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'Mass Effect' Series Is Deep, Detailed And Cinematic

Ryan Somma / Flickr / Creative Commons

The summer has been pretty light on new game releases, so instead I’ve gone back to play some of my old favorites. Recently I’ve been playing the first game in the Mass Effect trilogy, which came out for the Xbox 360 and PC in 2007.

The series takes place some 150 years in the future, when humans have discovered a vast network of devices called “Mass Relays” that can move you across the galaxy in seconds. Humans join a galactic alliance of species, but then the entire galaxy is threatened when an ancient race of machines invades in an attempt to wipe all sentient life from existence.

Mass Effect is primarily a role playing game, and you play the role of Commander Shepard, a military officer that has been given the knowledge needed to save the galaxy. Nearly every interaction with other characters is deep, with multiple options of how to drive the conversation forward. You can be friendly and accommodating, or rude and short-tempered. Depending on if you are nice or gruff in these interactions, you develop a reputation in the galaxy, and some interactions may play out differently.

There are nearly 60,000 lines of dialogue in the trilogy, from main characters to just people walking down the street. Even though only a few dozen planets are featured in the game, there are hundreds available to explore. Each has a paragraph or two describing it, even if it is only talking about a failed expedition to that planet or how it wasn’t even considered for exploration. I think this is my favorite part about the series: every little detail of its created universe is lovingly crafted, so it feels like a very real place.

One of the more fascinating features of Mass Effect 2, and then, later, Mass Effect 3, is the ability to carry forward your character and choices from game to game. A choice to save a species from extinction in the first game can lead to extra story possibilities in the second game, and can even help you save the galaxy in the third game. If you’re nice to a small supporting character early on, he can help you get resources you may need two games later.

Mass Effect is the closest thing to a cinematic trilogy that I think exists in video games today, and is easily one of my favorite series of the past decade.