10 December 2014

'Mass Effect 3': Part I

Time to finally wrap up the Mass Effect trilogy before Mass Effect 4 comes out ten years from now!

Joking aside, if you gathered from my final verdicts of ME1 and ME2, this is my favorite game in the trilogy. Mass Effect 3 has most of the features I liked about the previous titles and improved on them. The story is an intense roller coaster ride after the forty to fifty hours I poured into the first two games. Heck, even the overall difficulty was amped up a bit to keep me on edge. Not many sequels I've played tend to like to do that.

YES, I'm looking at you, that one game I kept bashing for over a year.

Anywho, back to Mass Effect 3, my favorite game in the trilogy. And the review begins -

Hold your horses, people. I ain't going there yet. Let me say what I like LONG before touching that can of worms.

Possible spoilers ahoy.

I refuse to tackle that monster of a controversy at this point. Sure, I have been 100% aware of the ending of Mass Effect 3 since the whole mess started, but it's still too soon to touch that with a galaxy-long pole. I have a whole entire game to plow through first! How can I possibly address the problems when I have given no context on what I feel about the rest of the trilogy? For crying out loud! Let me have fun before I get attacked by overzealous Mass Effect fanboys who demand Shepard having blue babies with Liara. I need and deserve that much.

Anywho. Allow me to rub in my usual bias.

My Experience... Again

Just in case someone just hopped onto this post before finding my ME1 and ME2 reviews... you are either new or lazy or a jerk. Go back and read them. But if you insist on reading without my history with the games, let me overview my play style again.

Along with supposedly only 20% of Mass Effect gamers playing as FemShep frequently, I call this vengeance for everyone who uses impossible-to-customize MaleShep and/or Sheploo.

My "canonical" Shepard - as some fans like to say about their preferred runs - is a Paragon female with a bit of a Renegade streak. She'll threaten to blow your head off if you run her patience dry. Considering this is Mass Effect 3: Panic Over the Inevitable Armageddon, my FemShep gains more red points here than in the previous games. Not everyone deserves a bullet between the eyes, but people are far more uncooperative than in past titles. It's justifiable given the state of the galaxy, but in some cases, you just have to sock an unproductive, inconsiderate, hindering asshole in the face.

For combat, I prefer biotics, but this time around I've played as an Adept, Engineer, and Vanguard plenty of times. The Sentinel class was actually the hardest playthrough of the game for me, and the Soldier was as boring as I always thought it was going to be. And I bring mai Mass Effect husbando favorite character Garrus far too often to take away his Infiltrator privileges.

I downloaded all single-player DLC except for the "Genesis" comic that covers ME1 and ME2 if you're too lazy to go over 60 hours of gameplay before this. There is a multiplayer mode of ME3, which is supposedly really fun, but I haven't touched it. Being female and having a preference of playing games alone, I would not be welcomed online at all. I know that not everyone in the multiplayer community is angry, hateful, and trollish, despite the awful bad impressions it emanates frequently. However, my lack of interest in competition with others in general informs me that being in that environment would be far more frustrating. Besides, give me credit for trying out Twitter to not be a hermit. I'm not losing sleep over avoiding online multiplayer features.

Other non-important details include buying all the model ships for my cabin, buying and keeping the space hamster from ME2, having fish, romancing Garrus, keeping as many squadmates alive as possible, and destroying the Collector base. And punching the reporter for the third time. And playing all the single-player DLC I possibly can. Fun times.


If you liked how Mass Effect 2 played, then nothing has dramatically changed. Combat is more fluid and it's much easier to dodge bullets, melee attacks, and blue biotic energy balls of death. Hiding behind cover and dodging feels more natural and the action remains well-paced even when you pause real quick to reassign powers. The shooting mechanics are more fun to play with than ever. Though I do question why so many stockpiles of ammo and grenades are lying around on the floor, sitting on benches, or snuggling together in boxes because the Reapers lasered the closest motel. It's hard to run out of ammo on easy and normal difficulties, is what I'm getting at. I can't speak for hardcore or insanity modes, however, because I have standards for preserving my own health in the real world.

"WAAAAAAH! It's like the Dark Souls of Bioware RPGs!!"

Speaking of which, the overall difficulty has increased. Your health still regenerates, but only a fraction of your health meter is refilled rather than the entire thing. To get back at 100% health, use medi-gel, which you can stockpile easily. Only shields and biotic barriers can ever fully recover.

I also noticed a minor but thankful change in the autosave feature. In these games you always had the option of turning autosave on or off, but this is the first time you can manually save without opening the menu screen. On the PS3 at least, just press the "select" button. It's a small observation, but it helps to have a quicker way to save your progress on the fly. Heck, I didn't notice it until I pressed "select" by accident. Previously the button was used for holstering your weapons, a feature missing from this installment. Considering the fact that you'll only be using guns on missions with no hub worlds, it makes sense. In cases when the game wants you to just interact with people in a safe zone, the guns will go away. Since this is handled consistently, I have no complaints about the inability to holster a weapon in the middle of a fight on a geth dreadnought.

As for the enemies, a vast majority now have two layers of defense by default, ranging from shields, barriers, and armor. With every other change for the better, some new feature is slapped on to make combat more interesting and complicated.  You now have an ability to dodge sideways! ... So do most enemies from Cerberus Centurions to various Reaper-fied Marauders. Depending on your class, Shepard could have over 1,000 health points! ... So do the numerous Brutes you'll meet in the first five hours. There are generators that will give you an third layer of protection if you're in it's field! ... Same thing will happen with the sea of Banshees that'll surround and instantly stab you to the Game Over screen. An Engineer Shepard has two drones and a turret for crowd control! ... Say hello to the Cerberus Engineer with a bigger, tougher, faster turret and cousin of ED-209. The list of infuriating enemies and obstacles go on and on for the entirety of a thirty-to-sixty-hour game.

"Normal is the new Veteran mode" indeed. Thanks, Bioware, for the challenge, but you might have gone a tad overboard.


AW, HELL TO THE #$@% NO!!!

*takes a sedative*

*drinks tea to calm down*

*Rannoch PTSD subsides*

Anywho, did you love the first game and whined about the lack of customization in Mass Effect 2? Apparently even though there are a ton of more weapons, modifications, and armor to purchase, fans still bitched.

Easier Management with Less Convenience

I didn't bring up the differences between the classes this time since the only notable variations exist in special abilities and powers. You have the freedom to bring any kind of weapon with you on missions, regardless of class. This does make the exclusively gun-oriented Soldier class suffer, as they have nothing to fall back on if ammo runs out or if their current guns are severely underpowered.  Furthermore, heavy weapons are extremely rare here compared to it being the as common as the pistol in ME2. (On the other hand, the Vanguard class somehow became the sacred path to godhood. I highly recommend every ME3 player to play that class at least once and become literally unstoppable.)

Now back to slightly less deified fun stuff. There are at least three to seven different models of sniper rifles, assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, and shotguns to pick from throughout the entire game (not including downloadable or preordered content, which add TONS more). You can upgrade the 35+ weapons you come across up to level 5 in the first play through and 10 in New Game+. There are so many pieces of armor from gauntlets, helmets, and leg wear to purchase in-game or find in missions. The color combinations and accessories available are so numerous that The Sims would be impressed. Now being able to go up to level 60, your squad mates have five abilities with six slots to fill in. Shepard has eight. By slots four to six, you can further specialize the effectiveness of their powers and health.

And the fans are whining about the lack of customization? What could possibly be missing? The ability to adjust your squad's amor and weapons - oh, wait. You can do that too.

Okay, okay. Squad customization is not as expansive as it was in ME1 and you cannot equip bonus items to armor. That is an argument I can understand. Then I can remind you about one of the worst uses of a video game feature I experienced thus far in my short lifespan. I'd rather take ME3's highly organized and somewhat limited customization over a hoarder's den.

As much as I despised the inventory system with an infernal passion, I do think a greatly improved inventory system should have been implemented. At the very least, if collecting a ton of armor is not included like in the first game, it should have been used to manage and keep track of items gathered for side missions.

For some reason Bioware screwed this up big time. Throughout the trilogy, you have a Codex, which serves as an optional, supplementary Encyclopedia Exposita and an essential track book of all the main, side, and DLC missions you can complete. It continuously updates the progress of your missions and guides you on your way to complete the next part of the objective. Mass Effect 2 did not have an inventory system, but it had a checklist telling you if you purchased an item and where you should take it. Come Mass Effect 3... and none of these features exist. You cannot easily keep track of your progress like before. There is no checklist, only very vague hints to scan a planet in Goddess knows what cluster in some system heavily monitored by a swarm of Mecha-Cthulhu monsters!

The quest details never change. They never tell you if you picked up the item you need and they don't always tell you who gave you the quest or where they are. Obtaining side quests happens via overhearing conversations on the Citadel - the sole hub world in the game, minus the very rare breather sections on some missions. You do have a map that can highlight important people to talk to, which can help if you already found the item and want to deliver it, but this new setup is still inconvenient. The load screens are still long, and the Reapers hang around in star clusters until a new major mission ends if you get caught and escape. It can take time to get shit done if you have no idea what you're doing.

Ain't that just swell?

In spite of this issue, the reward for your running around like a headless chicken is war assets. In the war room of the Normandy you can keep track of how many war assets you earned to improve your chances of defeating the Reapers in the final assault. It mainly affects how disastrous or hopeful the ending is of the game. Participating in online multiplayer or an iOS game will help boost the "readiness" percentage of each "geographical" region of the Milky Way, and thus boost your number of assets. At first, you had to earn about 4,000 assets to achieve the best ending, which was impossible when relying entirely on single-player, even with all the DLC. (Believe me, I still try to this day to reach 4,000 assets, and I have Leviathan, Omega, AND the Citadel DLCs!) To fix this problem, the Extended Cut lowered the bar to 3,100 assets, which is definitely possible.

With dozens of side missions, streamlined planet-scanning, and four sets of single-player DLC, there are ample opportunities to get the best endings without relying on multiplayer.

The last major change to the gameplay is how the morality system works. You have an reputation meter that you need to invest in to unlock charm and intimidate "third options". Basically, it doesn't matter if you are heavily Paragon or Renegade, as long as your reputation meter is high enough, you can take the third option and pick whichever tone you wish. This gives you more freedom to be nice or a jerk. By completing missions and side quests, you earn reputation points to boost your meter. Paragon and Renegade are treated more as percentages. I like this system the best due to its flexibility, and it still imposes barriers on third options in serious circumstances if your reputation meter is still too low.


The Reapers have arrived and Shepard must travel across the galaxy to build an army to defeat them. Shepard will run into old friends, allies, and enemies and plow through political bullshit once more to unite what remains of the great races. While building a strong offensive front, scientists and doctors team up to build the Crucible, a colossal weapon to destroy the Reapers that the Protheans nearly finished and left blueprints behind of. Can Shepard guide a large, united army to end the Reaper cycle forever before the civilized galaxy crumbles to dust?

For me, this is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on marijuana, meth, steroids, heroine, alcohol, amphetamines, and tranquilizers so powerful that it could wipe out all life on the planet. To be perfectly blunt, I sobbed my fucking eyeballs out a billion times, regardless of how many playthroughs I've done. The characters, the deaths, the endings, everything. I cried at the Paragon ending of the genophage story arc, at reconciling the quarian-geth conflict, at the death of Thane (the guy I hated in ME2!), at Garrus's hangout mission on the Citadel, at the Cerberus confrontation on Horizon, at the final battle on Earth, and at the end of the "final boss fight!" (No, not Maurader Shields...)

Do not even get me started on the romantic subplots. Damn it, the "Extended Cut" didn't even try to hold back punches; it repeatedly stabbed my heart with dragon's teeth. Even months after first beating the game, the whole sequence was still just amazing to sit through. Then the "Citadel" DLC came out, filling my heart with more laughter and tears to a capacity I thought I already exceeded. By the end, nearly every character I mildly enjoyed ended up being on the receiving end of a tearful salute from yours truly.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Despite having the most accessible gameplay, this is the worst game to pick up first when playing Mass Effect. No shit. By this point, ME3 refuses to hold your hand and explain its world because it assumes you played the first two installments already. It's too busy destroying everything you learned about and came to love about the galaxy.

The Reapers are invading home worlds and blowing up colonies. Entire species are targeted and forced into exile from their destroyed homes. The Citadel is flooded with refugees begging for shelter and comfort from the nightmare consuming the galaxy. Old grudges and resentments between species become obsolete when everyone realizes they must band together to survive. The only form of normalcy left is the consistently infuriating, but understandable political nonsense hindering war efforts. Shepard practically begs and threatens major political leaders to trust him/her so a united army can form to serve as the vanguard that ends the Reaper threat forever.

Previously I have said that Mass Effect 2 is a filler episode, but how it builds the characters help make the story of Mass Effect 3 so much stronger than Mass Effect 1, which had an alright story but weak characters. And while this is in fact true, some minor details are introduced in this installment and bog the plot down. I would say ME3 has the best story overall as a result of the rich world and characters, but it tripped over a ton of things to make a fanfiction writer cry. Bioware's writers added elements from the novels Ascension and Retribution that weakened the Cerberus story arc tremendously to the point the organization loses a lot of legitimacy. One of the dynamites that brought Cerberus down was Kai Leng.

Kai Leng is one of the most wasted uses of antagonistic potential I have ever seen in fiction. Even the game I continue to be bitter towards handled their human and deity villains far better. Leng's backstory is slapped on the game in an email from Anderson, who had clashed with the cyborg ninja in one of the books. He sends Shepard a trollish email at one point but it's so cliche and hollow, another villain from the infuriating game's spin-off was more compelling. Leng might have been a threatening son of a bitch in the books, but he's badly marketed here. And as much as I love the scene, the closure to his character should have been a public outcry on its own. Furthermore, his battles are the most railroaded and broken in the entire trilogy; it's forced difficulty at its worst.

Other smaller issues that weaken the narrative include the fact that a lot of material foreshadowed or planned in past games were taken out, rewritten, or outright ignored. This was inevitable with this kind of game that carries data over with each installment and the narrative being written over the course of many years through the input of many individuals. Because of this and the pronounced focus on having the entire galaxy collapse, some minor characters have uninteresting development, little attention, or nonexistent pay-off. Some guys get killed off-screen or through Twitter. I wish I wasn't joking.

There are far too many plot ideas I'll never be able to cover, very much like the game in spite of the ten or more hours added through DLC. I'll do the best I can when discussing the characters, as many of them have relevancy depending on missions and subplots that impact them, their affiliations, or their race. But forgive me for not wanting to cover 30 to 60 hours of material without boring you or harming my sanity.

One last complaint/nitpick about this entire trilogy in hindsight is the strong bias against playing a Renegade Shepard. Unless you like attempting to add some depth to Shepard, such as him/her being distrustful to all aliens in ME1 until he/she warms up to them throughout the trilogy, the Renegade path destroys most bridges and extra content that enriches the mythos. The best way to play the trilogy is to save as many people as possible and complete their story arcs. If you play as a Paragon, you have to force yourself to suck at playing the nice, considerate guy/girl to miss opportunities. You can consider the Renegade path to be the tragic ending route, but I doubt everyone wants to do that on their first run. This shows that the morality system is not yet as balanced as it could be.

Overall, despite some glaring issues, this story is fantastic because most of the choices you made in the past do hold more weight than ever. The chances of you screwing up and missing opportunities range from low to high, depending on your morality, successful missions, or surviving allies. By far the most difficult story arc to accomplish involves the geth and the quarians, because in the first few months of the game being out, fans wrote detailed guides how to earn the best resolution to the centuries-long war and resentment between them. Some early players thought it wasn't possible to take the "rumored" third option.

Two years later, this game has been played inside and out so often almost nothing is "secret" anymore. But man, it was really scary at the time.

I love this game.


Until part 2, I leave you with something fun, as always.

I can't believe that five or six optional missions in Mass Effect 1 all cumulate into such an episode of shenanigans. XD

Part 2 ~ coming soon


Voltech said...

So the day of reckoning has finally arrived. Well, technically it's arrived several days before this comment, but let's just ignore that little detail for now, yeah?

I won't lie -- I pretty much forgot that there was a multiplayer suite to this game. Setting aside the fact that ME is single-player for a reason, it's got the EA branding, which means signing into whatever "services" EA's offering. That strikes me as the equivalent of signing some hell-bred contract with blood, so I hope you'll forgive me for passing on it. Though come to think of it, I couldn't even try the Dead Space 3 demo without signing into their whatchamajigger.

Also, thanks for reminding me how much time I lost in this game with all the sidequests. Like, every time I turned on the game I said to myself "All right! Time to save the universe!" And then I'd end up shredding hours running around the Citadel talking to people and taking on their oddjobs. All in a day's work for an intergalactic savior, I suppose.

Far be it from me to say "tone down the sidequest count, guys", because that stuff can flesh out a world and make it feel bigger, and more important, and all of that good stuff. But sometimes? Sometimes it's all just too much. Cripes, I still haven't finished Ni no Kuni because I got distracted by a quest to find some pigeons. Going on two years, and I'm not even sure I'm at the halfway point. YEAH, PROGRESS!

Well, whatever. I'll be looking forward to seeing what you've got to say about ME3. Who's the MVP this time around? I'll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

Melanie~Light said...

Yeah, I wanted to try multiplayer with an online friend a few months ago and EA was a jackass and didn't let me connect. Thirty minutes of waiting and punching in info completely wasted. One day we'll try again, as I heard the multiplayer was actually good.

Otherwise, I avoid Origin like the plague. I fact, I never use it except to punch in access codes as "proof of purchase". Yeah, it's stupid.

The number of side missions could have been fine if they tried to tie in past plot points and ideas as i mentioned in the review. A side mission with Emily Wang would have been cool. What about a quick plot point in which you talk to the quarians before they declare war on the geth? What about Haestrom? What about expanding on Jacob to possibly make him less dull? Why not have Thane partake in a mission before the Citadel coup? All of these and more could have added far more story and depth than getting two random relics from the Volus home world.

But yeah, sometimes too many side missions can be a bad thing. It's one thing if it's Skyrim, but Mass Effect is too linear to afford that kind of luxury. Worst of all, it's a 60 hour game and there's still TONS of plot that could have been added to replace the seemingly irrelevant fetch quests.

Oh well. I still love this game, because it went above and beyond what I was expecting from a video game narrative, even with the infamous last ten minutes.

Now I gotta figure out how I'm going to talk about the rest of the game without digressing too much. It's easy with how huge this game gets.

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