Mass Effect [Tea Tales]

ALERT: GOING FULL VIDEO GAMES.

I spent the last 5 – 6 days or so playing the Mass Effect (ME) trilogy from start to finish. Three video games – similar but different – totaling about 65 in-game hours, or 70 or so real-life hours due to technical complications and modding. That’s why I’m here, to drink tea and write a story about it. Many spoilers, yet no explanations are to be had. Keep stead or ignore.

This was not the first time I’ve started these games (indeed I’ve played both ME and ME2 for a combined of 3 hours), but it was the first time I took it seriously. I came in because I wanted to beat it, and to experience what it’s like to play everything with every DLC at once. It was pleasant, albeit exhausting.

I won’t lie, there are plenty of problems with the game. Even if we took the first ME as a baseline, the terrible control schemes, customisation handling and hacking mechanics in ME2 gave me quite a scare. It hinted at the game going down the console – an inferior – route. ME3, however, proved to me that at least Bioware still had some sense left in them. Fleshing out the inventory system, re-introducing modifications, armour features, and introducing a lot of quality of life improvements, ME3 was a good game. It was in fact a very good game, from a technical and gameplay standpoint. It was the pinnacle of the ‘video game trilogy’.

Thing is, I’m not here to talk about that. It deserves a brief mention, my being a technical person at times, but what I’m here to do is to tell a story.

I walked the path of commander Shepard (the female one, of course).It was a fun adventure. I was introduced to, and immersed in, an entire science fiction world of tomorrow (more specifically the 2100s). Alien races, space ships, mass relays, giant robots of mass destruction, synthetic life, self-aware Artificial intelligence, holograms, advanced weaponry and many, many other things. It was fascinating. It was not the first to introduce any of these concepts, but it had to be the best accumulation of presentation and core quality. Star Wars is Star Wars, but it wasn’t Mass Effect. It’ll be a fool’s errand to compare the writing of the two – or individually -, because my conclusion would simply piss people off, and I don’t have the urge to be right on the internet. What I know for sure, however, was that Star Wars never let me be a part of the galaxy like ME did. Stories of heroes, triumph, discovery and awe are concepts which are said to be shared amongst the two, but it they really weren’t the same. Being a video game – inherently permitted to be longer, more expansive, and more detailed – allowed me a look into the world like no other medium nor story had. It allowed me to actually have friends, partners, squadmates, and at times love interest to interact with at my leisure. The galaxy always need saving, but it’s the people you’re with the does it.

It’s funny. I did everything with a reasonable amount of success, but I didn’t do or say anything that I didn’t deem justifiable simply because of the fact that I was in a video game. Sure, pop-in and graphics can be annoying at times, but it’s easily overlooked. It’s how people make fun of Shepard for falling through a fishtank and destroying the sushi place, or of how she could not possibly dance to save her life. It’s also how the same people would stand at her side during the galaxy’s most dire hours, throwing their lives into the fray so that not them, but Shepard, would go on and hopefully save the world again. It’s a display of charisma and genuine social interactions that made it work. It couldn’t have been as good otherwise, to see the great commander Shepard playing wingman to her fine-looking but rough alien friend, or drinking too much of a liquor clearly not made for humans, or playing space fighters to impress the kids, or headbutting a giant space sandworm. All of it was in good fun, and to allow bonding between people that exist. Non-token characters are extremely important, as well as how they react to the things Shepard said or did. The world – as vast and overwhelming at time as it were – felt fully alive and vibrant. It was moving with the events that the protagonist partook in.

Someone may come forward and say: but what about Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic (KOTOR). It was a Bioware game, it was set in space, and incorporate all of the setting of Star Wars into it. How about that compared to the ME trilogy? Well, aside from the fact that KOTOR was a game limited by the Star Wars universe itself (meaning much less freedom with writing and balance of characters), it was a good game on its own. The gameplay nor graphics hadn’t aged well, but that’s not a fair comparison. KOTOR, just like ME, had the massive galaxy, the alien races, the interaction, the semi-alive world (mostly due to technology constraints), the heroine walking the path of determining the fate of billions of live. What it did not have, and was the thing that propelled ME above it, and above most other things, was Commander Shepard.

Jennifer Hale pulled out an amazing performance. Not only did she voice a protagonist of such a massive RPG, she did it for three games and all of its DLCs as well. Such a massive amount of work for such quality voice acting was extremely commendable. The heroine was given character, tone, and an attitude to match, all because of that voice acting. I say this to draw comparison to KOTOR, as well as things like Neverwinter Nights, or Dragon Age: Origins. They’re all very good games (all RPGs made by Bioware as well), but none of them had the flare of the speech that only a voice could provide. It’s part of what made Duke Nukem so iconic all those years ago, and something that the movie crowd had been enjoying at its best for many many decades. Cut scenes aren’t always the best method of story telling in video game, simply because this medium allows for so much more, but it works perfectly fine in an experience like this. Most of what happened in cut scenes aren’t replicative of actual gameplay, and that was good enough.

I find it quite relaxing to be enthralled by an experience such as this. I wouldn’t watch a 65 hours long movie, but I wouldn’t play a single player game that had nothing but gameplay for 65 hours either. It’s a great mix that I would never forget, and is something that reminds me of why I’m still so free to be invested in video games. It brings out an experience that cannot be replicated, and I in turn am thankful. Now that it’s over, and Shepard would no longer be featured in any upcoming releases, I’m fine just putting it down. The Commander did her job, and I simply close this chapter of sci-fi history. I have many more things to experience, and make happen on my own, but it’s great to know I’ll always have something to refer back to. I suppose in some ways, this could be taken as a piece of recommendation.

I do fully endorse it.

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