Warning: Spoilers for the Mass Effect series follow.
I don’t like replaying games. I think you’re either/or. Some guys and gals endlessly wring every bit of fun to be had out of a game by constantly going back for more (I know a crazy man who played Turok three times. That is dedication. Maybe even the gaming equivalent of waterboarding). Some guys and gals, like me, play it once and make it an event; a grand ol’ experience to be treasured but not, under any circumstances, repeated. That would say to its initial impact, “You were not an impact.” Which isn’t true, but the first impact would listen and fall into a depressive haze, eventually dissipating.
Mass Effect 3 has made me break this rule for the first time in years. It’s not the minor arcs of fleeting moral quandary, but the products of major covet or neglect: throughout the whole game, I could not stop thinking about what this whole thing would be like had my entire crew perished in Mass Effect 2. What happens if Thane’s not around to throw down with Kai Leng? Who’s going to take me through A Cybernetic Fairytale if I’ve sold Legion for scrap? I might just leave Grunt in his tank and Wrex is mouldering on Virmire, so who’s the Krogan I meet in the Attican Traverse? The Genophage cure. Surely whoever’s standing in for Mordin won’t be anywhere near as vehement about pluming this thing over Tuchanka and thus I maybe won’t have to shoot them in the back?
Not that I would, this time around. I’m playing Mass Effect 2 and 3 completely in reverse. The first time through, my FemShep was as bad as they come. I never made one Paragon choice. Not one. Not even in regular conversation. Bottom right was right. It could be a harrowing way to play at times: Garrus stepping in to shoot Ashley as she mistakenly leapt to the defense of Udina was one thing, but Tali committing suicide made me take twenty showers. Extreme, and the suggestion of a different way is, for my creds, the strongest in Mass Effect 3 – but only via Mass Effect 2. This time I’m a guy, and I’m so good it hurts.
I’ve been living with this itching curiousity since last year and I’m doing it. Can’t be bothered with the first Mass Effect (although I should have been – if you just run through the downloadable wrap-up of it in Mass Effect 2, certain things are just scrubbed from the entire trilogy, like Conrad the huge fan!), so ground zero is the middle game. It’s also my personal fave of the lot. Jack, you know. That’s my kinda lady. I didn’t tune her the first time through, because I thought Thane’s terminal memoir mirrored the grim future of my own FemShep and they got it on. That is a weird scene for your girlfriend to walk in on, let me tell you: boy on the couch, playing Mass Effect as a woman, going to bed with a green man in leather.
But romance Jack, and her entire character alters fundamentally. Come on strong and you’ll reduce her to tears (!) as she recounts the Greek tragedy of her one true love. It’s almost heartbreaking. She’s also going to die, because safety on the new Normandy must come second to fixing my Darth Acne. It’s not so much the moral divergence as the revelations that are quietly freaking me out, though. Don’t let Garrus shoot Sidonis, and you get something you never expected. Garrus is gonna die too, just so he knows, which makes me a li’l anxious: What if there’s no one there to catch my ass at the end?