Can we talk about Mass Effect?

I know – I’m very late to the Mass Effect party… Here’s the thing. Years ago, I bought Mass Effect and I just couldn’t get into it. I traded it back in, played other stuff – never thought about it again. Recently, on a whim, I bought the PS3 Mass Effect Trilogy and, um, it would not be a stretch to say that I’ve become something of an addict. Seriously. Mass Effect is the only video game I’ve ever played that I went through it once and immediately started over and played through it again because it was just that much fun. I’ve rarely enjoyed any game as much as I enjoyed Mass Effect. I understand the legion of devoted fans and their outcry when it all came to an unsatisfactory end (though I’m not there yet… still so much left to discover). I’m a little over halfway through ME2 right now, loving every minute of it and being a completionist. In fact, I’ve kinda stalled with my game – but not because it’s bad – rather, because I know that if I keep playing I’m going to get to the end… and I really don’t want it to end. I could tell you all about my character and the romances I’m pursuing, blah, blah… but I won’t. I want to explain what inspired this post and relate it back to tabletop gaming.

I read this post today from the Douchey DM about why he created his own RPG. And I really enjoyed what he had to say, I often feel the same way when I’m working on some gaming project or another. I also agree with his take on the place combat holds in RPGs. And this is where Mass Effect comes in. I realized that despite ME2’s best efforts to become an “action” game, it is still a story first. Or maybe that’s just me… but seriously – I had this moment where I realized that as I’m playing, I consider the epic, constant gun battles to be merely window dressing to the fantastic science fiction soap opera I’m living through. Everyone has daddy issues, people are dying, sick, clones, all kind of stuff. It’s wonderful. The loyalty missions that actually make up the bulk of ME2 are positively inspired (well, most of them). Sure, I’m playing a Vanguard and using Shockwave to go “bowling for mercenaries” is stupid fun… but it’s not what keeps me playing. Heck, my wife and I (she’s playing too) have dinner conversations about our in-game romances and talk about the permutations of plot like it’s our favorite TV show or series of novels.

Some games do not balance the action and the story well. Another game I was very excited about once upon a time was Kingdom Hearts. I thought the concept was wonderful and then I figured out that playing makes you into a drone. You do all the fighting and the drudge work of walking from one place to another… and then all the cool stuff happens in completely non-interactive cut scenes. What’s that about?

Really though, the crazy thing is – this is how I play/run RPGs at the table as well – and I find that when I stray too far into a game focusing on the fights I get bored. This balance of creating some frenzied action and high stakes mixed with emotional ups and downs is the pinnacle of gaming for me. It’s what keeps me coming back. I know the spoilers at the end of ME3, I know what I’ve gotten myself into. And I can’t wait. That kind of enthusiasm, that kind of build-up? I’ve had it a few times at the gaming table – and it’s the best payoff in the world, as far as entertainment goes.

I miss gaming – I’ve been a while now without an active group and I miss that connection to a story. I love Mass Effect and it is a great game – but even the best video game pales in comparison to a good group really hitting it’s stride.

If you are like me though, and you never got into Mass Effect when it was new… make the time to play it – you won’t regret it. And there is some fantastic inspiration built into the game for us to take back to our tables – you know – when you have one.

Thanks for reading – see you round the galaxy.

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