A few weeks ago, Microsoft was doing one of their pathetic attempts at a sale on direct download games on XBL. I took a look at the titles, and was partly pleasantly surprised. Among them was Hitman: Absolution, a title I had been looking to acquire anyway, for $10. Not a bad deal. Among them were a few older titles, but they were going for $5. So I also picked up Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (which, honestly kinda sucks).
Oh, and a podunk little game called “Mass Effect”.
Years ago, after the first one had come out, I had two of my best friends from high school tell me it had the “best video game plot twist ever.” I found the claim interesting, but largely went on about my CoD-saturated lifestyle. For which I am ever ashamed.
I think I saw an ad for Mass Effect 2 a few years back, and I actually had downloaded and played the Mass Effect 3 demo that came out back in March 2012. Seemed nice enough, but I felt I was missing a lot of context – thus, I decided to let it go until the right time to try out number one came around.
My god. I can’t believe what I missed.
All the hype was right. All the zeal was well-deserved. All the fandom was finally understandable.
I started out with Catienda Shepard (femshep) – Earthborn, sole survivor of the thresher maw experiment on Akuze, and a redhead. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to my first alien species in the universe, a Turian named Nihlus – part of some group called the “Spectres”. Sounded interesting,
I talked to Jenkins about our destination, Eden Prime. The way he described it, I was looking forward to some good looking 2007-era setpieces of paradise in the stars. Theeeeeeeen fucking Sovereign has to screw it all up. I remember when I first saw the video footage from the 212, it looked like a giant biomechanical hand grasping for the burning surface of the colony.
Then followed Jenkins’ inevitable demise and subsequent replacement by Gunnery Chief (and human loyalist in denial) Ashley Williams. I honestly didn’t dislike her much until I started going to the Normandy’s cargo bay to talk to her between missions.
Then the geth. Ahhhhh, the geth. What I thought to be mindless killing machines bred from that violent lamp in the Pixar logo for the longest time. Turns out I would come to rather like them. But more on that later.
After Eden Prime, it was on to the Citadel to meet with the Citadel Council – the cooperative alliance of species working together for the benefit of the galactic community – think the UN, but they don’t suck nearly as much. Plus, they have the Spectres, a group of soldiers granted galactic diplomatic immunity and tasked with doing the work of galactic peacekeepers or enforcers. I can’t imagine the UN having any such task force without the Security Council alone going absolutely apeshit.
From the city-state/space station of the Citadel my journey took me to the frozen corporatocracy of Noveria, the colony of Feros, and the almost-was garden world of Virmire. Saving the rachni queen, salvaging what I could of Zhu’s Hope, and sacrificing one of my Alliance comrades at the krogan cloning facility. Finally, after the Mako drop at Ilos and the subsequent war-ending conflict, you’d think it was over. I had gotten at least $5 of value out of the experience.
My bank statements would indicate this number to be considerably higher.
While it was by no means perfect (the obsessive inventory management system got irritating rather quickly, and my assault rifle couldn’t hit shit), I was VERY much intrigued. I had read reviews stating the maturity of the series and its universe – far greater than it should be for its age – and I could see why. A developed economic system, translation solutions, inter-cluster transportation, an established galactic history, and an honest-to-god attempt to address small arms advances over 200 years. This helped with immersion, but the desire to drive on comes from the interpersonal relationships you develop with your crew over the course of your fights against the geth, the collectors, and the reapers. But more on that later . . .
I wanted to touch upon a couple of random thoughts I had on various aspects of the trilogy. No rhyme or reason to most, just things that stood out to me.
-ME3: The damned Cerberus ninjas. They move just fast enough for you to be slow on the draw, but just slow enough for you to lead your next shot too much. If you’re running a shotgun (ESPECIALLY with the Graal Spike Thrower), it might as well be a death sentence.
-ME3 Citadel DLC: The M-11 Suppressor pistol is so beautifully, insanely overpowered. I keep it loaded with inferno rounds just in case a stray Atlas mech or a Banshee shows up. Comes in serious handy during the last fight in London.
-Garrus is such a badass, and a damn good friend. He and Tali never question your motives, they trust you with their lives, and they never hold a grudge against you. Unlike goddamned Alenko and Williams. Whiny bastards.
-When I first played Mass Effect, I had *NO* idea that Seth Green voiced Joker, the Normandy’s pilot. I was SOOOOOO excited to hear him at first, and very glad to hear him come back in every subsequent game.
-Thermal Clips: I get that it was necessary for game mechanics to introduce limited ammunition stockpiles in ME2 and 3. Unlike most everyone else, it seems, I actually like that system better. It forces you to actually control your shots, but it doesn’t prohibit heavier weapons from putting extra slugs downrange in an emergency. That said, it was nice to see the M-7 Lancer return for the last ME3 DLC.
-Also on the subject of weapons, the M-96 Mattock dominates all others. Kneel before it’s semi-automatic fury. I take it to every corner of the galaxy.
-My ME3 standard weapons setup:
-M-96 Mattock w/ magazine upgrade and thermal scope
-M-9 Tempest w/ stability upgrade and scope OR the M-12 Locust w/ lightweight materials and magazine upgrade
-Graal Spike Thrower w/ smart choke and heavy barrel (only added it recently – I gave it to Tali as it was the best shotgun in the game, then wanted to have it around when you solo Omega. It grew on me afterwards :D)
-M-11 Suppressor with heavy barrel (Omega DLC add-on) and magazine upgrade
-Also, for ME3, I felt they screwed up the ordering of the rifle heavy barrel models. L5 (think the A-280 blaster rifle barrel from Star Wars) should’ve been L3, L4 (looked like a modified Barrett M107A1 muzzle brake) was fine as is, but L3 (derived from an arrowhead-style muzzle brake for the Russian KSVK 12.7mm sniper rifle) should’ve been L5. Just looks better in payoff. I used to run my Mattock with a thermal scope and the heavy barrel until I got the L5 upgrade. It just didn’t look the same 😦 I decided the expanded magazine and the black finish looked much better, and didn’t sacrifice tactical capability.
-The geth in ME1 and 2 were nothing to shake a stick at – but with the Reaper upgrades in ME3, they actually became pretty fierce:
-Rocket troopers used homing missiles to cover their cover-to-cover advances. Mixed with kinetic barriers, this made even quick pop-up adrenaline-rush headshots sprees with the Mattock damn difficult to achieve.
-Hunters actually USED their cloaking abilities to flank – or even worse, corner – me in combat, and I died more than a few times at their hand.
-The Primes are now the rightful badasses they were supposed to be. Nearly unkillable, they require even more effort than Atlas mechs to neutralize. In a group of three, like just above the Reaper silo on Rannoch, they made a VERY formidable challenge.
-Javik the Prothean is a DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICK. “These crew members are not your friends, they are merely resources.” Only his drunk talk around the Citadel party made him slightly redeemable – that and SOME of his dialogue on Thessia.
-Other than the heavy barrel pistol upgrade, I largely regret my purchase of the ME3 Omega DLC. Not a lot of story, lackluster weapons, bland environments, and as far as character development: what begrudging criminal respect I had for Aria T’Loak was largely destroyed by her dialogue and habits in the DLC. Further, the one interesting character I wanted to see more of, Nyreen (the badass female turian biotic), goes and gets herself killed because of Aria’s judgmentalism. I really wish I could have shot Aria at the end.
-People who play krogan in ME3 multiplayer are strong combatants, but I swear to god, their giant asses always block my shots when I’m about to neutralize a high-value target. They seem obsessed with meleeing EVERYTHING in sight.
-The Illusive Man is one of my favorite characters of the entire series. The moral shades of gray thing is used so goddamn well with his personality. I despise the man by ME3, but I do respect him. Plus, having Martin Sheen as his voice actor was beyond badass.
-Also, Jennifer Hale did an AMAZING job as FemShep.
-The galaxy map and Normandy themes – I could listen to them on loops for hours on end.
-The Illusive Man’s theme is also fairly awesome.
-I find it curious that Vigil’s theme became the default “feels” soundtrack of the series. It’s a good fit, though. After Mordin’s death after curing the genophage in ME3, it makes it eerily more…poignant.
-My favorite combat music has to be the first third of “Rannoch.” Makes for great chase music, but for the advancing cover-to-cover, dodging geth rockets in the level its featured in, it’s….just perfect.
-As for the three endings . . . can’t say I was thrilled with ’em, but the emotional connections I had built up over the past three games made me more concerned for my squadmates’ futures than the crappy writing and last-minute antagonist. As such, I can only bring myself to do the Destroy ending with my male Shepard . . . and I’m religious about keeping galactic readiness at maximum. Those who know how that turns out can probably figure out why.
That being said, these are my musings (for now) on the epic space opera that is the Mass Effect universe. I can honestly say that it has actually replaced Star Wars as my absolute favorite sci-fi saga of all time. Yeah. That amazing.
The only thing I would have left to comment on would be how awesome Tali is. But I’m keeping those memories for myself.
Keelah se’lai, folks.