A heartfelt tribute to Mass Effect 3

Posted March 31, 2015 by Sean Capri in Video Games
Mass Effect 3 Illusive Man

More often that I care to admit, I wonder if it’s too early to be nostalgic about Mass Effect.

Last week, the PlayStation Store mercilessly played with my emotions. Mass Effect 3 appeared to be free to PS Plus members and upon hearing this news, my heart swooned for the galaxy I saved years ago. Clearly, I already own the game (on Xbox 360 no less) so the prospect of a free digital copy on PS3 shouldn’t have had any real impact on me. But it did.

Here’s a bit of blasphemy for you hardcore fans: I only played Mass Effect 3 once. So I don’t know the story off the top of my head, beat for beat. But to know the game is special doesn’t require you to recall each individual interaction.  For me, I like to use trigger words like “Normandy” or “Citadel” to spark nostalgic memories of my time with the series.

Analogous to Commander Shepard’s role in relation to the fate of the galaxy, what you get out of Mass Effect amounts to more than the protagonist’s story, or the villain’s motives, or the ending, or the power-ups, or the side quests, or the engaging conversations…Mass Effect is about the macro. It is about how you are made to feel when the brooding soundtrack fires up or when tensions flare between you and your party members, or how prospective diplomats become heated at the drop of a hat, or that moment when a familiar face from one of the previous games makes a cameo. There are so many “oh my gosh” moments throughout the series that it would actually be a disservice to single any out. But there are themes and recurring types of moments that make Mass Effect special.

The love and attention dedicated to the science fiction and lore of the Mass Effect series allow for the entirely outrageous to be innately acceptable. Similarly to how Star Trek invented the automatic sliding doors modern day grocery stores, I truly believe Mass Effect has done humanity a favor and outlined how we will achieve Faster Than Light (FTL) travel. By truly, I mean actually, without hyperbole. In my brain, I believe that a substance or molecule like Element Zero will allow us to bend, and then break, the rules of physics as we know it. When you read the Codex, you think “oh, that makes sense.”

There’s no I in TEAM. But there’s an M and an E.

Between the political paralysis within the Council and the Reapers’ immensity, Commander Shepard is forced to take a uniquely pragmatic approach to saving the universe. And though our disbelief is rightly suspended while gallivanting the galaxy, we always feel securely grounded in this fleshed out universe. Each character is three-dimensional, their motivations are relatable, and their actions are consistent with their native society. All of this comes naturally and I’ve never come to understand the lore of a franchise so effortlessly. Not before and not since.

When it comes to winning, somehow, we’ve been conditioned to accept the notion that a protagonist always overcomes any obstacle. I’m sorry, but games don’t always have to have an Air Bud ending. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting a tragic ending trumps a happily ever after. But sometimes it takes a collective rather than a superstar to win the day.

In prototypically Canadian fashion, BioWare challenged us to approach armageddon from a diplomatic angle. There is no way a monotone human Spectre is going to stop the Reapers on his own. If there’s any chance at victory, a coordinated effort is the only hope against this mysterious enemy.

In the latter two games, this boils down to a bunch of favor quests to garner support and cultivate a committee of allies from across the skies. I am so infatuated with the races in Mass Effect universe. The Geth, Quarians, Asari, Krogan, Turians, Salarians…do I really need to go on? The Citadel is, by far, the most diverse and interesting melting pot ever conceived. When you’ve played Mass Effect, simply hearing “Hanar” fires a series of synapses in your brain and practically forces you to imitate their distinctive speech patterns. This one will never forget that jellyfish race.

As connected as star-crossed Mass Relays

Admit it, you thought she'd go Skynet on you.

Admit it, you thought she’d go Skynet on you.

Sure, each entry in the series is a standalone title. But the three Mass Effect games are woven together more tightly than any other trilogy before it. And that’s because your save files transfer from one game to the next – an idea we now both take for granted and completely expect from future sequels. Call it moving the needle or a game changer, this alone would have been enough to solidify Mass Effect’s importance in video game history.

A remastered trilogy (as is currently rumored) could rightfully honor this legacy by taking its lead from Halo: The Master Chief Collection and amalgamating all three stories on to a single disc. Would it be too much to ask BioWare to bypass the save file transfer process from one game to the next in such a collection? In my perfect world, the experience wouldn’t be broken up by each game’s ending and some additional polish would be given to stitch the pieces together even more seamlessly. An intermediary cinematic, perhaps? This is all probably needless but could lead to some epic marathon streams. Am I right?

Mass Effect doesn’t tell an entirely original story. An infallible, everlasting, all-knowing, and indestructible force threatens the universe and it’s up to one man or woman to save the fate of all known life. Let’s unpack this for a moment because how many times have we seen this play out?

I recently played inFAMOUS Second Son and one thing I found startling was how Desmond (not really a spoiler) can defeat the big bad boss, who hasn’t already been defeated by much more experienced conduits, with such ease. What was so special about Desmond that allowed him to defeat the undefeated.

Where other storytellers fail, BioWare succeeds.

From the first Mass Effect, we are convinced the Reapers cannot be beaten. The threat is imminent annihilation. And BioWare treats us with respect by never marginalizing this doom. The Reapers are immune to our earthborne viruses (I’m looking at you War of the Worlds) and they most certainly don’t have a horrible design flaw in the form of an overly-vulnerable opening in their hulls from which a well-placed torpedo would most certainly trigger an internal nuclear reaction. From the opening frame of the first game to the final credits of the last, BioWare succeeds in convincing me the galaxy is in peril.

Red. Blue. Green.

If you haven’t played Mass Effect, it isn’t something that will just happen for you. This series doesn’t just make its way onto your system and it is not best experienced casually. If you allow it to, Mass Effect will truly affect you. It will make you reconsider what is possible in the games we escape to and even the exploration of our own galaxy. It will make you both curious and cautious about discovering the forces hiding in the darkness of the infinite interstellar skies. Most importantly, it will reward you for investing and entrusting your time and emotional capital into a series that is undeniably a masterpiece.

About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.