So, I finally finished playing the original Mass Effect trilogy. A decade post-launch of the first game, when everybody else was playing and complaining about Andromeda, I picked up the first Mass Effect for the first time and played through all three original games back-to-back, developing and importing the same Shepard into all three. The ending got a little emotional – I get attached to fictional worlds and characters, it’s just how it is. And these games were – mostly – superb to play.
There was a lot of nostalgia packed into the final game, many reminders about characters big and small who had died along the way and characters still living who had been through galaxy-shaking events alongside my Shepard. I can’t tell if this was more or less affecting having played the games back-to-back than it would have been if I’d had months long gaps between them, but the fact that every character death or life saved related in some way to decisions my Shepard had made throughout the series really brought it home. It felt personal, in a way that video games often don’t. And it tried to convey the costs, personal, political and statistical, of war in a sci-fi setting. The entire trilogy felt like a journey, one that was almost entirely worth it. And the third game, taken as a whole, was the final part of the journey that I was anticipating following the superb Mass Effect 2. Technically, it’s a very fine game in a very fine franchise, and narratively, the story will stay with me days after the combat and cutscenes have stopped for the final time.
The best part of this final instalment was easily the character writing. Many of these characters were developed over two or three games, and even the newly introduced characters fitted well. There were a lot of moving moments written into what was essentially a giant goodbye to a much-loved franchise. (We’ll ignore Andromeda for the moment, shall we). The battles with the Reaper forces, particularly in the final push on Earth, were well-designed, adding in enough jeopardy and difficulty to keep the fight interesting, with plenty of incredibly eerie Banshee screams and screeching Reaper death-rays to be mildly disturbing when you’re on edge. It was slightly odd that Ashley had for some inexplicable reason been transformed into an overly sexualised pin-up who looked more like she was ready for a night out on the town than a battle with hostile alien foes – she appeared to be wearing a full face of make-up to the final battle, I mean, I ask you, that mascara will not survive the destruction of Earth – but I could still get behind the core character.
And my Shep was as she always had been – tough, ass-kicking, compassionate, a leader willing to fight and die for her friends and the civilisations they represent.