I've been playing through the Mass Effect games for the first time this year and they have quickly become some of the best games I have ever played. I've formed emotional attachments to each character, I have favorite places I keep going back to, and just have a few hours left of Mass Effect 3 before I'm done with the trilogy. I'm sure there's a happy, satisfying blockbuster ending waiting for me very soon, right? Right?!
The launch of the Legendary Edition combined with an adoration for the series by a number of my co-workers finally convinced me to give Mass Effect a whirl and I've been eager to play through all three as quickly as I can, needing to know what's next for Shepard and the rest of the crew. However, due to the need to play a few games that actually launched this year, I left a gap of a few months between the first two titles. The forgetful gamer that I am, by the time I had the chance to start the sequel, a lot of what happened in the first game had slipped my mind.
In most instances, that's not a massive issue. I can read up on what I went through to jog my memory. It's not that simple with Mass Effect. I had made decisions that influenced the path I took and even said goodbye to teammates who continue to exist in other people's Mass Effect universes. Thankfully, BioWare had my back. Upon starting Mass Effect 2 and selecting the option to import my save, I was prompted with a message asking if I wanted to flick through a virtual comic reminding me of what happened in the first game. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and I was reminded of everything that had happened so far, including my inability to save Wrex on Virmire. Yes, I've already been told how terrible that is and will carry that guilt with me long after I finish the final game.
It came to an end and I was thrown right into Mass Effect 2, ready to continue my adventure with all the decisions I had made up until that point fresh in my mind. More than that though, at least at that moment, I was struck with the simple genius that was a series of still images at the start of a sequel to remind players of what had come before. It made me wonder why more studios didn't employ that tactic to ensure the key moments from previous games aren't forgotten. Even in games where decision-making doesn't alter what comes next, it reduces the risk of someone you crossed paths with before being reintroduced and prompting a “who's this guy?” from you.
The gap I left between Mass Effects 2 and 3 was far shorter than the one between the first two games because, well, the less time I had to dwell on the middle game's suicide mission, the better. A side note at this point, when people singing the series' praises to me referred to it as the suicide mission, I didn't realize that was the name BioWare actually went with. Brutal. Anyway, despite no need for a recap since I was jumping right back in, I was still disappointed not to see the comic return. Such a great idea not being reused, especially when there were now two games that needed to be recapped to keep players up to speed. Maybe BioWare figured whatever happened in our respective suicide missions would be so burned into our brains, the last thing we needed was to be shown who we lost again frame by animated frame. Or perhaps the comic really was a reaction to the revelation many people actually skip the first game. You heathens.
All of this being said, had I played the Mass Effect games as they launched and had to deal with a three-year gap between those first two games, then the recap comic would have been an even bigger lifesaver than it was when I played the remasters. Not only would I have struggled to remember the plot and the decisions I made, but Mass Effect 2 launched in 2010, a time when far fewer people were creating content that would explain a game's story and lore in-depth. Well, actually, maybe not, but it was a time when I was far less aware that it was out there. And back to my earlier point, even if I had played the games back then and read a recap, it wouldn't have been unique to my own Mass Effect playthrough.
Even though that doesn't apply to most games, I'd still love to be reminded of what came before when I return to a series. Like many of you, I'm about to play God Of War Ragnarok, and four years later, I'm struggling to remember some of the finer details of what happened. Sure, I remember battling Baldur to kick things off and the emotional finale to the last game, but a recap to remind me of everything else to kick off Ragnarok would be great. To my surprise and delight, there is an option to kick the sequel off with a recap of the first game. Clearly Mass Effect 2's beginning left a mark on more than just me.
I'm also very aware that some of you will be reading this reacting in the same way someone who insists on playing every game on the hardest difficulty like a Real Gamer™ does when they hear people dare to do anything less. “That's a random Salarian you aided in a minor side quest on the Citadel when you played this game half a decade ago, how do you not remember that?” As I would say to those people who hate easy mode, just let those who need it enjoy it.
On the other hand, perhaps I do just have a terrible memory, or I take too long to play through a game because I'm distracted by a new release every now and again. That comic was included at the start of Mass Effect 2 for a reason though, but it also wasn't included in Mass Effect 3 so what do I know? With a new Mass Effect coming, one that appears to take place just a few years after 3's ending, I'm probably going to need a refresher before I return to the series. I do still have Andromeda to play before then, though. That won't make me think any less of a series that has quickly become one of my favorites of all time, right?
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