What is an RPG without the “R” and the “P”? [Part 1 of 2]

Image by Flick user mrwynd (CC BY 2.0)

When I decided at the beginning of March that yes, okay, I’d invest in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I thought that it might be fun to play through what I could of the original trilogy before Andromeda was released. But with my gaming time being limited, and with upwards of a several dozen hours, if not more, required for each game, I knew that there was no way I could complete any of the games to their fullest extents in just a couple weeks. It was a quandary.

But then, I thought, what if I didn’t complete the games to their fullest extents? What if I only played through each game’s main story? Having never put less than a standard work-week’s time into any of my playthroughs of any of the individual Mass Effect titles, I thought it could be a very interesting exercise.  What exactly was Mass Effect when stripped to its bare bones? Would it be any fun to play? Could it provide enough of a hook to keep me interested? It was too good an experiment to pass up. With my mind made up, I set off into Mass Effect, playing as a female, paragon Shepard. She was a spacer, a sole survivor, and a soldier. Upon starting, I set a few ground rules for myself in an attempt to prevent any temptations:

  1. Play on casual to keep combat to a minimum.
  2. Choose conversation options from the right side (non-investigative) of the conversation wheel.
  3. If a high enough paragon level was attained, choose the paragon conversation options when presented.
  4. Ignore all extraneous interactions with anyone, anywhere.
  5. Ignore all sidequests.
  6. Ignore most looting opportunities.
  7. With the team assembled, choose only two companions with whom to complete the game.
  8. Only upgrade Shepard and two companions.

With my rules in tow, it was time to start Shepard’s adventures!

I’ll should mention that I’ll only be covering Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. I didn’t get very far in to Mass Effect 3 before Andromeda’s release.

Let’s begin with the ending: I completed Mass Effect in less than ten hours. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it, as my most speedy playthrough of the game to date was 37 hours. Did “quick” mean “bad” in this case? In fact, it didn’t! The game was enjoyable, tight, and felt surprisingly complete. But the game played much more like a standard shooter than an RPG. The role-playing elements remained, but they were muted and didn’t feel as important in building Shepard’s personality. I expected that playing Shepard this way would make her feel more like a pre-constructed main character. It did to a certain extent, but in the end, it wasn’t a bad thing. I still connected with her.

As for my “rules,” the process of following them proved to be much easier than I thought, having been initially worried that I end up get sidetracked simply because it’s easy to get sidetracked in Mass Effect. It’s easy to wander around the Citadel looking at this or that, talking to random folks, taking in the view. But I remain steadfast and went from points A to points B to points C without taking any detours. I left spots of the Citadel and the universe unexplored. I didn’t go to any planets outside of the ones required for the primary missions. And once I had acquired all possible teammates, I chose Liara and Tali to be my companions for the game’s final acts. They had some very interesting elevator conversations, but I didn’t engage either of them otherwise. Together we defeated Saren and saved the universe.

I will admit that did take the time to romance Kaiden. I mean…c’mon, he’s Kaiden. I’m not made of stone. Maybe I didn’t listen to each and every word he said during our in-between conversations, but the “reward” was still, uh…rewarded.

All in all, I can’t say that I was disappointed with my self-proclaimed not-quite-a-speed-run. My teammates still supported me even if I didn’t take the time to listen to their individual stories. The universe still benefitted from Shepard’s heroics. Outside of the game’s story, and in terms of logistics, even at fewer than ten hours of play, I managed to level up Shepard pretty well. Even though her paragon meter remained on the low end, she had still leveled up enough to have paragon conversation options start appearing around the time of the Virmire mission.  The lack of sidequesting didn’t really hamper the story in the end. It still played out like it always had. If anything was lacking, it was whatever connections Shepard might have made that would carry over into Mass Effect 2.

Also, a few things of note: On Virmire, I killed Wrex (I know, that wasn’t very paragon of me), and sacrificed Ashley. Additionally, I saved the Council. And since I didn’t do any sidequests, I skipped the Luna mission, so I didn’t open up a specialization for Shepard. I wondered how all that would play out in Mass Effect 2…?

Stay tuned for part two of this post, coming next week!


  1. What a neat idea! I’m not surprised that it played more like a shooter once the R and P was taken out, leaving only standard G affairs… That’s very heartening to know that the game still plays out well without the extra sidequests and all. I can’t wait to see how that plays out in ME2!

    It’s too bad you didn’t get to do this with ME3. I think that would have resulted in an interesting conclusion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I really hope to get to ME3 in this manner at some point, because I honestly can’t picture what that game looks like at the bare bones. I was truly surprised at how great ME played without all the extraneous stuff. (I didn’t even miss Conrad Verner!) Proof that Bioware did a fine job at building an awesome experience around a neatly packaged and tightly woven story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hm… now you’ve made me curious about other RPGs…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Darkrast says:

    I’ve thought about doing this a handful of times. Great to read about someone else’s experience with this play style.

    Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks! After having played the series extensively, it was really interesting to explore the games at their most minimal. I think it proves that Mass Effect has a really solid core that readily supports its additional content. (And that’s a good thing, cause I was a little worried that speeding through the game might be boring! Thankfully, that was not the case.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Darkrast says:

        I like that concept of testing out the strength of the core gameplay elements. Glad to see such a great series survived the test.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    This past March, in the few weeks leading up to Mass Effect: Andromeda’s release, I opted to take on the challenge of playing through as as much of the original trilogy as I could. But with time being short, and those games being long, I was faced with only one choice: speed runs! With rules, of course. (Otherwise there was no way in hell I was going to be able to reign myself in!) Surprisingly, I managed to make it through both ME 1 and 2, and I documented my progress on Virtual Bastion. Here’s part 1 of my 2-part post.


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