No video game experience has been more fulfilling for me than the Mass Effect trilogy.
That is quite a bold statement above, but after finally finishing Mass Effect 3 for a second time I can’t think of a better way to put down my opinion on this series of sci-fi games.
I know they aren’t perfect games. I know there are a lot of problems with each one. And I know the universe is just like Star Wars. But here I am with no more Mass Effect story to go through and I’m sincerely bummed. My Shepard’s story is finished. It’s a shame I won’t be able to experience more of the world through his actions, and those actions of his very memorable crew. I believe I will sincerely miss having them around and being part of their world.
Here’s a timeline of my play history:
- Originally started Mass Effect 1 on December 20, 2007 via a friend’s copy
- Played as the default male, named Donovan Shepard, classed as a pure Soldier
- Initially gave up after failing the Luna mission twice and stopped playing
- Picked it back up 5 years later on February 27, 2013
- Chose the asari Liara as my companion
- Finished Mass Effect 1 as a full Paragon (good guy) on March 2, 2013
- Started Mass Effect 2 on March 3, 2013
- Chose to rebuild my Shepard as a Sentinel with base biotic powers
- Completed all the crew loyalty missions
- Bought every ship upgrade
- Saved everyone on the Suicide Mission
- Remained faithful to Liara through the game into Shadow Broker DLC
- Also completed the Zaaed, Kasumi, Normandy Crash site, and Arrival DLC
- Finished Mass Effect 2 as a full Paragon on April 4, 2013
- Started Mass Effect 3 on April 8, 2013
- Completed the From Ashes, Leviathan, and Citadel DLC
- Remained faithful to the end with Liara
- Finished Mass Effect 3 as a level 60 full Paragon on May 20, 2013, choosing the “green” option
- Downloaded the extended cut ending
- Finished the game again for a final time on May 25, 2013 with the extended cut, choosing the “green” option again
Overall Game Time played
- Mass Effect 1 = 34 hours
- Mass Effect 2 = 49 hours
- Mass Effect 3 = 64 hours
- TOTAL = 147 hours
That is a whole lot of my life spent to playing some electronic entertainment, more than 6 full days of gaming combined. And even with all that time spent, I’m upset that there isn’t more. And no, multiplayer doesn’t count. I want more stories I can interact with.
Mass Effect 1
The game is essentially just the original Knights of the Old Republic again. The story is slow to start, there is terrible inventory management, individual stats, really long loading times, bad vehicle sequences, and kind of lackluster action. The framerate on the Xbox 360 version are also pretty terrible, dipping into a crawl sometimes during hectic sections. What makes it compelling is the fiction, the characters, the voice work, the music, etc. Of the three games, this one has the most exploration options and most varied paths. To think there are wildly varied choices that you can make in this game that last the entire trilogy, and change its universe, is astounding. As a pure game it’s weak, but as an experience it’s great.
Mass Effect 2
A tremendous improvement over ME1. Right off the bat, the graphics are better, the action’s faster, inventory management doesn’t exist, and overall it’s just simplified. Yes, it turned into more of a shooter (ammo clips and all), but the game is better for it. The character moments really improved this time out with the loyalty missions being a standout. Interrupt-able conversation trees were also a nice surprise. It’s the best game in the trilogy. And a must for this game is the Shadow Broker DLC: top-notch and worthwhile top-to-bottom.
Mass Effect 3
We definitely have an action game now; it’s practically like Gears of War. The gameplay has been finely tuned and it is still an amazing experience. The story beats are some of the strongest yet, and the stakes for the universe are at their bleakest. Seeing familiar faces from the past show up as part of the galaxy ending war was a treat. Shepard’s story ends on a high-note, but his (or her) story is now over.
Choices and being the good guy
I pretty much always end up playing the good guy role, or in this case Paragon, in most games. I can’t usually see myself making the evil choices. So with Mass Effect, it was great to have my Paragon choices have long-lasting galaxy-wide effects: Wrex, the genophage, the rachni, Mordin, Tali, the quarians and geth, etc.
I also made an effort to put a lot of skill points into ME1’s persuasion so I could convince most folks to not end things with violence; so much so I convinced the first game’s “bid baddy” to sacrifice himself versus having a boss fight. All of these experiences above were profound.
The crew you fight along with are some of the best fleshed out characters in any game I’ve come across. From their unique designs, to their varying attitudes, to their perfect voices they each feel alive. From Tali, Wrex, Joker, Garrus, Javik, to EDI and the others; each is amazing in their own way. You will feel like you know these characters, almost as if they’ve been people you’ve known for a long time. There were only 1 or 2 of the characters that I wasn’t fond of through most of the trilogy, but even by the end each was someone I’m glad to have met.
The relationship storylines and character romances in these games are well-known. Based off the characters presented in ME1, I chose to be in a relationship with Liara. She seemed to be the best fit for my Shepard.
When ME2 started off I was very upset that she wasn’t part of my crew anymore. There were other new characters who came long and tried to woo my Shepard. But I chose to stick with Liara through ME2, not even knowing she’d show up again in the Shadow Broker DLC. To keep the relationship solid through all of ME2 even when she wasn’t a significant part of the game felt right.
And then when she popped up early in ME3, I was very happy to have her part of the crew again alongside my Shepard. Throughout all of the rough moments of ME3, she stuck by Shepard’s side. On the other side of the coin, he was around when things went sour for her. The final tearful moments of ME3, specifically with Liara, are some of the most emotional and meaningful video game experiences I’ve ever had.
In fact, I replayed the very long and tedious last battle just to see the extra Liara content from the extended ending, which wasn’t present when I finished ME3 the first time. Those additional four hours of playing were worth the extra few minutes my Shepard got to spend with Liara.
Downloadable Content (DLC)
The DLC for the Mass Effect games isn’t cheap, but is some of the best content available for the games. The Shadow Broker has amazing set pieces, character moments, and story. It even plays into the later game in meaningful ways. From Ashes brings a character to your team, Javik, that you’ll want to bring on every mission (I did). Leviathan gives more background into the Mass Effect universe and tells some history about where the Reapers came from that is key to final game choices. I would say that all the DLC I listed above in my playthroughs were worth the price of admission to get that little bit extra of ME.
Finally the Citadel, specifically the non-action/party moments, are my absolute favorite ME content. It is almost the “real” end to the game. The gang all comes back for one final celebration before the last battle. Having characters from as far back as ME1 reappear was amazing. From jokes that spanned the entire trilogy, interesting set pieces and conversations, to character moments where Shepard got to say his final goodbyes. One simply cannot fully finish ME3 without also finishing Citadel.
With Shepard’s story being complete, I’m sad that it’s all done. I’m sure that there are more Mass Effect games in development and I look forward to playing them. I’m not quite sure how they will fit into the mythos my Shepard built. This is because most likely the choices I made won’t have an effect on the new games, and that seems like a shame. The series was great because I got to dictate how things played out.
But even with that said, I’m glad that I invested as much time as I did in the games. It’s a set of experiences that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, let alone experience with another game.