Mass Effect 3

Right after I finished Mass Effect 2 I jumped right into its sequel, which likely did the game no favors. Mass Effect 3 is a good game, but it is also a disappointing one. It does a lot of things well, but I don’t think it does them better than its predecessor. The story goes for epic, but you can almost feel the game crumbling under the pressure of being the epic conclusion to this series. The fact that it can’t fulfill the expectations placed upon it mostly reflects the overwhelming nature of those expectations and not any great fault in the game. Mass Effect 3 tries to be the biggest and the best, but it really can’t reach the heights that it strives for. I can’t help but admire its ambition, even if the result is just not as much fun as the last game in the series.

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I spent most of my time with Mass Effect 3 trying to figure out why I was enjoying it so much less than Mass Effect 2. I absolutely loved Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 plays largely the same, except for some reason it is much less fun. Maybe it is due to the slight changes to how the sniper rifle works. I relied heavily on that weapon in the previous game and in ME3 it was harder to use and somewhat less effective. While I didn’t actually time it, the missions seemed to go on longer as well. Missions seemed pretty brisk in ME2, playing out fairly quickly. In ME3 they just seem to drag on forever. I end up wanting to move on well before they end. It could also be that Shepard’s allies this time are kind of disappointing this time out. Sure, returning favorites Tali, Garrus, Liara and the survivor of Kaiden and Ashley join up, the new additions are just kind of there. There is nothing wrong with James, but neither is there anything particularly compelling about him. And EDI getting a body to run around is a great idea that isn’t quite as well realized as it could be. The cast here is perfectly fine, but coming off of Mass Effect 2’s truly compelling dirty dozen this group can’t help but be a little disappointing.

The biggest problem Mass Effect 3 has is that it is built as a product to the detriment of the game. Any commercially released video game is a product, I don’t mean to rail against the idea that the people who put this game out want to make money, but the experience of ME3 is hampered at every turn by stuff outside of the game. For example, a DLC pack includes a new squadmate. That is not a bad thing; ME2 included a pair of DLC characters. The difference is that Kasumi and Zayeed, the pair from ME2, were just a pair of normal characters that the player could have encountered in the Mass Effect universe. ME3’s new character, Javik, is a Prothean, the ancient race that existed in the game’s distant past. Finding him alive is a big deal; he is the sole survivor of a race that has been dead for fifty thousand years, it should cause a much greater reaction than it does. There can be no big reaction, though, because he is DLC. He can’t be central to the game because he is technically optional. Then there is the whole Galaxy at War system. It is a great idea, with each of Shepard’s victories increases the military power she and her allies can bring to bear against the Reapers. The problem with it is that it is hampered by being paired with the game’s multiplayer. There is nothing wrong with the multiplayer, but making it essential to the single player is a short sighted move, the multiplayer won’t be viable forever. Yes, nothing is truly locked behind the multiplayer, but it really restricts how the player can play the game and get their desired ending.

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Lastly, the game simply sets the stakes too high too fast. It opens with the Reapers attacking Earth. After seeing that, it is hard to get into the mood for goofing around the galaxy looking for side-quests. It is tonally inconsistent. The previous games had big problems, but they were problems that could wait. Shepard was looking for Saren, a good excuse to tool around the galaxy. In the second, Shepard is assembling a team of highly trained teammates, a good excuse to tool around the galaxy. Now, Shepard is trying to rally all the races of the galaxy to fight the Reaper, jumping at shadows all over the place feels wrong. The other problem is that the Reapers are a hard threat to actually fight. They are fifty foot tall space ticks, not something that the player can confront with machine guns. So with the stakes set very high, the game then forces players to do anything but directly confront the threat. Mostly, you have to fight against Cerberus, a secret organization that is trying to make sure humanity comes out on top when all is said and done. It feels like a lot of time wasting when important things are going on. That is a problem that the game can never recover from.

Still, the game is mostly fun to play and certainly succeeds in one aspect. The Mass Effect games were sold on their connectedness. Each one leads to the next and the player builds their own version of Commander Shepard as they play them. This game truly realizes that. Nearly every mission features the seeds the player has sown sprouting. Important things like who lived and who died matter, of course, but so do things about how the Shepard resolved all sorts of matters. The core of the missions will always remain the same, they must for the game to work at all, but the details and outcomes can change drastically. It makes the player feel like they’ve affected the outcome.

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The characters that were big parts of all three games are all well realized. They have had three games to develop, and Bioware did an excellent job of keeping them true across three games. The Garrus and Tali you meet in ME1 are the same characters in ME3, the changes they have faced are a result of their experiences with the player. Likewise, Shepard’s relationship with them is also informed by three games worth of development. How they interact with Shepard is directly the result of how the player has played. Mass Effect 3, like the rest of the series, does a great job of giving the player the illusion of control of the story.

Mass Effect 3 is a worthy conclusion to the saga, even if it isn’t as good a game as Mass Effect 2. The ending it … what it is, but the rest of the game is largely what I wanted. It ties all the treads of the series together, sometimes too neatly, and is a joy to play.

Next in my Bioware replay: Knights of the Old Republic.

More Mass Effect and A Year of Bioware

I was a little harsh when writing up Mass Effect, I think. It deserved a lot of that, it really isn’t that good of a game in a lot of ways, but the core of the game is actually pretty solid. It is just to find the good stuff you have to wade through a ton of cruft. Nearly all of the side quests should just be thrown in the trash, because that is all they are: garbage. The five or six story missions are actually really well designed and interesting. That plays into the game’s greatest strength, which is letting the player create their own Shepard. That is feature that only gets better as you move from ME1 to ME2.

That creating of the protagonist is nothing new to Bioware games; it has been a part of their output’s charm since Baldur’s Gate. But the protagonist of that series, while important to the plot, seemed like more of a bystander. The rest of the player’s party did the heavy lifting of the characterization. With Mass Effect, Bioware really nailed both letting the player control the personality of the protagonist and having that character actually play an active role in the story. Yes, the game forces the player onto essentially one of two paths, but there significant room for alteration

Being the rational, sane person I am, when I started up Mass Effect I made three separate characters. The first was a female Shepard, since I had been told that FemShep was the way to go. That was the character I ended up playing as. Then I made a Shepard that looked something like me. That was going to be my choice for doing a male Shepard run. After playing for a little while, I got the bright idea to try to make Zapp Brannigan Shepard. (If I ever am able to figure out streaming/doing an LP, it will definitely be as the Mass Effect Trilogy as Zapp Shepard) I only really played the first one of those, but as much as I didn’t really enjoy most of the game, the parts I did enjoy make me want to go back through it, just to see how the different choices work out.

Of course, they all work out largely the same. No matter what, all Shepards reach the same end and go on to the same Mass Effect 2. It gives the illusion of choice, but the story plays out with less freedom than a “choose you own adventure” book. It is the journey, not the destination that is important. There is a lot of space in the options given to the player to create their own version of the character, whether that character is a reckless badass or a by the books hero. My Shepard went largely along the Paragon route, but she had a bit of a temper, especially when dealing with slavers and racists. So far, I’ve continued that characterization into Mass Effect 2, where Shepard is really uncomfortable working with Cerebus after seeing the vile shit they got up to in the first game, but willing to try to put aside past differences o work towards a common goal.

After beating Mass Effect in March, I have now beat 1 Bioware game each month this year. If I continue on the pace I’m on, I will surely beat Mass Effect 2 by the end, hell, by the middle, of April. I had planned to lay off of ambitious but time consuming series of post on my blog after my attempt to replay the entire Zelda series over the course of a year or so took me more than three. Okay, I was planning a replay of the Final Fantasy series, but my plan there was to play the games at my leisure and hold back my blog posts about them until they were all done. It wasn’t going to be anything grand; I was just going to look at how the series evolved over the years and if my initial impressions of the games have held up. I really want to play the NES version of the first Final Fantasy for the first time on years. Looking through Bioware’s output, I realized that they have a little over 12 readily available games. I could beat the major part of Bioware’s library over the course of a year. Instead of just letting that be a happy accident, I am making it a goal.

Yes, Bioware has put out more than 12 games, especially if you count PC expansions as full games. But looking over it, it seems really easy to pare it down to a dozen. Going chronologically(mostly), they have Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1-3 and Dragon 1-3 & Awakenings. Yes, I am counting Awakenings even though it is an expansion, because I have it as its own retail game. And it rounds things out at 12. As for the others, I will play expansions if possible. They are included with my Enhanced Editions of the BG games, as well as with the version of NN I own. I am not sure about what to do about the DLC for the newer games. I was already thinking of grabbing the DA2 stuff, but buying even a fraction of the DLC for the handful of games that have it would take a significant investment. For just ME3 it would cost me more than I paid for the whole trilogy. And I am talking about actual gameplay add-ons, not pay $2 for special guns or extra costumes. I will likely take it on a game by game basis. If I want more of the game, like I do with Dragon Age 2, then I will pick it up. Otherwise, I don’t need it.

I am ignoring Sonic: The Dark Brotherhood. Maybe I shouldn’t. I own it and have played it some, but I really don’t have any desire to play it anymore. The Old Republic is out as well, because I don’t play MMOs. It is as simple as that. Lastly, I am leaving out MDK2. I don’t know much about it. Someone convince me to play it. As for the rest, I have already beaten Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect. I am currently working my way through Mass Effect 2. I don’t really have any plans for the order of the rest of them other than leaving Dragon Age Inquisition for later since I don’t actually own it as of yet. Unless I burn out, I’ll likely fire up Mass Effect 3 right after I beat ME2.