This question has been flying around an awful lot lately, and with good reason: do you need to play the first two Mass Effect games before getting into Mass Effect 3? The simple answer is that it's not fundamentally necessary, no. There are ways to fill in the crucial gaps and get up to speed relatively quickly. But should you jump in at the end? That's a different question entirely. Here are ten reasons explaining why we think you should try and play all three games in order.
If you don't know why a salarian singing Gilbert and Sullivan is one of the best things to be in a video game ever, then I pity you. Because you clearly haven't played Mass Effect 2. Why would you rob yourselves of a lovely little Easter Egg that's this good? Not only is Mordin one of the best written characters to come out of the whole trilogy, he pretty much stole the show in ME2, just as a certain krogan did in the first game.
9. The Mako
Missing out on the original Mass Effect not only means missing out on some of the finest storytelling we've ever seen in games ever, but you miss out on the genuine sense of scale that comes from actually exploring planets. Yes, the objectives themselves were repetitive and the cookie-cutter designs for outposts a little irritating, but this was a mechanic that should have been explored rather than axed, having given the player a sense of pioneering freedom that we never got back.
Play the first two. then you'll understand the burning need to see what the hell is under that respiratory helmet. What can I say, misery loves company.
There comes a point early on in Mass Effect 3 where the touchy subject of the krogan genophage is brought up, as Shepard assembles various dignitaries for an emergency summit. Getting the fierce krogan race involved is a must, but they're not overly fond of the turians or the salarians.It all rides on Shepard's friendship with Wrex - a friendship you'll never realise, never feel, nor understand unless you play through the first two games.
In the same way that friendships can only really be wrought through playing the games themselves, so too are recurring romances made more than just glimpses of unspecified buttocks. Not only do you start to care, but the conversations between Shepard and certain characters take on certain amounts of subtext. Again, very early on, you're presented with a fork in the road, depending upon your romantic liaisons from previous games. I stared at the conversation wheel for 5 minutes out of sheer emotional indecision.
5. The Little Things
In an age where immersion is something we constantly talk about in relation to video games, the key difference between good games and great games is often found amongst the details. It's the little things that count. Seeing faces return from the first two games, no matter how small the parts they had to play; hearing aftermath reports of things you did in the previous game; a name you recognise over the airwaves; a side-mission you wrapped up in a handful of minutes; why it's important to punch the paparazzi. The game constantly reminds you of where you've been, what you've done, and the things you've seen. It's all a bit hollow if you were never there to begin with.
4. The Operative Word Is "Trilogy"
Would you really jump straight in at Return of the Jedi, Return of the King or The Matrix Revolutions? Of course you wouldn't. Such a suggestion would be laughable. Story is paramount to the Mass Effect series, why on earth would you go and skip two-thirds of it? The level of world-building (or galaxy-building in this case) is phenomenal, with some of the finest writing ever to have come out of any industry. You owe it to yourself to play the whole trilogy.
Virmire is one of the my favourite video game levels of all time. It starts with a land-based assault in the Mako and ends with a series of choices and high drama that can lead to ultimate devastation, when loyalties are tested, hard decisions made, and culpability is absolute. It's the pivotal moment in Mass Effect, an emotional gauntlet that you really have to go through yourselves to better understand your own place in this virtual universe, and an interactive comic simply cannot do it justice.
Considering that, in many ways, everyone's Commander Shepard is different, it seems baffling that you'd dispense with the formative years of your own character's development. It'd be like fast-forwarding life, not understanding that it's all about the journey. Simply simulating the decisions of your character in the past is wholly unsatisfying in determining your character in the present. Put simply, you don't feel as connected to the universe as you should. If you're playing it as a shooter, I personally can't help but feel you're missing the point. If you're an RPG fan skipping to the end, you should probably know better.
1. They're Really Good Games
Ultimately, this is the only reason you really need. Both of the previous games have averaged comfortably over 90% when it comes to review scores, and both are astoundingly good games, although perhaps for slightly different reasons. The Mass Effect series hasn't always been perfect, but it's been a fantastic triumph for a new IP. These are games that tell a fantastic story, but allow for personal freedom and individual journeys. Games that provide diverse, customisable gameplay, that you can tailor to your own preferences and needs. Games that you can wallow in for hundreds of hours and come back to time and time again. Games that set new benchmarks, and raised the bar.