That's nine 40-hour work weeks of time spent in the Mass Effect universe, according to the combined reports of Steam, Origin, and my creaky old Xbox 360. Eighty-six hours went into the original Mass Effect (three playthroughs), 189 hours into Mass Effect 2 (six playthroughs), and 94 hours into Mass Effect 3 (three playthroughs).
Commander Shepard and his crew—sometimes her crew, but we'll get to that—have done plenty of galaxy saving under my control. They fought aliens, robots, clones, politicians, and reporters. They stood united against enemies vast and unknowably timeless. They have, in the words of James T. Kirk, "been through death and life together."
They're my friends.
OK, they're not really my friends; claiming to be buddies with imaginary characters is a little too geeky even for me. The Mass Effect series is not without its flaws, and some are truly Reaper-sized. But it has gripped me like nothing else in the history of video games, and video games and I go back a pretty long way.
But take heart, as Shepard himself says near the end of the series. Even if Shepard must be a hollow man for the sake of the player, the ease with which the player can fill his shoes means that Bioware made the correct set of design decisions.
I didn't feel quite so maudlin about the series until the Citadel DLC came out, but now, it's like I know all these aliens. They're real, hanging out in the back of my head. We are Commander Shepard, and the crew members of the Normandy are our friends. Garrus. Tali. Liara. Thane. EDI. Joker. Jack. Wrex. Grunt. All the rest.
The ending of the series is this: Commander Shepard, surrounded by his team, ready to board the Normandy and set sail back out onto the ocean of night. That's where they'll always be.
Shepard's squadmates are right: we've had a good ride.