The Good, The Bad, and The Mass Effect

The Good, The Bad, and The Mass Effect

Reading the things I’ve written lately about the upcoming and previous installments of the Mass Effect series, my dear readers may come to the conclusion that yours truly isn’t necessarily delighted by the exploits of Shepard and his merry men, women and aliens who may or may not fall into any of these all so human genders. Worse even, that I might be out on a bashing crusade against everyone’s favorite ex-Spectre.

Which, truth be told, is only halfway true. A lot of people out there already praise BioWare’s franchise, and in most cases rightly so. Mass Effect might be a flawed piece of gaming, but it’s surely not without merit. And I’m none to deny it that.

So in order to join the choir and prove that I’m not Grouchy McNaggypants reincarnate, I want to point out the things that I think were done extraordinarily well with Mass Effect.

First, dialog. Mass Effect is a very talkative franchise. The many many dialogs are usually well written, superbly performed and, most importantly, have a certain kind of editing and direction to them that—the odd overly repeated gestures aside—makes them truly stand out. It struck me when watching a video from Star Craft II where two of the lead characters had a lenghty, noninteractive conversation, how dreadfully boring it was to watch after having played the Mass Effect games. A lot of videogames these days present conversations—with or without branching trees—oftentimes with just about as much esprit as the neverending codec calls of Metal Gear Solid. Mass Effect however did not.

To top it off, not only the presentation is superb, the conversation system itself, with it’s different options to approaches—even if those oftentimes are a bit too obvious—is fun to use, and actually a part of the game I wish others would copy more often than not. Mass Effect’s conversation system shows impressively how engaging conversations can be implemented in games, and pretty much all RPGs or other games that feature interactive dialogs have to live up to the high standard Mass Effect set in that field.

Furthermore, as far as characters go, the ones present in Mass Effect are mostly likable and well written enough for the players to have some kind of personal connection to them, and the fact that important key characters can indeed die during some points of the game makes that even more remarkable, beyond any “Aerith dies” moments.

All of these things make the Mass Effect franchise, warts’n all, one of the hallmarks of roleplaying games, because what’s offered here is a kind of roleplaying experience that goes far beyond any minmaxing of character stats and pushing around of experience points, but an actual exercise in roleplaying that’s rarely seen in videogames. It’s personal interactions that matter, that have longer running consequences. Far too few games even come close to trying what BioWare did here.

Mass Effect redefined what RPGs can be. It is quite the achievement.

And then there are all those bigger and smaller issues the games tackle. Genocide, war crimes, experimentation on sentient beings. Things that few videogames ever try tackling. Sure, Mass Effect doesn’t always do a perfect job here, with some of those issues having too little impact on the overall narrative, but BioWare dealing with those issues at all is a laudable effort.

Mass Effect redefined what RPGs can be. It is quite the achievement. Sure, the combat mechanics are basically ‘just’ a shooter. But how many RPGs are there that do things like that? Mass Effect at it’s best is undoubtedly an RPG, and a damn good one at that, which was why I liked the first game as much as I did. I enjoyed large parts of the second and am somewhat sad that I won’t be seeing anything of the third part, the reasons for which I’ve explained in depth elsewhere on this site.