Mass Effect tells two stories: Shepard’s in the trilogy and Ryder’s in Andromeda. Here’s each of their games ranked by narrative quality.
The Mass Effect series takes players through an expansive, ambitious sci-fi tale across its four games. With the first three titles following the exploits of Commander Shepard, Mass Effect: Andromeda tells a story set several centuries into the future, expanding the world beyond the story told in the original trilogy. Through the four titles, BioWare builds upon its universe by introducing players to new elements through the eyes of its lead characters. Not all stories, however, are created equal.
While the original trio of games all tell one, continuous tale, Andromeda‘s story takes players out of the reaches of the original trilogy in an effort to tell its own tale from the perspective of Scott or Sara Ryder. This direction gives players a fresh start and a brand new outlook on the world, as Andromeda‘s lengthy narrative expands the world of Mass Effect with its new cast and tale of a world beyond what was established in Shepard’s trilogy. In concert, all four titles work together to expand on the world BioWare created.
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With the announcement of the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition remaster of the original trilogy, players will be able to experience the entirety of the Mass Effect saga on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and next-generation platforms. The Legendary Edition release completes the saga, making the original story accessible on current platforms. With all four games finally coming together on the same systems, it is only fair for fans of the franchise to reflect on their stories, what they meant, and how they compare to each other.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
The story of Andromeda, unfortunately, suffers from its lack of connection to the previous titles. Starting from square one, players are expected to forge new bonds with characters that feel like stand-ins for the original crew at times. While each character is certainly their own person rather than outright carbon copies, the Andromeda‘s character relationships and dynamic do not seem to carry with them nearly the same weight as the original trilogy. This can also be forgiven, however, as Andromeda tries to do in one game what Shepard’s journey had planned through several.
Andromeda‘s plot also feels far more geared toward exploration, with Ryder leading an expedition to find a new home for former inhabitants of the Milky Way. As a result, the plot of the game is more aimed toward giving the player a reason to travel to the different planets, with the game’s primary antagonist (the alien race known as the “kett,” led by the Archon) bringing only a fraction of the stakes and danger imposed by the threat faced in the original Mass Effect trilogy. While Andromeda has a distinct edge in gameplay and in some aspects of exploration, it falters in telling a story that allow players to feel as invested in their new protagonists as they did with Shepard’s team.
The first game in the trilogy, Mass Effect introduces players to Commander Shepard and their crew on the Normandy, establishing the characters and crew of the vessel from the start, with the primary motivation revolving around a Turian known as Saren. Through the course of the adventure to hunt him down, players are introduced to the Reapers, an ancient machine race bent on harvesting life through a repeating cycle of destruction. As the game that introduces and sets the tone for the story to come, Mass Effect will always be remembered fondly.
In continuing BioWare’s previous efforts in Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, the company’s trademark style of binary morality choices makes a return in the form of the Paragon/Renegade system, giving players enough options to make Shepard truly their own. Interactions with Shepard’s squad also tend to feel more realistic than previous BioWare titles, with the different characters having their own motivations for players to uncover through the course of the adventure. As the game that sets the table, the first Mass Effect serves as a wonderful introduction to the conflict to come.
Mass Effect 3
After four and a half years, Shepard’s story in Mass Effect reaches its conclusion with the third title of the franchise. In Mass Effect 3, the culmination of Shepard’s journey plays out, with the invasion of the Reapers coming to fruition. As the Reapers begin their invasion in earnest, Shepard’s quest takes them through the galaxy in an effort to prepare it to combat the ancient threat. As the conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy, ME3 sees a lot of plot elements from previous titles reach their climax, with DLC allowing players a chance to spend more time with all of their crewmembers before the finale.
In presenting this game as the end of a tale spanning three games, ME3 acts as a farewell to the franchise fans have known for so many hours of play. Fans of the franchise likely found a large amount of emotional investment in the characters met and stories told throughout all three titles. It is a shame, then, that the game’s final act mars the experience, with the game’s ending boiling the trilogy’s 100-plus-hour story into one choice between three options, irrespective of what the player has done throughout the other games. This has left fans feeling Shepard’s journey lacked a proper finale, with no true sense of closure for the world and Shepard’s old crewmates.
Mass Effect 2
Following up on the first title, Mass Effect 2 doubles down on the exposition of the galaxy around Shepard. With the threat of a full Reaper invasion being ignored, Shepard and their crew must work with a dubious organization that revives Shepard’s body after a hull breach on their vessel leaves them dead. The plot takes on various forms of intrigue, as Shepard’s crew all have various feelings about the allegiance, with several crew members from the previous installment viewing Shepard differently as a result of this newfound alliance.
The Illusive Man’s presence as the leader of the organization, known as Cerberus, sets a truly chilling tone through the title, with Shepard’s mission and the survival of their crewmates hinging on the directives of the manipulative individual at the organization’s head. As Shepard looks into the potential Reaper threat, players begin to also discover more of how the galaxy views Shepard after the events of the previous game, as well as explore the relationships between Shepard and their crewmates even further. By picking up and expanding on the first Mass Effect while expertly setting up the events of the finale, Mass Effect 2 stands as the pinnacle title in the Mass Effect franchise.
Next: Best Things to Do After Beating Mass Effect: Andromeda
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