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Mass Effect 3 Impressions

At this point I have about four to six hours in Mass Effect 3. The reviews, not surprisingly, are trending towards the very positive end of the spectrum. I am not remotely close to passing judgment on it, but I did want to put some impressions out there regarding what’s stood out to me so far. The short version is, it’s Mass Effect. That’s trite, but it’s accurate. If you were done with this series after the first game, or the second game, or it just never grabbed you from the get go, I can see no reason so far to think you should jump in (or back in) here. You are Shepard, the only man/woman in the galaxy capable of stopping a threat that, for eons, has wrecked galactic civilization at regular intervals. You do this by shooting lots of guys and flapping your gums at people. There’s plenty of nuance involved in all that, to be sure, but that’s the game in a nutshell.

Now, let’s dig into some specifics. Turn on your listening ears…

It’s a shame EA and Bioware are so obsessed with setting the wrong tone before you ever boot up the game. Between paying $60 for the PC version of the game (I still believe these games should be $50), the fact that you no longer get the “big” day one DLC pack with the regular game and have to shell out $10 for it right off the bat, and the fact that you have to install Origin to install the game, I was not in a glowing frame of mind when I could finally actually play. The degree of EA’s invasiveness in our computers and pocket books is going from annoying to beyond the pale. Speaking of which, the multiplayer.

Look, at the end of the day I don’t care if the game has multiplayer or not. I’m probably not going to play it much and would rather a game like this not have development time and money put into it, but it’s not the end of the world. Also, I still have no idea to what degree multiplayer really effects outcomes in the single player game via the Galaxy at War feature. (The buzz is that its significant.) That said, I really really hate the entire notion that my willingness to play a boatload of multiplayer can have an iota of impact on a series that up to this point was an entirely solo experience. It’s just wrong. There is not an argument you can make that will make me think it’s okay for these two play modes to be in any way intertwined. I am flat out insulted that the plot for my Mass Effect story, the one I’ve been building through multiple playthroughs of two games, should now have any connection to my willingness to go online and shoot stuff over and over and over again with a bunch of strangers. Supposedly you can still get the uber-happy ending without playing multiplayer. Even if it’s true, this is irrelevant to me. You cannot convince me that the “end” conditions, whatever variety of them there are, are not configured differently in this game because of the multiplayer/iPad app connection than they would have been had it remained a purely single player affair. I can’t prove that, but I believe it.

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I did pick up Jessica Chobot’s character. I hate her character on a purely meta level, but it’s also a meta level hate so strong that it interferes with my ability to put myself into the game. I cannot talk to that character without feeling like I’m being played as a horndog fanboy. Make no mistake, her character is there so that “hard up” gamers can oggle digital tits and think about how they kind of sort of belong to a real person they’ve read or seen on TV. It’s shameful. The character is pure sex pot. True, you don’t have to take her character with you, but of course, you lose out on a war asset if you don’t, so I find the “optional” argument disingenuous in the extreme.

If you have a character that you’re bringing forward that’s face design originated in the first game, don’t expect that face to import. Whether it’s a bug or a deliberate gloss over, my imported ManShep looked nothing like the character I created in ME1 and carried over to the second game. This led to a half hour of trying to re-create the look. I got close, but it’s still not quite right. Speaking of which, here’s the stuff that the game specifically tells you it transfers in:

The writing so far is not knock it out of the park good. I’m finding Shepard saying a lot of the same things to a lot of different people. Some of that’s just the nature of the game, but nearly every character you can talk to has you asking about their thoughts on the status of the war or what family they have involved, etc. You don’t have to engage everyone on this level, but if you do it can get repetitive. You could also argue there’s a lot of sci fi “end of everything” cliche being employed, but I’m not sure how you avoid that given what’s going on in the game. It is, after all, end of the galaxy type stuff happening.

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Enough with the negative. Like I said in the first bullet EA/Bioware predisposes me to the negative because of how they treat their franchises, or more accurately, the fans of their franchises. Some more positive stuff steeped entirely in gameplay experiences (no spoilers):

There have been some really great story beats so far. Again, I’m not going to hedge into spoiler territory, but for the sake of example, there’s an optional side mission I encountered in which I thought, “Hmmm. This would be the ideal place for Mass 2 Character X to make an appearance.” Then I got there and found an unsigned note that I thought, tonally, sounded like that character. A few minutes later, I encountered that character and I was thrilled with that person’s evolution between games. I’m guessing now that this mission is complete they drop out of the game for good, which would be a shame, but it was a cool hour of gameplay while it lasted.

Take the multiplayer component out of it, and I do like the War Readiness idea. Most everything you do in the game is about the war and acquiring assets to fight it. The notion that you have to make decisions about where to go and what to prioritize in your effort to unite a galaxy against the Reapers works. Everything you do, so far as I can tell, has you doing something that ties in some way back to the war effort. Given the scale of the conflict, I think it’s crucial that you’re not off helping crewmates with their daddy issues. Even if I don’t entirely buy into everything the game tries to sell about how Shepard is the only one that can get the job done, it’s cool that nothing I’ve done in the game so far feels superfluous.

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I thought ME2 was a competent shooter. Overall, I think this is notably improved. It feels precise and it feel like it has weight. Sometimes too much so. Shepard feels a bit sluggish at times and there are times I run into trouble getting him into or out of cover the way I’d like, but overall I think it’s very solid.

The fact that how good the game looks and how well the characters emote and how stunning the set pieces are is expected at this point is really a compliment to Bioware. It’s not something I even really thought about in these initial hours with the game, but all that work remains top notch and it would be notable if it weren’t. This aspect of the game is where the franchise truly eats and breaths and the tradition continues here.

This isn’t really praise or criticism but the nature of the game does feel like Mass Effect 2 on steroids. It’s just the scale that’s different. In Mass 2 you were recruiting individuals. In Mass 3 you’re recruiting races and armies. The methodology really doesn’t seem very different so far, although I get the sense I’m making more decisions of consequence more often in this game than in Mass 2 and I like that feeling a lot. The flip side to that is it becomes harder to buy into the notion that the council and the major races continue to quibble over stupid shit while Reapers are actively wrecking entire worlds (not just Earth). It’s one thing to see governments drag their feet and refuse to work together at the thought of a phantom threat, but the destruction -the destruction you’ve been warning them of through two full games- is real now. The game does its best to give valid reasons for races not uniting in the face of it, but it’s still a little hard to believe you have to work this hard to get people to work together to save their own skins.

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

29 thoughts to “Mass Effect 3 Impressions”

  1. Tune into Sunday’s podcast as me and Brandon tell Todd that he’s wrong about the end game stuff.

    Well, sorta wrong.

    Sorta right, too.

  2. About the multiplayer: from what I understand, it is completely, 100% optional. You’re supposed to be able to get complete (or at least the highest level) Galactic Readiness in the singleplayer without ever touching the online stuff, it just requires more work in singleplayer. That being said, I’ve rather enjoyed the few matches I’ve played. It’s horde mode, plain and simple, but the combat mechanics (especially with the class powers) work well for it. And you have a lot of control on how you level and equip classes. But again, it’s all optional for those not interested.

    Also, I see that you romanced Miranda, so your opinion is invalid (only joking…kind of).

  3. A few of the complaints I had read about multiplayer suggested that to get the puppies and rainbows ending without multiplayer you have to do EVERYTHING in the game. So I have been wandering around the citadel trying to find people who will let me tie their shoe-laces or walk their dogs to help my war effort and basically playing in complete terror that somehow I’m going to miss that one side-quest that will spell out death for the entire known galaxy. Nothing against playing the co-op, just not until I’m done with the story.

    And, yes, it is Mass Effect, and despite all of the above I am enjoying the hell out of it. I like how the weapon and armor mods feels like a hybrid of the first two games. The normal difficulty AI seems a little bit sharper than in me2, which is a good thing. And it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces popping up in missions.

    Also, hurray for Todd’s in-depth bioware/rpg write-ups! Have been looking forward to this one.

    1. I can’t wait to really get deep into and finish the game. I’ve got zero plans this weekend so it’s gonna be a whole lotta Mass Effect… and booze. 😉

  4. My random thoughts after six hours:

    – I told Chobot to take a hike. Felt great. Never again will I have to look at those dead eyes or hear her voice “acting”. Don’t care about losing a “war asset”. They seriously could have been honest and re-written her lines- “Hey there, undersexed horny boy. Do you want a pair of titties in a tight shirt to look at during the game? Maybe you might even have a chances with Sheparding me into your bedroom, wink wink”. She can go whore in some other part of the galaxy.

    – I think the writing is really rushed and sloppy particularly in regard to character re-introductions. It’s like “oh hey, Wrex.” and you’re off. The attack on earth was…weird. Some sub-Babylon 5 gum flapping and all of a sudden you’re running on a rooftop with Keith David (who STILL won’t put on the goddamned glasses).

    – The action is just as clunky and sloppy as ever…it still can’t quite hit the right mix of control and mobility. The melee is a total joke.

    – Multiplayer is ASS. I’ve been able to get into like two games out of ten, the other eight I’ve been kicked out of the lobby (not even the game) by high level players. Once you’re in, it’s a really crude wave-based horde mode with ME powers and guns. SFW. Oh, and if you’re worried about not boosting your readiness, there’s a convenient store for you to purchase stuff with real world money.

    – Sense of scale is really screwy to me. OMG, galaxy-wide war with giant alien ships…but what you’re doing is running down a hall, shooting ten or so guys until somebody says “I think that’s all of them”. Then you flip a switch and you win. At least that battle.

    – I was really shocked to find out that Tali was played by comedienne Carol Channing. What a disappointment.

    I dunno, I think you’re right that it’s definitely more ME and that’s mostly a good thing but I think the reviews out there are ridiculous. It’s hardly some glowing masterpiece of SF. It’s another ME game, and all that is good and bad about that is present.

    I hope the story picks up, right now I’m finding it pretty dull. I was totally into ME and ME2’s narrative at the six hour point so it’s kind of worrisome.

    Also, the Kingdoms of Amalur armor looks incredibly stupid.

  5. I couldn’t agree more about Chobot; as soon as I encountered her, I was upset. She’s also a pretty poor voice actress, which makes it even more frustrating. I picked her up too; apparently because I hate myself.

    So far, I do like the set-pieces, and collecting war assets feels like the best collection mission around after the drudgery of scanning planets from left-to-right in ME2.

    One thing that I thought was really cool was that my decision to use the Alliance fleets to save the council in ME1 came back to bite me in the ass; they’re still not at full strength two games later. Very cool use of the choices made by your character.

    And, despite my comments in that romance thread, I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the way the romantic story is progressing thus far; rekindling a romance with an ME1 character is working really well for me. I had to explain my… Indiscretions… during ME2 which I thought was a pretty nice scene.

    Overall though, my impressions are very positive; it’s more of what I wanted. So far so good, despite the quibbles mentioned in your post. Hopefully it keeps up for the next 20 or so hours!

    1. Yes! Having the Alliance fleet show reduced force status because of your Mass1 decision was great. Can’t wait to import my FemShep and see what it says about them there since she let the council die.

  6. Chobot is my one sore point thus far. She’s on the ship as an asset, but total waste of space as I imagine she is IRL. A reporter role could easily have been filled Emily Wong or whatsername (who I really wanted to punch, again, but instead took the paragon option and was pleasantly surprised with the result there).

    Otherwise, really enjoying it. I have not had any issues with multiplayer for the most part and to my shock I am LOVING it. I never wanted ME3 multiplayer in any form, but I tried it for the hell of it, and my god it’s fun. I love simple old horde mode, was my favorite part of Gears 3, and I like the random bonus objectives you get every 3rd round.

    Currently I’ve played almost as much if not more multiplayer than I have single player. It’s a quick 20+ minute burst of ME3 combat, which I also enjoy the hell out of, and while the real money for boosters in the shop is a bit much, it’s not hard at all to rack up credits and do it in-game.

    Knowing me I’ll move on from it soon enough, but for now it’s damn good.

    1. I went the same route in that scene with the reporter on the Citadel and I was similarly surprised and gratified by the paragon option there. More story notes like that will go a long way to making me feel good things about the game.

        1. It was worthwhile, totally.

          And that was the one instance where I took the renegade option first, then reloaded and went with paragon. To be fair, I always intended to go paragon, but she really gets on my nerves so a little comeuppance is always nice.

  7. I HATED ME1. I hated the simplistic writing. I hated the “dumbed-down” map that showed you where every g*d-damned important quest/character/location was. I hated the combat. Most of all, I hated that frigging dune buggy.

    I looked at the demo for ME2 for about 5 minutes before uninstalling it.

    I doubt I’ll be even going that far for this installment.

    I hate to come off as a troll, but that’s how much I hate the Mass Effect series, and Bioware’s obvious attempt to woo the “konsole kiddies”.

  8. The only question I have left is how much weight the sidequests have on your outcome. I still haven’t forgiven Bioware for my ME2 experience. I found the scanning of planets for resources to upgrade your ship to be extremely boring, so I just didn’t do it. I then lost a bunch of crew members upon entry. I’m still mad about it. I enjoyed the Loyalty questlines just fine, but the absolutely horrible scanning nonsense completely lost me. Have they eliminated the need for that crap in this iteration?

    1. Scanning is completely different now. There’s a certain amount of risk involved and it only does the interesting bits from planet scanning in the last game.

      It certainly has me a lot more stressed out than the second game did…

      1. Yup. Planet scanning now only occurs when you know a planet has some kind of discoverable resource/event and rather than search the entire surface you are guided to the location (like the N7 missions in Mass2, I think). The way you discover them is a little grindy because you now send out pulses while interplanetary and look for ping backs to indicate when you’ve found something. It’s much easier than planet scanning, at least. And as Mark noted, there’s a risk/reward mechanic to doing it at all.

  9. None of this matters. Despite all of the issues surrounding this game and clear examples that EA and Bioware do not care about the fanbase (the DLC, the laziness regarding a certain character’s likeness, the motivations of certain enemies, the endings), they will still make tons of money and the accountants will greenlight Mass Effect 4: The Galactic Retcon.

  10. I’m kinda shocked as to the hatred of the universe here. I understand the hatred of Chobot, but her character’s important in a war sense.

    The hatred of the writing is just plain funny to me. SciFi doesn’t have good writing. Period. The same people who say that some of the dialogue in ME feels generic will also say that Star Trek/Wars is some of the greatest scifi in history. You can’t have it both ways. The writing is above average in Mass Effect, but the world is incredible, and the cinematography is top notch.

    And people are complaining that you can’t get the absolute best ending without doing something extra?!?! (Either beating the game twice or playing multiplayer). Good. I beat Chrono Trigger multiple times to see the different endings, all with different parameters. Beating the Halo’s on the hardest difficulty always gets you the extra scene.

    Apparently whenever anyone makes it more difficult or take more time to get a certain ending, it’s ok, but when Bioware does it, it’s bad. I guess cause it’s just fun to hate Bioware now.

    1. Also, a note that I forgot to make.

      The fact that you complain about Chobot being there for T&A while romancing Miranda is kinda funny to me.

      1. At least Miranda’s character had some depth. And redeeming qualities other than T&A. As for Chobot’s character, I took her on, but in my next playthrough I will tell her to take a short walk off a tall cliff. Never been so irritated with a character in any of the ME games.

    2. “Apparently whenever anyone makes it more difficult or take more time to get a certain ending, it’s ok, but when Bioware does it, it’s bad. I guess cause it’s just fun to hate Bioware now.”

      I think that’s a bad argument. He isn’t complaining about doing extra stuff; he’s saying that taking a game, that has been 100% single player the previous iterations, and saying you can’t complete it without playing multiplayer is BS. To use your own example, it’s like you couldn’t get Halo 3’s extended single player ending until you played a bunch of deathmatch first. It has nothing to do with hating on Bioware being trendy, it has to do with Bioware making a poor design choice in this case.

      1. This. Yes, I know it’s technically possible to get the best ending w/o touching the multiplayer, but that just is not my point or my beef. I don’t like the fact that it’s a factor at all and I don’t believe the end success conditions for this game are the same as they would be if there were no multiplayer component. I can’t prove that, but that is my point.

        Also, Beaushek, I’ve got no truck at all with you disagreeing with me, but you’re putting words in my mouth that I’m not using. I didn’t say I hated the writing or the universe. I said that the writing so far is “not knock it out of the park good.” And it’s not. Nor did I hold up Star Trek or any of your other examples as hallmarks of great SciFi writing.

        On Miranda v. Chobot. Miranda was at least based on a capable actress and not a game journalist of questionable credentials and no voice acting ability whatsoever. There is a difference. As for the Miranda character you assume a lot about my decision to have Shepard end up with her. I didn’t dislike her character the way everyone else did and, from the start, I set it as a goal to try and distance her from the Illusive Man. I wanted to see if I could change her character. It was the same reason I followed through on Morrigan’s romance line in Origins. In both cases I was very happy with the results as they pertained to the story. If I want to see tits I have better options than playing Mass Effect.

        Finally, I already went out of my way to compliment the set pieces and character designs that your argument makes it sound like I’m ignoring or putting down. If I hate something (like multiplayer’s connection to the single player events) I will say I hate it and feel free to call me on it when you disagree. Completely re-framing my argument into something it wasn’t is unnecessary.

        1. You’re completely right here in what I typed, however I apologize, it’s not what I meant. I wasn’t meaning to say that you specifically were harping on the writing or the Chobot stuff. I was talking about many of the comments on this board, and I didn’t do a good job of distinguishing that.

          Your statement on me saying Star Trek being a hallmark of good scifi writing is you reframing one of my arguments. I enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars immensely, but they’re prone to cliche and terrible lines just like Mass Effect. What I was commenting on was that people (not you specifically, and again, I didn’t do a good job of saying that) have been attacking Mass Effect’s writing by saying it’s bad scifi dialogue. My response is “What’s good scifi dialogue?”.

          On the multiplayer component, we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree. I have no problem with Bioware rewarding people who play their game more, whether it be through multiplayer or an extra playthrough.

          I didn’t comment on your positives in the post, but I will here. I agree with your talk on the set pieces, but even moreso, the character designs. Bioware has a great ability at relating foreign ideas and people, and they’re showcasing it well in this game.

          1. Sounds like we’re even, then!

            For what it’s worth, Brandon totally has your back on the multiplayer. He shredded me pretty good recording JTS this week (to be posted Sunday). 😉

    3. “SciFi doesn’t have good writing. Period.”

      Not trying to get ugly with you, but this is an outrageously uninformed and ignorant statement.

      I’ll spare you the litany of GREAT science fiction writing (Verne, Dick, Wells, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Delany, Shelley, Ellison, and on and on and on).

      Is it just that you don’t like the genre and don’t have much experience with it? Because there is TONS of science fiction with GREAT writing.

      Mass Effect is not great SF writing, I can agree with that. Sometimes it’s really good (see the exchanges with Mordin in ME2), but rarely great.

      1. Very good point. I’ve read some great scifi with some great dialogue. I’ve never SEEN scifi with great dialogue. There’s definitely excellent scifi conversations, but I can’t say I’ve seen them on a screen, whether on TV, movies, or video games.

  11. Huh.

    This is actually one of the few things I’ve read on NHS that argues why something is bad without a well thought out logical argument to back it up. “I hate Multiplayer, and even though it’s been made very clear that I don’t have to engage it at all, I have decided that my gut-reaction to what I think I’m being forced to do is right.” That doesn’t make any sense. Why not “I hate MP and wish it wasn’t here so I will ignore it.” full stop?

    Also, you should get some friends together and try it (unless it’s MP hate in general). It’s actually quite fun. Though that may be colored by the fact that I’m finishing ME2 again (lost saves) before I start the single player so it’s the only ME3 I can do at this point. But I always put my ME2 game down to play it with my pals.

    1. It’s true I don’t have any interest in the multiplayer, but let’s be clear that what I don’t like is that it has any bearing on the single player experience whatsoever. The question, for me, isn’t whether it’s possible to have a fun-happy outcome by doing everything or not, the question is whether or not the balancing of win/loss conditions was altered to drive people to play multiplayer. I’m talking completely out of my ass, but I believe they are, so the argument that it’s still possible to get the “best” ending w/o multiplayer isn’t a factor to me. It’s whether it’s different because Bioware/EA want me to play their multiplayer stuff too. If they want to start a new franchise or a new Mass Effect story in which these components are connected and work in conjunction with each other that’s fine, but I firmly don’t believe it should have been with the conclusion to a trilogy that’s players have played a certain way (single player, based totally on Shepard’s actions and decisions) for the last whatever number of years.

  12. Made it to 4hrs last night. Picked up the Chobot char because, you know, trying to get ‘ready for the war’. Playing with my wife, who is an ex-for-reals-journalist:

    Her: “Another slutty journalist? God I hate how the people portray female journalists. Glad to see that during a galactic war she decides to wear a low-cut dress. That makes sense.”

    (If you can’t tell, we’ve had this discussion a million times, with games, movies, television, etc.)

    Me: “It’s funny you say that, since I guess this character created a minor brouhaha in the community since the voice actress works for the gaming press. Conflict of interest and all that. She’s a terrible voice actress though.”

    Her: (does a quick search on Chobot) “Oh I see why she got the part. Give all the pathetic teenagers something to tug to.”

    Not much to argue about really.

    Other impressions: The environments look good, but god everyone’s faces look horrible. They went overboard on the bumpmapping. The dialog, so far, is terrible. “It must’ve been terrible to leave Earth like that.” “Yes. It was.” (I swear that’s a real line. I also think Shep looked at the ‘camera’ when he said it.) Honestly, it feels like the equivalent of Ocean’s Twelve. I liked the first movie, but the second felt like they were just writing parts to show who they could get to be in the movie.

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