Returning to the world of Mass Effect has been a glorious hit of nostalgia – it feels like returning to my childhood home. It’s like a school reunion, full of old faces you haven’t seen in years, only you went to school with cool aliens instead of a bunch of self-interested arseholes.
I’m also seeing a lot of people talking up the first game specifically, but that might be because it’s all anyone has replayed at this point – you need to play them in order, after all. Once we get around to Mass Effect 2, a lot more fans like me might emerge, proclaiming the sequel as the trilogy’s greatest hit. I have always been of the opinion that the ranking is Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, Mass Effect, but it had been years since I’d replayed any of them before the Legendary Edition. Prior to the remaster, I’ve been hearing that the first game has the tightest narrative, the best arcs, the strongest villain, the most subtle storytelling… if I was a newcomer to the series, these would all be things that would appeal to me over the bombastic and dramatic action-intense sequels.
For that reason, I was eager to dive back in. I’m more mature now – in theory, at least – and have committed to playing a more measured Paragon Shepard for this very reason. So far, I’ve only just rescued Liara, but I’m currently unconvinced. Mainly that’s because of how Mass Effect introduces its characters.
I’ll probably write about this more once I play through to it, but I’ve always thought Grunt has one of the best introductions in gaming. He’s introduced twice; once in the tank, and again when you open it. The first gives you his history, backstory, and establishes his unique position within his race, while the second wallops you with his personality. It’s perfect, and Mass Effect 2 is full of brilliant introductions, with Jack, Thane, Archangel, Legion, Samara, and more all having outstanding introductions. EDI’s in Mass Effect 3 is sublime, too. In the first game though, Liara’s is decent, and the rest are woeful.
First up is Kaidan, who’s already part of your crew, so you’d think giving us some semblance of his personality would be easy – he’s jumping from a running start. The only problem is, he doesn’t really have a personality. He was planning on watching paint dry the other day, but the paint didn’t show up – it had better things to do.
Meanwhile, you meet Ashley mid-mission and immediately after the death of Jenkins, and it’s just weird exposition about the Geth. We don’t get anything about who Ashley is as a person, what she’s fighting for, what kind of soldier she is, or what she offers to the team dynamic. If you talk to her later, she reveals herself, but there’s nothing to go on back on Eden Prime.
Wrex feels like the DLC characters in Mass Effect 2 – you just bump into him and he joins your crew. I will admit that we see him being imposing beforehand, and him paying you for carrying out his hit is very “a man’s gotta have a code,” but it’s still all over and done with very quickly.
Recruiting Garrus is similar; we coincidentally overhear that he’s after Saren too, have a quick chat with him, then he’s on the Normandy. Bada bing, bada boom. I know you all love Garrus and want his weird mandibles to kiss you, but think about how he enters Mass Effect 2. Just a million times better, isn’t it?
Finally, Tali. This one is just a mess, sorry. She’s doing a back alley deal with the Shadow Broker, it goes wrong, she joins your crew and offers vital evidence to prove Saren guilty. This all happens within less than two minutes. Is she supposed to be naive or streetwise? They’re diametrically opposed ideas, but here, Tali is both, whenever each idea works. Openly blabbing about going to the Broker is naive, knowing when she’s being played and fighting back takes guts, and then immediately joining Shep’s crew without thought is right back to naive. Not to mention the fact the AI in the first game hasn’t been tweaked as much as it probably should have been, so the fight to defend Tali feels messy and anticlimactic, especially compared to her recruitment mission in the second game.
I’d argue that Tali has the best arc in the entire trilogy – again, something to write about once I’m caught up – but it doesn’t start off in a blaze of glory.
The best thing I can say about the first Mass Effect game is that I understand why people like it. It’s very different from its two sequels, and that’s why I’ve always looked at it as the rough start, rather than the early peak that its siblings could never amount to. The way it brings in characters is the best evidence of that.
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