I Am Going To Miss Mass Effect’s Elevators So Much
“Do you ever regret leaving Citadel Security to pursue Saren, Garrus?”
Tali, a young Quarian tech-whiz who has recently become acquainted with Garrus and Commander Shepard, is the one who asks this question. She’s filling an awkward silence as an elevator brings the squad up from a floor where they just shot loads of aliens to another floor where they’ll probably shoot even more.
“Fighting a rogue Spectre with countless lives at stake and no regulations to get in the way?” Garrus asks. “I’d say that beats C-Sec.”
“I’m pleased that the imminent destruction of all organic life has improved your career opportunities,” she replies. Garrus is going to need some kind of special space ice for that burn.
I have very fond memories of Mass Effect’s elevators. While I recognize that they were loading screens in disguise, they were a great way to get to know your companions, and I don’t think they impinged on pacing all that much. Once you consider how integral squad banter is to the whole Mass Effect experience, having unique exchanges between every possible squadmate transpire in closed quarters like this offers fascinating insight into character development and lore. Also, the chats are very funny – take this little exchange between Kaidan and Wrex.
“So tell me,” says Wrex. “Who’d win in a fight between you and Shepard?”
“What?” asks Kaidan, flabbergasted. “Commander Shepard is my superior officer. I can’t imagine us ever having to fight.”
“You can’t?” Wrex says. “That’s why Shepard’s your superior officer. And that’s why Shepard would win.”
There are only three lines here, but they’re packed with context. Wrex, a krogan, respects strength and combat capabilities. For him, this is what determines the hierarchy of command. It’s reasonable to assume that he’s just messing with Kaidan here – he knows that Shepard is stronger, as well as officially being his superior officer. But he wants to watch the lower-ranking official squirm a bit, just so he can drop that bomb at the end. Ashley has the exact same exchange with Wrex – as in literally verbatim – and it works the same way.
However, this also tells us a bit more about Wrex. This is a krogan bounty hunter who has seen more wars than Shepard has had hot dinners, and yet he’s decided to serve on the Normandy. This is ostensibly because their objectives align with one another, so it makes sense, but playing through the rest of the series proves that there’s much more going on here. I think, as well as the above exchange being a joke, it’s a subtle admission from Wrex that Shepard would beat him in a fight, and that’s why he’s happy not to be in charge of the Normandy. He’d never say so in so many words, mind, but that’s why this beating-around-the-bush pseudo-confession lands – the fact it happens during a glorified loading screen makes its true meaning all the more inconspicuous.
This is why I’m going to miss Mass Effect’s elevators so much. They’re not being removed in Legendary Edition, mind, but they are being changed quite drastically. I think the option to skip them is an excellent quality-of-life change that allows people who are less interested in hearing conversations to push through missions with greater momentum. I think the option to shorten them, on the other hand, was a bit gratuitous.
I’d expect that people who really don’t want to listen to the squadmates bantering with one another would just opt for the skip, which is fine. But people who aren’t skipping these scenes want to actually hear what’s going on, in context. The elevator scenes are about a minute long in the original version of the first Mass Effect game, which really adds atmospheric depth to them. These are predominantly companions who have just met each other for the first time, awkwardly chatting away and accidentally offending one another. The long, embarrassing silences after Garrus inadvertently insults someone are amazing – they feel like they go on forever.
But the elevator scenes – even if you don’t skip them – have been cut down by over 75%. I understand that a minute might seem like a bit much, but 30 seconds would still allow for all of the voice lines to play out with a natural silence sparking ambience on either side of them. 14 seconds sounds as if it was decided based on the narrowest possible window for the longest recorded elevator discussion, which means that, sure, the lines are there, but they’ve just been crammed into the run-and-gun rush of a balls-to-the-wall mission, no more significant than the 50th mercenary mug you pop. The whole awkwardness imbued in getting to know each other, which naturally evolves into the solid bonds you see by the end of Mass Effect 3, is lost.
This, combined with the fact that Eden Prime has seen some pretty drastic aesthetic changes, makes me worried that maybe Mass Effect has been streamlined a little bit too much. I know that Mass Effect 2 and 3 are loads better in terms of UI, loading power, and plenty of other quality-of-life metrics, so I’m more than happy to see alterations to the first game’s HUD and interface. But there are good changes, and there are gratuitous ones. And while a complaint about an elevator ride being made too quick might seem minor, or a gripe about the sun being hoisted from behind you to beam down on a level that used to be shrouded in red haze might appear over-the-top, these small alterations all add up to a massive revision of atmosphere. I’m good with higher-resolution textures and some neater UI, but I still want the same gritty game that kicked off one of my favourite series ever.
I feel like I’m talking to a wall here, so I’ll sign off with one of my favourite Garrus lines, which he says in Mass Effect 3. I reckon I’ll be muttering this to myself quite a lot come May.
“So I’m the only one who misses when we used to chat back in the elevators on the Citadel?”
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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