Mass(ively) Effect(ive)

This Tuesday sees the release of the latest entry to the Mass Effect franchise, Mass Effect: Andromeda; a game where players get to explore the Andromeda galaxy. Given that Andromeda begins following the conclusion of Mass Effect 2, I wanted to offer an overview of the series in order to add context.

In 2007, Bioware – opting for their own take on sci-fi after making Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic –  released Mass Effect, their take on a third-person shooter/RPG hybrid. What’s very notable, is that not only were they creating their own mythology and universe, but actively envisioned a trilogy of games from the very beginning. Additionally, Bioware focused on creating a system for player choice to be a vibrant component to facilitate true impact from these choices. The player assumes the role of Commander Shepard, being able to determine how the character looks, acts, his/her background and specialty, all based on user preference.

Personally, I am a huge science fiction fan and Mass Effect seemed to be an experience I couldn’t pass up once I heard about it. As I began to explore the Mass Effect games, I was quick to realize that childhood sci-fi favorites like Star Trek had nothing on the lifeforms created for this franchise.

Mass Effect‘s alien species feel very alive and most of that comes from the shipmates you encounter on your journey. Through characters like the weapons specialist Turian Garrus Vakarian, the Asari Dr. Liara T’Soni, the Quarian engineer Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, and the Krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex, each of the major races you encounter feels more fleshed out, allowing the player a more personal connection to some of the large scale conflicts happening in the game.

One of the larger aspects of the game is the in-game character-to-character dialogue one can choose to engage in. Speaking to your shipmates will reveal conflicts and point you in directions to solve them. Black Market trades, war atrocities, and issues stemming from belief and religion rear their heads during play. It was common in my own playthrough to have my morals challenged knowing full well it would affect not only the characters in the vicinity, but would undoubtedly create unforeseen circumstances later in the game(s).

With Mass Effect giving the player a way to control their own future, it gives true weight to the decisions you make as Commander Shepard by having them be reflected and recounted by NPCs. The story of the game does traverse along a path, but the player has the ability to add variances to the story and in this way make it their own. Before Mass Effect, I had not experienced a video game that accomplished such a branching story to such a successful degree. During my own playthroughs, it felt like I was getting closer to these characters and doing my own self-discovery. It ended up being that much more rewarding since I had to bide my time and ask these characters questions in order to dig a little deeper and learn more about them, their motivations, and what makes them tick.

Mass Effect is truly a fantastic introduction of a living and breathing sci-fi world that isn’t perfect. That imperfection drives a lot of the drama, and from there arises an interaction and experience that blew me away. Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the release of the game and given that no game is without flaws, I would say that it is one of the best RPGs to have come out for the last generation of gaming consoles. Since release, Mass Effect has earned 12 awards including RPG of the Year (2007, TeamXbox), Best Original Score (2007, IGN), and Best Story on PC (2008, IGN).

If you are interested in trying Mass Effect out for yourself, here are some links to get you started:

Steam on Windows for $20

EA’s Origin Service for $15

PlayStation 3 for $15

On Xbox 360 and Xbox One for $20

In addition, a box set of Mass Effect is available for $16.95 – $29.99, depending on your preferred platform on Amazon. Or, as always, check with your local used game shop!

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Looking Back -Jedis and Outcasts

I remember the lead-up to this game pretty fondly. That wallpaper image of Kyle Katarn dragging his lightsaber through a wall was my desktop wallpaper for some time even before the game came out. I distinctly recall showing it to my Dad (bear in mind that I was 14 when the game came out) and asking him if he thought it was cool or not.

In true to himself fashion, my Dad simply stated that it seemed like a “grossly inappropriate use of a lightsaber.” But what does it matter? IT’S COOL! My teenage mind was pretty easy to please. But Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was a game that I fell head over heels for.

But that also was how I felt while playing the game. In it, you continue the story of Kyle Katarn, former Imperial soldier, turned mercenary, turned Jedi, turned mercenary again. Katarn has given up his Jedi abilities out of fear of going to the Dark Side and with his pilot more-than-a-friend Jan Ors to investigate some disturbances on the planet of Kejim. What unfolds is plenty of excuses to shoot stormtroopers, bounty hunters, and more along with some of the best lightsaber-based gameplay this side of Yavin.

But aside the combat were some, at the time, ingenious force powers. You had your normal powers like Push, Pull, Speed, Jump, and Lightsaber Throw, all of which were considered neutral abilities by the game. But the one power I had the most fun with was Mind Trick, a Light Side ability.

With Mind Trick, you could get an enemy to leap off to his doom, and others would get disoriented or believe they heard a noise. At the time, it was a revelation to me to have an ability change depending on the current situation. But the one thing that the game will be remembered for best to me are the lightsaber mechanics.

Jedi04

You could do a lot with the saber, especially once you mixed Force Jump into the mix. The game allowed you to enter a Saber Lock with enemies (where the sabers clash and there’s a struggle), or you could perform a slash as you are flipping the air off of the nearby wall. It was combat that felt truly fluid and caught the energetic style of the prequel saber fights.

But the one thing I recall not liking, especially after the rich and branching story of Dark Forces II, was the linear story and forgettable villain. The main villain was Desann, who, as far as I can tell, wanted Jedi to be strong. But, he felt those that didn’t match his definition were to be killed. As such, he didn’t last long as an apprentice under Luke Skywalker. But after that it was unclear what his motivation was. Could’ve been power for power’s sake, but it never seemed like he had any grand designs or plans. To me, the story fell a lot flatter then the build up Dark Forces II had.

Dark Forces II had a bigger reliance on guns, but it had very distinctive enemy Dark Jedi, and a story that would change based on your actions and chosen Force abilities. It also crafted a story that made Kyle Katarn’s destiny deeply intertwined with the Jedi throughout his family’s past.

Point is though, if you want a fantastic game where you are a Jedi and you feel disappointed by Battlefront, this game (and Dark Forces II) should be at the top of your list.

Jedi Knight: Dark Forces IIGOG.com (Windows only), Steam (Windows only)

Jedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastGOG.com (Windows only), Steam (Windows and Mac OS X)