Happ N7 Day, ‘Mass Effect’ Fans!

Hey you, you right there still arguing the merits of the ending of Mass Effect 3–BioWare’s set aside a bunch of in-game events and treats for series fans to celebrate Shepherd’s epic adventures across space as part of N7 Day.

You can actually see some of the lovely things BioWare has planned today (as well as a much nicer, larger version of the poster above) on their site. As for me, I’d like to tell you about how Mass Effect went from a clunky sci-fi RPG, to one of the most gripping and gritty games of 2010, to a challenging, not-quite-settled conclusion this year.

I didn’t care for the first Mass Effect. In fact, I think after about 10 hours, I was pretty sure I hated it. While I appreciated some of the technical prowess that went into the game, and BioWare’s desire to visually homage some of the high-contrast, cheapie sci-fi movies of the 80’s like Battle Beyond the Stars, it simply didn’t gel with me.

Shepherd’s journey as a Spectre, combating the Geth and attempting to grapple with interstellar politics was dry to the extreme, while the fumbling attempts at romance were… well, like me in middle school: I knew what was supposed to happen between me and a member of the opposite sex, but I was sure set on getting there in the most awkward way possible with lots of fits, starts, and ultimately disappointment.

The universe and the characters in it simply felt too sterile, too character-by-committee, a validation of the long-held complaint that BioWare tells stories by template.

So of course, I jumped right into Mass Effect 2. What can I say? I loved the idea of the first game more than its execution, and I really wanted to give the studio behind KOTOR another chance. And man, am I glad that I did: not only did Mass Effect 2 ramp up the stakes, but gave us a cast of very real and rounded side characters, a palpable sense of danger, menace, and moral compromise against polished combat, and an excellent endgame (I say this as someone whose entire crew survived).

Nearly every new character in 2 added some kind of compelling moral challenge for Shepherd and their side quests felt essential. From Miranda’s genetically-augmented daddy issues, to Morin’s attempts to atone for his sins, while Thane and Samara gave the series two new ice cold badasses attempting to balance their lives as killers with the families and legacies they’d abandoned.

Which is why in many ways, Mass Effect 3 felt like a couple of steps backward. In my review, I harped on some of the small and large issues that marred the overall experience, but the biggest loss was that sense that the galaxy and its characters were alive when Shepherd wasn’t around. Part of that was down to what seemed like an increased number of encounters, as the developers offered opportunities to reconnect with all of the surviving characters, while adding a new and mostly bland crew (I’m still not sure what Jessica Chobot’s reporter character was doing there).

Ultimately, it will be remembered for an ending that angered some fans, baffled others, while leaving some like myself simply curious about where BioWare would go next with the series. I’m really hoping BioWare has plans for this universe beyond prequels or side stories, since I think its darker side is ripe for further exploration.

So what about you. What are some of your memories from the series?

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