I count myself lucky to have played Mass Effect 2 prior to Mass Effect. As good a game as that was in its own right, had my first exposure to the Mass effect universe been elevator loading screens and Mako drives, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. But gosh, that Mass Effect 2 intro. As a Star Trek fan of several years, the elements of it were just immediately familiar – the hustle and bustle on a huge ship, people using tablets for everything, before suddenly a surprise attack shatters that tranquillity forever.
There aren’t many other game intros I remember that clearly for their apparent love for their respective genre tropes – Uncharted, certainly, Far Cry, Until Dawn perhaps. But as you can see from that list, a bombastic intro gives you an idea of the lengths a game will go to pull all the stops and ensnare you. Epic is still the first word that comes to mind when I think of Mass Effect 2, and that goes both for how its action scenes made me gasp and how its power fantasy overshoots into cringe territory at times.
With Mass Effect 2, my dearest gaming wish had come true – finally, a good space game. Of course, being a game, it wasn’t interested in the diplomatic nuances of Star Trek quite as much so it could still get you to shoot enemies in the face, and of course the actual goal of the game was quickly overshadowed by the possibility of getting one of the unexpectedly attractive aliens to take a very close look at your captain’s quarters. Maybe that was the actual goal all along.
Of course careful critical study has revealed several flaws with Mass Effect 2, but I still think there isn’t a single game with characters that grew on me to the degree the crew of the Normandy did. Whether it’s Mordin Solus’ Gilbert and Sullivan renditions, Garrus doing some calibrations or my feverish desire to romance Thane, the sexiest alien of them all thank you very much, the characters filled an otherwise pretty familiar sci-fi world with a life of its own. I as the hero could choose to help not some easily forgettable villagers, but my friends, the people who talked to me of their problems when I visited them in their rooms or who wanted to share their feelings on our progress.
Thanks to Mass Effect, I will always remind you of the importance of great characters, because God knows no one talks about what a great cover shooter it is. Thanks to Mass Effect 2, I started to really pay attention to the work of game writers and voice actors, and I had always hoped it would establish the space opera in games canon right next to the high fantasy setting.
That hasn’t happened, and the way the franchise developed down the line is a shame. Never the less Mass Effect 2 is enduring, not least because like many games of various Games of the Decade lists, it just sticks with you for the sheer scale, polish and yes, how utterly epic it is.