Remembering Mass Effect 2: republishing an old love letter

Back at the start of 2011 I wrote what can only be described as a love letter to Mass Effect 2.  And what better way to celebrate the launch of Mass Effect 3 by republishing an abbreviated form of that original piece.

Originally Published March 1 2011. 

As a game, Mass Effect 2 just did everything right by simply iterating on the first game.  The shooting mechanic was better, the dialogue was better, it looked great, the world was as immersive as it was fantastic.  And I could go on.  But that’s not what makes Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest examples of interactive entertainment ever made.  What sticks with me the most about the game was its narrative, the way it develops and builds on characters in a way which makes you care genuinely care about them.  (If you haven’t played the game this may be a bit of a SPOILER): As much as the internet had a whole lot to say about the final boss, although it left a lot to be desired, the lead up to it was so great that it didn’t matter to me.  I’d already reached my climax.  The tension created by designating members of your teams to perform specific roles in order to keep the team alive through the self proclaimed suicide mission was real to the point where a sigh of relief would come when they survived, or in my case a real lament came when at one point made the wrong choice.  Why I chose Miranda instead of the Justicar can not be explained.  But the tension and the sense of panic made me make a decision that, in the heat of battle, led to Legion not returning to the Normandy.  It was a moment that replays in my head over and over as the Collectors took him as prey while he verbalised error messages.  I had made a mistake that had cost a life,  a decision that actually impacted me for the rest of the day, as I walked around with a deep sense of melancholy and regret in my own daily life, almost feeling as though I had let Legion down.  The worst part was it was hesitation that made me choose Miranda, a character for whom I had no affection for.  But I can’t pass the blame on her, as a leader I made the wrong decision and its something I’ll have to live with, and something that will no doubt impact Commander Shepard’s plight to save mankind in Mass Effect 3.

As the credits rolled and I thought back to the conversations I’d had with my crew, Mordin confiding in me that he’d designed the Genophage and felt that it was for the best of the Krogan species, Thane’s acceptance that he was dying of disease an honorable man despite living the life of a contract killer, and the story of the test tube Krogan Grunt’s coming of age as he discovered his place in the Krogan community as he is accepted into the Clan led by Urdnot Wrex all came flooding back to me.  These were friends that I was going to miss.  Unlike most videogames where its the kill count that matters, or saving the world, to me it was creating and nurturing a team where we could trust each other and if it came to it, be prepared to die together as we took  the fight to the Reapers in a mission that none of the crew thought they’d return from.

The thing is Mass Effect 2 transcends how I would normally critique a game to a point where its not the game mechanics or the graphics that matter, despite the game playing like a dream and the graphics being best in class.  Its the human connection, the stories of my journey to save mankind from the Collectors that I will tell people from years to come as if they were my own.  Its the human side that Bioware gets so right; their ability to touch parts of the human psyche that normally aren’t touched by videogames, thats what makes Mass Effect 2 a once in a lifetime experience.

Sir Gaulian

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