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This Longtime ‘Dragon Age’ Fan Finally Tried ‘Mass Effect’—And Loved It

I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite game for crying material.

Mass Effect 3 citadel DLC image.

When I first got into BioWare’s Dragon Age, I was a wee little babe at the age of 10. I might have told this story before, but basically, I was mourning a loved one and my mom saw a dragon on the cover, and knowing my baby self loved dragons, she figured it’d be a good way to get me back on my feet.

And she was right! During a fraught time of alienation, acne, and annoyance, Dragon Age became my refuge. I’d come home from a long day of misery and unwind with people I actually liked (virtual as they were), and as it was the first “big girl game” I’d really sunk my teeth into, every little progression felt monumental to me. Nowadays, I’ll replay Origins and pay no mind to beating the Urn of Sacred Ashes, but back then, it was one of the most impactful things I’d ever seen in my life.

So it only made sense that, I’d give Mass Effect, another major BioWare franchise, a whirl. And it just … didn’t hit the same way. Back at that time in my life, I gave about ten or so hours to the entry as a whole, spread out across all three games, trying to find the appeal, and finding myself coming up against a wall. The game might have been too mature for me back then, as I was just trying to get some quick and easy enjoyment without having to dig deeper than that. Eventually, I’d come to write off my lack of enjoyment as a leeriness of military stories, and that I couldn’t possibly associate myself with space cops.

In other words: Yes, we were all naïve once. Or, at the very least, we were all who we were, and sometimes it takes time to grow into the best things. Whereas once I craved the quasi-realistic escapism in Dragon Age, I now derive more enjoyment from things that are meaty in ways I can mesh with, and when I finally tried Mass Effect again after all these years, I felt much differently.

In other words … I get it now. My god, do I get it now.

Mass Effect 1

Reporter Emily Wong on the Citadel
(Bioware)

So, I should preface all this by saying that my experience was only made better by playing the Legendary Edition. One thing I can give my younger self credit for was hating the way our custom Shepards looked. They all seemed as though their faces were made of putty, and the features you could mess around with were like an AI’s idea of what human features should look like. The Legendary Edition made the customization process much better, presenting us with facial presets that were actually desirable and realistic to work with. Before, the only decent face present was the default FemShep, who, while hot, was a white woman and therefore not who my mixed self would prefer to play as.

But thanks to the Legendary Edition, I was able to play as Madeline Shepard, who looked like me if I suddenly grew past 5 feet and committed to the supermodel look. Hell yes. Time to bag some baddies.

The years must have unlocked my inner aggressions because, this time around, I was a combat god right off the bat. I chose the Infiltrator class since I like sniping, and I started to feel overpowered right around the second mission. It was wild. Half the time my team only got in my way.

And as for the team themselves, I was stunned that I didn’t notice before how well the characters are introduced to us in this first game. I was used to Dragon Age, where everyone was determined to stick with you and was always accessible for a conversation, but they gave you a what-for if they didn’t like the cut of your gib. In Mass Effect, everyone’s with you no matter what, and since the stakes are pretty high (and they’ve all got that military no-nonsense attitude going on), they largely couldn’t give a damn about how Paragon or Renegade you are. And I didn’t love this because I like having minions or anything; I loved it because, yeah, makes sense! We’re up against some absurd odds, so having partners who understand that and don’t care about the middling ethics in between makes for more engaging role-play.

Honestly, when I think about it, the only one who has a problem with what you may do or say is Kaidan, who wears his heart on his sleeve. And yes, this is a big reason why I romanced him. I wish I could jump into the TV and high-five him on also being a bisexual half-Asian softie who gets lots of headaches. And before you get on me like, “What about Liara?????” what can I say? I don’t like clingy girls.

By the time the game ended, I was high on adrenaline. It was just fun! I couldn’t believe how fun it was! Being Shepard rocked; that bitch gets shit done! And I had no idea just how much better it was going to get.

Mass Effect 2

(Bioware)

Initially, I walked around my new Normandy ship, after the original’s destruction in the game’s opening, and felt … complete and utter disgust. This wasn’t my efficiency bird; this was some iPad bullshit. Kelly Chambers creeped me TF out, and I still wanted to throttle Miranda for her sass. Like girl, you brought me back to life on your own initiative; you’ve essentially sold me into indentured servitude to a Libertarian, and you still have the nerve to say you don’t trust me? Like it makes sense, but WOW, what a way to open the new game! I truly felt disempowered and like a goddamn chimp in a research facility.

After two hours though, it became very clear that Shepard was not the sort of protagonist to just lie down and take it, and I needed to trust her and her role in the narrative. As many characters point out throughout the series, one of Shepard’s greatest strengths is in their ability to rouse a crowd and maintain strong bonds. And those bonds ended up making this game into something even cooler than the last game.

Yes, we got Tali and Garrus back—hell yeah, obviously. But we also got some incredibly dope newcomers, such as Samara, Jack, Grunt, and oh, swoon, Thane. I even liked Jacob—I know, fandom blasphemy! I guess I’ve just hung out with too many bros, because he struck me as a well-meaning fuckboy from the jump. I liked his friendship with my Shep, who was just looking for bros, not hoes.

Truly, the missions in this game created a feeling that was less firm-cut militarism, and more … a sort of spy-like spinoff, with hints of Blade Runner and Snowpiercer. In other words, fucking awesome. Once I eased into this feeling, it made the game addicting in a way that actually made me think and be present, instead of just logging on and pressing buttons.

The epitome of it all was in the deadly mission right at the end. Sure, I might have consulted some guides to help me not lose people, but I don’t really regret that since it helped me maintain chills all the way through. This might have been the coolest video game mission I’ve played in a very, very long time, maybe ever. Lots of games fail to provide payoff for all your efforts, but this one mission alone made everything you did feel worth it.

All that exploration you did helped you gain enough upgrades for your ship. All that care you put into your relationships made them more determined to stick the landing. And all your careful plans throughout the mission itself got everyone back on the ship in one piece. God, do I even mention the Human Reaper? Spooks! And then you get to tell off ol’ Timmy, because you don’t need him anymore. HA! My abuse-recovering ass really, really enjoyed that.

Of course, to cap off this section, we need to address the romance in this game. Whenever I tell people I’m finally playing the game, they ask me if I’m specifically romancing Garrus. Guys, I’m so sorry, but it just didn’t happen. I love the guy, I do, I really do, but I look at him and his mandibles and dinosaur scales and … it does nothing for me. Would I love to have a friend like Garrus? Oh, without a doubt. But I think a lot of the guy’s appeal is that he does represent the sort of person we’d all like to have in our lives, and his alien appearance only exacerbates that fact. So to all ye Turian-fuckers, have yourselves a gay ol’ time! I prefer my men green and contemplative, with a pinch of neck-snapping.

Or, you know, I prefer women sometimes, but BioWare couldn’t hang this time around, unfortunately.

Mass Effect 3

Jack and her tattoos in Mass Effect
(Bioware)

Not gonna lie, it took me a bit to ease into ME3. Not only did they mess up my ship, AGAIN, but they also did something weird with Shepard’s face bones. I don’t know what happened; I guess the animation rigs got an upgrade—or a downgrade, depending on the lighting. My Shep went from looking like a model to looking like she pinches her lips on purpose. Her chin got a little bigger, too, but hey, I’m half Greek with a weird Greek chin, so I just chalk it up to her truly being my video game likeness.

But when it comes to thinking of what to write about ME3, I find I can’t be as casual and bombastic as with the past two entries. This game phones it in all the way through … until the ending, of course. I really, truly understand why people were so angry about this. I’m angry, too. But that topic has been beaten to death, so I’ll try to focus on everything else.

This is, by far, the most cinematic, most narratively gripping game in the series. It brings you to highs and lows in consistent and impactful droves. It ties all previous plot beats together, even down to the random people you saved on tiny little colonies in the first game. You run into past crew members in odd situations—if you’re lucky, at least. Poor Kasumi died in my run, which I’m still mad about. Girl, how was I supposed to know you were attached to some bugged-out side-quest I could barely even get to activate? And Kelly boo, you’re telling me I HAD TO TELL YOU to get another identity??? Rest in Puzzlement, I guess.

That’d be my only other gripe about this game: how much is tied to the grunt work in order to get a “good ending.” I’m generally not a side-quest person. If the plot is good, I wanna follow it; I don’t want to run back and forth between an elcor and a volus. Like who am I, Sara Ryder? No, I’m Commander Shepard; I have bigger problems than that! Yet the game really does punish you for not investigating every single nook and cranny in the galaxy, which I guess makes sense from a gameplay perspective, but from a narrative perspective, it’s ridiculous.

The narrative itself is, again, masterful. I rarely cry during games, nor have I ever cared much about AI, but those final moments with Legion had me blubbering like a baby. I couldn’t believe we were just supposed to keep moving on after that. What do you mean there’s more to do? I just lost my guy. What the hell? And truly, the losses in this game feel heavier than they’ve ever felt. You really feel your Shepard going through a change, which I appreciated, since most games don’t allow your protagonist to have any feelings about major world events. I could trace a direct development from my Shepard, an Earth-born War Hero, going from a well-intentioned hard-ass in ME1 to an overly-corrective good guy in ME2, and finally facing the consequences of riding her high in ME3, coming back down to her hard-ass roots. Helping the Krogan and saving Rannoch, only to lose Mordin, Legion, and Thessia … this game really gives Shepard and the player a lot to cry over.

Speaking of: While ultimately I finished the game romancing Kaidan, I knew my Shepard was holding out for Thane. I didn’t know what to make of their whole dynamic considering the things that happen in this game, and how little time they had overall (wish we had more interactions with the ME2 squad!), but after seeing his vids in Shep’s apartment, I realized he was the one for her. And it made me feel a little better not being a completionist, and going for a “less than perfect” ending. My girl would finally find her peace across the sea.

Final thoughts

A body pillow product image featuring Garrus from BioWare's Mass Effect.
Oh yeah.

I’m generally leery of military-heavy pieces of media that have a lot of acclaim, but Mass Effect has proven to be so much more than that. It presents moral and ethical quandaries that don’t feel half-baked, and the games genuinely had me thinking about them in my off-hours. Hell, I went on a date and kept thinking, Huh, Kaidan wouldn’t talk to me like that. And Thane would have brought me somewhere more interesting.

Of course, if you’re reading this, you probably knew all this already, so I’m just gonna share my other thoughts. Krogans are cool as hell and probably my favorite race. I love those guys. But the Quarians, too, are incredibly neat, and I wish we could have romanced a Quarian as FemShep. Turians are badass too, although I still don’t quite get the sex appeal … for the male ones, anyways. The women are hot. And speaking of Hot Women, I could never quite get over why the Asari had to look the way they do, but hey, they made Fox News mad, so it’s a win either way.

My only hot take is that people hate Jacob because they have things in common with Jacob. He really is just some dude, and not completely unlike most dudes I’ve met. It’s the same reason why people ultimately hate Ignatz from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, who’s just a nerd with bad hair and big glasses. Don’t hate yourselves, guys. Just because you’re not traveling the galaxy doing cool shit doesn’t mean you gotta hate on a bad bitch who is.

And now that that’s outta the way, please, I beg, share your thoughts in the comments, because god only knows I won’t be able to stop thinking about Mass Effect for the rest of the year.

(featured image: Bioware)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.