Space was the final frontier. When Gene Roddenberry dropped those immortal words in the opening of Star Trek 56 years ago, our love affair with space had just begun. In the years since there have been tens of thousands of novels, comic books, albums, TV shows, movies, and, most importantly, video games set in space.
Gamers have chartered billions of hours among the stars, chasing their own stories. But out of many, there can still be one. One series stands above the rest, thanks to its brilliant design, exceptional writing, and some of the steamiest alien romances this side of a Nutaku banner ad.
The Mass Effect trilogy began its journey in 2007, introducing players to the inimitable Commander Shepherd and the Normandy’s crew of outcasts, misfits and rogues hurtling through space in a race against total annihilation. Across three games, players faced daunting choices and branching paths, supplemented by arguably the best character development in gaming. If we truly want to seek out new life in our games, we’ll find it in characters like these.
Mass Effect is a series that begs to be played again and again. There is simply too much to do, too many decisions to make, for one 70+ hr (minimum) run through to uncover. And unlike so many massive games that feel bloated or completion-y, Mass Effect compels you with what-if after what-if.
What if you didn’t defeat that massive alien bug queen/rogue AI mind control thing? What if you had chosen SPOILER instead of SPOILER and they perished instead? What if you didn’t SPOILER the Krogan SPOILER?
Story puts Mass Effect in the stratosphere of sci-fi gaming, but a Telltale game this is not. There’s loads of action in Mass Effect. It embraced the cover shooter philosophy popularized by the Gears series and added tense, tactical action to drive the story along. The grounded nature of the combat, augmented by some clever telekinetic mojo and military hardware, complements the worldbuilding. The life-or-death stakes feel real, so the story and characters gain gravitas by proxy. When SPOILER dies, you really miss them.
And in grand sci-fi tradition, Mass Effect is a true trilogy, connected by cliffhangers. It balances its history well. You can start with either the second or third game and enjoy it; play them in any order you like. Your decisions echo in predictable and unpredictable ways across the games, but a steady stream of new ideas buoys the story. Nothing gets too weighty or unapproachable so you explore with ease.
Bear in mind that even though all three games are in the same world, they are still three distinct games that emphasize different goals and mechanics. There is an insufferable amount of discourse about the series (and its endings) online, but essentially YMMV depending on what you like within each one. It’s par for the course with sweeping epics. Not even Star Wars is three Empire Strikes Back in a row. But Mass Effect comes closer than most.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is now on Game Pass, and available for sale on PlayStation and PC.