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The Mass Effect series embodies narrative perfection

Mass Effect is a one-of-a-kind video game franchise. It’s a series that’s breaking new ground for the future of gaming.

With Mass Effect 3’s recent launch, it’s hard not to rave about BioWare’s vision of a three-part, epic-sci-fi tale finally coming to fruition.

I recently wrote a piece about Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, a non-fiction book that tackles video games from a personal perspective. Bissel believes that games offer an unprecedented form of interactive entertainment, but he thinks that they need time to mature. If Mass Effect 2 and 3 came out while Bissell was writing his book, he would have changed its tone. BioWare has epitomized his vision.

 

Never before has a series tried to emotionally involve the player at such a deep level. The cinematic cut-scenes, heavy emphasis on character involvement, dialogue-tree selection, and even the fact that you’re encouraged to get to know your crew, all these elements combine to create an unparalleled interactive-narrative experience. To me, the Mass Effect franchise boils down to this: It’s a deeply involving, choose-your-own-adventure novel making each individual player’s journey unique.

I understand that Mass Effect has flaws. Some gamers long for the complicated menus and customization that the first entry offered. Since Electronic Arts became involved in the series, the franchise was increasingly simplified in an effort to reach a wider audience. Contrary to how most people feel, I actually like how the franchise has evolved.

As I’ve gotten older, I have less time on my hands and consequently don’t want to spend my limited hours fiddling around in menus. I just want to play my games. But I totally get where hardcore fans are coming from, and I do miss the armor customization from the first Mass Effect quite a bit. I know a simple version of this system remains in the second and third releases, but it’s not the same as in the first entry. Also, EA’s large coffers seem to have given BioWare the ability to secure top-notch voice talent, and the voice acting is one of the main reasons why the series is so engrossing in the first place.

I’m most amazed by how the decisions I made in the original release — from 2007 — affected the outcomes of my playthroughs of the next two adventures. When BioWare mentioned that they were planning on implementing this feature years ago, I didn’t believe it at all. I figured it was just a Peter Molyneux-style pipe dream.

I know the entire face-import fiasco surrounding the latest title has caused a bit of a stir in the community. It’s almost like BioWare is punishing their longtime fans for playing the original game. For me, this really wasn’t much of an issue. I was more concerned with the decisions my character made over the course of the first two games, not his actual appearance. This is mainly because my Shepard looked rather ridiculous after being imported into Mass Effect 2. For some reason, his hair started growing into his forehead — not exactly the look of the savior of the entire galaxy.

So that’s enough of me raving about the series, but I wanted to share why I feel that the Mass Effect franchise is one of the most important video game series of the last 10 years. It shows the potential that video games have for creating a deeply engrossing narrative, and the series itself furthered the medium in unprecedented ways.  Mark my words. Mass Effect will be the go-to example of interactive-story development for years to come.


Follow me on Twitter @Patrick_ORourke.


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