The number of games released these days is massive and something is available for all types of gamers. But the genre that most tickles my pleasure zones are the action role-playing epics. Though the number of titles is still quite limited there have been some absolute stunners in recent years that mix everything from action, adventure, and strategy into an ever-evolving story that captivates its audience for hour after hour, making the real world fade into a distant memory.
And NO, I don’t mean games like World of Warcraft – for all you out there who might be keen to apply the “nerd” tag at this point, I’m talking about titles such as Bioware’s now-dated-but-still-amazing Knights of the Old Republic; its sequel (brought to us by Obsidian) Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords; Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, to name just a few. These games allowed the player to take control of a basic character, and as the game progressed and the story unfolded the player was able to customise almost every aspect of their character. Everything from clothing, armour, weapons and even the characters personality were in some cases left to the gamer to decide. Customisation of this type allows players to truly inhabit a character, encouraging them to fall deep into a story and embark on an incredible adventure.
For me though, the genre was defined and a new yard stick was created by the epic space opera from Bioware, Mass Effect and its masterpiece of a sequel; Mass Effect 2. Both games were released on Xbox 360 and PC and feature amazing gameplay, heart-pounding action, stunning visuals, sensational voice actors and soundtracks, and something that game and movie developers have increasingly neglected to invest enough time, effort, or money into… a truly awesome story.
While Mass Effect came out in 2007 and Mass Effect 2 was released early in 2010 there has yet to be another game that provides such a complete and engrossing experience. Both games centre on the struggle of the protagonist, Commander Sheppard, against the Reapers, an advanced race of organic starships, whose only desire is to devour all sentient life in the galaxy.
Stepping into the highly-customisable boots (right down to gender!) of Sheppard you will embark on a variety of missions that, over time, see you assemble a crack team of mercenaries, soldiers, technicians and ‘biotics’ (a sort of sci-fi spellcaster, or off-label Force user); each with different strengths and weaknesses with which to fight this terrible threat to the galaxy, and each with their own highly individual personalities. The player controls everything from the team Sheppard takes on missions, the order in which the story unfolds, and even the very outcome of the game itself.
The games can be as short as 10-12 hours if you push through, following only the core story or take well in excess of 30 hours of gameplay. In addition to the central missions that need to be completed, there are an almost endless amount of optional mini missions that, once completed, can affect the overall story and add background colour to an already staggeringly impressive space-opera. There’s even a weird alien sex scene for those who play their cards right ;-).
What many developers seem intent on providing these days is terrific visuals and great gameplay; however the gamers are usually left saying “WTF?!” as the credits roll due to a story that leaves them feeling unfulfilled. By contrast, the Mass Effect saga has gamers on the edge of their seats waiting for whatever happens next in the eagerly awaited third instalment, set in a universe that absolutely needs, not to be seen, but to be experienced to be believed.
· Mass Effect 2 for PS3 will be released January 18th, 2011
· Mass Effect 3 for Xbox 360, PC and PS3 has a tentative release date of Q4 2011