I know, I know, it took me a really long time to get back to an Adult game (although really, Alan Wake counts, so shut up). I totally missed the boat on the first Mass Effect for a long time, only procuring a copy when the second one was imminent so that I would know what the hell was going on when I inevitably caved to peer pressure and played that too. What can I say? I’m totally a sucker for hype. I lean more towards JRPGs than those in the “western” style; this is a fact that is as well documented as it is unpopular within my circle of friends and acquaintances. However, I am completely able to appreciate a good open-ended storyline-based game when it’s worth it, and if any games are worth it, they’re the Mass Effect series. And KotOR, but we’re not talking about that right now. Anyway, read on to find out Five Things a confirmed JRPGer thinks about all this. Also, herein be spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
1. Continuity- I really enjoy it when a series takes its own mythology seriously enough to pay attention to detail and carry over important facets of its characters and events from one installment to another. Really, for this particular type of game, it shouldn’t even be a remarkable thing when this occurs, but sadly, it often is. Not where BioWare is concerned, though! One might say that this is kind of their “thing.” It’s definitely an option to start a brand-new Shepard at the beginning of your game, so if you hated how yours turned out, no longer have access to your save file, or are adventurous (read as: dumb) enough to start with the second game in the series without playing the first, you can just go right ahead. However, if you have a save file from the first Mass Effect that you would like to import, quite a few of the decisions that you made and actions that you took carry over and have consequences in the new game. Perhaps the most notable of these involves the Citadel Council, who you can either save at the end of ME1 or let die while you focus on other stuff going on. So essentially, you decide who leads the galaxy in the second game, which has a pretty big impact; in my own game, I let the council die and put Captain Anderson in charge. If, however, I had saved them and put Ambassador Udina on the council, I would have ended up with a completely different configuration. Your “romantic” choices of the first game are referenced as well, although, at least in my case, you don’t have the opportunity to get your former paramour back, as such. Kaidan got really cranky that I was “dead” for so long and didn’t call or write or whatever. He’s a damn crybaby. Most of the changes that occur as a result of your choices are things that I imagine wouldn’t be all THAT difficult to fit in, but they are incredibly nice touches, and contribute heavily to the immersion factor of the game.
2. Ladies and Gentlemen- Mass Effect has gotten a lot of attention (and, I believe, rightly so) for being one of the relatively few games that actually offers a fully fleshed-out female character in addition to the male option when you create your Shepard at the beginning. If you choose to play as a lady (as I did) you don’t get just a boob-skin slapped on top of the pre-existing male, and you don’t get a hyper-sexualized space slut, either; instead, you get…. well, you get a person. Regardless of the gender of your character, choices surround you, and while some of them DO rely on your character’s gender, you’re not going to find that certain choices are less important than others, they’re just… different. I feel like I’m not explaining this very well; perhaps you simply need to play as a female and as a male Shepard to really absorb the differences. In a nutshell, BioWare nailed equality. In space.
3. Bow Chicka Bow Wow– Hey, remember how Fox News made a gigantic fucking deal about there being side-boob in the first Mass Effect? IS IT A RAPE SIMULATOR? Uh, no. And neither is the second one. You can, however, have all kinds of space sex, regardless of whether you choose a male or female Shepard. Some of the options, I am led to understand, are even the same. Rather than opine on the relationships of Mass Effect 2 in general, I think my own specific playthrough experiences may actually illustrate the whole deal better. As a female Shepard, I was fully prepared to go back to my “relationship” with Kaidan from the first game, only to find that that wasn’t an option. What was a girl to do at that point? Well, what I personally did was immediately start hitting on nice, dependable Jacob. We had a pretty good thing going for a while, but it was way too slow for my rakish heroine, who had, after all, been dead for a while and was up for a little more action. The real trouble started once we took Jack on board. After going for reliable, steady dudes for so long, this unstable, uninhibited convict seemed pretty different and exciting. Surprisingly, though (or at least it was to me), Jack is not open to relationships with the lady-types. Oh well. At least we had a friendship of sorts going on. By that time, the seed of doubt had been sown in my time with Jacob, though, and I started looking around in other areas of the ship for companionship… which is how I ended up with Garrus. The “romance” dialogue options with Garrus are downright spectacular, as are some of the side effects around the ship(notably, when Mordin offers tips on such topics as avoiding chafing). Jacob became offended and withdrawn after that, but I suppose that’s to be expected. Bitch shoulda put out sooner. (Oh wow, that’s terrible…)
4. Upgrading- Prepare for me to be angry, because I am angry about this. Very angry. Throughout the game, you are given the opportunity to upgrade different aspects of your ship. I say “opportunity” as though you really had any choice in the matter, because I was under the impression that you *did.* I didn’t focus on the parts of the universe where I could have searched for resources, because I wasn’t really having any trouble going through the storyline, and while I did go through some of the side-quests (particularly the loyalty missions), I mostly focused on moving forward. There really didn’t seem to be that many points where the condition of your ship affected gameplay, particularly if planet exploration wasn’t exactly your forte. Then we rolled around to the end of the game, and I was subjected to a most unpleasant surprise. If you don’t upgrade your ship, you automatically get three crew members killed. What. The. FUCK? Other crew members can (and in my case, did) die for other reasons, but this particular pitfall seemed completely arbitrary to me, particularly since there are no warnings or reasons to think that this would be the sole reason for their survival. Grrrrrr.
5. The “RP” Part– Surprisingly enough, this is something that I don’t actually do a whole lot in video games. It’s too easy to see when a game will punish you for choosing the “wrong” dialogue option, even when you supposedly have the freedom to go through whichever character development route you want. In the Mass Effect series, your Shepard follows along the general paths of “Paragon” or “Renegade,” but that’s not all there is to it. The dialogue is masterfully written, as is BioWare’s way, to the point where you can actually develop a personality for your character beyond simply “good” or “bad.” This development is bolstered by the ability to give him/her a background, which can thusly inform your choices, if you are so inclined. Of course, if all you want is to make the galaxy’s most evil motherfucker or to portray a shining example of humanity…. well, you can definitely do that. Again, though, I’ll bring my own Shepard into play to illustrate what I mean when I say that your character just seems more real than in other games. Kat Shepard grew up surrounded by the military lifestyle, so it was no surprise when she entered the service herself; when her entire unit was obliterated except for her, she developed a hard outer shell designed to keep most people from getting too close, but her own survivor guilt meant that she still desperately wanted to be loved, because that might mean that on some level, she was forgiven. Playing this Shepard, then, meant that she was intense and practical, weighing her options with as little regard to outward emotionality as possible, to the point where most people would kind of think of her as a cold bitch. For those who would bother to get to know her, though, she would be fiercely loyal and protective… as long as they were still useful to her, of course. So yeah, I got a little more into my character than in many other games of this type, and I think it’s a mark of BioWare’s excellence that they were able to draw me (and, I’m sure, many other people) in like this. I admit, I’m plenty excited to see what direction the third installment will take, and I can’t wait to get Kat back out into the galaxy.
Next time, I’ll be stretching my brain to see how the hell I can get a full article out of Cake Mania 2. No, really.