What was it about Mass Effect that helped us immerse ourselves like never before?
Mass Effect holds a special place in my gamer heart. In many ways, it's made up of some of my favourite elements in video gaming. A great narrative, a fantastic science fiction setting, lots of customisation and non-linearity without ever losing focus, brilliant characters, and sound design that really elevates the experience.
There are so many moments in the Mass Effect trilogy that come to mind when I tried to find one that defines the series as I'm heading towards the end of the third instalment. I could have chosen the heavy decisions I had to make on Vermire. The epic showdown with Saren and Sovereign. The sordid relationship with The Illusive Man. Dealing with the residents of Omega. Finding out the truth about the Collectors. The invasion of Earth.
But the moment that is quintessentially Mass Effect to me was my first visit to The Citadel. It perfectly sums up everything I love about the trilogy and Bioware games in general. This is where the first game truly opens up and allows you the freedom to explore and interact with world that Bioware dreamed up for the game.
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What really sold the universe to me was the diversity of races. Sure, Mass Effect has their share of humanoids, but they are all very distinct and different from each other. We have the Turians - adversaries of humans, the biotically gifted and sensual Asari, the intelligent amphibian Salarians... but, it was the more exotic beings, the round little Volus, the massive and slow Elcor, the jellyfish-like and religious Hanar, and finally the Keepers who scurry about The Citadel keeping tabs on things.
The Citadel was the perfect melting pot and a catalyst to immerse me into what could easily have been a foreign and strange science fiction universe. The races and elements that made up the fiction were to a large degree not forced upon me, but I experienced them as I walked about and explored.
There are elements of Star Wars' Mos Eisley here, and visual references to Blade Runner, and one can't help but feel the influence of Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine. But it never feels derivative, and instead manages to eclipse much of what the previously mentioned fiction has achieved.
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To me, The Citadel experience in the first game far exceeds that of the second game. The Citadel was central to the story in the first game, and in many ways, it was the unifying component. The same could not be said of Omega in the second game. Perhaps it was the impact of the secrets revealed during the first game or just the impact of that first visit, but my experience at The Citadel in the first game was never really replicated elsewhere in the series.
The Citadel also represents what Bioware does really well. They create hubs from where an adventure naturally expands in different directions. There is something for everyone here, there is humour, lots of story to dive into, and naturally also progress in the main story to be had. There are characters to get to know, clues, references, and wonderful vistas.
The Citadel is what really had me sold on the Mass Effect experience, and it is an example of why Bioware are masters of RPG development.