Mass Efflections: Good Enemies

I’ve always believed that a story is only as good as its antagonist. Heroes are cool and all, but they serve no purpose unless they are faced with a legitimate threat. Weak bad guys kill a story’s suspense and leave us underwhelmed by the hero’s victory. Oh, you defeated The Goldfish? The supervillain who can’t remember his plan the next day? Great work.

Luke Skywalker is nothing without a wheezing juggernaut to oppose him. The Borg gave us some of the best episodes in Star Trek history until Voyager ruined them. Gul Dukat elevated Deep Space Nine beyond its peers. Battlestar Galactica might have had killer robots, but the true enemy was our own nature – slow to forgive, adapt, and change. The Wire painted our true enemy as the system itself; the very institutions we created to maintain our society.

A story is only as good as its antagonist.

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Mass Effect showed us two powerful villains before beautifully pulling the rug from underneath us. The first time we see Saren Arterius, he murders a fellow Spectre. Saren is aided and advised by Matriarch Benezia, possessor of centuries of wisdom, immense biotic power, and impractical attire. The entire first game is spent pursuing Saren and Benezia to stop them from handing the universe over to the Reapers.

By the end of the game, however, we discover that both had sympathetic reasons for their actions. Continue reading

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Mass Efflections: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Mass Effect 2 is a better game than Mass Effect. After all 56 hours of gameplay Mass Effect 2 had to offer, that much was clear.

Mass Effect 2 is sleeker. The graphics are better. Combat mechanics are more stable. You no longer have to tediously outfit your entire crew. The mini-games for hacking consoles and bypassing security feel more like hacking than Mass Effect’s “random series of buttons.” The storytelling is more personal, tightening the story and making it more engaging.

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Not only did Mass Effect 2 tell a better story; it told a bigger one. The Collectors, agents of the Reapers, are abducting tens of thousands of human colonists as… ummm… part of the Reapers’ plan somehow? Okay, maybe the story wasn’t as good as the storytelling, but it did feel that way.

The music was one major reason why. The synthy electronics of the Mass Effect score are gone and replaced by bombast; soaring strings, pulsing drums, plenty of brass, and thicker, meatier electronics. Think “futuristic Hans Zimmer clone.”

The game’s final mission is another reason. Continue reading