In the not-too-distant future, humans discover a mass relay, enabling them to travel throughout the galaxy and placing them on the galactic stage. You play as Commander Shepard, the first human to be accepted as a Specter – sworn defenders of galactic peace. Your mission is to halt the advancing armies of a legendary agent gone rogue. But as you lead your elite team across hostile alien worlds, you will discover the true threat is far greater than anyone imagined. (IGN)
I could spend hours of your time writing about how great Mass Effect is. I could go into how much I loved being able to play as a dominant and strong character or how said character was also at times flat. I could give a detailed summary of every important choice I made and of every sidequest I decided was worth my time. I could go through each and every aspect of the series’s evolving gameplay and how it has been refined to something beautiful and fluid.
I could, but then this review wouldn’t fit in “Romance” month. So I’ll just ramble about the lovey-dovey stuff!
I know what you’re probably thinking (actually I’m not telepathic or Asarian, so I really don’t). You want me to critique these three games and want to know if they are worth playing. If that’s all you’re worried about, then GO FORTH! I’m making it easy for you; just buy the darn series, especially if you catch it on sale.
The reason I’m focusing on the romance is because it is through the evolution of how this series places greater interest in its diverse cast of characters from the original Mass Effect through Mass Effect 3 that we see just how far the series has grown, both in scale and in depth. Let’s start from the top: Mass Effect 1.
In the original Mass Effect, you got two options. If you are playing the Male Shepard, you get to develop a romance with Ashley, a human. If you play as the Female Shepard (affectionately referred to as “Femshep” by the ME community), you get to fall in love with Kaiden, another human. The twist (and the more controversial choice) was the ability for either Shepard to date an Asarian named Liara T’Soni. Unfortunately, there were some false accusations that the game was pornographic in nature due to some supposedly graphic sex scenes. Granted, those accusations came from Fox News, and it turns out there is nothing that couldn’t be seen on your average television network. Obviously, having a possible romantic relationship (and even worse, a sort-of lesbian relationship) with scenes heavily implying some “hanky panky” did not sit well with some people, but for the majority of gamers this was something new. For the first time in a long time, we got to see actual relationships between important characters that weren’t shoehorned into the plot. These routes were completely optional. Want to date the Asarian? Go ahead. Want to be a lone wolf/date Garrus in Mass Effect 2? Feel free to wait it out.
Speaking of Mass Effect 2, the sequel’s romantic capabilities vastly expanded. Doubled, actually. With a mix of new faces and old, Mass Effect 2 gives you the chance to not only start over (as all of the previous options are unavailable unless you get DLC), but also the chance to try to romance nearly every important member of the crew. Not at the same time, of course, that would be silly. What I mean to say is that Mass Effect 2 did things bigger and better than its predecessor in nearly every aspect. Characters are more complex, missions and decisions influence relationships, and most of all the final mission might decide whether or not these characters even survive.
Then we get Mass Effect 3. You’ll hear two main things about Mass Effect 3. 1. It was a good game. 2. OMG TEH ENDING WAS SO BAD BIOWARE WTF. To be fair, I do admit the ending is very bad from a design and storyline standpoint, but Bioware has released an Extended Ending DLC that fixes a lot of the key problems. For more on that, I recommend watching the Angry Joe Show’s commentary on both the ending and the DLC. But now let’s get back to what you’re still reading for: the romance!
I will be honest and say Mass Effect 3’s romance scenes are the best of the series. Why? It is because Bioware managed to take the time to dive deep into each character to see what were the best and worst parts of that character. They brought back as many characters from both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 as they possibly could, while adding a few new ones for you to discover as well. They even decided to add in openly gay characters that were also romantic options, which is actually really cool. My favorite aspect is that the romance, unlike in Mass Effect 2, was brought to the forefront of the game. Not only do you develop a relationship deeper than a Nicolas Spark’s novel, but you also get to see these characters at their most vulnerable. They are not simply characters you are made to romance because the plot demands that you and Party Member #4 must save the universe with your love. These are relationships that develop out of a combination of respect, camaraderie, friendship, and a little bit of desire, which makes these some of the most realistic depictions of love I’ve seen in a long time.
- Wide cast of memorable characters that evolve as you do throughout the series
- Combat improves with each game, providing a better and better experience
- Romance provides many feels, even to the most stonehearted gamer
- Garrus Vakarian.
- Graphics aren’t half bad.
- Choices made throughout each game impact the rest of the series, providing players a new and unique experience every time.
- Mass Effect 3’s ending is pretty bad without the DLC, and even then it just makes it a little better.
- The occasional graphical issue
- Mass Effect 1’s elevators, auto-save, and Infiltrator class.
- Mass Effect 3 has multiplayer, but I didn’t play it. It probably doesn’t have much of a fanbase at the moment anyway.
- Romance in Mass Effect 1 and 2 is basically “walk up to that person and talk to them repeatedly.” Then again, isn’t that how romance works in real life?
Final Score: Buy it. In order to get the best experience, I recommend getting all three games and playing them consecutively. I understand that can be a lot of money, so feel free to wait till they are on sale.
Trivia: Garrus was not originally planned to be a romantic option, but because of fan response (and the sheer amount of fan art on DeviantArt), Bioware decided to make him available in Mass Effect 2 (to my great pleasure).