Happy N7 Day!
Ah, Mass Effect, how we love thee. Over the last couple years, November 7 has become to be known as N7 Day to us gamers who are big fans of the game. It’s a day we all come together via the interwebs and look back fondly at all the great moments, and then some, in the franchise. Then there are the soundtracks. Think if Blade Runner and Dune and had a musical baby, that’s what we got, and it was good. Sam Hulick stuck around for all three games and breathed life and emotion into a totally fictional universe. Bioware even recruited Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) to lend a hand for the especially heart-wrenching bits.
For the uninitiated, the Mass Effect series is a space opera RPG-action video game created by Bioware. You play Commander Shepard, already somewhat of a war hero on Earth as well as a contender to become the first human Spectre — the galactic equivalent of Interpol, but with less rules. Way less. You discover the impending return of an ancient race called the Reapers, who are dead set on annihilating all intelligent life, especially humanity. Problem is, no one believes you, including the Council — a legislative body that govern the entire galaxy. Actually, pretty much no one outside your command, and Cerberus (a human splinter cell group known for unethical experiments and terrorist attacks), really believe the existence of the Reapers until the end of Mass Effect 2. By game three, everyone is at war with the Reapers and losing. You, as Commander Shepard, must somehow save everyone from galaxy-wide extermination once and for all.
So why do we love Mass Effect so much? I took to Twitter to find out:
— Christina Janke (@IntroToGeek) November 7, 2013
— IaN7 Frazier (@tibermoon) November 7, 2013
— Ken Thain (@KenThain) November 7, 2013
That’s the long and short of it, and we haven’t even chipped the tip of the iceberg! So much of the game — the look, the feel, and even some aspects of the story — was inspired by great science fiction: Alien, Stormship Troopers, Blade Runner, Dune, etc. I personally found a lot of similarities with Alien and Aliens.
[Hear me fully gush about the Mass Effect series on this episode of Shauncastic, a podcast where I pop in on a near regular basis.]
One of the best features of the games is the ability to choose. You can choose your origin, your sex, your class, how you look, who you want your paramour to be, and how much of an jerk or goody-two-shoes you want to be. The way you play affects the world around you as well as the people in it. The morality in the game is totally in your head and in the way you decide to act, triggering outcomes specifically tailored to that particular said act followed by other outcomes responding to your earlier decisions. Decision making of this scale in the Mass Effect trilogy could only have been perceived previously in paper and pen role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. The move was ambitious and totally changed the way we played RPGs. Just sitting back and choosing to have a conversation with your comrades drew you closer to those characters on an emotional level. So emotional in fact that deciding to part with one of them and then seeing the result of that decision can get downright heartbreaking. No, not heartbreaking, devastating. Wait…soul-crushing.
Cue genuine anguish for your fallen comrade.