The first in what will become a series of in-depth look backs at some of my favourite games. As I’m currently working my way through the latest instalment of the series in a brand new galaxy, Andromeda, I have been reminiscing about one of the best action RPG’s of all, and one of my top five favourite games of all time. Mass Effect 2.
Origin and Gameplay
The original Mass Effect was released in late 2007 exclusively for the Xbox 360. This, along with the original Gears of War, was the driving force behind my decision to go with the 360 ahead of the PS3 at the tender age of 17 (the game was later released on PS3 and PC). My love for RPG’s in general had grown exponentially after playing Oblivion on my brother’s 360 and I’ve always had a keen fascination with space!
The Mass Effect series is a futuristic third-person action role-playing game centring around Commander Shepard. The trilogy received praise for its interactive and personal story, engaging combat and expansive universe.
Now seems as good a time as ever to explain what ‘Mass Effect’ actually means. In 2148 humans discovered ancient technology on Mars that allowed for distant space travel. After accessing and utilising the tech and travelling to habitable planets in the Milky Way and meeting other civilisations, they discovered that the technology was in fact referred to as ‘Mass Effect’. Travel to other systems is made easier through the use of mass relays, gigantic structure allowing warp-like travel.
Developed by the Kings of role-playing games Bioware, and directed by Casey Hudson who 4 years previous had masterminded Star Wars: KOTOR, Mass Effect was a brilliant game despite its numerous and now rather infamous flaws. The menu and inventory system was really rather poor, confusing and downright clunky. The form of transport on a planet’s surface, the Mako, had the handling of the remote-controlled toy Rebound (very niche reference), in that it was just terrible. Then there were the lifts, or elevators, that took longer than a normal loading screen and even outlasted the filler conversations between characters. It was very odd.
However, looking at the game itself it was a hugely ambitious title involving the creation of multiple alien species each with their own histories, cultures and traditions. The use of powers such as biotics and techs along with the expected gunplay was a fine twist on the normal RPG combat features. The story was engaging and felt personal to each player as the interactions with every character through the innovative dialogue wheel opened a world of possibility.
And so three years later Mass Effect 2 warped its way into our lives (firstly on Xbox 360 again, then for the first time in the series on Playstation 3 the following year), carrying on your story of Commander Shepard (who I will refer to as male in this post as he was for my adventure through the trilogy) with his new ship, life and comrades. Improvements were made in almost every category including the downfalls mentioned. Combat involved Shepard alongside two squad-mates at a time, each offering different opinions on the situations as well as varied strategies in fights. Shepard him/herself could choose from a variety of classes depending on the player’s preference such as Soldier, Adept and Vanguard. Downtime from fights would consist of building relations with your crew or the councils and public aboard the Citadel, with almost every quest offering a ‘paragon’ or ‘renegade’ option that would affect future decisions as well as having an aesthetic effect on Shepard’s face.
Commander Shepard once again takes centre stage despite actually dying at the start of the game itself. His ship, the Normandy, is blown apart in space as he sacrifices himself for his pilot Joker and floats off into the dark abyss of space. The ‘Lazarus Project’ finds him and bring him back to life under the guidance of Cerberus, a human supremacist group led by the Illusive Man.
A major enemy species of Mass Effect 2 is a distant race called the Collectors, a seemingly less-evolved creature-like species from beyond the Omega-4 relay, a mass relay in which no ship has ever returned following its use. Human colonies have been disappearing at an alarming rate, triggering Cerberus to bring back the most famous and successful human of all to take the fight to the Collectors, and embark on what is surely nothing more than a suicide mission.
It turns out that the Collectors are working for the Reapers, a machine race consisting of enormous starships that wipe out all organic civilisation every 50,000 years for unrevealed reasons, due to it apparently being beyond the current races’ understanding. The Reapers are the true antagonists for the Mass Effect series, having used Saren (the main villain of the original game) as a puppet in setting up the Citadel as a trap to lure the colonies together before using it as a mass relay to transport all the other Reapers together and perform their cleansing.
Still with me?
Rounding up a rag-tag band of intergalactic mercenaries, outcasts and scientists and convincing them all to take on the suicide mission makes up the bulk of the game and arguably the most enjoyable sections. Eventually Shepard visits a derelict Reaper in which he recruits his final team member, as well as the necessary requirements to safely travel through the Omega-4 relay. However, while the team is away from the Normandy the Collectors live up to their name by capturing the majority of the crew still on board, other than Joker who is briefly controlled by the player in one such memorable sequence.
Shepard returns to the Normandy, and with only his main team alongside him travels through the relay to the Collector base. Depending on the squad’s loyalty to Shepard, the player’s choices right now and how well the Normandy was equipped during the game decides who lives and dies in the final mission. The team manages to rescue the captured crew and fight their way to the centre where they are faced with a giant humanoid Reaper constructed through the genetics of all the captured humans.
Before destroying the humanoid Reaper, the Illusive Man offers Shepard the choice to sterilise the base to use against the Reapers (and in turn enhance humanity’s position in the galaxy) or to ignore him and destroy the base completely. Whatever Shepard chooses, the Reaper is annihilated and he escapes with the surviving members of the team, unless everyone else dies in which he falls to the same fate.
The Illusive Man is either delighted or furious with Shepard, but nonetheless humanity now has the full attention of the Reapers who have awoken and begin descending on the Milky Way therefore setting up the events of the epic, if ultimately disappointing Mass Effect 3.
With a name inspired by Alan Shepard, the first American to travel to space, Commander Shepard is an N7 graduate, the highest rank achieved by veterans of the ICT – Interplanetary Combatives Training. Working through N1 to N6 previously, the highest rank is the only one to be emblazoned on armour and commands respect from the whole galaxy. Much like their namesake Shepard is a trailblazer in that they are the first human to become Spectre, a leading voice on the Citadel Council.
The beauty of Mass Effect is that Shepard can be whatever the player wants him or her to be. Not just in their appearance but their attitudes, choices and loyalties. Therefore to explain their thought processes would be impossible to describe. What can be said for sure though is that they are always a leading light in the galaxy, commanding the utmost respect from all races in the galaxy and the greatest fighter the Milky Way will ever experience.
From left to right:
Zaeed Masani (Human), Legion (Geth), Samara (Asari – possibly replaced by Morinth), Tali’Zorah vas Neema (Quarian), Mordin Solus (Salarian), Garrus Vakarian (Turian), Miranda Lawson (Genetically enhanced Human), Grunt (genetically engineered Krogan), Jacob Taylor (Human), Thane Krios (Drell), Jack/Subject Zero (Human), Kasumi Goto (Human).
The Illusive Man:
Brilliantly voiced by Martin Sheen, TIM is as seclusive as his name suggests. Always firing up his cigarette mid-conversation, he secretly leads Cerberus from his armchair in front of a huge planet, projecting his human supremacy views through the actions of his minions.
Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau:
The wheelchaired pilot of the Normandy SR-2. He manages to stumble without aid by the end but his commitment to the cause, expert driving ability and wonderfully geeky humour makes him a favourite among the crew and players alike.
An Artificial Intelligence created by Cerberus, the Enhanced Defence Intelligence offers guidance to Shepard and the team throughout, and provides a somewhat unhealthy relationship for Joker. In Mass Effect 3 EDI (pronounced Edie) seizes control of a deceased doctor’s body on Mars using Prothean technology and becomes a fighting member of the team.
A Reaper that oversees the actions of the Collectors. He takes control of individual Collectors through indoctrination to control each firefight while communicating with Shepard.
Mass Effect 3 arrived another two years after the second, in 2012, and despite carrying through the majority of the positives from ME2, the ending left an infamously sour taste in the mouth. Despite this, the journey to get there throughout the series was magnificent, especially around the middle! Mass Effect 2 went on to win multiple game of the year awards and is often cited in many top 100 lists of the greatest games of all time. Now in 2017 Mass Effect: Andromeda has released to a mixed reception, taking the series to a brand new galaxy and therefore leaving Shepard, his ship and his crew behind. Bioware are now reportedly taking an indefinite break from the series to focus on brand new original content.
Having played through the 50-hour plus game twice, I am comfortable in stating Mass Effect 2 as one of my personal favourite games ever as well as sitting comfortably in my top 3 RPG’s – my favourite genre in video games.