Violence: Intense, first-person violence. Players use both fantasy and realistic firearms, as well as hand-to-hand combat. There is also some sexual violence implied in Mass Effect 2.
Horror: There are some pretty scary missions and scenarios involving zombie-like creatures. Body horror is common.
Sexual Content: Characters may engage in implicit (and romantic) sexual contact. There is also a fair amount of sexual innuendo.
Strong Language: Strong language, but no racial or gendered slurs.
Substance Use: Characters can and do drink alcohol. After a few drinks the world will appear to tilt back and forth and Shepard will experience impaired vision. There are explicit references to drugs, particularly in Mass Effect II, though players cannot choose to partake of them.
Nudity and Costuming: There is a fair amount of nudity. Characters strip down to their underwear in several scenes, and one type of enemy has bared breasts in Mass Effect 3. Additionally, some female characters are depicted wearing revealing clothing.
Player Interaction: There is no player interaction in the basic Mass Effect game, but players can download the multiplayer component for free. Know that pretty much anything goes in multiplayer gaming.
Players may save at any point except during battle. However, parents should know that battle can sometimes be onerous and time-consuming. Autosaves occur often, as well.
For many, the main draw of Mass Effect is the detailed and thoughtful story. The story takes place several decades from now, when humans have expanded into space and run into several alien species. We have diplomatic ties to some species, and others are less friendly. Commander Shepard, the main character (players may choose gender and appearance), is on a mission to both bring attention to and defeat the mysterious and dangerous Reapers, who appear to be a threat to the whole galaxy. The Reapers are capable of making corpses–human and alien–into a sort of technological zombie, and these zombies, as well as a bug-like species, mercenaries, and “mechs” (a type of robot) make up the main enemies.
The history of the galaxy is convoluted and complicated, much like political history is in real life. The Turians and Salarians, for instance, are bitter enemies of the Krogan, a warlike species who were used to fight Turian and Salarian battles. When the Krogan became too powerful and began expanding into other worlds, threatening to take over the entire galaxy, the Salarians manufactured a genetic disease that stopped the Krogan from having children. The Krogan are now a small and destitute species, and many have a deeply ingrained rage toward the Turians and Salarians, who continue to cause their children to be stillborn. The Turians and Salarians are terrified that the Krogan will make good on their word, however, and take over the galaxy once again if they should repopulate.
Another ongoing struggle is between the Quarians, a nomadic people, and their centuries-old mechanical creations, the Geth. The Quarians, upon encountering a problem with the Geth, decided to put them out of commission–but the Geth rebelled, and kicked the Quarians off of their home planet. The two peoples have been at war ever since, with the Quarians wishing for nothing more than to return home.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Reapers are threatening to literally wipe out the galaxy. The Reapers appear every few millennia to “restart” everything; unfortunately, no one will believe Shepard in the midst of the ongoing political squabbling. Shepard must gain loyalty from squad mates, fight enemies, and make strategic and diplomatic decisions in order to win the games. He/she may also pursue romance with other characters.
The themes explored in the Mass Effect series are myriad and complex. The series delves into some extremely heavy thematic material, including, but not limited to, genocide, mental illness, germ warfare, racism, militarism, drug use, and medical experimentation. It also addresses loyalty, love, friendship, self-sacrifice, family, spirituality, and other more positive aspects of life. Most of these ideas are dealt with in a thoughtful and critical way. The game is designed to force the players question their own preconceptions and biases, and it does a good job of it. However, these themes are meant for mature players.
There was also some controversy surrounding the portrayal of LGBTQ characters, including Shepard’s ability to pursue a same-sex romance. However, these depictions of LGBTQ individuals and relationships are positive and realistic, and many gamers responded positively. The games have been hailed for their diversity and depth of representation.
- Do you think the “genocide” of the Geth A.I. is comparable to the genocide of the Krogan? Is genocide ever justifiable?
- When is it okay for people to break their spiritual/moral code? Samara would have had to kill Shepard if Shepard disobeyed her, but claimed she did not want to. Have you ever felt like you were in a situation where your moral code told you one thing, but your desires contradicted it?
- There are several scenes in which Shepard must help other characters make the decision to kill someone who has wronged them. Some of these characters exhibit regret, while others do not. Some are a danger to others, but are pitiable despite this. Why did you make the decisions you did, and do you think they were the right decisions?
Manshep is the generic name for the male version of Commander Shepard.
Tali’s Face is a notable “reveal” in the games. Tali comes from an alien species whose faces are covered 24/7, and many players longed to know what she looked like. Some were disappointed at the final reveal.