N7 Day: Looking Back at Mass Effect
Despite the row that was the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy earlier this year, it’s hard to deny the lasting impact and immensity of BioWare’s action-RPG games. Today is “N7 Day” among the Mass Effect die-hards — a reference to Commander Shepard’s Alliance Special Ops status — and we thought we’d take this Nov. 7 to look back on how Mass Effect impacted us.
This isn’t our favorite moments, since we have a list of those already; more, it’s a look at a few of those moments that made the series something special and resonated with us throughout its life.
Ross Lincoln — Blasto: Partners in Crime
I feel a bit weird singling out this particular moment, considering how often the Mass Effect series managed to be genuinely touching and definitely thrilling. But in retrospect, especially considering how the ending of Mass Effect 3 turned out, I’ve come to the opinion that the series greatest achievement is in the creation of a believable universe in which the various people you come in contact with actually live.
In the first game, the Mass Effect universe had an amazing backstory, but seemed largely to exist as a backdrop to exciting space adventure. The hints of a much larger world full of regular people doing the kinds of things regular people do were mainly understated: stray dialogue between NPCs, and the Citadel-based sidequest in which you have the option of siding with, or shaming a human supremacist political agitator. However, with Mass Effect 2, great care was put into establishing that the Galaxy was just as full of mundane humanity (er, sentient being-ity?) as our own. For instance, one bit of stray NPC dialogue featured an inter-species couple trying to make their relationship work, and another featured a bachelor party for a Salarian.
What really stood out though is the way the Galaxy’s popular culture was far more developed. Items available for purchase from shopkeepers at various locations now included a science fiction novel; Commander Shepard’s bedroom came with a stereo system featuring several different musical genres to choose from; we even got to see Shepard get falling down drunk. The best of these moments came from the glimpse into the Galaxy’s popular entertainment, which included a hilarious all-Elcor version of Hamlet, and of course, a series of movies based on the adventures of Blasto, the first Hanar SPECTRE.
This was a nice touch, not only because Blasto started out as a joke in the BioWare forums, but because it demonstrated that SPECTREs in the Mass Effect Galaxy had the same kind of romantic appeal that MI6 agents do in our own world. It was also hilarious, so of course BioWare decided to double down on the joke in Mass Effect 3 with the amazing Blasto: Partners In Crime easter egg. The 6th movie in the Blasto series (so you were told), Partners In Crime is a pastiche of Tango & Cash and Lethal Weapon 2, and pretty much the entire script can be listened to on a Citadel billboard. More than anything, this moment established that the universe Shepard was trying to save was full of people living their lives, people who really seemed to like generic, blockbuster action movies.
That you could return and listen to it even after things really went to hell for the Galaxy only made the greater tragedy more apparent. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it reminded me of the Pompeii brothels preserved by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, the sexual habits of ancient Romans forever recorded for an incredulous (and jealous) posterity. We can giggle at the incredibly kinky things they got up to, and then remember the entire city was killed in the most gruesome way possible. A nice touch by BioWare, marred only by their failure to get the ending of the game right.