Mass Effect Matters

Posted on 21 March, 2012

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Mass Effect 3

Firstly, there are no Mass Effect spoilers here, you’re safe.  Secondly I love Mass Effect 3.  It is an absolutely triumphant return.

The main thrust of ME3 is of course the conclusion of the story that was at the centre of the first two games, with protagonist Commander Sheperd returning along with surviving crew-mates to wage war against an enemy hell-bent on the utter extermination of organic life.

With ME3 comes the addition of multiplayer, a pleasing diversion and addition for those that simply want more ME to play with.  The idea that the multiplayer is required to better your chances in the single-player campaign are, to some, a little manipulative.  However since there are opportunities aplenty within the main game to put yourself in a prime position for victory, so the argument doesn’t really follow through.  Your character rapidly levels over the first few plays, giving you the money required to purchase extras in the store purely from currency earned by playing.  Anyone telling you additional payment is required to be successful is off the mark.  It’s a genuine application of serving both the cash and the time-rich, and with the wave-based gameplay never topping twenty minutes to complete it fits perfectly in to smaller play sessions.

So the game is more of the same with the addition of multiplayer, but what is it that makes the Mass Effect series as a whole actually matter?

Firstly it is about the returning characters.  A familiar face appearing has put a huge smile on my face several times, and something irrevocably bad happening to a beloved companion has drawn more than one expletive in horror.  It’s these reactions that make you realise how much of an emotional connection has been successfully built up during the earlier games.  Some of the characters you may have spent dozens of hours adventuring with over many years, others are more incidental (Bioware have cast their net wide to make the world feel alive), and only through experiencing this do you realise how infrequently this depth of emotional connection actually occurs in gaming.

Secondly I absolutely applaud Bioware’s evaluation of how this series should evolve as an action rpg.  The first game was solid but with the second they weren’t precious about dropping a few genre norms in place of streamlining the gameplay.  On this occasion it worked.  If they’d told me the intent in advance I would probably have told them where to go, but the fact is they were right, the result was a stronger gaming experience.  Let developers be developers, let them evaluate their work and deliver the best solution.  Which very much leads me on to…

… the public annoyance over endings.  The outcry has to be seen as a positive thing; a sign of players connecting with the characters and universe they have loved for three lengthy games.  In my opinion Bioware has to hold its nerve.  The various endings are part of the dramatic closure of a long story that has been visioned, detailed and implemented over a period of years.  They are intended to be emotive, if they weren’t it would be a complete and utter failure in a narrative-led game.

What is more alarming is the suggestion they may consider reworking them.  No!  Bioware you spent years on this, knowing where you were heading and why.  Keep what you designed.  It is precious, considered and fitting.

The Mass Effect series is a genuine modern classic, and a timely reminder of what it means to be a creative professional in the games industry.  Design your own games, make what is in your hearts, what inspires and moves you.  Work as a team but not as a public committee.  That, for me, is always where the strongest results will lie.

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