Comparing The Mass Effect Trilogy Games

Mass Effect logo, cropped in Photoshop.

Now that the entire trilogy has been released, I have no doubt many of us must have completed at least 1 playthrough of the latest installment and gotten to the ending.

In fact I did a complete playthrough – I started a new character in ME1, continued the story in ME2, and finished it in ME3. It feels a little different because this character doesn’t have a break of 2 years in between games – I knew exactly what happened in ME1 when I imported him into ME2, and ME3. To me it’s like watching a trilogy movie all in one go.

What I can say is, after playing through again with a new Commander Shepard, I have a few thoughts.

Mass Effect:

The most RPG-feel of all the 3 games. You literally can go ANYWHERE, land on most of the planets. This is akin to traditional RPGs where you can enter any town and just walk around. In ME2 it became that you have to scan every planet to find “resources” to build your improvements for your weapons/armour/ship. Not the same thing to me.

You have a multitude of WEAPONS and ARMOUR to select. You can mod your armour and weapons to give different bonuses or effects!

This is sadly missing in ME2, but it made a comeback (somewhat) in ME3. In ME2, if I remember right, I only had a choice of THREE (3) assault rifles – Avenger, Vindicator, and Revenant (if I picked that up in the Collecter ship) as an example. I only had a choice of TWO (2) pistols – Predator and Carniflex. You get the idea. ME2 seemed to be more of an adventure story narrative than an RPG.

By the way, I had completely forgotten that we don’t need to “reload” our weapons in ME1 – I kept hitting “R” key between shots and kept throwing grenades out… doh!

Mass Effect 2:

Best story-telling in my opinion. The game starts off very dramatically with Normandy under attack, and the heart-tugging scene where Joker refuses to abandon ship and Shepard dies. Throughout the game when his friends realise he’s been brought back, you can actually see the conflict within them, to either be loyal to their friend or to be suspicious of who Commander Shepard is “working for”.

Plus, all the DLCs that Bioware has put out over the years for ME2 has made it, im my opinion, the best game in the series by far.

However, in ME2, the RPG-feel was lost. As mentioned above, I had very limited choice of weapons and armour. The differences in performance/protection of the weapons and armour aren’t even apparent to me, or not much anyway. No matter which class of Shepard I play, all the fights play out almost the same way – a lot of shooting plus a little biotics here and there.

This game is also where weapons went back to the “limited ammunition” style of needing you to reload. Of course, in the future, we don’t need bullets – we need heatsinks! Each time you use up a heatsink (a thermal clip), you eject it and pop a new one in to continue firing.

Mass Effect 3:

Sucky ending aside (personally, I didn’t think the ending sucked. Puzzling, maybe, but not “sucked”), ME3 tried to bring back some RPG elements. Now I get my choices of weapons back, and the differences in accuracy/damage is rather apparent. Using a Paladin pistol (the 190,000 credit white one) kills a mob faster than a Predator. The Valkyrie takes down a mob faster than the Avenger. Accuracy also plays a part here, because most times I aim for the head, but I don’t use scopes. Hence, I can say my favourite assault rifles would be the Valkyrie and the Mattlock followed very closely by the Vindicator.

Armour choices have been expanded, and I think ME3 finally managed a nice blend of action/RPG elements into the game. They even put in the “encumbrance” limit that is present in other RPG games. Only that in ME3, if you had carried your full complement of weapons as you did in ME1 and ME2, your biotic/tech powers would recharge oh-so-slowly. Actually I don’t see why being weighed down with weapons should slow your power recharging. In fact I don’t see why they should implement this game mechanic at all since in the previous 2 games, you had always carried all your weapons with you – pistol, shotgun, submachine gun, sniper rifle plus assault rifle. In ME2, you even get one HEAVY WEAPON to add to that list. And you did fine!

 

Conclusion

Mass Effect 2 is, in my opinion, the best game in the series, even without all the DLCs to expand the story. In fact I am re-playing ME2 right now, by importing my Shepards again from my previous playthrough of ME2.

 

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Mass Effect Trilogy

Garrus, left; Commander Shepard, center

Garrus, left; Commander Shepard, center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, many fans of the Mass Effect series would have already completed at least 1 playthrough of the latest installment – Mass Effect 3.

Strangely, I have had friends and colleagues, some of whom are either non-gamers, or casual gamers (read: Facebook games players) come up to me and ask “What is Mass Effect?”

I have thought about it, and came to this conclusion:

Mass Effect is the story of one soldier. That’s it. When you come right down it, despite the Reapers and geth and everything else, it is the story of Commander Shepard. The enemies are the meat of the story. The entire story is told through the eyes of Commander Shepard. Like a typical epic movie, it starts off with Commander Shepard being evaluated for entry into the Spectre ranks of the Citadel. Then he discovers ancient artifacts that warn of an imminent invasion of a machine race, the Reapers. The next 2 games detail his exploits in trying to get the authorities to believe that an ancient race of machines is coming to wipe them out, but no one believed him. In the end, he had to work with a shady company (Cerberus) to gather info to fight the Reapers, and eventually (in its current incarnation), give his/her life to save the entire galaxy after uniting all the races under one banner.

Many parts of this story contain controversial topics which may or may not relate to current global situation. For example, in the Mass Effect world, same-sex relationships is not frowned on. Anyone and everyone is free to pursue a same-sex relationship (including Commander Shepard). On the other hand, you have the Genophage – an engineered disease which the Salarians developed, and delivered by the Turians, to the race of Krogans, to limit their population. Only a few out of a thousand births produce a living Krogan. The rest are stillborn. That means less than 0.01% of births produce a living baby. Atrocious? yes. Why was it developed? Because in the eyes of the government, Krogans reproduce too quickly and their numbers would overwhelm every other race in the galaxy if left unchecked. Thus the genophage was decided to be introduced, “for the good of the galaxy”.

Yet in the face of this injustice, the Krogans still fight for survival. They are akin to the Klingons of Star Trek – feared warriors that fight for honour and glory, and fighting is their way of life. Only the strong survive, and that is due in no small part to the genophage. Every Krogan looks out for only himself, and the chance to get a female pregnant. Depending on how you played ME3, the genophage may or may not be ended with Shepard’s help.

However, some topics seem to have been “left behind” in later games. For example, biotics appeared to be a frowned upon in ME1, but no mention of this social stigma is mentioned in ME2 and ME3. Biotics are like the “magic” of Mass Effect world. Humans exposed to Element Zero (or eezo) while in the womb may or may not have mutated to be able to manipulate mass effect fields, hence giving them powers like mages in fantasy lore. Humans (and it appears) and Asari needed implants to help control this ability. This topic was prevalent in ME1 and a number of missions were in the game to assist or destroy biotics. As I said, this is strangely missing in ME2 and ME3. By the later games, it seemed that everyone had “accepted” Biotics into normal society and they are treated as equals, or “no different” than other people.

In fact, by ME3, it may even appear that people come to revere biotics – There is a scene where Liara T’soni comes up to the Captain’s quarters on the Normandy and tells Shepard that she is making a time capsule which contains everything they knew about the galaxy, and wanted Shepard’s input on his/her own entry in the time capsule. If you select the option to tell Liara that it’s her call, Liara will mention that Shepard is a “powerful biotic” that helped to free the galaxy.

In the Mass Effect world, humans are the second-class citizens of the galaxy. This is in stark contrast to many sci-fi stories where humans are either the founders (Star Trek is a good example) of are very important to the galaxy.  Humans are the youngest race to achieve space-flight, being only a few hundred years. Other races like the volus, elcor and so on, have been spacefaring for thousands of years. Many of the other races have already had space flight when humans could barely speak and form communities. In this world, humans are often derided, frowned upon and shunned. In ME1 you can sometimes hear aliens telling humans that they should never have left their own system.

In ME2, this tone seemed to carry on, but less obvious. Mainly because the second game had you working with a pro-human shady corporation to advance human interest against the impending invasion of the Reapers. In ME3, when the Reapers attacked, humans had to beg the Council for help (and get turned down) before Shepard embarked on a quest to unite the galaxy against the Reapers.

In fact, Turians have the largest military fleet in the galaxy, and Asari commandos are the best and most feared special forces available. Krogans are the shock troops of the galaxy and well… humans are lumped together with other “lesser races” where we have nothing much to speak about.

So, what is Mass Effect? It is a story of a single soldier that can make a difference, and opening our eyes to a world where humans are not the dominant species, and aliens bicker like humans.

 

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Freespace 2-like game, Sol Exodus

First off, yes I know I haven’t been writing much … I have been stuck in various games since about July 2010 – Grand Theft Auto 4, X3 Terran Conflict, and Skyrim (yeah no posts on those).

I have always been a sci-fi fan, what with me being a Trekkie and all. I know SWTOR was released, but I’m not as much of a Star Wars fan as I am a Star Trek fan. Star Trek Online has released a new expansion-cum-makeover called “Season 5 – Call to Arms” where the skilltrees have been revamped and crafting practically overhauled. Mission progression from Ensign to Vice Admiral has been streamlined. All these are done to prepare for the Free-To-Play launch on 17 Jan 2012.

But, this post is not about those. This post about a new little game I discovered on Steam. It’s called SOL:Exodus. It’s made by a small independent company, hence it is labelled an “Indie game”. Indie games doesn’t necessarily mean “sucky games”.

As I mentioned before, I have always been a sci-fi and space combat fan. X3 is an open-ended game where I will NEVER be “finished with it”, hence my savegames are still there waiting to be reloaded and continued. However, Sol Exodus is a linear game, much like Wing Commander (anyone still remember that?) series or the Freespace series.

In the game you are a combat pilot, and the missions are linear – you finish one, the story brings you to the next encounter immediately. There is no trading, exploring, flying around aimlessly like you can do with open-ended games like X3 or Freelancer. Controls are pretty much intuitive for the most part. However I did have to get used to not having a “strafe” mode… in its place, there is a “slide” mode where you disengage all your X and Y axis and rotate to face a direction while going in another. This allows you to, for example, fly AWAY from enemies, while looking back and firing on them, all the while flying AWAY from them.

The graphics are pretty, and they use the Unreal 3 engine (usually used for FPS games like the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell series). Hence you can be sure of some pretty eye candy. However most of the time your attention will be on trying to stay alive and killing the bad guys, the “Children Of Dawn”.

Voice acting in the game is decent, and doesn’t sound stiff. Pretty good for an indie game actually. The in-game computer persona that is part of your ship is called “Cassi”. I would even go as far as to say, if you have played Mass Effect 2 before, she sounds a little like EDI there.

Anyway let me just show you a video clip of the actual gameplay. No it’s not a video capture from me – I found this on Youtube.

It just got released today actually, 25 Jan 2012. Well in US it is 25 Jan 2012, but over here it’s 26 Jan 2012.

It’s only US$9.99 on Steam, and it is worth it! I haven’t had such a mindless blast-everything-that-moves space combat game since Freespace 2. Hmm I may even reinstall Freespace 2 again one of these days and re-play the whole game… I kinda miss it..

 

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