WARNING – Mass Effect series spoilers ahead
A few months ago my wife decided to start a play-through of all the Mass Effect games, given that our circle of friends talk endlessly about the series (60% of the posts on this site thus far are Mass Effect related!). She wanted to see what the hubbub was all about, and I was all for it. There was one catch though – at the time she had never played a modern console game before, let alone a shooter, so there was a significant learning curve ahead of her. In the end though I managed to learn a lot myself, and not just from things I might have missed the first time around.
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a picky gamer. Actually finishing a game is a rare feat for me, because so often do I become tired or bored and just stop playing, letting another neon green box collect dust on the shelf. On top of that, I don’t replay games. I won’t even watch a movie twice in the same opening weekend, though admittedly maybe The Phantom Menace ruined me for that. I just feel like what I get out of the experience the first time is all I need.
But Mass Effect always seemed like the exception to this, like The Fifth Element (I can’t not watch that if it’s on TV). However, due to life I just never got around to doing another play-through, unlike some of my friends. I think I started another insanity run through Mass Effect 2, but I gave up on Mordin’s mission on Omega (read: vorcha rocket assholes).
So when my wife wanted to experience Shepard’s story, it gave me the opportunity to see the universe again, albeit from her eyes. At first, this was a daunting prospect for her. Finding her footing with the analog sticks and feel of the controller was a challenge. Eden Prime took several hours to get through, and while at first I thought it would be a breeze for her, I forgot how horrible the cover system was from the first game, along with the “simon says” mini-games to open doors. But as much as she wanted to, she avoided throwing the controller across the room (she saved that for later). I think once reaching the Citadel and feeling that overwhelming sense of awe, she was locked in for the ride.
There were certainly more ups and downs, mostly from trying to drive the Mako, but liberal use of pausing via the radial menus and carefully picking her targets made her an effective player. Here and there, I’d watch her play while fiddling with my iPad, unconsciously being a back seat player or making recommendations that she already knew. I couldn’t help it though – on some levels I was engrossed as she was. Little things like meeting Garrus or opening the galaxy map for her first time made me feel giddy. Eventually I ended up watching her as often as she played, because I considered this the play-through I never got.
Having recently finished the last game, it was like being home again. It wasn’t my Shepard, though watching a FemShep and Kaiden alive gave some fresh perspectives. I pieced together more of the broader story too, and I remember when I played the first game I didn’t pick up on the looming threat of the Reapers as much as it’s presented. The ominous conversation with Sovereign has so much weight, and taint of indoctrination and influence of the Protheans meant more now that I knew the big picture. Even seeing some side characters I forgot about made me go “ooooh!” several times.
So powering through a triumphant finish of the first game, she immediately started up Mass Effect 2. And that, was a different feeling. Justifiably upset with the changes the combat system like the addition ammunition and a more required cover experience put a sour taste in her mouth. It was like learning Mass Effect all over again, which is undeniably true. For as much of a pain in the ass the Mako was, she’d gladly have that un-maneuverable walrus over having to hunt for ammo.
But again, she soldiered on. I’d like to think the addition of a depth of characters and stories helped ease the pain a bit, but she felt as most of us do – it doesn’t stand up to the first, even given all it’s flaws. Not that it’s a bad game, in the slightest – the story is strong, your team engaging, and it sets the stage for a riveting ending. It is an unforgiving game though, and even on casual she struggled. Even stepping in for her several times I found it to be way harder than it should be for the lowest difficulty setting. She finished the suicide mission though, keeping her crew alive, giving the Illusive Man the finger and ensuring that she’d see her man hunk of a biotic again in the next game.
The final game, as sobering of an experience as it is, was the most impactful. It’s also the game I had to help her the least with, thanks to the addition of the narrative difficulty mode. But she got through the bulk of it on casual just fine. Just like I did, and in some cases even more, the game brought forth a litany of tears. The story was coming to an end, and the close friends she’s made in these few short months would be ones she’d never see again.
It was a Wednesday evening, and I was driving home from a running class. She texted me, revealing that she had been in agony for hours over the final choice the game presented. She was trying to reflect what not only she, but in turn her character, would choose. When I came home, I saw a dimmed television screen with a battered Shepard standing in front of the Catalyst, and my wife with a stream of tears down her face. It’s one of the few times I’ve actually seen her cry to this extent, and if you didn’t know any better you’d think she would have lost a loved one.
But, in a way she did. Several of them. And she was about to make a choice that was sweeping enough to alter the course of the galaxy. We talked out the options together, considering the ramifications and the fate of her friends. While this was happening though, it also forced me to consider my decision. It was one made after careful thought, but in a way I feel like I picked Synthesis because it was presented as the “best option. Was it though? She brought up a point I hadn’t thought of – is it Shepard’s right to change, on the atomic level, everyone in the galaxy? Did they ask for that? Was the hubris of the Star Child completely unfounded to begin with?
I didn’t think about these things when I made my choice. But when I saw her, emotionally invested in what happened, it all became more clear to me. I really could see what the games and story meant to her, to me, and how important the series is in lieu of the fact that it came evoke such a powerful and human reaction. It’s a rare thing in this day of reboots and media over-saturation. While Mass Effect meant something to me before – meant a lot to me – it wasn’t until this moment that I knew how much. In sharing this with my wife, I loved the games more, and in turn I loved her more.
So in the end, she picked Destroy. The hope of Shepard being alive, along with the total destruction of the Reapers seemed like the best option available. Keep in mind, this was before the Extended Cut. But ultimately she changed my view, and when I re-finished the game last week I abandoned Synthesis for Destroy and the hope of my Shepard seeing his one true blue love, Liara, once again.
So in the end of all things, I’m proud of my wife for sticking with the series, even through the frustratingly hard parts. But not just because I wanted her to experience the greatness of the saga and story. She’s become a rabid fan now, and this whole experience brought us a little closer together. In the end, I think that’s what Shepard wanted.