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In anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda, the editors over at Screen Critics have returned to the original three titles and have offered up a retrospective analysis of BioWare's sci-fi action RPG trilogy. They focus primarily on the strengths and weaknesses of the grand space opera, which I suspect will invoke at least some agreements among the fanbase:
It’s the way characters develop their own relationships too that helps to foster this sense of grander scope. It’s the way that Tali and Garrus make jokes about the long elevator rides that populated the original game during Mass Effect 2; the way they trade ‘creepiest enemies we’ve ever shot at’ stories in Mass Effect 3 that makes you feel like these characters are bonding outside of your view. It’s also the touching moments that matter – such as entering Liara’s cabin in Mass Effect 3 and hearing her consoling Garrus over the radio. Subtle touches that lend this incredibly rich cast of characters the depth to move beyond cut-outs and become real to the gamer. Every character from Jack to Mordin feels like they’re on a journey with you; and it’s gratifying to see those journeys reach their natural conclusions – even if those conclusions are ultimately sad.
This isn’t to say Mass Effect got it right all the time. During the first game some of the options afforded to the gamer feel notably clunky – in particular when it comes to romance options. Bioware still getting to grips with the important aspects of the world they were constructing left little subtlety for the gamer in this regard. It’s probably why during the second game all of the romance options from the first game are placed out of your reach; the game injecting new options in across the board and seemingly rebooting its efforts. It was a wise choice ultimately; giving more options that felt more logical (Seriously, why weren’t Tali or Garrus options out the gate?) while also giving a more adult approach to the way the game handled these romances.
It’s also worth noting that in one of the games biggest strengths it also delivers one of the series biggest weaknesses; the creation of endless choice means compromise in other areas, compromise that can lead to an inferior playing experience for those who don’t tow the games line. There’s no official right and wrong answer to the games key decisions; but the game has subtle ways of subverting your choices if you try to wander too far from the optimal path. Kill Wrex for example and he’ll be replaced by a generic Krogan who’ll be less personal in the second game. Dispose of Legion and it won’t be his sacrifice that touches you during the course of Mass Effect 3 but instead that of a seemingly equal Geth. It’s an understandable limitation for Bioware but it’s one that can’t be ignored when talking about the franchise and one that will be interesting to see how Andromeda handles.