Monday, 2 April 2012

Mass Effect 3 - (Don't Fear) the Reapers

I was never a big fan of the Mass Effect series. I played the first one not long after it came out and I didn't really like it. In my defence I was around 10, and I was simply awful at shooters... I'm still not great at them, but that is by the by. However, a week or two before Mass Effect 3 came out, my brother persuaded me to give Mass Effect 2 a go, and I completed it last week. I came out of the game thinking it was one of the best I had ever played, and I moved straight on to Mass Effect 3. While not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, I have found elements of it disappointing following the expectations established by the second game. 

Following the more intimate flavour of Mass Effect 2, this game bounces straight back into epic sci-fi territory as Commander Shepard unites the galaxy against the Reaper invasion. Characters and decisions from the previous games come into play as conflicts erupt between the species of the galaxy. Naturally, it all falls down to Shepard to resolve these problems, as everyone else is ultimately useless.

The game does a great job with concluding the plot lines which have emerged across the series, such as the genophage, the conflict between the Quarians and Geth and numerous character arcs built... assuming they have survived so far. It does an even better job of not making the solutions - or lack thereof - to these side plots feel forced or rushed. Everything comes to a natural conclusion, which leads me to think that the entire series was very well prepared.

The ending(s) are bad. 

The combat, compared to Mass Effect 2, feels a lot faster and more exciting, despite there not being many changes the the core game play. I've played through both games as an Infiltrator, and the normal tactics of "Sniper, Cloak, Incinerate" still works. However, there are lots of little refinements to the combat system that makes the whole affair a lot more interesting. For example, the Tactical Cloak has been given a faster recharge time the sooner it's deactivated, and a frozen foe may explode if it's incinerated, dealing massive damage and freezing other foes. Many of the less useful skills from the second game, such as the Ammo skills and AI Hacking have been buffed to make them more useful, and it certainly makes the player feel more empowered on the fields of combat. Shepard is also more agile, gaining the ability to roll around and move seamlessly between cover spots, making battles feel more fluid.

Mass Effect 2 had a crapload of squad members; fitting considering the game was, you know, all about building an effective team. While some members were objectively less useful than others, they all had their own limitations and uses, meaning you had to change up your team and experiment for the best results. This game brings the team back down to 6 (or 7 if you have the 'From Ashes' DLC), and gives the characters a new ability or two. While this makes the team more versatile and more useful, it eliminates the need to change things up. As an Infiltrator, I could stick with Garrus and Liara for pretty much the entire game because literally nothing could stop us (Doesn't help that the range of enemies appears to have been reduced. The only real recurring threats are Cerberus and the Reapers). I forced myself to explore the other characters, but found that no other combination had a distinct advantage. I'm using Adept for my next playthrough, so things might be different, but I can see myself just using James and Garrus for the most part. In a game where a lot of emphasis is placed on decisions and their consequences, the fact that you can just stick with one team is something which doesn't sit well with me.

A new mechanic introduced are "War Assets" which are... Assets for the upcoming war with the reapers. They come in the form of old teammates, weapons and entire species, contributing to a "War Readiness" rating. This is where the previous two games come in. "Over 1000" different variables are taken into account when it comes to the options you have available, which in turn determines your readiness for the war. While it's nice to see that your actions have consequences, it can be a little jarring to see seemingly inconsequential decisions you made up to 5 years ago have such a vast impact on your options. As I hadn't played the first game, it was sometimes decisions that I never made in the first place which influenced what I could or could not do, which was really jarring. The most notable of these for me was the destruction of the Rachni Queen in the first game... Which I somehow did. This lost me around 75 war readiness points, which is quite a lot. Other decisions are reliant on your choices in the other games to a degree which is simply absurd. The biggest offender here is one decision involving the Geth and the Quarians which will never end well unless you've perfectly fulfilled lots of insane conditions based largely on seemingly insignificant choices from the second game. Not even hackers fully understand the mystifying criteria for getting the third option yet. This wouldn't be so annoying if there was so much at stake, make the 'wrong' choice and you'll lose out on a crapload of War Assets (500+) and maybe even a party member.

Another low point of the game are many of the side missions. While there are still plenty of opportunities to explore the galaxy and beat the shit out of everything, a disturbingly high proportion of the missions in this game follow the following pattern:
   1 - Find someone in Citadel who wants something
   2 - Wander around for a while finding something
   3 - Return with something

Some other missions take this a step further, bouncing you like a messenger boy between different people and places to tell them one line of dialogue. These kinds of missions typically add very little to the story, offer little reward and are incredibly tedious - particularly when it turns out that the game has bugged out, and the terminal your supposed to grab information from will never work or a conversation won't activate. Yeah, that can happen. 


I have no complaints about the graphics. The environments are stunning, and the character models look better than ever. However, typical of a Bioware game, there are moments of glitching out. Every now and then, a characters eyes may disappear and shadows might not work the way they probably should. Most bizarrely, your character will switch weapons for certain cutscenes, sometimes to weapon types you might not even be carrying.

The music is no disappointment. Personally I don't find it as memorable - or as prominent - as the second game's soundtrack, but every track captures the moment perfectly, and supports the action rather than drives it. Sounds like something from Doctor Who, which is by no means a bad thing!

Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game. I had fun with it from beginning to end, and I probably will again the next time I play through it. However, there are little nagging problems I kept noticing, such as a lack of enemy variety and the repetitive missions. With that said, I'd recommend it, just make sure you have a good imagination so you can effectively rewrite the ending. Mass Effect reminds me of the Uncharted series, really. The first game is good, but not really up to the standard of the other two. The third one is great, and improves on the mechanics of the second, but is ultimately let down by certain aspects of the gameplay.


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