I’ve spent most of my gaming time this last month in a single game, Mass Effect 3 – the final in the Mass Effect trilogy centered on Commander Shepard. The first Mass Effect game had you delay a galaxy wide “harvesting” by sentient synthetic lifeforms, Reapers, that cull the advanced civilizations of the galaxy every 50,000 years. The second game had you joining forces with a terrorist organization, Cerberus, (because they’re the only ones that admitted what was happening) to stop the Collectors, a race being controlled by Reapers, that were harvesting human colonies. In the final Mass Effect game, the Reapers have arrived in the galaxy and have begun their galaxy wide purging of civilization. You barely escape Earth and head off to the center of galactic government, The Citadel, in hopes of gathering together different races to fight together against this common foe.
The writing staff for this game must have put in some crazy overtime to get the dialog this good. Every character comes off much more personal than the shallow characters in previous games. You can tell that Shepard and some of these people have been through some serious, hard fought battles together and now they have this unbreakable bond. One of my favorite parts of the game is when Garrus Vakarian, the Turian who has been with you through each of the games, asks you to do him a favor. He takes you up to some off-limits area of the Citadel to finally answer a question once and for all – who is the better shot, him or you. You take turns throwing targets and shooting them in the air. The camaraderie that Bioware establishes between you and your squadmates, both current and former, in this game is awesome; it’s something I’ve never really seen done this well in any game prior.
The way Bioware took and wove together all the choices you’ve made throughout the first two games is a thing of beauty. Sometimes the people you meet can be fully recruited to join your team and be with you throughout the game. There are others where it’s just a simple conversation. I played a character that I had progressed since the first game and was honestly surprised how many choices of mine influenced the gameplay. It didn’t really hit me until I tried to play a vanilla, start-from-scratch character in ME3. It was just too bland. This wasn’t my Shepard. That level of influence that you can wield over the course of three games with your character really does build up a personal relationship. You end up actually caring about your character. That is something I can really appreciate from a designer standpoint.
As a software developer though, I find a lot of the Mass Effect games to be straight up predictable. The first game consisted mainly of 4-5 main story missions with a few dozen side missions used to collect stuff and build up experience. The second game was a series of 10-12 recruitment missions followed by 10-12 favor missions (where you did the character you recruited a favor), and then a single final mission. So long as you did them all, these games turned out just fine. Bioware marketed Mass Effect 2 as this massive suicide mission game where you and your crew may not survive. The problem I had with it is that there wasn’t any chance to it. So long as you sat down and paid your dues by playing each of the character’s side missions, the suicide mission was a piece of cake and no one died. They could have introduced a bit of chance into the game and made it so that bad things happen, no matter how much you tried or prepared beforehand. I was hoping for something of that in Mass Effect 3.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any randomness in my Mass Effect 3 game. As a friend of mine stated to me, Mass Effect 3 is just a bunch of fetch quests. You’re supposed to be out recruiting a massive army to go fight the Reapers and rescue Earth. You’d think the rest of the galaxy would actually comprehend the scale of what needs to happen. Instead, people want to dither about and will only commit to help you if you do them a favor first. Then there are the side missions in this game. At least they made it so that you’re not spending hours scanning planets looking for minerals like you did in Mass Effect 2, but they didn’t exactly replace that with something more fun to play. Instead, you get to go talk to people on the Citadel (or just eavesdrop on their conversations) to find out what they could use or need. You then get in your super stealthy space ship and go cruise around the galaxy looking for trinkets and then delivering them back to the people. Somehow, delivering a small item (ex. dog tags, a book, an illegal weapon) to some no-name person on the Citadel helps you build up your massive army forces to fight against the Reapers. The game really boils down to a bunch of fetch quests. A friend of mine said the other day that they should just repaint the Normandy (your ship) with the UPS logo and give you a brown shirt and shorts to wear because all you really are in this game is a delivery person. When I was in the middle of my umpteenth fetch quest, wandering around the Citadel trying to find the person who needed the latest crap I found, I found it hard to disagree with him.
So you play the game, you do your fetch quests, you kiss ass to every race you can think of and beg them to join your fight – you’d think that would be enough. It probably isn’t. Bioware decided with this game to tie in their new multiplayer mode such that it affects the possible outcomes of your single player games. As you do all your single player missions, you collect war assets, essentially a measure of how strong your side is against the Reapers. Even if you do everything you can in the single player game alone, it may or may not be enough, depending on how much of it is available to you based on previous decisions in past games. Don’t worry though, Bioware lets you go play multiplayer matches (essentially a knock off of Gears of War 3′s horde mode) in order to build up a multiplier score, Galactic Readiness Rating, that gets applied to your war assets. Through playing a few hours of multiplayer, you can essentially double the effective rating of your war assets in your single player game. You can even send your maxed out level multiplayer characters over to your single player game as more war assets. If ME3′s multiplayer wasn’t actually fun to play I might complain about it a bit more, but it’s still a gimmick, one that probably didn’t need to be included. I don’t need my single player gameplay to depend on multiplayer in order for me to be motivated to play it. Just make the multiplayer fun to play (which it fortunately is) and people will play it.
As I said, the new multiplayer mode is definitely fun to play. I’ve already put more hours into playing it than playing the single player campaign. I wondered when I first heard that ME3 would have multiplayer how they would do it. The basics are that you get to create multiple character classes based off of the six class types in the single player game – Soldier (full weapon proficiency), Adept (full biotic proficiency), Engineer (full tech proficiency), Infiltrator (part tech, part soldier), Vanguard (part soldier, part biotic), and Sentinel (part biotic, part tech). They got rid of the single player power selection popup menu, mainly because it simply wouldn’t work in multiplayer. You can’t pause a multiplayer game to select from multiple available powers. Instead, they give you various combinations of powers based on the race of the character you create. Human Engineers have different powers available to them than do Quarian Engineers. Each character has three powers available, each mapped to a specific button on the controller.
The actual multiplayer gameplay is a basic copy of Gears of War’s Horde mode. After the success of the first horde mode gametype in Gears of War 2, many other games have implemented it (ex. Halo ODST – Firefight). That’s not really a problem, becuase it’s damn fun to play. In ME3, you have various maps to select from to play on and then you face off against 10 waves of enemies; either Cerberus, Geth or Reapers. Each enemy type has advantages and disadvantages that can be countered by playing with different character types. The Geth, for example, are very susceptible to Engineers and Sentinels with their tech powers. As you play and level up, you earn both experience and credits. Credits can be used to purchase packages of random items to help you. The higher costing packages give you better chances at getting rare items. Packages contain game consumables (med packs, rockets, weapon mods), as well as new weapons to use and character unlocks. The more you play, the more credits you earn, the more packs you can buy, the better weapons you get….which makes you just want to play more. The wide range of play styles you can get with the six different character classes helps keep this pretty basic multiplayer mode fresh. If you get tired of shooting a sniper rifle, switch to a biotic Adept and throw enemies around the map, or be an Engineer and hack enemies to fight for you. It really ends up being a lot of fun to play. While I was apprehensive at first about this multiplayer mode, Bioware nailed it on the first try. I look forward to seeing how they improve it through DLC.
When it comes to game mechanics, Bioware took a step back in this game towards what they had in the first game. Mass Effect 2 took a lot of the RPG elements of the first game out and made it feel a lot more like a modern shooter game. Mass Effect 3 didn’t go back to the full customization level you had in the first game, but found, what I think, is a happy medium in between. This game is built on the Unreal Engine 3, the same graphics engine that was used in Gears of War 3, so the feel of the gameplay will be familiar to those that have played Gears 3. Mass Effect 3 is a bit tighter on getting into cover, requiring players to be closer to cover to initiate it. The game also doesn’t let you get out of cover as easy as you could in Gears 3. That’s one thing I think (I hope) could be tweaked through future game patches.
This game is not completely free of technological problems. During my game play I encountered several bugs that kept happening throughout the game.
- Characters not rendered – This happens primarily during cut scenes. One or more characters simply don’t get rendered and you have dialog sequences with people that just aren’t there. The scene will show where they should be, and you’ll still hear the audio and can converse with them, but it just looks like you’re talking to a wall.
- Shepard’s eyes – This one really bugs me, mainly because it just looks creepy. In various scenes, Shepard will be looking directly at something or someone, but the character’s eyes will be looking up a bit too far, almost rolled back in the sockets, leaving just the lower whites of the eyes showing.
- Head control – For some reason, I will be in a dialog sequence and one of the characters involved thinks there’s something way more interesting to look at over on the far left or right of me. The person will have the whole conversation staring off to one side.
- Impossible to finish side quests – I wish the game would simply mark them as impossible to finish instead of leaving quests mixed in with all the others I have yet to finish. Sometimes I’ve played the game to a point where they’re impossible to finish, such as finding the dogtags on Benning. I’d like to see this one patched.
- Admiral Hackett available on vid com – The game will inform you via Specialist Traynor that Admiral Hackett is available to talk to, usually after finishing a mission. The problem is that this doesn’t indicate that any new dialog options are open to you. If the game is going to direct me to go talk to him, it should give me something new to talk about.
- Shepard armor and clothing configuration – There seems to be a loading issue or memory issue when trying to configure clothing or armor using the interface down in the Shuttle Bay. I’ve had this bug come up on multiple occasions, but not every time. In the Shuttle Bay, the game will let you change configurations, but the preview images of what you’re changing never updates. In the bottom right corner of the screen is a constant “Loading…” message. When I leave and go use the configuration panel up in your cabin, it works fine.
Game Ending Controversy
This is something I can understand, yet don’t really agree with. The first two Mass Effect games presented fairly straightforward stories. As a player, Bioware told you what you were fighting towards and in the end, that is what you got. In ME1, you fought against a rogue Spectre, Saren, and a Reaper, Sovereign. You had to stop them from unleashing the rest of the Reapers upon the galaxy. You had a big gun fight in the end and you destroyed them both. It was exactly what you thought would happen. In ME2, you knew you had to stop the Collectors. You knew you had to go through the Omega-4 relay to their home and fight them there. There were a few surprises, such as finding out the Collectors were really former Protheans and were being controlled by Reapers, but in the end you still destroyed the Collectors. You knew that was what you were fighting towards and that is what Bioware delivered.
With this game, Bioware has been building up that you are fighting to destroy the Reapers and save the galaxy. You went to the Citadel to recruit an armada to go back to Earth and destroy them there. That was your motivation behind doing a crap ton of fetch quests, walking all over the Citadel, down every hallway, talking with every stupid person. You were going to make damn sure you were ready for this massive battle to destroy a fleet of Reapers.
Then Bioware went and did what they hadn’t done in previous games. They changed things on you. The ending you got wasn’t the ending you expected. It wasn’t the ending they alluded to you getting. They pulled the rug out from under you to reveal something completely different. Now, it’s not that the ending the gave you was necessarily a bad ending. It just wasn’t what you expected.
That trickery is what has irritated many so-called fans of Mass Effect. There has been letter writing campaigns, fund-raisers, internet forum ranting, and even a lawsuit filed against Bioware all over this ending to a v-i-d-e-o–g-a-m-e. I swear, the people on the internet continually surprise me to what new level of absurdity and stupidity they can fall to. Personally, I think Bioware just wasn’t literal enough in the ending of the game for most people to actually ‘get it’. I may be wrong on this, but I interpreted the ending as not really being an ending at all.
In the end, Bioware made a great game. Every game has it’s downsides and every game has things they could have done better, but Bioware has put out a superb game in Mass Effect 3. This really is something that every gamer should at least try out. This truly is a work of art if ever a video game qualified as art. I would easily qualify the Mass Effect series of games as the absolute best games I’ve ever played. The story is compelling, the characters are well designed, and the gameplay is fun. This is a series that I will replay many times over. Well done, Bioware.