2012-03-09

Mass Effect 3 – Our Thoughts So Far

by Yo Snyder

I honestly don’t know where to start in writing about Mass Effect 3
at this point. I’m about ten hours in and I’m loving every minute of
it. It’s a sprawling, massive adventure attempting to give a worthy
conclusion to one of the great sci-fi epics of any medium this
generation. It has so many little treats for fans who have been with the
series from the beginning, and plenty of thrills for those arriving
late to the party. I’m not ready to give it my final review yet
obviously, since I’ve barely scratched the surface, but here are just a
few random thoughts about what I’ve experienced so far. Truthfully, you
shouldn’t have to wait for a review; this is one gaming experience you
don’t want to miss.

I love the vistas in this game. It’s easily
the prettiest of the series so far. Few things are quite as awe
inspiring as being on moon with a planet hanging on the horizon awash in
flame. You see lights flicker from the explosions of a massive battle
raging all around the planet, and then you turn and see a massive,
menacing machine slowly plodding along the surface of the moon you’re
on, wiping out soldiers as it goes. There’s a tragic beauty to all of
the destruction on display in this game, from the emotional first
moments on Earth as it’s devastated by the Reapers to every other system
you may visit where this unstoppable force works to wipe out all
organic life. The art design and those achingly beautiful vistas of
destruction this game regularly puts on display only adds to the
haunting, emotional tone of all you experience. Love it.

The gameplay has seen several tweaks. The shooting is tight, fast and fun. It’s not much different from Mass Effect 2,
but has seen some improvements. You have more weapon choices, it’s
easier to get in and out of cover (though not perfect), enemies are
smart enough to flank you (but not smart enough to not just rush right
at you), and there are plenty of options for customizing your gear.
Kinect is also put to good use, allowing you to switch weapons, move
your teammates and use powers all with a simple word. This keeps the
combat flowing by eliminating the need to call up menus to switch things
around, and it works quite well. There’s also a multiplayer element
this time around, which plays like a version of Gears of War 3‘s
Horde Mode, but with implications for your single-player campaign. It’s a
lot of fun to fight wave after wave of enemies with up to three of your
friends, so although it may not be a necessary addition, it’s at least
well-done and worth-while. 

Of course Mass Effect has always been
about story, and the third chapter carries that tradition ably. From a
gut wrenching opening similar in tone to the opening scenes of the
recent Star Trek to some nice character moments that will reward
faithful fans to some interesting developments with the various species
trying to stop the Reapers, there’s lots of story to explore and it’s
all rather compelling. It’s fun to see familiar faces, even if not all
of them will join you on this last adventure, while the new characters
you meet are interesting and worth getting to know as well. However, I
should note that while gay relationships have always been a possibility
in the series, this time out the game feels like it has more of an
agenda in making such relationships totally acceptable. Does it detract
from the experience? Depends on what your opinions are on that subject,
but it’s worth noting this issue is a bit more at the forefront of
things than it was in past games. 

Speaking of characters and
relationships, another fun use of Kinect is using it to choose your
options when you talk to other characters. The conversation wheel is
back, just as it was in other games, but now you can just
say…er…what you want to say. It feels kind of silly at first, but to
be honest, I found myself actually doing a little “role playing” as I
called out my choices in a conversation, complete with various
intonations and inflections.  You may not get quite as into character as
I sometimes did, and you don’t have to use it, but it’s kind of fun. 

The
game does have it’s issues. There’s still that nagging problem of
texture pop-in on occasion, and some occasional frame-rate dips when
things get really crazy. Also, characters sometimes have a little
trouble keeping track of who they’re talking to (I once had a whole
conversation with Shepard looking off to one side instead of at the
person he was talking with, weird). Beyond some of the technical issues,
side quests now often show up just by over-hearing conversations, which
makes them feel less personal, and they’re typically very simple fetch
quests that lack any substance. There’s no more scanning a planets for
minerals or aimlessly exploring similar looking planetscapes. It’s all
been streamlined to scanning a whole system and then just going to scan a
planet where something’s detected and launching a probe to recover. Of
course, the Reapers may detect your scans and come after you, which at
first is a little thrilling but soon becomes an annoyance. Of all the
ways Mass Effect has approached this part of the game, this feels the
least like exploring the wonders of galaxy, but then, the galaxy is
fighting for its survival, so I guess there isn’t much time to explore
anymore. 

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen of Mass Effect 3
so far, and I can’t wait to see more. I’m anxious to bring the
disparate races of the galaxy together to see if we can put an end to
the Reaper threat, but it’s not going to be easy, and I can already tell
there will be some tough decisions to make that will affect these
characters that I care about in dramatic ways. Then again, that’s what
makes this series so special, and I’m glad that it is.