Throwback Legends #3 – Mass Effect

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Happy Thursday! I hope our readers on the east coast are recovering well. I apologize for being absent this last week, the wind and the rain didn’t hit me as hard as expected, however power and internet have been “unstable”. Today I want to look back at a game that really verged on perfection. A game whose only flaw is a lack of more memorable music, and even then the music is still great. Released in 2007 and ushering in a golden age of third-person action RPG’s, Mass Effect.

I want to start off saying that Mark Meer is a brilliant voice actor, and his work for Mass Effect transcends mere video game acting and reaches into the realms of art. That being said, Commander “Femshep” Shepard is a life changing experience. Jennifer Hale has always been a powerhouse, providing outstanding voice lines throughout her long career. However, her work as Femshep can only be described as inspirational. It goes beyond just being a strong female lead in a culture so dominated by male protagonists. If it were that simple then Samus would always have been and always would be the gold standard for that, and this discussion would have little weight. No. It has nothing to do with that. I believe it begins with the true power and control that Jennifer Hale exudes (see Sheena from Tales of Symphonia for a further look into that statement). Couple that with extraordinary writing, a compelling story, and the ability to kick ass from Earth to the edge of the galaxy, you have a character that really appears larger than life. And Shepard is larger than life; more or less being the single obstacle between the Reapers and the destruction of civilization, Shepard leads the entire galactic society to its fate. And yet, Shepard (at least paragon route) is humble and cares nothing for the fame, fortune, glory, or her own safety as long as it brings peace to those around her. It is this that does it for me, the delivery of Jennifer Hale’s Shepard is just so profoundly “human”.

As if to solidify the “larger than life” statement, Mass Effect 2 immediately kills Shepard, then revives her two years later for a suicide mission (BioWare must have a thing for the rebirth theme. Revan from KotOR, Shepard twice, the Herald in Inquisition…). Mass Effect 2 outdoes itself with a story that pulls inspiration from so many sources and so many genres to coalesce into a tale of mystery and sacrifice. We have seen these tales before, in titles ranging from Tales to Halo, but few have had the power behind the story that Mass Effect 2 has, a cast whose writing makes you feel and voice actors who can portray it. I lost Garrus once, and after two entire games of falling in love with his character, it hurt me like very few other moments in gaming history have. There are a lot of tiny moments within Mass Effect 2 that glimpse greatness beyond just an average RPG: a reference to Sir Isaac Newton when you arrive at the Citadel, Garrus’s romance dialogue, pretty much anything Mordin has to say. It really is the epitome of BioWare’s talent.

However, as much good as there is in Mass Effect 2, the first installment has one of the greatest features in the franchise. The tried and true skill system that we know from Dungeons & Dragons that got modified for Knights of the Old Republic received a makeover, simplifying stat allocation to classes, and providing meaningful upgrades to your talents in such a way that you can not simply max out everything and each playthrough can have a unique build. This was overly simplified in later games, and I personally feel like it removes a necessary portion of the RPG nature of the game, turning the later titles into story driven third-person shooters that happen to also have RPG elements. As noted above, there is nothing wrong with the story, but the lack of customization options in the builds feels very “off”.

There isn’t too much more to say about Mass Effect beyond that. There’s too many good moments to properly give each one the time it deserves, and beyond that there’s too many amazing moments that are worth not speaking of for fear of spoilers. The series originated a decade ago, and to this day I fear for spoiling the story for those who haven’t played it. Mass Effect is truly an experience, Broshep and Femshep alike. Though canon is Femshep and Garrus, fight me on it!

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