Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Making Me Care About the Team

Because of the great response I received to my Dragon Age recounting, I decided to take a similar approach when writing about Mass Effect 2. Unfortunately, no one read this article at Bitmob. I guess the spoiler warning really scared them off this time around.

Spoiler Warning: Do not proceed unless you have completed Mass Effect 2.

The Team

After finally passing through the Omega-4 Relay, we emerged in what appeared to be a spaceship graveyard. So this was the fate of all ships that passed through the relay.

A few seconds later, I discovered how these ships met their fate. Numerous enemy drones appeared from among the debris and began firing upon the Normandy. Joker attempted to dodge their fire, but there were just too many drones. A blast from one of the drones ripped through the Normandy and hit Jack, killing her in an instant.

“She can’t be dead, get to medical!” I yelled at no one in particular. But she really was dead.

I never liked Jack – I found her to be scary and gross and a little too whiny. I was always content to leave her in the bowels of the ship.

Jack

But she was still a member of my squad. Like a good paragon, I had helped her to overcome her traumatic childhood. I had grown accustomed to her, and I couldn’t believe she had died so suddenly. Where was my moment to say goodbye?

As I attempted to get over the shock, Joker steered the Normandy into a particularly dense debris field, hoping to lose the remaining drones. The plan worked, but not without casualties. A collision with a large piece of debris resulted in a depressing status report from EDI. “Explosion in main engineering. Damage was contained. Unfortunately, Tali didn’t make it.”

I still hadn’t recovered from the loss of Jack, and now I was forced to deal with the loss of Tali – a much more poignant loss as I had befriended her years ago. But the worst part about these two deaths was that I began anticipating more – remorse turned to dread.

After escaping the drones and clearing the debris field, the remaining crew and I gained sight of the Collector base. Unfortunately, a familiar Collector ship emerged to intercept the Normandy. Again, Joker took a high-risk action – steering the Normandy right down the Collector ship’s throat – and again the Normandy prevailed, but not without a casualty. An explosion caused a beam to run straight through Thane, who was sitting peacefully in his quarters.

Thane

The crew’s reaction to Thane’s death was perhaps their most cursory: Miranda simply yelled out, “They got Thane!” Such treatment didn’t detract from the effect it had on me. Of the three squad members that died, I sympathized with Thane the most. The contrast between his lethal skills and religious nature, in addition to his reconciliation with his son, drew me to have more conversations with him throughout our acquaintance.

After finally accepting the deaths of Jack, Tali, and Thane, I was pissed off. How could Mass Effect 2 kill off three of my characters? During a cut-scene? Giving me no opportunity to save them?

However, the game had given me ample opportunity to save all of them; I just didn’t recognize it thanks to my self-centered in-game personality. In the original Mass Effect, I chose to be a Sole Survivor – a soldier who lives against all odds while everyone around him perishes.

Following that sole survivor mentality, I always gave myself the best weapons and armor in Mass Effect, leaving the lower-level armaments for my squad-mates. After all, they were just fodder – targets for the enemy to focus on while I hit every shot and eliminated every target. I was badass.

I maintained a similar mentality in Mass Effect 2. I spent every ounce of iridium and palladium and platinum on upgrading my health and my armor and my weapons. I never thought to spend resources on upgrades for a particular squad member, much less enhancements for the Normandy – enhancements that could have saved Jack, Tali, or Thane.

Shepard

Like a good sole survivor, I managed to escape Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission victorious and unscathed. Though, I left behind four members of my squad (Mordin died in the Collector base) and the entire non-combative crew of the Normandy: Dr. Chakwas, who I shared a bottle of brandy with; the cook, who I procured special ingredients for; and Kelly, who I flirted with on a regular basis.

Throughout the Mass Effect series, I’ve always treated my allies as expendable. Now that they’re really gone and I’ve met the logical consequences of my decisions, I don’t want the best armor or weapons anymore. I don’t want to be a badass or a sole survivor. I just want my crew back.

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