequence, which, in all honesty, still feels to me as though it was programmed by the same developer behind the drunk driving simulators, followed by an on-foot sequence. The on-foot missions were much more lengthy than they ended up being in either Mass Effect 2 or Mass Effect 3, but hey, at least the actual missions didn’t have you hopelessly wandering about the Citadel for hours on end like the beginning of this game did.
There came one time where I almost ended my playthrough and simply moved on to Mass Effect 2 with a new character. I had grown accustomed to the checkpoint system of the sequels. Unfortunately for me, that’s not how the checkpoint system worked in the original Mass Effect, and when I made the mistake of rushing past cover and directly into the sights of a Geth Rocket Trooper, I was forced to replay the entire mission over again (about an hour and a half of progress lost). In that moment, I literally took my disc out, put it back into its case and went to bed. The next morning, I shamefully walked over to my bookshelf, removed the disc, and started the game back up. This time, however, I saved after every big battle.
It certainly wasn’t all bad, however. The innovative player-driven storytelling has stood the test of time, and I still remember how in awe I was at the fact that my decisions would carry-over into Mass Effect 2. Many argue that Mass Effect‘s story is the best of the trilogy. With this being the only game of the trilogy that features a prominent singular enemy in Saren, I can see why that argument can be made. Also, now that I’ve played through Mass Effect 3 and witnessed the Reaper invasion first-hand, I could finally fully appreciate the enormousness of the events happening in the first game.
Thankfully, I finished the game in four hours less time than it took me to finish it the first go-round. I saved Kaiden instead of Ashley, I didn’t kill Wrex on Virmire (because really, no matter how Renegade I tried to be, how could I kill Wrex?), I ended the Rachni species, and I romanced Liara. I looked forward to seeing how those choices would change the way things unfolded in the sequels.
Ready for more? Check out part two of this three part series, as I venture back into one of my favorite games of all-time, Mass Effect 2.