Mass Effect Roundtable

Mass Effect Roundtable
March 4, 2012 – Ah yes, Reapers. Don't worry, we haven't dismissed that claim - after all, without them there would be no Mass Effect 3 just days away as I write this. The run-up to the closing chapter in BioWare's epic sci-fi trilogy has been a long one - over two years since the middle installment was released - and nothing short of dramatic. After all, what's a huge release like this without spoilers lurking around every corner and a little bit of DLC controversy?

Fortunately, we're not here to talk about that. You'll notice that several of us at RPGFan love Mass Effect - some even own the games on multiple platforms. Sure, we all take on the role of Commander Shepard and meet the same characters and visit the same planets. However, with a vast galaxy to explore and many choices, both major and minor, laid at our feet - Mass Effect takes on a different meaning for each player. In crossing some boundaries and pushing others, BioWare captured the hearts of many and earned itself new fans with the Mass Effect trilogy, one crafted by employing methods that will without a doubt be imitated, but rarely (if ever) duplicated.

Read on to find out what drew five of our editors to this series, why we love it so, and how each of us hopes to see our journey with Shepard come to an end.
Stephen Meyerink
There's a particular moment in the finale of the original Mass Effect that made me realize this was a series I would be completely on board with. Having spent my entire game playing paragon, I was fascinated to discover that I could attempt to reason with Saren through conversation and actually skip an entire phase of the final boss battle. Having read the first ME novel, which detailed Saren's history and made at least some small strides toward making him a more sympathetic character, I was in love with the idea that some small part of him could still be reasoned with.

And that's really what draws me to this series. Sure, the combat was improved a lot in Mass Effect 2, but it's been the dialogue and characters that have really keep me here. The relationships between Shepard and his allies are some of the most memorable parts of the games, and this was something that was really improved upon in ME2; listen in on some of Shepard and Garrus' conversations, and you truly get the sense that these are two guys (or a guy and a gal) that have been through the wringer together. Combine that with the sense of personal investment the series fosters, and you have a recipe for a personal story generator that is second to none. I feel like the friendship my Shepard has with Garrus (and everyone) is my own friendship, and that's a fantastic achievement.

I've mentioned before on the site that I don't replay games, and Mass Effect is the best example of this. I love the games, but for me there's only one way this journey plays out. When I jump into Taelus Shepard's boots for the last time in Mass Effect 3, the only way is forward – and what I'm looking forward to most is seeing how these decisions I've made (in some cases, decisions made four years ago!) play out in the final battle.

Of course, I can't discount how much I'm looking forward to smashing the Reapers to bits with my maxed out charge and shotgun, because Bioware has crafted the absolute perfect shooter class for me in the Vanguard. BRB HEADSHOTS.
Liz Maas
As someone who's long been involved in the study of physics and astronomy, I have always made a point of not delving too much into sci-fi series of any medium or their fandoms, and so maintain a sense of reality and real science. Mass Effect wasted no time in making me break that personal rule. I can't claim that I've been a longtime fan, but when Mass Effect 2 became destined for the PlayStation 3, I got a burning desire out of literally nowhere to purchase and play the hell out of it on day one.

I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it was more than enough to get me to play ME1 and re-acquire the second game for the 360. When people ask, I can never pinpoint the one thing I love about Mass Effect the most. Travelling through the galaxy, a mere dream today? Building various relationships? Punching nosy Citadel reporters and electrocuting mercenaries? Scaling mountains in the Mako? Fighting the way I want, be it by sending out combat drones or channeling a biotic charge? The fleshed-out universe, from the alien races to the Prothean technology? The narrative that keeps it all together? Truth is, there is no single aspect above all others, which only further proves that the series is much more than the sum of its parts.

When I leave EBGames with Mass Effect 3, I don't just want to see the trilogy's ending. I want to see my ending. I want to see how my own Commander Shepard gets rewarded and punished for all her actions to date, and to see how it helps and hurts the fight against the Reapers. Should she have kept the Rachni around? Did she need that collector base after all? I want closure with Garrus, the most important person in her life. I want to see Thane Krios rectify things with his son and die peacefully. I want to see if Ashley can truly warm up to Shepard again, and find out who the Illusive Man is and what his motives are. But mostly, I want to save Earth, the birthplace of the orphaned girl that became 'my' Shepard over the last two games.
Abraham Ashton Liu
When I first got my Xbox 360, my friends told me to pick up Mass Effect immediately. Before that time, the only thing I had heard of Mass Effect was the Fox News brouhaha regarding the sex scenes, but little did I know that I would be in for one of the best space operas of my generation. I started the game with minimal interest, and by the time I had defeated Saren and the Geth, I had become a lifelong fan. I was fascinated by the scale and grandeur of the universe BioWare had created, and my fascination turned into amazement at the way they had populated their universe with a plethora of unique races, cultures, and technology, enough lore to fill ten games' worth.

As I spent time with the first game (and waited with bated breath for the second) I shaped my Shepard from scratch, and never for a moment considered him a 'non-canon' Shepard. He was THE protagonist of my game, or rather, I was the protagonist, and it shocked me that BioWare could make me this invested into a blank slate character. Just as every other player had his or her own story, so too did I have a unique place in my Mass Effect universe – that experience in itself is one of the greatest feats that can only be achieved through video games, and even then only a select few developers can capture that magic.

Not only did BioWare make me emotionally invested in my character, they made me connected to the universe they had created. For the first time in over 20 years of gaming, I read the novels that complemented the game's narrative. I read about the history between my mentor, Anderson, and the hated traitor, Saren. I read about the Illusive Man and his sinister dealings. I read about young biotics struggling with their powers and themselves.

Now the third game is upon us, and I can't wait to finish my story. Will I triumph against the Reapers? Will I defeat Cerberus and vanquish their hateful ways? Will I be a leader to rally the forces of the galaxy and become the savior of all sentient life?

I don't know, but my squad and I are ready to fight or die.
Dave Yeager
The Mass Effect series made RPGs acceptable for folks who play shooters and shooters acceptable for folks who play RPGs. I'm not sure exactly how BioWare accomplished that trick, but, judging by the sales, they certainly did.

Mass Effect 1 has the best story told by BioWare since Baldur's Gate 2. Mass Effect 2 meanwhile may not have been as plot-hole-free as Mass Effect 1, but my goodness, that gameplay – I haven't experienced that much pure, visceral joy playing a shooter since the first time my friend and I got our 1200 baud modems to connect for my first ever Doom deathmatch.

The achievement here is that Mass Effect has managed to straddle some nebulous line that designers, and certainly executives, have been trying to capture for years in video games, a line that makes their game appealing to multiple gaming demographics. And to me that is the biggest achievement worth celebrating – the more of us there are enjoying elements from these gaming genres that often find themselves in conflict, the bigger, better, and more interesting we can expect our games to get.

I for one will be looking forward to the simple joys of turning invisible and zooming in for headshots, and if the writing staff can bring it all together in a coherent fashion that shows the choices I made in the first two games really do matter in the end, it will truly be a coup.
Kyle E. Miller
I bought an Xbox 360 because of Mass Effect, my first current-gen game, and one I will always hold dear to me. From the very beginning, I was absurdly impressed. I was in love with salarians and turians, mass effect relays and GARDIAN systems, Garrus and Wrex, Reapers and the fight for galactic peace. With Mass Effect 2, my relationship with the trilogy entered a new phase; this was no mere infatuation with something nice and pretty. More indelible characters, fiercer combat, and one of the greatest end sequences in history made an unforgettable impression.

Thus, Mass Effect 3 has almost no chance to live up to my dream of topping the first two and creating the greatest video game trilogy ever made. Recent BioWare trends and behavior have me cynically concerned about the conclusion to Shepard's story – my story. Because this is personal. I went to Eden Prime, I discovered the secrets of the Reapers, I killed Saren, I came back from the dead, I gathered the galaxy's best, and, most importantly, I survived.

This degree of narrative ownership, this deep personal connection, has never been achieved quite so completely in any medium before, and this is what I expect Mass Effect to be remembered for the most. Yes, the characters are spectacular; yes, the combat is endlessly entertaining; yes, the setting is believable; but being able to shape a story that spans three games is something no other series can lay claim to. I may be skeptical, but BioWare has led me this far, and I have confidence that they will end this with integrity and skill.

I'm ready, BioWare. I'm ready to take back Earth.