This one is for the fans; I decided to stray away from politics and religion and delve into a gaming trilogy, close to my heart, that has truly been a huge success both story wise and with the public. I’m speaking of BioWare’s Mass Effect, of course; dubbed the best trilogy in its genre since Star Wars.
BioWare, a Canadian based company, was founded in 1995 and is now owned by Electronic Arts (EA). Specialising in Role Playing Games (RPG) they have had a truly erratic history when it comes to the success of their franchises. Although initially Baldur’s Gate, Never Winter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) were instant hits with the fans, BioWare has a habit of leaving their most popular series’ unfinished. KOTOR was a prime example; the sequel was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and never truly lived up to its name. After that, the series was discontinued to the outrage of many fans hoping that this incredible storyline would be continued as a trilogy.
It wasn’t just unfinished series’ but often BioWare would release a fantastic game initially and then lose steam and fall flat with its sequel. Dragon Age is also a good example because its sequel had no real storyline and no underlying plot unlike its predecessor. However BioWare is now developing the third instalment of the series and hopefully it will it will bring back some of the flare it had initially.
But on to what is, in my own opinion, the best gaming trilogy to date (be advised, spoilers to follow). Mass Effect follows the typical IP of most BioWare games that brings in the most commonly used Moral Choice mechanic where one can choose to be either good or bad. The plot follows the story of Commander Shepard, the gender and facial precept of this character is stipulated by the player, is a well-trained and disciplined soldier living in the 22nd century where humanity has discovered space flight and also the existence of a galactic community of alien species whom welcome humanity into the fold. Hereto humanity has expanded its territories in space and has quickly become a dominant species within the galaxy. The majority of aliens are represented at the cultural hub of the galaxy known as The Citadel where embassies are granted to those that have proven to be an asset to the Council which is a commission of 3 alien species, Turian, Salarian and Asari. The council forms the intergalactic government which decides on policy, law, etc. Humanity continues to grow and Shepard is considered to join a black-op like association of soldiers known as the SPECTRE’s who report directly to the Council. Shepard is the first to hear of an impending threat to galactic peace from an external force, known as the Reapers, that threatens to wipe out all existence in the galaxy. The main plot of the story is Shepard’s prevention of this invasion.
The First game was released in 2007 and was a major success within the gaming community. The Content was fully loaded with historical galactic lore to the ability to explore planets galaxy wide and of course the choice mechanic that allowed players to decide on situations that ultimately had an effect on the stories plot. Shepard gathers a multi-species team of comrades that help him discover who the Reapers are and what their deal is, ultimately discovering that they are an advanced hybrid of organic and synthetic species designed to wipe out all traces of advanced space fairing life every 50,000 years to preserve the balance. Basically the more technologically advanced we are the more we depend on machines, these machines become sentient and rebel, destroying all organic life. A process the Reapers indirectly try to prevent by wiping EVERYTHING out in a cycle that allows younger species to grow up to the pinnacle of their ultimate demise once the Reapers return again. Shepard prevents the Reapers from invading by destroying their vanguard Sovereign (a giant ship) before it can initialise the return of the full Reaper invasion, so ending the 1st game and giving players a sense of vast accomplishment yet at the same time leaving them holding thumbs for the sequel.
Mass Effect 2 hit the stores in 2010 and was a huge success due to the franchise’s ever growing fan base. The game introduced an option for players to reload saved profiles from the previous game with all the choices made being able to affect the new game. The changes your choices made were merely cosmetic and did not severely impact on the central plot but many side missions and how characters responded to you were altered and this added a nice touch to the character you as the player had moulded. The game focused more on team building than the previous title and the “Fullness” the original had was somewhat diminished since space exploration was less of a priority. The game also felt a bit more linear in comparison although gameplay, graphics and combat physics were greatly improved. Shepard’s ship is attacked by an unknown species and barely manages to get his/her team to escape before he/she is killed by vacuum exposure in outer space. However Shepard’s body is tracked down and discovered by a private pro-human military group known as Cerberus who spends billions to bring him/her back to life, once revived two years later, Cerberus informs Shepard that the unknown species that attacked him are known as Collectors, agents for the reapers that are kidnapping human colonists for some unknown reason. Shepard goes on to investigate this whilst building a professional team of military experts to combat the collector threat. The game ultimately sees Shepard confronting the Collectors in their base at the centre of the galaxy discovering that they are building a Reaper using liquefied humans as material so that they can finally initialise their invasion, due to Sovereign’s failure, using this new Reaper construct as the Vanguard. Once again Shepard thwarts their plans and destroys the Reaper Larvae and the base. A lot can happen in this epilogue of the game where Shepard can save all his allies, lose some, or have everyone killed depending on the choices made, Shepard too can ultimately die. The game ends showing the Reaper invasion finally reaching the edges of our galaxy which sets the pace for the games third instalment.
Finally in 2012, BioWare released Mass Effect 3 and introduced the game’s first multiplayer option where players are able to cooperatively fight against arranged difficulties of enemy AI, a simple system that can create hours of online fun. The single player campaign once again follows Shepard’s story and players can also once again reload saves provided Shepard survives the end of the last game. Graphics were improved, gameplay was improved and the varieties of weapons were also expanded. The storyline however built itself up to perhaps one of the biggest gaming anti-climaxes in history. The ending was by popular conception the worst ending BioWare could have come up with. This ultimately forced them to release a DLC the edited it and tried to relay a better explanation to the ending.
The trilogy follows a consistent class theme similar to most BioWare games, Shepard can choose to specialise in six different fields of combat that changes the gameplay a bit. Shepard can also pursue romantic interests with party members that can carry over from game to game. Side missions and game content also add to the bulk of the game. Shepard often finds him or herself in conversation with many characters and this allows the player to choose from dialogue options. The morality scale of good and bad is measured in paragon and renegade points which too ultimately affect dialogue choices in game. Various DLC’s have also been released to bolster storyline and expand the games magnitude.
Mass Effect is truly one of the most diverse and intricate games that have ever been released. It feels less like a game and more like an interactive movie where one becomes extremely attached to their Shepard and gives the player that personal touch which invokes a true sense of being IN the game. BioWare has confirmed a fourth instalment to the Mass Effect series which they claim is a brand new game not based on Shepard. Speculation has become the new fad amongst fans all wondering what the new game will be about.