The Mass Effect franchise shouldn't be successful. It doesn't make sense. The games somehow mashes together elements of action games with elements of role playing games. It would be like combining paintball with chess. Wait…that's actually a good idea. Does anyone have the phone number to the patent office?
The point is: Mass Effect works despite being two different games rolled into one. And the reason it works is simple. The story. Oh, the story!
On the surface it's a typical sci-fi space opera about aliens and ancient beings sent to wipe out all life. What separates this from most of the cheesy-covered sci-fi books on your bookshelf is that you're in control (mostly) and choose how the story plays out (kinda).
This is very much a $69 Choose Your Own Adventure book, but with prettier pictures and slightly less reading. And more sex. And guns.
I've played the first game and most of the second. I loved them. Why did I stop playing Mass Effect 2? My TV was stupid. Until recently I had an old cathode ray tube TV, and that meant reading tiny on-screen text was impossible.
Mass Effect 2 constantly flashed instructions and info on the screen, instructions that looked like gibberish on my TV, and so whenever word-like shapes appeared, I assumed it meant, "Mash all them pretty buttons 'til something goes DING."
That approach worked for a while, but soon I found myself lost without knowing where to go. So I gave up.
A few months ago, I sprung for a fancy HD TV and now I can finally read all the words!
In preparation for Mass Effect 3, I went back and played through most of part 2. I didn't have time to finish, but that's OK. Thanks to the internet, and my imagination, I know how it all played out.
For newcomers, here's what you need to know before playing Mass Effect 3.
1. You play as Commander Shepard. (You can play as a man or woman. I chose to play as a man because it's wrong of me to tell a woman how to live her life.)
2. Shepard was the first human to be part of an elite group of alien crime fighters. I forget their name. C-Spec? Or Super Dudes United? Whatever. The point is, Shepard is good at things.
3. One of the Super Dudes turned evil after he was controlled by an alien thing, and then the other Super Dudes had to stop him. I think his name was Sauron, but that sounds like Lord of the Rings. I should have taken notes.
4. The Citadel is where everyone hangs out. It's a huge space station that is actually an ancient gateway to other parts of space. It's pretty. It's big. You spend a lot of time there in the first game.
5. As Shepard, you talk to lots of people. This sounds boring, but it's the very best part of these games. You have control over the conversation. If you want Shepard to be a good guy, you can always select the nice things to say. If you want Shepard to be a mean meanie, you can do that too, jerk.
For example, if a character says, "Hi Commander. Do you want some eggs?" You are give several different reply options such as:
"Why thank you! I'd love eggs. And that's a lovely hat you're wearing."
"I'm going to bite out your eyeballs."
"Eggs are OK. You are an OK person. I'm boring, right?"
"We need to stick together!"
Seriously, "We need to stick together," is pretty much always an option, as if the game is trying to remind you that unity and friendship are important. But I already learned that from book one of Harry Potter.
6. You go on missions. Some of them are important, like saving a planet. Others are a tad less important, like saving a turtle. But nearly all the missions are fun and lead to fun conversations. The conversations are the best part. Did I mention that? We need to stick together!
7. You learn things. The story is rather deep, with tons of detail thrown in about every alien you meet. You can skip all this, but I wouldn't recommend it. The information is fun and interesting, something you rarely find in a sci-fi game.
8. You kill the bad guy, and then more bad stuff happens. And then the first game ends. Because you're actions dictate how the game ends, my game will be different than yours. In mine, I let the humans take control of the government, some aliens died (including my friend Rex) but my character was a pretty nice guy overall. Also? My character had sex with Ashley. Speaking of which…
9. You fall in love…if you want to. In the first game, my character started a relationship with Ashley, the human. I could have gone with the blue-skinned alien, but I appreciated Ashley's gung-ho attitude. She was a fighter. The blue woman was just blue.
10. There is sex, but it's not as good as new reports and your pastor make it seem. If you watched one episode of The Jersey Shore, you've seen more scandalous behavior. And yes, you can have a same-sex relationship, but if that's really what you're focusing on (either in a lewd or negative way) then you may be missing the entire point of the game. We need to stick together.
11. The plot of Mass Effect 2 is confusing, because I didn't finish it. You start out working for an elusive man called The Elusive Man. He runs a pro-human group of mercenaries called The Pro-Human Group of…just kidding. The organization is called Cerberus. Throughout the game, you don't know if you working for a good guy or bad guy. You try to defend the universe from an alien group called The Collectors. And then you kill them, but then the Reapers, who are worse, get mad and the game ends with them targeting Earth. Cue dramatic music as we enter…Mass Effect 3!
12. Read this if you're still confused.
If you never played a Mass Effect game before, you'll enjoy Mass Effect 3, probably. All the information from the previous games is given to you in files you collect. So if you really want to know why the Blue Alien Woman is sad, you can read and find out.
That said, I'd recommend playing the first two games. You can pick them up pretty cheap, and if you lower the difficulty, you can plow through them without much problem. You will need a good TV, however.
But enough of the back story. Let's start the game!
The First Two Hours
Because I couldn't transfer my character from the previous games (because I suck, and never finished ME 2) I ditched the whole "Design Your Player" part and selected the default Shepard appearance. He looks like Vin Diesel's more well-read brother.
Choosing how your character looks can be fun, but every time I'm given this option, my character looks…un-pretty. I can never get the face right. And then I'm stuck with this doofy looking character for the entire game. So if you doubt your face-making prowess, stick with the preset appearance.
Next, you choose you character type. Will you use gun, or space magic? Are you sneaky, or aggressive?
I'm playing as a Vanguard, because…I don't know why. It made sense at the time. I like to shoot things, and I like using the magic powers, so this seems like a good balance of both. Plus, when I Photoshop my character guarding a van, it will be hilarious.
I also (try to) play as a good guy. I always play the good guy when given the choice in games like Fallout 3, and I hated picking pockets and thieving in Skyrim. This makes me a wuss, I know. But…shut up!
If you want to play the game as a bad guy, go for it! In fact, I hope you do so that you can tell me how the story is different. I assume there's less cupcakes. (Yeah, that's right! If you play as a good guy, the company will mail you free, real cupcakes. No joke! For reals! Maybe.)
That said, there are a few Mass Effect moments in which I can't help but let my character let someone die or punch a news reporter. And it does feel good.
After the Sorting Hat chooses your house, your character is ready to begin!
You start on Earth. No one wants to believe that the Reapers are coming, but Shepard knows the truth. And then the Reapers attack. You quickly run through some wreckage on way to your beloved spaceship, The Normandy. The first hour or so exists to teach or re-teach you the controls and allows you to familiarize yourself with how weapons, health, running, ducking, and talking work.
Veterans of the series will probably knock this out in fifteen minutes. It took me an hour.
The second hour finds you exploring Mars with Ashley and some meathead human who I thought was dumb until he did something cool. I forget his name, so I'm calling him Tony "Boom Boom" Sullivan.
I'm hesitant to talk more about the story this week, because some of you may not have had the chance to play it. But next week, prepare for spoilers!
So far, this is the best Mass Effect yet. Everything looks better, sounds better, feels better. I'm dying to know where the story will take me, and I'm dying to change the colors of my costume. To purple!
If you haven't picked up the game, do it. Play along with me and share how your adventure differs from my own. And then you can yell at me for playing it wrong.
And remember: Stick together!!!!