Mass Effect Trilogy: Defining a Generation

"Mass Effect Trilogy: Defining a Generation" is the title of a brief editorial on Zero1Gaming that retrospectively examines BioWare's Mass Effect series and the influence it had on the previous generation of console systems. A few paragraphs to start you off:

And on the world; I have never come across a source that manages to create such a detailed and immersive world outside of the printed word. The setting, environments and the overall socio-ecological basis of the universe is developed with more subtlety and maturity than most films, let alone games; a medium where subtlety is often a foreign concept. The well-developed conversation system, where you are given a number of options with brief summaries to choose from as a response, allows the conversations to flow more realistically than in any game I have come across. It really is a major factor in drawing you in and making you suspend that disbelief.

I know I've discussed immersion before, but immersion really is the key word for this trilogy. The top notch voice acting and animation really do make you care about the characters and, in all honesty, it feels genuinely cinematic. I hate using that word too, (as I'd argue with anyone that games being cinematic usually means you'll be sitting through a lot of FMVs), but here it is a valid description, as you watch an overarching narrative play out as you play. Not since Half Life 2 has a game so effectively told a story just by using on screen events and trusting the player to understand.

The series has something of a dichotomy as it progresses through its various iterations, however. The first game has you travelling across the galaxy, visiting planets, landing and exploring, which made you feel like you were really a space explorer and lent the game a feel of a vast physical scale. This was reined back extensively in the subsequent games, with planet visits limited to scanning for ore from space (just as exciting as it sounds that) and the galaxy hubs feeling not much more epic than a given region of Super Mario Land. Also, the areas in the latter games are much smaller and you're more conscious of them being levels, in the true sense of the word in gaming context, which does hurt the immersion a bit. This narrowing of the feeling of physical scale is in complete contrast to the scale of the storyline, which build and builds to an epic crescendo as your focus expands from a single planet to a whole universe. The term space opera is one that sounds kind of silly, but that's what it is; a modern sci-fi tale in the tradition of the epics of old.