Mass Reflect: Looking Back on the Mass Effect Series
Mass Effect came out in 2007 and became a very popular game for the Xbox 360, drawing gamers into the rich universe of alien races, interesting characters, and more.
Two more titles in the series were released over the course of the next five years that continued the story of Commander Shepard and the coming Reaper invasion. The series eventually came to the PlayStation 3 and brought more gamers into the fold, expanding the popularity of the series. Mass Effect 3 came out in 2012 and now, a year later, the final single player DLC has brought Commander Shepard’s journey to an end.
With a new BioWare studio taking the lead on the next installment in the franchise and a new main character about to emerge, we decided to ask a few staff members what they thought of the trilogy and the future of the series. Here’s what they had to say.
Editor in Chief
I still remember the first time I heard about the Mass Effect series. It was the summer of 2007 and my older brother showed me videos of Captain Anderson and Wrex to show off the facial animation. When the game was released we bought it for the Xbox (since it was an exclusive at the time) and it quickly became my favorite game.
The depth of the game, the fully realized universe, the story, and the voice acting were all so top notch that the less than stellar gameplay and other graphical hiccups could be excused. My Shepard was always the consummate paragon, helping people in need and trying to persuade people with logic rather than intimidation.
Mass Effect 2 slightly altered the way I played the game and forced Shepard into some moral gray area. Working for Cerberus, staying out of Citadel space, and losing contact with my romantic interest all took a toll and I began to play some more renegade options. I was still heavily weighted towards the paragon, but morality wasn’t so cut and dry anymore.
Moral ambiguity and making me (as a person) question what was truly justified wasn’t the only thing that made Mass Effect 2 a great game. The phenomenal storytelling, the consequences for your actions, and the great shooter gameplay mechanics streamlined the experience and made everything work.
I am the type of player who likes to go back and do multiple playthroughs to get the best possible ending so when I found out that you could save your entire crew and all your squadmates, I quickly went back to make that happen. Adding that level of discovery that your choices really do matter and that the game plays out differently and adapts to you made this my favorite game of all time.
Going into Mass Effect 3 my Shepard had saved the galaxy time and time again but at a great cost. Destroying the Batarian relay killed hundreds of thousands of Batarians and left Shepard in a tight spot with the Alliance. I had destroyed the Collector base so ties to Cerberus were severed and I felt I didn’t really belong anywhere. But the Reapers attacking Earth quickly through me back into the fray of being an Alliance foot soldier.
Mass Effect 3 completed the opening of my definition of morality by having a system that didn’t really punish you for going against the grain with choices. Now I didn’t feel bad if I used a renegade move to jump on an opponent in a battle because it wouldn’t affect my paragon score. This opened up the choices and let players truly make a judgment based on what they thought was right and not on what the game thought was right.
Mass Effect 3 also amped up the importance of major decisions by incorporating data from the previous two games to affect what events occurred in the game. The Krogan genophage storyline was probably the best handled aspect of the game and Maelon’s data played a crucial role in finding the cure. Mordin’s death had me choked up and it all came together so beautifully.
But as Mass Effect 3 drew closer and closer to a flashpoint of the war, I could feel that the resolution might be a bit lacking. The threat and mystery of the Reapers had been built up so well that almost anything would have been a letdown but somehow it wasn’t even an acceptable letdown.
The hype surrounding the Reapers was so great that practically nothing could have really satisfied gamers as to their motives and origin, however the narrative structure of the story and the consequences that had been so well crafted throughout the series fell apart in the end.
I won’t go in-depth into why I hated the ending because I have done that over and over for the past year and frankly, I don’t want to open up old wounds again. However, I will say that it began to diminish the love I had of the series and that really bothered me.
Going back and playing through Mass Effect 3 for a third full time now (not counting when I popped in the disc to just play a DLC pack) I am beginning to feel nostalgic for that time between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 when I didn’t know where the story would go and I was hyped up, coming off of my favorite game of all time.
Mass Effect 3 might not have been the strongest conclusion possible to the Mass Effect trilogy, but I can find solace in knowing that that story arc is done. Shepard will not be returning for the next game in the series and we can finally get rid of the expectations of the first trilogy and get excited for an all-new story, all-new characters, and, hopefully, a story that truly achieves all of the lofty goals that the series set out to achieve.
As a super fan of the series, I am excited that more games will be coming to the universe that I love. The backstory of this universe and the inhabitants of the galaxy are truly fascinating to watch and if that carries over to the next story, I will be a happy person.
Executive Editor- Nintendo
When I first became Commander Shepard back in 2007, I never would have guessed how expansive and detailed the universe would be. Stepping foot on the Citadel was a revelation. Here was a world full of imaginative alien races, rich in history and bristling with politics that I could get lost in for hours. So I did.
The first Mass Effect set the cadence for the sequels to come with its action-oriented combat and branching dialog paths. Becoming the first human Spectre and recruiting a crew of badass extraterrestrials gave the player purpose, and having a choice in what Shepard says gave the player agency. It is a rare and wonderful thing when a game makes the player actually feel like his actions really matter, and Mass Effect nailed it. My fondest memory is sending Ashley to die after she murdered Wrex. Boy, was I ever mad.
Mass Effect 2 continued to impress. Everything about this sequel strove to be bigger than its predecessor, from its dramatic opening to the final battle. Even the choices Shepard had to make were harder. Do I go do this mission to improve my crew’s abilities? Or should I risk saving those scientists despite not being entirely prepared? 2 brought the Reaper threat to the forefront of the narrative, making Shepard’s mission grander in scope than ever before. Scanning planets for materials may have been a bit humdrum, but despite that this is perhaps the best entry in the series. It introduced Mordin Solus, after all, and I will never forget finally convincing Jack to make out with me.
By the time Mass Effect 3 finally found its way into my 360, I was ready to put those Reapers to bed. I fought hard, and wept openly when Mordin died curing the very genophage he helped create. I watched with wonder as Joker fell in love with a robot. My heart soared when Legion returned, despite having died in the final mission of Mass Effect 2. But when I destroyed the Mass Effect relays at the end, I felt nothing more than relief. It seemed like a fitting end to the series, which is probably why I haven’t played any Mass Effect since. I never played the extended cut nor any of the DLC, and why should I? I ended the Reapers and gave new hope to the entire universe. It’s over and I’m okay with that.
I think the funniest fact about my love for Mass Effect is that when the first game came out, I had literally zero interest in it. For whatever reason, the premise behind Mass Effect just didn’t grab me and so I let it slip into my periphery consciousness while I busied myself with other games. It wasn’t until roughly a year later when, out of boredom, I purchased the first game through Xbox Live’s Games on Demand digital marketplace, that my love affair with the Mass Effect series truly began.
I remember enjoying how I could custom-tailor the hero, Shepard, to my liking. Tweaking his gender, his facial features, his hair color, even his first name (if only for aesthetic purposes) immediately scratched my inner roleplayer’s itch and soon I was off on my own personal intergalactic adventure. As a fan of Bioware’s Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic series, many other elements of Mass Effect, such as being able to pick and choose Shepard’s combat skills, fly around and explore a variety of different planets, even romancing some of my squad-mates, also resonated with me.
Naturally, as a huge fan of the original, I was thrilled when Bioware announced Mass Effect 2. I even went back and played through the first one again to make sure I had a save game I could import into the second game. When Mass Effect 2 was finally released, it failed to disappoint. I loved getting to see how my decisions from the first game affected events in the second. Mass Effect 2 managed to ramp up the tension, the action, and the intrigue. The fact that it also introduced me to the two squad-mates who would become my all-time favorites (Thane, Krios, and Legion) was just a bonus.
As stoked as I was to hear there’d be a Mass Effect 3 soon after beating 2, I couldn’t help wondering how Bioware could possibly top the already stellar single-player experience of 1 and 2. My expectations for the big fight against the Reapers were high, but even I couldn’t believe it when I learned that Mass Effect 3 would also include a multiplayer component. As is expected, many had their doubts about how well a multiplayer component could work within the world of Mass Effect. Fortunatly, the multiplayer has left a legacy on par, if not even greater than, the single-player experience.
Like many others, I was slightly let down by Mass Effect 3’s ending, mainly because of the lack of clarification and closure. I do however think that Bioware more than redeemed themselves with the free Extended Cut DLC that they released a few months later. The recently released Citadel DLC offered me even more closure as it allowed me to do the one thing I wished I could have done back when I first beat the game: have one final hoorah alongside the characters I’d grown to love and cherish over the course of all three games.
Wherever the Mass Effect series goes from here, I’m sure it will only continue to grow in popularity. The original trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart. Commander Shepard, to me at least, is much more than a well-crafted game character; he’s a role-model, a hero, and best of all, he’s someone we can all relate to since his creation is always left in the hands of the player. I’ll never forget my time spent in the world of Mass Effect and I am naturally super-excited to see where Bioware takes the series next. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying the occasional match of Mass Effect 3’s stunning multiplayer or just chilling in my spiffy new apartment as Shepard when I want some downtime….
If I had to sum up Mass Effect’s future in one word, I wouldn’t even have to think about it: bright.
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