Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One Month Away... (Concluded)

The mechanics of "Mass Effect" were carried over from what was tried and true in "KOTOR" and "Jade Empire"...similar to the radial menus of choosing weapons or powers/abilities in real time during combat, the gamer is given a number of options to choose from to decide how to respond to an NPC. In "Mass Effect", though, a player isn't necessarily given a straightforward 'good' or 'evil' option among their choices. Depending on the circumstance, responses in opposing blue or red would be shown, which earmarked a Paragon or Renegade option, respectively. A Paragon choice always errs toward reason or selflessness, while the Renegade choice gives the player the chance to be harsh and aggressive. One is the way of the dove, with the opposing being the way of the hawk, and interestingly in many cases, neither can be considered the 'right' or 'wrong' choice...it's an extension of the Open Palm and Closed Fist options of "Jade Empire". Either choice can be right in some instances...for example, you can blow away someone who's threatening you and everyone around him with a gun, or you can talk the guy down to make him see at least some form of reason and he'll back down.

However. The gamer must realize in "Mass Effect" that a choice made in this game will lead to consequences immediate and/or lasting. Bioware has made clear from the start that "Mass Effect" would be a trilogy, and that the effects of a gamer's decisions will carry over from the first installment to the last. The most dramatic example of that is this: in the first game, you must decide the destiny of one of your party. No spoilers here for those who haven't played it, but you'll be placed in a situation where two of your friends will be in dire trouble, but you'll only be able to save one to keep everyone else alive and accomplish the mission. It's easily the most affecting decision of the first game, one that'll punch you in the gut if you got to know both of these characters. One must live to be seen again in the rest of your adventures in the trilogy, but the other must go to that great beyond, never to return.

And that, first and foremost, is what makes the "Mass Effect" series so damn cool: that you can choose how your adventure goes through each installment, and the decisions you must live with are for once YOUR decisions. And yes, you can play through the game as many times as you want, creating a different character each time, and you can make different choices to see at least immediately how much your next game diverges from the last! To say the least, the replay value for the first game alone is immense.

Your creation of your character, Commander Shepard, will all by itself affect the game and how characters respond to you. Shepard could be a macho dude and war hero...or you can make Shepard a female (or Femshep, as fans affectionately call her), a former colonist who barely survived a Thresher Maw (think one of those killer worms in "Tremors", but much bigger and much, much uglier). Or, male or female, you can make Shepard the most ruthless individual to ever walk on two legs. Who you want Shepard to look like and what kind of person you want them to be, from personality to whether he or she is gay or straight, is all up to you. And yes, you have many options who you can romance in each game, too!

"Mass Effect 2" is different from the first in two ways that truly matter. One, the RPG elements heavy in the original are streamlined for a much more immersive action experience; you and your party having a firefight with enemies is much more fluid and intense. Second, since Shepard is leading a (mostly) new crew, he or she can choose to take on loyalty missions to support each crewmember. These missions are deeply personal for each of these characters, and giving your all to help them succeed will make them solidly loyal to you and focus that much more on helping your final mission in the game be a success. It's a cool way to get to know those in your party better, and choosing whether or not to do them WILL have consequences!

All of this is wrapped up in a sci-fi package a gamer and all-around geek like me couldn't possibly resist. If you love "Mass Effect" too, then you must know the siren call of high adventure in outer space. These games embody the best aspects of the genre, in the same way "Star Wars" did, and it goes deeper because of other influences. Commander Shepard, male or female, embodies the best and most heroic qualities of sci-fi heroes from Buck Rogers to Malcolm Reynolds, or from Wilma Deering to Ellen Ripley. Its themes of Humanity reaching out to secure our rightful place among other civilized races in the galaxy evokes the highest themes of any series and film in the "Star Trek" franchise. Space is the final frontier, and who can truthfully say they wouldn't take the chance to be out there, seeking out the farthest star?

The "Mass Effect" series, therefore, is a unique source of wish-fulfillment for those of us who are gamers...and for those of us in general who are dreamers, who believe that anything can be possible. These games make anything possible, because so much in "Mass Effect" is up to the gamer to decide. That's why I and many more can't wait for "Mass Effect 3", where we'll be brought to the end of the path we chose, to see how we can yet influence that ending. Uh, if we haven't already! ;)

And that's why I made the "Mass Effect Universe" blog, something for those "Mass Effect" fans like me. As the weeks pass, I'll be writing a lot about what I love about these games, from Femshep and other favorite characters to the amazing worlds and more. And that will include who and what fans can find in "Mass Effect 3".

So get on board, already! :)

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