Monday, May 23, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Preview

There has been lots of information swirling the web about Mass Effect 3 recently. Tons of new delicious information about the final act of the most ambitious RPG video game series ever made has caused puddles of saliva at the feet of every sci-fi gaming nerd to have been intelligent enough to play these amazing games. I am a massive fan of the franchise and of Bioware (though their business strategies of late have caused me to become a little concerned), so there is naturally a pool of my own drool engulfing my feet up to my ankles.
Mass Effect is the best game I’ve ever played. Being such a huge sci-fi fan, it’s no surprise that I would say that. Mass Effect 2, although amazing, was a bit disappointing to me. It lacked a lot of RPG elements and the story suffered from some amateur writing mistakes. I was also not fond of their decision to abandon literally every single aspect of Mass Effect 1. I understand it is an import aspect of the second act of the hero’s journey to tear the hero away from what he is familiar with, but I was still mad about losing my favorite bad ass Alliance trained warrior woman to the pit of cameos. All in all, I did not feel that Mass Effect 2 was the sequel ME fans deserved.
Thankfully, everything I missed about ME1 is making a return in ME2. Ashley, Kaidan, Liara, Garrus, and Tali return as your team in ME3, along with newcomer James Vega, and a host of others yet to be revealed. With that info, I was sold. Shepard will also be once again in the service of the Alliance, and David Anderson (my favorite non-squad member of the series) will be returning, this time in his combat duds and armed with an assault rifle. RPG features will be making a return in a new enhanced form which includes (but is not limited to) a more complex level-up system and weapon customization. You can now customize your guns changing both the functionality and appearance. Every weapon from Mass Effect, including DLC guns and heavy weapons will be returning, and better than ever.
Bioware has also promised a smaller squad in ME3 than the team in ME2. With five slots already confirmed (remember, Ashley and Kaidan can’t occupy the same slot at once), that should leave 3 or 4 more characters to be revealed. The bulk of the ME2 cast will not be making a return as permanent squad members, but rest assured, Bioware will have temporary companions akin to Lair of the Shadow Broker type quests sprinkled throughout ME3. So if Miranda isn’t on your team permanently, she will still join you for one more adventure, one that will likely resolve her character arc and her romance with Shepard. As bad as I feel for the gamers who liked the cast of ME2 better than the original companions, I can’t help but chuckle at the folks who thought the suicide squad was intended to be the main cast of the trilogy. Take that ME1 haters!
Combat will also be getting enhancements featuring more shooter elements like SWAT turns, blind fire, and the ability to jump and roll. New melee attacks will offer an increase in your fisticuffs and enhanced enemy and squad AI will keep you on your toes. Levels are designed to be much larger for the final fight. Levels now are wider and multi-tiered and will include ladders to reach higher areas.
With all of these amazing enhancements, the question now is, “What is the story?” Bioware is remaining mum on the specifics promising very few spoilers throughout the marketing campaign. However they are offering a little bit. The story will begin where Arrival left of taking place two months after the final events of ME2. Shepard stands on trial for his past actions, likely his dealing with Cerberus, killing SPECTREs, and his war crimes against the Batarians. If you haven’t played LOTSB or Arrival, sorry for the spoilers. During the trial, Earth his attacked by none other than the Reapers, the immortal race of sentient machine ships that devour and destroy entire civilizations. They have finally arrived and they are not happy.
Earth is lost, and the only thing Shepard can do is escape with his life and the lives of his crew. His task is to gather all of the other races in the galaxy to take the fight to the Reapers and try to retake Earth in the process. The task will not be simple as the rest of the galaxy has their own problems. The Turians are being hit harder by the Reapers than Humanity. The Salarians are deciding the fate of the Krogan and the Quarians are in the process of retaking their home world from the Geth. The galaxy is on the brink of civil war while full scale war with the Reapers has already erupted. Species loyalty will need to be gained in order to battle the Reapers and send them crying back to dark space once and for all. Every major action you have taken will lead to dramatically different conclusions. Four distinct endings exist with many, many variables in between.
Now that you know what Mass Effect 3 is offering, it’s time for some speculation. As far as the squad goes, we know that Ashley or Kaidan, Liara, Garrus, Tali and Vega are confirmed. I predict we will see about eight characters in total (actually 9, but only eight at a time). I expect to see Wrex making a return despite the heavy rumors of his role being strictly temporary. As of right now, everyone from ME1 is returning except Wrex. Also, there is a strange lack of Vanguard roles on the squad (Jack and Jacob will not be on the squad). Wrex also has some unfinished business with Aria. If you listen to her dialog she strongly hints at a hidden past as an Asari Commando, and says “better luck next time,” an obvious reference to Wrex’s tale about his old friend Aleena. If Wrex isn’t on the team, how will we get that issue resolved? And who will be our token Krogan? Not Grunt as there are too many soldiers on the team already. I also bet that Anderson will be on the team. Game Informer saw him on Shepard’s team in gameplay footage. Bioware dismissed it as being a placeholder, but why give him combat duds for ME3? Why ask him to join your team in ME2? Why resign from the council in ME: Retribution? Why have him on the squad at all? He’s not going to be a temporary teammate, mark my words. He’s in as a full time companion. I also predict at least one more new teammate, probably a Batarian.
As far as the story goes, I can’t even begin to speculate where it’s going to go. There are so many unanswered questions with any number of results. What’s up with the Klendagon weapon? What about the dark energy that is forcing stars to die faster than usual? Are the Batarians in league with the Reapers? What is up with these beings of light mentioned in the Klencory codex? Why do the Reapers do this? Where did they come from? What are they after? What about the Citadel? Are the Keepers still a threat?
All in all, Mass Effect 3 sounds like it will be the big crescendo the franchise deserves. And with the heavy emphasis on ME1 in the squad makeup and reworking of features, I expect the game will be what I wanted from Mass Effect 2, the sequel we deserved. For the first time since Mass Effect 2 was released, I am eagerly awaiting Bioware’s next game!
However, even amidst all this excitement, I am still very concerned for ME3. ME2 did not turn out even remotely how I hoped it would, and Dragon Age 2 introduced an idea that Bioware is inching further and further away from RPGs and focusing too much on “mainstream gamers.” The rumors of multiplayer I find to be unsettling to say the least, and with the confirmation of same sex love interests for both male and female players, it looks like certain romance interests will all of the sudden be bisexual. Which is weird, kind of. I just hope Ashley isn’t bisexual. It doesn't fit her character.
Bioware will need to tread carefully with Mass Effect 3. It seems that every game they release, their fan base shrinks and so does their credibility. I remain cautiously optimistic for ME3, and I truly hope that their poor reception of DA2 knocked some sense into them and their new “mainstream mindset.” I did love DA2 and all, but it really was the weakest Bioware game ever made. If DA2 is usurped by ME3 on that front, well, kiss your butt good bye Bioware.

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