We all have comfort games. Everyone has those games that are mired in nostalgia and can be replayed time and time again. However, even if we've played them multiple times, they still get added to the dreaded backlog until we can actually play through it properly. Whether it's being too busy with work, or dealing with some kind of stress, you realize that you're not in the right headspace to play something and need to leave it alone until you can actually give it the attention it deserves.
That's how I was with Mass Effect Legendary Edition. I think it was a combination of factors — stress from work, family issues, the loss of a beloved pet — and so for one reason or another, I wasn't able to carve out the time to play through the three games again, despite really wanting to, especially after rewatching the teaser for the next Mass Effect multiple times.
Even still, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition was one of my favorite games to talk about in 2021. It not only reignited my love for the franchise, but also helped me understand that you don't need to play a game in order to enjoy it.
Despite the ubiquity of the franchise in gaming circles, many people I know who picked up Mass Effect Legendary Edition were experiencing the games for the first time. My mom, for example, actually decided to play through them for the first time. I'd asked her to give them a try in the past, knowing her burgeoning enjoyment of narrative-driven games, but it was with the announcement of the collection that she finally decided to jump on board and play through the trilogy. She wasn't alone, given how Mass Effect Legendary Edition exceeded Electronic Arts' expectations.
Needless to say, she absolutely loved them. And it was through conversations with her over the course of the two months she spent playing them that I got to re-experience those games all over again, despite not personally playing them. I've played the original games multiple times (the first game more times than I can count) and I've gone through all the DLC packs at least once, if not more. I know the story beats, conversations and characters as well any other basic facts.
And yet, at every point, I found myself surprised. I was surprised at some of the choices she made or contemplated making (Kaidan? Really?), but more surprised because it gave me a newfound appreciation for all three games. It was the closest thing I've ever experienced to going through a piece of media for the first time over again. Those conversations, daily or weekly, became a driving force for me as much as my own time with games, in my spare time or for work.
It made me appreciate more than ever just how unique the Mass Effect games are, flowing from one title to the next.
As early as the first Mass Effect, I had to stay updated on how things were going. I had to know what her theories were ahead of the iconic reveal of Sovereign, who she left behind on Virmire (it was Ashley), who her favorite teammates were (Garrus and Tali), and what she thought of the conversation with Vigil. It went into overdrive with Mass Effect 2 — the best of the trilogy still, let's get that squared away — and knowing the inevitable suicide mission was coming up.
Like the majority of the characters in the second game, she was initially wary of Grunt, but after talking with him repeatedly ahead of his loyalty mission, she came to view him as a heavily-armored, 400-pound son, with Shepard as Grunt's surrogate mother. Many people (myself included) definitely picked up on that family relationship building throughout the game, but she identified a lot of the issues Grunt was facing even before anything was brought up or revealed in dialogue.
"He's hit puberty," I recall her wrily noting when watching him stalk back and forth across the Normandy, talking about wanting to kill things.
I've always been interested in what others thought of games that I also enjoyed, but this was something different. It made me appreciate more than ever just how unique the Mass Effect games are, flowing from one title to the next. It's not really three separate games so much as it is Mass Effect: Part One, Part Two and Part Three. That unique progression meant I was able to re-experience the trilogy through someone else's eyes. In the hellish year that was 2021, it was a special experience.
When I asked her why she enjoyed the Mass Effect trilogy so much, she said it was just everything, and how it all came together in the closure of the trilogy as different cultures butting heads came together under the right leadership. "The size of the world, the cultures, the depth of the characters, romances, side quests, mining," she said. The last of those might seem out of place, but she loved the mining. She spent hours strip-mining the galaxy for resources. I think she spent more credits on probes than all the other upgrades put together.
Interestingly, one of the strongest aspects of Mass Effect 3 for her was, essentially, a reflection of my own experience this year. Javik the Prothean unexpectedly shot up as one of her favorite characters, as she appreciated experiencing the universe through him and how differently he saw things.
It helped us bond in a way we never really have before, despite playing and talking about games together since I first owned the original Xbox 15 years ago. It's one thing to ask someone's thoughts on a story. It's another to see a journey beginning to end through a completely different lens, removed from your own opinions on something.
I may not have had time to play through these games like I wanted through 2021, but I still went through them all over again, even if I had to relive that story through someone else, while growing closer and better understanding who that person is. It's been one of my favorite, strongest experiences of the year. Ten years after finishing Mass Effect 3 for the first time, I have a newfound appreciation for just how special these stories and characters truly are.
Maybe I'll even play the trilogy over my holiday break.
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