Mass Effect 3

May 21st 2012

Well, that was an experience. I completed ME3 a few weeks back and while i enjoyed 80% of the game, there was one large glaring error with the game. While i dont think the error ultimately led to the downfall of the game (it is still mostly great), it does demonstrate a genuine step backward for the ME universe. Yep, it was the end of the game (not the ending...), yep it was disappointing and yep, I got bored with the game because of the lazy scripting. That said, there were some great moments in ME3, and in the interest of balance, I'll cover both the pros and cons. First up, what i liked...

1. Faithful to the ME universe (on occassions)...

The game does stay true to its rootsin 2 areas.. It is, at its best, an exciting action RPG with plenty of interesting tactical fights that offer a number of ways of resolving them. It also boasts a wide range of weapons, alarge number of interactive characters and, it genuinely tries to expand on the universe without stamping all over the reasons why fans love it. Your core gameplay remains the same - travel, explore, fight and learn about your people, but the game does at least try to make it bigger and better, particulary during some key early exchanges. It would be tough to say that both the combat and tactics are not bigger and better than previous games.

It is actually very important to me that a sequel does not simply rinse and repeat - thankfullyt ME3 treads that fine line between doing what its good at over and over again and building on its truly exceptional parts. For the most part of the game, it doesnt disappoint and there is, initially at least a genuine feel that the game is bigger and better than its predecessors. In particular, look at the fights - more enemies on screen and more going on in the background - some fights feel genuinely like they are part of an epic war. This is no mean feat - other games like GOW3 try, and for the most part fail, to create an illusion of epic war, and for me ME3 is the first game to truly capture this, on a few occassions at least.

2. Shepherd

I'm not going to say much, but in Shepherd, like Solid Snake, Bioware have created a legendary character. Unlike Snake however, Shepherd is each players own personal creation. For example, I restarted the game after an hour of playing as (for reasons unknown) my previous Shepherd didnt look quite like the one I had played the previous 2 games with. I wanted my Shepherd to finish the game. In this sense, ME3 carried on that emotional connection already established and, while this may have more to do with ME2 and ME1, ME3 certainly places great emphasis on the emotional journey of Shepherd as a human and leaves plenty of clues to his background. During one stand out section, you are treated to voice recordings of when Shepherd was held by Cerberus. In the scope of the game, these are minor, but add depth and weight to character who seems more like a movie star than a mere CG animated avatar.

3. The End of the Game

Yes, I loved the very end of the game, as in the last 5 minutes. There is a great twist, a difficult choice and, for what its worth, the level of ambiguity played out very nicely against the backdrop of intergalactic war. For me, it was as if the game was saying "nothing is simple in life", and, while the execution of the ending was a little off (the end of the game + the fact i was unclear what choice i was making), the actual plot was, by this point, well developed and at least took the time to cover off some of the more interesting lose ends. I liked it - it was fun, entertaining and, genuinely made an effort at creating a strong story arc for one of the most loved game franchises.

What I didnt like...

1. The Ending of the game...

This is very different to the point above. I hated the last 2 - 3 hrs of ME3. I got so bored with the rinse and repeat action, artificial ramp up in difficulty (fight more of the same monsters over and over again) and complete abandonment of emotional connection to the main characters that for me, ME3 totally lost itself. It could so obsessed with creating what felt more like a long QTE than an epic ending to a great RPG. I mean, even the fight through "London" lacks any heart or soul. One big ben shot aside, "London" is really just a series of streets and alleyways in various states of ruin that you fight through. It does nothing to create atmosphere or any sense of urgency.

This lack of urgency is not helped at all by the fact that you effectively ditch all the characters you care about prior to landing on earth and all you get is to basically talk to them - some in person, some via VC - about the end of the war. It feels more like a token gesture to them and it ultimately relegates the secondary characters that made the games so special, to nothing more than bored bystanders with repeated dialogue. So dissappointing.

2. The "Love" Triangles

I am not going to say much about this except that compared to the first 2 games, the romance options are a joke. Not only are they badly executed (i spent time on one relationship only for her to inexplicably disappear about half way through the game, to then show up again as if nothing had happened later on), but they are also tacked on. There is no real screen time given to investment in characters. Fair enough you may say, this is all out war, but this genuinely hurts ME3. Previous ME games were elvated above their status as good games to being outstanding becasue you bought into and believed in the supporting cast - it was a believable universe. Here, and I hate to say it, all you get is well scripted dialogue that has minimal impact on the outcome of the game. It all felt as if the designers thought they had to give the fans a romance option, so hey, here it is. This was unrewarding, frustrating and felt superficial at best (i can imagine one or two of my colleagues saying "what else do you expect from a relationship).

3. Finally... the bosses

Action games arent made great by their bosses, but having ones that are interesting at least do help. Another way of making bosses relevant is to ensure that you require genuine strategy / ingenuity to beat them. None of that here - ultimately you are asked to fight bosses that generally look good, but are all beaten the same way you beat other characters in the game. There is not one boss that I would say is stand out. Even the most ridiculous fight in the game (you fight a reaver ship) is ludicrously dull. It even has the classic "do this attack 3 times and avoid its attacks and WIN". I ended up feeling bored and disengaged, mainly because at no point did i feel that beating a boss was making any kind of progress in the game, it was always an artificial milestone required to complete the game, rather than any sort of accomplishment.

Other gripes? Yes, but it would be unfair to include them in my issues with the game. The multiplayer is somewhat inaccessible, mainly because i have no idea what it contributes to the main game (yep - the "galaxy at war" motto was lost on me - felt like boring skirmsihes in a poor mans gears of war to me). Secondly, during the game, there is no real context that what you are doing is making a difference - yeah you can get loads of cool stuff and make loads of decisions (or at least have the illusion of decision making), but these dont really seem to impact the outcome of the game, or the pace at which you progress in it.

For me, the game tried too much and obscured most of what made it great. The online play, the decision trees and even the supporting characters all seem insignificant in the designers agenda. And herein lies the problem, what made the first two games great was just that - the attention to detail in the secondary characters and the wonderful supporting cast. Here, they were all sidelined for greater good of galaxy survival.

On paper, that makes sense, however, in a game built on players emotionally investing in its world and iuts inhabitants, ultimately the game left me with a feeling that it was sterile and a step backwards, not forwards for the series.

Overall - if ME3 was swapped with ME2, then everyone would hail ME3 as a great step forward. However, the bar was set so high with the ME2 universe, that ultimately ME3 fails tolive up to the high standard of its predecessor.

The game is good, well executed, well designed, but for me, stops short of being a true great becasue of its lack of attention to detail where it really counts (characters unexplored, poor communication of ideas and a lack of emotional investment) and a lazy ending that leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth.

Rating - if i were a ratings man, I'd say it was a solid 8 out of 10. I'd not dissuade people from playing it, but I'd recommend the significantly stronger ME2- both as a holistic gaming experience and a simple RPG - over ME3.

DD

PS have just started playing Skyrim - totally different type of game, but enjoyable. Will update on it at some point...