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Friends forever: Mass Effect 3 and the save game legacy

Friday, 9 March 2012 12:46 GMT By Alex Donaldson

Mass Effect 3 ships today, and one feature has everyone talking. Alex Donaldson looks back on BioWare’s unique triumph in keeping your Shepard alive for an entire generation.

Sometimes the consequences can be dire, adding more names to that memorial wall Garrus was staring at – and it’s impressive that the game can make you feel a pang of regret for a choice you made years ago. When we’re halfway through the next generation, and likely staring at releases of further Mass Effect titles and various copycats, it’s that which will be remembered.

There’s something touching about looking at a friend of mine staring at a memorial to others lost. It’s a list on a wall, names of people – some I knew, some I didn’t – that have been sacrificed to a common cause. It’s sad. He muses about one in particular, lost years prior, and it’s one of the few times I’ve heard regret in his voice. I feel sorry for him.

None of it is real. The friend is Garrus Vakarian, Mass Effect’s Turian rebel, and the way he expresses lament for those lost in Mass Effect tugs at the heart strings in ways that remind me that in their characters BioWare have built something truly special.

Mass Effect 3, out today, is the final chapter in the trilogy of Commander Shepard, and Garrus was undoubtedly my Shepard’s best friend. They were brothers in almost every sense from the moment they met in a medical clinic on the Citadel, Mass Effect’s centre of Galactic Society, with Shepard impressed at what a clean shot he landed on some criminal scum. Years later, he was the obvious choice to lead the second squad, second-in-command on a dangerous suicide mission.

As he contemplates those lost, he’s more than just a meathead gunsmith. His often sarcastic, dry tone, his burning sense of justice and his fear of losing more people he loved gives him depth. Were it not for the face, I’d say there was something human about him.

Brothers in arms

Here’s the thing about the Mass Effect series: in places it’s messy as hell. The animation is often hit-or-miss and it lacks the subtlety of other story-heavy games. For the last two episodes it’s stumbled in its efforts to find the right balance between third-person shooter and RPG. But thanks to the writing, little of that mattered to me.

The truth is that Mass Effect 3 is both a better shooter and a better RPG than its predecessor. It straddles the genres cleverly, offering up a complexity that’ll please RPG fans and a simplicity that means it can almost be played like a Gears of War title if you please.

The animation’s improved, but it’s still pants. It doesn’t mean much. I’d have come even if it’d been worse. What I played for was the story progression and to see how Shepard’s crew evolved.

There are a lot of impressive things about the Mass Effect series, including the sheer ambition of the first game, which laid detailed groundwork for lore and universe that would carry two sequels with few tweaks. How the team managed to fulfil their crazy-sounding promise of a massive trilogy this generation is also impressive, but the biggest triumph comes in a system conceived from the very beginning – the save game transfer.

The reason I care about Garrus, Liara and Tali more than, say, Uncharted’s Sully, Chloe and Elena is because they’ve not only followed me through thick and thin but because I feel as though I’ve shaped them over the course of several games.

I pushed Garrus to quit the Citadel Police in the first game, and in the second he nods to that as he guns down criminals as a mercenary. Liara’s gone from a naive scientist to a hardened commando-type, all a result of our adventures together.

Here, what felt like an immature opportunity to shoehorn sex into the game, now seems to mature in the final chapter. My Shepard and Liara felt like an item, talked like a couple. At one point Liara wishes she’d had a speech for a particularly big moment. What is she going to tell the grandchildren? We’ll make something up, my Shepard says.

It’s no longer space sex with a blue alien, something for Fox News to latch onto and complain about – like the rest of the game, it has matured. It makes it all the more gut-wrenching to go to war, because that bright future is in no way guaranteed.

Smoke and mirrors

A lot of it is illusion, of course – Garrus would be gunning down mercenaries with a different line of dialogue even if you’d encouraged him to keep doing things by the book or even if you’d never recruited him at all – but illusion is what makes games games.

It comes to a point where you begin to see context in lines of dialogue and pieces of animation that aren’t actually there. Liara reacts warmly to every Shepard when they meet in the third game, but I convinced myself she was warmer and more intimate with my Shepard because they’d been lovers and Shepard had been loyal.

The way BioWare’s smoke and mirrors play out is so satisfying that it doesn’t really bother me that deep down I know I’m being duped.

Mass Effect 3 goes to great lengths to improve the use of the save game data, too. Events that merely got you an email in the second game now have a greater effect in the third, and basic decisions – such as if you decided to sacrifice a chunk of the Alliance Fleet to save the Citadel Council – will now play into the war against the Reapers more directly.

Sometimes the consequences can be dire, adding more names to that memorial wall Garrus was staring at – and it’s impressive that the game can make you feel a pang of regret for a choice you made years ago.

When we’re halfway through the next generation, and likely staring at releases of further Mass Effect titles and various copycats, it’s that which will be remembered.

The legacy of this trilogy will be the way it deftly and cleverly used your save game data, not only to provide a compelling reason to come back next time, but to make you care.

There are aspects of Mass Effect 3 that are bound to leave fans disappointed, not in the least because after all this it’s very hard to account for every variable and harder still for the player to say goodbye to these characters and stories after so many years.

There’s a lot I want to talk about regarding the ending – and perhaps when you’ve all had the chance to complete it we can come back to that – but the fact that it’s hard to let go underlines what a triumph Mass Effect truly is.

For all BioWare’s shouting about an “all out galactic war,” that’s not what Mass Effect is about. It’s about the smaller stories, the relationship between your Shepard and a handful of people – admittedly vitally important people – across the galaxy.

It’s heart-wrenching to leave them behind. But the journey was sure as hell worth it.

Mass Effect 3 releases today for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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12 Comments

  1. Gheritt White

    WHY DID I KILL THE RACHNI QUEEN?

    I genuinely thought I was doing the universe a favour…

    #1 3 years ago
  2. freedoms_stain

    @1, I killed that bitch too thinking it was the right thing to do, then it gave me bad guy points (I was attempting to go Paragon all the way) and I was a bit wtf?

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Uncontested

    Yup I have to re-play ME2 soon.. I got a new computer and don’t have a save file on this one… some of my decisions suck this time around… including a massive let down with the geth and quarians.. def gonna have to replay this.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Dralen

    @3 That Geth and Quarian decision was definitely a tough one for me too. It literally had me put down my controller, stand up, and stare at my screen for a minute before I made a decision.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. FakeKisser

    My Garrus died at the end of ME2. He was the only person I lost besides Ashley. Garrus was not my Shepard’s best friend, but he was a good one, and it was hard to lose him, but I didn’t reload and play for a different outcome. I felt that it was fair to have to live with my decisions made at such a crucial time. That’s one thing I love about Mass Effect – real decisions feel like they have real weight – not just something I want to reload to get the “best” option. (and that plays into the importance of the Saves)

    Reading about your experience with Garrus in ME3, I wish, yet again, that my Garrus would have lived, but I’ve had other great experiences with other characters that may not be in other people’s games.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @3: I found a way to make it work out for both of them. :3

    #6 3 years ago
  7. FakeKisser

    I cannot for the life of me remember what decision I made for the Geth and Quarian. I likely sided with Tali, since she’s my favorite character and my romance. Is there a point in ME3 where it basically says, “This is the choice(s) you made and what happened because of that”? Or do I have to go back to my old ME2 saves and try to figure it out? It will drive me crazy if I don’t figure it out. :P

    #7 3 years ago
  8. FakeKisser

    I just loaded up my old ME2 save and checked my journal. I destroyed the Geth base. I haven’t seen the repercussions of that in ME3 yet…

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Uncontested

    @6 As I understand it you need to have a lot of things go ‘just right’ for it to work out for both of them.. unfortunately i didn’t have high enough reputation check to pass since im playing the ‘default’ ME3 right now with no ME2 save available.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Ireland Michael

    My Tali was the only character I lost in Mass Effect 2.

    It made me sad to see her name on the memorial plaque on the Normandy in Mass Effect 3, and it also makes me wonder how things with the Quarians will work out without her.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    @10: I’d love to know about that, because Tali was actually friends with Legion at the end of my game and i hope that kind of influenced my gameplay.

    Anyway, none of this matters as the endings destroy everything you’ve every worked on.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. FakeKisser

    I was able to get peace between the Geth and Quarians. There are quite a few things that have to go “right” for it to work out. I almost messed it up once by doing one mission before another. The only other thing I would say is to stay “neutral” when possible and defend the Geth in every conversation. Just keep doing the “Paragon” choices – And keep a lot of saves, because if you don’t do everything right, you could end up killing all the Quarians to save the Geth…

    #12 3 years ago

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  • Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition is now available in North America

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition has been released in North America. It will be made available in the Europe on May 7 and in the UK May 8 for £49.99 on consoles and £34.99 on PC. As previously announced, this edition contains all previously released DLC content as well as […]

  • Two GAME exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians now available for pre-order

    GAME has announced two exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians, and both are now available for pre-order exclusively through one of the retail chain’s 318 stores or online. The £79.99 Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians, which delivers new digital content wrapped in a steel book. There’s also the £199.99 Halo 5: Guardians Limited Collector’s Edition […]

  • Deals with Gold: Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Bioshock Infinite, more

    Microsoft has announced its latest Deals with Gold discounts for Xbox Live Gold members. Franchises on sale include Far Cry, Call of Duty, along with individual titles Assassin’s Creed Unity and Bioshock Infinite. The full list is below. Bioshock Infinite discounts are available for both Xbox Live Gold and Silver members. Xbox One Far Cry […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has released, watch the launch trailer here

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has launched on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can watch the launch trailer for it below. Boxed copies in Europe arrive from May 15, and in Australia/New Zealand on May 14. You can grab digital copies from the following online services: Steam, PlayStation Network, Xbox Store.

  • GOG’s online service GOG Galaxy is now in open beta

    GOG Galaxy, the DRM-free online gaming platform from the folks at GOG, has left Alpha and is now in open beta for all to try. As previously announced, the online service, similar to Steam, is option. Players do not need to play online as all games are stored by the service and can be played […]

  • DayZ-inspired Goat Simulator DLC GoatZ is out this week on Steam

    Goat Simulator players can download DayZ-inspired DLC this week called GoatZ. According to Coffee Stain Studios, GoatZ is “the only survival game on Steam that isn’t in Early Access.” Jokingly of course. The DLC features: Mandatory crafting system because everyone else is doing it. Zombies that bug out. There’s a pun here about actual living […]

  • No, Far Cry 4 is not currently free on PSN

    You may have seen a few Tweets from people saying that the PS4 version of Far Cry 4 is available to download from PSN for free. This is not true. A few readers have tipped us off to what looked like a glitch on PSN that allowed players to download the full version of Far […]

  • Metal Gear Solid: The 1984 Collection confirmed to be a clothing line

    Konami is teasing a Metal Gear Solid thing called “The 1984 Collection.” The Metal Gear Solid Facebook page posted this image about an hour ago: The caption reads, “Step back into the 80′s with our new MGS collection coming very soon! Stay tuned!” This is supposedly in reference to the clothing line that was announced […]

  • Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic World & Scooby Doo packs listed for Lego Dimensions

    Lego Dimensions is likely getting a few unannounced content packs. One of which is themed around Valve’s Portal. A set of unannounced content packs for the upcoming Lego Dimensions have been revealed by US retailer Walmart. The listings include packs for The Simpsons, Scooby Doo and Jurassic World, and most interestingly, Portal. The listings have […]

  • This is the most authentic recreation of GTA 2 in real life ever

    Affordable drones have many uses. Most of them are not nearly as exciting as recreating GTA 2 in real life. I am surprised it took us this long, but someone has finally captured footage using a drone that resembles the protagonist’s experience in the classic GTA 2. These aren’t just shots of cars from a […]

  • PlayStation 4 sales reach 2m in the UK

    Sony has sold 2 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the UK, faster than it did with the PlayStation 2 – the company’s best-selling machine in the country. MCVUK is reporting that as of last weekend, 2 million PlayStation 4s have been sold in the UK. The data is based on GfK Chart-Track estimates. This makes […]

  • H1Z1 gets female characters, skin colour options planned

    In an effort to improve diversity in the game, H1Z1 developer has added female characters. Female survivors can now be found throughout the world of H1Z1. Developer Daybreak added the new feature in a patch released last Friday. You will be able to choose a female avatar in the main game and in Battle Royale. […]

  • Possible teaser site for Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s new game opens

    Either Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi is working on a soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter for his new game, or someone is pulling an elaborate prank. At PAX Prime last year, during Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 panel, a flyer was handed out to attendees that showed what appeared to be a 2D game of some sort with […]

  • Destiny weekly reset for May 5: Heroic and Nightfall strikes detailed

    Tuesday is here and Destiny’s weekly reset is also here. Bungie announced that your weekly Destiny grind has now begun. The Nightfall and Heroic strikes are now live too. This week’s strike is Winter’s Run. Rainbow burn is back for the Nightfall, which means you do more damage with all elemental weapons, but also receive […]

  • PC version of Project Cars delayed in Australia due to severe weather

    Recent weather conditions in Sydney, Australia are responsible for a slight delay of the PC version of Project Cars in the country. Sydney recently suffered from storms that caused flooding in some areas. One of those is the place where publisher Namco Bandai was storing PC copies of Project Cars. The stock was “severely damaged,” […]

  • Twitch’s new process makes it easier for streamers to appeal flagged content

    Twitch has updated its appeals process concerning videos that have been flagged by the audio ID system. Towards the end of last year, Twitch introduced a new audio recognition system that scans archived streams and automatically mutes the audio whenever copyright music is identified. The system has been in-use ever since and Twitch has today […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a day one patch, but it’s not a major one

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will indeed have a day one patch, to make the first-time experience as smooth as possible. Like many modern games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will have its day one patch. According to the developer however, it wasn’t born out of necessity. Miles Tost, level designer at developer CD Projekt […]

  • CoD: Advanced Warfare owners get free pistol today

    Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games is adding a new pistol to the game, free to all players. The M1 Irons is a new pistol that comes to Advanced Warfare starting today. The weapon is offered as a thank you gift from the developer. Sledgehammer says the Irons is good at range and packs a punch. […]

  • Fall down the Skullgirls Big Band music video rabbit hole with me

    Skullgirls is a pretty amazing fighting game, but did you know it’s also a passable music creation suite? Earlier today I was idly perusing an episode of PlayStation Underground showing off Skullgirls 2nd Encore, a re-release of the indie fighter packing in loads of new features and coming to PS4 – with full cross-play! – […]

  • The many uses of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’s pipe weapon

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood adds a sick new weapon to BJ’s arsenal: a pipe. In Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a pipe is not just a pipe. Not only can you bash nazis with it, you can use it to climb walls, reach hatches, and even break through some walls. Plus? You can dual wield it. […]

  • Mortal Kombat X teaser gives first look at Predator

    Mortal Kombat X’s next celebrity guest was teased during the latest Kast. Today’s Mortal Kombat X Kast was mostly about all about Jason, but also included a very brief nod to Predator. You can watch the full livestream to see the tease in situ if you’re really keen, but IGN shared this convenient edit: There’s […]

  • Rock Band 4 has count-ins, drum fills and vocal harmonies

    Rock Band 4 will more closely emulate the feeling of being a real musician with some neat personalisation touches. For Rock Band 4, Harmonix elected to double down on player ownership of their experience rather than technical precision. To this end, it has implemented a number of cool new features. I am wildly envious of […]

  • Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Lost Planet 3 developer shuttered

    Spark Unlimited has gone down with all hands. The Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and Lost Planet 3 developer has been shuttered and all staff laid off. Chief technical officer John Butrovich confirmed the news in a statement issued to IGN. “Spark Unlimited is closing as a video game developer. The ongoing opportunities for smaller mobile […]

  • PS Now subscription available on PlayStation 3 this month, Vita coming soon

    PlayStation Now’s all you can eat service has finally been dated for PS3. Subscriptions to PS Now, Sony’s cloud-based gaming service, will be available on PS3 from May 12 in the US. The all you can eat package will also be made available on select Bravia TVs and Sony Blu-ray players on the same date. […]

  • GTA 5 is even better with a gravity gun

    GTA 5 modders have made a dream come true, adding a gravity gun to your arsenal of mayhem-causing weaponry. GTA 5 isn’t ready for this. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but the poor old Los Santos po po can’t deal with the resulting carnage at all. If Rockstar were ever […]

  • “Mod makers should be able to make money from their creations,” says DOOM creator

    DOOM co-creator John Romero has weighed in on the paid mods debate. Paid mods are a hot issue right now. For years, Valve has been enabling content creators to make money from their work on Counter-strike: Global offensive, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2, but when it partnered with Bethesda to offer the same for […]

  • Watch WRC driver Kevin Abbring smash through a DIRT Rally challenge

    WRC driver Kevin Abbring has been participating in Dirt Rally’s daily events – and kicking ass. Dirt Rally seems to have ticked one of the most difficult to attain boxes of racing development – creating something professional drivers like to play, and which rewards their years of experience. Codemasters published the video below showing Hyundai […]

  • Mortal Kombat X patch to bring PC version up to console standard

    Mortal Kombat X PC will be fixed tomorrow, NetherRealm has promised. The PC version of Mortal Kombat X has come under fire for poor performance, including stuttering frame rate and bugs as plenty. About 45 minutes into a recent Twitch stream, NetherRealm boss Ed Boon said an update will drop tomorrow to address many of […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: all new Crucible maps detailed

    Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC will add four new maps to the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Let’s take a look at all of them. Alex brings you new footage showing all of the four maps that will drop with House of Wolves. He goes over the layout, landmarks, gameplay styles, and other important […]

  • Custom Xbox One Star Wars controllers look very tempting

    Microsoft is celebrating May 4 by showing off concept designs for Star Wars-themed Xbox One controllers. May 4 is of course Star Wars Day and the controller concepts you’re about to see are just that, concepts. Or at least that’s what they said they are. There are four designs and they don’t look very practical. […]

  • Project Cars launch trailer is an anthology of race cars, set to the beats of Deadmau5

    Project Cars comes out this week and there’s just enough time for one last trailer. Project Cars, Slightly Mad Studios’ ambitious racer that has been in development for ages, is finally coming out this week. The racer received plenty of changes throughout its development based on community feedback and the final product will be in […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront dev reveals planet Sullust

    Sullust, a planet that has not been previously shown, will be featured in one of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps. Star Wars Battlefront developer DICE revealed today that planet Sullust will be one of the game’s locations. The planet was mentioned in the films and other Star Wars works, but was only shown today. DICE posted […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: Tower vendor changes

    House of Wolves will change the inventory of some of Destiny’s vendors and add new roles to others. Here’s everything that has been announced so far. You know that House of Wolves will bring a new social space to the game in the form of The Reef. But did you also know that the good […]

  • Nintendo apologises for Amiibo shortages, will reissue some out-of-stock figures

    Nintendo released a statement today to apologise for fan’s frustrations in finding some Amiibo figures and promised to handle distribution better going forward. Nintendo has been criticised recently for its lack of communication when it comes to new Amiibo figures. Something which has lead fans to not know if certain figures are limited to some […]