Mass Effect: Genesis

Mass Effect: Genesis
Mass Effect: Genesis Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Recommended? Not anymore
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When Mass Effect 2 was announced for release on the PlayStation 3, there were a lot of questions about how it would work since Mass Effect 1 had only been released on the Xbox 360 and Windows. Not only was Mass Effect 2 the direct sequel to one of the most expansive narratives ever seen in a video game, but the game imported the first title’s saved games to keep the player’s choices intact throughout the series. How would the developers handle the complete lack of Mass Effect 1? The answer: Mass Effect: Genesis.

For gamers that didn’t have a Mass Effect 1 save to import, BioWare had selected a set of “canon” choices to at least lay down the groundwork. The default choices generally meant that players would miss out on some interesting characters, including Wrex, a fan favorite. For Xbox 360 and Windows players, they could play 30+ hours of Mass Effect to generate their ideal saved game, but with Genesis, PS3 owners could play the 15 minute interactive comic and make a few key decisions.

Yesterday, Mass Effect: Genesis was surprisingly made available on the Xbox 360 for 320 MS Points, here is my take on it.

Before we begin, this has nothing to do with Mass Effect 2 on the Sega Genesis, sadly. Also, not to be confused with the iOS title, Mass Effect: Galaxy.

To start, it is great that Xbox 360 owners can finally take advantage of this great little tool. Mass Effect 1 is a BIG game and many hardcore fans of the series prepared a variety of Shepards in preparation of Mass Effect 2, trying out different permutations of decisions and classes. It obviously wasn’t until we got to play the second game that it became clear what choices were actually important (and the full effect of decisions won’t be felt until Mass Effect 3 is released). In my opinion, BioWare was pretty lenient with allowing Shepards to change class between games and redo a few minor decisions in an early conversation, but if you wanted to see the outcome of a slightly different decision, it meant replaying the first game (and the second).

Mass Effect: Genesis takes the biggest choices of the first game and presents them in a cool interactive comic. A male or female Shepard is created and then the comic kicks off, summarizing most of the first game while presenting choices along the way. The story is narrated by Mark Meer or Jennifer Hale, the voices of Commander Shepard, so it sounds excellent. I listened to both actors and they each sound perfectly in character (and while Mark Meer is a great male Shepard, Jennifer Hale just blows the role out of the galaxy).

The actual art is unmoving, presented like a comic book with panels fading in as the story unfolds. I like the art style but I’m not a huge fan of how some of the characters were drawn, particularly Liara, but overall it looks just like how you would expect a Mass Effect comic to look. The detail is excellent on some of the wider shots but seems lacking in closeups of characters. I’m by no means a comic connoisseur, however, so maybe I’m missing some of the general artist techniques.

Mass Effect Genesis Shepard Dying

What I can confidently comment on is that while Genesis is a useful tool for quickly making the broad decisions that defined the base plot of Mass Effect, it is not a complete replacement for playing the original game. Genesis is missing all the little choices that really gave the game a ton of charm and made my Mass Effect 2 playthroughs incredibly fun. Let’s take a quick look at the comic’s decisions:

  • Shepard’s love interest: Liara, Kaidan or Ashley (depending on gender), or nobody. This is a great decision to include considering producer Casey Hudson has made a point in saying that there will be ramifications in Mass Effect 3 if you betrayed your original love interest in the second game. The default lover in the “canon” story is either Kaidan or Ashley. On a related note, Hudson has also tweeted that there will be new paramour options in Mass Effect 3, including gay characters.
  • Fate of the Rachni Queen: While this has almost no immediate repercussions in Mass Effect 2 except for one side conversation, the decision to save the Rachni race will undoubtedly have a huge impact in the final battle against the Reapers. The default canon option was to kill the Rachni Queen on Noveria.
  • Fate of Urdnot Wrex: In the canon story, the super well-written Wrex is dead! This is really too bad for many players as they’re missing out on a stellar character. With Genesis, you can stop Ashley from sniping him on Virmire.
  • Death of Ashley or Kaidan: Probably the biggest decision in the game is which squad member you’ll sacrifice on Virmire, and while the survivor makes just a few cameos in Mass Effect 2, they will once again be a full-fledged party member in Mass Effect 3. The default is to kill off the same gendered character as Shepard.
  • Fate of the Citadel Council: I always found this decision odd at the end of Mass Effect 1, whether you save or kill the council has no effect on the outcome of the battle. The human fleet is supposedly devastated in arriving early to protect the Destiny Ascension that the alien council members are on, but they still take down Sovereign and win the day. There are a few characters who are rather ticked at you in Mass Effect 2 if you don't rescue the council, but it seems like another decision that will have greater repercussions in Mass Effect 3. The default canon decision is to leave the council for dead.
  • Human Council Member: Umm... what is the point of this decision? So at the end of the game or comic, Shepard gets to designate whether Badass Anderson or Jackass Udina should be the next human council member (whether or not you let the current council die), okay, that makes sense. But, (but!) the first game never actually saves the game after you make this decision (the saved game it imports is apparently the auto-save right before Saren) so Mass Effect 2 already not-so-slyly asks you this question again near the beginning of the game. So while I haven’t personally tested it, apparently you could answer Udina in the comic and Anderson in the game an hour later, and the council member would be Anderson. This also means there is no default canon decision.
Mass Effect Genesis Liara Rachni

Seems like a decent list, if you’re just covering the basics. The biggest omission is definitely any mention of the main mission on Feros. But in retrospect, the whole point of battling the Geth and Thorian there is to unlock the visions Shepard is experiencing, so maybe its absence is not that big of a deal? Just feels weird since it was about one-fifth of the main game.

After Feros we start getting into all the little things that players will be missing out on. Meeting up with characters like Fist and Conrad Verner is completely impossible on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, even with Genesis! While minor characters in the grand scheme of things, they’re very memorable, particularly Shepard wannabe Conrad. Gamers will also miss out on a bunch of emails and random conversations with characters from the first game.

Ideally, an “advanced” mode would have been great to tailor just about every decision from the first game. Did you return the Alliance member’s body to her husband? Did you let the hostages die during Bring Down the Sky? Did you punch the reporter in the face? It would be awesome to be able to quickly craft your Mass Effect 2 (and 3!) experiences.

But for gamers new to the series, Mass Effect: Genesis offers a valuable tool for catching up on what happened and tailoring their Shepard’s story with a bit more care. The problem with the late release on the Xbox 360 is that... well, it’s late. This would have been a great bonus included in the Cerberus Network at launch, but now it’s relegated to people really late to the Mass Effect 2 party. Maybe we’ll see a great import tool come Mass Effect 3, but for now, we gotta take what we’re given. And hey, the interactive comic was a great idea and well executed for its intentions.

Mass Effect 2 Conrad Verner n7 Armor