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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.

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.

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.

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.