So what in the world does Mass Effect even mean? The first game in BioWare’s trilogy of sci-fi RPGs defines it as a phenomenon where mass is manipulated by dark matter, which is generated by an electrical current passing through the imaginary “element zero,” or “eezo” for short. A positive current increases mass and a negative one decreases it. This is how artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel is achieved, and how pellets the size of a grain of rice can deliver 2 kilotons of destructive power (think Hiroshima). This is what makes the franchise so special – there’s a level of detail in every facet of its fiction that is simply astounding. It gives the impression that the developers actually respect the intelligence of their consumers.
It’s also one of the reasons I prefer science fiction to fantasy almost every time. Whereas in fantasy everyone is inexplicably stuck with Tolkien’s creations (dwarves, elves, orcs and goblins, etc.), sci-fi will come up with things like a monosexual race called the Asari that can reproduce with any species through the psychic conjoining of their nervous systems. My favorite from Mass Effect
are the Elcor, a hulking quadruped race that evolved on a high-gravity world; they speak in a monotone voice and need to preface their statements with emotional undertone when interacting with humans, since they rely on scent and other subtle cues to express meaning amongst those of their own race.
The Mass Effect
franchise is all about exploration and discovery. Every planet you visit is unique and detailed, every species you encounter possessing some extraordinary trait. BioWare has created these games with a scope and scale that very few developers could achieve. Like a good book, you can get lost in this intricate and vast universe, quickly forgetting that you live in a much more boring reality. And then there are the characters you will meet and befriend -- each squad mate that you bring with you has a unique personality and outlook, growing and changing with every addition to the series. They aren’t a bunch of simple, endearing characters wearing different hats, but people, with lifelike personalities fueled by talented voice actors giving it their all.
In addition to the aforementioned, there’s always been this mystery craftily woven into every thread of the games. The Protheans were a galaxy-spanning race that existed 50,000 years ago, but suddenly vanished. It is assumed that all of the technology used by intelligent beings came from them and it’s left at that. Unlike other stories that hit you over the head with the precursor trope, BioWare lets everything remain implied rather than overtly stated. Little by little, you start to uncover some of the background history, until the end of the game when you’re hit by a massive plot twist that will leave you exasperated and wanting for more.
Now, if you have not yet finished playing ME1 and/or ME2, you need to stop reading right here. Unless you absolutely do not care for the franchise and my summary didn’t make you curious enough to want to check them out… There won’t be any story details for Mass Effect 3
itself in this review, though, so you can rest assured that nothing will be spoiled for you if you’re just trying to find out whether or not it’s worth playing. We’ll be getting into the meat of things next up, promise!