In the past two years or so, I've went from being a casual gamer to gaming becoming my biggest hobby-- aside from writing, of course. I knew there were lots of games that had massive fandoms-- Dragon Age, Fallout, the Elder Scroll games, the Borderlands games, those immediately spring to mind. I liked all of those, even wrote fanfic for Dragon Age. But none of them ever caught my heart the way the Mass Effect franchise did. And I almost missed out. All because I judged a game by its genre.
Mass Effect is from the makers of the Dragon Age games. Strong character development, hilarious dialogue, game decisions that effect your results and sucker-punching players in their feels when they least expect it are what Bioware is known for. ME is a third person shooter and that alone put me off. Back then, I loathed shooters. Avoided them at all costs. Even now, I'm not all that fond of them. But I like sci-fi and it was Bioware for goodness sake. And it was constantly being recommended to me by other players of Dragon Age, "You love Dragon Age, you'll LOVE Mass Effect." I finally gave in and I've never looked back.
The bare bones of the story is this-- taken directly from the Wiki page:
The original trilogy largely revolves around a soldier named Commander Shepard, whose mission is to save the galaxy from a race of powerful mechanical beings known as the Reapers and their agents, including the first game's antagonist Saren Arterius. The first game sees Shepard investigating Saren, whom Shepard slowly comes to understand is operating under the guidance of Sovereign, a Reaper left behind in the Milky Way tens of thousands of years before, when the Reapers exterminated virtually all sentient organic life in the galaxy as part of a recurrent cycle of genocide for an unknown purpose. Sovereign's purpose is to trigger the imminent return of the Reaper fleet hibernating in extra-galactic dark space, restarting the process of extermination. The second game takes place two years later, and sees Shepard battling the Collectors, an alien race abducting entire human colonies in a plan to help the Reapers return to the Milky Way. The final game of Shepard's trilogy centers on the war being waged against the Reapers.
I wasn't expecting much when I started the game. Immediately, you go into character creation but I didn't even realize it at first. It plays out like you're already Shepard and you're logging into the Alliance Military database. There's corrupted data and you have to enter your info from scratch and thus, you create your Shepard. That intro alone told me this was way more than I expected. You get to choose your Shepard's pre-enlistement history and the defining moment of their military career. My favorite Shepard so far, the one I'm writing a fanfic series about, is a female Shepard who was born on Earth but orphaned. She ran with a gang, resorting to petty crime to survive, She enlists on her 18th birthday. Years later, on Akuze, a human colony on another planet, falls out of contact. Shepard volunteers with a full unit to check out what happened. Much to her unit's surprise, a Thresher Maw has taken out the entire population. Having never come into contact with a Thresher Maw before this, the unit was brutally taken out. All except Shepard were killed, she was the lone survivor, the only solider to make it to the landing zone and safety. 50 soldiers died, very few bodies were ever recovered. What I loved about the personal history choices is that they effect how certain characters treat you, speak of you and you even get missions that are linked to said history.
You become the first human Spectre tasked with tracking and taking down a rogue Spectre named Saren who has teamed up with the geth to bring back Sovereign, a Reaper. You choose what characters you recruit, how you pursue your mission (the passive and diplomatic paragon or the ruthless, "get the job done no matter what" renegade or like me, a mixture of both) and even if certain people or groups lives or dies. In fact, you are forced to choose which of two crew members must be left behind to die because there is no way you can save both in time. The story is complex, compelling and emotional. I actually felt pride when my Shepard was victorious. Then Mass Effect 2 happened and I realized not even Shepard was safe.
In the prologue of Mass Effect 2, Shepard, still commanding the Normandy, is still dealing with the holdouts from the first game, remaining pockets of geth still around after the destruction of Sovereign. Suddenly, the Normandy was attacked, the ship was destroyed and Shepard was spaced and presumed dead. Ten minutes into the game and I'm already in tears. Game skips ahead two years and Cerberus, a humans-first paramilitary group, found Shepard's remains and rebuilt her. My Shepard flips out about this when it's revealed because she had discovered Cerberus was behind the Thresher Maw attack on Akuze-- Cerberus scientists allowed the Thresher Maw to attack her unit for the sake of study. She learned that another member of her unit had survived but was imprisoned and studied for years. She is informed by The Illusive Man, the head of Cerberus, that there have been attacks on human colonies-- no bodies, everybody has just disappeared. The Alliance, Earth's united military force, is dragging their heels, failing to do anything about it, so Cerberus will. Shepard is convinced to work with the Illusive Man to find out why these attacks are happening and where the people have gone. Long, complicated story short? A race called the Collectors have been taking entire populations of human colonies but no one knows why-- there's no info on the Collectors, no one even knows where their homeworld is. Except for the Illusive Man, of course. The genral population believes the Collectors to be a myth. Just like the Reapers.
The only way to get to the Collector homeworld is to use the Omega-4 relay-- a relay blacklisted from use because no ship has ever returned from it. What becomes a simple investigation turns into a suicide mission to the Collector homeworld to stop the attacks at the source. None of Shepard's crew believes they will come back from beyond the Omega-4 relay. Much of the game is spent gathering resources, upgrading the ship and weapons, assisting the crew members in their unfinished business so they can focus and enter the relay with the knowledge their loose ends are tied.
You have the option of having your Shepard agree that it's a suicide mission, that no one's coming back or having the attitude that they will make it back, all of them. My Shepard was always confident they would all survive-- she helped every squad member with their final business, obtained every upgrade they needed for the Normandy, she did everything she could think of to prepare, she trusted her squad, knew them well, their strengths, their weaknesses. Outwardly, she was confident, privately, she was terrified. Then the Normandy was attacked again and Shepard and her squad weren't there to stop it.
Thanks to Joker (the Normandy's pilot) and the ship's artificial intelligence program (EDI), the ship was saved. But the crew was taken. So at this point, the ship, aside from Shepard's squad of 12 and Joker, is completely empty. They go through the Omega-4 relay, save the crew, and proceed with the mission. Turns out, the Collectors were working for the Reapers. The Collectors turned out to be the modified remains of the Protheans (the dead race thought to have left the relays and left behind the technology to manipulate Mass Effect fields making travel through the galaxy possible. They existed 50,000 years ago before they mysteriously vanished-- it's discovered during the course of the first game that the Protheans weren't the creators of Mass Effect technology or the relays-- the Reapers were.). These Collectors were being controlled by the Reapers, by a specific Reaper called Harbinger.Shepard didn't stop the Reaper invasion, she only delayed it. And in doing so, she caught the attention of the Reapers. The Collectors were building a human Reaper, gathering humans to deconstruct them, using the genetic material to build this new reaper. The Illusive Man wants Shepard to simply disable the base with a radiation pulse, to save the information and technology to be used as TIM saw fit. Or Shepard can destroy the base. My Shepard destroyed the base, knowing that TIM didn't have the wisdom to wield such power.
One of the things I loved about this game was choice. You can choose not to do any of the loyalty missions where you help your squad with their unfinished business. You can choose to not upgrade the ship or weapons. You can choose to delay going into the relay after the ship crew was taken. You can choose who does what during the suicide mission. You can choose either to save the base or destroy it. But all these choices have consequences. If you don't gain the loyalty of your squad, if you don't upgrade the ship, if you choose members for tasks they're not suited to during the suicide mission, if you delay pursuing the Collectors through the relay-- there will be deaths. And if enough of your squad members die, you, as Shepard, can die.
Of all three Mass Effect games, this one is my favorite. It was beautifully written, so compelling. And frustrating. You can do everything right, everybody can survive the suicide mission and still, you only delay the Reapers. They are still coming and even with all the times that Shepard has been proven right, everything she's done, no one in a position of power will heed her. The Reapers are coming and no one is listening.
The third game is a masterpiece as well. Beautifully done. Your Shepard is on Earth when the Reapers attack. She barely escapes in the Normandy. She's put in charge of gathering forces, cementing alliances, pretty much solving the problems that keep the galaxy from uniting against the Reapers. I won't spoil the game simply because it will take too long to describe, too many details, too many missions, too many choices, too many moments that even now, make me emotional. And the ending... heh, there are still people angry about the ending. But everything comes together, there's a resolution, you finally find out why the Reapers are doing this, why they've done the very same thing countless times over over the course of time itself. And even the "happy" ending is heartbreaking. Bioware is a master at creating characters and stories that make you care and then promptly make you regret caring because your heart just got ripped out.
Mass Effect got me writing again, at a moment when I wasn't sure I even wanted to try anymore. Sure, it's fanfic and yeah-- it's about a videogame. But it's about a character that I had a hand in creating, a charcter I've come to love. I'll be posting my work soon. It's a fanfic series, "The Spectre Chronicles". It'll be covering from her time with the gang before enlistment, to Akuze and the Thresher Maw attack to moments from all three games, even what happens after the Reaper War, I wanted to include a (not-so) brief synopsis here that I can refer readers who aren't familiar with the story.