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Mass Effect Trilogy: Conquering the Backlog


First off, I want to say an Eva-sized "Thank you" to everyone who read, replied to and otherwise acknowledged my introductory blog here on the Dtoid community.  It means a hell of a lot to be embraced right away, and I will be here every week to contribute some sort of opinion.  

Now that I have gotten all the softies and feels out of the way, let's get down to business and the reason I have once again taken finger to keyboard: the backlog.  This is a word that conjures up terrifying, chill-inducing images among gamers all across the globe.  Every one of us, at some point, has taken a look at our collection of games on our shelves, hard drive or Steam library and asked, "Self, how did this happen?"  We get enticed by deep discounts and bundles, figure we might as well take advantage of whatever deal is happening that week and throw yet another videogame on the pile, pausing to acknowledge our purchase and possibly forgetting we own it on the same day.

Personally, I have found this dilemma to not only create a glut of unplayed games, but divert my attention from a great many high-profile releases.  You want some disclosure that will tarnish my credibility as a gamer?  Here goes: I have owned every Nintendo console since the NES (save the Virtual Boy, if that counts) and have never finished a Legend of Zelda game.  That sure as hell does not come from lack of wanting; I am infatuated with the idea of starting A Link to the Past, and plan on finally besting it some time this summer.  Inevitably, I get this same idea for another game that got lost in the shuffle of Paypal spending and Gamestop B2G1 deals.  

 Another issue I face as a gamer is an equal combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder, two issues I will tackle in the future.  Neither of these conditions have been clinically diagnosed, but I have done enough independent research to tell you I am absolutely fucking mental.  A couple of years ago, my backlog got so massive that I decided to take a conscious step back and reevaluate how I would go about tackling my list of games to play.  Not only would this save time, money and energy, it would finally present an opportunity to experience things I had heard people talking about in games for years.  I have put a hell of a dent in my pile, and am almost ready to make a few more purchases.  Along the way, I caught up with a certain space opera.

Up until March of this year, I had never completed anything by Bioware.  I purchased the Dungeons and Dragons collection often bundled together on GOG, but after a few attempts at the original Baldur's Gate, I chalked up my constant deaths to having never played a tabletop version of D&D, something I would still love to learn with the right group of people.  I was well aware of Bioware's work on Knights of the Old Republic, but for some reason, my concept of RPGs had always been defined as Japanese in nature, thanks to a constant diet of Final Fantasy while growing up.  

But how could I have skipped such an epic trilogy?  What was preventing me from jumping into space and taking a ship to uncharted worlds while creating a character from scratch and building a rapport and relationships with the rest of the crew?  Much like other AAA releases, Mass Effect and its two sequels simply slipped through the cracks.  When I purchased my New Nintendo 3DS at Gamestop, the only time this year that I completed a game purchase inside a physical store, a bargain bin nestled a few feet from the front door offered three Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 games for $10.  This would be the first time since my backlog purge that I would add to it, so I took the bait.  Rifling through the selection, I shoved aside the sports titles and shooters that occupied most of the shelf space.  I came away with Anarchy Reigns, Brutal Legend and Dead Island, only to find all three Mass Effect titles at the same price.  Not one to miss an opportunity like this, I took them all.

I should tell you, I was well aware of the envy of some gamers by now.  Rather than stretch out the experience over five years and $180 plus any potential DLC cost, I was about to embark on a Mass Effect binge for the same price as the AC adaptor I needed for the 3DS.  I would like, if I may (YOU MAY NOT!), to share with you my experience so far in my very first endeavor with Commander Adam Shephard.  Furthermore, while these three titles have now all been available for years, there may be some of you who are in the same spot I was in when I walked into Gamestop that day.  I will be spoiling some plot of the trilogy, but seeing as I have yet to finish Mass Effect 3, this will not be all-encompassing.  Regardless, SPOILERS ahead.

I was excited at the prospect of undertaking my first Bioware RPG.  My Shephard looked as close to me as I could get, save for the option of long hair.  I made him an infiltrator, injecting him with my love of all things stealthy and snipery.  A colonist whose parents were slaughtered?  Sounds like a good origin for someone who would go on to be a hero.  I already knew I was going to be a white-meat babyface, making very few decisions throughout the story that would endear me to the bad guys.  I liked the idea of being a sole survivor, and at the time, I had no idea how much this would affect the story.  

My first time on the Normandy was intimidating.  I felt overwhelmed: how many people could I talk to?  Where do I go now?  Do I HAVE to go somewhere now?  Holy shit, is that Seth Green?  Okay, we'll go to the Citadel now-- omigod this place is massive I don't even know where to start.  I felt a sense of freedom and exploration that other games of this size and scope never really afforded.  "Choose your own path" is overused as a marketing ploy far too often, and even though the Normandy was not mine to freely pilot anywhere in space, I never felt pressure to move on with the main story, intrigued as I was by the plot.  The fact that Bioware had devoted so much time to the characterization of supporting roles in Ashley, Wrex, Garrus and Kaidan was amazing to me, and I dug into every piece of lore I could about all the different species I encountered, gaining a particular fondness for the elcor.  

I was initially curious how the RPG elements would blend with the action I had heard so much about when reading reviews of the series.  I can noww say with confidence that I enjoyed combat in Mass Effect the least of the three, an opinion I doubt is unpopular.  I enjoy taking a more tactical approach as opposed to guns blazing, but the amount of times I died in the first game was incredibly disproportionate to the rest of the series.  The ridiculous driving mechanics of the Mako vehicle did not help, as much as I did enjoy exploring every inch of every planet, occasionally mowing down a thresher maw.  I got my ass handed to me on more than one occasion by ground troops who were more than capable of taking down a Mako, only to realize that I had a missile launcher mapped to the left trigger, something that I had failed to learn for the first fifteen hours of the game.

I had begun courting Ashley early on, before I even knew who Liara T'Soni was.  The moment that stuck with me for the rest of the game was when both Liara and Ashley confronted me and demanded a choice between them.  I felt genuinely bad when presented with this scenario; I was never in the same situation in real life, but it felt like someone on the writing team had been, and the choice between two attractive and intelligent women initially seemed difficult.  Liara eventually won me over with her backstory and I had to pull the rug out from under Ashley, who took it in stride.  

I knew all decisions would have lasting consequences, but nothing quite like what happened on Virmire.  I have no desire to ever make the sorts of decisions required of military commanders, and I can't remember why I left Kaidan behind.  He just seemed like the right choice, even though no such thing really exists in the world of Mass Effect.  By the time I had to decide whether or not to save the council, I did not want to see any more humans die as a direct result of my actions and cast off the Council to save as many as I could.  I had Liara by my side and was ready to see where we would go in the sequel, enthralled by this game I had waited over seven years to play for myself.

I don't know if this was a conscious decision on the part of Bioware and/or EA, but Mass Effect 2 felt grittier from the moment I turned on the system.  I was quite pleased to see my character imported from the very beginning, only to have them pull an Alias-like gimmick and slaughter me immediately.  By jumping ahead two years, I was able to not only reunite with my entire former crew, but take on a cast of characters I feel are unequaled in a sci-fi game.  I spent almost as much time mining planets (thank you, Bioware, for ditching the Mako) and catching up with the rest of my squad as I did looking for side missions, which were very carefully laid out while never holding my hand and explicitly telling me where to go.

I was hesitant at the obvious injection of more combat-oriented gameplay, but once I adjusted, ME2 quickly became my favorite of the series.  It just made more sense to now have to keep track of ammo, and the recharge times on abilities seemed to gel much better within the context of a real-time fight.  I felt more powerful looking down the scope of a sniper rifle than I did in the first game, and I also welcomed the streamlined equipment upgrades.  Being able to gain the trust of every squad member by partaking in character-exclusive missions was brilliant...although after refuting Jack's romantic advances, the only speech I ever got from her for the rest of the game was a very pronounced "Fuck off!"

My stomach churned at the thought of finishing the game.  I did what I thought was everything necessary to ensure the safety of everyone with me, but it was not enough.  I immediately lost Legion, which admittedly did not bother me...a Geth was not so much a friend as an ally with a mutual enemy.  Grunt was the next to die, although I felt he went out exactly how he wanted: fighting a hell of a lot of moving objects.  I felt confident until the end of the passage, when a swarm engulfed Garrus, and my Turian friend from the very beginning of Mass Effect was forcibly taken away from me.  I ordered Jacob back to the ship, and just when I thought everyone else was secure, Mordin was gunned down.  That one really hurt...I will never forget the experience of hearing a salarian sing a Gilbert and Sullivan tune.

During my final conversation with Martin Sh--sorry, The Illusive Man, I was disappointed that a dialog option did not grant me the chance to piss directly in his mouth.  I had grown so attached to this story and characters that as soon as the credits rolled, I purchased the Shadow Broker DLC and continued the story of myself and Liara.  I did not care that I had spent the same dollar amount on about two hours of content as I had spent for the entire trilogy...I wanted to make sure I had Liara on my side until the end.

As soon as I hit the "Publish" button on this, I will resume playing Mass Effect 3.  I forced myself to go into it with the lowest of expectations; somehow, after all the internet hatred directed at the conclusion of the trilogy, I still don't know how it ends and I want to see it with my own eyes.  If I am being honest (and of course I am), I already have grown a bit disenchanted with the third entry in the series.  What happened to neutral dialogue choices?  Why do I need to go through an hour-long tutorial sequence when I have a character I imported all the way back from ME1?  Why does everyone sound like Michael Bay contributed to their dialogue?

I want to thank everyone for reading through this reflection, and after you comment below with your own musings about the Mass Effect series (if you could avoid discussing the ending of ME3 for now, that would be awesomeness), remember that a plethora of games may still be waiting for you in your stash.  Give it a chance this summer and select one that has been acquiring literal or digital dust.  You just might experience something grand!

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About anystrom0one of us since 1:16 PM on 05.04.2015

Gamer since I knew how to tie my shoes. Writer for almost as long, previously seen on Bleacher Report, NSFW Gamer and WhatCulture!

Currently freelancing as a research assistant on an undisclosed book, and as a contractor for Study.com.

Another love is wrestling, as shown here with my friend Matt: Smart Mark Roommates on Youtube

Also, here is David Cage's Willem Dafoe staring blankly: