I invited a couple of Mass Effect fans to reflect on our initial playthroughs of Mass Effect 3 together in real time, to be posted in a couple three installments. We invite you to come and revel in our luminous insights and trenchant bon mots! Marvel at our many euphemisms for space genitalia! Watch us make feeble stabs at appearing objective in critiquing the game series that has held us by the nerd short hairs* lo these last 5 years!
Our third was a bit late to the party, so today will just be Trevor and my own initial reactions.
AL SCHWARTZ: I thought the opening attack felt oddly perfunctory, and Shephard seems weirdly mellow about it. I get that the set up of these games requires you to be able to set your own pace, but I feel like there could be an a greater sense of anger and desperation to the voice performance (maybe Femshep is better) when dealing with this cataclysmic scenario. I don’t know, maybe if the Vancouver segment was a bit longer it would’ve sold the scale better. Also, I may have watched the trailers with those fantasticly epic images of hundreds of Reapers entering the atmosphere too many times, and was just disappointed we didn’t get a proper one here.
Moving along, the Mars segment is pretty great. Love the look of the level, and while the introduction of the Prothean deus ex macchina is a bit ham-fisted, it gets a boost by being exposition-ed by Liara, making a triumphant return. My Shephard is already being tempted to get back with her, but I would feel total heel leaving Tali high and dry after she was exiled from her people and took my name.
Also annoying: the character importer not being able to bring in my Shephard’s face which was a freaking preset from ME1. This game has preset models of its own, how do you not include all of the earlier ones?
TREVOR LA PAY: If you think the Crucible is a weak Deus Ex Machina, wait until you get to act two. It is essentially “Mass Effect 2.5: Coincidental Reunions.”
Oddly enough, I’m won over by the Vega character. He’s no Shale, but he makes Jacob look like a tub of plain yogurt.
From Ashes is surprisingly good, much to the chagrin of the people who foolishly boycotted it. Chaps Shephard regrets his Tryst with Miranda, but has too much pride to go running back to Liara like a doormat.
I just finished the Turian homeworld (moon) mission, and I’m off to do some exploring with the two coolest and most unexpected new squadmates in any ME game. Poor Garrus and Kaidan will remain on the ship for the remainder of the game, much like during their first two stints aboard the Normandy. Somebody’s got to calibrate those guns, I guess.
A: I like the Citadel alright, but the world does seem awfully small so far, with Ashley and Liara and now Chakwas dropping directly into my lap. My ME 2.5 might be a bit less crowded than yours, however, since I lost Jacob, Grunt, Samara and Zaeed to the Collectors.
The dream sequence with the kid may have been a bit overwrought, but it was designed beautifully. And my gut says that Anderson should’ve been the one to die in the opening, although I’m sure he’ll get a heroic payoff in the end.
T: As I play through this game, I’m torn between loving the little character moments, the culminating story cappers, and the combat (even if it’s far too easy for someone who played through the last game six times), and being mildly disappointed by the overarching game. The Reaper/Cerberus stuff hasn’t offered many surprises, and I’m so, so sick of walking around the Citadel. And there’s something else missing, even outside of my beloved exploration and colorful sidequests that I suppose the end of the galaxy would preclude. I’ve been trying to piece together just what’s missing over the last few days in my head, and I’ve come to a preliminary conclusion: ME3 is a disjointed series of endings and farewells rather than a cohesive story. Whereas ME2‘s sprawling character hunt came together perfectly in the Suicide Mission, ME3‘s various goodbyes lead to… more firefights. And while the combat is glorious, there’s a certain cleverness lacking here that was dripping from the walls in ME2. Where ME2‘s missions typically began with a mystery and a surprise – take Jacob’s loyalty mission, or the Prison ship turnaround, or the incredible Collector Ship mission – here, it’s either Reapers or Cerberus, without any surprises or fanfare.
I also miss my heavy weapons. But that’s a minor, fanboy-ish complaint.
Judging by the boards and the rest of the internet, I’m probably the only one in the world who feels this way. I acknowledge this, and I’m still trying to articulate why this game isn’t clicking for me like the first two. Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s more than a lot to love, especially regarding how some of the main characters check out.
A: Let’s talk combat for a minute. I’ve been very impressed by it, although I do miss the heavy weapons every now and then (mostly when mechs or harvesters come calling). If I have a complaint, it’s about fighting the same Reaper or Cerberus units when I’m almost 20 hours in. I haven’t seen a single geth or other alien enemy outside of the Rachni tunnel mission. Also, am I right in thinking that Grunt would’ve made an appearance there if I’d kept him alive?
But mostly, it’s a great improvement. The weight system is a great way to allow you full flexibility in your tactics while rewarding specialization. The powers are similarly a bit more customizable than in 2, but not enough to be burdensome. And most importantly, they finally found a way to fix Insanity! I could never bring myself to play an easier difficulty, but the setting was problematic in both the earlier games. In ME1, it basically just cranked enemy health up to a billion, so you could incapacitate a random pirate, unload an assault rifle in his face until it overheated and only take him halfway down. Then in 2, coating every enemy in shields and armor made tech powers essential and biotics practically useless, as by the time you wore them down to the point they’d have an effect, it wasn’t worth the effort.
But 3 has a much better balance, and while the enemies are not invincible, they are aggressive and more resourceful. While my infiltrator still tries to camp out in the back and pick off enemies with a sniper rifle, the steady stream of grenades forces me to keep moving and gives combat a frantic feel that ME2 only sporadically produced. I’m looking forward to trying out an adept or an engineer in the future.
Also, ammo isn’t as scarce as in 2, so running out just forces me to break cover rather than handicapping me throughout entire missions. Plus, the beastly Prothean particle rifle gives you the option if you preferred the ME1 overheat system (although I didn’t).
All in all, much improved.
T: Geth make a fleeting appearance at the end of the second act, but the vast preponderance of enemies are Cerberus goons, Cannibals and Marauders. And yes, Grunt was the Rachni cameo character.
I’m in general agreement with all of your observations. From a mechanical standpoint, this is the best implementation of a third person shooter I’ve ever played, and makes me wish my favorite open-world shooters would take note. I haven’t tried insanity yet, but I’ll most likely give it a shot with my next go-round. The Prothean Beam Rifle has been an instant-win button for me.
I’m excited for you guys to make it through to the end. There’s an interesting discussion waiting there.
A: Sticking with mechanics, how do you feel about the War Asset system? I really like it as a way of integrating all your multitudinous choices from the earlier games in a simple but meaningful way. I mean, with a dozen crew members in ME2, any combination of which could be dead at the start of this game, it’s not really feasible to have all of them available as party members. But getting a small bonus for having Jack available to contribute to the war effort manages to be concrete but inessential, which is a tricky balance to strike.
A: If there’s anything to gripe about, it’s that assigning assets numerical values makes it feel a bit mechanical. If I was going to change anything, it might be to simply have a list of war assets without giving you a meter to fill up, so that you don’t know exactly how your readiness level is going to stack up against the endgame. I thought the cinematic feel and suspense of ME2‘s finale were upped considerably by having the mechanics behind squadmates living/dying be rather opaque. I mean, it was obvious that picking a non-loyal party member for a special assignment would lead to failure, but there was more to it than that. Here’s hoping ME3‘s finale similarly has more going on than a score check.
One thing that it certainly won’t lack for is SCALE. The game has been gloriously epic so far, with a much more open feel than ME2 (which didn’t feel claustrophobic before, but now seems pointedly lacking in giant Lovecraftian mechanical fiends lurching across the horizon). I can see what you’re saying about how the story is just a series of conclusions, but I feel like that is a problem for new players and one that doesn’t particularly bother me having played the earlier games several times apiece. It’s definitely more Return of the King than Return of the Jedi when it comes to balancing a standalone story against trilogy-capping responsibilities, but I feel like we’ve sort of rounded a corner in regards to serialization where I don’t necessarily fault HP and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two for not making concessions f0r viewers who choose it as their entry point to the series. ME3 is designed primarily for the faithful, and since that’s me, I like it.
NEXT TIME: We get into the actual story, and get Femshepped up in this when Lauren Ortega joins the party.
*Contrary to the general population, “short hairs” on a nerd refers to the wisps of dark moustache on a face unable to produce a proper beard