Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

No fancy "Video Game Assessment" title this time. No, we're getting serious with this game. We're getting serious. First thing, I'm not going to throw bad names around at anybody. Second thing, I literally made these opinions up myself without any contact to the fan community until my opinions had been made. Third thing, this is an honest review of the game, not sullied by either or positive or a negative outlook before the game came out.

I did have some apprehension about the game though. I can't say that I didn't. The multiplayer component made me nervous, especially when it might have had something to do with the single-player game, but I figured that this is BioWare. How could they screw up a fantastic franchise like this? And even if they screwed it up a little, the game would still be pretty decent and I'd get my money's worth. The whole idea that the game is also seemingly made for a more "mainstream" audience also made me apprehensive, what with a mode to not have any RPG elements at all, with your character making all of his/her own decisions.

So, I went into this a tiny bit apprehensive, but I never would have expected this. I'm going to be citing a lot of things here, by the way. I don't think I can bring my point across if I can't. So, spoilers are everywhere in this review, watch out. Also, this review is a negative one, I'm sorry to say.

In my twenty years of playing video games I have only been disappointed... really disappointed... all of twice. The first was Alan Wake, which if you read my review you'll find that I couldn't stand. I mean, I bought the Xbox 360 for two video games originally: Alan Wake and Mass Effect. Oh, the irony. Mass Effect 3 is incredibly disappointing, especially compared with its earlier games. As my reviews of the two earlier games point out, there are many things wrong with the Mass Effect games, but those things that are wrong are usually in the forms of extras like sidequests, extra costumes, and a plethora of DLC. Neither of those games are perfect, but they have amazing elements to them. The first game is a tranwreck, but a gorgeous trainwreck. It has some great characters and a great main plot as well. Everything else about the game is pretty mediocre, but the universe itself is amazingly well done and intricate. The second game is more of the same, maybe a little less intricate, but you have more companion characters to make up the difference. In general, Mass Effect 2 is a really good game, and I thought it would be an excellent setup for the third game.

That being stated, let's begin from the beginning. Reapers, the main cyborg-spaceship enemies from the other games come back with a vengeance and attack Earth. This obviously cannot be good at all. But the game... I don't know. I guess I never felt the gravity of the situation. The game made it play out more like a "this is the reason you are playing this game" scenario than a realistic one. I felt it moved too quickly and had no real plot. The beginning just felt awkward. The visuals weren't as good as I thought they would be, and, in fact, seemed worse than the visuals of either Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. But okay, visuals don't make the game. That's why Deadly Premonition can be one of my favorite games. So, okay, let's not call out visuals. Instead, lets call out gameplay. Mass Effect 3 has decent gameplay, but it feels worse than Mass Effect 2's gameplay. I mean, maybe its just not as polished or something, but I had a hell of a time at points trying to be pinpoint accurate with my powers or guns... something I never had a problem with in the second game at all. I mean, the gameplay is still miles ahead of the first game, but it shouldn't have gotten worse over time.

The music and sound in general are also really well done. Although the music that stuck with me the most was the music that I remember from the first or second games. So, the original music of this game didn't really stick out to me. The voice acting is also very good, as to be expected, with only a few missteps, but I was fine with them all, so it's all good there too.

The main problem with me came from the story, the pacing, the sidequests, and, of course, the ending. But first I''ll talk more positives for a while interspersed with some criticisms for good measure.

The characters, companions and other lead characters alike, are very well done in general. I liked most of the characters and felt like their stories actually mattered to me. Tali and Garrus are certainly two of the outstanding characters that are in this game, but Liara also has an excellent arc. James Vega, a new character to the series, really shines as well, easily being one of the most enjoyable companions in the adventure, despite my apprehensions about him. And Javik, a Prothean companion that was offered in day 1 DLC (I'll get back to that later.) also shines, even though he's a gigantic jerk. The characters all fit the setting and work really well... but why weren't there more? There are some characters who were companions in the second game that could have EASILY been companions in this game. Hell, their stories are so focused on in the main plot of the game (or the big and nearly essential sidequests) that they could have easily been a companion character on the Normandy from their lines alone. Miranda really stands out in this regard, but there are others as well, like Legion, Mordin, Wrex, Zaeed, Jacob, Kasumi, Samara, Grunt, and Jack. Thane at least has an excuse for not being a companion. Dude's sick. The others on the other hand have contrived stories about how they can't be companions anymore. It was stupid and really broke my immersion from the game. All I wanted to say was, hey... hey you... I'm recruiting you and it would make so much more sense than you just standing somewhere doing nothing like Jacob and Zaeed certainly do throughout the entire second half of the game. And I'm not even saying I like all of these characters, I'm simply saying why didn't BioWare even give this as an option? It seems needlessly lazy.

And that's kind of the problem to this game: laziness. It could be the subtitle of Mass Effect 3. There is so much laziness... certainly in the writing which... goes from good to bad to decent to bad to worse. The image of Tali without her helmet on is laughable. Why does she look like a human who has some tattoos on her? Is she like a Star Trek alien or something? Are Quarians distantly related to humans somehow? It's weird. Wouldn't she be kind of pasty in that suit all of the time? Maybe unpigmented or something? She has a completely different anatomy and physiology as well. This wouldn't even be a case of convergent evolution. I'm annoyed because I liked the character, romanced her, and then found out that what she looks like is a Google image search image of some random chick. Are you serious, BioWare? Are you pulling my leg here? Is this some kind of joke on everybody who plays and enjoys your games? What?

Here's Tali
Okay, so let's just say they took the easy way out then. No laziness, just ease. I can understand that. Making up the visuals of an entire species that has always worn a suit in all of the other games might be really hard work. Hell, the fandom probably would be unhappy regardless. I mean, she could be hideous inside of there. You really have to make attractive people in video games. We want everybody to be as shallow as possible in a game series that touts being able to have gay romances and forbidden alien romances. But they all have to be attractive. Have to leave that shallowness in there. Stay classy, BioWare.

Oh, and speaking of attractiveness, let's call cheesecake right now at EDI. Yes, our old AI on the Normandy from the second game had an upgrade. Now, she's a full companion character with
...certain... uh... attributes.
I mean, seriously, BioWare? Seriously? Seriously. You... why do this? Why did she have to look like this? I mean, she a freaking AI. I understand that it was kind of neat being able to have her as a companion and she's really interesting and now Joker and her can have a romance, but seriously? She's the new Miranda, cheesecake everywhere for everybody!

But let's take a step back. This is a serious story. People are dying. War is happening everywhere. So, what do we do? Do we rush and get all the forces we can and try to save everybody? No, we screw around for the better part of half the game trying to eke out every single war asset one can find to get the "best ending." Oh, and it's not even possible to get the "best ending" in a game where you only play single player. You have to play multiplayer to be able to have the chance to get the best ending if you make the right choice between three incredibly similar choices at the very end. And all the "best ending" has to it is a few frames of Shepard breathing and alive rather than dead in all the other scenarios. I don't care about freaking bad endings or endings where the hero dies! Don't even dare accuse me of that. I loved Nier and that game has probably one of the most depressing endings to any video game ever. I loved Dragon Age: Origins and in that game your character can easily die. I loved Silent Hill 2 and usually put its "In Water" ending up as my personal canon because it is so true to the character and the story. Some of my favorite book series end with major characters' deaths: Animorphs, The Dark Tower, even The Lord of the Rings. So, don't tell me I don't like endings that are less than perfect. I LOVE horror movies for goodness sake, and most of the horror movies that I consider my favorite do not have happy endings, okay? My point is that this game does not have a fitting ending. The ending as a measured quality, is not "good," regardless of who lives and dies and whatever else happens. It is not well-written, it is not well done.

And yes, I'm up in arms about it. I played through the games, all of the games, multiple times, waiting for Mass Effect 3 to come out. And BioWare had never really let me down. I loved Dragon Age II, even though that one has its controversies as well. But I still loved it. I thought that it was supremely enjoyable. I even defended the game against people hating on it. I freaking recommended both the Dragon Age series and the Mass Effect series to multiple people, and this is what we get? An ending that has nothing really to do with our accomplishments through ninety or more hours of gameplay for a single character. An ending that is a choose what you want to do choice without anything determined from your choices before. And the choices are all basically the same anyway. The mass relays are always destroyed (and why aren't the star systems destroyed as well? It's established canon that destroying a mass relay destroyed the system too: see Mass Effect 2: Arrival DLC). The Reapers always fail somehow. The Normandy makes an inexplicable "jump?" to an unknown world with my companion characters who were with me in the final run to the light to get to the Citadel in the final mission... and are either presumably dead... or at the very least, not easily picked up by Joker who is fighting in the skies above Earth. Why in the HELL would he have made that jump? Why was he trying to outrun colors? Why did he look behind himself in the cockpit when there's no way he can see what's out there? How did he get to the Charon mass relay so quickly when he was fighting on Earth. Did he skip out on the fight? Would he have finally turned coward after all the times he was a hero in his own right throughout the first two games? And why were the endings so similar? Why give an illusion of choice when there really weren't any choices at all?

The ending was the greatest disappointment I have ever seen in a video game, and I bought the collector's edition of Alan Wake, a game I literally had a venomous reaction to. But I'd rather play Alan Wake a thousand times over than see the endings of Mass Effect 3 one more time. The story of Mass Effect has always been a space opera, like Star Wars... hell, call it space fantasy even. And it worked. The tones throughout the games were always well done and appropriate. But making the end of the series have a tone that was more 2001: A Space Odyssey than space opera... and it wasn't even that. I mean, jeez... a kid dies at the beginning, and at the end of the game the kid comes back as an AI-Force ghost to talk to Shepard and tell him that none of his choices mattered and that Shepard has to listen to this damn "Catalyst" to get rid of the Reapers.So, instead of Shepard finding another way he/she just listens and does exactly what the Catalyst says. This ghost thing. Are you serious? Ghosts in my MASS EFFECT? And the Crucible is just a big giant and annoying way of not having more Reaper fights and not owning your victory. Calling it a deus ex machina would be inconsiderate to dei ex machinis everywhere. They are all better than this. Pushing that Crucible into the story left a bad taste in my mouth from the Mars mission (about an hour or so into the game) and on.

And the problem is, yes, the ending sucks, but parts of the story are well done. The whole genophage part of the story is incredibly well done (Well, with the exception of Wrex's character, whom they butchered beyond repair. I mean, seriously, Wrex, what happened? You were a completely different character in this game.), and the Quarian versus Geth story is amazing as well, easily one of the best parts of the entire trilogy of games. There are other smaller places the game shines as well, but mostly the focus on Cerberus rather than the Reapers makes the story very limp. I wanted to take out Reapers. I wanted to fight until the last man, and I never even had that choice. I had to use the deus ex machina. I was forced to use it. Why? Why?

Speaking of Cerberus, Kai Leng is easily one of the worst character BioWare has ever written. It's a dead heat between him and Jacob (I don't want to fight because I'm boning some chick.) for the some of the worst characters I have ever seen. And I don't mean that I don't like them (I don't but that's besides the point.), I mean that they are poorly written and their stories are poorly executed. Kai Leng kills off Thane for no other reason than to show he's a tough man and then he's just a pest. I thought that he was pushed into the story to make him seem like such an awesome character when all I saw was a one-dimensional, incredibly poorly written character. His whole character made me have a strong distaste for this game all over the place.

And I'm not even getting started on the terrible qualities of this game. Strap yourselves in.

Okay, let's get started with Metacritic. I know I've said many a time that critics don't have any clue what they're talking about, but here it really shows. 94% score for the game for critics while the actual players of the game have given it a 49% rating. That is a failing mark, BioWare. For shame. A 49% is really bad. I mean, the game is mostly pretty solid, with some exceptions, but the ending just killed it for people. It's ridiculous.

Next, I'm going to mention bugs and glitches. This game is one of the buggiest and glitchiest messes I have ever played. I mean, Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is a pretty close second (also a BioWare game too. Fancy that.), but that expansion pack was still nowhere near as bug-ridden as Mass Effect 3. I couldn't import my Shepard's face and had to make a new one. This is an inconvenience, but okay... not really terrible, just kind of dumb on BioWare's part. The bugs that get to me are the gameplay ones. Sometimes when I'm behind cover, I'll go to shoot and my character will blink out of existence and go flying through the map for about five seconds only to reappear back when he was in cover. It's the weirdest glitch and I have no idea how something like that can even happen. I've had character models just disappear from the game when I'm talking to them. I'll literally be talking to the air. There are quests that you cannot complete if you don't do exactly the right order of things. One quest in particular has the issue of once you get it you can't even leave the area until you finish it, and due to the nature of quests in the game, sometimes it's hard to tell where you have to go for these quests and you'll search around a bit only to find that you can't complete that quest because you left the area or started a new quest while you were looking. It's absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes the dodge roll won't work as advertised to the point that it's sometimes impossible to dodge out of enemy's way simply because the game doesn't like that course of action or something. I have no idea, but it's incredibly annoying in tough firefights. Oh, and melee is annoying too. If you are not pixel-perfect with lining up a melee hit, you're hit will miss completely, and, in my experience, you will die. It's awful. I don't usually complain about gameplay, but why is it worse than the second game? And why is it so damn clunky? There are some nice touches and additions to gameplay, but I don't really think I ever had fun fighting the same two groups of enemies over and over again. In the first game there were many different types of enemies, from many different alien species, the Geth, and any kind of mercenary you can think of. In the second game the same held true although mechs were kind of the main enemy type in that game, but there were others. But in this game you get two factions you fight against: Cerberus and the Reaper forces (as well as like three missions against the Geth). And that's it. No fighting aliens, no fighting other factions. You fight freaking Cerberus and the freaking Reaper forces and you like it. To me it was repetitive and kind of boring in general. Some fights were better than others, but I never really enjoyed the combat... and that's weird for me. I'm usually all cool with any type of combat. I just never really got into it, I guess.

So, now that we've talked about some of the negative aspects of the actual game, especially with the nonsensical ending that completely transforms that entire tone of the games (all three games by the way, not just this one. Mass Effect 3 makes the other games worse in retrospect. That's really something there.), we're going to address a few other issues. First the epilogue to playing the game through twice or when a character is imported. The epilogue that tells that the story of Shepard is being told from an old "Stargazer" to a child. Instead of focusing on characters like the entire series has, it focused on telling us that "Well, that sure was a story, wasn't it?" If you haven't seen it, go search it on YouTube. I'll wait.

Did you see it?

Did you?

Is that good writing? Is that the grand epilogue that Mass Effect and Shepard deserves? I guess that's everybody's own decision to make. But no. The answer to both questions is no. It is the worst stinger at the end of credits or at the end of a book I've seen since the last Harry Potter  book. I mean, come on. Most games, books, movies... whatever... most stories get better towards the end. You get more invested in it. But this game just got worse. Hell, even Alan Wake was pretty decent in the ending. And that's saying something coming from me.

So, now the DLC controversy. So, it kind of happens that the DLC companion character for Mass Effect 3 (that costs 10$) is already on the disc and is really not DLC at all... just an easy way for BioWare to make money. Oh, that's really bad, isn't it? That's rough guys. Why couldn't you just do what you did with your last two games and give us the character for free. You did it with Zaeed for the second game and Sebastian for Dragon Age II if it were pre-ordered (I pre-ordered mine.). Why not do it here with Javik? Are you guys seriously that incompetent and money-hungry? I have to believe that you are. All evidence points towards it, and that's really disheartening.

I've liked BioWare since KotOR that came out nearly ten years ago now. I've been in love with the company and their products. I even loved DAII, but with this game, I've been let down. I've been brought down, and I don't understand it. What did we, the fans, do to you guys that you had to make the third game like this? Did we insult you? I certainly didn't. I've been simply telling it like it is, recommending your games even, ranting and raving about how good I think they all are. I even dressed up like the default Hawke from Dragon Age II because I liked the game so much! So, no, I'm not a hater, I'm just giving my impressions, as they are, to a bunch of anonymous readers on the internet.

Here are some other things to read if you are interested and before I get into another big issues entirely: http://kotaku.com/5892676/why-mass-effect-3s-ending-was-so-terriblehttp://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/12/how-bioware-could-find-redemption-using-mass-effect-3/2/http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/721651/gamers-petition-to-change-mass-effect-3-ending/ (read the comments on this one), http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/category/355/index (check out any of the forums, but this one really shows the controversy behind the game in full force).

Anyway, a few more things to write, and then I'm done. I don't like how BioWare could go and say that the game wouldn't be influenced by the multiplayer. I know multiplayer is an aspect of the game itself, but I don't play multplayer. I don't have the time or energy to get invested in multiplayer. I don't like it. I play a single player game. I don't have Xbox Live Gold and I don't want to spend my money on it when I DON'T ENJOY MULTIPLAYER. So, why can't I get the "best" ending (it's not the best, but this is the principle of the thing here) when I make all the right decisions and everything else and still am way off from being able to get the "best" ending? The whole ending is determined by something called "EMS" or Effective Military Strength, which is your Total Military Strength (your number of war assets) divided by  your percentage of Galactic Readiness. The problem is that Galactic Readiness can only be improved by playing multiplayer and there are not enough war assets in the actual game to be able to get the "best" ending without playing multiplayer. I've actually tested this out myself. I did EVERY SINGLE MISSION and dialogue prompt and everything else in ALL THREE GAMES. I looked up how to go about getting the best War Assets, and besides maybe fifty points, I have all of them, and I'm still way off from the goal of 4000 EMS. I'm closer to 3500. Which means that BioWare lied to the players of this game when they repeatedly said that the ending would in no way be influenced by multiplayer and the "best" ending could be gotten in game just by playing through the single player as a completionist or whatever. So, I'm pissed off because I WON'T PLAY multiplayer, but I would at least like to have the ability to get the best ending even though all the endings suck because it's the principle of it. I wasted countless hours on this series and I want to see the "best" ending play out even if it's going to make me even angrier. I deserve that as a person who spent seventy dollars on this game. Every single last player of the game deserves that.

So, in conclusion, the game feels unfinished, rushed, and lazy. The writing, although good in places, is not as good as the other games except in a few very specific areas and with a few very specific characters. The tone of the game is all over the place. For some reason my party won't walk with me on the Citadel and I don't understand that one at all when they did the other two games. I like the companions and the dialogue on the Normandy for the most part. I like what the game should have or could have been. I dislike how important plot points are either utterly forgotten (the Dark Matter plot) or ruined (the main plot itself). I hate the deus ex machina of the Crucible and the ghost-AI-boy Catalyst was easily one of the worst things I have ever seen in a video game. But the worst thing I have ever seen are the endings which are all mostly the same, involve losses in logic that are absolutely astounding, and have an epilogue that feels both out of place and does not work at all with the material. And I hate that multiplayer actually has a HUGE influence on the single player story (The main portion of Mass Effect.) to the extent that the "best" ending cannot be received unless multiplayer is played.

So, yeah, I'm never buying a Mass Effect product again. This game ruined the series. It ruined the other games in retrospect and I would have never believed that to be possible. The writing was poorly done, and even though I might still support BioWare, they are walking down a very dark path right now. I can only hope that Dragon Age III is something fantastic... but after this... I don't even know anymore.

Also, for people to call out, start with EA, then go to the director, Casey Hudson, the producer, Jesse Houston, the writers (specifically), Mac Walters and Neil Pollner. You also have to wonder how much Drew Karpyshyn leaving BioWare and not working on Mass Effect 3 was a big issue for this game. Because it didn't feel like the other games at all. It lacked heart, and... I think that was the biggest disappointment of all.

Video games should be coherent. They should have a plot that stays with the right tone the whole way through and doesn't sacrifice the story for money, not enough time, or because they want the game to attract a wider audience. I love developers like Valve who are willing to give free DLC to their games, great games that they are. I would have gladly paid for Portal 2's DLC, but I could acquire it for free, and that's good business and the mark of a good company who really is looking out for the players' best interests. We're the ones giving them our money, showing them we like their games through sales or not. And I'd be hard pressed not to like Valve's approach to video games or Obsidian's approach or Bethesda's. But EA and BioWare have been walking a very fine line for a while now with day 1 DLCs, trying to gauge money out of the people that love these games. It's ridiculous. It's unconscionable. I would gladly pay for a DLC that isn't packaged with the game, one that is really great and adds a lot to the overarching plot or characters or whatnot. I will not pay for something that has been stripped out of the game. Mass Effect 3 deserves a coherent and sensical ending for all those people who put their time and energy into loving the games and these characters. The tagline for the game was "TAKE EARTH BACK" but I never did. I never had the chance. The endings wouldn't allow me to take earth back. I understand how sometimes there cannot be happy endings. I like sad endings or bittersweet ones, but the ending here feels so utterly inappropriate to the series and for the people who cared so much about these characters and situations.

I didn't care that my Shepard couldn't possibly survive because I didn't play multiplayer. In my head he did survive and the whole ending is a bunch of bullshit. In my head my Shepard fought every last Reaper he could, and maybe he died running to that beam, running for the Citadel. Maybe he died as his love interest, Tali in his case, ran with him, both hoping for an end, both finding that they couldn't stand against the onslaught. And that would have been enough, ending it before the end, before that final excursion. It certainly wouldn't have answered anything, but it would have been beautiful regardless. Instead the heart of the game was ripped away... if it ever even existed at all. Tali inexplicably teleports to the Normandy that teleports to Charon and the rest is the rest, I suppose.

I guess the logic bothers me, the what the hell just happened. I feel kicked in the gut. I feel like I was just beat up by a schoolyard bully who then proceeded to insult every little thing about me. I've been sitting on this review for a few days, desperately hoping that I would feel better about everything, and finding that... no, I don't. If anything the time has caused me to become more irate. Why doesn't BioWare answer the people who have issues with this? Why didn't they try to make something somewhat satisfying however dark it had to be? I just wan to feel like my playthroughs of the games mattered. I want to feel like my Shepard, my awkward looking, big-lipped, fuzzy-haired, and somewhat awkward Shepard, mattered in the long run... that his decisions mattered. That the people he helped on the Citadel weren't all dead. That he didn't die for a terrible ending, listening to some ghost-AI thing that made no sense. Why didn't my Shepard speak up and say how he made peace between the Geth and the Quarians, how synthetic life could coexist with organic life as seen with EDI and Joker? That there didn't need to be some synthesis to tie into the game when all that was needed were the desire for those feelings.

Mass Effect as a series has always been progressive about its thoughts on love, AI thought, and everything else, and showing that these things mattered, that they could happen... that feelings in an AI could actually evolve over time as seen in EDI, as seen in Legion... instead of the copout that nope, they're all the same now, synthesized together and whatnot...

I guess the ending left a bad taste in my mouth. It made me think of all of the other better ways BioWare could have handled the ending. It made me think of how I would have done it, and it would have been fantastic if I had done it. I wouldn't have relied on multiplayer or getting new players to buy my product. I would have focused on the people that mattered, the players who had been buying and playing my game all along. Screw the profit. Screw the money. I would have wanted to tell the story, a brilliant story with brilliant characters... and it would have mattered. The heart and soul of the game would have been there, would have existed, and we could have all come away from the game a little better off. Maybe a little happier, maybe a little sadder, but all better for it. Instead we get this abomination of an ending that answers nothing, that does nothing different or new, that feels like fanfiction unto itself. Why? How can I accept this game on these merits? How can I make the pain of this terrible game disappear?

I can't.

Nobody can.

We're left to forever have to deal with this, this ending that BioWare gave us to one of the best sci-fi video game series of all time. We're left to feel empty, to feel like we didn't matter... that the decisions we made, the time we spent playing... none of it mattered when it comes down to a deus ex machina and a choice between three of the same decisions. And maybe BioWare doesn't understand. Maybe I'm just a hater who hates everything and can't see any goodness.

But I wanted to. I loved this series. I wanted to fall in love with it all over again, play it until I couldn't... but I can't anymore. Mass Effect 3 is a failure despite all the good it has to offer. The ending ruined the series, and it took a little happiness and hope out of the lives of many. I hope you're happy, BioWare. I hope this was all worth it to you.

4 comments:

  1. You really are an idiot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for insulting me rather than saying why you seemingly disagree with me, Anonymous. Really very mature. This is my OPINION. I literally can't be an IDIOT when it comes to my OPINION.

      Delete
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