Mass Effect trilogy – attention to detail and consistency make a timeless game

I did DA a while ago, so time for a few words of appreciation for Mass Effect. Old Bioware knew how to tell immersive stories, with the ability to choose in all layers of decisions, from your character’s morality that extends to your companions, through many narrative decisions; with appealing world building and romance. I have been replaying The Legendary Edition after a year’s break and the story pulls me in just as always. ME is a timeless game in my bookand requires ZERO mods because its choice systems and narrative design are just right.

What to expect?

  • A sci-fi story that’s like a good classic: thought-provoking and intriguing, and very immersive. It examines ideas from different angles
  • Character customization, including the psychological profile, that affects some events and personal missions. The ability to choose and form a lot, like shaping the character’s morality that extends to and affects your companions. This also means players like me can have a wholesome romance.
  • Very good relationship system, romances are strongly woven into the story and I love that, just like with Dragon Age.
  • A cast of colourful characters of fun alien races, all with interesting backstories, charismas and strong characterisation, growth and development. Joker is a good character with his own story that may further influence decisions in ME3; there’s Mordin the singing Salarian scientist who wants to atone and would run tests on seashells, and Wrex a krogan leader who never gives up. There’s the irreplaceable Garrus and Tali but also so many others, even minor NPCs. Great personal missions that give us further insights into the culture of the races and give more foundation to the plot. Show rather than tell at its best.
  • Great locations: Places/maps are mysterious, abandoned, and interesting. Exotic or places connected to the crew, like the Migrant Fleet.They always make me eager to explore them over and over again.
  • Detailed lore
  • Consistency and attention to detail. Even a really episodic NPC can reappear in ME3 and we learn what happened to them.
  • There are lots of things to do: from collecting artefacts to surveying planets and fun sidequests.
  • Transferring progress from game to game assures consistency and a sense of continuity as your decisions also import. It’s very satisfying and that’s why it’s best to play Me not as three games but as one in three parts.

I think these points sum things up. The story is set in a universe, where advanced intergalactic travel has become possible thanks to mass relays, with each galaxy filled with interesting planets and races, but the story also considers so much more: who might have come before, why aren’t there other advanced civilisations and the relationship between synthetics / AIs and organics and how ethical some aspects are – whether we must control or can coexist or must destroy. I think the game succeeds in exploring many fascinating ideas from many angles across all three games, making it a consistent, fun and detailed narrative, where choices are up to you. You can make what you want of it, and what fits your perspective. The plot unfolds on certain plot worlds or when certain conditions are met and in the meantime, we are free to explore a vast space, with some planets where you just survey metals/ resources and others where you can land and explore more or less freely, some are side-quest planets where you land for a specific mission. IN ME3, there’s an added difficulty in that the exploration alerts enemy forces to your presence in a cluster. I greatly enjoy this. On top of this, the progress is very logical and the way things develop makes a lot of sense.

  • Me 1 – start out as an alliance and explore Council space, many questions are asked. Feros, Ilos, hints at all other themes.
  • Me 2 – Forced into working with a criminal organisation, Shephard explores Terminus space outside Council jurisdiction. Me2 has that feel of exploring fringes of the galaxy and meeting interesting races and learning more about them. The Geth and question of synthetic vs organic and its ethics is explored a lot more in major missions. Some answers are found.
  • Me 3 – everything comes together as Shephard needs to combine Me1 and Me2 in an effort to unite the races, end age-old conflicts and stop the Reapers. All themes from previous games are tied together here in an epic final confrontation with the Reapers

We are pulled into this game from the first moments. It starts in the middle of things and from there, I was sucked instantly. We start on the Normandy, the ship, right before a mission on Eden Prime, a human colony where a beacon from a lost civilisation of “Protheans” was found. But there is a surprise waiting which, when you replay knowing the full story, gives you a rather bittersweet feeling. From then on, a sweeping story begins that has Commander Shephard traversing mysterious lost civilisations, and abandoned ruins in search of answers. In ME2 we change sides and work with Cerberus, an underground criminal organisation conducting unethical experiments we already meet in game 1, and in ME3 we deal with the final war against the creatures (Reapers) introduced very early in game 1. The consistency of storytelling throughout all three games, much like in Da, is quite amazing and the decisions from previous games do meaningfully affect dialogues and some events in later games.

The consistency extends to minor NPCs that appear in game 1 and then reappear in other parts and we can learn what happens to them. This incredible attention to detail, checking back to stay consistent with what came before, adds immersion to the world and game and increases my overall enjoyment of the story. Consider, Char for instance: a krogan with poetic tendencies who appears in ME2 in a sidequest, and then what happens to him in ME3 is impactful. I liked the way ME3 pulled all those ends and themes together, the development across the games for me was clear and just right.

There are lots of things to do and even quests are extremely varied, ranging from non-combat to solo escape missions, timed and non-timed. I’m personally sad when I have to do solo ones because I’d rather bring my squad but everything has its reason.

I’ve never been bored for a single moment throughout all three games, I always look forward to encountering certain characters and re-experiencing certain moments and I’m never bored when I replay.

Romances / characters
I’ve said many times, that as a straight female I enjoy an old-fashioned, straight and reliable romance and whenever possible, I choose to play female characters and want to be referred to as a “woman”/ her. I’ve mostly explored the female side of things and there are a variety of options. If you are a straight female, like me and like romances with stable and reliable characters then I would recommend waiting for ME2 when you can start romancing Garrus. He’s one of Bioware’s best characters and definitely a reliable romance, if you make the right calls at certain points. It’s a relationship of trust and respect. He’s there when we need him, protects and supports us without diminishing our strength or decisions in any way, and he respects us while not forgetting that Shepherd is a woman too. For me, he’s the best – but his story includes some high morality decisions. That’s what makes things better for me, though.

Kaidan, a human biotic with a flawed implant that causes him some problems, is romanceable in game 1, and has enjoyable banter with Shrphard, but I don’t find him very reliable, or trustworthy after game 1. He is cautious and has a well-defined role and stance in the story that’s very understandable, but he’s a bit fickle and I just wouldn’t say he’d be the first choice for me. He can be persuaded to change his mind but I find him a bit too self-focused and he just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps he should have had a few more appearances in ME2, though he does send apologetic e-mails.

As a character, Thane is my second favourite after Garrus: he’s badass but is charming and spiritual. His story is rather grave and his romance short-lived. On the other hand, that gravity means that with him every action is a commitment. He also has a great sidequest with his son, though. He’s memorable because his story is what it is.

And those side stories, and personal missions, make the game so much richer and fun and flesh out the characters, making me care for them a lot more, making me like them all, pretty much. Really “show rather than tell” at its finest.

There are a few romances I have not explored, but some, like Liara, simply aren’t my thing. I like Liara as a friend only. Jacob is not material for romance for me, considering his developments in me3, but frankly, I’ve never liked him as romance material, only a friend. Javik the Prothean is a fun character, with a bit of a bark, but he’s the Last Prothean on a mission and has survived despite all the odds, what he says can make you think and see a different side. But well he’s not there for all three games, like Garrus and that, for me, makes all the difference. ME3 romanceables are quirky characters and I enjoy having them around but don’t see them as love interests, because for me nothing beats the reliability of a time-tested friend from game 1.

I don’t engage in secondary romances, though the game makes it possible to have some flings along the way. I don’t condone cheating and lying so I’m happy that ME allows me to choose. It’s also one of the reasons I probably won’t ever touch some other popular games no matter how visually amazing and interesting they may be. I’ve been warned and my friends who know me, know what I should steer clear of…..like Andromeda, for example. I want wholesome gameplay, with the ability to choose what path I want on as many layers as ME (and Dragon Age) has made possible. If they go for romance at all, then I expect them to be able to make things at least adaptable to an extent that allows me to make choices and make things work for me. But games that do it like this, are rare and the sort of romance I like in games seems very hard to come by so I cherish Mass Effect for making it possible for me to choose. They’ve really put a lot of effort into DA and ME trilogies. There are all sorts of things possible here because the game really tried to cast a wide net and it has succeeded.

Ending of ME3
The ending is heavy but I’m glad it ends on a note of hope. Fans were, understandably, upset (I was too, went like – WHAT? NO WAY) with the original ending, so it was changed – for the better. I came to ME late so when I played, the altered ending was already included in the package, though it required a lot of work in the original ME3. I liked that myself: everything worthwhile takes effort. The ending sequences in ME3 include a story-like fragment with a grandfather and a grandchild talking about the legendary Shephard. It adds the right kind of vibe and emphasises Shephard’s role as a shepherd of sorts. Such and many other little details put together created an unforgettable classic of a game, a game that I can return to over and over again and always enjoy just as much as the first time.

Furthermore, I find the endgame choices in ME3 noteworthy, because they really gather together the essence of the story and the ideas we have investigated throughout all three games – we have seen and explored the pros and cons, seen the angles and the consequences, and the final decision highlights that and highlights how much it really is our choice. I also like one of the “bad” endings” in which humanity has learned nothing and the cycle started by the Reapers is repeated.

But the overall development of the story throughout all three games, leading to the very final decisions along with some tender moments gets perfect scores from me. There’s camaraderie, joking, and good bonding aside from grave topics and the story strikes a good balance, adding to the immersion.

Just play it. The legendary edition has made very good visual improvements and it’s a great experience whenever I replay it. I’ve spent over 700 hours in these games in total and because new flashy games belonging to hyped franchises fail to capture my interest, I am happy to enjoy this carefully made gem over and over, instead and explore its storyline like rereading a great book. It’s like reading a book, except the game really makes it possible to experience the narrative the way you might like to shape it. It becomes your personalised story. I love that about old BioWare games.

Some favourite things:

Eden Prime – I love we return to it in ME3, just like Horizon from ME2 – characters reminisce about those places and it’s meaningful.

Eden Prime, Me1. New players, this is the beginning of a thrilling ride

The beginning of ME 2 is dramatic, and one of the related side missions is very touching. They really cared about the details! That’s what makes the game stand out
It’s sad, but I love the reflective character of this mission. I’m glad they included it. Attention to detail matters for immersion

Feros, Ilos in ME 1- traces of the Prothean civilisation. Then in Me3, the Prothean himself makes an appearance.

I am happy to spend hours on the Prothean Skyway , imagine the past. The Feros part is an intriguing storyline
Ilos is even more mysterious and abandoned, the thought that life and research thrived here just pulls me further into the story
atmospheric places
forgotten archives from a forgotten past

Other plot worlds:

On Virmire you make choices that have a major impact on later games, extending right down to ME3
I like to imagine how regular life goes on in those big metropolises while Shepard is on a mission. The game really stirs my imagination and provokes reflection.
sinister discoveries are made
the beginning of ME 3 is even more dramatic, and everything really nicely developed from game 1
Garrus’ home planet in ME3
If you were somehow involved with Kaidan throughout the games and perhaps stayed loyal to him no matter what, then the banter on Mars in early ME3 can be quite fun
Salarian research base.
yep, I love those views, be it sky cities or gorgeous landscapes.
Eden Prime in ME3

Garrus. End of story. He’s one of my most favourite characters in any game, let alone romances. His growth (that we can influence), his lines and presence and constant support.

Exploring the planets, surveying metals and resources, visiting abandoned worlds and derelict ships in all 3 games

Side missions/ personal quests are great

the views are great
run-down, dangerous, atmospheric planets

The Citadel throughout all three games – I love how its role changes as we get to know the full story. It makes the impact. I love the citadel but then when I know what it’s really for, it becomes impactful. I still love it, it’s a fun place and very beautiful. There are lots of trees, you meet fun people, do fun sidequests!

The design of the citadel is really beautiful. So many trees!

There are other things, but this is in a major nutshell. Play it. If you like story-rich games that have both action and impactful storylines, where choices do matter and really are up to you and games that still manage to keep some integrity and heart through the fact that you can shape them, this is a really good game.

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