Just prior to the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda in March, I chose to play through as many of the original Mass Effect games as I could. Due to limits in free time, I opted for a streamlined approach to the games in order to play each from beginning to end. I managed to make my way through Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 using the following set of rules:
- Play on casual to keep combat to a minimum.
- Choose conversation options from the right side (non-investigative) of the conversation wheel.
- If a high enough paragon level was attained, choose the paragon conversation options when presented.
- Ignore all extraneous interactions with anyone, anywhere.
- Ignore all sidequests.
- Ignore most looting opportunities.
- With team assembled, choose only two companions with whom to complete the game.
- Only upgrade Shepard and two companions.
Upon completing Mass Effect: Andromeda, I decided to pick up the “speed play” mantle with Mass Effect 3, which I recently finished. What are the results? That is this post.
Before getting into the meat of things, and because it’s been awhile, let’s run down a few things from the first two games:
- My Shepard was a female. She was a spacer, a sole survivor, and a soldier.
- In ME1, on Virmire, I killed Wrex and sacrificed Ashley. I also pursued a romance with Kaiden.
- In ME2, only Garrus, Samara, Legion, and Mordin survived the suicide mission. I destroyed the Collectors’ Base. I didn’t free Grunt, and I didn’t romance anyone.
With all things imported and ready, it was time to start Mass Effect 3. [TL;DR I completed the game in about twelve hours. The overall experience wasn’t as solid as it was with the first two games. While the story was structurally sound and the game was no less intense, it felt rushed and incomplete. Without gaining additional help for the final battle with the Reapers through side missions, I was sorely under-prepared in the end.]
I briskly ran through the prologue’s “priority” missions, which established the astounding threat that the Reapers had become, reunited Shepard with Liara and Kaiden, and gave Shepard back her Spectre status. Since Mass Effect 3 is the game I’ve played the least of the trio, I had a really difficult time not venturing around to talk to people. As well, because the crux of the game is to prepare/recruit everyone in the galaxy for a fight against the Reapers, I knew that by not engaging in any side missions, I’d likely be at a disadvantage in terms of readiness once the final fight began. But rules are rules. And I’ll get out of the way now that because of them, I botched Kaiden’s romance. Avoiding side quests also meant that I mostly avoided my emails on the Normandy, one of which kicked off things between Shepard and Kaiden. I didn’t see it until it was too late. Ah, well.
The game’s first act marked the start of exploring the galaxy…of which I did not partake. (How strange it felt not going anywhere other than where the “priority” missions said!) Instead, I traveled to three spots: to the Turian home world of Palaven, which is where I found and gathered Garrus; and then to Sur’Kesh (Salarians) and Tuchanka (Krogans) for two intertwined missions. It was wonderful seeing Mordin again…and yes, he nobly died for the cause of curing the Genophage. Instead of Wrex, I teamed up with the gruff Wreave in order to save the Krogans. This choice came at the expense of Salarian support against the Reapers. During this first act, after the Palaven mission, I received my final formation of teammates: Garrus, Kaiden, Edi, Liara, and James. I could only choose two from there on out, and I picked Edi and Liara.
The game’s second act tumbled forth with priority missions. I was most intrigued about the ones concerning the Quarians/Geth, since Tali died at the end of ME2 but I had acquired Legion. I was also curious about meeting up with the class of biotics on Horizon that would have been led by Jack had she survived ME2. With the Quarian missions, the only notable different was that Tali wasn’t there. (If I recall correctly, she would have been a required teammate for these missions.) Instead, I got to pick my own two teammates (still Edi and Liara), and another Quarian, Admiral Xen, joined over the comms. I was a little surprised to find that Legion had been trapped by the Reapers, but I was glad to see him even if our time together was short. In the end, I made a tough choice — interestingly dictated by paragon conversation options — to support the Geth over the Quarians. While this meant that the Geth would join in the final battle, it ultimately destroyed the Quarians. That was heartwrenching and unexpected.
Oh, and as for that biotics class? They simply didn’t show up on Horizon. I’m not sure if I missed a trigger that allowed Shepard and them to cross paths, or if the class simply didn’t exist because Jack wasn’t around.
One other instance of note is that at early on in the second act, I did stop to look at my emails on the Normandy (that’s when I saw the important one from Kaiden…oops). I noticed that because I hadn’t completed a side mission about a bomb that had been planted on Tuchanka by the pro-human group Cerberus, it had gone off, causing massive death and destruction. As a result, support from the Krogan drastically decreased. This reinforced that feeling I had had at the game’s start – that I’d have the short end of the stick come the endgame.
Speaking of the endgame, the completion of Horizon marked the game’s point of no return. If the game’s prologue and first act moved quickly, and the second act slowed things down a little, the third act seemed to go by at light speed. Within an hour, I had infiltrated Cerberus’s headquarters and found myself ready to battle till the end in London. I had forgotten just how intense things were during game’s final battles; the cacophony of war was almost overwhelming. And sure enough, as things got underway, I only had the Turians, Geth, Krogan, and Asari forces at my side. I honestly don’t recall my military readiness number (Effective Military Strength, or EMS in the game), but I doubt it even reached 1000. It was certainly low enough to give me a very interesting if limited ending.
One factor in that ending was Anderson, who ended up on the Citadel in the game’s final throes. My lack of reacting to a particular renegade interrupt resulted in his immediate death, so I didn’t get his heartfelt goodbye speech. The other factor, which I believe was due to my low EMS, was that I only got one choice, instead of two or three, at the very end: to destroy the Reapers. (Being initially in disbelief over not getting at least two choices [destroy or control the Reapers], I actually reloaded the game to my last save point, and yep…one choice it was.) With only one path open, I hobbled on over and blasted the killswitch. The results made my heart sink. Not only did this single choice wipe out the Reapers, it apparently wiped out most life on Earth, at least, as I watched a wave of death envelope the planet. Additionally, no one on the Normandy survived. The ship crashed on that ubiquitous jungle planet, and no one stepped out. Not a soul. The end.
As with the first two games, the main story of Mass Effect 3 is tightly-woven and thoughtful. But unlike with the first two games, where each game’s story felt full and meaty despite the lack of side questing, Mass Effect 3 without the side quests felt strangely inadequate. It remained compelling in terms of storytelling, but my sense of the game ended up looking more like lace than tapestry, full of holes and wanting. The problems with Mass Effect 3’s ending(s) notwithstanding, my ending truly made me feel like I had brought a knife to a gun fight. And while in the first two games, I felt like Shepard remained connected to her teammates, in the final game, I felt largely disconnected from everything. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to even attribute a “G” to this particular instance of an RPG. There was no “game” about it; I was only following a road map. A road map to a dour end.
Now that the original trilogy is all said and done, I hope to someday apply my speedy schema to a playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Although, a big part of me wants to back through Mass Effect 3 a play it “right.” Funny how that need for satisfaction in a game can really take over one’s sensibilities sometime. By the way, in case anyone was wondering, speeding through the trilogy has also reinforced my personal take on which one is my favorite, and that remains the first game. Yes, it’s small, clunky, and full of the MAKO, but it’s thematically and systematically consistent. It’s short story chugs along at a good pace, and sets up the need for the events second game so perfectly. In the end, there’s no denying that Mass Effect is a strong series with a functionally brilliant and sympathetic core. It’s got a story that’s worth following, and that’s both despite and because of all the extras.