Saving the future from your couch

The gaming industry has been thriving during the quarantine. It would be enough to just talk about the most popular gaming platform, Steam, surpassing a record of 24,5 million daily users. Everyone is staying at home, with most of their responsibilities taken away from them. It’s only natural that we’d finally free up enough time to dive into our favourite fictional worlds, somewhat in a way to escape grim reality.

My personal favourite genre, however, has always been something sci-fi, pre-apocalyptic and preferably set in space. And in the future. Where the reality is, in fact, grim. Just so your character has enough actual impact to make it right. That’s why I decided to revisit an all-time classic of exactly that: the Mass Effect trilogy.

The first game came out all the way in 2007 and boy, was I iffy about getting into a game so outdated. It’s shameful to say now but my eyes were twitching a bit at the thought of playing something with old and unadvanced graphics. And the reviews saying the controls are way out of date and borderline unplayable by now weren’t helping either! But with the power of a few friend recommendations and those sweet, sweet seasonal sales I caved in. And my world was, frankly, turned upside down.

In the games you play as commander Shepard. You get your own spaceship, the Normandy, and a line-up of likely and not-so companions. Explore far reaches of space. Fight bad guys. Find friendships or maybe even true love.

The core of the game is making choices. Throughout dialogue options you shape your identity and decide important plot points. You pick whoever you want to bring along on your journey. And all of it doesn’t just vanish when it’s resolved. An NPC you helped once in the first game might show up to return the favor in the third one. You’ll be able to talk your way through a situation if you’ve stayed true to your (chosen!) nature, but if you haven’t picked sides you might actually mess everything up. That’s as little context as I’m willing to give you, because getting into Mass Effect kind of blindfolded ended up feeling like the right way to do it. Without knowing the lore across and out you’d feel more in-character, even if you’d have to ask a very single character you meet what a Spectre is just to be sure. And it’s a rare opportunity to have something that came out over 10 years ago not to be spoiled to you. So I’m not taking it away.

I have to warn you, though. It is very time-consuming. The game is huge, and there are three of them. You’ll probably spend more time than you want driving ‘round uncharted worlds on your vehicle in ME1 and scanning planets for resources in ME2. By the time I wrapped up my (almost) 100 hours in the game, I also grew obsessed and practically had to force myself not to dive into a second playthrough right away.

Citing Twitter user Josh Hood, “Playing Mass Effect, a game where the government dismisses a threat to civilization as a hoax and then are unprepared when it arrives, hits different now.” And while we might feel powerless in real life, this saga gives us an ability to make a difference. To fight the threat that comes closing in all around us. And if during the quarantine someone really needs a coping mechanism to deal with everything that’s going on, I don’t see a better option than giving Mass Effect a try.

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