With Mass Effect 3’s last piece of DLC promising to offer “one final chance to see the characters you have known for years and rekindle romances,” my brain start thinking about Mass Effect again. Compound that with our recent spoilercast of Mass Effect 3, and I realized that every single Mass Effect game has been pretty damn stellar, ending be damned. But while most people consider Mass Effect 2 to be the pinnacle of the series, Mass Effect 1 remains my personal favorite because it embodied what I believe to be the true essence of the franchise.
To me, the beauty of Mass Effect lies in the wonder. The wonder of discovering an unfamiliar alien species, the wonder of uncovering a hidden secret about the past… things that make the world seem unconscionably rich. No game captured that more perfectly than Mass Effect 1. It was fascinating just experiencing all the intricacies of the fiction for the first time, whether it was witnessing what a turian looks like, or how the krogan speak. Because Mass Effect 1 served as the introduction to such an expansive universe, it was as through something unexpected was popping up at every turn.
The first Mass Effect also unfolded more like a mystery novel than Mass Effect 2 or 3. In the latter games, you often already had an idea on what your end goal was. The nature of the true antagonist was apparent, and you knew what you were ultimately fighting for. But in Mass Effect 1, there seemed to be so many secrets lying in every crevice, just waiting to be unearthed. You weren’t really sure what Saren Arterius was up to, or what the Reapers and the Protheans actually were. It was a process of trying to discover all the hidden facts to really discern the inner workings of the galaxy.
Saren was another reason why Mass Effect 1 stands at the top of the pile for me. Having the main adversary be someone who is comparable in size and scope to Shepard himself (or herself) makes Saren more compelling and relatable. Although Saren gets indoctrinated by the Reapers and eventually becomes merely a puppet in their overarching plan, facing off against a villain, mano y mano, made the game much more engaging. The Reapers you clash with in the later games symbolize more of an idea than actual antagonists you’re able to battle. Yes, they are a destructive force that can annihilate everything in an instant, but they represented a larger concept that they were trying to see through. I appreciated the fact that Mass Effect 1’s primary foe was someone you can meet eye to eye, rather than some gargantuan tentacle monster that evaporates planets. And the final boss fight of Mass Effect 1 is still better than any of the other final encounters in the subsequent games.
I’m willing to concede that Mass Effect 2 is far superior in terms of gameplay. The Mako was unwieldy and difficult to handle, the elevator loading sequences made me want to stab my eyes out, and all of the buildings that the side missions took place in were apparently constructed by the same architect. But Mass Effect is much more than some cover based third person shooting or extra quests. It has such a fully realized universe, and every facet of its fiction meshes perfectly with another. On top of that, all of the characters have deep, meaningful back stories and colorful personalities that make them all unique. When looking at the big picture, the totality of Mass Effect 1 was such a fresh experience that introduced players to such an enormous and captivating world. It felt like its lore was offering a brand new nugget of information every step of the way, and that is why the first Mass Effect is my favorite of the franchise.