1 – Mass Effect
Why it’s better than the rest: Most franchises take two, even three games to create a rich, multi-layered canon that you can lose yourself in. Mass Effect did it immediately, pulling you into an entire galaxy that was so well constructed and thought out, from alien civilizations to mythology to crushingly boring technical manuals, that you could easily mistake it for a robust, decades-old series. When you combine the conversational penchant of Star Trek with the lasers and doomsday machines of Star Wars, and mix them with stat-driven RPG elements and Gears-style gunplay, the result is a comprehensive franchise that’s almost better than its iconic inspiration.
Tossing aliens around with Jedi-like powers is brilliant fun, but the real joy of the game comes from the branching, repercussion-filled dialog trees. Fantastic voice acting brings the large cast to life, and even the low-level people you talk to have something to say or contribute. Naturally you can respond with politeness, but there’s always the Renegade option:
Above: Not the best way to save the galaxy
Legacy: 2010’s Mass Effect 2 should be the blueprint for all sequels. BioWare kept what worked, tweaked what didn’t and jettisoned everything that drove us nuts in the first game. The scope was bigger, the worlds were larger and more detailed, even the expanded cast rocked, somehow making an outstanding series even better. By the time the credits rolled, some GR editors fired up another save file right away, ready to dive back in and make different choices in the 40-hour quest.
And unlike many other games, the decisions you make can affect the rest of the story, or even story elements in subsequent entries – entire sections of ME2 change depending on how you played ME1, and we expect ME3 to continue the trend in even larger ways. ME2 also delivered on a promise BioWare made for ME1 – frequent DLC that continues the sweeping story. Since its January release we’ve already seen two substantial additions, plus a handful of smaller stories and weapons updates that kept the game in a near-constant state of play.
Above: Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC just came out and actually contains important plot points for ME3 – it’s not throwaway DLC
It’s hard to specify games that are directly inspired by Mass Effect, as it’s such a herculean effort that only a few developers could even try, but there’s no doubt in our eyes it’ll go down as one of the biggest series of this generation and a high water mark for games as a storytelling medium. Now if BioWare could just make the body language as convincing as Uncharted…
And for the sake of “You forgot…,” know that we didn’t forget, we excluded. That said, these guys almost made the cut but either fell just shy of “best” or aren’t quite yet “franchise” enough to qualify:
Nov 8, 2010
Top 7… Tasteful game heroines
Videogame girls treated with dignity and respect? What an idea
Top 7… best games of 2010 (so far)
Back in June we called the best of the first six months – how’ve they held up?
The games of November 2010
44 games in just four weeks? You’re gonna need a bigger shelf