Mass Effect Has Changed Gaming Forever

Mass Effect’s Decisions and Their Impacts Have Made For An Experience No Other Game Offers

My Shepard is a paragon. He gives medicine to those who are down, spares lives where he can and he always gives people the benefit of the doubt. He is in a committed relationship with Ashley Williams and was heartbroken when she viciously turned on him after rescuing her on Horizon. Yet afterwards, he admitted to Yeoman Kelly Chambers that she “means a lot to me,” and was touched by her e-mail when she called him “Skipper” like in the old days.

My Shepard decided it was more important to attack Sovereign with every ship available than it was to save a few council members and risk not taking the ship down. And yes, he suffers for that decision because everyone now believes that humans have taken what they should have earned.

He cares for Tali Z’orah as though she were his sister. He doesn’t put up with thieves or thugs and he has little patience for those who take advantage of others. He will not use reaper technology to defeat them in the climactic battle to come. He is level-headed and self-righteous.

I digress, but with good reason, for my Shepard is like no one else’s Shepard. I take pride in his path. I have guided him as I would if it were myself in his situation. I have made mistakes and there have been actions I’ve regretted. Yet that is why Mass Effect is unlike any experience in gaming. That is why, after Mass Effect is said and done, I will never experience games the same way again. Mass Effect is so special and so unparalleled in its storytelling because Shepard is human.

Mass Effect forces us to make decisions, and often the results aren’t immediately clear. We can’t possibly know whether it would be better to protect the Council or attack Sovereign with the Normandy. Choosing between Anderson or Udina as the new Councilor is a decision based on gut reaction rather than some hint that one would be better than the other. Mass Effect’s choices are so important and so relevant for two reasons:

The choices play a role in the story. If you save the Rachni queen, you may benefit from their aid in the climactic war against the Reapers. If you choose to attack Sovereign and sacrifice the Council, humanity will be detested. If you salvage Reaper technology you may risk unintended consequences. Return a woman’s body to her husband and you’ll receive his grateful thanks. There are a myriad of decisions that you make which will impact the story in both large and small ways. Did my decision to return the body of the woman to her husband change the galaxy? No. But did I feel reward in receiving a grateful message from the man in the second game of the series? Yes. And I felt as though the galaxy was alive because my actions from the first game were acknowledged in the second.

Secondly, the choices in Mass Effect aren’t always black and white. Many games incorporate choice but it’s almost always obvious which option is “good” and which option is “bad.” Take the money to blow up Megaton in Fallout 3 or disarm the nuke and save Megaton from demolition? The moral poles are obvious. But in Mass Effect, the choices aren’t always obvious. Did I do the right thing in sacrificing the Council? I certainly didn’t do so to elevate human status, though that’s what the galaxy believes. Did I make the right decision in choosing not to salvage the Collector ship at the end of Mass Effect 2? I don’t know. It may turn out that the war will be a hell of a lot harder to win without access to Reaper technology for us to study. But that’s the beauty of Mass Effect. It feels real because there’s no clear right and wrong, just like in real life. You don’t always know what the best decision is. And that matters.

In the end, the Mass Effect story will change gaming because Shepard isn’t just Shepard – he’s my Shepard. And yours is your Shepard. Our decisions are never the same. We each have a different experience. And because those decisions carry over to the next game, they are real decisions. Mass Effect is very much alive. The universe is teeming with characters that matter and decisions that reverberate.

No linear game experience will ever produce the same feeling as this. No character has ever felt as alive as Shepard does because no other game has allowed such weighty decisions that carry over to the next game and change the experience based upon your choices.

Play Mass Effect and then play Mass Effect 2. Savor the experience. It is unlike any other in gaming.