Game Tie-in Books

I finished two game tie-in books, recently. I know it seems like tie-ins are the only thing I read, first there were the Burn Notice novels, and now Mass Effect’s third novel and the Elemental novel. I do read more than that, but usually my non-game/TV related reading are trilogies or series and those are much harder for me to write about.

Mass Effect: Retribution

Let’s start with the sci-fi book. Like the previous two  novels, Retribution is written by Drew Karpyshyn who also writes the dialog for the games and it shows in the quality of both. Set sometime after the second game, Retribution picks up with most of the same characters from Ascension but puts them into a conflict that picks up from the end of the game.

Side note: I don’t think this is a prequel for Mass Effect 3. I can’t be sure but Ascension was not directly related to Mass Effect 2, except for the fact that it featured Cerberus, so I’m guessing it’s not.

As the books opens, we find that Cerberus has acquired Reaper technology and plans to test it on humans. The Illusive Man has a particular human in mind, Paul Grayson, who’s on the run for betraying Cerberus and the Illusive Man. During the course of the book, Kahlee Sanders finds out that Paul’s been abducted and enlists David Anderson to help find him and possibly take down Cerberus.

These books are a bit different from more game tie-ins that I familiar with, because they don’t involve the main protagonist from the game or ever do more than peripherally reference events in the game. Instead these books are more about filling on more of the background of the Mass Effect universe and developing some of the ancillary characters. This is nice since, if you have read them, then the world in the game is that much more alive and there are some oblique references to book events, but they’re not required reading by any means.

Destiny’s Embers

Leaving aside all of the drama around the game it’s tied to (you can Google it), I thought that Destiny’s Embers was a fun book. It’s written by Brad Wardell, whose the programmer for the game Elemental and the CEO of Stardock. So while it’s not a great book; it isn’t an awful book either. It was a fun read that kept me interested enough in the characters and plot to overlook any rough edges, and that’s not something I can say about every fantasy book I’ve picked up recently.

I would caution anyone who’s grammar sensitive that you’ll probably not enjoy this book as Brad’s style includes a frequent use of commas. This is not something that bothered me, but it is something to keep in mind. If you’re curious but not sure, then check out the except on Amazon’s site (or get the Kindle sample).

The plot itself is fairly standard epic fantasy: good versus evil. Most of the characters are either good or bad with few shades of gray. There’s a hero’s journey in search of a mythical item, a big battle scene at the climax, and an ending that sets up the game.

Mass Affected

This is a non-spoiler post. Please keep the comments spoiler free as well.

I finished Mass Effect 2, and it was even better than the first one!

I’m a reader. I love books. When I’m reading a good story, I find it hard to put down. There’s always a point in the last third of a book where the plot kicks into high gear and starts the downhill rush towards the denouement. I have to be careful about when I get to that point in a book because once I get there I absolutely have to finish it before I can do anything else.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 affect me the same way. I actually started the last mission in ME2 much too late at night and finally had to tear myself away around 2 am but before I actually finished the game. So all day the following day at work, I was counting the hours until I could get back on and finish.

I enjoyed Mass Effect 2 as much as I had hoped to and much more than I expected to. I blame my hesitance to start the game on my lowered expectations and on the crappy marketing leading up to release. All of the talk about a darker tone, and  the awful preview videos with Jack, had me concerned that they were taking Mass Effect more towards a Dragon Age style which I didn’t enjoy much.

Turns out my fears were totally baseless, I enjoyed all of the new characters, including Jack (which I was really surprised about). I was just as (or more actually) emotionally involved in the story. The Mass Effect games are part of a very small group of games (like KOTOR, oddly enough) where my emotional investment in the characters is just as deep as it is when I read a novel. I think it is a combination of “good enough” facial and body animation combined with excellent voice work, good writing, and just enough choice allowed in the dialogue trees. Having fully voiced dialogue for both my character and for non-player characters keeps the immersion level high. Limiting the character customization so that non-player reactions to my character’s appearance is appropriate (don’t refer to me as a boy if I look like I’m 60 years old). With immersion maintained at such a high and consistent level, it is much easier for me to develop a bond with my digital teammates.

So if you are into Science-Fiction, space opera, adventure stories, I highly recommend playing both Mass Effect games. You don’t have to play the first to enjoy the second, but it is a better experience having played both.