Mass Effect 3 (the actual game bit)

Mass Effect 3; that’s quite the video game, I hear.

I’m going to leave discussion of That Ending away from this particular bit of writings other than to say it leaves the game with a sour taste in my mouth, after all is said and done.

And it’s a real shame, because I think ME3 gets lots of things right, mechanically. There are real improvements made to the actual game; the inventory system is a happy medium between the clutter of ME1 and the sparsity of ME2, with a fair amount of weapons being available for each type (including things in each category which are substantially different  to what you’d expect; there is a heavy pistol which fires proximity mines instead of bullets, for example), upgrades and modifications for each type of weapon, and unlike ME1 you just need to have found these weapons and upgrades once for them to be available for everyone. Shepherd has also learned to move; rolls, cover-hopping, and melee are all much better. The fact that the spacebar is used for so many things (including using objects) is a little clunky, but overall I’d say the experience is better.

I also think that the narrative is relatively good, for the most part; getting to see important places in the empires of other species is really cool (especially going to the Quarian homeworld, Rannoch), there are pretty cool callbacks to some characters (I really like what Jack became, in spite of not really liking her at all in ME2) and I even liked the new characters. It’s a real shame that the vast majority of decisions you make are rendered pointless or severely altered by That Ending which I’m not mentioning right now.

There’s also the multiplayer, which frankly I’ve really liked. Sure, it’s your bog-standard horde-mode with a few objectives, but I think it’s an awful lot of fun, has a compelling upgrade system, and works pretty well in the Mass Effect framework. The fact that it contributes to your single-player score is sleazy, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the game, over all.

All in all, I really enjoyed it. And I think it speaks as a testament to how good the series as a whole is that I can’t even think about going back to it because of how bad That Ending (which I’m still not mentioning) is.

Mass Effect 3. Here be Spoilers. That’s SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! To those of you who haven’t finished the game.

So I just finished playing the single-player. I got a decent war readiness (around 6,500), I had the multiplayer modifier up to 98% (because I think the multiplayer is good and enjoyed playing it), and now I’m struck with a terrible sense of ennui and disappointment.

Online opinion is in relative agreement about Mass Effect 3’s ending; people don’t like it. There are several reasons, some of which are silly, some of which don’t convince me, and some of which I couldn’t agree more with; but there’s really just one that I want to focus on.

Closure. Resolution. Over on RPS, Richard Cobbett says he thinks that you get closure from ME3 because of the results of choices from the previous games playing out. He’s right; if you’re talking about closure from the previous games. My problem with this is that Shepherd does some really insanely important things which will have repercussions after the threat of the Reapers is destroyed; curing the Genophage, fostering peace between Geth and Quarian, destroying Cerberus as a viable organisation, and fostering more cooperation between almost all of the first-rate and second-rate powers in the galaxy than has ever occurred.  All the possible endings never even touch on these decisions and their wider implications; to say nothing of the characters we’ve grown to love and are invested in the fates of. Mass Effect 3 is supposed to be the last game in a trilogy; even if you’re going to make a spin-off starring Garrus or Tali or whoever else, you can still tell us the broad generalities of what happened to them.

I want a cliche. I want a tired and tested and unoriginal concept; I want the epilogue text. That’s the bare minimum, and it would have made everything better. For all of the silliness of the endings, if they’d have just thrown a bone of “This is what happened to the major surviving characters, this is what happened to the major galactic civilisations” that would have been enough for me to not feel like the whole darned 100+ hours I’ve played these three games for was all leading up to a non-conclusion. Some would argue that the exposition-heavy “this is what happened next” ending is boring, and I say that perhaps that’s correct – it doesn’t matter. If you’ve followed the trilogy (infact, even if you haven’t you’ve still invested ~30 hours into a relatively complex narrative with some extremely important decisions) then you are playing at least in part because you want to know what’s happened. An ending so abrupt and light on exposition is fundamentally unsatisfying.

Now, I did say I was only going to focus on the resolution, but I’m tired, teary, and emotional, so sod it. There’s another big problem; the work you put in doesn’t make enough difference. If I’ve spent 5 hours hunting sensor hot-spots on the galactic map to find every war asset I can find, if I’ve taken every lost artefact to it’s forlorn owner on the Citadel, if I’ve nipped every Cerberus advance in the bud, if I’ve done every bit of side-content, then I want to be rewarded. I want Shepherd to say to the Catalyst “Screw you and your offer; we’ve got the biggest fleet ever assembled, and we can beat you”. I want Shepherd to survive, and I want her to get that house with the white-picket fence, and the two kids, and the retriever, and for her to grow old with Samantha. Call me unsophisticated; I want a happy ending. Sure, have the ultra-bleak endings available to those who breezed through the game making terrible decisions, but for the love of the almighty let us have a substantially different ending. Now of course, one of the endings available is conceptually going to make for a very different ending (the organic-synthetic synthesis option), but that’s really devalued by having no exposition afterwards – you just choose it, and that’s essentially it. If we’re able to change the fate of all life in the galaxy, for god’s sake let us at least hear about some kind of repercussion from making this decision.

Another flaw is the reasoning thrown out by the Catalyst for it’s decision to maintain the cycle of “kill all advanced species every 50,000 years”. The idea that synthetic life inherently rebels against it’s creators and will thusly go on to destroy all organic life can be easily disproved; Shepherd need only have said “I’ve fostered peace between the Quarians and the Geth; and the Geth only fought out of self-defence for the most part” or, even if you didn’t bother with that; “EDI is synthetic life, and she is an integral part of our crew who cares about us and is interested in helping us”. Let us confront the Catalyst with refutations of it’s own argument.

I also really don’t understand the whole “Joker fleeing in the Normandy” bit. Seriously, what? Is that supposed to be the setup for some kind of Mass Effect “Survivor” spin-off? Weird, man.

Against my better judgement, I am hoping against hope that Bioware put out some kind of alternate ending/extension as DLC; preferably free since it’s extremely important to the storyline and not something I’d regard as optional, but since I’m so desperate I’m not even going to pretend that I wouldn’t buy a decently-made and satisfying conclusion even if they charged £20 for it, despite it being utterly outrageous for them to charge for it at all. I’ve seen some of the theories about indoctrination and alternative explanations for the endings, but as far as I can tell they really smack of people being shell-shocked into non-acceptance by the endings, and it’ll take more than some enigmatic tweets from writers to convince me otherwise. I hope they do something, I honestly do – but I’m not holding out much hope.

Thoughts on the actual game to come.

I’m a-waitin’

So Mass Effect 3 comes out in less than a few days time (unless you live in the promised land of the United of States Americanistan; honestly, roll on the day when all the physical retailers go the way of the Dodo and we can have true global releases), and I’ve been plowing through ME2 again as a result. I’ve also been playing the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer demo until yesterday, when it done got shut down to pave way for the real game.

So Mass Effect 2 is great, and I’m finding that using my actual character from the original game is a million times more satisfying than using some perfect paladin from a save game website (which shamefully is what I did last time). Here’s an odd thing; having just completed Jacob’s loyalty mission, I’m finding him to be a far more sympathetic character than I did previously. Not sure why – attrition perhaps – but there we have it.

There’s also quite a bit of fun to be had playing a class (Sentinel) that has a lot of powers, and has been upgraded to use them often. I can throw out a biotic or tech attack every few seconds; pretty satisfying, especially when I have powers which can take down shields, barriers and health with ease. I’m also finding that I’m getting re-absorbed into the story; even though I dislike the conceit of Shepherd having no choice but to work for Cerberus, the actual bones of the struggle against an unknown foe seem fairly well-crafted.

There are still bad parts, though. Scanning. Oh lord, the scanning. Let’s have none of that in 3, please Bioware. If I’m honest, I don’t think that there will be; the whole “Galaxy at War” thing seems like the resource management of the third game, and it sounds both more involved and more satisfying than scanning for sensor-spikes and clicking. Also, I’m quietly hopeful that the inventory system has been improved based on my experiences from the multiplayer. This was the area where Mass Effect 2 really went downhill in my eyes; the fact that there were two or three weapons per category available with a small amount of linear upgrades was a step down from the (admittedly hugely unwieldy) system of the first game. In the multiplayer of ME3, there are at least 4 (sometimes 8 or more) weapons per category (of which there are 5 in total), and several upgrades per category too. I’m hoping the single-player has some better armour customisation too; but I can live with the weapon system being improved.

Speaking of the Multiplayer; I found it really fun. It’s some fairly standard 4-player co-op objective based horde mode stuff – but the fun of it is really in the class progression and the unlocks. It works like a trading card game; you get money from each mission, which you spend on various grades of upgrade pack, and you then get a various assortment of one-use mission items (medi-gel, rocket launchers, ammo resupplies, emergency supplies), one-use upgrades for ammo, weapons, or armour, new weapons, new characters, new character customisation options, new weapon-mods, and new weapon upgrades. It’s really addictive, to the point where I’m secretly glad that the progress in the demo will be wiped so I’ll be able to level-up and unlock all over again (shhh, don’t tell anyone).

But yeah – Mass Effect 3. It’s going to be ace (Jim Rossignol liked it, even if he found the combat dull – and I already liked combat in previous ME games – so it must be good). Come out now, so I can play it. Grrr!

RPDs; Role-Playing Diseases.

Maybe there are many – but I’m gonna talk about one here: Alt-itis. Alt-aholism. A crippling addiction to indecision; an inability to quit new characters; perhaps even some terribly indicative statement about one’s attitude to commitment.

I’ll take the time to stand up in front of the group and say “My name is Fiyenyaa, and I’m an altaholic”. The first step is admittance (or is that coming to terms with death?).

So here’s the problem; in almost any class-based game (and things that fall near to that area), I seem to be unable to stay with a particular class, character type or role. This is especially significant in MMOs, probably because of the insane time you’ll sink into those characters, but it’s certainly true of RPGs and even some games with less fixed class dynamics such as class-based shooters and the like. As much as I’d like to tell you that it’s simply a factor of wanting to try all the permutations of play-styles or getting the best possibly character – that’s not it either. There are games with very good character creators, and I find myself unhappy with the character I’ve made aesthetically; often this can be the impetus for my electronic schizophrenia.

Why then? What’s the deal with it? Is it common? Well perhaps you’d be better off asking a brain-doctor, because I have no flipping clue. Perhaps it taps into some kind of semi-perfectionist part of my personality (whether the character doesn’t look right, or whether it has just the wrong allocation of skillpoints), and that drives me to create another character so I can get it right this time. Maybe it’s a wish to see all the content of a game (if I’ve played as a warrior, surely I want to see how different a rogue or a mage is – maybe it’s more fun, and I’m missing out). It can be a desire to see how characters interact differently with your avatar (something I anticipate with different genders or different racial options, as well as classes), although that’s often a disappointing one I must say.

Having said all this, I’m not sure it’s necessarily a bad thing. I still enjoy these games; I just often end up playing the first few hours several times.

The Old Republic has fallen.

At least, it has for me. I’ve unsubbed and uninstalled.

Here are the problems: I’ve played WoW off and on over the years, and I always found it pretty difficult to commit to a particular character (in terms of finding a class I’d be happy to play long-term), and I always found the combat to be too boring at a mechanical level. I also found that the impact your character made on the world was minimal when compared to games like EVE Online. Unfortunately these criticisms can be made towards SWTOR, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I think that combat in SWTOR is slightly tighter (essentially requiring more varied ability use) but that it’s still mechanically the same. Having played Guild Wars 2 months ago and finding the combat in that to be geuinely entertaining and at least partially skill-based, I just can’t go back to trad-MMO hotkey-combat.

I haven’t been able to commit to a class very well (although this could well be my own personal issue rather than anything else), and I think that being able to change your advanced class would be a good idea since having to plow through the starting levels just to pick a different one is kind of tedious. Although I quite like SWTOR’s slow levelling, it means that trying out another advanced class is a ridiculous chore.

As for impact on the world – it isn’t there. I really love Bioware games (I own almost every single one released since Baldur’s Gate 2), especially their narrative style, and I think the style still works in the framework of SWTOR – the problem is that every player is having these choices made, and it only makes an impact on your character not the world at large. Having played EVE for two years, I have experienced being able to genuinely change the world you are in. In single-player games with choices like Mass Effect, you get to genuinely change the world you are in. In trad-MMOs, you may get a little phasing and some different quest dialogue, but there’s really nothing more than that. It’s just not satisfying.

It’s conceptually and technically very difficult to achieve a ground-breaking game, so suppose I understand the rationale behind going for the traditional-MMO template – it’s just not for me these days.

An inevitable and well-timed 2011 list of games.

So in a timely post, I’m going to go through some of the games I really enjoyed last year in no particular order.

Dungeons of Dredmor.

Something I didn’t expect to enjoy, and something that has started an appreciation for a sub-genre I’d barely touched before. I still haven’t completed the damn thing (I recently got to level 7 of the dungeons, but I’m still enjoying trying. I also really enjoyed the DLC, I still enjoy trying new character skill combinations, and the fact that it’s been insanely cheap at times has just heightened my appreciation for the guys who made it. Good job, fellas.

Master of Orion 2

I bought this classic game from Good Old Games this year; it’s great. It’s not my favourite 4x game, but what it does do it does well, and it’s obvious how influential the game has been. There’s still not been a worthy sequel.

Sword of the Stars

Speaking of 4x games (and we were); I love the original Sword of the Stars and it’s expansions. The sequel has been a real shame (although they are still improving/fixing/developing it), but let’s not talk about that! Let’s talk about the good one! It’s certainly not in the same vein as Masters of Orion; but it plows it’s own furrow  remarkably well. Turn-based civilisation-level business with real-time combat is something I very much appreciate due to the Total War games, and this is very much that kind of game. The racial diversity (i.e. races actually have real, tangible differences in the way they play) is great too. I really hope I’ll be describing the sequel in similarly glowing terms in a year or three.

Europa Universalis III

A game I’ve enjoyed for years, and still do. Helps to have a consistent stream of expansions (will there be *another*, or will we be treated to EU4 before too long?) of course, but the essence of the game brings me back; high-level strategy and high amounts of freedom. Any game where you can turn the Ottoman Empire into a colonial power, Form a united Indian nation in 1600, and turn Portugal into Europe’s mightiest land-power is alright with me.

Minecraft

Dunno if anyone out there has heard of this obscure indie game, but I hear that it’s slightly more popular than the average blocky-building-crafting-surviving simulator. The game has been a phenomenon this last year, and I think an awful lot of people haven’t really liked some of the more recent changes. I think that the survival focus is good, if not brilliantly implemented personally. Still, it’s been a time-sink dozens of hours big, and I still come back to it (almost exclusively in multiplayer now). Good one, Notch.

Dwarf Fortress

An old classic here – I remember playing the old 2d Dwarf Fortress (and by 2d I don’t mean graphics, I mean it didn’t have a z-axis) aaaaaages ago, and I never really got it. I came back to it, bounced off, came back to it again, and eventually I learned how to play this damned monolith. It’s so ambitious. It’s so large. It’s so insane. It’s so good. The guy who makes it must be some kind of bizarre genius, and I thank him for being so. I still don’t know how to play it fully (stuff like animal storage and training eludes me, largely), but the game is too compulsive.

I’m sure I’ve missed out some games I’ve really enjoyed – blame an addled, confused mind for that – but that was a taster of Good Games. Play some of them – Dwarf Fortress is free for crying out loud.