Mass Effect is a series of games by Bioware. Up until recently, I had never played the series, as much as i enjoyed the Dragon Age series... I had gotten into DA during my love for high fantasy, and while i have loved sci-fi for ages, ME never came up on my radar because I had the impression it was not very similar, or as story focused, and rather more action focused. This was partially incorrect, as ME also plays off a similar RPG system as DA. So finally I got the Legendary edition some months back. Of course, as I did with DA, I was researching the romances to see what was available. So far I have played ME1 and ME2... with gay romance mods. The third installment of the mod is something I am waiting for still, and I don't plan to play ME3 without it. I have... many thoughts of ME so far, not just regarding the romances... so let me break it down.
NOTE: i returned to this document to finish it months after having played the second game I am speaking about, so some of my thoughts may be less detailed in some places.
I will go over this first, as its likely the shortest part. I have never been much into shooters so, that is one reason why I never played ME. But i have been getting better at them, mostly as I played Half-Life for the first time in the same period as ME. I certainly liked the gameplayed between the first and second games, but I do wish there was more focus on the espanses of the alien worlds. The mission in ME2 where I went to shut down some man taken over by Geth, had to use some shuttle to traverse these mountainous green landscapes... they looked so nice, but it was such a short lived moment. The cities looked incredible too of course, but even those we didn't see too much out unless the cutscenes took us over the views imo. Gunplay was fine, I didn't struggle at all which is appreciated as a not-shooter-fan. I also enjoyed the space exploration in this one, as simple as it was, it was fun to be able to direct your ship around the map regardless (though in terms of simple space travel, RAC ACIT will always be at the top for me). Solid gameplay overall, looked real nice too. I enjoyed it more than ME1 in this regard.
This part is not about characters seperately, or the romances. Just the main plot. I wont go over ME1 in full since I want to focus on ME 2, but I will say I did enjoy ME1 quite a bit. I actually liked it more than ME2 I think... I didn't realize people praised ME2's story so highly. Because I just didn't think it was that great? I didn't mind the idea, but it was so hard for me to care at all about Cerberus, in the sense of trusting or not trusting them. I didn't care about the Illusive Man, I didn't think he was interesting enough and I didn't feel like my choices were that important to myself or him in the end. I was doing things but there was never this energy that I was truly fighting against him, or anyone else, due to my choices- as much as I think the game wanted me to feel that way. I had hardly any impression of Cerberus when I started the game tbh- my memory of the first game was good, so maybe I missed something?
Overall it left me feeling like I was in the middle of some situation I didnt understand why I had no opinion on. I like the suicide mission as an idea, but i struggled to feel close to enough of the crew as a whole for me to really care about them once stuff happened, and even then I feel like the end mission lacked involvement from characters too. The reaper human baby thing was like... so whatever to me. I get the Collectors were the main threat, but at the end I felt like I didn't get a solid answer on them, or what to think about them. Instead I'm given this reaper fetus and its like... ok this is interesting, but they give hardly any time for more information, I learned very little more about the reapers that I didn't already know... and the game just ends, and I don't really feel like I accomplished what I wanted. I get that the "war is just beginning" in the story, but it didn't feel conclusive enough to me, and I dont really like having to rely on the third game to clear shit up even more.
I would have enjoyed if there was more actual information presented about Cerberus in a way that actually assumes the main character doesn't know all too much about them. And perhaps to have been a bit more clear on their morality, because their attempt at being grey just felt too vague and left little impression. Additionally, a more blatant plot line about the Collectors and their relation to the previous story points of the first game would have been much better- on its own it just had so little impact to me.
Lastly I have to mention one big real cringe moment-- the mission where you confront a man who has been turned into Geth by his brother. This is a mission where you find out a man turned his brother into some Geth machine because hes autistic and smart. I went into this mission curiously and was just checking it off my list. It ended up being more than I expected, and the more and more I went the more and more I did Not like it. I was appalled they write this out so blatantly and I get having darker storylines... but was is needed? The ableism? He could have just been a vulnerable smart man who trusted his brother.... but instead we get a guy torturing his diabled brother by locking him into some weird machine conciousness shit for years on end. All with teh SUPER stereotypical representation of a guy who liked math and numbers and speaks kind of funny. Yeah, I was not a fan of this mostly with it feeling so out of left feild.
So, there is a lot of good and bad with having such a huge cast. While I think ME1's was too small, i think ME2's was too big and they didnt know how to handle it well at all. Perhaps its makes sense that there is no way youd get to know everyone, but I just felt like it was so pointless. So many characters I barely talked to, mostly once with a "lesser" role and less dialogue.
I had gotten mostly close with Thane, Mordin and Garrus. I really loved Mordin, honestly probably my favorite character out of everyone. I feel like Garrus was kind of lacking on the casual hub interactions. I liked Thane, but I only talked to him because of the gay romance mod I had as there were basically no male gay options there for me in the game. His romance is admittedly... not my type, but thats probably due to it being suited for a straight romance. The fact there are NO male gay options is just absurd, and i know ME is aimed at the male crowd... but come on. You give so many female options, THREE female bisexual options.... god. I think I mainly enjoyed ME1 more because the gay romance mod recovered actual cut dialogues for Kaiden/mshep, showing the had at least had the work for a gay romance but it never made it in. For ME2, there wasn't anything at all to imply they had planned a gay romance. My impressions on the writers/series as a whole is a little more sour due to the obvious bias towards bisexual/lesbians for the sake of pleasing the male gaze... but I can't give the writers too much shit when the higher ups are likely the cause.
Overall I don't know, maybe I am comparing it too much to later games like DAI, but I just did not feel like there was enough character interactions during missions or after missions. I know ME is more combat focused but it just felt boring sometimes. I'd check in and often hear the same lines over, where as in DAI I did feel like there was at least enough variation in the openers after events even if there were no new branches- and even then there were quite a lot of branches of dialogue. And if my romantic partner in DAI didn't have anything new to say, it was likely that someone did.
As I mentioned earlier, by the time I got to the end mission, I really only gave a shit about a few characters and I had little issue keeping everyone alive regardless. I didn't really care, and I think Jack was the only one who died (and I was not a fan of her character for reasons I voiced about other missions... ableism and stereotypes).
I think I may sound extra harsh here, but I didn't hate the game. The writing was generally well done and personal interactions were always good. But the story just didn't do it for me, and I had a hard time caring about the huge cast of squadmates by the end. I often care about the romances too, so for me as a mshep wanting something nonstraight, ME2 totally missed the mark... I still love my romance with Kaiden from ME1 though and I look forward to ME3 once I can get the mod for that game too. Here's to hoping I'll get something more out of ME3 with many reoccuring characters existing in that game too.