If you’re a frequent viewer of SIYM presentations, you already know 2 things: #1) I love Mass Effect. Plain and simple. The Mass Effect franchise is single-handedly my favorite time I’ve ever had as a gamer. With over 300 hours (cumulatively between both installments) logged into the series, it’s no wonder why my obsession with the games is so potent. However, I’ve often wondered why that is. Really, there’s almost countless amounts of finely-produced and lovingly-crafted products out there that could easily swindle evening after evening away from Friday nights. What makes Mass Effect so special? Why did it take SO long (just a few years short of a decade since my time with Knights of the Old Republic) to become so immersed in an experience like that again? Seriously, if I love space, aliens, intergalactic warfare, feminine computers, and unrealistically over-sized weaponry this much then why didn’t I squeal with noobish glee when Halo 4 was announced? Well, let’s find out…
When I first played Knights of the Old Republic, I had no idea that to this very day (almost 8 years later!) I would continue to be amazed at how effectively addicting a good story can be. So many games these days treat plot and literary structure as a gimmick and couldn’t care less if their audience could forge an emotional connection with the games’s cast and crew. Luckily, I (and hopefully many of you) know better. Unless you find yourself in the incredibly fortunate, yet rare, position of getting by COMPLETELY on simplistic accessibility (i.e. Tetris, Angry Birds, Modern Warfare 2, etc…) you need to at least have a decent and balanced backdrop for your elements and mechanics to prop themselves on. Otherwise, everything just falls apart into a mindless mess of creative mayhem. You can’t just have a narrative simply about explosions and ruckus or you’ll get Black Ops. You can’t just craft a tale centering around mopey and fail-acted emotions or you’ll get Attack of the Clones. And you most certainly can’t concentrate a piece solely on dark, cryptic, and soul-suckingly depressing themes or else you get Amnesia: The Dark Descent . . . which was actually pretty good come to think of it . . . I’ll let that one slide. Still, in order to create a lasting appeal amongst the entertainment-seeking masses, you have to broaden your scope to all the different ways of reaching an audience and what better way than to put together a well-rounded story? Mass Effect being no exception…
The reason why games like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect are so engaging for me to play is not because of the seemingly ridiculous and impossible situations that the characters often find themselves in, but more so that I actually care about what’s taking place in their fictional (yet thrilling) lives and what’s to become of them in the future. Instead of simply dragging a nameless and bland character through a series of random events and hoping that some part of the character will remain with the player when all is said and done, games like Kotor and Mass Effect would rather set the initially nameless character in an open setting, allow room for growth through diverse and wonderfully written conversation, and (in the end) allow the player to decide what kind of personality the character ends up being through the power of action. Sure, it’s always fun to roam freely in chaotic environments based on a haphazardly thrown together premise but (as mentioned before) too much of anything can be negative in the long run. And trust me, there’s no way in hell I’d ever trade the 8 (and counting) years of intermittent enjoyment from Kotor for another chance to experience the epic 2010 D&E MW2 summer extravaganza. In case you’re wondering, that’s saying something.
Unlike Halo for instance, Mass Effect goes far beyond just simply allowing the player to help the protagonist survive plot event after plot event, but allows the player the freedom to decide what order to complete missions in and how the character will be remembered for the actions performed, the choices made, the words said, and the people you trust. In a sense, there’s MANY different states in which Mass Effect can exist in. Even better, being able to lockdown a particular way you most enjoy playing the game in is just too much fun. In fact, I’ve played Mass Effect so much that (at this point) I don’t allow dialogue options to linger in my face (thus creating the awkward pause of conversation) I just simply click away at my favorite responses and sit back and experience the cinema. The team at Bioware are aiming to bring an incredibly “personalized” experience for Mass Effect 3 and that in itself (for someone like me looking to import as much as I can into the series-ender 3rd installment) is WIN in every sense. Going back to Halo, it begins and ends right there. You play the game, survive encounter after encounter, beat the game and you’re done. Of course you could up the difficulty but that’s not game changing. It’s masochism! I kid. Halo is a great game (and franchise) and I enjoyed the time I had with it but my love for Mass Effect is beyond compare. More to the point, my interest in the series is so far beyond just simply playing the games. Hell, I’m reading books on it. Legitimate canon baby! I’ve even read the comics too! (don’t pester me to write a review on them, I’m not Silverwolf).
Alright, let me wrap this up before I start getting too fanboy about this. The Mass Effect games are a great experience to be had especially if you take the time to really play them to their fullest. Being able to import a character from installment to installment ensures continuity and provides an incredible sense of context and consistency that other one-shot, multi-chapter single-player titles just don’t have. To know that every action will have an imminent (or soon-to-come) consequence places an almost genuine sense of responsibility for the player to have for the characters at stake. Oh, and if you’re still wondering what #2 is . . . so am I. To wrap it all up, there’s just so much more to gain from connecting gamers to context than just simply players to BLAM! and POW!
-Fifth Fleet Out-
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