God is in the details

It’s rarely the over arcing story that captures my imagination in a game. Even though Bioshock’s story of the city under the sea was brilliant and the backdrop to Fallout 3 was indeed epic, it was the little traces of life, the items strewn around and stories left for you to make up for yourself, that made these worlds real for me. George Lucas had a name and a story for every background character in the original Star Wars movies. Everything going on, whether a part of the main story or not had a full history. It was a working, breathing universe and everything in it was designed to be a cog in the wheels. I’m a big Star Trek fan too and again it’s the watertight universe that stirs my passion. In a game that element of discovery and hidden depths is all the more fulfilling as you can choose to submerge yourself in it and to what degree for yourself.

Me2 codex1

The latest game to fill out its story with millions of sparkling little details is Mass Effect 2. Of course there are different races and wars and interactions going on around you. You can take up incidental side quests or not bother. It’s not these gems though that made this one of my all time favourite games. It’s something even smaller. The codex allows you to read up on all different elements of the busy galaxy’s goings on. Like a Hithchiker’s Guide it doesn’t just hold information on your crew, the ships you come into contact with the different races and politics in some sectors, it will actually read out the information to you making it easy to sit back and take in more and more of the complex tapestry of Mass Effect.

me2 planet

But let’s strain our eyes a little further and look at an even smaller detail. One of the elements of the game requires you to scan, probe and mine planets in the various systems for a variety of precious metals. Sometimes you’ll come across anomalies on these planets that can lead to daring adventures, most of the time you’re simply monitoring meters for spikes in your scans. For every planet though before going into scan mode there is a description. These couple of paragraphs about each world’s history and fortunes are fascinating little stories. Some could be whole other games in themselves. I can see in my minds eye, the ruins of vast cities on one planet and the industrious underground caverns on another. War zones vie for space in my imagination with tropical beaches and skyscrapered cityscapes. There are tons of them too. At first I was just scan reading them in case there was anything important but as the game wore on I found myself stopping to read every single one. Visually all I’d get to see is a far off coloured marble, continents barely visible against indistinct seas. But down there I knew plants were thriving, creatures scurried around, lives were being lived. It wasn’t my crew I had to save, my friends or colleagues. It was the teaming life overwhelming every corner of the galaxy who’s existence was in my very hands. These were the people I had to save, and I did.








7 responses to “God is in the details”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I read all the planet descriptions in the first Mass Effect but never bothered in the secone one. It would be nice if BioWare added details about a particular area to concentrate your scans on so that people who spent the time reading, actually got something extra. Something like, if you scan the north most point of the planet and watch the scanner for trace elements of all four materials and send a probe to this point. Through normal scanning you probably wouldn’t send a probe as it doesn’t register enough quantity but because of reading the planet description you could end up with a new weapon, or shield technology. It would be a nice reward for people spending time reading more after BioWare going into so much detail writing backstories about planets.

  2. Darach avatar

    Reading is its own reward, Rook ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Simon avatar

    I really agree that that depth really makes this sort of game.

    I’ve often thought the key difference between a world like Fallout 3’s and GTA IV’s. Arguably they both appear to have living, breathing worlds, but the Wasteland has all this stuff under the surface, little notes hidden under mattresses and the like. It means it feels like there’s a point to exploring.

  4. DelTorroElSorrow avatar

    This makes me want ME2 all the more. I found the codex really compelling too, something about writers taking the time to backstory EVERYTHING that is very endearing. It’s the same with the Warhammer Universe.

  5. Mark avatar

    Oooh, I love this stuff.

    There was a whole section of Fallout 3 where I followed the instructions on note that I found on some dead dude. I went from note to note for about an hour, before finally claiming my prize…

    A recipe for Murlock Cakes, which has absolutely no function or value in the game. Hooray!

  6. Duncan avatar

    This really makes me want to finally get off my arse and complete ME1 so I can experience ME2. ๐Ÿ˜›

    It’s this Call of Duty game, man. It’s got ahold of me!

  7. Jonny/IV DemonJ avatar
    Jonny/IV DemonJ

    I couldnt agree more Kirsten. Im 45hours through my first play through just because I’m scanning, excavating and learning as much as I can about this “universe” that BioWare have created. With endless scope for exploration and near infinite backstory this game has got a sci-fi geeks wetdream tatooien-d ( ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) all over it!

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