Coming up for air after Mass Effect (*mild spoilers*)
In the sci-fi vs fantasy division of the world, I’ve been sold to fantasy. It happened on my 10th birthday when my mom’s cousin bought me the first Lord of the Rings book. I’ve been fixated on medieval stuff for so long that the idea of playing a sci-fi game just didn’t get me hot and bothered. But then I liked SWTOR. And if I liked SWTOR, it wouldn’t hurt to give Mass Effect a try.
So I bought the first game for cheap during a Steam sale.
Once ME3 had been out for a little while and fans were outraged at the piss poor final moments of the series, friends started to change their minds. They urged me to stop playing, to get out before it’s too late.
I understand. They were trying to spare me heartache.
I played anyway.
I don’t regret it. I am saddened by how Bioware painted a masterpiece and, instead of putting on the finishing touch, set fire to it. My heart does ache.
Despite the unsatisfying wrap-up, though, Mass Effect did reach into me and yank my imagination to new places. For the first time in a long time, I completely lost myself in another world. They were real to me: Shepard, Garrus, Kaiden, Liara, the others. The intensity was unexpected.
As I crept close to the credits, I cried big, round, juicy tears. You know, with shaking shoulders and reaching for kleenex and the whole deal. Not because of the ending itself (which really wasn’t very moving), but because it was over. I had to cut ties with these characters and this world that had invaded my mind for a short, but powerful, time. It hurts so much, but it was so worth the journey.
Bossy Pally and Mass Effect: A Love Story
It did take me awhile to bite on. Games have come a looong way in the past 5 years. Back in the day, we were patient. We were cool learning things by ourselves. We didn’t mind not getting it right on the first try. I hadn’t realized how badly modern games have spoiled me.
Mass Effect, the first one, starts off with a short, unhelpful tutorial. Once you sort of have an idea of how combat works, you’re dumped in puzzle-adventure game mode for a few hours. Once the game is sure you’ve forgotten everything from the tutorial, it ships you off to your first real mission. Mission, of course, where the mobs easily one-shot you if you don’t move right. Mass Effect and I wouldn’t have even become friends had fellow gamers not stepped in to give me pointers.
Next thing I knew, I’d beaten the first Mass Effect three times and got all achievements except for Insanity, AI Hacking, Assault Rifle kills and 2 last companions. (Note that I did beat the game on Hardcore. Insanity will be my next run-through.)
Mass Effect 2 and 3 didn’t have the same replay value for me. It’s sort of a good thing, really. It’s that, early into ME2, I fell hard. Hard. Like falling from the 30th story onto hot, black pavement hard.
For about 3 weeks, I barely ate, I barely slept. I spent my work hours in a daze, counting the minutes until I could go home and play. Any breaks I took involved me lying on the couch with cold compresses on my eyes, trying to relieve the strain of staring at a computer screen for hours on end (I know, I know, I should have gotten the 360 version). I played the fuck out of the game.
Same goes for Mass Effect 3 (which was included in the 3 weeks of obsessive gaming). I lived the story, I left no stone unturned. I redid a few missions to see how they could go differently. I even had to restart ME3 a few times, just to get Shepard to look the way I wanted.
It’s a huge emotional investment, you know, getting involved in a game like that.
I think someone asked me once what the appeal of Commander Shepard is. I was still playing the first game on repeat at the time so I didn’t know the answer. Shortly into ME2, the answer is obvious:
Shepard is the space hero every kid dreams of being.
The game even takes into account that while every kid has, at some point, dreamed of being a space hero, our space heroes differ in flavor . And for the first time, I had a game who let me be a space hero the way I wanted to be a space hero.
I found that the first game gave me the most freedom to explore Shepard’s personality. As the series advances, her personality, interests and limits were a bit more pre-determined. I’m not sure what I think of it. On one hand, I missed being able to make Shepard exactly the way I want, on the other hand, I did enjoy just sitting back and being surprised by her reactions. I guess that as the game went on, she felt less like a fantasy-enhanced version of myself and more like a friend that I really click with.
The stats are what? 18% of players play as FemShep? Sounds low, but it does translate to 1 out of 5, which could be right. I loved FemShep. I’ve never been one to care much about my representation in the media, but I definitely enjoy a chunk of media more when I can relate to the main character. Generally strong female leads tend to be portrayed as men with a woman’s body. Or they start out good, only to succumb to Western society’s notion that in order to be happy, a woman must fall in love with daddy-figure and trade in her life of adventuring for diaper changing.
They did a good job with FemShep. She’s tough, she’s logical, she can hold her liquor pretty good but she’s got a warmth about her that makes her feel like your girlfriend. I’d totally have a girls’ night out with FemShep any day. And in her romances (at least the ones with Kaiden, Liara and Garrus – but I’m sure Jacob and Thane follow the same pattern), her partners are drawn to her because they admire her. It’s refreshing.
Between the excellent writing and Jennifer Hale’s brilliant voice acting, I can’t even imagine what Shepard would be like as a guy. It just wouldn’t seem right. (Though I’m sure I’ll do one playthrough as BroShep, just to see. Plus, I’ve met Mark Meer and that man has a sexy, sexy voice.)
Leaving the Mass Effect Universe
I’d only been playing for a few weeks and I was prepared for disappointment, so my last impression was one of “could have been worse“. No matter what direction the story had gone, I would have still sobbed my poor little heart out, not because of the story, but because it had ended.
But I definitely feel for the long time fans who’d been waiting years to save (or gleefully destroy) the galaxy. Had I not been expecting a let-down, the random, half assed ending would have felt like a slap in the face to me too.
I can’t, for the life me, understand how anyone thought this would be a good idea. (I’ve also heard accusations that the Mass Effect ending was plagiarized from Deus Ex but I’m not familiar enough with Deus Ex to judge.) The first two games had excellent endings. And they were simple endings. Mass Effect ends with a “good job”, Mass Effect 2 ends with “lets bury the dead if necessary and submit our reports”. Both were predictable, because, well, that’s how epic stories end.
Mass Effect 3 could have easily gotten away with “lets start rebuilding the galaxy and show how all our favorite characters are getting on with their lives”. Have Shepard-alive and Shepard-dead endings (some people prefer their heroes to live happily ever after, others prefer sacrifices). So what if it’s not creative? The entire series was creative. Mass Effect took video games and storytelling and world building and science fiction to freaky levels. There was no need to try to fit a weird last minute twist into the story.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but personally, what I would need in an ending to get a perfect experience of the game is a slow tribute to the main characters and to the world they lived in. A gentle disconnect from the mindspace I’d submerged myself in. Some time to pay my respects.
Basically, a proper chance to say goodbye.