Behind the Curve, Blogposts, Jenna's blogposts, Text Posts

Behind the Curve: Mass Effect 2

In this feature, I’m going to write about all of those games I didn’t play until way after their release. People tend to be fascinated when I tell them about the things I’m playing – and usually amused, following up with comments for optimal gameplay or classing and recommendations on DLC for the best story – because I tend to be super far behind and also go off on giant obsession tangents that people hear and surely think “oh, poor thing, that was so 2012,” so now I’m going to write these things for the rest of you to poke fun at or follow along with or…you know, whatever. So for my first Behind the Curve, I’m choosing:

Mass Effect 2

Because no Femshep cover art exists, I poorly photoshopped my own.

Because no Femshep cover art exists, I poorly photoshopped my own.

I’m not going to lie to you, the video game “advice” that I receive is more often than not unsolicited, gender-based, seemingly-benevolent sexism that I duly ignore, but in this case, it was welcome conversation and respectful dialogue that, instead of condescending to Girl Gamer, truly enhanced my experience through the mutual sharing of different avenues of thought. And credit where credit’s due, I’ll be mentioning who it was that helped me along through the games. In this case, the recommender was my dear old friend Travis, a font of knowledge about and huge fan of this game franchise, who dealt with my numerous text messages with questions about wtf and also emotional outbursts and gave extremely logical guidance. Thanks, buddy!

First off, let’s talk briefly about why I chose to start with the second installment, and not the title game, because this is a perfect example of what it means to play a beloved game or series years after it comes out: you get to take shortcuts. I never played the original Mass Effect. In fact, the only reason I even put the second game disc in my PS3 is because when I mentioned to some people on Tumblr sometime in October that I’d been wanting to play Dragon Age: Inquisition because of maximum gay (surely a feature of this series to come later), I got a couple of texts and messages[1] about how I should play Mass Effect first because “blue space lesbians.”

(There are whole Youtube channels dedicated to this stuff.)

Well, ya got me, that’s def a phrase I need actualized in my life.[2] Coincidentally, I had two of the games already, because Travis had prompted me sometime last year that

“If you’re going to play Mass Effect, you don’t really need the first one. Just start with the second one. The second one has free DLC that fills you in on the story from the first and gives you the choices that affect your character.”[3]

…so like I said, people give me advice about games they know and love so that they can expedite my play and improve my experience, which is interesting for this particular franchise, which is known to be extremely adaptable to different playstyles and personalities. I’m so behind the curve that it was recommended to skip an installment so that I could catch up sooner. ME2 was also $4, because it is old news, which was an added bonus.

But not only does playing old games give you good conversation fodder to catch up with folks or incrementally increase your cultural fluency or something; as I’ve mentioned before, playing games for the first time way way way after they came out originally is a totally different experience than playing them along with the rest of the world. Spoilers are common knowledge (or easily stumbled across on the Internets)[4] and I, at least, tend to play somewhat slowly because I tend not to have a lot of time to. There’s no wrong way to play, but sometimes it’s nice having a friend to give you pointers, bonus points if it is one who knows you extremely well and can tell you what not to waste time on because it’ll just annoy you. Especially in a game that takes 35+ hours to beat.

What do you MEAN, Snape kills Dumbledore?

What do you MEAN, Snape kills Dumbledore?

Being unemployed and having had lots of days on my hands at the time was exactly the nudge I needed to play a game series I’d already had in my possession; this was one of few games that I could actually have romance options that suited my own preferences in[5] and also everyone in the Games IndustryTM talks about how Jennifer Hale kicks as much ass as Commander Shepard does. But I had been avoiding it for so long, despite hearing only good things, because I was under the false impression that it was a first-person shooter – a type of game I not only abhor in general but am extremely bad at.[6] This delusion made sense thematically, since I knew it was a game at least partly about shooting up aliens, and so it made complete sense in my mind that this was of course done with a first-person view.[7] Not a huge logical leap, though since I started binging on ME2 Travis correctly said that he thought the combat would be my least favorite part of the game. This was why I was so amped to see that there was a casual mode for those folks like me who aren’t super into or good at particularly video-gamey video games and instead just wanted to travel the galaxy doing good deeds and being the active participant of a really cool (if cliche) hero story. The fact that the battles were just intense enough got me into that borderline-binge state that got me hooked. Least favorite part of the game, but still good, though bordering on tedious.

(Scanning planets, by the way, is probably one of those things that a lot of people don’t like or find compelling but that I weirdly do – I’m all for environmental justice in our universe, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to fake mining in video games, I’m all over that shit. Perhaps I’m meant for strategy games in the end. I probably spent a cumulative 2-3 hours on scanning planets alone. Totally not a new or revolutionary mechanic but really appealed to my completionist sensibilities and I liked the feel of being a planetary explorer. To be honest, a lot of this game felt almost more like an MMO to me, running errands for NPCs and making connections in a way that felt genuine, even though I didn’t play online and that’s kind of half the point of an RPG. It’s hard to explain.)

The only downside to doing what I’d been told and skipping the first game was that I think I’ve missed out on a lot of in-jokes and emotional tension. I didn’t understand which characters had which relationships to Shepard (only that Garrus, for example, had been around since the start, but his unmasking during that one mission went completely over my head, and who the fuck is Ashley Williams or Kaidan Alenko or Dr. Chakwas) or why/that Cerberus was even evil until I started getting the feeling that The Cigarette-Smoking Illusive Man was turning out to be a huge jerk who would stab me in the back, or what a rachni queen was, or that I was supposed to be anti-Geth.



These are things you pick up through playing, but I like to be completely immersed in my worlds – hence the aforementioned “completionist sensibilities” – and so I’ll probably end up playing the whole saga again, even though I couldn’t fathom picking another love interest besides Liara.[8],[9] It’s an amazingly full and well fleshed out world, and it’s worthy of multiple plays through to see it all and hear all of the countless different conversation trees.

Final Thoughts:

Femshep or Manshep?:
Femshep, obviously. Not only was she the Original Commander Shepard, it’s also super gratifying to see a strong woman shooting shit up and saving the galaxy, and I am so sick of playing games as men #sorrynotsorry

So, does it hold up several years later?:
Yep, because you can’t go wrong with compelling dialogue and story, even if the graphics are comparatively low-res, and also DLC keeps it fresh (I’d imagine).

What was I doing instead of playing it originally?:
Having a really ridiculously dramatic sophomore year of college. Was it worth it? I don’t even know.

Playstation 3, for three straight weeks in November, mostly in my pajamas during the daylight hours of weekdays

Final clocked playtime:
39ish hours/3 weeks (eep)

Loved it
Loved It

Side note: if you haven’t been reading the footnotes, you should know that at time of posting this, I’m actually now done with Mass Effect 3. I’ll probably write on that one next. Oops.

1. RIP inboxes
2. I’ve been saying it at least three times a week since. People are sick of hearing it.
3. Or, actually, come to think of it, that might have been a retroactive comment about how I’d inadvertently done the correct thing when I could only find 2 and 3 at a local Gamestop.
4. I’m going to level with you, reader – I started writing this article around Thanksgiving. It’s now the beginning of February. I’ve played 3 now, too. Even knowing how it was going to end did not make it any less brutal.
5. Not…uh…aliens. I mean, you know. To be specific, I do mean queer femaleness regardless of, uh, species.
6. Like, there was one summer in high school where my friends and I would play Halo until 4am and I would, without fail, always be the one with a score in the negatives because I had killed myself by mistake so many times and on purpose a few more for good measure.
7. Kind of stupid, really.
8. Maybe Thane.
9. At the end of it all, I still feel the same way.

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