Mass Effect – another post

Right. I’ve now finished this as both a goody bloke and an absolute arsehole. The reason I bought this game (and stuck with the shitty opening stretch) is that Mass Effect 2 is getting really good reviews, and it does something a bit different. It detects your saved games from the first game, and things you’ve done in the first one will affect the story and plot and characters in the second one.

The first game is almost a Choose Your Own Adventure in the usual Bioware style – options in conversation can be nice (“I can help you with that”) or nasty “Fuck off, scum”), and your character accrues Paragon or Renegade points depending on which ones you choose. Like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before it, and probably every other Bioware game ever, there’s some things which you think will be nasty that actually turn out nice, and vice versa. Some of them, you’ll work out which way they can go by exhausting the conversation options. Very few of them are an actual gamble, as in you can’t tell which way it’s gonna go. So the way I tend to play games like this is be really good first time through, and if I like it that much I’ll play it again and be bad and see what happens.

Where it gets fucking mental is that there are billions, OK, lots of things which can change between playing through as good and playing through as bad. This post will be spoiler-central for the original Mass Effect, so be warned.

There’s the stuff you do out and about on distant planets, the side missions. They’re optional, but they can add Paragon or Renegade points depending on which conversation options you pick, or in a couple of them, your direct gameplay actions. These usually end with Lance Henriksen phoning you and saying either “well done on talking your way out of it, glad there was no deaths”, or “it was a damn shame you had to kill five thousand colonists just because you wanted to loot their armoury, but hey, we’ll keep it out of the media, laters”. These side missions don’t have an effect on the overall plot.

When you get to the proper plot missions though, all bets are off. On one of them, you can either kill most of one colony or kill most of the other. For good reasons, too. The choice is implicit though, so you don’t actually know you’ll have to do this until it’s too late and guns are drawn.

On another plot mission, you are presented with a dilemma which affects one of your crew members, and an entire alien race, and every other race in the galaxy. And your options basically boil down to two – go after a cure for a disease, which may also end up to be used as a weapon against this guy’s entire race; or utterly destroy the place before the cure can be weaponised. If you go after the first option, then everyone questions whether you are fit to proceed with your mission. If you go after the second option, then you will have to kill your crew member first.

By the time you get to the end of the game, your choices and actions have determined who lives and who dies in your crew (and therefore, who will get the chance to continue their story in the sequel), which alien races have a chance at survival (and which alien races will be after your head in the sequel), and whether there will be a unified government with representatives of all alien races, including humans, or whether the humans take over governing the entire galaxy; not including all the other tiny decisions which have larger ramifications outside the plot.

What I’m now desperate to see is how the FUCK Bioware are going to continue every single plot permutation in the sequel. I’m guessing the little asides in the first won’t get picked up on in the second (although if that annoying stim addict diplomat appears again I’m hoping there’s also an option to kick the fuck out of him, whiny little bastard), but even leaving them aside, there’s a load of plot points which will need to be addressed in some way in the sequel, and they can all be changed depending on what you did in the first one. Bioware are a company that is perfect to attempt this, and they’re always trying to push the cinematic, character-based gaming angle, but if they succeed with carrying all this forward well in the second game, then they’ll have made something which should be cherished.

EDIT: Also, a game where you can actually choose which annoying character to get rid of, and which awesome character to keep; more games should have this! Get halfway through Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Mario gets the option to join up with the baddie to slap some fucking sense into Princess “Even worse than Kim Bauer for being repeatedly kidnapped” Peach. Maybe.

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