I’ve not been shy about talking up how much I love and have had my video game sensibilities moulded by the original Mass Effect Trilogy. So it would only be natural that I would drop everything else I was doing in order to go back and binge through this incredibly seminal trilogy of video games. It also might explain why I didn’t manage to get anything written or posted on my blog whatsoever the week this came out.
Having torn through the first game of the trilogy in record time already I realise something strange about my relationship with that first game in the series specifically; every time I come back to at different times in my life, I seem to have a totally different takeaway from the experience every time it concludes.
In my idealised memory of the first Mass Effect, I mostly remember how amazing the world building was and just how enthralling I found this new science fiction world. It was a place I felt like I understood intimately, somewhere I wanted to live. Sans the whole extragalactic threat of extinction obviously.
Having spent 25 hours doing everything there was available to do to me over the past week, I realised my memory might have not been as reliable as I thought it to be. But what else is new, I’ve come to accept my awful ability to remember anything at this point.
As much as I love what the first Mass Effect establishes in terms of building the world which would support the superior second and third games in the trilogy, I’m not sure how much I never realised that almost all of the heavy lifting is done through the game’s codex entries.
It’s an approach to game design you don’t often see anymore, especially in console games. It’s something that becomes much more apparent when going back and playing this game after having played through the sequels over and over. Those games are carried much more by their character work and the fun personalities that the voice actors and animators bring to the individual crewmates.
Most of that is absent from this game, replaced with comparatively robotic physical performances from the characters who stand in place and monologue to you about their tragic pasts. Additionally, most of the characters in this game seem to have some big chip on their shoulder, that being their defining driving force. All except Tali, who is, by far, the most upbeat and positive member of the crew in the first game. Despite her people’s troubled past.
Maybe that’s why she was always my favourite character.
But again, most of that work comes from the interactions had with her in the games that follow this one. Comparatively, the first game feels really sterile. Both in terms of how characters act and the worlds you visit outside of the Citadel. Feros and Noveria are barren, unattractive worlds to visit aesthetically. Broken up by the numerous visits to a dozen or so uninhabited worlds in the Mako.
Almost all of the rich depth of the Mass Effect story established in this game really does come from the player’s own willingness to fill in the gaps themselves. To pour through those codex entries and almost invent their own narratives about the certain races and how they play enough one another. No doubt they’ve got enough fuel, this game is filled with racial tension. Much more than any of the games that would follow.
The whole thing ends up being much more of an experience akin to reading a novel rather than experiencing it through a more visual medium like cinema. Which is definitely the approach the next game in the series would take right from the beginning. After going back and playing this game again now, I feel like so much of my admiration from the world of Mass Effect has been supplemented by my own creative licence over the years.
Pouring over those codex entries, I had placed them all into a theatre of the mind and made them much more fantastical than they might have been had they been far more cinematic experiences like the games that would follow right from the start.
But if that were the case, then there is a good chance that I would not have fallen in love the franchise as deeply as I do now. Sure, the first Mass Effect might seem barren and devoid of being a dynamic world when looking at it through modern eyes almost 15 years later, but I really don’t think it would have had the same impact it ended up having if it hadn’t come out the way it did from the start. Flaws and all.