Friday, January 13, 2012

Into the Wild Starry Yonder #1

I consider myself to have five main fandoms/obsessions these days; Halo, Girls' Generation, Battlestar Galactica, and fashion all take up a considerable amount of my daily do-nothing time each day. But unlike those aforementioned four, this one above all makes me question my morality, personality, and behavior towards other people in an everyday setting. No such fandom has ever allowed me to have such an emotional connection to the events surrounding it and makes me obsesses over what I could have done differently or effectively. You probably already figured this one out, but for those who haven't, I'm talking about the wonderful Mass Effect universe imagined by BioWare.

ME blog header

I've always wanted to make a diary/journal of sorts logging my actions and shenanigans across the Milky Way, but a case of "i'm too bored to do it" prohibited me from ever doing it. Now that I have a clear interest in writing about my life, I thought i'd make one of my first posts about something I hold very dear. This will be the first article in a planned three part series chronicling my asskicking in Mass Effect. Each of the three parts will be a bit different in its style and in the following, you'll be reading about my eagerness in the beginning, through my Spectre induction and insta-boredom, and ultimately finishing off on the anti-nipple world of Noveria. Enjoy!

My gaming record up until the early days of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 was pretty simple in what you'd see. First person shooters, arcade racers, and platformers dominated our family's gaming collection for many years, mainly because we had no taste at the time and neither me or my brother and sister had any interest in being over involved in a game. Though I'll admit that I've been obsessed with Final Fantasy since childhood, that was the only real game series that I put any significant amount of effort in. Halo, while having a rich and involving expanded universe, never really made me obsess over the gameplay like I would have loved it to. Thankfully that all changed for the better on Christmas 2007 when me and my brother started playing Mass Effect, which we had both vaguely mentioned to our parents about wanting to play. The rest is history and will be explained throughout a Mass Effect 2 article series and probably one for the upcoming finale, but ultimately, this game helped me appreciate the medium even more than I would have if I never played it. Well okay, onto the good stuff.

Going into this playthrough, I knew that I wanted to do a great deal of things differently. Starting off, my character design was going to be more true to what I actually looked like instead of the hottest Shepard I could possibly make. While its not really exact, it does represent me more than I thought it would, apart from limitations within Mass Effect's character creation feature.

Okay, well maybe i've made myself look a tiny bit better than I actually do, but oh well, this is a fantasy universe and I don't want to look bad on Westerlund News.

Apart from appearances, Commander Natalie Shepard's personality throughout my upcoming playthroughs will encounter moderate to severe changes. In the past, I have often played the noble, straight as an arrow, the good guy who always picks the bright blue and top right corner dialogue options; I was never one to act uncivil or in a manner that gave people the wrong impressions about our species. This continued into ME2 for my first (and still only) playthrough of that game, with the only divergences from my typical behavior consisting of always triggering the "Renegade interruptions." Now, knowing full well how Human, Asari, Turian, Salarian, Batarian, Krogan, etc. react to Spectres, I decided to go another route. While the core of my always diplomatic and conscious attitude would stay the same, I figured that being a bit snarky, impulsive, and aggressive towards those who deserved it would be a nice seasoning to my pretty straight-forward Shepard. Needless to say, I'm not going to be winning any Spectre Customer Service awards in the future.

As always, I chose a background that fits my own experiences. As the daughter of a once active-duty U.S. Marine who moved around from Okinawa to California to Virginia, the "Spacer" history featuring two Alliance Navy parents was an attractive option which I expected to really connect to my Shepard with. My action history was pretty easy to pick as well, so considering i've never been rebellious or ever faced a significant event alone, the "War Hero" option was the best fit. With my own history, I always grew up with an idolization of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and especially Marines, and hold them all in a special place within my heart. Including the fact that I may one day seek to become a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, it goes without saying that this is still the only option i'll go with.

Onto the game itself, I went into it knowing that i'm going to try to do as much towards a 100% completion as possible on my first playthrough. My first ME1 experience was finished in just a couple of days, with little of the side missions ever being attempted or even played which took me another 2 playthroughs to get to Level 60. Even on my sixth (and current) time going through this game, I still can't stand the hours i'll take just to complete these all, especially considering most of them are incredibly tedious and contribute little to the story. Though my psuedo-CDO (its 1% better than OCD) probably counters these beliefs with an undeniable urge to get every cent I can out of a game.

With this new attitude I had towards doing things as differently as possible while still holding onto my core ideals, my adventures on the Citadel prior to Spectre induction and rescuing Liara on Therum didn't go as planned. First off, Emily Wong got all the evidence she needed and Khalisa al-kissmyass, Westerlund News got out of C-SEC Academy without getting an exoskeleton-enhanced punch in the head. Things are already starting to get fucked up. And now, there's Harkin, a angry drunk cop that will continue to sit in Chora's Den until Sovereign comes over for a reunion picnic. Because I first went to Wrex in C-SEC Academy instead of him to uncover evidence against Saren, now all he'll do is tell me to fuck off. I could have told him to sober up and get his act together, but because I fangirled at our favorite Krogan Battlemaster, he's going to continue wasting his life there. Shit.

Needless to say, I was happy to get off of the Citadel and out into the galaxy after scavenging up all of the side missions I could from the capital. Getting out into space, I instantly made a tour of all currently available clusters (around a dozen or so), triggering all secondary planet quests and mining every world I come across. It wasn't until I traveled to the Pinnacle Station's system that I encountered my first incredible fail. Thinking this world would have a rag-tag band of mercenaries and pirates, I went down in my Mako thinking I was Betsy Badass with her Turian right hand and the token xenophobic sidekick. Sitting on the rockedge above their secluded base, I easily took out three unsuspecting riflemen with the cannon within a couple seconds. And twenty minutes later, I packed up and left that planet after getting my ass continually kicked by what seemed like an entire platoon of these mercenaries. Starting off at the bottom with Lancer rifles and Onyx armor doesn't feel good...but may the space gods help them when I go back there.

Off to Therum to rescue the cute and super intelligent daughter of Matriarch Benezia, Liara T'Soni, my confidence in destroying such a significant concentration of Geth soldiers on foot was starting to shatter. The final encounter before going into the mines, introducing the Stalkers and fighting a Armature (four legged anti-vehicle model) grew to become a severe pain in my ass after dying three times. I don't necessarily blame the designers or the A.I., but more on my cockiness in trying to take out the lesser enemies. Surprisingly enough, combat inside the Prothean mines was a breeze. I took out the Geth infantry and later the enemy Krogan Battlemaster with ease, much to my surprise. Though this was nothing new in my Mass Effect experience, reintroducing Liara to me made me think that I could make yet another change to a rapidly evolving character.

Lair of the Shadow Broker

Going into this playthrough, I was going to make an effort to pursue a romantic relationship with the Asari scientist Liara T'Soni, who would later become the head of an "underground" information collection agency under the guise of a "Shadow Broker." I figured that having my lover be the leader of such a widespread intelligence group would be a key asset in the coming battles that we'll see in Mass Effect 3. My first romantic interest during the first playthrough I had of ME1 even featured Liara as my pick, but only because I had left Kaidan on Virmire. Needless to say, all encounters after this would feature Liara as my love interest from the start.

Now i've never been one to ever dive into magic or technology, so being a guns-a-blazin' soldier (and later Shock Trooper) has always been my strong suit in Mass Effect. Apart from Kaidan at the start of the game and Wrex during the Siege of the Citadel, i've never really included any biotics in my ground team in ME1. I don't know if it was just because I like seeing bullets and explosions with fierce blitzkrieg-style attacks on the Geth or I didn't want to have to manage and learn my teammate's biotic powers, but I just didn't really care for them. Then came the mission to Noveria and I knew that the easily dispatchable, though numerous Rachni threat we'd encounter would be a worthy opponent. Which led me to decide that bringing Liara alongside my homeboy Garrus would prove to me whether or not she or any biotics could have a place on my team.

Breaking into Synthetic Insights office would be all the evidence I needed to make her a permanent member. These rogue security officers were eliminated in seconds with the combination of my overwhelming trigger happy assault rifle, Garrus' electronics expertise, and Liara's mastery of all things biotics. I knew going into the Hot Labs and ultimately encountering the Asari Commando team would be a breeze. Apart from having to use Unity on Garrus twice (sure, he's a bit fail but God I love him), the encounter with Benezia went better than I expected. With Liara there to add to the conversation with her mother, I knew I had made a great choice to include her not only for the story value on Noveria, but the game as a whole.

One thing that i've always done at this point is release the Rachni Queen into the galaxy. As much shit as I get for this from the Council, Udina, and even my own subordinates, I still regard this as the best possible decision I could have made towards my own future in the galaxy. Mass Effect 3's emphasis on gathering not only individuals but entire species, armies, and fleets proves that the Rachni will prove themselves in this upcoming war to be a wonderful asset to the great civilizations. Saying that, I have always felt a little gullible allowing them to live in freedom, which is why more than anything else is why people think I'm a dumbass. Apart from the unnecessary extinction of their ancestors by the Krogan, this is the best possible decision for any player.

Even now, i've only completed a few non-Citadel based missions so far, accounting for probably less than 25% of the entire game. Going on, I still have a couple dozen side missions and resource/artifact recoveries to go, not to mention the main story missions on Feros, Virmire, Ilos, and finally, the Citadel. This is where I think this new Shepard will difference herself from her predecessors currently inhabiting my hard drive. After Noveria, while getting a sense of what the crew is feeling, it seems as if Kaidan is getting off on the right track of trying to win my heart over for the romance subplot. As I stated before, I was going to go with Liara considering our past and what she'll mean in the future. But now, I want to see what I can do differently. After this conversation between me and Normandy's security officer, I decided to pursue him as my love interest. Plus I want to see what the Council thinks about Spectre-on-Spectre sexy time in Mass Effect 3. So looking at the future, i'll be flirting with Kaidan some more, leaving Ashley to sacrifice herself on Virmire, among other things.

Oh, and I went renegade on Conrad Verner's ass during the final stage of that assignment. Going with the intimidation option and pointing my pistol at his throat showing him how "action" really goes down in the Milky Way. I still don't quite understand how he has/had a wife...

At this point in my playthrough, i've already screwed up quite a bit and I know that my experiences going forward will be radically different. However, I did discover my new found love for Kaidan (partly because of CortanaV's constant Tumblr updates featuring her man) and a brand new element to my team, Liara. Feros, Virmire, and Ilos should be really fun experiences as they always have been, but the repetitive dialogue, copy pasta side missions, and the absurdity of rocky planets will certainly piss me off for the next couple of weeks or so. Either way, I had a real good time writing this article and I hope you enjoyed it just as much. Look for the second part featuring my adventures in annoyance on uncharted worlds and Feros next week! As I leave you, i'd like to share this nice case of GarrusFail at Chora's Den. Enjoy!


All trademarks and material relating to Mass Effect are properties of BioWare and Electronic Arts. Liara screenshot courtesy of the Mass Effect Wiki.

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