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Tag Archives: Mass Effect

Alright, I decided…like I decided months ago…that the second post that I would make to celebrate the one year anniversary of Mass Effect 3 would be another opinion piece about that pesky ending. Getting tired yet?

Now this blog, as my opinion, acknowledges that even though the ending is vastly improved under the Extended Cut, and even though I like it…there is still a lot of problems with it. Now this blog will address the first set of problems, I plan on doing the second part later as more of a general blog. If you the readership remind me of this I shall do it.

So, the ending to Mass Effect 3 is drastically improved, but it still does not feel right, and pails into comparison to another ending…to another Video Game…that was so far in the past to almost be unremembered…namely Mass Effect 2.

Now Mass Effect 2s ending, the Suicide Mission, and the ‘End Run’ towards the end of the game, was near perfection, marred only by what some consider to be a sub standard boss fight. But the rest of it? Was good.

So why is this? And why did the Mass Effect 3 ending fall on its face in comparison?

Well in the main way it had to do with presentation, and how they handled the story.

Mass Effect 2 the entire story was devoted to the gathering of a special team, gathering their loyalty, gaining resources, and solving mysteries all in preparation for one suicidal attack through the Omega 4 Relay.

Throughout it you got to personally know the characters and personally lead gain their loyalty by completing tasks for them. But throughout the end depending on the choices you make, anyone is at risk.

The last mission was a reveal of this entire thing. Your entire efforts, stopping the Collectors, your decisions and efforts on who you made loyal and didn’t make loyal throughout the game. The upgrades you made to your ship. Whatever you did you choices mattered. And yeah, they mattered in the end of Mass Effect 3 with the inclusion of the Extended Cut, but you had a personal stake in the mission. Your choices didn’t affect the entire game, the entire universe, just the mission and the men and women you were fighting with. Which made it purely personal.

Plus the musical score really kicked ass but that is beside the point. 😛

But the events of the story flowed naturally from one to another where it all just sort of fit from one to another. The surprise at the end was logical to what you knew about the threat you were facing. And while you faced a decision, it wasn’t universally shattering. And it was exactly what you set out to do from the start.

And about ME 3? Well Mass Effect 3 had many of these elements, the entire story was devoted to dealing with the Reaper threat in one way shape or form, your actions in the game did affect what you could do in the ending.

But it didn’t have that emotional personal connection. It was not truly representative of spending an entire game where everything you did went into that one final moment. Instead you got an info dump and you had to face one last grand decision that didn’t really effect your team, but faceless millions of beings.

This all has to do with presentation. In the Suicide Mission you felt your efforts pay off, you saw your efforts pay off, your team lived and died on you, the musical score and the action kept it going to where you got the sense that this was the end of the line, everything that you did to this point mattered.

Which as another aside I think is why Mass Effect 2 is such a good game. A lot of the game to that point was pretty plain at times, but to watch your efforts pay off, was just amazing, whereas ME 3 had the opposite effect.

And ME 3 you didn’t see your war assets, you didn’t see your efforts pay off. You never really saw your war assets fighting, never saw any different, never actually saw how your decisions mattered. Just they did in a metaphysical sense in how effective the Crucible was.

So in other words, ME 2 was an emotional build up with a climax for that build up, ME 3 for whatever reason failed to deliver. A noble effort, but it was just not as polished.

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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.

Recently, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre two competing, and yet oddly coherent, narratives have emerged. Mainly, it is all the Video Games fault, or it is all the guns fault.

Now guns, they have their defenders, whole organizations devoted to their defense, and some very good points have been made in their defense. The national attention is there and the message is well articulated…but there seems to be little defense for Video Games. Or at least none who have made this point.

In response to this and other tragedies Glenn Beck hosted a noted military psychologist on his TV program the other day, and the claim was that we are now raising a generation of killers through video games and the media. That Video Games are teaching people to kill, desensitizing people to kill, and is in effect causing the violence. Media and the rest of the ‘culture’ for that matter.

Now the arguments were very compelling actually, the idea that was presented that video game companies could be using the same tactics that the US Military uses to forge soldiers to sell a product, is interesting. I would buy it even, if it weren’t for one thing.

It’s never happened to me.

Now I want to make it very clear here, Glenn is not advocating for Government actions and bans, he is advocating for the individual to take action. He is simply pointing out what he believes this is a dangerous cultural problem that needs to be fixed through the individual and individual family. The day after his program aired his co host announced he had removed all the violent games, including Lego Indiana Jones, from his home. Beck even said that technology is like fire, it is good if you are the master of it, but bad if it is the master of you. So even he seems to be close to the answer to this problem….

Because it all comes down to the individual.

I am struck by this fact because I have been playing violent video games on and off since I have been..what? Six? Seven? Somewhere around then.

I was playing games like Ape Escape, Spyro the fire-breathing dragon. Crash Bandicoot which involved a…Bandicoot which twisted around in a tornado like pattern and blasted people out-of-the-way… well by people I mean demon spawned animals and stuff…or something…owned by a fat headed guy. Which then later evolved into a game where you were running around a race track launching missiles and bombs and TNT and Nitro at your fellow drivers, either human controlled or not.

To my early teens, playing games like the Medal of Honor Frontline, and Conflict Desert Storm I and II. Battling the Iraqi and Nazi Regimes, taking down tyranny by waging a special war as a Delta or OSS operative.

To my late teens waging a different kind of war in Conflict Global Terror, my first rated M game, which coincidentally involved the charters from Desert Storm fighting Neo Nazis…today.

To my early 20s with the Mass Effect series, the Call of Duty franchises, with blood and guts galore.

But yet, with roughly a 15 year ‘career’ in Video Games, by killing and destroying millions of beings from Nazis, to Trolls, to Cyber Zombies, I have not committed a murder, had nary a violent thought about a classmate or fellow human being, and in point of fact I was a lot more violent before my video game career then after it. But then again I was five, and mighty confused.

In fact I have often used Video Games as a stress relief, when I have had a bad day of school, stressful, or just really pissed, gone on the Play station, and went Orc hunting in Lord of the Rings.

Video games can inspire people to do a whole lot of things, out of jealousy, or ‘teaching them’, or whatever. But it is irresponsible to blame an inanimate object on any of our societies problems. After all it is a lot harder to kill someone with a video game, then a gun! I mean can you just imagine grinding away at a person’s head with a DVD?

The fault is with the individual, the lessons are from the individual, and the lessons are to the individual. The inspiration is to the individual.

Because during the program the Psychologist friend of Glenn’s made the argument that gaming is actually teaching people marksmanship. That people who play Video games aim for the head.

Now this is something I wonder. If I play Ace Combat or Madden NFL can I be a Fighter Ace or an effective football coach? So this argument fascinates me.

But this argument also has two big problems:

First of all most games that involve shooting aspects you get the message often loud and clear ‘aim for the head’. But that is a sound Marksmanship principle you can pick up almost anywhere, from television, to documentaries, to army training manuals, to the mere fact that your biological computer is in your head, might be a good place to shoot! And games can also teach one that it might be better to shoot people elsewhere, their chest for ease of accuracy, their legs to show them down, but again anyone can almost tell you the same thing.

And then the principle might be there, but often enough the actual combat situations aren’t. When you shoot a character in a video game there is no recoil, no wind, nothing for you to gauge how a real life shot should behave. All of these need to be taken into account in the real world.

And even games who do that, like the sniping missions in the Call of Duty series, taking in wind and the Coreilas effect, you don’t feel the wind on your face, you do not have the gun in your hand, you do not and cannot judge how the wind affects the bullet in the real world. Never mind other considerations.

But even then it is the individual who is important.

Sure a video game can ‘teach’ a gang member in east LA where to shoot a cop. But it could also teach a cop in Atlanta how and where to shoot, or what the situation calls for in a bank robbery and a hostage situation. Or it could teach a kid how to act to defend his kid sister from a robbery.

It is not the technology, not the media, not the fiction, not the gun, and certainly not the oven toaster causes deaths. Its how we use them, its how we chose to act with this technology.

And for other opinions on this issue visit this article: http://kotaku.com/5814601/violent-video-games-contribute-to-dropping-crime-rate-study-suggests

A while ago, as a result of the Mass Effect finale, one of the many conversations I have had as a result of the Mass Effect finale, the idea came up that the final segment of a trilogy should be the best and most emotionally satisfying part of that trilogy.

Does this always work? After all we are all individuals with differing tastes and emotional reactions. We all look at things differently. Again because of conversations about Mass Effect 3, I realize I have some widely different opinions then many of my peers.

And the issue is, idealistic, yes, the final segment in any long-term series should wrap things up in a nice little bow and be the most satisfying of the set.

But it does not always work out this way.

And I can think of many examples of it. Many people say the Empire Strikes Back was a better movie then Return of the Jedi.

That the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie is better than either of the two sequels. Or, for that matter, On Stranger Tides.

That Halo 1 was better than Halo 2 or 3, that the original Mass Effect was better than ME 3.

Or as I believe personally that ME 2 was better than ME 3, the second Pirates movie was the best of the set, and that the best season of Babylon 5 was the fourth and not the fifth.

This works because of a gamble in art, not everything that you do is going to find an effective place in an audience. You take a risk, you try to do something different, and some people hate it. Some people may even hate it over some idealized picture of the first installment and thus that no matter what the other installments in any series does, especially if its different, they hate it.

And this is ultimately why things may not work out for the best. Because an author or artist is forced to comply to different pressures. To fan pressure, to the pressure of the people they are working for, to their own original artistic vision. To the writers and costume people who are also a part of the creative vision and each putting their own technical restraints on a project.

To even new writers being added to a project mid way…or people dying or people getting sick and tired of circumstances. Of people leaving a project, or getting bogged down in other commitments.

You can say as a writer, ‘hey I want this person to be playing this role in my movie who has been there since the beginning, but sadly he has moved on to do a big hollywood thing!’

Or something simply not matching audience expectations.

There are a few examples of trilogies ending with a bang, IMO. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings are fine examples of their craft.

But we all have to realize that just because something should be this way, doesn’t mean it will be this way.

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.

Recently a documentary has been released called 2016, and while I haven’t seen it the message was loud and clear: If you vote for Barrack Obama the country will be in dire straights and will be burning from bad debt and big Government.

Now this did not get me thinking but then something else did. Sci fi…and if I am to be entirely honest..Mass Effect…combined the elections.

So I have to beg the question: What will this country or world look like in 2016, what will it look like in 2183? What will it look like in the 2260s? What will it look like in the 2370s?

Now I am no weatherman, and nor do I play one on TV. I am not a prophet, a sage, a wise man or a seer. I cannot answer the question. And this isn’t about the elections. Well it is. But it’s about something a lot larger than any election.

It’s about making the choice. Right here and right now. And not just about what form this country will take. Not about who will be President. But the lives we want our children to live, and their children, and their children, and their children. We have the choice to make. And not just in the voting booth.

We have the choice of what world we will create and how will we create it.

Will we create a world of dangerous and tumultuous liberty? Do we create a world of oppressive tyranny? Do we create a world of magic and wonder where there can be infinite technology coupled with an infinitely benevolent Government that somehow does not come down on its people? Will we prefer the calm chains of a large Government coddling us and stifling us and giving us some rights while denying the important ones? Or will we recommit ourselves to Liberty, no matter how ugly it can sometimes get?

America this is the choice before us. World this is the choice before us. I know what I am going to do, I know the world I want to hand down to my children. But we have to realize that only we are responsible for creating that world. We citizens of the United States. We citizens of the world. Our world will not be created in London, or Washington, Berlin or Cairo or Beijing. It will be built in the back alley streets. On the farms and in the factories. In Small towns like where I spent the first few years of my life, to the street corners of big cities.

It will be built either by us choosing to help people in need, by taking responsibility for solving our problems…to be energy independent…to get our fiscal houses in order…to work hard and then be able to honestly enjoy the fruits of our labor. Or will we choose to let others deal with it. Hope and pray for some George Washington, some Ronald Regan, or some random Government cop on the streets. Do we take responsibility, or do we abdicate it? Do we build a better world or put it in other hands, and thus build the world that we want?

This is the choice that we face, this is what will determine where we go into the future.

I renew the call, that no matter who wins the election, no matter which candidate comes out on top that we renew ourselves and get up to build the world we want. In all the ways we can do so.

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.

I have been debating on how to do this blog for a while now, I have been playing through ME 2 and ME 1 and ME 3. I have been mulling over this and even attempted to do this once. This is not a political blog, it is solely for my own entertainment, because I think ME is important, and I think a lot of people miss the point on the game series and the last game. So while this is only for entertainment I can and will use ME to illustrate points in the future.

Now originally I wanted to do some complicated formula of what each game did well, poorly, the best in the series, general thoughts, and than general thoughts in the series, that blog was over 900 words and I had only gotten through ME 2. But then I got to thinking about something that I have realized before, what are the three most important elements o a Video game? The Characters, the Story, and the gameplay/ mechanics. And then I will still be giving general thoughts about the series.

So without further adieu.

Mass Effect 1:

Story: 10/10

The original Mass Effect had a pretty interesting and amazing story that benefited from the fact that you were moving out to explore a new universe and a new world. While it was simple and straight forward (in many respects) it had to be since it was the first installment of the series and had to introduce everything from character and setting to plot and the main antagonists. But it did have many a twists and turns that would set up the drama and action for the entire rest of the series. Finding out about the Reapers, their original harvest, the fate of the Protheans, the secrets of the Citadel, and moral issues that came from the discovery of these elements of the universe. It was a pure exploration story.

Character: 8.5/10

Mass Effect had some great character moments and some great characters but they all seemed a bit flat and not as fleshed out as in the later installments. There weren’t enough chances to talk to the crew and they basically just sat there and did nothing. Also the voice acting by a lot of the players made them unconvincing, but again they fixed that in the later installments.

This was with the exception of Shepard him/ herself, Ashley Williams, Wrex, and to a certain extent Garrus.

Fem Shep while it was not Jennifer Hale’s best performance of the series it was still quite strong and made the character believable, and recognizable for those of us starting the series from the midle.

Wrex was a great character, well voice acted, and provided important insight to one of the key characters in the series and one of the key conflicts: The Krogan and the genophage. I found it hard not to relate to the guy and not to listen to his stories and not to chuckle at his antics. My Shepard did not always *approve* of his actions but he/ she was able to give him enough leeway to get the job done.

And Ashley Williams, was one of the best characters ever created. Why? Like or hate her she was a fully formed character in the first game with fully developed issues and beliefs. She was religious, and according to some she may have been a racist (they are wrong but whatever). But that is part of the point. If you like her then she is likely not a racist just someone who has a strong sense of self and with the proper military regard to security. If you don’t like her then she is likely a racist. But how brilliant is it of Bioware to actually put a main line protagonist on your squad that would even approach that issue? I think it is.

Gameplay/ Mechanics: 7/10

The story was great, the characters were passable, but most of the gameplay made it nearly unplayable. The Mako and its lackluster controls and handling nearly made me want to quit, the Omni gel and mini games were atrocious, the side missions were passable but considering you had to use the Mako to access ninety percent of them (so it seemed) made them hardly worth it, and the inventory was a drain on my IQ points.

The only saving grace was the combat mechanics. I didn’t realize it because I started with ME 2 but I really did like the overheat system instead of the thermal clips, powers having their own cool downs made sense, and the fact that some powers overrode shields was great. But in the end it was still buggy as hell given that many of the enemies would just spontaneously charge your position. I know they have shields/ barriers but really? Three special forces soldiers many of them armed with Shotguns, Assault Rifles, and or powers can’t put down a charging Krogan?

But one thing of note was how the game allowed you to make more proper RPG descisions. You could actually say ‘no’ to a task if it made your Shepard and their morality uncomfortable.

Other then that the game did have its bugs, I had to restart it twice due to technical issues, (which coincidentally is the same amount of time that I spent on technical issues for ME 3), and I was not that impressed with the graphics. Though people who pay more attention to such aspects say they are pretty good so take that with a slight grain of salt.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Mass Effect was a good solid game, and considering the improvements that the next two installments made in the over all structure of the games, thus ME is my favorite series, on or off the Citadel. The music was good, the plot was excellent and it was just a kick arse game with a non controversial ending.

But I want to play as my Shepard. I want to see her in action. I do not want to drive in a poorly designed MBT throughout most of the game looking for clues. Sure it makes some modicum of sense from a story perspective but the open world feel and the amount of time in the Mako made me have almost no connection to the characters. Most of the stuff I can forgive as being silly game play mechanics with the Omni gel and the inventory problems. But the Mako was way too far.

And I also appreciate the idea behind open world exploration, and loved it in Skyrim, but that idea ruined the parts of the ME franchise I loved. The characters. Instead of making an open world where you got to explore in a box they could have devoted more resources to fleshing out all the characters. Not just Shep or Wrex or Ashley….

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.