Mass Effect: Play YOUR Story, Not the “Best” Story

In the weeks before the anticipated release of Mass Effect 3, I was watching many of my friends re-play the first two games. While almost all of them were playing to refresh the story, I noticed quite a few going for what they figured would be the “right” way to play the game: they wanted to save everyone and follow every paragon choice possible (to have the best possible chance against the Reapers in the final battle). I couldn’t help but shake my head at that mindset. I thought Mass Effect was about creating your own story. When did it turn into creating the perfect scenario so everything is peachy at the conclusion of the trilogy?

When I first picked up Mass Effect on the 360, I had no knowledge of what was to come. All I knew about the game was that it was going to be a trilogy, and that the choices I made in this game would carry over to the next two. With that information at hand, I dove head first into the game, essentially equipped with the same knowledge as Shepard throughout my entire journey. From the get-go, I decided that my Shepard was going to be mainly renegade — a no-nonsense bad-ass that would do whatever it takes to get the job done. I was a shoot first, ask questions later kind of person — well at least my Shepard was. I knew that most of the decisions wouldn’t have significant impact on the story, but then I finally ran into a decision I had a feeling would impact me sometime in the future: I had to choose whether to save or kill the Rachni.

While the renegade choice was obvious — Kill the Rachni — that was not my reasoning to choose it. Ultimately, my interactions with these creatures up to this point and my squad mates, Ashley and Wrex, molded my opinion on what to do in this situation. Remember, I had no knowledge about a Reaper invasion at this point. All I knew was that I had to stop Saren and the Geth. Also, Rachni have been a dangerous nuance up to this point. They were wild animals that only knew how to kill. The fact that practically every other race employed the Krogan to put a stop to the bugs showed me how dangerous and uncontrollable this species was. I didn’t believe the queen saying that the Rachnii were good creatures and that those ones that attacked me were just lost from the “song” of the queen. She was talking through a dead person! That threw up all kinds of red flags for me. With both Wrex and Ashley backing up my decision, I killed the queen without a second shot.

Now looking back on it, I probably killed a race that might be a huge asset in defeating the Reapers, but since I was not meta-gaming the situation (using outside information not known to the character to influence the outcome), I chose what I thought was best at the time. I don’t think I was wrong in my decision, just like the Salarians thought the genophage was the correct choice against the Krogan. Will my outcome be different than those who saved the Rachni? Most likely, but I can go through the third game knowing it was my decision, not what the “perfect” story would be.

Another huge decision: what to do with the Collector base at the end of the second game. I had continued my mostly renegade character because I felt consistency was needed for Shepard. Again, my decisions have never been based on getting my max renegade points, but that’s just how the chips happened to fall based on the information given at hand. That being said, if you thought I went renegade in this situation, you would be sorely mistaken. At no point in the story did I trust Cerberus. Too many side missions in the first game revolved around cleaning up the mess of a failed Cerberus project. And more often than not, those projects were quite questionable in their very nature. The dark nature of Cerberus was even more fully fleshed out during Jack’s loyalty mission. There I found some of the true horrors practiced on the children in the facility. It seemed that everything that Cerberus touched went wrong. Yes, I’m fully aware that if it wasn’t for Cerberus, Shepard wouldn’t be alive. But seeing as how they wanted my Shepard to form an alliance with them, the lack of cooperation TIM had with Shepard shows how little control they have over any of their projects. Because of this, I couldn’t let them have the base. They can’t be trusted to do anything right.

Yes, it was a paragon decision to destroy the base, but I also logically came to the conclusion of why I should destroy it. I know one could make the argument that Collector technology would have been invaluable in defeating the Reapers, but I didn’t want to take that chance. It was the reliance on Reaper technology — the mass relays, the citadel — that kept this extinction cycle going. The less we relied on the weapons of our enemies, the less we could be manipulated by them.

I know that my Shepard will never have the perfect ending.  I also know that I’ ll never get the pure Renegade ending either.  None of that matters, though, because the story I crafted was my story.  That will make it so special when (if) I beat those Reapers.  Not that I chose the options to give me the best chance.  Not that I was the ruthless person who didn’t care how many lives were lost as long as the outcome was achieved.  I will have the best story because it it MY story.

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  1. Chubbaluphigous

    Would you like a hug?

  2. This is SPOT ON. Hearing people go on and on about saving everyone kind of defeated the point of having all of these choices and alternate paths. My game will be missing characters and will be full of reminders of fallen comrades. It’s going to be great ad it’s going to be MINE.

    Great post.

  3. Lukas Heinzel

    Yep, the desicions are awesome and everybody should do them without letting them get influenced.

    But why is killing the queen obvious, i set her free without even thinking about it, also the geno about the krogans was totally wrong in my opinion. But thats great that our shepards differ so much, still Dragon Age is better 🙂

  4. zero_requiem

    Great article all around. I am guilty of trying to play the “right” way in retrospect. I saved the Rachni Queen, but I was persuaded by what she said, and wondering about her being an asset later on. I was happy that I was able to save Wrex, but it came about as a fluke, and not out of conscious effort. As for the Final Mission in 2, I got over half my team killed the first time I tried. I actually went back and replayed it a few times to save everyone because I wanted the achievement. One of my favorite aspects of Mass Effect as a series has been how everything has built on itself and I often just make knee-jerk reaction decisions, and I live with the consequences. And isn’t Mass Effect set up so that there is no “right” way to play, and you’re “right” way and my “right” was entirely subjective, which is exactly what Bioware intended in the first place? Maybe I’m giving Bioware too much credit, but it almost looks as if they created the illusion of a right way to satisfy other people and make it a more personal experience.

    • Just realized I contradicted myself in my own comment. If you dismiss some of my opening ramble, it makes slightly more sense. Sorry, I’m at a Special Education Conference and surfing BRB and listening to a presentation.

  5. Britishfan

    fantastic article. I have 6 playthoughs each based on a different character vision for Shepard that I’ve tried to stay consistent to, “Human supremacist Shepard”, “we could have avoided all of this if you’d just been more open and told me all the details from the start instead of lying to me, now go over there and don’t question me Shepard”, “wooowww slow down, can’t we talk about this first Shepard”, “what would Jack O’Neil do? Shepard” et all

    Meanwhile my housemate: YES!!!!!!!!!!!! maxed out my paragon now I can not f***k-up Tali’s loyalty mission and I can stop Miranda and Jack from fighting and then everyone will be loyal.

  6. congokong

    I admit I played “perfect” many times. “Perfect” in ME is being pure paragon mostly. It never really bites you in the ass. One reason it’s the case that if something like diverting vital resources to save the council in ME1 failed then the series would be over. Hence, the idealistic logic always works. Going renegade is either role-playing what you would do in that situation or just saying “I’m playing renegade.”

    However, my favorite and canon Shepard was a colonist/ruthless who followed much of what I’d do in such situations if I had the stomach to make the hard calls. There was no meta-gaming. Many of the decisions were renegade. I killed the rachni queen for the reasons you mentioned, I concentrated on Sovereign, I deleted the geth heretics, I destroyed Maelon’s data, and I kept the collector base. I see what you’re saying about the collector base but at this point the galaxy is to intertwined with reaper tech to take the noble route considering every civilization for millions of years has fallen to the reapers. You’d have to use ANY asset you can get.

    In the end the story was far from perfect. There were many non-essential casualties but that’s what made it so interesting. Would you want a story where no one dies and things don’t go wrong? The racism on the Citadel in ME2, compromising honor by sabotaging the genophage cure, and being a potty-mouth all made the series so much fun.

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