I’m playing Mass Effect 2 again at the moment. Yes, again. I think this might be roughly my fourth or fifth play-through, but I do have an obsessive need to unlock all possible happenings, and this means it’s time to play as super-ass-kicking-space-bitch Shepard, ramp up my renegade bar to the max and punch a few mercs through windows. In which case, I present to you three reasons why Mass Effect is the greatest video game series ever made.
All the Stories in the ‘Verse: It is enormous, and the attention to detail is staggering. Each civilisation, from the Asari to the Krogan to the Volus, has a complicated history, tricksy political problems and a unique outlook on the universe at large. On a smaller scale, every bit-part character you meet will have a decent voice actor and a wee story of their own to tell. Get absorbed into the story and you’ll soon start recognising ME’s own little in-jokes (Krogan have four testicles, so they’re referred to as “quads”, a certain part of the Asari body is nicknamed “azure”- because they’re blue, get it? And Issac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in the galaxy).
The Horizontal Charleston, Alien-style: At the heart of Mass Effect are the relationships between the characters, or, in other words, the “which of these fine sprites will I be boinking by the end of the game?” element. In the first instalment your choice was a little limited – for the boys there was poetry quoting xenophobe Ashley Williams, the girls had the easily embarrassed Kaidan Alenko, or for both there was Liara, the quiet and reserved archaeologist who was secretly the Normandy bike. In ME2 Bioware have very wisely thrown all caution to the wind and now practically everyone is bionkable, even your PA, and the Doctor seems quite willing to get you drunk too. Even Garrus, easily the coolest character in the entire Mass Effect universe, can be awkwardly chatted up in the battery array- is it bad that I find it all the more amusing because it’s a little bit weird? I secretly think even the writers of ME2 have decided Shepard and Garrus are BFFs foreverz. Just don’t ingest his fluids.
To Be a Shit, or Not to Be a Shit: Complex moral choices. Bioware seem to specialise in making the sort of games where you have to put the controller down for a bit & have a really good think about the consequences of your actions. Shepard is continually confronted with decisions that are actually morally very tough: whether or not to allow genocide for the greater good (a theme that turns up over and over in ME), which of your team to sacrifice, whether or not to buy those fish you know perfectly well you’ll forget to feed… It’s choices like these that add to Shepard’s heroic status- she may well be able to take down a charging Krogan with one well placed kick to the quads, but she also makes some hard decisions for the sake of the universe, and that makes her the greatest of galactic heroes.
*Other than Dragon Age: Origins… Look, you and I both know I’m too obsessed with that game to make a sensible judgement, so let’s just drink the tainted blood and move on.