Friday, February 12, 2010
Posted by Kirk Hamilton
And so as the Illusive Man sat and smoked, the screen faded to black, and my playthough of Mass Effect 2 came to a close. Considering how I've been writing about almost nothing but this game for the past week and a half, I thought it would only be proper to put together a quick wrap-up. Plot discussion abounds, me hearties, so consider yerselves forewarned: Here there be spoilers.
It took about 30 hours for renegade Blade Shepard to fully assemble his team of intergalactic badasses. Along the way, he helped a lot of them with their various familial issues, engaged in fisticuffs with the press, learned enough about the hugely varied cultures of the galaxy to fill a giant, incredibly-detailed codex, and even fell in love with an old friend. Actually, that last thing is something I'd like to talk about a bit more.
In past BioWare games, the story has tended to present one character as the "right" girl for heterosexual male characters, and one as the "dark girl," or the competition for the protagonist's heart and the one you wind up hooking up with on your second, evil playthrough. In Jade Empire, Dawn Star was the girl that any clichéd hero would fall for, and Silver Fox was the dark, mysterious Other Woman. In the first Mass Effect, Ashley was presented as the down-home human babe, and Liara the exotic, shy alien. Dragon Age presented us with the clever, good-hearted rogue Leliana and the cold, self-interested witch Morrigan.
What surprised me was that just when I thought I had Mass Effect 2's romantic options pegged - Miranda as the primary hetero love interest, Jack as the darker option for renegades - the game threw me a curve in the form of Tali'Zorah Vas Normandy.
I was going through my game, content to let Blade go the conventional route and hook up with Miranda, when Tali joined the crew. We'd crossed paths near the start of the game, and Tali seemed more world-weary and tough - it was a good look for her. She and Shepard reminisced about their past adventures, and I found myself thinking how truly nice it was to see her again.
After he helped her out of a jam on her homeworld, adopting her into his crew and allowing her to be renamed "Vas Normandy," it became clear that Tali was romantically interested in Shepard. As I watched them talking down in the engineering room, Tali growing flustered about her feelings, Shepard gently reassuring her, I realized that Mass Effect 2 was playing with a feeling that I have never encountered in a game before - familiarity coupled with the spark of something more, the unplanned attraction that can blossom after reuniting with an old friend.
Whatever can be said of Mass Effect 2's overzealous streamlining and unfortunately shallow RPG elements, the fact that BioWare managed to replicate that subtle, specific feeling is truly remarkable. Kinda beautiful, even. I realized that in my Shepard's story, it absolutely made sense that, despite his attraction to Miranda, he would find himself falling for Tali. And so fall he did.
And yeah, I was a little mad that we never got to see what she looks like behind the mask, but I got over it.
So the Normandy jumped through the Omega Relay, and Shepard made the call that Tali would sneak through the ducts on the Collector ship to hack open the doors for the rest of the team. He kept her safe as she made her way through, but just as she got the doors open and cut off their pursuers, she caught a stray round and was dead before her body hit the ground. Shepard reached out as if to touch her one last time but stopped short, bowed his head, looked up at the surviving party. There was no time to grieve.
Dude, that is some good shit right there. I talked a good game about how if I lost anyone I couldn't stand to lose, I would load up an earlier game and do what it took to ensure their survival. But as I played through that final mission, I realized that no matter who I lost, there was just no way I was going to do that.
Maybe it was the streamlining, or the fact that I had imported my character from the first game, but for some reason, this playthrough felt definitive to me, much moreso than in previous BioWare games. I'm far less interested in playing through it again to see what Paragon choices might yeild - the way the story was told feels like... well, like canon. What's remarkable is that it feels like my canon; millions of others no doubt have their own personal variations, as well.
BioWare has actually accomplished what they set out to accomplish - they have given each player his or her own unique story. Red-headed, square-jawed Blade Shepard assembled a team, made some tough decisions, killed a lot of bad people, and built a strong, loyal family aboard the Normandy. He formed an uneasy alliance with Cerberus and stopped the Collectors before they could enact their horrible plan, saving the galaxy yet again.
And along the way, he fell in love with an old friend, then tragically lost her.
It was a good story. But more importantly, it was mine.