Mass Effect: The Planned Science Fiction Epic

In 2007, Triple-A games were in great demand like never before: Big-announced titles that were endowed with a high budget usually developed into popular hits and received praise from both players and critics. Established manufacturers accordingly benefited from the high level of trust placed by their customers, which also applied to the Canadian studio Bioware.

The developer was originally known for fantasy role-playing games such as Baldur's Gate (1998) or Neverwinter Nights (2002), but he won a series of Game of the Year awards mainly with the licensed hit Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) a. But that wasn't enough for director Casey Hudson, so he came up with a whole new science fiction universe. And because he wanted to create something really big, he agreed with Bioware on an entire role-playing trilogy. Already the first part of Mass Effect (buy now for € 8.99)(2007) showed off a small galaxy in which one encountered different alien races, traveled to the mighty Citadel space station and visited alien planets. The player took on the role of Commander Shepard and was given a rather harmless task at the beginning of the story: he was supposed to take care of the acquisition of a strange artifact. But he was quickly confronted with the corrupt plans of the turian Saren Arterius. Indoctrinated by the hostile Reapers, his machinations led several species – including the human alliance – to the brink of war.

Mass Effect: Official video review of ten years of Mass Effect

Audiovisual from another world

Mass Effects most obvious trump card was the presentation, which shone with a dashing synth soundtrack and many professionally written dialogue scenes. Due to the constantly occurring "shot-reverse shot" editing technique, these were more reminiscent of films than games. That means in plain language: You could constantly see the characters' faces in close-up and delight in the most realistic animations in video game history to date, which can still be seen today.

The dialogues weren't just staged optically, because during a conversation the player regularly had to choose between all kinds of question and answer options. These were arranged in the form of a clear circle, which reveals at first glance: which option is friendly, which is neutral and which is meant to be aggressive? Various key decisions made the game play differently, which determined the fate of familiar crew members, among other things. As soon as you decided on a phrase, Commander Shepard chatted cheerfully, and a full-fledged dialogue sequence developed. Bioware made no mistake and offered two synchronizations for each common language (including English and German): one with a male and one with a female voice. As a result, at the beginning of the game you could not only determine the appearance of your hero, but also his gender and choose to make space unsafe as John or Jane Shepard.

Soap opera included

Bioware fans had already experienced a small love affair from Baldur's Gate 2 (2000), and this was also possible in Mass Effect. However, compared to the two successors, the possibilities here seemed somewhat limited: There was only one potential human partner for both the male and female Shepard. Only those who liked it more exotic tied up with one of two asari females.

The turians were already well modeled in the first Mass Effect and still look great today.

The turians were already well modeled in the first Mass Effect and still look great today.

Source: Buffed

Of course, you didn't just have to talk in the role play, you also had to move around a lot – for example on planetary surfaces, within the Citadel or through the cabins of your own spaceship, the SSV Normandy. Most of the time you walked and steered Shepard from the shoulder, similar to Knights of the Old Republic. From time to time, however, you were also allowed to take a seat in a vehicle in order to cover longer distances.

If there was a fight, it was fought directly in real time and with the help of futuristic firearms. In addition, one possessed various talents (called powers in later episodes) with which, for example, one threw opponents through the air or healed oneself. Nice side effect: If you opened the selection menu for another weapon or another talent, the game paused and you could think about your next move in peace. This included commanding the two squad members who accompanied Shepard during his mission.

While the combat system sounded pretty good on paper, it turned out to be a bit stiff in the implementation. One noticed, especially with the lack of feedback from hits, that Bioware had squeezed a classic role-playing game into a more disguised shooter corset. The design of the game world also gave cause for criticism, because Bioware copied several buildings including their facilities. That put a damper on the otherwise great variety of the game.

The jump to the epic

As already mentioned, three Mass Effect parts were planned from the beginning, which were directly connected. Even more: Bioware designed the trilogy in such a way that all decisions were also taken into account in the successors. At the beginning of Mass Effect 2 (2010), the player was able to take over the score from the predecessor and continue playing with his / her old Shepard – a feature that at that time only gray role-players from series like Ultima or Wizardry knew.

Otherwise, it shouldn't be a big secret that Mass Effect 2 took gamers' hearts by storm. The title consistently built on the strengths of the debut, and Bioware's authors turned out to be true masters of the narrative rich in turns. The creators introduced several new characters who became legend from the first scene – above all the mysterious, cigar smoking stranger who was spoken in the English version by Martin "West Wing" Sheen and for the US composer Jack Wall composed a sensationally good music theme. In addition to the strong, mostly playable intro, the brilliant showdown with the so-called suicide mission was particularly memorable. It was so well designed and structured that there were countless possible endings depending on the choices you made earlier. And that including the ultimate possibility that all crew members – including Shepard – died … or all of them survived.

The player bought the way to this goal in the large middle section, where he went on the one hand to look for potential crew members and on the other hand to complete their individual side assignments. If he did it to their satisfaction, then he would gain the loyalty of the member and his chances of survival increased immensely. In the battle system of Mass Effect, Bioware once again mixed a third-person shooter with role-playing elements and the option to pause at any time. The implementation was much more successful here: In Mass Effect 2, the battles felt anything but stiff and actually reminded of ultra-modern action games à la Gears of War (2006).

No wonder, then, that Mass Effect 2 won important Game of the Year awards such as the D.I.C.E. or won the BAFTA Games Award. In retrospect, it was included in the gallery of the best games of all time and is consequently one of the absolute highlights of the Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 generation. Thus the anticipation of the third part and the conclusion of the planned trilogy increased immeasurably among the fans. Unfortunately, the final result in 2012 not only caused cheers …

Graduation with stumbling blocks

In Mass Effect 3, Bioware drew from the first hour of play and confronted the player with a devastating invasion of the reaper, who invaded the earth. Forced to flee, Shepard's task quickly became clear: to return with enough reinforcements and save the people's home planet.

Once again, the presentation made a leap forward, even if the differences compared to the predecessor were limited – due to its high quality, a tolerable shortcoming. Technically, the game had not changed either: The mixture of role-playing game and third-person shooter, which had already worked extremely well in Mass Effect 2, was again popular. When it comes to relationships, Bioware no longer made any compromises and for the first time offered a gay partner for the male Shepard. At the same time, the developers allowed themselves to be carried away to unnecessary and sexist superficialities by giving the EDI-AI a female body with particularly provocative curves and tight clothes – something that did not go down well with everyone in 2012.

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The beginning of Mass Effect 3 is particularly dramatic and confronts you with the destructive fury of the Reaper who invade the entire earth.

Source: Buffed

By far the biggest problem with Mass Effect 3, however, was the extremely disappointing finale. On the one hand, the message seemed rather clumsy and unimaginative instead of cleverly constructed. Much worse, however, was the almost complete lack of reference to the playful decisions that had been made with Shepard all the hours before.

There were three fundamentally different endings and a handful of variations, but the result was almost entirely based on so-called "effective military strength". This was made up of two factors: One increased by completing certain missions and the resulting war assets that were collected. The other was readiness rating, which in turn could be increased by playing the brand new multiplayer mode.

There the word "role play" was written in very small letters. Instead, Bioware stuffed up to four players into action-packed battles in which they were under pressure from recurring opponents and in the meantime had to complete generic tasks such as turning off certain targets or escorting a drone. Alternatively, the readiness rating could be increased with the help of the shallow iOS spin-off Mass Effect Infiltrator or a Mass Effect 3 Datapad app (both of which are no longer available). Stupid for those who want to catch up without multiplayer in today's times.

To cut a long story short: In the original version of Mass Effect 3, it was not possible to achieve all of the available endings simply by completing the single-player part. In addition, this multiplayer alternative finally destroyed the illusion that the finale was predetermined by one's own decisions from Mass Effect 1 or 2 and the associated consequences.

The criticism of the community got so out of hand that Bioware postponed the so-called Extended Cut a few months later. This pushed the required number of points for the different endings down enormously, which massively invalidated the weighting of the multiplayer mode. In addition, the player got to hear further details about the continuation of various characters and races, which were related to the decisions he had previously made.

The Extended Cut was therefore not perfect, but the bottom line was good enough. In the end, most of the players spoke of a worthy end to the trilogy. And so it was clear that Bioware's decision-makers announced the next prank shortly afterwards, which finally appeared in 2017: Mass Effect: Andromeda.

A complete restart

The "fourth" part of Mass Effect deliberately moved away from the main series – in the truest sense of the word. This time they took on the role of Scott / Sarah Ryder, who drifted through space as a member of an ark for over 600 years. Your goal: to found a new colony in the Andromeda Galaxy. Of course, there were numerous problems and a handful of new aliens. Ryder, like good old Shepard, stumbled from one precarious adventure to the next.

Habitat-7 is the first planet the colonists visit in Mass Effect: Andromeda. While it visually invites you to dream, it turns out to be uninhabitable due to unpredictable storms and a deadly atmosphere for humans.

Habitat-7 is the first planet the colonists visit in Mass Effect: Andromeda. While it visually invites you to dream, it turns out to be uninhabitable due to unpredictable storms and a deadly atmosphere for humans.

Source: Buffed

The actually quite smart premise unfortunately got several big scratches in the course of the game: The intro of Mass Effect: Andromeda seemed carelessly staged, the story is like a run-of-the-mill SciFi novella, hardly any character could keep up with those from the original trilogy (all first the awkward Ryder) and dramatic events could be smelled for miles against the wind.

There were also some deficiencies to complain about in the setting: The brand new alien race of the Angara could hardly be uglier and more generic, while the relationship options were bursting with clichés. Regarding the fights, Bioware also made little effort – and annoyed the player until the end with tolerably different variations of the same end bosses. The only really positive aspect of Mass Effect: Andromeda were the planets themselves, the beautiful design and open ones Structure honored the rambling areas from Bioware's Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014). However, even this plus was tarnished by numerous bugs that really covered the entire range. The spectrum of errors ranged from graphically awkward facial animations (from which numerous spiteful memes were created) to sudden crashes and broken game saves.

In the end, you could measure the damage in bare numbers: The Metacritic cut was limited to 76 (Xbox One) to 71 (Playstation 4) points – a disaster for a title of this size. The players even scored an average of five out of ten possible points, and in terms of sales, Mass Effect: Andromeda fell short of publisher Electronic Arts' expectations. How else can you explain that all single-player DLCs were deleted just a few months after their release? But it got even worse: The studio Bioware Montreal, which was founded especially for Andromeda, was dissolved and – much worse – the Mass Effect franchise was put on hold.

Hope dies last

Three years later, fans fear that their favorite series will continue and are consoled with half-baked rumors. For example, a few months ago Bioware published a tweet with the iconic intro music from Mass Effect, mind you without explanation and without any visible reason. Insiders suspect the subtle announcement of a remastered version that includes at least the first part and possibly the entire original trilogy.

With all of this, one must also not forget that Bioware had to contend with another science fiction debacle called Anthem (2019) and has since lagged behind its good reputation. To put it even harder: The Canadians have become a mockery of the scene with just two titles from the hit guarantee.

Science fiction stories still offer enough material for epic role-play adventures. The Mass Effect series is often compared with the cult around Star Trek, which also combines space adventures of all kinds with a wide variety of alien races. And if Gene Roddenberry's legacy is dug up again and again after 54 years, why shouldn't this also apply to Mass Effect?

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