The original Mass Effect blew me away. Not literally of course, but the effect perhaps was just as drastic. I remember watching the trailer from E3 2007 trailer and immediately feeling the hype taking hold. Mass Effect ticked all of the check boxes for the makings of a fantastic game for me: a science-fiction setting with aliens and cool weapons, with everything on the line. A veritable space opera.
It did not disappoint one bit. I am hopelessly in love with the Mass Effect franchise despite how I feel that the sequels haven't lived up to the splendor of the original.
I can even thank the series for becoming the catalyst for my marriage. I met my wife at her work, where she stopped to talk to me because I was wearing a Mass Effect hoodie and Cerberus baseball cap that day, and here we are going on strong almost four years later.
So it's safe to say that I'm pretty invested in the series but I still consider the very first game to be the pinnacle of the franchise. Why you may ask? I'll tell you.
The Idea Was Fresh
Mass Effect 1 tosses you into the fray almost immediately. You're tasked as Commander Shepard to investigate a distress signal coming from Eden Prime, a colony on a paradise-like planet. There's a bit of a catch though; onboard is a Turian Spectre named Nihilus who is tagging along to monitor Shepard during the operation to recover a Prothean Beacon.
So much Sci-Fi jargon! I love it. As anybody might expect, things go to hell pretty quickly. Saren, another Spectre, kills Nihilus in cold blood and attempts to destroy the colony to cover his tracks after securing the Beacon for himself.
Shepard saves the day however... Well, sorta. The mission ends with a dead Spectre, an unconscious Shepard, and a destroyed Beacon. From there on out, the task becomes of trying to connect the dots to implicate Saren in the attack and determine the meaning behind the name "Reapers".
I'll spare you the full synopsis though. My point here is that the original Mass Effect had an impressive story that sits unrivaled in the series to this day. The world of Mass Effect was fresh in my mind and full of all kinds of wondrous things. The Codex was full of lore and information, painting an almost Star Trek-esqe universe. Nothing beats experiencing all of that for the first time.
It Had The Design Of A Good RPG
Mass Effect sported some heavy RPG-like elements that are heavily tapered back in Mass Effect 2 and 3. I will say that the series seemed to get better gameplay wise as a result, considering that Bioware apparently put more emphasis on refining the actual gameplay, but the character's skills became so one dimensional as the franchise evolved. At least with the third entry Bioware seemed to realize that they simplified the game far too much and attempted to correct their error. I still feel as if the games became too simplistic though.
Now some may say that there's nothing wrong with adapting a game series to reach a wider audience. I do agree that it is generally a good practice if a developer wants to sell more copies of their creation but it doesn't bode well for a new series from the designers of games like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate. Watering down the RPG elements of a game series to appeal to a wider player base just seems too much like capitalizing on formulaic design.
The Foe Was Unknown
The Mass Effect series suffers from something I'm going to call the Known Enemy Quandry.
The Reapers had a mystique about them in the original game. By time you learn that Saren's flagship Sovereign is actually a Reaper, the stakes are finally being realized. The Reapers are completely unknown to the denizens of the Milky Way during the events leading up to Mass Effect 3 really, as were their motivations. Like the Cthulhu lore, the Reapers reaped the galaxy over and over because... reasons.
My kind transcends your very understanding. We are each a nation - independent, free of all weakness. You cannot grasp the nature of our existence.
Then all of that mystery was dashed by that stupid catalyst kid. The original entry's version of the Reapers couldn't be comprehended. They were unfathomable, along with their goals. That was what made them perfect enemies. They were dangerous, unpredictable, and god-like.
I'm just kidding. The Mako was terrible.
What is your favorite Mass Effect game? What makes it that way? Do you even like Mass Effect?