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Tag Archives: Commander Shepard

Well this past week has been the one year anniversary commemorating the end of the Mass Effect trilogy. It started, basically, with the release of the Reckoning DLC pack, then of the Citadel, and what looks like it could be the last major Multiplayer weekend challenge that they will do, though that remains to be seen.

Hello all, sorry once again for not blogging, and I do feel kind of sorry that this is my first blog back after a while. Nevertheless, I did say to myself and decided months ago that I would do something, blog wise, and many somethings to commemorate the one year anniversary of ME 3. I had no idea though that I would also be commemorating the end of the trilogy. And while I have not had a chance to enjoy and play Citadel yet, and I think I will be reviewing it later, I still think there is some room for proper reflection.

Now there is a lot to be said about ME 3. It affected me personally and Mass Effect as a whole has been one of the most illuminating entertainment experiences of my life. The ending has caused much debate, etc. So I think I will try to do what I can both fun and serious to capture that mood in this and some future blogs. Don’t know how many I will be able to devote to this subject after all blogging does not seem to be as much my thing as it once was.

And it also seems fitting that as I write this I am listening to An End Once and For All. So let us celebrate, the end.

But the end of what?

I don’t know about most people but…to paraphrase the game itself…there would be no Mass Effect without Commander Shepard.

The reason I love the games so much and the is not because of a grandiose plot, at times simplistic bad guys, poor level design occasionally, or buggy mechanics, but it’s because of one woman, or one man.

Commander Abigail…or her brother Cameron…are the first two characters that I have created in any official capacity.

And more to the point this goes for Abigail Shepard, which might explain why I have more of an affinity for her then her bro.

Everything that I had created to this points have been avatars or amalgams or pale imitations of other characters. Childhood games and imitations of other famous characters from various places. Criss crossing and meshing them into a universe all of my own or a plot.

But not Abigail. And while her name is ‘borrowed’ from someone I know and respect, and while she and I have many things in common, she has become a character all of her own.

Through so-called ‘head canon’ through tweaking her image in my head and trying to think of what she would do in a situation. Then sometimes she just does it. Especially when I am writing her for my fan fiction that is devoted to the subject, my fingers spring to life and types out something…and I have no idea where it came from. But it fits her, the actions, and the character so precisely.

So when I think of Mass Effect, I think of Commander Shepard, it is hard to nearly impossible to separate the two. And while I am sure the next Mass Effect game could be as amazing and spectacular, if it does not have that connection to a main character, that connection that helped me realize that characters were so important in any fictional composition, then it will be a pale shadow indeed.

So thank you Commander Shepard. Thanks for nearly two years of memories. Thanks for letting me create you, and give me tons of gudamn great moments. And thanks for providing the occasional moral and philosophical lesson.

You deserve all my praise, and all my gratitude.

OK so I promised kinda new format since, you know, stuff. Then I vanished for a while, then the election happened. Oh dear. 😦 So I have decided to do this instead, kinda merge politics with the new format idea for this blog so I can talk about both politics and a rather important geo political issue, but still keep it kinda free. The question that we have to ask ourselves in the next four years.

What would Shepard Do?

Would she give up and take it? Whine and wonder at the unfairness of the universe and the idiocy of her fellow….Americans? (haha) No I don’t think she would at all. She would in fact do quite the opposite.

Commander Shepard is not the type of character to trust politicians. She in fact has proven herself to be anti-politician time and time again during the course of the games. Or, to be more precise, no matter what the political elites do and believe, whether or not they believe in the Reapers or not. She knows the truth, and acts accordingly, no matter what anyone tells her.

Her whole society doubted her, almost everyone she met told her she was delusional, and plain insane for believing in the Reapers. But she continued to fight anyways and struggle to get her point across, no matter the cost to herself, or her reputation.

She did not care, she knew what was right, and fought for it.

So we have to do. We have to do the same thing if we hope to survive.

No matter what our society does, who they vote for. No matter what the politicians do to us, what regulations, laws, or unfair practices. No matter what names we are called, racists, ignorant, bigoted, and homophobic…we must fight.

A lot of people have been echoing this message and so to do I. If we are to learn anything from the election is that this struggle is not over, and that Democracy does not work. But that is a discussion for another time.

The stakes have never been higher for Commander Shepard and the Galaxy in Mass Effect 2 as you lead a desperate mission against impossible odds to stop the enigmatic Collectors from abducting human colonies, and find their connection to the Reaper threat. Along the way you make new allies and friends, and continue to build your resources for that final confrontation.

And in that vein Bioware drastically improved upon nearly all of the basic game play mechanics and the model from ME 1 and brought it to the new systems. And since this is the first edition of the game to be released on another console than Xbox has an extra added bonus to the rest of us.

Thus formed my own attraction and love of the ME series, ME 2 in particular, and provided one of the greatest and most polished game play experiences of any game that I have ever played.

Character: 9.8/10

ME 2 introduced me to the Mass Effect trilogy and thus introduced me to many of its characters for the first time. This was my first experience with Garrus Vakarian, Tali Zorah, Ashley Williams, Liara T’soni and others. It also introduced us to many series first including the Illusive Man, Miranda Lawson, Thane Krios, and the Quarian Marine Kal’Reager.

They characters were well voice acted and thanks to many of the mechanics of the game you related to them, you got to know them as you were dealing with specific problems that they faced in their everyday lives to help them deal with the mission at hand. Plus you heard from other characters in the previous ME game and got to catch up with them both as full squad mates and as cameo appearances.

Special kudos go the voice acting of Jennifer Hale, Martin Sheen, and Brandon Keener who really brought their characters alive and provided some of the most intimate and epic voice acting that I have heard from anything. Martin Sheen just worked as the Illusive Man and Jennifer Hale brought Female Commander Shepard alive in a way that no one else could, hence getting me to love the character. Also Seth Green and Tricia Helfer provided great comedy with the characters of EDI and Joker. And well too many great characters to count the more I think about it, it would be easier to list the characters that I did not relate to and even than they are some of the best done characters that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.

There was nothing ‘wrong’ with the characters per se…just that they seemed static. They never left their assigned places on the Normandy (with the exception of Samara) never truly interacted with each other outside of the missions (save for EDI and Joker) And the squad banter was at times uninspired.

Basically it was just Shepard interacting with these characters, which worked, but then it didn’t allow for character development among themselves.

Story: 9.0/10

ME 2 had a great story in a lot of ways, the abduction of human colonies is a classic, getting to the bottom of the mystery of the Collectors, discovering that they were secretly the Protheans from the long-lost eons, and the further answers about the Reapers and just why the Collectors were collecting.

But the only problem was that the vast majority of the game did not focus on this.

Sure it was all building up to the one solid moment of the Suicide Mission as you gathered resources and pieces to the puzzle to survive or not depending on your actions throughout the game. But it wasn’t really a story. Most of the events in ME 2 were unrelated to the central goal of stopping the Collectors. Sure it helped keep your team clear but we did truly not deal with the Collectors except for a couple of missions.

ME 2 was a character piece and it worked well.

Aside from that the story did provide plenty of set up for the next game in the series from everything to the Arrival DLC, to Lair of the Shadow Broker, to discovering that someone was attempting to cure the genophage, all of these would pay huge dividends and come up in big ways in ME 3. And the new characters that you were running into also helped. This is the kind of ‘arc building’ that I really appreciate.

Gameplay: 9.4/10

ME 2 made huge improvements in most of the areas from ME 1. Especially most of the areas that I complained about, there were little to no vehicle parts to speak of, and the few of them that were there were DLC and side quests, the inventory system was non existent…which was an improvement even though it did also take away from the RPG feel so it was also a negative. But other than that the exploring and side missions were well done to a point, the combat flowed more easily and made more sense, though they did add those dang thermal clips and universal power cool down.

Other then that there was not too much to complain about. The power additions were better and the cover system worked to perfection.

The only thing that really bothered me was the Side missions and occasional imbalance of difficulty. The game went from almost easy peasy against the ‘grunts’ to being atrociously hard on a lot of the bosses. Also the number of powers for your squad was a bit…dull. But the side missions over all were pointless distractions from the main mission and now that I have done them all in various play throughs I do not see myself going back to do them again.

Final Verdict: 9.4/ 10.

ME 2 since it was my first experience of the franchise from a game play perspective I did not know what to expect. On the one hand the game series sounded clichéd when I had first heard about it all those years ago in Game Informer but my friends seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t have an Xbox and I normally do not go out of my way to play these types of games on my computer who either could not run it or the controls proved to be overly difficult. So I was not too eager to go out and get a game on that system that I was not sure of its mettle.

Which ultimately proved to be one of the greatest game play experiences that I have had. Sure it was buggy, sure it glitched, sure there were parts of it that were like poking me in the eye with a blazing hot poker, and part of it was not very RPGy. Though ultimately this was also my first major RPG experience that clicked with me.

But the greater package was superb, as it was for ME 3. The music was awesome, the characters were the greatest collection of characters of any video game, and the balance between action and story worked. May’ve not been the best game play experience that I ever have had, but it ranks up there, and its a game I am proud to own and proud to keep coming back to.

And hooked me on this phenomenal universe.

Lately I have been talking about characterization, and writing in general, because I am a writer in addition to being interested in the geo political process around me, which I will be getting back to those blogs soon. So one might wonder, just what does Commander Shepard have to do with characterization?

For those of you who do not know Commander Shepard is the male or female protagonist of the video game series Mass Effect, a character that you can shape in every conceivable way. Gender, race, facial structure…though not height or religious orientation…ok so they might not be that diverse after all. 😛 But the point is you have a very intimate way in shaping this character, and that is just the point that I want to talk about.

For the vast majority of my life the characters that I have created, the protagonists of my stories, have been some extension of myself and my values, just what I’d do in a certain situation. An avatar. One who can be a Jedi Knight, or a Starship Commander, or a Special Forces soldier. Again by and large this has been the rule though there have been a few exceptions in some of the one shot characters that I’ve created.

But with my Commander Shepard, who is a Ruthless Earth born, is not necessarily this way.

Sure I play her and control her and her actions are my actions and she is an extension of my own morality but at the same time it is an RPG, a Role playing game. In this very specific case you are taking on the role/ character of Commander Shepard. What she would do, and what she wouldn’t do. Its shaped by the events of her life as are all of our events in our own lives.

For instance would someone who grew up in the gangs of Earth and then went on to go murder a bunch of prisoners of war be a paragon of virtue and turn out all cuddly? No matter how much she might been redeemed in her life? I don’t think so and I play the character accordingly. Through the events of her life ruthless to her enemies, supportive of her friends, and with a hard practical edge born on day-to-day necessity.

Sure this is not to say that we are slaves of our past, and nor should our characters that we create, but it does say that our events do shape our lives, and gives us some motivation for our actions. Because even if we were a lazy teenager who hardly did chores or just had their heads stuck in the clouds that could motivate them to be a better hard-working person. Or someone who has butchered surrendering aliens might see the folly of her ways and go on to become a defender of liberty and justice. And a caring momma bear to her crew.

Its called character inventory, its actions and events that help determine who your characters are as people, and distinguish them one from another.

And it is something to think about as you are going through your daily lives and planning out your characters, it means that everything they do should have some reason, and if they do something contrary to their established character there should be a reason for that as well.

Which is good advice no matter what aspect of writing you are trying to tackle, give it a reason, and then explain it to make it flow. Something to cover in the future I think.

*Warning Spoilers for ME 3 follow*

At the end of the hit sci-fi game Mass Effect three you run into a completely new character out of the blue. A God-Child computer program that designed the Reapers and enables them to reap all sentient life every fifty thousand years or so. This God-Child gives you three choices, Control the Reapers, merge organic and synthetic life in a new matrix, or wipe out all synthetics in the galaxy. Thats it. No choices, no options, not even a little bit of the character righteously asking the God-Child ‘why, why must I do this?’

And thus completely destroying almost one hundred hours worth of game play involving deep player choice and control over the most miniscule of details. But beyond that it also ruins the theme.

And really goes against one of the personal themes that has been set mainly throughout the entirety of Science Fiction. The idea of personal choice.

In Mass Effect you were supposed to have the ability of full player choice. That your actions and in actions had dire and dramatic consequences for the world you lived in and the people who surrounded you. Who lived, who died, who you helped, who you condemned. Which had an impact on the storyline and how effectively you were against the Reapers, or at the very least who you brought to the final dance.

But yet at the end you are limited to three contradictory and insulting choices without as much as a howd ya do.

In most science fiction stories that I know of to an extent it is all about human progress. About humanity and individual actions raging against the machine and those in power. It is very…libertarian. And perhaps one of the reasons I have so much respect for individual freedom, choice, about small Government ideals and not judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of the character. It has, as I said, a very real effect on my personal, social, and moral development.

Characters challenging Governments, Gods, would be Gods, demi Gods, and any person in authority that was deemed to have the temerity to dictate terms. Even going so far, again, to challenge characters and entities that claim to be God.

In Star Trek V Captain Kirk and crew go to the center of the Galaxy on a search for God and when they find Him Kirk challenges the entity in question leading McCoy to utter one of the most famous lines in Star Trek: ‘Jim, you don’t ask the almighty for his ID’.

To the Stargate franchise which dealt with in its flagship show Stargate SG-1 the battle between a team of US elite military operatives and a race of beings that were impersonating ancient deities from various cultures. As they challenge these claims to their God hood and eventually help ferment a revolution against those beings.

To the two-part series of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where Benjamin Sisko leads a revolt against the benevolent authorities of the United Federation of Planets who under pressure and fear from imminent invasion by a hostile species imposes strict martial law on their inhabitants beaming down armed troops into the center of major cities and declaring a curfew to try to crack down on enemy agents.

To Babylon 5 where the main character John Sheridan leads a civil war against his own Government who was shooting down civilian transports and bombing cities in the colonies to impose his iron fisted will on the people.

Science Fiction has always represented a challenging of the status quo, at least to me. To saying, wait a second, who are you to play God? What is your authority here? Do you really make sense? Is what you are telling me factual? Sadly a lot of people in the science fiction community does not seem to appreciate these lessons.

Even television shows, movies, and books with no user input has a challenging of choices presented by the main character where they, often, are faced with an impossible situation but move on, grow, adapt, challenge, and overcome.

But yet Mass Effect a franchise that was based on the pinnacle of player choice and a personal story designed by the player does not do this. They do not challenge, they do not let the player control their destiny. At the height of the action with everything on the line your character can either disintegrate herself, throw herself into an energy beam…and disintegrate herself…or shoot a power conduit which causes an explosion killing themselves unless you meet a certain amount of pre set conditions.

Everything falls apart at the last moment.

Thus betraying both itself, its medium, and the genre it is playing in.