Saturday, 7 November 2015

Mass Effect 3 (PC) - Part 1

Developer:BioWare|Release Date:2012|Systems:Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U

This week on Super Adventures, I'm celebrating N7 day by replaying the first couple of missions in Mass Effect 3 and briefly... oh fuck it, I'm going to go and beat the whole game again. No sense in half-assing it after I finished the first two to get here.

Plus I remember there being a bit of controversy about how the game wraps up the (first) Mass Effect trilogy, so I'm going to go through the ending in excruciating detail and share my own thoughts on how it plays out, and whether people were freaking out about nothing. You're not going to get a 47 page let's play out of me, I haven't entirely lost my mind, but this shall be an epic four part article!

PART ONE is what you're reading now, where I'll talk about first couple of hours and show how the game plays. It'll likely spoil the last two games along with the start of this one but not much else.

PART TWO is where I'll talk about the game overall and give my thoughts about it. Likely to be more spoilery. I'll review the game at the end and give you a box to leave non-spoilery comments underneath.

PART THREE is going to reveal my SHOCKING opinions about the unloved original ending of the trilogy, as I go through the final act in the aforementioned excruciating detail. This will have all of the spoilers, maximum spoilers.

PART FOUR is going to quickly go over the changes made for the Extended Cut and whether altering the story was a good idea. It'll also have maximum spoilers, plus a second comments box for you to chat about the ending specifically. If you want.

I'm going to be playing the Windows version so some of my issues will be PC specific (like not being able to click on anything without disabling the Origin overlay first). Also I'm using a fix to enable ambient occlusion on my Nvidia card, following this guide I found on the BioWare forums, so my visuals will look slightly sweeter than the default. Or maybe slightly glitchy and screwed up, it could go either way!

(Click the screenshots to expand them to their original resolution.)



I'll be importing my old character Kate Shepard from the last two games, but first I wanted to check the process of starting a new character has changed at all, and this "Choose Your Experience" option is definitely a change.
  • 'Role Playing' is the standard default Mass Effect 'guns and conversation' gameplay from the last two games, no difference there.
  • 'Action' is the exact same as Role Playing, except without the role playing. You play as the boring Soldier class, you look like the guy on the box, you don't get to choose how characters level up and Shepard says whatever he feels like saying. The rest of the game is still intact though.
  • 'Story' is ultra easy difficulty. It doesn't turn the game into an interactive movie, you still have to play through combat, but you're a god swatting aside insects.
Personally I think offering a choice is a great idea, as it makes the game more enticing to a wider range of players without harming the default experience at all. It wouldn't make sense for every game, but Mass Effect is sold equally on its story and combat, so you can have one without the other.

Plus you get to tweak everything in the options later if you change your mind. Choice is good... which makes it even more weird that the game STILL doesn't offer me the choice to play with my Xbox 360 pad! I'm glad that they made mouse and keys their priority if they really didn't have the time for both, but a console port released without controller support in 2012 is a rare and amazing thing.

Oh thank fuck the game’s letting me start with the character creation this time instead of making me go through a long unskippable prologue first! Not that it’s a problem the first time around, but this isn’t going to be the last time I see this screen. I've learned from experience that I'll always want to go back and change something after my character turns out to be a horrific monster in daylight (or when they express emotions).

I heard that the game didn’t like importing Mass Effect 1 characters, but it seems to have brought mine across just fine. I’m even allowed to customise my imported face this time around without it getting reset to default like in Mass Effect 2, which means I can finally give Shep the purple anime hair she deserves.

The graphics have improved... I think, but the editor is pretty much the same as in the last two games, without much scope to really change the face much. Or at least not as much as I’d want to. The face code box is back too, letting me save and import faces as easily as typing in a level password in a particularly awkward SNES game! The codes can be taken back into ME2 as well, though you have to leave the hair dye behind.

My character started off in Mass Effect 1 as a handguns and sniping Infiltrator class, switched to being an pistol-wielding tech-wizard Engineer in Mass Effect 2, and now I’m thinking about switching again to someone a little heavier armed. I hear the Vanguard's good with shotguns.

There’s no numbers to play with though, and because I’m playing as an imported hero I don’t even get to set her background. If I had started a new game I'd also be able to choose how badly Shepard has screwed up so far by choosing which squadmates have died. The options are limited to 'Kaiden Alenko', 'Ashley Williams' and 'Numerous' though, so you if you want fan favourite Urdnot Wrex alive in your personal universe you need to either import a save or edit one.


A REALLY NICE DAY FOR AN APOCALYPSE


Wow, I’m already regretting changing her hair. I am not going to be able to put up with those loose strands in her eyes for the whole game. Admiral Anderson’s looking great in his new uniform though, far better than he did in the first game.

Back at the end of Mass Effect 2 my Commander Shepard had stolen a ship from pro-human extremist group Cerberus, along with its entire crew and the onboard AI, and was ready to go on space adventures. So I have no idea why she's suddenly on house arrest back on Earth. If I’d played ME2's Arrival DLC then Shep would've been in trouble for nuking an entire solar system by destroying a mass relay to delay the inevitable Reaper invasion that only she believed was coming... but my Shepard is entirely innocent of that! The best explanation I can get out of Anderson is "the shit you’ve done."

But now the inevitable Reaper invasion has been detected coming to Earth and the admirals are a little concerned. They've even let Shepard out of her room so that they can beg for her help and guidance. It's taken two years, but finally Shepard has a chance to stand before the leaders of the world and explain that SHE TOLD THEM SO.

Glad to see that the conversation wheel still gives me the wide variety of responses the series is known for. Wait... that's ASHLEY?

Seriously, that cannot be the same person I knew in the first two games and that outfit cannot even be real. It looks nothing like the other uniforms, the gloves are ridiculous and whatever's going on with those shoulders needs to stop.

Huh, I guess she might be Ashley after all. Different makeup, a new hair style and an eyebrow transplant, and she looks like a different person. Plus she's not wearing pink any more.

Anyway the conversation over so it's cutscene time again as Shepard goes to stand before the Alliance Council to explain what she knows about the Reapers and how to prepare for their arrival.

It's still not giving me all that much to pick from is it? It seems that the dialogue ring is basically the same as it's been in the last few games though, with the text showing the gist of what Shepard's going to say if I go with that choice.

Questions still appear on the left side, and responses on the right, but this time there's a difference! In Mass Effect 3 the wheel is coloured blue. Also this time around everything that Shepard says is incredibly dumb and unhelpful, no matter whether I choose the ‘Paragon’ choice at the top or the ‘Renegade’ choice at the bottom. This is the actual unaltered dialogue in this scene:
Shepard: “You brought me here to confirm what you already know… the Reapers are here.”
Alliance Council: “Then how do we stop them?”
Shepard: “Stop them? This isn’t about strategy or tactics. This is about survival.”
Alliance Council: “But there must be some way.”
Shepard: “If we’re going to have any chance of surviving this, we have to stand together.”
Alliance Council: “That’s it? That’s our plan?”
I have to admit, I’m siding with the council on this one. Shepard finally has a chance to speak about the Reapers to a government who will believe her, and “this isn’t about strategy or tactics” is the best line she’s got? For fuck’s sake Shepard, go back to your room, you're embarrassing me. I want Admiral Anderson as my player character instead.

And why is he an admiral now anyway? Last I saw, he'd quit the military to become the human representative on the Citadel Council, where I put him.

Fortunately the Alliance Council is immediately blown up by a Reaper laser, killing all the witnesses and saving me from any further embarrassment. Seems that the Reapers are here already, and there's a lot of them out there. Earth is basically screwed.

Anderson hands Shepard a gun, and we escape out of the window to try to get down to the Spaceport while there’s still a Spaceport left.

Oh shit... I'm running around shooting a gun without my armour on, this is so weird. Also Earth's looking quite pretty today even with the invading fleet of mile-long sapient synthetic nightmare bugs slicing up the scenery.

We're up in Vancouver right now, which makes sense considering that it feels like Canada is basically the source of all the world's sci-fi lately (plus BioWare is based there). This is actually the first time Shepard has visited Future Earth in the series so far, as it seems they were saving the home world until the grand finale. That might not have actually been the smartest move though, seeing as it means players aren't that attached to it compared to the other places in the galaxy (like the Citadel). My Shepard isn't even from Earth; she spent her early life moving between ships and space stations.

This is a tutorial stage so all I need to do is follow Anderson around and do what he tells me. Duck behind cover, climb down the ladder, shoot the Reaper husks etc.

First though I'm going to restart the game and pick a different hairstyle, because those stray strands of hair are really annoying me now. Then after I've sat through the whole unskippable intro again, I'm going to open up the squad menu and see what kind of powers I have.


SOON.


I’ve gotten some of my boxes back! There were only 4 upgrades per power in Mass Effect 2 (down from 12 in the first game) but this is looking a bit more healthy now.

Whoa, I’m level 25 already? When I imported my character in Mass Effect 2 I started off as level 2, but here I’ve been given a ton of points to spend. Usually half the skills are locked until the player reaches certain levels, but that's not an issue for me.

I really shouldn’t start investing points until I’ve played around with the combat and I've learned what style suits me… but fuck it, I’m throwing a whole lot of them into Biotic Charge right now. ‘Smash into a target’ and ‘invulnerable’ is all I need to hear.

The biggest upgrade to the upgrade system though is that there’s some actual choice of upgrades now. Mass Effect 2 let me pick between two slightly different improvements in the last box of a row, but otherwise I was just filling in the grid. In this the last three ranks in each row each come with a choice to make, and I can pick between things like 'attack or defence', 'damage or area of effect' etc.

Basically they've put some RPG elements back into their RPG!

Holy shit, Biotic Charge makes Shep fire herself towards a target and obliterate it! All classes get a typical regenerating shield that charges back up if I hide for a bit without taking damage, but my Vanguard gets a instant full recharge every time I pull this move off. Which is handy, considering it usually leaves me standing out in the open, surrounded by a crowd of pissed off enemies.

But I've got a trick to deal with them too. My Nova attack burns up my shield energy to blast out a shockwave, hitting everything around me. Of course that leaves me entirely defenceless and vulnerable and I'm still in the open. But another Biotic Charge and I'm back to full shields again. Somehow I don’t see much cover shooting in my character’s future. I am Sonic the Spectre, bouncing from enemy to enemy like a pinball, but hitting them with the force of a speeding locomotive.

Speaking of hitting people, Shepard's learned to pull off a heavy melee move now, supercharging her standard move to unleash a flaming biotic punch. Other classes can whip out a holographic arm blade, but I can live with what I have. I can even do it while I'm running to pull off a ground slam instead.

One thing I do have to keep in mind though is that my health is segmented now, so it’ll only regenerate up to the next fifth of a bar. That’s fine though, as maybe it'll give me a reason to use medi-gel this time around.

I've heard people complain about this level, pointing out that the Reapers don't actually wreck any buildings in the background, there's no cars driving around, and all the civilians in the streets below are old school sprites. But personally, I think it looks fantastic.

The Reapers may not be doing stuff in the background, but they're sure blasting chunks out of the building I'm on and spaceships are getting wrecked in the sky around me. I think the main issue here is that there's no exciting music or sense of urgency. It feels more like level 1 than the end of the world.

Suddenly Shep hears something and we take a cutscene break as she goes and investigates…

Oh no, it's that traumatised kid in the vent. I’d almost managed to forget he was in this. Shepard saw him playing with spacefighter toy earlier and he's going to be a recurring pain in my ass later, but right now he just really wants to be in a vent.

Just leave him Shep, you're in way too much of a hurry to pull an ‘Aliens’ and fish the traumatised kid out of the vents. Don't waste time trying to save the human embodiment of forced emotional manipulation, it's just going to make you miserable in the long run.

mass effect 3 child warning signs
There's actual warning signs right next to the kid in every scene he appears, that should be a hint!

I'm sure BioWare didn't do this deliberately, the ME universe has just got a lot of warnings written all over it, but it sure works as creepy foreshadowing for later.

Huh, I'm able to use assault rifles now? I was all set to write a scathing paragraph mocking the last cutscene for showing Shep holding a rifle even though my class can't use them, but I guess that restriction's been dropped for this game.

By the way, what you're looking at here is my tactical HUD. I can pull this up at any time to pause the action and let me have a think about what I’m going to do next. While time is frozen I can spin the camera around, switch weapons, tell my sidekicks where to move, choose what powers I want them to use, and coordinate my mayhem precisely. It's handy.

Or I can just point the crosshair right at the next enemy and hit Biotic Charge again, either's good. Powers are on a universal cooldown system, so once I’ve triggered one I have to wait for it to recharge before I can use another. But for a powerful level 25 biotic like me that's a couple of seconds. 1, 2, CHARGE, 1, 2, CHARGE...

Just as my last stand was starting to get desperate boring, Shepard’s old friend Joker suddenly swooped by, piloting a borrowed Alliance frigate to blast the remaining husks with missiles! And that ship just happens to be the motherfucking Normandy SR2!

Turns out that the Alliance got hold of Shepard’s ship after she (presumably) turned herself in, and they’ve been busy retrofitting it to Alliance spec while she was under house arrest. I guess they figured that because she got their Normandy SR1 blown up at the start of Mass Effect 2, they were owed a replacement.

So now it’s Admiral Anderson’s ship, and the first thing he does with it... is give it back to Shep! She’s been reinstated with the rank of Commander, with orders to leave Earth behind and go to the Citadel Council for assistance while he stays behind to lead the resistance. Shepard isn’t all keen on leaving him in the middle of this crap or running from the fight, but Anderson’s played by Keith David and his voice has far too much authority in it for her to argue. It's just a shame he couldn't use an extra bit of that authority to promote her to Captain already.

And then the little kid from earlier gets vaporised by a Reaper beam while trying to escape in a shuttle, as Shepard watches helplessly from the Normandy hanger. So now we have to deal with the fact that the brat is permanently seared into her mind.

To be fair forcing Shep to watch the Reapers blowing up civilians while she runs away is a reasonable way to give her something more personal to be pissed about, while demonstrating what these alien killing machines will be up to while our hero’s flying around on space adventures. It just falls flat because the story hasn't given me any reason to give a damn about this nameless video game kid and all the beautiful sad piano in the world can't hide how transparently manipulative it's trying to be.

Plus now I know where it’s leading, and I don’t much like it.


ESCAPE TO THE CITADEL MOON


There's my ship: the Normandy SR2. The Alliance have given it a new paint job, but it's looking as shiny and retro as ever.

I always thought the ship looked just fine in orange, but I think blue may actually suit it better. Plus it’s nice to get the logo of that human supremacist Cebereus group off it for sure. Maybe there’s somewhere I can take it to get the Alliance logo sprayed over as well and get it replaced with my N7 logo. N7s all over it.

The Paragon and Renegade triggers return! I’ve haven’t made it out of the hangar yet and already I have a crisis to solve.

This is my new party member James Vega by the way, he’s… uh, someone from... umm. Oh right he’s Shepard’s friend from… house arrest I guess? Her guard maybe? They know each other, that’s all I know. I mean seriously, no one’s even told me why Shepard was arrested yet, and I doubt they ever will.

Vega's understandably annoyed that his home is becoming a killing field and we're flying in the opposite direction. Thankfully a blue icon flashed up mid-cutscene which gave me an opportunity to click the mouse to cut him off with a decisive Paragon action. Which in this case involved yelling at him.

But then Shepard got interrupted mid-cutscene herself by a call from long-time side-mission caller Admiral Hackett with new orders: ‘get your ass to Mars’. I was booted straight into a shuttle without even being allowed to walk around my ship first!


SOON, ON MARS.


Well this ain't good. Seems that my old friends Cerberus have arrived before us and they're straight up executing people! They spent the entire second game resisting the urge to go full evil to keep Shepard on their side, but now the Reapocalypse is upon us they've dropped the fa├žade and fully embraced their role as villains.

I could send Ashley and Vega hiding behind different chest-high walls, then 'Pull' an enemy up into their crossfire to be annihilated, but I'm thinking that this is a job for Biotic Charge. Because I love flying into the middle of enemies head-first like a fragile idiot Superman, and if there's a maximum range to this power, I haven't found it yet.


LATER, INSIDE THE RESEARCH FACILITY.


The Prothean dig site on Mars is a pretty big deal in the Mass Effect universe, enough to for it get a mention in the first line of the opening text of ME1, so it's cool to finally get to visit the place. Turns out the facility was designed by the same architect who designed the rest of the galaxy.

The ruins humanity found here decades ago gave us the basis for all the cool sci-fi stuff we’ve been using, and what I found here today… was my old teammate Liara T’Soni! Which is good because my team's a bit small right now and I could really use another biotic around to toss enemies aside like rag dolls with her mind. You know what I haven’t found though? Hacking minigames. I haven’t been asked to play a single minigame so far at all and their absence is much appreciated.

Hackett ordered me here because researchers have recently discovered new data about a Reaper destroying super-weapon called the Crucible. A little convenient perhaps, but it was always going to take some kind of ancient McGuffin for us to earn a happy ending. But Cerberus are after the blueprints too, and they’re killing everyone in the base to get them! Which is considerably less convenient.


SOON.


Riot shields? Talk about using ancient tech, Cerberus must have discovered the blueprints for these things in a Roman dig site.

It's actually pretty cunning though, as whenever I try my Biotic Charge I just bounce right off their portable metal walls! I’m going to have to use a new tactic, like aiming for the narrow eye slit… or just using my Pull power to take the shield right off them. Liara’s got some biotic moves too, maybe there’s something there we can use as a combo. I remember in Mass Effect 2 I liked to get people floating with Pull, then I'd have someone else detonate the effect with Warp for a nice explosion.

I also remember Mass Effect 2 having a ugly distracting veiny border around the screen when it wanted to show that my shield was down and I was losing health. Nice to see that's been fixed.


LATER, AFTER HALF AN HOUR SPENT FIGHTING THROUGH LINEAR CORRIDORS LINED WITH BAD PEOPLE.


All that work, and the game still isn't letting me fly the Normandy!

I mean I'd have probably taken it straight to the Citadel space station anyway, it's the centre of galactic politics and also shopping, so it’s always a good place to start from. But I’m kinda eager to get behind the wheel of my own starship already.

At least they're finally letting me stretch my legs somewhere that isn't a war zone. A lot of games make me want to skip the talking and get to the action already, so this has done well to make me want the opposite.

Well it’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally met someone I can have a proper conversation with, or at least a proper interrogation. Shame it had to be Councillor Udina, humanity's asshole representative on the Citadel Council. He’s played a lot more sympathetically this time, though he’s just as useless as the rest of them. The Council finally believe in the Reapers, it’s hard not to when they can watch them taking their homeworlds apart on the news, but they still won’t help me bring any forces together.

So basically it’s up to me to go sort this out personally, by figuring out a way to end every centuries old grudge between the major races, win over their governments, and forge a galactic coalition to fight this ancient evil. Finally all those years of watching TV sci-fi is going to pay off!

I can also visit the Spectre HQ... which is pretty much just a couple of terminals and a firing range. They’re good terminals though, as I can buy new weapons and virtual rubber stamp things with my Spectre authority.

I’ve also got a bench here to pimp my pistols, and the mods actually show up on the gun model now!
Mass Effect 2 was too streamlined to have mods, but they’re back and they’re not actually that different to how they worked in the first game. This time though I only have to collect one of each mod, it actually shows me the stat increase with a chart, and I don't don't have to shuffle them around my sack of weapons every time I get loot.

Speaking of streamlining, it seems that I don't even need to talk to people any more to pick up their sidequests. Shep just makes a mental note of all the conversations she overhears and walks away without saying a word

Alright there's nothing much else for me to do here until they open up a few more floors, so I’m going back to my ship to be a big damn hero and they'd better let me walk around the thing now. Seriously what's the point of commanding my own frigate if I can't stroll around the decks and yell at NPCs for not saluting?


BUT THEN, AS I STEP THROUGH THE AIRLOCK.


Oh this is just great, Shepard's gotten lost in a hazy dream forest on her way to the ship. Plus they've reduced her movement speed, that's always fun. I'm not alone though, because I get to share this nightmare with my buddy, the human embodiment of emotional manipulation. He's out of the vents now, but he's gotten himself lodged inside Shepard's subconscious instead and I have to chase him!

After the longest minute and half in the game I finally reached the end of this game of slow-motion hide and seek, and got to watch the kid burst into slow-motion flames as a reward.

Okay I originally had a 300 word rant written up here to explain what I feel about these recurring forest dreams and why they don't work, but I'll spare you and cut the to chase: they take too long, they're not entertaining, they're all the same, and I can tell that Shep is haunted and stressed just fine without them. Though they never make you navigate a maze of blood while a baby screams in you ear, so at least they're better than the nightmares in Max Payne.


AND THEN THEY FINALLY LET ME ONTO MY SHIP.


Oh good they've turned the lights down. When this was a Cerberus ship the lighting was so bright that I could recognise people by their faces and walk around without tripping up on things.

But at least I finally have the freedom to take the wheel and sail amongst the stars. First though I'm going upstairs to see if I still have the only mirror in the universe on my bathroom wall.


COMMANDER SHEPARD’S LEGEND CONTINUES IN PART 2.

Semi-Random Game Box