Kinda recently, Mass Effect 2 and 3 caught up to their older brother and finally got themselves backwards comparable with the Xbox One. And with a new game in the series on the horizon, when would there ever be a better time for me to refresh my memory and return to two of the games that defined what I thought to the best video game storytelling during the Xbox 360/PS3 era.
Starting with Mass Effect 2, commonly believed to be the best game in the trilogy. It’s definitely the one I played the most, having finished it at least seven times, maybe more. It showed too as it came flooding back to me as I played it. The time away hasn’t done it many favours though, my once glowing opinion, now a warm nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a fantastic piece of exploration, world building and character moments, but playing it through with Barack Shepard years later. It shows its age.
First off, the combat feels very rigid. It’s a cover based system, but getting in and out of combat feels very mechanical. All of the weapons have a samey kind of feel to them, and playing feels much more methodical than it used to. Just using different powers to wear down different enemy types and power through to get to the next story section. Most of the encounters feel the same.
It was like the gameplay was just getting in the way of the bits of the game I wanted to see. But even then, I’ve played the game so many times, that the character development and dilemmas felt a bit old. No doubt the game does a fantastic job making these characters deep and moral and memorable. Even so, they’re a little stilted to my six years older eyes, some of which not feeling as cool and/or edgy as I remember them (Jack). Jacob still sucks though, so not everything in my memory was wrong.
The game it very much a product of an older school of game design, clearly defining its action sequences and its social sequences and having clear buffers between them, you know when you’re traipsing from one to the other. Plus, paragon Shepard comes off as way more of a nosey goodie-two-shoes than I remember. Towards the end I feel like I was just rushing to finish it so I could carry my save over to Mass Effect 3
Speaking of which: now there was a bubbling hot cauldron of drama. In case you didn’t know, Mass Effect 3 was a touch controversial when it first came out. Mainly revolving around its ending. Bioware did their best to create a number of endings for the player to chose from, but people still protested against how the game left huge unanswered questions about the fate of the characters and future of the galaxy itself. Bioware went to to actually create a free piece of DLC that expanded greatly upon the ending and also gave additional options to players, as well as making every thing seem far less bleak in victory.
At the time, I was disappointed by the ending. I felt that, despite the Reapers being defeated, the total destruction they had caused, coupled with the sacrifices needed to put a stop to them: the galaxy didn’t seem like it would recover. The destruction of the Mass Relays left a great bulk of the races stranded on a devastated Earth, a planet which couldn’t support some of them biologically. Your crew were left to a grim fate, stranded on some uncharted planet and depending on the ending you picked, there were some uneasy ramifications left lingering.
In case you’re curious, in my mind the destruction ending it the only true canon ending. That synthesis crap is just plain dumb.
I feel like the extended cut DLC did enough to make things seem a bit more hopeful at the end, leaving it in a place I felt happier with. Personally, looking back, I feel that Mass Effect 3 was simply a better game than 2. It plays much better, combat feels fluid, weapons feel impactful and diverse, powers feel more useful and their combinations with team mates made the whole experience much more fun for me. There was less pausing to pick powers and it just had more fluidity to it.
Bioware also felt like they were much more on their age when it came to the writing in the final part of the trilogy. The writing in the first Mass Effect is about as subtle as a Reaper, by comparison, Mass Effect 2 is worlds apart, I felt that the third game was better still. At the time of its release, I was incredibly invested in Mass Effect’s story, I felt a deep connection to the characters and the world which Bioware has created. I still believe that the Mass Effect universe is a fantastically crafted and complex world. However, going back to the game now, I realise that the whole of this final part of had a strange feel about it.
Mass Effect 3 feels very fatalist, straight from the beginning the game has this tone of desperation, of hopelessness. It does an amazing job making you feel like victory isn’t possible, that the races of the series as trying to stave off a truly unstoppable force. Playing it back now though, it makes the game feel pretty depressing. It has this aura of gloom and finality that radiates from every scene, even the uplifting ones.
It might be my deep connection to the series and its lore. But playing Mass Effect 3 again now was difficult, despite it being the best playing one they made. Playing it made me feel sad, like every minute I spend was another minute closer to doom. Maybe the game still has that strong an effect on me after all these years, but I found myself wanting to think more of the future and what is still to come than finish the fight in Mass Effect 3, but not through any fault of the game itself.
I still really like Mass Effect 2 and 3. The Multiplayer in the final game was one of the most surprising things I never knew I wanted out of the series, helped in no small part thanks to the smoother and more enjoyable combat that the final entry in the series gave us. Playing 2 and bits of 3 again has really made me hope that Mass Effect Andromeda can be as good as the games that came before it, giving me more characters and stories I want to bury myself in. Some worry that Bioware’s recent Dragonage games are an indicator that the talent might just not be there anymore. Personally, I am very ready for a new Mass Effect and hope that it can affect me in the same way the original trilogy did, and still does apparently.