Mar 6 2012 1:00pm

3 Ways to Play Mass Effect 3 Wrong

Before you pick up a copy of Bioware’s latest SF RPG masterpiece Mass Effect 3—available today for Xbox 360,PS3, and PC—know that there’s a wrong way to play.

“That’s unpossible,” you might cry in a Ralph Wiggum voice, to which I must ask, “How do you even know what Mass Effect 3 is, being trapped in 1994?” And also, you are incorrect. With well over 35,000 lines of dialogue and a tweaked reputation system that leaves more room for decisions between pure Paragon/Renegade morality than ever before, Mass Effect 3 is all about player choices.

So don’t make the easy ones.

1) Don’t play Mass Effect 3 as a newbie to the series.

This should be a no-brainer, but companies love trying to convince readers, viewers, and gamers that each installment of a series can stand on its own so as not to alienate any potential sales. Bioware is no different. Would you watch Return of the Jedi before seeing the other two films in the series? Do you begin A Song of Ice and Fire with A Storm of Swords? Of course not. Bioware gives new players a chance to jump into the final battle against the Reaper by making key decisions for them from the start. There’s also James Vega, a noob to the crew of your starship the Normandy, who’s there for expository questions. He’s voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.; don’t be that guy.

If you played the first two games and have a saved file ready to import, you’ve got a Commander Shepard with about 80 hours and 1,000 decisions behind her. That’s incredible.

While I personally think it would be criminal to skip the first Mass Effect, it’s a few years old and that makes all the difference in graphics and gameplay. It’s the shortest game of the series and its side missions are awfully repetitive. And slow as shit, given your ground vehicle is the Mako, an intergalactic Pinto. You’d be missing out on some awe-inspiring moments and a rather lovely soundtrack, but to miss out on 2010’s mega bestseller Mass Effect 2? Never.

Calling the Mass Effect universe “the greatest science fiction universe of our generation” is a bit hyperbolic for me, but it is a wonderfully vibrant pastiche of some of the best SF to come before. It’s got the color of Farscape, the intergalactic alliances and all the assorted intrigues of Star Trek, the gritty tough calls of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (and two shared actors in Michael Hogan and Tricia Helfer) and the bug-hunts of Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers. And you are there to kick ass and take names through all of it. Why jump in at the end?

2) Don’t play as the default male Commander Shepard.

Some people are a bit lazy and like to play a game right out of the box. You’d be missing out an opportunity to create a character that is truly yours. Moreover, most Mass Effect fans will gladly tell you that FemShep is the best Shep. Jennifer Hale is a truly gifted voice actor and her inspiring speeches (and not-so-veiled threats) are a lot more nuanced than the generic dude-bro deliveries of the male counterpart.

Last summer there was a flap about Bioware letting long-suffering FemShep fans vote for a new default Commander to appear on promotional materials. Basically, it was an insulting beauty pageant where, naturally, the white, blond-haired, blue-eyed model won. A second round of voting decided that default FemShep would at least be a redhead. To the future! While I can understand the outrage as a female gamer sick to death of the way most women and minorities are represented in games, I wasn’t actually that mad. Disappointed, maybe. But not mad.

It doesn’t matter who’s on the box because my Commander Shepard has light brown skin, an aquiline nose, a gamine haircut, and never steps onto the CIC without her eyeliner. She suckerpunches aliens twice her size, shows mercy to the Rachni, and gets blackout drunk at the bar on the Citadel. She let that racist Ashley Williams die on Virmire. She seduced Garrus, the Abed of the Normandy. (By that I mean Garrus is also a lovable but awkward bird-man.)

In short, my Commander Shepard is frakking awesome and no one can play her but me. Make your own Commander Shepard. Make him or her be as heroic, intimidating, and unpredictable as you like.

3) Don’t play Action or Story Mode.

In Mass Effect 3, you get three choices for gameplay. Mass Effect is an action series after all, and you will need your weapons and some basic battle tactics to survive an intergalactic war. Action, as the name implies, amps up the combat but makes the dialogue choice in the 82 minutes of cutscenes automatic. Why bother playing one of the best role-playing games in town if all you want to do is shoot things? Go play Call of Duty. You’re not welcome here. Though I’m sure I’ll be seeing your type griefing other players in Mass Effect 3’s new multiplayer mode. Joy. Can’t wait.

But to go too far to the opposite extreme and play Story Mode, where the combat is easy and dialogue selection is manual, removes all of the challenge from the game. Look, I’m not the best shot. I suck as a tactician. If I were in a war movie, I’d be the twitchy little guy who fires blindly in the middle of a battle, screaming like crazy and only hitting his target 40% of the time.

But playing Mass Effect 3 in the standard RPG Mode gives players the most fulfilling experience. When I actually do stop panicking in a room full of of angry Geth, think clearly, and use my squadmates to wear down enemies, I get that warm and fuzzy approximation of accomplishment that only a gamer can know. It makes me think my Commander Shepard is that much cooler. That the cover and squadmate systems have been tweaked for optimal performance makes me that much more excited to go out there and save the galaxy from annihilation.

With a few reloads along the way. It’s okay. No one’s judging.

To that note, there’s a fourth way to play Mass Effect 3 wrong:

4) Listen to what I say.

I’d think you were crazy if you came into this franchise cold. Would you even know to get excited if you saw a space-monkey show up? Were you there to experience the outrage of getting dumped by your pretend-boyfriend via email? (This actually happens in Mass Effect 2! The nerve!) Did you get a little misty-eyed when Shepard was named the first human Spectre in known space?

Just because I identify with a heterosexual female mostly-Paragon Shepard doesn’t mean you can’t play as a Renegade gay male. Or an asari-sexual completely neutral party. There’s really no wrong way to play Mass Effect 3, so long as you enjoy the hours of work that went into bringing this epic, interactive experience to a rousing conclusion.

It’s your universe, after all.

Visit the official Mass Effect 3 site for more info.

Theresa DeLucci is in the middle of some calibrations. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci

Bike Baykara
1. Amarie
Nice guidelines especially the last point was a good one :). What I love about Mass Effect the most is that you can create your own character to the extreme and play it as you wish. We don't always get that flexibility even in some RPGs, the action part of these games admitedly gets me a bit stumped since I'm a more Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age kind of player but I still can't wait for this game! I did imagine my Shepard while wathcing the femShep trailer though, mine is brunette.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
I just have been watching the ads being like "Why is there a guy playing Shepard?" & I'm not even a Mass Effect player.
Justin Golenbock
3. jgolenbo
To give SOME love to ManShep, I think it's pretty cool Bioware went with a local (Edmonton) guy for the whole series, rather than a big star like, say, Nolan North or Freddy Prinze Jr (?). But FemShep is clearly the best Shep.

Other rules:

1) Cry. Often. Especially when half your team gets wiped out in the final ME2 mission.

Wait. That was my only other rule...
Evan Langlinais
4. Skwid
jgolenbo, the use of Mark Meer as the default DudeShep VA was actually sort of an accident. They brought him in to do some early prototype work, fully intending to replace him with someone else for the finished product, but were so pleased with his performance that they kept him on. I haven't played with a DudeShep, so far, though, because Jennifer Hale does such an amazing job as FemShep!
5. Mouette
I shouldn't have opened this thread. I don't have time to start a new game right now, much less play through a new *series* and then start a new game...

But damnit, you make it sound so good.
Justin Golenbock
6. jgolenbo
@Skwid Yea, I think it's a pretty cool story. The rare time you see a big company make the 'right' decision rather than going with a bigtime marketing name -- although i don't think Bioware ever intended to go with a recognizable voice for "Everyman" Shep...

@Mouette GOTTA GET ON THAT! Seriously, forget about being late to the party on ME3, pick up Mass Effect 2 and you will not be disappointed :)
James Hogan
7. Sonofthunder
Oh wow...I really need to play ME2. And then get this. My computer's old enough, that it barely survives playing ME1. So yeah, maybe it's time I finally get a new one...

Great article. Way to make me drool.
Theresa DeLucci
8. theresa_delucci
You guys, I am such a sucker. I was totally not going to fall for Bioware's trap and get the ME3 DLC "From Ashes." Who has DLC for sale on the first day of release?! It's kinda bullshit.

But by the time I traded in a bunch of games (Goodbye, Saints Row 3. I hardly played thee.) I had exactly $10 in credit, so when the cashier asked if I wanted to buy the redeemable code for it... well, I couldn't say no.

I feel unclean.
Pritpaul Bains
9. Kickpuncher
Starting ME1 this week. Only 80+ gaming hours to go 'til I play ME3!
Dale Norman
10. dokipen
I agree completely with this article Theresa. Great stuff.

I've played my female Sheperd (Jennifer Hale FTW!) since the first game and haven't been able to start a second play through as I don't want to undermine the decisions she's made throughout the saga so far. Sheperd is basically a hard-ass, no-shit-taking bastard whose only loyalty is to her crew (who all came through in the end). The Rachni was released though - it was the *right* thing to do goddamnit!

I just hope her and Liari can re-kindle their relationship after their reunion in the Shadow Broker episode.

Oh man, I CANNOT wait until Friday (I'm in the UK) to get my shiny, spacy-wacy lovelyness.

Sheperd's gonna kick ass all over the Universe and she can't wait. Neither can I.
Theresa DeLucci
11. theresa_delucci
@10 You have to wait until Friday? My condolences!

Liara is definitely still a romance option, as far as I know. I never went for her, despite her freckles, but I think it's cute that she's basically had a crush on Shep since the first game. She should just blurt it out at the end regardless.
Joe Dillingham
12. theblacklaser
Femshep Femshep Femshep!!!

I am loving ME3 so far, about 7 hours in. For all the flak it's getting in the press, I think it is magnificent. Its piddling flaws don't bother me at all. I am very excited to play through all three once all the ME3 DLC is available later this year/next year with the same character. Goodbye, Winter Blues 2013!
Theresa DeLucci
13. theresa_delucci
7 hours already?! I wish! (No spoilers!)

I do notice it's getting some flak in the press, but I'm not sure if it's people blowing the Metacritic trolls out of proportion. So far, I love it. FemShep looks better than ever. I do find the getting in/out of cover a little annoying and I really need to pay attention to the weapons loadout system. I'm not a hardcore RPG player, so "dumbing" down the process is fine by me. Honestly, I wouldn't have changed anything from ME2's system.

I hope the ending pays off well. It's hard to get an ending that pleases everyone, let alone 3-4 different variations on an ending.
Angelina Moore
14. Tilinka
Spent the last three or four weeks playing through the first two games (finally got a system that could handle them.) Every bit as fantastic as I imagined when I first heard about 'em...

...but I'm /really/ bad at this sort of action/shooter fighting system. Which is definitely not making my forays into the multiplayer areas enjoyable. I can sort of fudge the game itself by ordering my team members to do most of the heavy lifting in fights and, you know, hiding. (My gamer friends have already laughed themselves sick over my methods.)
15. Laura_FitzG
@Tilinka Same here. I like hanging back with ranged weapons while my teammates go charging in ahead. Originally I tried playing ME2 as a Vanguard and just couldn’t stick with it. The minute an enemy gets in close, I panic and generally end up running face first into my doom. Fortunately I was only eight hours in at the time so restarting was too much of a heartache.

I’m in the minority in this group as I really like playing as BroShep. I tried to play Mass Effect as FemShep when it was first released, and couldn’t get through it (some of it might have been the game mechanics as I am really terrible at video games despite my love for them) but it finally clicked in ME2. BroShep entertains me even when its probably inappropriate to be entertained. I’ll probably go back and play ME2 & 3 as a Paragon FemShep so Garrus and I can be together but my Renegade BroShep is definitely who I’m taking with me on my first play through of ME3.
Theresa DeLucci
16. theresa_delucci
Please don't think that because I like games I'm actually good at them. Ha. I had to switch to casual to clear a level last night. What's cool about ME3 is that you can do a lot more melee damage, so when I rush headlong into a bad situation like a spaz and can't get a good lock on a target, I just start hitting them! And it works pretty nicely.

No spoilers, but you really should have everyone live at the end of ME2 because it makes for some awesome reunions in the third.
17. Laura _FitzG
I'm trying. Resisting the urge to barrel through the main story and am getting all of my loyalty missions out of the way. Even though I really, really, just want to start playing ME3. My roommate seems to be having a blast with the kinect controls while I sit quarantined in my bedroom in fear of spoilers.
18. Max Mouse
no offense but this sucks... Default Shepard is best Shepard... nobody is lazy its just thats what the game was meant for Shepard to look like...like how Link (Legend of Zelda) name is meant to be Link and How Cloud(FF7) is meant to be Clould ..and its better to start story mode first before playing Multiplayer to actually understand what is going on... O_o
20. Hazegurl
Well, I did all those things but number three and I had a great experience! So great I bought and played 1 & 2 then replayed 3 again.

I LOVE the default Maleshep. He's hot and his voice is sexy. He also plays Renagade VERY well. I tried playing Renagade Femshep default and custom and I never get very far with her. It's hard for me to buy her as a renagade cause she tries to do that sexy raspy voice thing that makes it hard for me to take her seriously. I am trying to play her as a Paragon and although much better, I just hate playing Paragon so I once again quit her to once again play my Maleshep. He really sounds like a total *** and that's what I want. As for the custom males, they are all ugly so I no longer even try to build one. I don't see how that makes me lazy. btw my RenMaleShep is also gay.

I am jealous of the Femshep players though as their character can be gay from the start of the game while I have to make up my gay Shep's romance story in one and two until I finally get my Kaidan in ME3. I would be so happy if there was a DLC that added Kaidan as a romance option in ME1 but oh well.
21. BluPit424
Just picked up this game and I think you couldn't be more wrong. I never played ME or ME2 just heard it was a good franchise. I picked up on the story in the 1st 2 missions and knew what was going on. Good vs. Evil Aliens. I get games for gameplay and graphics, not the story. That's actual movies are for. That being said, I'm 18 hours into the game and it is by far one of the best games I've ever played. But I don't have any intentions of getting 1 or 2. I do plan on playing through a couple times with different power settings. Great game, to each their own.
Alison Wilgus
22. AliWilgus
I suppose it was inevitable that a few BroShep fans would show up for angry comments, but: here's another vote for FemShep being the greatest of Sheps!

(My own Nadia Shepard is a dark-skinned woman with a shaved head, killer cheekbones and a ruthless streak)
23. byzantyn50
As a 50 year-old fumblefingers who could barely keep up with turn-based classic Final Fantasy games, I'm glad there is a story mode so I can at least get through five minutes of the game without getting killed a dozen times. It's a beauty to watch even if most of the grunt work is being done for me. After all, one can always start over in a harder mode on a separete save slot, can't they?
24. Leggo
I very much disagree with point 2. Default Male Shepard is the ONLY way to play a male Shepard, at least for me. Mass Effect has two types of characters - those intricately modeled after real actors, and those spit out by the ME character generator. The gulf between the two is immense.

Compare Miranda Lawson to her sister Orina Lawson, or her father Henry Lawson. Compare Samara or Liara to any other generic Asari character. Compare Jessica Chobot to the other reporter that keeps getting punched in the face. Notice the difference?

If you played as your own male Shepard you threw away a really striking model of Mark Vanderloo as well as constantly feeling left out with promotional material. You also felt like the odd man out because everyone on your team looked somewhat realistic except for you. Nothing I could generate would even approach the quality what the default male looks like, so why bother?

In games like Skyrim, Dragon Age (1, not 2), or the Saints Row series I felt fine making my own characters, because it's encouraged. This has never been the case with Mass Effect because they insisted on using Mark Vanderloo's face since the box art from the first game, and that's fine. I don't need to map my face onto Mario to enjoy Mario games, after all. Shepard is a distinct character as is; I put my personal stamp on him with choices and actions, not sliders.
25. Zechs
Oh what could have been! Imagine if Male Shep was played by Mark Hammill, or Brian Drummond, or Steven Blum or Paul Dobson? It would have been a completely different game had I actually like the Male Shep instead of him being a total wuss.

That said, thank goodness you can make Shep look like whatever you want. I only wish it had the kind of cutomization options that you get in Phantasy Star Online or one of SEGA's other games. Something like 24 main face types, 32 hair styles, near infinite hair colors, customizable height and weight... I would love to have made Fem Shep a 4 foot 5in samurai sword weilding warrior...sigh...
26. Jerry Rig
Femshep is not the best Shephard.. Jennifer Hale's voice is annoying. Sorry, had to correct you on that. That being said, its awesome that you can choose a male or female Shephard, especially since Shephard is one of the greatest heroes ever and is open to the players interpretation. Mark Meer did a great job with the voice acting for the male Shephard and was in no way generic.
Katharine Duckett
28. Katharine
@27 Comment deleted. You're welcome to disagree with the ideas presented in the article, but not to be disrespectful of its author. Please refer to our moderation policy. Thanks.
31. Smashington
I disagree with Mass Effect 3 being all about player choices. In contrast to the previous games, ME3 lets the player make so few actual choices it's not even funny. Even the sheer amount of autodialogue is offputting to a fan of the previous two.
32. Deus
Female Shepard is the best? lol ah no, maybe all the females would say that she is the best (even then i doubt it) but about 80% of all mass effect playthroughs have used male shepard (the real number is 83% i think). I highly doubt that they all think that female shepard is better then turn around and play shepard as a male. just saying.
Theresa DeLucci
33. theresa_delucci
Well, this is an opinion piece and I'm female, so yes, that contributes to my love of FemShep. She fills an Aeryn Sun-shaped hole in my heart. I know lots of male players who love her and lots of women who love BroShep. I find it's also a matter of people deciding if they want to play Paragon/Renegade. All the female BroShep players I know are renegade.. The male FemShep players are paragon. Anecdotal, but interesting.

Anyway, it's mostly my opinion that Mark Meer is no Nolan North, but he did get better as the game progressed. He just wasn't quite as good as Hale. But people are going to feel the most loyal to whichever Shep they spent 80+ hours with, regardless of gender. Because it would suck to decide you hated your character halfway through a playthrough.
34. Veean
Titled "3 Ways to Play Mass Effect 3 Wrong: Tells you "There’s really no wrong way to play Mass Effect 3".
35. KennaS
Part of the joy of this series is making those choices and watching them mean something.

Take Ashley. I killed Kaidan, and I'm not afraid of that. (Loyal FemShep player here, by the way. I tried Mark Meer and he lasted five minutes until I got sick of the voice acting. Never went back.) But then Ashley - like Pressly - went from being Little Ms. Xenophobe to being all about the galaxy-sized diversity, and to watch her beat the biased military system that punished her for being the granddaughter of the admiral/general who surrendered at Shanxi by becoming the second human Spectre...it was a crowning moment of achievement.

So I'd urge you to go back and try Ash again. ;)
36. dropdeadpetey
I think it's 50/50 when it comes to male or female Shepard (everybody loves variety). The fact that Bioware lets you play the game with you own created character (sex, class, background, features) or a default character should be enough to sell you the game in my opinion, well at least enough to get you interested.

That being said however i'm a male shep fan, not because i'm a male but because that was the guy on the box and the trailers so that's who bioware intended me to use. i tried making my own and it looks too generic and tried playing as FemShep.... didn't feel right, and her voice annoyed me (sorry). But that's why i love the game because it gives you that choice if you don't like Male Shep there's a FemShep and if you don't like their face CHANGE IT!!!! how many other games give you that???
37. Tharrag
When I first got ME3 at launch I didn't have any saves of ME or ME2 on my computer anymore. So I just played from the default choices as ManShep and didn't really like it. Recently I started playing a neutral to slightly renegade ManShep with default face throughout all 3 games with Tali as love interest and I loved it. Now I'm playing a paragon FemShep with custom face (ME2 facecode
who romanced Liara in 1 and going to go for Garrus now (I think FemShep and Garrus is the obvious choice) just recruited the professor and Archangel on Omega in ME2 so far.

I gotta say so far I leaning a bit more to FemShep, but both are great. I do agree on Jennifer Hale's voice acting being better, but I guess it's just a matter of personal preference.

I try to keep all the cool people alive *cough* Wrex *cough*, seriously it's worth playing through the first 2 games just for that guy (you'll know why if you play the Citadel DLC in ME3).

As for the playmode in ME3, RPG all the way. You get both the cool combat and freedom of choice during conversations.

Also try switching up team members during missions, the resulting banter can be hilarious. And don't forget to check up on the crew aboard the normandy regularly!
38. John5894
I'm playing through the series again. This time on the pc. I tear up every time I do the Normandy Crash Site mission. Doing that now actually. When asked what my favorite game is, I always say I don't have one. However, my favorite series is Mass Effect.

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