This month, or more specifically, yesterday (November 20th), marks the twelfth anniversary of the release of Mass Effect in the United States. By no small coincidence, and despite The Outer Worlds sitting patiently in my PS4, I am currently knee-deep in yet another playthrough of the trilogy on my trusty if weezy Xbox 360. (Mass Effect: Andromeda may follow, but the pull of The Outer Worlds is strong.) My newest Shepard – a paragon adept named Joshua – just arrived on the swanky new Citadel as the Reapers tear the universe apart in Mass Effect 3. He overcame some initial prejudices against aliens and has maintained deep friendship with his core teammates, Garrus and Wrex. Though he only had eyes for the tough soldier Ashley, he started developing feelings for Tali’Zorah Vas Normandy after she was put on trial by her own people for treason. And he was subsequently devastated when she met an untimely demise on the Collector’s Base. But now, it looks like he has a second chance with Ashley, but there won’t be anything of the sort if Commander Shepard, a dashing rogue and true believer, can’t unite the galaxy against the Reaper invasion.
And this is why I love Mass Effect.
Unlike other games, the Mass Effect series is one that I’ve constantly found myself returning to despite my own backlog and, um…forelog? (Well, whatever it is when you want to add an upcoming release to your library knowing that it’ll likely end up in your backlog.) And I must admit that every time I make a new Commander Shepard, a small part of my brain always asks “why Mass Effect?” While a big part of that “why” comes down to the enjoyment I get out of crafting my own individual stories for each Commander Shepard I create, there’s more to it than just role-playing.
I discover something new with every new playthrough.
I suppose there a caveat here in that, because I put extended time between my ME playthroughs, it’s easy for me to forget what exactly I’ve seen and done before in the games. Even so, with every new Shepard has come the discovery of new conversations and/or new side missions that I don’t recall catching before. For example, Joshua is a colonist, born and raised on the colony of Mindoir, which was attacked and destroyer by slavers. Even though I’ve played other characters with this same background before, in my current playthrough I only just discovered a small ME side mission unique to colonists, one in which Shepard can help a fellow survivor of Mindoir. I was surprised that I had never caught this mission before, and it was a small but brilliant moment that filled in a portion of Joshua’s backstory. In ME2, I spent more time talking to my teammates than I ever had before, which is how things snowballed between Joshua and Tali, and I learned much more about the world’s state and humanity’s place within in than I ever had before. In fact, it’s making me take things much more slowly in ME3, simply because I’m now all too curious about catching moments that I had previously missed, and I’m sure that there are lots of them.
I’ve not yet completed everything the games have to offer.
Seguing off making new ME discoveries is the simple fact that I’ve never managed to finish all the side missions and minor assignments in any of the games, the ones that Shepard can pick up along the way. Like, in Mass Effect, Shepard can be tasked with finding things like minerals, artifacts, and lost asari writings on various planets. I’ve not always made an attempt to gather everything, but in this playthough, I made a conscious effort to do so…and I still didn’t find everything before I hit the point of no return. (Someday, by golly, I’m going to find every last thing that isn’t pinned down on every last planet!) In ME2, I’ve yet to save everyone during the suicide mission. (And, for that matter, allow everyone to die.) With this playthrough, I came as close as I had with my last paragon run – seven people. And, believe it or not, in every single of my four playthoughs that continued to ME3, Tali is the one individual who has died in each one. (Which means that I’ve yet to play ME3 with Tali alive!) I mean, I get that she’s a little bit sick and all, but every…single…time… 😢
Yes, yes, I get that the Internet is here to help me do things “right,” but I’m very stubborn with my preference for letting RPGs play out as organically as possible. Someday I’m going to save ‘em all!
Along similar lines, this playthrough is my first one as an adept. I’ve yet to complete one as an engineer (that may be next), and I also have several background combinations yet to explore. And let’s not even get into the whole paragon/renegade/paragade routes, which open up so many dialogue pathways I’ve yet to uncover.
With age comes wisdom, and new insights into ME’s story.
As I’ve gotten older and come to terms with the fact that I no longer have the time to play everything, I’ve become much more interested in understanding the details of any given game’s story than I have at “gittin’ gud” with it. And I must admit that, as much as I adore Mass Effect, before this playthrough, I don’t know that I ever really found myself “in tune” with the events at play. Sure, there’s a big, bad enemy that can only be taken down by one hero’s efforts, but there’s so much more hiding between the lines. And a lot of it is political in nature, which the younger me completely glazed over. The older me. While still disliking “politics” in most forms, has realized that there’s far more at stake in the ME universe than just the Reaper threat. ME3’s ending notwithstanding, nearly everything behind Shepard’s machinations, holds some sort of political meaning that either serves or doesn’t serve humanity. In this world, humanity is like a toddler at an adult party. The alien races in the game have incredibly extensive histories between them, making humanity’s pale by comparison. Humanity’s new-found role in the galaxy’s happenings is as significant as it is insignificant. Having to navigate that narrow pathway as a human is absolutely fascinating. Interacting with lots of non-mission moments in the games, like, with Joshua, deciding not support a pro-human rally, or being as diplomatic as possible with a terrible reporter, or questioning his Cerberus teammates, has given me some thought-provoking takeaways. Politicking runs far deeper in the Mass Effect universe than I realized, and I can’t wait to re/discover it all with a new Shepard…one day.
Once I complete Joshua Shepard’s story, it’ll be time to put Mass Effect back on the shelf yet again. More playthroughs will undoubtedly follow in the coming years, as will more wonderful/terrible findings and encounters. Even if the games may someday truly not hold up in terms of mechanics and gameplay, they do have a timeless story of good-versus-evil-and-everything-in-between going for them. While there are several games that I like to always keep close simply because – Link’s Awakening is currently in that spot, along with the first Red Dead Redemption and the Dragon Age series, oh, and Fable! – none of them have quite the same appeal for me as Mass Effect. So, why Mass Effect? Well, why not? And happy 12th birthday, besides!
What are some games that you keep coming back to time and again despite it all?