Three’s a crowd: a beginner’s guide to Mass Effect

By Brenna Hillier
15 March 2012 11:06 GMT

While Mass Effect 3’s ending is still causing a ruckus, there are people in the world who’ve never even heard of Commander Shepard. Worried now there’s three games and you have no clue? Head inside for the total newbie tour.

Although I’m not blind to its faults, inconsistencies and derivativeness, I love the Mass Effect fiction. I have the comics, the novels, and a wide range of digital sources of canonical material, so I decided to pen a helpful guide for those who haven’t yet encountered this month’s hottest topic of gaming conversation.

I went to dinner the other night with five people and none of them had even heard the phrase “Mass Effect”. This I can deal with, but yesterday I used the phrase “have a quad,” right here on this core-facing website, and somebody didn’t understand it. There are people reading this right now who don’t know that krogans have four testicles.

Intellectually I understand that some people haven’t spent the last five years immersed in BioWare’s sci-fi canon, but it’s a hard notion to keep hold of day-to-day. Although I’m not blind to its faults, inconsistencies and derivativeness, I love the Mass Effect fiction. I have the comics, the novels, and a wide range of digital sources of canonical material, so I decided to pen a helpful guide for those who haven’t yet encountered this month’s hottest topic of gaming conversation.

Commander Shepard

Commander Shepard is a kick ass soldier with the Human Alliance’s N7 program. She – or if you like, he – was born on Earth. No sorry, wait. It was in space. Or was it on a colony? Anyway, this hardbitten engineer – wait, sorry, shock trooper – won acclaim by surviving against odds which swallowed an entire troop of comrades. Or shit, wait, did Shepard save them all? Anyway, he – or she – is above reproach, always doing exactly the right thing, except in those instances where she or he does something totally outrageous because it gets results. It’s not all punching reporters and or taking kittens out of trees, though; sometimes Shepard takes a break to pursue a romance, except when he or she doesn’t, or goes for multiple romances instead.

Look, I think we can all agree that Shepard is a hard arse, and that’s pretty much the end of the canon.

Biotics

Biotics are magic powers. Doctors put bits of metal in people’s heads if they’ve been exposed to element zero, and then they can throw shit around and make tiny black holes, because of Science. Sometimes this gives people headaches or makes them mental, but mainly it’s awesome. According to made up statistics, 99% of Mass Effect players pick soldier and never get to smash someone to pieces with magic science powers. This is a shame.

Mass effects

Mass Effect is a phrase nobody had trademarked when EA and BioWare had to find a snappy name for a new game. Mass effects work thanks to a thing called element zero, or eezo for short – not to be confused with digestive aids or European aperitifs. Mass effects make a lot of great things happen like the aforementioned magic science powers, and also fling ships through space across distances no propulsion method could ever manage in a sensible amount of time. Humans didn’t invent mass effects, instead reverse engineering them from a bunch of litter left on Mars, but that’s OK – nobody else did either.

Morality

Mass Effect doesn’t have a morality system; no matter what you do, Commander Shepard is a hero. That said, the Commander has two approaches to almost every situation (shall I wear my loyal, faithful blue sneakers or my dastardly red ones?) and despite BioWare’s protestations that it’s more complicated than good and evil, one can turn your eyes red and the other can’t, which tells you everything you need to know.

Romance

In Mass Effect, Shepard can have romances. This provides many opportunities for giggling, blushing, developing unhealthy obsessions and, if you’re careful, a tiny slice of blue side-boob. Gosh! This nearly started a political furore when Fox News interpreted it as full on pornography. To kindle a romance, go Paragon with the object of your affections for three games. In return, you will experience a small number of make-outs, usually when Shepard is about to die. If the object of your affections buggers off somewhere, make out with someone else, and you can then enjoy a good argument without risk of having a frypan thrown at you.

Aliens

There are several kinds of aliens in the Mass Effect universe. There’s the blue ones that always look hot. There’s the bird ones which will kick your arse. There’s the frog ones which are smart and will kick your arse. There’s the big I-don’t-even-know ones with four balls that will kick your arse and then feed it to you. There’s the lizard ones which die of humidity and don’t get a chance to kick your arse. There’s the comedic relief religious jellyfish. There’s the short fat ones with asthma. There’s the sort of human ones in suits that made robots. There’s the robots. There’s the big ones that say “badassedly”. There’s the ones with four eyes that hate everyone, the other ones with four eyes that there aren’t many of, and the ones that go “keel you” and catch on fire pretty easily.

The Bad Guys

Alright, so – the bad guys are these sentient machines. Wait, no! It’s a nasty bird man. No, it’s his huge ship. It’s a bunch of freaky-looking spooky aliens which seem quite a lot like the robots from the first game. Wait, the aliens are actually another kind of aliens for some reason. And now it’s the big ships again, only at the same time, some of my old buddies are being total arsehats. Did I win? In short: shoot everything. You will be right eventually.

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