To play or not to play… Mass Effect 1 II – Prologue, part 1

Jenkins: Oh god. What happened here?

(Archived video available here; I don’t suggest watching it all!)

In this part, I go through the first half of the introductory mission. The full walkthrough for Prologue: Find the Beacon is available here; I will be going in some detail for this mission for a couple of reasons: it introduces not only elements of gameplay, but also some important plot points; it is often the case in games that the first missions are the most carefully crafted ones, for the simple reason that they need to draw new players in, selling them on the value of the game. Perhaps more cynically, game designers are confronted with the harsh reality that most people who buy a game never finish it, and since it is the early gameplay that gets experienced the most, it’s the early missions that need the most attention to details.

Screenshot of the main menu. Sub-menus are available from here.

Note: as a general rule, I won’t go into details regarding the main menu (labeled “Mission Computer” by the game), as most options available here are pretty run-of-the-mill. I will perform most upgrades (both of characters and equipment) off screen. I will however go into more detail on the (in)famous Equipment (ie. inventory) and Squad (ie. leveling up) sub-menus in future updates, as they present an interesting paradigm of overdesign – a flaw the subsequent games have tried to correct

As for the mission, once we have admired the once rustic beauty of the presently ravaged landscape, we get moving to attempt and locate the beacon, when…

Oh dear, poor Jenkins never had a chance. We make our respects, then push on where we quickly find a replacement for our fallen comrade, in the form of Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams; she informs us the attackers are synthetic life-forms known as geth – created by the Quarian race as a form of cheap labor, but with just too much intelligence to accept that low position, hence rebelling and expelling their creators from their homeworld, only to then disappear “behind the Perseus Veil” for the last two centuries. Things are apparently not going well for the Alliance here, so we should probably move onwards, and we pick Ashley up.

Ashley Williams: Aye, aye, sir. It’s time for payback.

And at the risk of sounding too easily offended, I sit here while the plot is being driven forward and Ashley shows herself to be a hardcase, and I cannot but wonder who thought it would be a good idea to give Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams a rose-tinted model as starting armour. Is it supposed to show us her feminine side, balance her badassery in being the lone survivor of her crew? And I am aware that anyone can be made to wear that type of armour in the game, and I think it speaks of great future progress that even the most renegade of Shepards can choose to dress in pink, should he want to! In this particular instance though, there is no choice on our part; in her first appearance, one likely to colour our impression of her, she is shown to us this way, and I cannot help but see this as a rather heavy-handed way to signal Ashley’s potential role as romantic interest from the very beginning.

Moving forward, we have our first encounter with husks, nasty re-animated bodies, which – in this game at least – can use a damaging electrical discharge before enganging in melee. Notice the particularly gruesome process by which they are created, which might also lead one to question how the geth, who have not have had any contact with organics, let alone humans, for a couple of centuries, might have come up with the technology necessary to create such abominations – more (ominous) foreshadowing, and cleverly displayed!

After meeting a couple of scientist (one quite a peculiar fellow, who can be clocked by renegade Shepards), we are treated to a very important scene, in which a new friend is betrayed by an old acquaintance of his. As we regain Shepard’s control, we can hear a gunshot in the distance, which I think is a very good touch. Also interesting is that, while we as players have seen Saren, what in-game Shepard sees first is this:

It’s a squid ship! Look at the size of it!

The importance of this ship won’t become clear for a long while yet, but when it eventually does, this scene will have finally served its purpose in seeding the idea that what we are seeing here is going to play quite an important role in this game.

The rest of this part focuses on extracting information from a small group of farmers who were hiding, then receiving confirmation of what the player had seen in regards to Nihlus’ fate from a dock worker. Of particular interest here is how, through paragon or renegade dialogue options, the player can uncover a small smuggling ring, all the while gaining a few supplies in the process. This kind of nesting small quests within bigger ones is a technique commonly employed by the game, presumably to lend it a finer sort of grain, making sure players feel like they are achieving some goals within limited time frames of play, and to help bridging the long stretches of gameplay necessary to complete the main quest lines, which can be very extensive indeed.

The rest of the Prologue will be tackled in the next post!

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