You’re Playing It Wrong!
I don’t know that to be a fact, of course. You could be playing it right for all I know. Is there a right way to play it? By “it” I mean games, and by “games” I’m referring to a specific type; namely one that involves branching paths, multiple story lines… that sort of chestnut. There are plenty of those types out there, with one of the biggest, and most popular, being BioWare’s Mass Effect. The Mass Effect series reaches a Reaper-filled climax in the third instalment, and was met by a community who had been whipped up into an utter frenzy of hype and speculation. Will Shepard save the day? Who’s going to survive? How many people can you sleep with this time round? All valid and important questions. This was easily one of the most anticipated games of all time and, quite possibly BioWare’s biggest release.
While deciding if I should drop the notes to purchase this title, shortly after its release, I entered into a discussion with my friend Matt, a rather avid Mass Effect fan. I’ll be honest… I didn’t think it would be his cup of tea. He’s more of a Metal Gear Solid, Time Splitters, Pro Evolution Soccer kind of chap. However, after a hearty recommendation from me, he got into the series and never looked back. During this discussion about Mass Effect, I briefly mentioned that I was mid-way through a second playthrough and that I’d be damned if I was going to buy the third game, having not yet finished that second playthrough. My reasoning for this was two fold. Firstly, because I wanted both characters ready, complete, and all set to go when the third game came out. I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to sequels for games: basically, if I don’t finish what I’m doing with the prior one and start the next, it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever go back. Part of that is just pure laziness and part is the sheer volume of games on offer these days; it just won’t happen.
The second reason is because of the totally different characters I’m playing as. My first character is a male Shepard; he’s a solider and he makes shit explode. It really is as simple as it seems. He also has a strong moral compass, pointing towards justice and truth, and he’s a bit of a player and generally humps anything that moves. Failing that, he gets funky with the space hamster back in his crew quarters. Possibly. My second character is a female Shepard. She’s a bitch, pure and simple. She’s a Sentinel, so there’s all sorts of biotic powers getting chucked around like they’re going out of fashion. She’s fiercely loyal to one love interest, but she gets results. None of this moral bollocks. She’s a woman who gets the job done by any means possible.
Now, you can clearly see what I’ve done here. I’ve opted to play two totally different classes in two completely different fashions. The reason for this, in my mind, is to experience all that the game has to offer. At the end of the day if I choose just one dialogue path constantly, I’ll only experience a certain handful of possible outcomes. If I blend Paragon and Renegade options, then I’ll get a blend of good and bad results (depending on your point of view, I suppose). This had a greater effect in Mass Effect 2. For those who aren’t aware of the game, you were required to recruit a crew of people to face off against the Collectors. You were given options about how and when you went about this and, depending on your moral alignment, actions towards them and how you played the game would influence their choices and decisions during your mission. In the final moments of your game, you’d see a certain amount of them live or die based on how the game had played out. With my Paragon Shepard, I tried my hardest to make sure they all survived. Only one died and I was left somewhat satisfied. With my Renegade Shepard I planned to leave it totally up to chance and see who got through the final mission on balls alone. I’d get some ship upgrades that I’d find by chance and I’d do some missions and see what happened.
When I put this to Matt he stated that he’d only ever had one playthrough of each Mass Effect game and would likely only play Mass Effect 3 once. I was astonished because, at first, it seemed like a total waste to miss out on so much content with such a rich and vast universe, half of which goes untouched. He did make a valid point though, that you experience a very large amount of the content regardless of your moral alignment, but there are still plenty of options that warrant a second run at the game.
What he said next though, not only surprised me, but I think defined exactly what BioWare were aiming for with this series. He said (and I quote) “I prefer to live with my actions. The realism and emotion is key to Mass Effect”. Much like a comical light bulb appearing above my head, I totally understood what he meant, despite completely disagreeing with him only minutes before. This story that Matt, the millions of other players, and I have been on is a personal story. It’s been defined largely by our actions and our influence, with each one being down to the individual to define. Matt won’t do another playthrough though, because the key to Mass Effect is to live by your choices and accept them; to mourn those that you lost, those you betrayed, and to celebrate those you saved, those you loved.
So what does this mean for me? Well I’ll clearly consider how I play through my future games. Should it be about getting your money’s worth or having a personal experience? Should it be about finding everything the game has to offer or crafting a story that’s your story and yours alone?
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