My love for all things Bioware is hardly a secret. Over the past 15 years the studio has been a staple in my library and I constantly use their titles as barometers of excellence. Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age. I have sunk hundreds of hours into the Canadian developer’s RPGs and they have proved to be stellar repeatedly. But it is their sci-fi space opera Mass Effect that I hold in the highest of regards.
Over at Kotaku.com, the editorial team is featuring a week dedicated to the intergalactic trilogy that isn’t named Star Wars. Their staff is providing their personal musings on the series, the fantastic inspirations and behind the scenes stories behind the games and guest editorials showing just how impacting the crew of the Normandy has been.
What Bioware (and then Microsoft Game Studios) promised for the original Mass Effect was nothing short of bold, an epic sci-fi story, to span multiple titles, all following the actions of a single player’s avatar, Commander Shepard. Shepard may be the most varied character in the modern era of gaming. Sure characters like the Master Chief, Kratos and Isaac Clarke have come into their own over the past decade, but Shepard is the only character whose story wasn’t told, it was lived. One of the features that was stressed in the first Mass Effect was the detailed character creator used to hand tailor each player’s Commander Shepard. Players could customize Shepard’s gender, ethnicity and facial features almost as if Shepard was game jumping into The Sims.
But what separated Shepard from any other player created character is that Shepard still had a life to live, a story to tell. Often, avatars are merely representations of a player manifested in multiple ways hacking and slashing across fields to right some sort of generic wrong. While each Shepard was tied to a player’s individual tastes, all the Shepards in the world still had the same decisions to make, the same moral conundrums to balance, the same relationships to foster or even destroy. Bioware skillfully used their experience in creating carefully planned dialogue trees to weave an intricate tale that was very much cause and effect. And while it may have made sense to not have the support of a irritating reporter after you punch them in the face, the entire trilogy pulls from various decisions made across all three games, changing the way the second title plays off of the first and the third plays off its predecessors. It is the video game equivalent of a butterfly effect, the small actions that seem to have minor repercussions in one game, are magnified come the third.
It is these same repercussions that have driven me mad to the point of perfection. It was hard enough to have to choose between Ashley and Kaidan in the first Mass Effect. It was even more stressful ensuring the safety of my entire crew raiding the Collector’s stronghold in Mass Effect 2. As for Mass Effect 3, it has been absolutely heart breaking learning the fates of some of the most beloved characters and squadmates who have fought alongside seemingly impossible odds. It is because of this quest for perfection that I have yet to actually complete Mass Effect 3, disappointing ending and all.
Like I said, Shepard has become an extension of my persona, it isn’t just Commander Shepard, she is Commander Ris Shepard. And she is different from every other Shepard on the face of the earth.
But with Mass Effect 3 back in the spotlight, at least for a week, maybe I can finally conjure up the strength to send Shepard into the storm. Maybe I’ll finally brave multiplayer so I can raise my army’s galactic readiness in order to receive the true ending. Maybe I’ll be ready to see Tali remove her mask, finish unsettled business with the Illusive Man and teach Garrus to properly calibrate those weapons systems. Saying goodbye is hard, but my Shepard deserves to be sent off properly.