This month marks Mass Effect’s tenth anniversary! On November 20th, 2007, the game was first released in North America. And what a ride it’s been for fans since then. Join me here as I share some of my memories from each game of the original trilogy. In this first of three posts, I re-examine my time with the game that started it all, Mass Effect.
The first thing I remember about Mass Effect was that I wasn’t interested in it. At the time of its release, I was far too embroiled in re-learning how to play a Mario game with Super Mario Galaxy on our hard-won Wii (that we had only recently picked up from our local Circuit City. How’s that for a memory!) My husband had picked up Mass Effect not too long after its release, and he played it for a time, but he didn’t become a fan. I watched him play a couple times, and I remember how grumbly he got during one of the game’s early battles at a place called “Chora’s Den.” The game’s cover system he especially didn’t like. I felt bad that he had bought a game that he didn’t enjoy; he eventually moved on. That next year, in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was released, and Mass Effect became, for him, a distant memory.
Meanwhile, I was having a terrible time with Super Mario Galaxy. Part of it was due to the unpleasant positioning of our Wii in our little apartment, part of it was me just not syncing with Mario in space. By the time 2008 rolled around, Super Mario Galaxy was becoming my own distant memory. As fate had it, one day my husband brought home a borrowed copy of a game called Fable for the original Xbox. One of his co-workers suggested that we might enjoy the game. Well, my husband didn’t, but I did. Oh boy oh boy, did I ever! I had never played a game like it, one where you got to roam around a world at will, doing whatever you liked, from buying and renting out houses to getting friendly (or not) with the locals, as well as playing through a grand story complete with saving the world and all. In Fable I had discovered a passion for RPGs. It became the game that defined my path with games for the next decade.
It was Fable that made me want to play Mass Effect. Because if I had had this much fun traveling through a small medieval world as a sword-wielding hero, then surely I could have thiiiiiiiiiiis much fun as a laser gun-toting soldier on other planets! Plus, by that time (Summer 2008), it was no secret that Mass Effect, though flawed in some ways, had already gained a strong following. But at the time, I was simply interested in playing a larger RPG than becoming part of a movement.
My first Shepard was a female Infiltrator with fiery red hair. I have to admit that I don’t readily recall her pre-service history or psychological profile. At the time, I was so enthralled/confounded by the game’s character customization features that that I’m sure I glazed over most everything. Save for that red hair. Her name? Tatrianne Shepard.
Having not played a shooter for many years up to that point, it took me the better part of the game’s first mission to simply gain a handle on the controls. Shooting was actually the easy part. Learning how to use and map powers, issuing order to your teammates, and figuring out how to go into cover, none of that came naturally. I remember going through multiple false starts on Eden Prime, the location of the game’s first mission, because I was bad at keep track of my health. I was also quite distracted because I wanted to look at e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I wanted to go into every nook and cranny to find…something, anything. Just stuff. I did manage to find a few crates of goodies, but I was super terrible at unlocking extras. In the end, Eden Prime was mostly a blur. But at least I had mostly learned the game’s controls by the end of it.
Beyond shooting things and learning of a mysterious and dangerous race of creatures called the Reapers, Mass Effect let you talk. Talk up a storm with others, if you so desired. I knew very little about conversation options in the game, and I had only briefly read about the game’s “paragon” and “renegade” choices. As such, my choices in conversation were driven more by my own personal feelings rather than as Shepard as a “good” or “bad” character. To that end, Tatrianne Shepard was probably the most “like me” of any Shepard I’ve created. She tried to do the right thing, but she was tough and moody. And she wasn’t without some humanity. She became great friends with Liara. She didn’t kill Wrex on Virmire. She let Kaiden in and felt terrible about sacrificing Ashley. I was wholeheartedly surprised at just how emotional the game was and how engaged I became within it. That was what hooked me. Not the space setting. Not the cool guns and armor. But the people and the story.
If there’s one other thing that I remember about my first playthrough of Mass Effect, it’s that I blazed through it rather quickly. I had my main-story blinders on for most of the game, and as such I didn’t do many sidequests. That’s not to say I didn’t do any, but when a random moment of space travel early in the game led to a face-to-face meeting between a Thresher Maw and my very under-leveled Shepard, it made me wary of arbitrarily choosing where to go. Plus, I did not like controlling the MAKO on planets. That thing gave me hissy fits.
With Tatrianne’s story done, I was summarily addicted on Mass Effect. I turned right around and created a new Shepard (Vanguard Alexandra), and then another (Infiltrator Valeri), and then another (Soldier Benjamin). Playing through Mass Effect dozens of times is now the way to do it, but back then, it was new and crazy. Are you ever going to stop playing that game? my husband would chide. NO! NEVER! I would shoot back, only a little sarcastically.
Little did I know what was yet to come in Mass Effect 2.
Lede image by BioWare [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons