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Mass Effect Beginner’s Guide

Over the past few weeks I’ve replayed the first Mass Effect and made it about half way through Mass Effect 2. It has cemented them as among my favorite games. Before I shift my focus to next week’s Portal 2 I wanted to share the wealth with anyone who has yet to delve into this fantastic vision of the future.

What’s Mass Effect All About?
In the beginning of the first Mass Effect, humanity is a recent arrival on the the galactic stage. Mankind got there thanks to the discovery of ancient technology from an extinct alien race called the Protheans. The Mass Effect is what makes FTL travel possible. The central hub of galactic civilization is the Citadel, and that is where the most powerful body of inter-species government, The Council, resides. Humanity wants a seat on the council and our chances would be improved if a human could become a Spectre, an agent of the council with incredible autonomy and authority. Commander Shepard is probably mankind’s best candidate.

Who is Commander Shepard?
That’s largely up to you. Shepard is a human, but that’s about all that’s set about the commander. You are free to choose is Shepard is a man or a woman, what kind of upbringing Shepard had, why Shepard is famous and what kind of combat Shepard specializes in. Both Mass Effects are engaging because you are usually free to make your own choice on how to tackle a situation. Your choices are categorized as Paragon or Renegade and if you consistently make choices down one of those paths, you are able to do more. As a Paragon, Shepard is a compassionate hero, always willing to help others and maybe even able to charm his or her way out of some sticky situations. As a Renegade, Shepard is a more intimidating, apathetic and selfish figure, willing to shoot enemies who spend to much time monologue-ing and even betray people for his or her own benefit.

For what it’s worth, choosing to have a background as a spacer war hero will boost your Paragon points at the beginning of the game and choosing to be a ruthless earth-born will boost your Renegade points. To start as neutral as possible, choose to be a sole survivor colonist. Personally, I think the female Shepard voice actor is better as a Paragon and the male actor is better as a Renegade. But most importantly, you should just make Shepard the kind of hero you want to play. You’ll be commanding the commander for quite a while.

What are the Classes?
There are six classes in the Mass Effect games. They are broken into three focuses: combat, tech and biotic abilities. The soldier is pure combat, the only class able to master all the weapons in both games. The engineer is pure tech and which is handy for locked doors and crates in the first game and the ability to summon an attack drone in the second. The adept is pure biotic, able to use powers not unlike those of a Jedi. Lots of throwing people around. The other three classes are mixes of the first three. The infiltrator is a combat and tech specialist and an expert sniper in the second game. The vanguard is a combat and biotics specialist, a master of close combat. The sentinel is a tech and biotics specialist, arguably the most versatile of all the classes.

When I first played through Mass Effect, my Shepard was an infiltrator. I liked that, since I never felt obligated to bring another tech specialist just to unlock crates. I turned that Shepard into a soldier in Mass Effect 2, because I wanted access to all the guns. My second time through both games I played as a vanguard and have been really enjoying it. In Mass Effect 2, vanguards get the ability to charge, which I think is the most fun power in the game, although it takes a bit of skill to use properly. I’ve been told that sentinels and soldiers have the easiest time getting through both games. Once again, you should really just choose what sounds fun to you.

Why Should I Play These Games?
If you like third person shooters, RPGs or engaging stories, both Mass Effect games are worth your time. The first game is like great Star Trek, it builds an amazing new universe that you’ll love to explore and learn about. The second game is like a Star Wars, less focused on the science fiction and more about real drama and an epic story. Except you get to make all the choices.

Both games focus on your ability to assemble a team of misfits to overcome ridiculous odds. They feature a great cast of characters who you will genuinely enjoy getting to know and will make it difficult for you to choose who to bring to a battle, and, eventually, who lives and who dies. I have never enjoyed conversation more in a game than in both of the Mass Effects.

Admittedly, the first Mass Effect has started to show its age, especially if you’ve seen Mass Effect 2. If you have a PS3, that’s a non-issue, since the game never came out on that platform. You get a bonus interactive comic at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 that catches you up and lets you make the critical decisions from the first game. If you’re on Xbox or PC, suck it up, bitch. Get past the technical jank, the bad inventory management, the terrible Mako sections. At the heart of it all, the first Mass Effect is still quite an enjoyable title.

If you’re scared because of the RPG aspects of the games, don’t be. In Mass Effect 2, there basically is no wrong choice you can make, the leveling and inventory systems are so streamlined. More importantly, the combat is great fun, like Gears of War with magical sci fi powers. This isn’t turn-based at all, it’s a straight-up shooter that you could play without ever pausing.

Mass Effect 3 is supposed to come out at the end of this year. You’ve still got time to join me in line on opening night. It’s time you catch up with one of the greatest game series of all time.

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