Sometimes I have to shake things up. Shake things up for myself. Even if I'm uncorking a bottle of nostalgia by replaying (probably) the best (linear) roleplaying game ever made: Mass Effect.
Already I've gotten hung up. Because for a returning player, my biggest choice, before I even hit the start button, is to decide whether I'm replaying—or recreating.
I thought I wanted to recreate 2007, the year Mass Effect launched. I thought I wanted to retrace the steps of my original Commander Shepard, like a 40-something-year-old detective crouching down in the road dust to follow the boot prints of his 20-something-year-old former self. I thought that's what I wanted. But the trail was going cold.
Rather than change up my dialogue options or my trio of away-team members, I thought turning Mass Effect into a walking simulator—something I love doing, despite my fellow writers' chagrin—would draw out the experience in good ways. Surely, walking around the environments instead of running through them would reattune my eye to everything I remembered over the last 14 years since my first playthrough.
Again, the trail went cold. I appreciate all the incremental and even significant improvements made in the first game. A graphical and game feel glow up brought me back. But that's not enough to make me stay. I think I know what will make me stay, though.
For me, it's not enough to just replay Mass Effect. It's not even enough to recreate Mass Effect. What it's going to take is something even harder to achieve. A holy grail, of sorts, for old-head gamers like myself. I want to play Mass Effect again for the first time.
You hear the sentiment expressed on message boards the world over. "I wish I could play such-and-such a game for the first time again." Erase your memory of having gone through it in order to recapture and retrigger the exploratory gene in your DNA. Despite Mass Effect being a mostly linear point-A-to-B-to-C experience, a player seeing all of these things for the first time is still, essentially, exploring.
For me to see all these things again for the first time, it won't be from taking a left when I should've gone right in the Mako vehicle. It won't necessarily be from throwing biotic powers around instead of going full auto with my Avenger rifle. This is going to take fresh eyes, literally. Instead of playing a default BroShep with a maxed out Paragon alignment, I'm playing, well, a default FemShep. But also with maxed out Renegade tendencies.
That's how I'll replay, recreate, and play Mass Effect again for the first time. The thing centered on your screen for a hundred hours is what changes. The thing speaking thousands of lines of dialogue is what changes. And change is good. My hang ups are over. Already, even in my first 45 minutes, I'm already surprised and hesitant and—thank goodness—excited by what Commander Shepard can say and do at this point.
Finally I can punch a reporter and not be bothered by the hit to my Paragon meter. Because Renegade, my dude.
Not only am I looking forward to the red eyes and distressing lines of evil that will crack my skin, I'm looking forward to not playing the say-whatever-it-takes-to-get-Tali-to-sleep-with-me game. In addition to being my favorite sci-fi RPG ever, it is, in its heart of hearts, a dating sim. But what if you ensure it isn't? Can an isolated, jerk-to-everybody Commander Shepard still have what it takes to save the galaxy?
In this first episode of my Renegade FemShep playthrough of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I tell my pilot to cut the crap, I tell my navigator to cut the crap, I tell a newbie recruit to cut the crap, and I even make Ashley get to the point without all the coy looks. Playing a Renegade won't be easy. My natural tendency is to be a big damn hero any chance a video game gives me. But not this time. On an unrelated note, I'd like to thank the D&D group I dungeon master for. They're teaching me how much fun it can be, in safe places like video games and tabletop roleplaying games, to be an agent of chaos.
"Say goodnight, Manuel."