Although the release of the PC version came faster than we expected, it’s been a while since Mass Effect was launched on the Xbox 360 in November 2007. And if those “weaker of heart” highjacked the nearest Microsoft magic box in order to bask in the promised sci-fi thrills (you can read Bossman’s opinion on the subject here), I chose to quietly and loyally chew my nails and wait for the PC version of the RPG which made quite a stir on the gaming market and beyond.
Fortunately, my expectations were generously met, as BioWare once again proved to be the pedigree public-sensitive producer I always considered it to be; the designers took to heart the criticism for the console version and designated Demiurge Studios to eliminate all the shortcomings that had cast a dark shadow onto the Mass Effect experience. But even if they took care of some details, the more fundamental issues are still alive and kicking on the PC version. The “slow” artificial intelligence, the graphical glitches and the long loading times, among others, all make a dent in Mass Effect’s shining armor. Not to mention the fact that on the PC, the RPG genre is a whole new ball game.
I may not know much, but the future’s bright
As expected, the narrative frame has remained the same. And I’d say this should not upset anyone, because the storyline was one of the upsides of the game (and also pretty damn hard to change overnight). The plot is focused on one of the more obvious philosophical dilemmas of man: finding our place in the universe. The only difference is that the drama of human existence is suddenly charged with cosmic importance due to the discovery of an alien bunker on Mars in 2148. Belonging to an advanced alien race named The Protheans, which mysteriously went extinct 50 millennia ago, it enables our species to rapidly evolve technologically and explore the Solar System in greater detail. And with the discovery of Mass Relays – intergalactic gates that make extreme distance travel possible, humanity takes the final step towards interstellar journeys and colonization, under the guidance of the freshly formed planetary government, The Systems Alliance.
However, the first mistake the Alliance makes is to believe that it‘s the new sheriff of the galaxy. This proves horribly wrong when it trespasses on territory belonging to the Turian Empire, an encounter that starts what later comes to be known as the First Contact War. From this point on though, the vision of humanity’s future takes a more positive turn. Our horizons further expand when the Galactic Council, an alien United Nations of sorts, intervenes before life on Earth is suddenly returned to amoeba status. Afterwards, the human race manages to obtain its own embassy on the Citadel, a giant space station apparently also built by Protheans and the Council seat of power. However, as impressive as our evolution is, the other races in the galaxy aren’t quite ready to willingly accept human rise to status over the night, since they consider us too impulsive.
That said, it’s your turn to step in the shoes of a First Contact War hero in order to guide humanity towards its galactic greatness. The story is progressively built around political intrigues and you will feel like a pawn in the Council’s hands on many occasions. Whether you choose to disobey orders or execute them without hesitation, the decisions you make will affect the entire galactic community. This will become obvious in the way characters react when they speak to you and also in the media. While trying to avoid bombarding you with spoilers, I still have to mention that the story is rounded up by the symmetry between the beginning and the end, by countless shifts of situation and by a constant feeling of being misinformed.
Parallelism is also subtly used: as the story goes on, you will get to find out not only the problems of the actual universe, but also what led the Prothean’s destruction. If we add up name symbolism, we could easily admit that BioWare wasn’t just looking to build an interesting story, but also a whole new mythology. As I’m under the spell of the Knights of the Old Republic, I find ME a sound alternative to the Star Wars universe. And if you still have your doubts, take a short break and browse the Galactic Codex. This Mass Effect encyclopedia contains almost everything you’d come to expect from a SciFi universe, among which are attractive details concerning the history of ancient and present civilizations alike. The Codex is continually updated with new information unlocked through exploration, by discovering Prothean artifacts or simply by advancing through the game.