Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is Bioware teaming up Funimation and Production IG to make an anime movie version of their game, because we all know how much the gaming community loves anime. It’s a story about James Vega fighting the collectors. I don’t know who James Vega is because I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet. I have, however, just finished playing Mass Effect 2, and I really want to talk about it.
There, you see. Mass Effect has an anime. Therefore the Mass Effect games are related to anime. I am totally justified in writing about them on this blog.
Shut up, it’s my blog, I can do what I want.
With the exception of the Pokemon games, where the girls look like they’re wearing socks on their heads, I tend to choose female characters when playing games. I think it’s largely novelty factor. In games you’re normally just A Dude, and I’m already A Dude in real life, so I like to mix things up a bit by role-playing as me with a vagina. What really shocked me with her though is that, despite knowing that all her lines were written for a male character, she still felt like a Female Character, if that makes sense. There’s a trick in writing that, if you don’t know how to write female characters, you just write a male character and change the gender. In a game like Mass Effect which is so obsessed with sex and identity, that seems like it would be a bad move. I think me being sold on FemShep is largely down to the voice acting. There’s a teasing tone to her voice that works. It’s so effective at selling Female Shepard that I struggle with imagining her lines being spoken by a guy instead.
I was originally going to name her ‘Coqundbalz Shepard’ until my sister, who was looking over my shoulder when I was starting up ME1, pointed out this name didn’t make sense because she was a girl, so I changed it to ‘Noqokatal Shepard’. She’s got dark skin (because I want to tick all the anti-privilege boxes) with short-ish red hair and these big green eyes. I didn’t muck around with the character creation too much, because I’ve learned from games like Sims that what looks good in the testing area can sometimes go terribly wrong once you let them out in the world. The eyes were the one area where I set a few of the sliders to strange levels, giving her those magnificent big green eyes of hers. It’s those eyes more than anything that sells me on her being the saviour of the galaxy. They are the stare into your soul type. The ones that would gaze unflinchingly at monsters. The eyes of one who had seen hell and survived while still keeping love in their heart. Am I straying into creepy territory a bit here? Yeah, I probably am.
Mass Effect 1 is still great
When I told twitter I was playing Mass Effect 1, a load of people said that it wasn’t great or that ‘it hasn’t aged well’. The only big improvement I could see that ME2 made was taking out the micro-managing of weapons and gear. The rest seems largely the same. I know handling that stupid truck in ME1 was really frustrating, but ME2’s solution of having you throw probes at planets from orbit is the most boring tedious piece of rubbish ever. At least going down to the planets made the galaxy feel like big. One of my favourite moments of the original game was going to The Moon and looking up at Earth. I hadn’t seen Earth at all in the game, and it’s barely referred to, but glancing up from inside the truck at it was a real moment where I had a think about where humanity had come in that game. It’s not quite the same when you’re just farting probes at it.
I also miss the big Citadel. I get why it’s not quite as big in ME2. They’re trying to give you lots of different places to visit, rather than just one big place. It’s just big enough to create the illusion that it’s a huge city, but has enough going on and variation that it doesn’t fall into the problem Bethesda RPGs have in that there’s just an awful lot of repetition and nothing. ME2 just doesn’t have that same sense of scale. I was super pumped about going to see the Migrant Fleet to meet the Quarians, but when you get there you can only go into something like 4 rooms. Same with the Krogan homeworld. These are places that had been built up over two games as landmark iconic homeworlds, and not being able to get a sense for what they are truly like was a bit disappointing.
I’d heard of this mysterious concept called ‘Role-Playing’. I treated it in the same fashion I treat recreational drugs: I’d never done it, not because I’m against it, but because the opportunity to engage in such activities had never presented itself and I wasn’t particularly bothered in searching out such an experience. Mass Effect is the first game where I did find myself actively role-playing, where I would approach certain decision points by rationalising “well, my Shepard is X so she would do Y”. Conversation choices aren’t made for gameplay benefit reasons (for the most part, I’ll get to that later), but you also have limited scope in how Shepard will react. I started trying to rationalise why I made certain choices by what Shepard would do rather than what I would do. Since Shepard is both a woman and courageous, two things I am not, it helps me to distance me from her choices and roleplay as her.
It made for an interesting mix. I thought Ashley was a racist cow so was really mean on her early on in the game, so I reasoned that Shepard was anti-space racist. My tendency to save lives I rationalised through her pre-game heroic status as a sole survivor and that scarred her into being determined not to let any of her men die. There’s that tough decision at the end of the first game where I saved the human fleet rather than the council, which rather went against the Paragon/Renegade thing the game was on, but I reasoned thus: The council were space racists because they hated the humans were raising too high in the ranks, wouldn’t let the volus or hanar in, and kicked some other species out of council space altogether. Meanwhile Shepard wouldn’t have been able to live with herself for letting another bunch of people die under her command, so she saved the humans.
In ME2, I drank a lot of alcohol at night-clubs. This was largely to see if Shepard would eventually collapse and throw up in the toilet on the Normandy (which partly came true), but I figured that she was drinking to overcome her guilt in letting the council die. This in turn helped me make decisions elsewhere. She kept talking to Jack despite her being clearly a psychopath because Shepard’s guilt made her believe that if she stuck up for this girl, her own guilt would eventually go away. ME2 gave you the option of punching people in the face mid-conversation, which was pretty baller so I did that a lot, obviously because Shepard’s fractured nerves meant she snapped a lot more easily. However that was counted as Renegade, which brings me onto my next point…
Moral choice bullshit
I know Mass Effect doesn’t label it as good vs evil, instead as Heroic vs Badass, but it’s still bullshit. Someone who is short tempered and punches people in the face when they keep talking nonsense won’t always be the same person who agrees with the use of the Genophage. It’s so dumb to split these into two sides, particularly something as complex morally as the Genophage is. Often I’d come out of conversations getting both Heroic and Badass points because I just chose whatever felt right for Shepard to say at the time. It wasn’t a problem for the most part, because the way I played Shepard lent itself to Heroic more often than not, but it did mean I didn’t max out my meter by the end, which eventually crossed the line into some gameplay issues. For example, when Miranda started fighting with Jack, my Heroic bar hadn’t filled up so I just sided with Jack because of Shepard’s guilt trip she was on (also because for god’s sake Miranda, talk about first world problems compared to Jack). But when the game was coming right towards the end, I realised I needed Miranda on my side so it came about filling that meter. The last Big Mission I did was Legion’s, which should have been an incredibly complex moral choice, but I barely paid attention to it because I already knew I was picking Heroic.
And you know what? Miranda still didn’t side with me by the time I reached the end, which I’m pretty certain is part of the reason why so many people died in that last mission. I was expecting some people to die, so I don’t really mind. You live with your actions in Mass Effect. I didn’t mind Thane dying, because he had made peace with dying and had already said this was his last purpose in life. Zaeed also died, which was sad but he had seen it all, so it was a fitting place for him to go. But one other person died on that mission. After being abused as a child, growing up on drugs, being traumatised into a being filled with hate and disgust for all human life, Jack was finally onto some path of recovery under Shepard before being grabbed by a bunch of teeny tiny bugs and flown away, stored alive and being turned into fuel for a big robot. That was such a depressing way to end her life, doubly annoying because I hadn’t picked her for any of the key positions or anything. She was just with me in my normal team, but was still dragged off. I’m going to keep the game save as it is, because I feel I should live with my actions in those games and replaying feels like cheating the system, but boy was that such a depressing sucker punch.
Boring human teammates
The human team-mates are generally the worst, but special mention to Jacob for being the blankest most boring piece of Yuji Everylead the Bland. Miranda may have been a stuck up bitch, but she had the confidence and intelligence to back that belief up, so she got a bit of respect from me for that. I always chose the angry options for Miranda, but I reasoned that was because she was similar to Shepard and that pissed her off a bit because she didn’t want some young upstart with dat ass muscling in on her space. Plus her loyalty mission, while not the best story, was certainly the most emotionally touching. Even Ashley is better than Jacob. Ashley was racist, but at least that’s a character trait. Kaiden was way better in every way too. He had a genuinely interesting backstory instead of being just some soldier. Also Kaiden was moe as fuck and I got endless entertainment from teasing and flirting with him. Which did come to a bit of a head when he challenged me for flirting with Liara too.
Yeah, on the romance…
When I said Mass Effect is rather sex obsessed, I wasn’t just talking about the romance subplot. So much of alien interaction and society is based around gender and sexual reproduction and relationships. Loads of the incidental conversations you hear in the game are people in marriages or trying to chat each other up or wondering aloud whether Asari are brainwashing them into thinking they look like sexy blue people. Some of the gender politics can go a bit off at times. I mean, there is an entire race of sexy blue alien hotties, all of whom seem to spend their youths as strippers. I’m really not sure what to make of the fact you can sit down and watch Asari strippers with no gameplay benefit. I thought the stripper would give me information, but after sitting there for a few seconds I realised this was just for me to jerk off to-I mean appreciate Asari culture. *cough*
Anyway, that time where Shepard sat and watched Asari strippers allowed me to have some point of reference for her clearly being into Asari and would therefore choose Liara instead of Kaiden in ME1. I felt kinda guilty, because I had essentially been leading Kaiden on before friendzoning him and getting off with an alien chick instead. Plus Liara is…well, kinda goofy. Her airy fairy dialogue is so silly at times, talking about spiritual bonds with a voice like she’s come out of Rivendell. I liked her most when she was acting a bit naive, or fangasming over Prothean ruins. That all said, if you have a game in which you can have lesbian sex with aliens, why on earth would you instead decided to have a boring old hetrosexual relationship with a human? I’d always figured Garrus was a better fit for Shepard than Liara was anyway. You have no idea how delighted I was when Shepard started giving him The Eyes in ME2.
Anti-space racism seems like an obvious choice, but I guess that comes down to me being very anti-nationalistic anyway. There is a strong case to be made in looking out for human interests in the space game, because otherwise your people get fucked over. If you look at it as fighting for equality rather than supremacy, then it becomes an easier pill to swallow. Cerberus in that case is a bit like the IRA. They stick up for the oppressed in the region, but on the other hand their terrorist activities are despicable. Plus while the people they claim to represent want equality, both the IRA and Cerberus want supremacy (or be part of the Republic, which is the same general idea). It doesn’t seem like Mass Effect pushes that agenda all that much, but again that could just be my personal political filter. As much as a claim to be role-playing, I still have my own baggage I carry over to Shepard.
The other questions that came up were more difficult for me to make my mind up on though. I never particularly cared for Tali in the first game, and I did also say earlier that I found the Migrant Fleet bit disappointing, but that’s not really the case. It’s only the scale that bugged me. The political debate they were having was really interesting, particularly since it went through a whole load of options I had never considered. I figured the only options were either defeating the geth or forgetting about them and finding a new planet to call home. But then one dude suggested trying to make peace with the geth, saying they had only attacked because the Quarians had attacked them first. Another said they should subjugate the geth and put them back under Quarian control. The bit that threw me the most though was a totally incidental piece of dialogue from a dude who was researching a dying sun. He pointed out that confining yourself to a planet is so dangerous when stars start randomly dying that it may be the best idea to stick to a migrating fleet altogether.
Mordin’s mission was the one that really threw me for a loop. There were times when I’d just sit there for ages thinking about the logic and morality behind the genophage. On one hand, it’s pretty clear that, at the time, this was the only real option. Peace wasn’t attainable with the way the Krogan people operated. Mordin explained the genophage as not crippling their population but instead as returning it to normal levels. The state it was in originally was the anomaly, caused by their evolution on this harsh planet. It was not a system that worked well with space travel. You’re not actually killing anyone, you’re changing birth rate. But then I’d recall my conversations with Wrex and all the other Krogan in the game and realise how utterly depressed and without hope they were. They’re practically dead inside, weighed down by cultural crippling. It’s a resentment that defines their people. When you look at where it left the Krogans, it’s a really difficult decision to live with.
Mordin is probably the best character generally. I never used him in combat because he was fairly useless. I tended to stick with a variation of Jack/Garrus/Kasumi/Tali. But he had the best loyalty mission, had some of the best lines, was kind of a badass in a unique way, and most importantly of all, he can sing! He sings in children’s TV shows! Brutal killer scientist appears on a kids’ TV show to brag about his racial inclination towards science. It’s like learning Bill Nye runs a clinic in a Somalian pirate town
I was a little bit shocked that the DLC cost so much. I had planned to get it all, but since there was no package deal, I only got Kasumi and Shadowbroker instead. Kasumi’s mission isn’t anything special, although there is a neat moment with the Statue of Liberty’s head. The real value of the DLC is having Kasumi on your team. She’s like Zaeed in that you can’t really have a conversation with her, just stand around while she monologues at you. Her stories aren’t as good as Zaeed, but she makes that up for being awesome to use in combat. Her special ability is to turn invisible, run up behind baddies and then punch them in the back of the head. I particularly enjoyed doing this against Harbinger. He’d be all “I WILL END YOU” only for Kasumi whack him in the back of the head mid-taunt.
Shadowbroker was weirdly different in tone to the rest of the game. It was still fun, but it was like they had brought in Joss Whedon to write the script. Liara complaining about my driving felt like a callback to the way my Shepard acted in ME1. In ME1 my team was usually Liara and Garrus, so I used to rationalise my shitty suicidal driving as Shepard trying to show off to Liara. I did prefer this new rendition of Liara though, because she was less airy fairy and a bit more badass. Although then she came to my quarters after the mission, I was reminded of how friggen silly her normal personality and dialogue is. It was made doubly silly by my choice of outfit. With the Kasumi DLC, you get a formal black dress for Shepard to wear. I normally didn’t wear it because Shepard’s tough manly walk and bulging muscles looked kinda dumb in that dress, but I put it on for that mission because I figured she’d want to get dressed up for her old lover. Thing is, they didn’t redo Shepards’ poses shots so you get her awkwardly spreading her legs to Liara in a ‘come and get some’ pose. Then again, maybe that was deliberate…
Replaying as ManShep
Replaying as ManShep is something I plan to do eventually. I’ll make him an ugly fucker with a huge beard, act like a big racist and see how many team-mates it is possible to have die in the last mission. That does mean I’d have to save the council instead of the humans, but I’ll rationalise that by pretending ManShep can’t function as a racist if he doesn’t feel like the Aliens are lording it over him. Plus when I play ManShep, maybe I’ll get to see what’s under Tali’s suit? Judging by where some of the conversations with Tali were going in ME2 with FemShep, I’m going to hazard a guess that you can romance her if you pick ManShep? As I said before though, why would I pick to have boring old human sex with Miranda, even if she does have dat ass, when I could go for an alien? I’ll just pretend ManShep thinks she’s actually a human under there, but when she finally takes it off it’s too awkward for him to say anything else and just rolls with it.
Mass Effect 3
I’ve heard that ME3 is a bit of a disappointment (I’m pretty sure hermits in the Himalayas where their only contact with the outside world is messenger pigeons have heard that ME3 is a disappointing). I originally thought it was just for the ending being poor, but more and more I’m hearing people say the entire game is bullshit, which I struggle to believe. So long as the game is still about talking to aliens and listening to their silly conversations, then I’m cool. Maybe knowing the ending doesn’t take my choices over the previous 2 games into consideration much will lessen the disappointment. Some people have even suggested just leaving it altogether, but I can’t do that. I’m way too invested in this story not to know what happens next. Perhaps playing this game will taint my memories of Mass Effect, but even a game a fraction as absorbing as the first two are is good enough for me.
Maybe there’s a bit of recency bias in here, but Mass Effect is easily my favourite game of all time. I used to play games a lot when I was younger, but a combination of social life, anime, and the fact that Football Manager sucked away any time I would be playing other games, meant that I dropped out of gaming around the age of 14. With the help of Steam sales and totally failing at social life, I’ve been getting back into games a lot these past 2 years and I’m starting to realise the difference between a fun game and a time sink. Sure I spent a lot of time with Pokemon and Sims and Football Fucking Manager, but how much of that time was fun? Some of it certainly was, but not as consistently as the time I had with Mass Effect. So I have to have more. Mooooooooore. Give me mooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeee.
Oh right yeah, anime blog.