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Mass Effect Post-Mortem

Obviously, this article will contain many spoilers regarding Mass Effect 3 including details regarding its fantastic, divisive ending. So if you do not want to know that the Illusive Man is Shepard’s father, that Shepard was dead and a ghost the whole time, or that FemShep was actually a fully-featured man then I suggest you turn back now. If you’re not sick of hearing about Mass Effect 3 and the ending, which includes the shocking revelation that it’s only a video game, proceed.

I actually wasn’t a big Mass Effect fan until the second game. I played through the first one late in 2009, and I thought it was OK, suffering from some terribly clumsy design elements and of course those god awful Mako sequences. I rushed through to the end and that final, idiotic battle with Saren. I don’t regret avoiding most of the sidequests. I thought the game was OK, but the entire time I felt like I ought to be playing Knights of the Old Republic again.

But Mass Effect 2 hooked me. I loved the story, effectively a “let’s get the band together” yarn filled with specialist characters each with their own unique stories to tell. I loved that the game was episodic, with each mission wrapping up with a debriefing from the Illusive Man. This structure enabled the game to encompass many genres within a science fiction context. There were hard SF, courtroom drama, horror, detective, and political thriller stories. And the sense of fatalistic doom hanging over the inevitable suicide mission at the Omega Relay was delicious. Planet scanning, not so much.

So Mass Effect 3 has come and gone, and sure enough it’s another BioWare game and all that entails. For better or worse. It was a good game. In parts, like the sequence on Rannoch and the events in London, it was great. The scope was huge, and I liked that it was very much a game full of endings. You meet old friends, catch up, and either they die or they go on to better lives depending on the choices you make. There’s tragedy, pathos, hope, and ambiguity abound.

I thought the ending- at least as far as the story material goes- was great. No apology. I’m happy that BioWare went with a more thoughtful honest ending to Shepard’s story rather than the fireworks and medal ceremony. I wiped out the synthetics, which was a tough choice given that I had championed the Geth and spent the entirety of the third game teaching EDI how to be more human. But in the end, I felt responsible for the annihilation of the Quarians and Tali’s death so it seemed to be on balance. I rejected the idea of controlling the Reapers because I viewed Shepard as almost Captain Ahab-like obsessive, constantly pursuing the white whale Reapers.

But still, the entire time I took that long, slow walk to make the ultimate decision of the Mass Effect games, I reflected on everything that had happened up to that point. I thought about Liara, Garrus, the Rachni Queen, and the themes of the game. I thought about how cycles are a very big part of the story- cycles of racism, political discord, evolution, order (paragon) and chaos (renegade). I loved that the writers gave me the time to think before wiping out the Reapers- and presumably killing Shepard in the process.

In retrospect, I liked that the Reapers were a very Lovecraftian antagonist. They were the Great Old Ones, and the Illusive Man was very much like one of the misguided cultists in the Mythos that believes he can control or somehow contain cosmic forces beyond human comprehension. I liked that much of what they did or do is off stage, and there’s a mystery about them. I liked that the only way to beat them was to make an impossibly grim, no-win decision in the face of absolutely catastrophic devastation.

I don’t think the ending was sloppy at all, at least in terms of writing. I didn’t need the Return of the King epilogue, and I didn’t need an extra 20 minutes detailing what everybody did afterwards. Do you really need to be told? The story that matters- Shepard’s- ends with the decision you make. Nothing else matters from a storytelling perspective. What’s up with the jungle planet at the end? Who knows. It’s up for debate. I do have to say that I assumed my squadmates, who were almost always Liara and Garrus through the entire game, died in the run-up to the Citadel. But there they were with Joker at the end. The ending reminded me, rather strangely, of a post-apocalyptic picture called The Quiet Earth, and I think the ending as a whole was very reminiscent of some of the more challenging, thoughtful endings in the science fiction literature and in science fiction films.

What I did think was sloppy was how the concept of marshalling the galaxy’s races, technology, and materiel was largely irrelevant at the end, other than unlocking some other potential options leading up to the proscripted end. I don’t think BioWare really had a handle on how to incorporate that into the endgame at a mechanical level. Which is a shame, because I can imagine a component where you’re assigning resources and moving units around throughout the game to fight the Reapers. Almost a strategy game-within-a-game. But I’m sure budget and time prohibited anything so extensive.

Instead, we got BioWare’s trademark “kill a million bad guys” ending. This has been in the last several titles they’ve released. You and your party have to slog through wave after wave of enemies in a run-up to a final confrontation. It’s tedious. Please don’t do this anymore.

In reflection, I think the series as a whole represents some very good world-building and some frequently great video games writing. I love the look of the game, its hard-edged futurism. I love the music. And there is sometimes some good gameplay, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been completely enthralled by the action, regardless of all the cool guns and Biotic powers. It also seems like every single one of the games has some critical misstep or component that either doesn’t work or I just don’t like. Sidequests and filler content abound, and the insistence on silly romantic subplots and bizarro sex scenes come very close to making the series a joke.

I’ve heard Mass Effect called “this generation’s Star Wars” and I think that’s a little hyperbolic- at least until I recall this generation’s actual Star Wars films, which are bottom-of-the-barrel, cynical trash made by a creator that completely lost touch with his muse. Maybe they are after all. It’s good pop sci-fi no doubt. Definitely not something to get worked up in a tizzy over if you don’t like the way it turned out.

As for your choices- no, they didn’t matter. They never did. It was BioWare’s story all along. You were playing a video game, not writing it. Hats off to BioWare’s writing staff for retaining ownership. I just hope that their employer protects their integrity and artistic judgement by not fouling up the ending to suit the needs of entitled fans.

Now, with that said, I’m putting this series to rest and I never want to hear about it again. Good night, Shep. Garrus, hit the lights on the way out, would you?

All Good Things… Ending Mass Effect

NOTE: There are some inferred “spoilers” throughout this post, but they are largely non-specific. The comments section is likely to be loaded with heavy spoilers. If you have to know nothing about how this series concludes, skip this post. If you just don’t want to know specific outcomes and events, you should be fine, but avoid the comments section. Any obviously spoilery text in the main post has to be highlighted to be read.

The one thing that’s stuck out to me most about the ending of Mass Effect 3 isn’t even about the game itself, but how it’s brought out the absolute ugliest in a whole lot of people – both those who hated it and those who didn’t. This feeling’s been compounded in the last 24 hours since Bioware revealed they might be changing the game’s resolution in some form or fashion. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve closed Twitter so as to not have to read a flood of the same bile-tastic comments over and over again. March 21st, and the media pundit Twitter snark-fest that ensued, enters the record as one of those days.

I finished Mass Effect last Friday. The first three words that came to mind: That was fucked. At the time I wasn’t even sure if it was in a good or bad way. These things aren’t entirely clear sometimes and certainly what I saw in those final minutes was so unexpected as to require some reflection before dreaming up anything resembling a well-formed opinion. I’ll go back ’round to that, in a minute. First, a few words about the tempest in a teacup surrounding how Bioware chose to wrap this up…

Do I think it’s kind of silly that people need to be motivated by a video game’s lackluster conclusion in order to find charity money in their pockets? Yeah, I do. I’m all for Child’s Play racking up tens of thousands of dollars, but if you want to give, then give. Don’t make it about Mass Effect’s ending. Or do, I guess. What do I care? Filing FTC complaints and whatnot is so ridiculous it requires no further comment. Bad endings have been a part of story telling since the dawn of time. Go ahead and feel let down. Get mad even. Then, move on to the next thing – you were going to anyway.

At the same time, the level of derision I see aimed at this crowd, forcefully pumped into my consciousness from places like Twitter, may irritate me even more. Mostly I’m talking about people who consider themselves professional critics. The comments I’ve seen from a few individuals have gone beyond expression of contrary opinions and instead cross the line into outright contempt and hostility mixed with a healthy dose of holier than thou cynicism. One thing I’ve noticed about this business is there are critics in it who have no reservation whatsoever about using a legion of angry gamers as a cudgel to savage a developer when agendas align, but a heartbeat later will act like they’re above such mob mentality when said mob trucks on by them without their “leadership” to guide it. Such is the nature of people, I suppose.

I’m not sure if it’s shame or futility I feel at adding my own contribution to the barrels chock full of useless diatribes about Mass Effect 3 and The Epic Ending Debacle of 2012. It’s probably both, but I’ve never shied from a quixotic jousting of a windmill or two, so why start now? Let’s talk about how this trilogy in the Mass Effect canon reached its conclusion…

The short version is this: The ending is bad. Bioware swung hard for the fences with having the “big” idea and they whiffed in equal proportion. This does not mean I’m about to lobby the FTC. Like I said above, bad endings are a part of storytelling. Bioware didn’t set out to implement an ending that wholly misunderstands what made the effort of getting their worthwhile in the first place. I actually rather admire how it runs full speed into a brick wall of stunning illogic. Wile E. Coyote would be proud. Whatever the result, it’s obvious they tried. They even hit on some interesting ideas in terms of the Reapers and what they represent. They managed to make The Crucible MacGuffin palatable, which I would not have expected after the first few hours of play. And along the way they gave several memorable characters some worthwhile send-offs.

So, why doesn’t this ending work? Is it because it supplants individuals for a view of the big picture so expanded that it tells you almost nothing about what’s happened to anybody or any group you might actually care about? Is it because the options at your disposal aren’t satisfying? Is it because there’s really no option or outcome you can point to and say it feels like a universal declaration of victory?

Form your own answer about that. I think it doesn’t work because it has nothing at all to do with everything you’ve been doing for three games, least of all Mass Effect 3. The bulk of Mass 3 is a game that is about accumulation of assets. Sometimes those assets are in the form of a ship or artifact. Sometimes in the form of an army. Sometimes it’s a squad or individual. They’re all weighted for an overall effect. The problem is that the number, relative to the end game options it unlocks (or locks away), is entirely arbitrary. If it’s under threshold X then you have these two choices. If it’s over said threshold you have these three, but then this thing happens. If it reaches the next threshold you’re back down to two options, but then this other thing also happens. It’s not, in any way, a coherent cause and effect. That is bad writing, bad planning, bad everything.

To illustrate this point I have to enter some spoiler territory. Highlight the text to see it…

The options at your disposal -control the Reapers, destroy the Reapers, synthesis of man and machine- don’t have anything to do with your War Assets in a logical way. The War Assets are just a number to slot you into which combination of these items are at your disposal. If you failed to assemble many galactic fleets it’s not going to affect whether or not the Crucible reaches Earth. Failing to round up an adequate ground force doesn’t mean Shepard won’t make it to the Reaper transport beam back to the Citadel or that he’ll be in a different kind of shape when he gets there. No matter what you do throughout the game you will get the same rush through the climax that everyone else got. For a game that is all about coalition-building, for the strength of the coalition not to actually affect the final battle sequence at all is dodgy at best. By the time Shepard is busy making his choice on behalf of galactic civilization, how big your fleet is or how strong your ground forces are should make no difference whatsoever. Look at this way: If you don’t broker peace between the Quarians and Geth, maybe you fall short of the war assets needed to choose synthesis. But then what does brokering peace between Quarians and Geth have to do with synthesis? Oh, right. Nothing.

Compare this to the ending for Mass Effect 2, which, boss fight aside, I regard as one of the better final few hours of any game I’ve ever played. Everything about how that game closes out, from the moment you enter the Omega Relay, is about the decisions you made throughout the game. If you don’t outfit the Normandy properly, you take more damage and risk more of your crew. If you haven’t ensured everyone’s loyalty they are unlikely to survive any mission to which you assign them. Even the ones that are loyal to you are at risk if you make poor decisions about how to utilize them. Mass Effect 2’s final act is a culmination of everything you do in that game.

The problem with Mass Effect 3’s ending isn’t whether I like the tone of it or whether I think it’s too happy or too miserable or too vague or too devoid of digital tits. The problem with it is that the first 99% of what you do in the game is in no meaningful or logical way connected to the final minutes. As disappointing as that is, it’s also freeing in a way. When I sit down to replay the game with my Renegade Shepard, which I am sure to do, I am not going to obsess over War Assets and Galactic Readiness and how all that will determine my ending. The ending, no matter what I do, is awful, but the experience of getting there is still meaningful. I still…

…changed the course of Jack’s future. I still broke Ashley’s heart. I still helped Tali return home and find peace. No, I don’t know what becomes of her when the end comes. I don’t know if Garrus goes on to be a leader to his people or if he’s stranded on Earth. I don’t know if Miranda grieved for my death. Or am I even dead? Perhaps I’m like Kirk describes Dekker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture – missing…

…These are all things I’d like to know in some way, even if it were a bunch of text epilogues like in Origins. (I know many people hated those. I was fine with them.) But even though I think the game’s ending fails on so many levels it’s hard to know which one to focus on for the purposes of criticism, what it does not do is invalidate the journey and I think that’s where a lot of fanbase ire misses the forest for the trees.

Theirs is an understandable reaction, however. They feel let down. Betrayed. And they want to go somewhere with all that anger. Some of them are doing it in more productive ways (Child’s Play drives) than others (forum ranting and FTC threats). But that’s always the result when you have an enormous group of people reacting to something they’re passionate about. I’m less understanding of people who seem unable to let them have, and come to terms with, their anger. It will ebb and they’ll move on. Leave them to their grief about the game’s culmination, melodramatic or inappropriate as it may come out in places, and simply stick to owning your own ideas. The mud slinging is embarrassing to everyone involved and, with yesterday’s announcment, officially has come to overshadow what’s most important about Mass Effect 3:

It’s a damn good game, no matter how it ends.

Revisiting the Vanguard

Ah youth. It truly is wasted on the young. Who among us hasn’t said stupid, pigheaded things in their youth, only to regret it later when they’re older and wiser? Lord knows I have.

A month ago I made the following comments, comments that haunt my waking hours as they show the depths of ignorance that lurk within a man’s soul:

On a similar note, I was disappointed to see that my beloved Vanguard class is not going to be a viable option for me in Mass Effect 3. The specialized biotic power, the ability to catapult yourself, Cannonball style towards your enemy and stun them, was more of a liability than anything else in ME2 and the trend continues here.

If only a time machine existed so that I could visit that petulant, ignorant child and give him what for!

One of the best things about this site, other than my blinding wit, is the ability to have reasoned discussions in which people tell you in no uncertain terms what an uneducated lunkhead you are. Such was the discussion that took place after I stumbled through the Weeds of Stupidity, right into the Fields of Dumbitudiness and made the comments mentioned above. I appreciate that people felt comfortable enough to tell me that I was playing the Vanguard entirely wrong, because I was.

Now, I’m not a proud man, so when someone tells me that I’m doing something incorrectly, I’ll take into consideration. Nine times out of ten, I am doing it wrong and as much as it might pain me to admit it, corrections are necessary. After reading how I was playing the Vanguard incorrectly, I decided to stick with it in Mass Effect 3 and use the strategies given to me by the readers here. Man, what a difference that made.

I haven’t had this much fun in battle in any Mass Effect game since, oh, I don’t know, ever. Before, I was content to stick behind cover, pop off powers and whittle down my enemies’ shields and barriers before maybe charging in for the killing blow. Granted, at that point, it felt like overkill as the enemies were all dead save for one poor straggler who was down to maybe 10% of their health. Hard to feel like a mighty warrior when your squad does all of the work and you knock some poor, 3/4 dead soul into a wall.

This time though, I’m popping around the battlefield like an angry, murderous pinball. It doesn’t always work. Many the time have I charged into a combat engineer only to get lit up by the turret he just placed down but when that happens, I take whatever kills I got, stow them away towards the various achievements and try again. More often than not, I do get it right. A squad of unshielded Cerberus soldiers is a sight to behold, milling about, unaware that death stalks them on biotic wings. A charged attack, followed up buy a Nova slam usually does the trick. Anyone left standing gets a fist full of biotic fury. Shielded enemies, get the same only with a peppering of inferno shotgun ammo to help them along towards oblivion.

In fact, I like using my powers so much that I use them a bit too much. The aforementioned turrets pose a problem as I usually can’t blast them apart and they are more than happy to light me up while I take care of stragglers. Worse is that the engineers that put them down are cowards, unwilling to come out and face me, choosing instead to hide behind cover and let their smoke grenades and filthy turrets do all of their dirty work.

Part of what makes this combination of powers appeal to me is the reason I chose them in the first place, namely that they make perfect sense for the character I’m playing. Shepard is a Renegade in most cases, choosing only Paragon options when dealing with her crew’s personal matters. She is headstrong, confident and in your face. The Vanguard class fits this personality perfectly as Vanguards excel at getting in the faces of their enemies, always one step ahead of death, striking, picking new targets and striking again. The tradeoff is that it is very easy to get killed but it’s also very easy to stumble and piss off the wrong person as a Renegade, so again, it works.

The class also appeals to me because I am not, in any way, a take charge kind of guy. I understand completely that many of the great things that have happened to me over the years did so with very little effort on my part. My wife sought me out, I have fallen into excellent job opportunities and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the position to take advantage of various opportunities when they’ve arrived. That’s not to say that I don’t work hard, because I do, but anyone who knows me would never classify me as a go-getter. Obviously, I’m not on a quest to save the galaxy, and I’m not the type of person who does whatever it takes, friendships and alliances be damned, so playing as a female Renegade Vanguard allows me to be play as completely different a character as possible. In fact, the only thing Shepard and I have in common is that we both like women. I guess some stuff is too entrenched to get rid of easily.

So thank you, No High Scores readers, for feeling comfortable enough to tell me that I’m a gigantic idiot and for opening my thinking to the correct way to play a Vanguard. I can’t say that I’ll try an Insane run with this power set, but for now, it suits me just fine. The next time I charge a Krogan, I’ll be thinking of you, even if those thoughts are the last ones that go through my head.

Mass Effect 3: Things That Work

I’m still dutifully trucking my way through the galaxy in Mass Effect 3. After a weekend in which I dumped very nearly every spare moment I had into the game (and I had a lot for a change), I’ve poured in nearly 30 hours. At this point I’d guess that I have about a third of the game to go. My Effective Military Strength (with no bonuses coming from multiplayer) is to the end of the progress bar (at 3072), but there’s still at least one big chunk of content to go. I don’t want to get into drawing conclusions about the game before I finish, but certainly I’ve played enough at this point to know what I particularly like about it and what I don’t. Since I’ve been bagging on the multiplayer-singleplayer interconnectedness so hard, let’s go ahead and theme today’s post around what I think works…

1. In past ME games your crew was fairly static when aboard the Normandy. Everybody had a location and there, for the most part, they would stay. Although that did make it easier to run the gamut of tracking them all down to see if they had anything new to say, it didn’t make the Normandy feel particularly lively. In this game the NPCs traveling with you across the cosmos are rather active. Between missions, if you should stroll down to Liara’s quarters there’s no telling if you’ll find her quietly working away, engaged in an intercom dialog with another NPC, or not there at all, in which case you’re likely to find her engaged in some other activity around the ship. It’s the same for everyone, from the characters you take with you on missions to the engineering staff and ship’s doctor. It makes the Normandy feel alive in a way that it never really has before. (Although not perfect about it, the game also seems to do a better job of letting you know when someone wants to speak with you.)

2. The old gang. I can’t say I’ve run across many new characters that I’ve felt added very much to the game, but the legacy cast is aces. I’ll touch on the writing later on in the list, but I think given the challenge of dealing with the variability of who, in an imported game, is alive and who is not, Bioware did an excellent job of giving you at least some time with every past member of the cast and paying worthy tribute to those that didn’t make it to the final act. I’ll use a non-spoilery example from my game. In my game the Krogan, Grunt, died in the Mass Effect 2 endgame. I played through the section of this game where he would’ve appeared and had absolutely no idea he was missing. (In retrospect I should’ve seen it.) The worry has always been, how big will the hole in the game feel for missing characters? The answer, in this case at least, is not at all.

3. Some of the new combat mechanics really do make the shooter part of the game more interesting. Cerberus gas bombs can be a real bitch to deal with as they eliminate your ability to lock onto an adversary (which means no biotic attacks on them). It’s a terrific new dynamic for the series. I also like how, now that you can equip your character with any weapon regardless of class, you have to be wary of total weight. More encumbered characters can’t use their powers as often. Characters who pack less get a bonus to power recharge. It’s a very effective mechanic. Finally, the combat environments are hugely improved in this game, as is the AI’s ability to catch you unawares. There are maps where you have to think about high and low ground, which is awesome if you’re like me and use the Infiltrator class. Almost all maps are laid out such that you can work to outflank your rivals. More importantly, if you’re not careful they’ll work to outflank you. The number of times I thought I was safely in cover only to get tagged with extreme malice by Cerberus troops that had successfully out-maneuvered me has been quite something.

4. The Reapers are vulnerable. For two games we have heard all about how the Reapers are this unstoppable menace. They are more bogeymen than reality. The Reapers come and all life is extinguished. There’s something very right about how not true that is in this game, something that is highlighted rather notably in the From Ashes DLC. I like this because the Reaper menace should exceed their malice. At first I found this rather off-putting because I was so focused on the bogeymen. The Reapers are supposed to be insta-kill aren’t they? They’re here. We die. Done. Yet I’m off flying around the galaxy and the battle on Earth continues to be waged as it does throughout the galaxy. Shouldn’t Earth have been conquered in like a day and a half? No. That’s not the “reality.” Don’t get me wrong, we see them waging savage destruction at multiple corners, but they’re not perfect killing and harvesting machines. They can be held or even pushed back. This is important not just to the internal consistency of the game’s story, but it actually helps humanize the inhuman in an important way. It’s like that moment in The Predator when Ahnold says, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Say what you will about that movie, but that’s a critical moment for the good guys. The story arc in Mass 3 is trucking steadily along a consistent line of, “The Reapers are here, we are sooo dead!” to, “We can do this thing.” I dig that.

5. “Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” You’re not going to know what that means if you haven’t played the game yet or haven’t played very far and I won’t spoil it by providing context. I will just say that there are moments in this game and lines of dialog that completely erase whatever misgivings I might have about how generic other parts can be. I’ll stop short of saying any moment has brought me to the verge of tears, but there have been plenty where I just sat back and thought, “Wow,” or generally felt like I’d taken a punch to the gut. There are moments in the game that work so well and are so memorable that, no matter how much I want to punch in the face the person who put Chobot in the game, I can’t help but be happy with my experience playing it. It’s not a spoiler to say that the conclusions to some of the character arcs I’ve seen… I just cannot imagine how they’d do it better. Well done, men and women of Bioware!

Soon: Stuff I don’t like so much.

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.