The Mass Effect trilogy revolutionized the art of storytelling in an RPG. The player takes on the role of Commander Shephard who encounters a strange artifact from an extinct race. This artifact is the catalyst for a mystery surrounding the return of the Reapers, a machine race believed to have caused the extinction of the ancient Prometheans. This becomes the premise for the Mass Effect trilogy as you search to find the purpose of the Promethean artifacts and technology, while also battling the geth, a collective of artificial intelligences. The scope of storytelling, and the care taken to create complex characters to join Shephard on this journey was what made Mass Effect a franchise capable of long term success when it hit Xbox 360 in 2007.
Then, in Mass Effect 2 the possibilities of this space opera RPG were expanded and players were able to import Shephard’s profile and choices from Mass Effect into Mass Effect 2, creating a range of possibilities and consequences that encouraged replay. The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 was also improved, with smooth cover, gradual health and shield regeneration and ammo available out in the field. You’re tasked with recruiting nuanced characters like Mordin Solus (a personal favorite), whose a member of an anthropomorphic race with a slim life span, and a geneticist and secret service agent with a murky past that seeps through in his analytical, Spock-like commentary. Mordin, along with many of the other choices in crew have their own background and past to face, which is revealed as the story unfolds. Mass Effect 2 ended on a great note and was the most fulfilling of the trilogy.
Mass Effect 3 attempted to capitalize on the cinematic quality that made Mass Effect unique, but it was somewhat lackluster in comparison to its predecessor. There was not much about the gameplay that was new or exciting. There were some new and interesting villains that made mastery over the controls and space important (the teleporting, space defying Banshees), but the focus of the final installment seemed to be to improve the overall ambience and tone of the story. Shephard is now faced with the difficulties of deciding who lives and who dies in order to save a galaxy, and these decisions are the jewels of the game. The problem with 3 is its continual letdowns. Instead of the large scale battles and triumphant grandiosity we expect, we are sometimes met with conversation. The ending itself is so utterly disappointing that I was left staring at the credits, still wondering if Martin Sheen’s commanding voice would jump out at me to continue to fight on at any moment. The quick, rushed feeling of Mass Effect 3 was a disappointing conclusion to a fantastic trilogy.
With Mass Effect 4, we can only wonder at the possible expansion of this massive universe. The cinematic ability of the game will probably be capitalized even further, with a stellar voice over cast, more options where our choices have a profound effect on the gameplay, and hopefully more of the charismatic characters that made Mass Effect 2 so enthralling.