Video Games

Mass Effect

I spent this afternoon frantically killing Saren/Sovereign before I had to go to work tonight. Last night, I stayed up until four in the morning, hyped up on adrenaline, as I fought in Virmire (dammit, Virmire). Even though I knew what was coming as it happened, after beating the game, I sat still, listening to the end credits song, wiping the remnants of threatening tears from my eyes.

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Virmire looks like paradise, but don’t let it fool you. It sucks.

BioWare is by far my favorite gaming studio. Mass Effect is one of my favorite gaming series of all time (right up there with Dragon Age ((also BioWare)), Skyrim, Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, etc. etc.). Yet until this play through, I didn’t even realize what I had been missing!
Hint: a helluva lot.
You see, the first time I played Mass Effect, it was the first game I had ever played where a gun of some sort was your primary weapon. I had absolutely no idea how to aim a gun in a video game, let alone do it with accuracy and kill people. The amount of times I was taken to that red spinning screen with that damn music after I’ve been killed (you know what I’m talking about gamers) drove me nuts; almost to rage quit levels.
And this level of inaccuracy lasted throughout the entire trilogy.
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Yeah, try fighting that ^^, a freaking Reaper, when you suck at fighting. It sucks.

Obviously, I got better, as I beat all the games. But I knew, especially in regards to the first one, that I wasn’t playing them to their full potential. I rushed through them, falling so desperately addicted to that story and those characters that I just wanted to find out what happened next. After I beat them all (and went through all the Kleenex in my house), I knew I’d have to go back and replay them, so I could truly appreciate what I missed due to my own ineptitude and impatience.
Here the highlights of Round Two:
Vanguard Versus Soldier:
I played as a Vanguard this time instead of a soldier, giving me some biotic abilities like Warping, Throwing and Lifting my enemies. I’m so glad I tried this out (I absolutely love the Lift ability), instead of sticking to what was familiar, like I usually do in repeat playthroughs. I also actually learned to do more with my weapons and abilities, trying things out, instead of frantically shooting everywhere and hoping I managed to nick a geth in the process before getting one-shot-murdered by a rocket launcher; or charged by a Krogan Warlord unexpectedly, screaming in surprise and dropping my controller; or panicking whenever those f-ing husks showed up and also dropping my controller, thus resulting in death.
(Thank goodness I got better.)
Paragon Versus Renegade:
I have this annoying habits in video games where I try to align my character’s moral compass as close to my actual moral compass as I can. So I was a full-fledged Paragon my first playthrough, flinching any time I stumbled upon a Renegade action. This time around, I wasn’t fooling. While I still maxed out as a Paragon, I wasn’t afraid to call people out on their shit. Take that, Udina! Piss off, deaf Council! (<– I was so tempted to not rescue them with the Alliance; damn Paragon mentality.) It was kinda fun, not going to lie. And I am stoked to rip Cerberus a new one in Mass Effect 2.
Hidden Gems:
I’m really bummed I can’t remember more of these as I was playing, because I know there were multiple times when I was like, “Dude, how did I miss that the first time!?” The best example was definitely during one of the infamous elevator rides before I had unlocked everything for Rapid Transit, and the Announcer-Dude over the intercom made a mention of a production of Hamlet to be done by the Elcor.
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Genuine excitement, I laughed so hard after hearing that. Honest confession, I would pay so much money to actually see that happen. Like, holy shit.
Also, in one of the numerous quests that I didn’t realize existed (see below), I discovered an asteroid where I had a view that actually took my breath away. Lit-er-al-ly.
I was so floored, I took a picture and posted it.

All the Quests!
So, based on all the quests that I completed this time around (hint: all of them) and how many I couldn’t remember or had no recollection of whatsoever, obviously I just flew through the main quest without realizing there were side quests to be had. That also explains why I sucked so much the first time at killing things–I didn’t have any practice! And also explained why I absolutely sucked at driving the Mako (I impressed myself by actually decently steering it throughout this playthrough).
Plus, my frantic rushing set me up poorly for the next game. My hatred for and familiarity with Cerberus hadn’t been properly set up, given I hadn’t realized they existed (don’t worry, I hate them with all my core, now). I didn’t talk with my companions enough, so a lot of backstory (like the genophage, for example) was lost on me. I genuinely missed out on so much, simply because of my own mistakes! I’m really glad I went back and played it, as it was totally worth it (and I finally found all the damn Keepers).
All the Feels:
What I love most about BioWare and their games is the way they make me feel. Like, down to my core, feel. I’m so emotionally attached to these characters, this world, my choices, the outcomes; it is probably unhealthy. The first time I played, when it came to the choice at Virmire, I froze. Literally, clutching my controller and staring at the screen like, “Why the HELL would you be asking me to do that?” The first time, I killed Ashley. I was in love with Kaidan (so much for that, the asshole, refusing to barely even talk to me the entire time during ME2 and almost all of ME3! <– I’m still utterly bitter about this). This time, I had to switch it up, even though I was so bummed about it (but I’m going after Garrus romantically and I know if Kaidan was alive, I’d fall right in love with him again, being a creature of habit as far as video game playthroughs go). When Anderson punched Udina, I was elated and fist pumping all over again. When Shepard climbed out of Sovereign’s wreckage, I teared up a little.
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^^ BAMF. ^^

I just absolutely love this game.
The Score:
I knew the score was awesome the first time around. It’s still fantastic. It just deserves its own section to make that point obviously known.
Basically, I loved replaying this game (would have loved it even more on a PS4, too *nudges BioWare*). I am ashamed at how much I missed the first time around, but stoked that it provided a playthrough that was both familiar and new. Only a few more hours until I get off work, slip into my PJs, grab my ice cream and my weekend starts. And I’m sure you know what’s going down.
I’m coming for you, Cerberus.


Mass Effect 3: A Response

I know, I know, I’m really behind. Needless to say, my tardiness in playing this series did not hinder my intense reaction that is very similar to the initial onslaught the game caused after it first came out and the world started playing it; and, upon ending it, quickly erupted into cries of anger and tears of disbelief. Disclaimer: Spoilers abound, so don’t read if you don’t want spoilers pertaining to the entire Shepard trilogy. 

First, I think I must make clear why I reacted in such an intense way, before I go about spoiling the ending for the few souls that still haven’t gotten around to playing this like I had. There are two main reasons: One is what I call the “Curse of the Creative” (which I actually wrote an entire blog about ages ago, which you can read here). I’m a writer by birth and a storyteller by trade (despite the unpublished status). So growing up, I loved to read, because reading gave me a chance to escape reality. And I escaped reality because I got so into the book I was reading and that world. So into it that, in fact, I unconsciously place myself within the story, whether as a bystander or one of the characters themselves, so that everything that happens within the story hits at a much more personal level, as if it were happening in reality.
I think that sort of intensity by which I read is a result of the constant creation I’m doing in my head to help prepare for when I write. So when I started playing video games a couple of years ago (and gotten a bit more serious since then — and by serious, all I mean is that I let it consume a lot more of my free-time than it used to…so, maybe loyal is a better word?), I think it comes to no surprise that I get really into video games, because I am actually playing a character that interacts with other characters (even in single player mode) based on my own choices. So whenever I got a great kill-streak, I felt like a badass for the rest of the day in RL (real life; look at me, using gamer abbreviations). Or when I formed a friendship with a follower, like in Skyrim, my loyalty was to the point that if my housecarl, Lydia, was killed, I’d load a game and restart, even if it meant losing hours of progress, to make sure I saved her. Because she was a friend. I wasn’t going to let a friend just die. Likewise, I get super into the romances (thinking both Dragon Age and Mass Effect here), especially since my love life doesn’t exist in RL, so I’d be damned if I’m going to mess it up in the video game world, as well. So, to put it bluntly, I get really invested, I think is the right word, within the character I create or play, to a personal level.
Weird? Probably. Gonna change? Definitely not.
Secondly, the reason why my investment increased for Mass Effect is because of what BioWare did right: creating such a beautifully intricate world where my choices actually carry heavy weight and the characters carry with me from game to game. Pair my already intense emotional investment that I put into playing video games with characters who I have played with since game one, and of course I am going to be super invested in these characters by game three.

Now, I’m not saying BioWare did anything wrong with the ending of Mass Effect 3 (this is where the spoilers start. I can’t warn you any more). Honestly, I kinda expected that Shepard wasn’t going to make it. I mean, c’mon, look at everything she has accomplished from all of the games. It’s hard to expect that a single person can defeat Saren, join forces with Cerberus, stop the Collectors, betray Cerberus (thank God), unite the entire galaxy — including, but not limited to curing the genophage and ending the war between the Turians and the Geth — defeat Cerberus and stop the Reapers, and live to tell the tale through all of it. I can understand that, so when Shepard died, I was pissed, but I understood. It was hard to watch, but I got it.
No, what I am shaking my fist about and what I wanted was the outcomes of my followers. BioWare, if you were unaware, is also the creator of my all-time favorite game, Dragon Age. One of my favorite aspects about DA is that, at the end of each game, I learn the future of not only my own character, based on the choices I made, but also what happens to the other characters (Note: in DA, even though you play within the same world and some characters float between each game, the character you play as changes for each installment ((there are three)), in juxtaposition to Mass Effect, where you play as Shepard through all three games).
I wanted exactly that for Mass Effect 3. For my ending, after the Normandy crashes, Joker, Kaidan and James walk out of it alive. Yet Kaidan and James were with me when we ran to the beam and, based on the radio intel, I thought they were killed (and am very happy they were not). But what about the rest of my crew? I mean, Garrus, Liara and Tali have been with me since game one, so I’m really invested in them. And I can’t get enough of my Krogans, so I really need to know what happened to Wrex and Grunt, at leastEspecially since the upcoming game for Bioware, Mass Effect: Andromeda starts off a whole new adventure well into the future. While I recognize there is a great chance that none of the characters previously will still be alive for this new game (as they have made clear that Andromeda is an entirely new game with a new plot line), some aliens have really long live spans. I know Liara does, in particular. So the chance that she could appear in Andromeda remains.
Except I have no idea about that possibility, because I don’t know who is alive and who is dead.

That’s all I wanted. You wanna kill off Shepard, leaving me in what I described to my friend as an “emotional hangover” for the next 24 hours, literally haunting my dreams after I watched her die at one in the morning last night? Fine. I’ll mourn the death of the most badass female character I have ever known, but I will support that death, if it means I saved the galaxy from the Reapers (for those who have played the game, I choose to control them, btw). But you cannot build up such an amazing world and such complex characters, getting me so invested that I consider them borderline real friends, and then not tell me what happened to them. This is almost worse than when I tried so, so hard to keep my entire team alive in Mass Effect 2, during the suicide mission, and then managed to do so, only for you (you being Bioware) to kill off half of them in game three (yep, literally cried during both Thane’s and Mordin’s deaths. Thanks for that).
So, long story short, I have been in emotional pain for the past 24 hours because I have no idea if my sacrifice, as Shepard, was worth it. I have no idea what happened to my team, my planet or my galaxy. And I’m not talking about just after the battle. I’m talking about — if we’re moving on to a new time period and characters in Andromeda — the rest of their lives. Did Garrus and Tali stay together? Do the Krogan ever revolt again or does Wrex manage to keep them in check? Does Kaidan ever find love again (since, ya know, I died on him…twice. Geez)? How does James do with N7? How does the peace end (because it always ends)? Do EDI and Joker make it? What about all the other characters I’m not mentioning since this post is already too long? I’m just left with so many questions that I cannot answer.
Now, I will admit, through quick research done last night, I do realize BioWare released an extended cut for Mass Effect 3. Obviously, I didn’t play the version with an extended cut. And maybe this cut answers all of my questions, I don’t know. I’m just saying, the entire point of this post, was to describe how I reacted and why I responded that way. I recognize that all of these answers could be provided, now, and my complaints are null and void. Except that they aren’t null and void. This is simply a call to any video game studio out there, in any game that you make in the future: you can rip out my soul and crush my heart in terms of the twists and endings of your games, but please, for everything that is holy, give me closure. Because nothing is worse than not having closure, especially after the studio already did such an amazing job creating a game and a world that is such a joy to play.
Regardless, I’m too hooked into this world to let the lack of closure stop me from continuing to support it. I’m eagerly awaiting Andromeda like the rest of the greater public has been, even if I’m a little late. BioWare is my top gaming studio and will always have my loyalty and support. And now, I’m about to continue to show my n00b status in the gaming world by letting you know that the next series of games I’m about to start (finally) are the Assassin’s Creed games. I’m interested to see if they are as much of an emotional roller-coaster as Mass Effect was. All I’m saying is, closure is a really, really good thing. Mass Effect was awesome, including the heart-wrenching-emotional-turmoil-roller-coaster ride that comes with it. And endings are hard too, even with blogs. So lets finally finish this, shall we?
Commander Shep–er…Nicole