Narrative RPGs are arguably all about choices and your power over choices. Choosing a class and a background lays the groundwork for the whole experience of a game and provides a springboard for roleplaying. In the first Mass Effect, for example, you're given two key choices at the beginning of the game that effectively select which version of Commander Shepard you want to inhabit. You decide the personal history and the psychology of Shepard. You decide whether they grew up as the nomadic child of navy officers or on the streets, and whether they matured into a scarred survivor, renowned war hero or a ruthlessly efficient commander.
Editor's note: Jordan Erica Webber is co-author with Eurogamer contributor Daniel Griliopoulos of the weighty tome Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us: (about life, philosophy and everything), out this month. We've asked her to write a few thoughts on video games as works of philosophy. Beware: there are spoilers for Soma, the Mass Effect and Fallout series ahead.
Whether you're traversing an expansive open world, climbing crumbling ruins or sneaking between shadowy city corners, the landscapes and environments we see in games have never been better. Gone are the days of miracle-growing trees popping up at certain draw distances. Instead, we have places and environments deliberately and carefully designed, and landscapes so realistic we can relate to them, be astonished by them, even yearn for them. Naturally, ever-improving graphical capabilities have a lot to do with this, because as environments get more realistic, we increasingly experience them as 'real', but there can be, and often is, so much more to it than just the technical ability to crank up the aesthetics.
Ask a Mass Effect fan to pick their favourite mission from the trilogy and you'll probably hear a range of responses. There's the Virmire level in Mass Effect 1, for example, where BioWare unexpectedly forced players to choose between two squadmates' lives. Then there's the superlative Suicide Mission finale of Mass Effect 2, perhaps the most intricately-plotted episode of the whole series. There are whole flowcharts to explain that one.
On the eve of Mass Effect Andromeda's EA/Origin Access trial and just a week out from the game's launch, we decided it was time to refresh our memories of gaming's greatest sci-fi trilogy.
In Omega, the new downloadable add-on for BioWare's science fiction role-playing shooter Mass Effect 3, two never before playable characters steal the show.
Console transitions can be awkward affairs at the very best of times. They're even weirder when the platform release dates don't overlap very cleanly - and when one of the machines comes with an inventive set of features.
How powerful is the Wii U really? Is it less powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360? Is it as powerful? More powerful? And how will it compare to the next generation? What quality of graphics will we see from Wii U games?
They're the same endings. A little better. More or less.
Outside of a few evergreen titles like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, F1 and Mario Kart, the racing game genre has been in a state of chaos and decline for a few years now, with great games like Blur and Split/Second pitching up to fanfare from genre fans and then disappearing into bargain bins a few days later. We love them, but the audience just doesn't seem to be out there.
"Keep walking, asshole, before I shove this nightstick where the sun don't shine."
Rude, abrasive, unnecessary. It's all of these things, but I'd let it go, just because it's a hell of a lot of hassle to do anything about it.
But I do a double take. This is a policeman. A PoliceMAN. I'm Johnny Motherf***ing Klebitz. I'm part of The Lost and the Damned, whose entire purpose is to F*** the MAN. I'm not going to let this slide.
Spoiler note: Mass Effect 3's story is divided into three acts and doles out major moral choices at the conclusion of each. This article discusses these choices in detail, although is written so it can be read in sections. The article's first section discusses the choices made up to and including the mission on the krogan homeworld of Tuchanka. The article's second section details those found at the end of the second act, concerning the quarian-geth war. The final section discusses the game's ending.
Her name is Commander Shepard, though her friends call her anything from Jane to Shiva to Lydia. She's one of the most popular heroines in gaming history; a three-time galaxy saviour who takes no crap and wouldn't be caught dead in a chainmail bikini. To most, she's a long-haired redhead, but she's been seen trying other colours and styles. To some, she's a diplomat, to others, a ruthless, trigger-happy bitch.
Dara O Briain is the fast talking Irish comedian known to us for his passion for video games, a hobby he sends up frequently during his renowned stand-up routines. O Briain also hosts satirical telly show Mock the Week, and this evening he'll host the GAME British Academy Video Game Awards (BAFTA) - a post he's filled every year since 2009.
No one told me they videoed it! No one! The podcast, videoed?! How was I to know? Not that I mind of course. You may remember my starring role in Sacred 2: The Video Game (there wasn't a film, I'm trying to elevate its prestige). But you couldn't sleep with me in Sacred 2. It wasn't Mass Effect 3.
What is human? It's a question that was beloved of dear old Phil Dick, and it's one that underpins Quantic Dream's animated short Kara, the PS3-powered tech demo that stopped GDC in its tracks earlier this week.
PlayStation Vita launched in Europe last week. You probably noticed. Now, after a few days soaking up sales, we can report what we had always hoped: not only is Vita the handheld gamers deserve, but it is the one we need right now. In your face, Batman!
UK hardware sales figures are Chart Track's proprietary information, unfortunately, so until Sony talks about them publicly we can't say how many it sold in week one, but we can say it was healthier than some critics predicted, and the sight of two Vita games - Uncharted: Golden Abyss and FIFA Football - atop the UK charts is illustrative of lots of interest. Not only that, but Chart Track doesn't account for digital sales, and this is a fully digital console, so they are potentially a lot greater.
The Vita launch, our impressions of the European software line-up and general feeling about its prospects understandably form the backdrop to this week's 102nd-ever Eurogamer.net Podcast, "starring" host Tom Champion, myself and Oli Welsh.
That's right, we didn't stop at Podcast #100! This week a triumvate of Toms try to match last week's Ellie-filled centenary - that's Tom Bramwell, Tom Phillips and Tom Champion to you and me.
The townsfolk have been listening to Shepard pulling the old "Commander who shouted 'Reaper!'" ruse for some time now. First she (he, if you're feeling obtuse) shouted 'Reaper!' when she discovered that the caretakers of the Galaxy were about to sweep up all known galactic civilizations. Then, in Mass Effect 2, she shouted 'Reaper!' after she'd fought against a big icky monster that had been made from human body parts, and had all/most/some of her underlings killed in the process.
Did the intergalactic townspeople listen though? Did they pay attention to this particular Shepard, and her sad tale of a sexy secretary being mulched and, as a consequence, all her fish dying? Of course they didn't. The Earth people were too busy worrying about what their Cerberus faction were up to, the Krogans were whinging about the Genophage putting the kibosh on procreation and the Quarians were preoccupied by wondering what their own faces looked like. Typical. The cretins even stripped her of her rank for something she did in the DLC. Tch.
So now the Reapers have finally showed up, guess who has to clean up all this mess? That's right: muggins here. Good old reliable Commander Shepard - back to save the day with a brand new sexy space adventure.
Mass Effect 3 is all about long-term plans finally coming to fruition. After two games of steadily inching ever closer to their target, the Reapers have finally found Earth, and while the single-player campaign will dart about orchestrating the beginning, middle, and end of a planet-wide conflict that's been thousands of years in the making, elsewhere on the start menu, other promises are being fulfilled too.
That's because Mass Effect 3 is finally taking the plunge with multiplayer - a bold move for BioWare, which hasn't tangled with anything other than a solo campaign since, what, Neverwinter Nights? After an hour with the game last week, though, the delivery looks a little less bold. This is definitely entertaining stuff, but it's also pretty standard co-op fare.
With the single-player eating up man hours over at BioWare Edmonton, and the Austin studio toiling to piece an entire galaxy of Star Wars treats together for the Christmas launch of The Old Republic, Mass Effect multiplayer's being handled in the main by the freshly-minted BioWare Montreal, a team that's been up and running for about a year. The end result appears to be a series of four-player co-op missions where you form an elite squad with your friends and fight for control of territory throughout the stars.
The story of Mass Effect is about more than Commander Shepard's race to save the galaxy from the threat of the Reapers. It's also about how BioWare's game has gone from an RPG with shooter elements to a third-person shooter with light RPG touches.
Bonnie and Clyde. Morecambe and Wise. Zeschuk and Muzyka. Only two of them sound like words made up by someone trying to cheat at Scrabble, but all of them are known for being highly successful partnerships. Whether you're all about murderous crime sprees, dancing with Angela Rippon or setting up Canadian development studios focused on producing globally successful role-playing videogames in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it takes two to make an impact.