An Introduction, the Height of BioWare
Back in my day, we had the original Mass Effect series, peppered in heavily cyberpunk themes. We also had Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age 2, and even Inquisition (which are also all of my favorites). We didn’t really have all this nonsense about Anthems and Andromedas—we had The Shepard.
Now sure, there were a ton of people who really, really hated the Mass Effect 3 ending. There were a lot of people who would have much rather seen the original ending, which they crumpled up and tossed in the trash. I was actually grateful for this, though, because that’s not how dark energy works.
What I would like to focus on though, is what I think was the best of the entire series, and that is of course, Mass Effect 2. In fact, my only issue with this entry was that it was too straight. There are some who speculate that BioWare sort of backed away from same-gender love interests in the second entry because Fox News scared them. In reality, I think it’s because it was still a partially younger time in the gaming scene, and BioWare likely felt pressured to appease certain audiences.
But this didn’t, and doesn’t really detract from my original point: That Mass Effect 2 is a cyberpunk masterpiece. Here’s why I not only feel that way, but am also using this as a major reference point and place of inspiration for my next album …
The Embodiment of Cyberpunk, Literally
Before you read on, I am assuming that you, the reader, have actually played Mass Effect 2.
Enter: Commander Shepard, thrust into the void of space by a mysterious and massive vessel that shreds the Normandy in-half, and our hero is dead. Just about as dead and fried beans as Alex Murphy was.
“No!” You shake your fist at the screen, “Who will I play as for the remaining sixty hours of this game?!”
BioWare answers, “Commander Shepard, ya dingus.”
Into the Abyss
Rebuilt over two years and welded together with metal parts and cybernetic pieces, amassing a cost so high The Illusive Man must have had to take out multiple mortgages on his home in that one solar system with the dying star, Shepard returns. And throughout the story, depending on your choices, either you have really gnarly scars across your face, or you’re totally fine. Are you a goody two shoes or are you a mean bastard who pushes people out of windows? It all depends what kind of person you feel like being.
Alongside a man who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a woman genetically engineered to be perfect (at least, in her father’s idea of perfection), your first task is tracking down a renegade cop in a dystopian asteroid city. A place run by a female mob boss who’s only rule is to not fuck with her. And then, once you’re done murdering every gang in the city, your next task is to immediately acquire the help of a murderous doctor who shoots first and asks questions later. This second half all takes place in the middle of a rundown, poverty-stricken area of the city that is currently experiencing a deadly plague, and more gang violence.
If that wasn’t enough for you, you also need the help of a woman covered in tattoos and leather strappings who’s currently being held in a space-station, maximum security prison. And what does she do? She punches the shit out of that place. She literally punches her way out (magic space-punches).
An Assassin, a Serial Killer, and a Mercenary Walk Into a Bar
And let’s not forget the rest of the squad: A grizzled mercenary obsessed with being a ‘Big god-am ‘ero.” A serial killer, or an Asari Justicar soldier bound to kill by the whim of a mysterious code (depending on which of these people you choose to eliminate). A stealthy thief who crashes rich people’s parties in style. Another genetically engineered and incubator-grown character: A Krogan killing machine. Then you have an assassin who’s literally on his deathbed who knows only death, and how to make it. A defector robot-man from a race that rebelled against their own creators. Then, finally, a friend who, despite her reservations about your employer, is there and kicking ass by your side, regardless.
Who could forget though, the blue alien girlfriend that BioWare nearly left in the dust, and then decided to add last-second as an information broker who ends up controlling the secrets of the entire galaxy.
More Than The Sum of Their Parts
Not every single one of these pieces makes a cyberpunk masterpiece, or even a cyberpunk story. But it does add to it quite a bit, because a story is only as good as the sum of its characters and narrative.
To me though, what makes Mass Effect 2 a cyberpunk masterpiece is also its atmosphere, its soundtrack, its urgency. The realization that any and all of these people could die on your mission to save the human race. The places it takes you, from the growling underbelly of a mob-controlled city to the neon lights of Illium and the gritty undertones reaching up to you from just beneath the surface. Knowing that, although your mission is suicide, for all intents and purposes, that what comes next is even more deadly than anything you could have possibly imagined.
A little bit of hope in a hopeless world of lawlessness, oppression, and violence dominated by technology where, despite your efforts, you know the inevitable.
A place where I could spend hours, days, and weeks, and keep coming back no matter how many years go by. Mass Effect, one of the greatest series ever created, and one of the most cyberpunk futures BioWare intentionally, or accidentally created. It is through this inspiration, and these feelings, and these characters that I am crafting the next Eyeshadow 2600 FM album, Terminus. Because the only way that I make any music at all is through great inspiration.