Friday, October 19, 2012

Let the Kids Trick or Treat for St. Jude!



Hello everybody!  I would like to draw your attention to a little charity auction going on right now.  My good buddy Stephen Bryant of SRB Productions is putting on a charity to help raise money to fight against childhood cancer and other illnesses.  He has established a nice auction filled with great artwork, comics, books, and jewelry from many talented individuals, including yours truly.

I have put up a lot featuring a signed issue of Star Crossed Galaxy #1, as well as three exclusive, never before offered prints!  You can check it out here, or check out the other stellar items up for auction right here.  As stated, all items from my lot will be signed by me.  If you are wondering what the auction is all about, check out this interview with the man behind the curtain, Stephen Bryant

Thanks to everyone who bids, or at least spreads the word.  It is for a great cause, and it's something that I am very passionate about.  I wouldn't help out if I weren't.  The auction ends October 31st, so you have plenty of time to bid.  If you want to that is.  Just know, these kids desperately need your help (cue super sad Sarah McLachlan music). 

In other news, I will be at Detroit Fanfare next weekend (October 26-28).  I will be selling copies of Star Crossed Galaxy #1 and Twilight Pop Presents #3.  I do not have too many copies, so if you want to stop by and purchase a copy, be there quick!  Also, make sure to say hi to my table partner, Rose McClain, and take a ganders at her excellent artwork.  She is absolutely amazing.  

Two news updates, 6 plugs, 25 godzillion links later, and we've reached the end of this update.  Thanks everybody for paying attention (I say to an empty room).  Stay safe and awesome, and keep visiting da blag! 



Friday, September 28, 2012

Where Have I Been?


I know I haven't been around much, but there's a good reason.  I am now an official contributor of PCM Tech Help Show.  If you like my articles and reviews, check me out there.  I am literally doing the same thing at PCM that I do here, only now I get paid.  Check it out here!

The big question is, where does that leave my blog?  From now on, the blog will be used mostly for news on Star Crossed Galaxy, and for anything going on with my life that I feel like posting.  Or anything that would not be totally appropriate for PCM.  Like if I rant about parking meters, or something.

But today, I would like to take a minute to announce that I will officially be heading up to Detroit Fanfare from October 26-28.  I will be in artist alley selling copies of SCG, as well as Twilight Pop Presents.  If you are up that way, make sure to stop by and say hi.  

Well that's all for now.  Make sure to stay healthy and happy my followers!  


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Thoughts


                    Proof that cupcakes win every argument


Mass Effect 3 was released back in March, and with it came a furious tempest of outrage aimed at the ending to the would-be great sci-fi epic.  Mass Effect 3’s ending was littered with plot holes, narrative inconsistencies, confusion, bleakness, and disrespect to the fans and the lore that came before it.  Now, Bioware has the right to shit on their game if they want to, but the fans understandably outraged over an ending that not only destroyed the entire galaxy, but also abolished every choice you have ever made for your Commander Shepard, right down to the character’s gender (“The Shepard?” Fuck that).  Due to the sheer power of the outcry, Bioware elected to calm the storm and release a new extended ending.  This ending would feature additional cutscenes and epilogues that would further expand and clarify the existing ending rather than change it.  But considering how utterly horrific the original ending was, would that be enough?

As it turns out, Bioware did not simply clarify their ending.  They did in fact change the ending, however, the changed it by working within the confines of what was already there.  The truth of the matter is that ME3’s original ending set out to destroy the universe, abolish your choices and end the franchise on a ridiculous Adam and Eve reference.  What other purpose does the revelation of the asari goddess being a prothean serve?  Why else is the Stargazer scene necessary?  And what other reason would they strip away any reference to Commander Shepard by referring to him/her simply as “The Shepard?”  Why else would the Mass Relays explode if not to cause a catastrophic event in every single system?  Why else is it necessary to separate the Normandy crew from the rest of the galaxy, if it is not consumed by hundreds if not thousands of supernovas?  Thankfully, the ending is now much less grim and apocalyptic and actually commits to stopping the Reapers.

There is not a whole lot that has changed in the EC, but what has changed is dramatically different and has a massive impact on the emotions you feel at the end of the game.  Firstly, the EMS requirements have been lowered to an achievable level.  Now, every single ending option is available to you and your Shepard’s without having to resort to multiplayer.  As much as I appreciate this change I can’t help but remember that Bioware promised this was going to be the case at launch.  Among some other changes were new cutscenes that expanded the battle for Earth slightly, including an especially excellent scene involving the chosen love interest.  Also included is a stronger, more effective confrontation with Harbinger.  

The Catalyst has also been rewritten to actually make some sense.  Before, the Catalyst was an artificial entity inhabiting the Citadel and controlling the Reapers.  Obviously this creates a massive plot hole in ME1.  If the Catalyst is the Citadel, why do the Reapers need Sovereign to open the relay in the first installment?  Now, the Catalyst is the collective consciousness of the Reapers (which was my theory!  Woot!!!).  The Catalyst scene has been rewritten quite dramatically.  Not only can Shepard argue with the Star-brat’s logic, but the space toddler even admits to its own logical flaws.  It also provides further insight to the Reapers, the Crucible and all of the choices you can make for the ending.  One other addition to this scene is a new ending.  The much requested “Screw you Catalyst,” ending now exists.  However, this ending results in the utter destruction of this cycle, paving way for the next cycle to finish the job we started.  Basically, the original ending is now the new ending.  Control, destroy and synthesis are also explained in greater detail by the Catalyst, and each have a unique epilogue sequence that explain the result of your choice. 

In my opinion, the Extended Cut does its job.  Sure there are still tons of plot holes, retcons, and a host of other problems, but at least there are no inbred colonies.  It’s not perfect, hell it isn’t even particularly good, but it does its job.  Had Mass Effect 3 shipped with this ending, the fans may have simply said, “Well that was kind of sucky.  But oh well.  Let’s start over and play again!”  However, the original ending was, in my opinion, an insult to the most loyal of fans.  It was like cutting off a limb.  This extended cut merely attempts to put a band aid on and act like it’s all better.  Sadly, the leg is still gone and there is nothing you can do to repair the damage. 

Overall, ME3’s extended end fixes what it set out to fix.  The real problems throughout ME3 are still present.  Just a little bit more closure was added… sort of.  The biggest problem I have with the EC is that it still refuses to commit to whether or not Shepard is alive.  That was easily the biggest gripe people had with the original ending, and yet, Shepard’s status is still up in the air.  I don’t think Bioware realizes the power Shepard’s fate has on players.  If Shepard stood up and dusted him/herself off, this whole debacle would be over.  Fans would accept what they can’t change and move on.  Instead, Bioware continues to force us to write the ending in our heads, without even bothering to give us compensation.   


Does my score of Mass Effect 3 change now that the EC has fixed a few major gripes in the ending?  No, because it doesn’t fix the major gripes with the entire game.  My biggest issues with ME3 had nothing to do with the ending.  They were the auto dialog, the lack of closure, the useless characters that go nowhere, the horrifically bad dialog and reputation systems, the lack of player agency throughout the game, no consequences for any choice you ever made; I could go on and on.  None of these problems were fixed in any substantial way.  When I beat ME3 with this extended ending, I feel exactly the same as I did when I beat the game the first time.  Disappointed.  Still, both ME3 and the EC have some high points.  I recommend getting the EC simply because it’s free.  Just don’t be surprised if you still feel like you overpaid.  Mass Effect 3, you still get a 7 out of 10.  Enjoy it. 

And one last note to my readers, don’t be expecting me to review any more Bioware games or DLC.  I think I’m pretty much done with them.  I know many of my readers jumped on thanks to my ludicrous amount of Mass Effect articles.  I may be done with Bioware, but I hope you guys stick around.   

Monday, June 11, 2012

Prometheus Review


We Have Found God. Turns Out He’s a 10 Foot Tall Steroid Addicted
Fester Addams.


I know I am not the only one on the internet who hates prequels.  In concept, a prequel is about as pointless as it gets.  The common prequel starts off with an established piece of backstory from whatever it is prequeling, and then proceeds to take the viewer right up to the earliest events of the original story.  So it’s basically telling a story that we already know with an ending we’ve already seen.  What a waste of time.  When I heard that Prometheus was a prequel to the prolific Alien franchise, I was disheartened.  However, if you hate prequels like me, put your fears to rest. Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien.  Prometheus is in fact its own story.
   
Prometheus is about the search for the origin of human kind.  All across the world, ancient civilizations mapped out the existence of a distant planet.  This planet may be the home of an alien race that created human kind.  Our old friends, the Weyalnd-Yutani Corp, decide to lead an expedition of scientists, botanists, biologists, geologists and all other kind of ists to make contact with these ancient aliens we call “the Engineers”, and perhaps discover the answer to the most puzzling question of all time; “Why?”

To be quite honest, the story to Prometheus is a mess.  It’s a hot mess of ideas thrown together, cobbled up in a big dripping ball, and then lunged into the air, breaking off into sludgy disgusting pieces as it cascades to the ground.  Not that I can blame studio executives for getting excited upon reading the outline because the story foundation of Prometheus is solid.  What it lacks is logic, believability and characters that aren’t all too dumb to live.  

Every character is supposedly an expert in their field, so how the hell do these “experts” end up doing exactly the opposite of what any real expert in their field would do?!  Here’s a hypothetical example.  Imagine a fireman trying to put out a fire with whiskey.  That’s pretty much the way these “experts” think.  There is no way in hell any of these people are experts.  They are too stupid.  Not to mention the main character Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.  For someone who claims to believe in God she sure does everything she can to prove he doesn’t exist.  Shaw is religious only because the script says so.  How can I believe in characters like this?  It’s sad that the most realistic character in the movie is an artificial person. 

 Beyond the horrible characters, Prometheus also just spits in the face of logic at every turn.  “Hey guys, we may be on an alien world but the air is 100% breathable according to our sensors.  If it’s all the same to you guys, I’m going to ignore the fact that we are on an alien world and take off my helmet and breathe in potential contaminants, bacteria, and contagions that may not be able to be detected by our Earth technology.”   Yeah, these smart dudes take off their helmets just because it’s fun, and then they are actually allowed back in their ship, ignoring the fact that these people may be contaminated.  Then the best part happens: everyone is shocked that people start getting sick.  Idiots.  It’s hard to feel bad for characters that bring every bad thing on themselves by making stupid decisions.

Prometheus is not all bad though.  It is masterfully filmed, featuring some excellent cinematography, brilliant effects and an undeniably stirring ambience.  The movie is perfectly paced and is extremely tense.  Prometheus may have a bad script, but that does not prevent it from delivering on its chills and scares.  It really is a beautiful movie.  That and the acting is terrific.  I give special props to Michael Fassbender, who plays the android David, serving as a care taker of sorts for the crew.  
Prometheus suffers from a weak story that was clearly under thought, or simply underdeveloped.  The characters are too stupid to inspire even a single semblance of pity, leaving Prometheus to be a hollow and emotionless experience.  The story also asks way too many questions while offering absolutely zero answers, once again leaving the audience unsatisfied.  However, it is successful in its thrills, chills, creeps, and scares.  Prometheus also features one of the most intensely visceral scenes produced in modern cinema.  A scene that is brutally memorable, perhaps even iconic, and certainly worthy of being placed right next to the original Alien’s first chest bursting scene.  Prometheus will be long remembered for this sequence alone.

Overall, Prometheus is a fun and thrilling adventure.  Though it wants to be more, it ultimately amounts to a mindless yet entertaining sci-fi thriller.  It’s not nearly as good as Alien or Aliens, but it is miles beyond Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection.   It has a lot of great ideas, but the execution leaves them dangling around like flies stuck in a spider’s web.  It’s not cohesive, but it is a fair effort.  Perhaps Scott’s eyes were just a tad too big for his stomach on this one.  Either way, his filmmaking ability is still in top shape.  The narrative… well… that’s another story…  I give Prometheus a 7.5 out 10.  It’s disappointing, but not terrible.               





Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Avengers Review


We all knew this day was coming.  Ever since the end of the credit roll in Iron Man back in 2008, we all knew that one day, The Avengers would assemble.  That day has now come.  However, gathering these heroes together is no easy feat, as The Avengers is not simply its own movie, nor is it simply the continuation of five movies that came before it.  It is also a movie that carries the weight of four separate film franchises on its shoulders.  The task ahead is not easy, not to mention the scale of the hype that has been building for four long years.  The Avengers could only go two ways.  Either it was going to be the greatest super hero film of all time, or it was going to be the most disappointing film venture in the history of cinema.  

When I review a movie, I try not to nitpick.  What I try to do is analyze what the movie did right or wrong from a more academic level.  That’s kind of the problem with Avengers.  I cannot think of any one thing this movie did that was fundamentally wrong.  I could nitpick, but even that which I would nitpick is just me reaching.  Of course, this makes for one hell of a movie going experience!  The Avengers really does deliver on the hype in a way that almost defies logic.  You would think that if any Marvel movie was terrible, it would be Avengers.  And yet, Avengers manages to be so good, that some of the other Marvel movies seem to lose their luster.  Yeah.  It’s that good.  Then again I am a Marvel fanboy, so maybe I am biased.

In Avengers, Loki has returned from his exile to conquer Earth.  Armed with his mysterious staff that has the power to control minds and an army of Chitauri (if you are Marvel-savvy you know that means Skrulls) he is bent on subjugating the world’s population to bow down before him.  We Earth folk have other plans.  Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD has assembled a team of extraordinary individuals to take Loki and his army head on, and show him why attacking Earth was the biggest mistake he has ever made.  That is, of course if the team can take a break from fighting each other.  At face value, you think its standard superhero team movie fare, until you realize that you have never seen a real superhero team movie.  In the X-Men movies, was there ever a character that was even remotely relevant beyond Wolverine?  Was teamwork ever emphasized?  No.  There was no teamwork or unity in the X-Men movies.  It was all about Wolverine and how the team can help him accomplish the task.  If someone were to ask me who the main character is in the Avengers, I would say it is the Avengers.  Everyone gets their shot at the limelight and each teammate is the main character of their own story.
 
Right out of the gate, Avengers starts strong with the introduction of Loki.  He has changed a bit since his days on Asgard.  No longer is he the tortured adopted brother desperately seeking Daddy’s approval.  Now he is a dastardly, sadistic super villain.  In fact, he is a classic super villain.  You know the one who breaks off and starts to monologue even when he totally shouldn’t (which serves up one of the funniest moments in movie history mind you).  He is much more like his comic book counterpart in Avengers than he was in Thor.  It is definitely interesting to see this level of character development from the villain.  Interesting and exciting.  As the movie continues, it just keeps getting better and better.  Each character gets their own individual introduction, bringing the audience up to speed on who they are and what their powers and problems are.

Joss Whedon, the man we know as the that really underrated director dude who graced television with such cult classics as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly (and his directorial debut in the movie follow up Serenity), handles Avengers with a masterful touch.  His background in character driven drama is well suited for this epic, and Whedon never skimps on character or drama.  In fact, the best part of Avengers is its clear understanding of the characters.  Whedon knows each member of the team.  He knows their strengths and their weaknesses.  But most of all, he knows what makes them who they are.  The conflicts that each hero has with each other are not only natural and organic, but usually quite tense.  There is no situation where a character dislikes another simply because the plot needs him to.  When these characters dislike each other it’s because they are simply incompatible.  A perfect example is the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man.  These two simply cannot, will not and do not get along.  And yet despite it all, they all have a common goal, common ground they can all stand on.  It is this story that is most interesting, the quest for these heroes to find common ground, despite the fact that they do not like each other.

Beyond the engrossing character drama, Avengers also has a great sense of humor.  Like most of Whedon’s work, Avengers does not take itself too seriously.  In fact, this movie is sometimes so funny, that it is hard to hear some follow up jokes and dialog because you (and the audience in my case) will be laughing so hard.  Even more interesting is that each character has their own comedic shtick.  Iron Man has his sarcasm and over the top personality.  Banner has this geeky awkwardness that invoikes laughs and sympathy.  Cap is this fish out of water who does not always understand the cheeky pop culture references.  And then we have Thor who has this boisterous charm.  “You are petty.  And tiny.” 

The action in Avengers is top notch.  It’s kind of like Michael Bay’s action, only much more coherent and way more creative.  By creative I mean the way that the action scenes are shot and by what the characters do when they go toe to toe with the Skrulls (or each other).  There is one shot in particular when the camera pans around the entire city during the climactic final battle that showcases not only the geniuses of the cinematography (which is phenomenal by the way) but also the brilliant use of the Avengers’ abilities and their teamwork.  It’s utterly genius.  Very few directors can manage to pull off the full spectrum of entertainment the way Joss Whedon can.  Some are good with the drama, other the action, still others with humor.  Whedon seems to be the master of all.  And then some.  Lucky for us, the guy makes summer blockbuster nerdfests.  Joss Whedon is this generation’s Steven Spielberg. 

This is the part of my reviews where I usually talk about what the movie did wrong.  In this case, I can’t, because as I said before, I cannot think of one thing that this movie did legitimately wrong.  That’s not to say it’s perfect, because, what’s perfect?  It’s that I cannot imagine Avengers being any better.  That is some significant praise.  It is literally everything we fanboys were hoping it would be.  Now, I’m sure there are some people out there who hate Avengers, for whatever reason, but come on!  Really?!  This movie was amazing!!!

The Avengers really is the greatest super hero movie of all time.  They are Earth’s mightiest heroes, and this movie did them justice well beyond what I was expecting.  Exhilarating action, a hilarious sense of humor, a commitment to its characters, compelling drama, brilliant cinematography, excellent music, razor sharp dialog, and fantastic performances contribute to the extreme excellence of The Avengers.  It is literally the most fun I have ever had at a movie.  I am not kidding when I say I was bouncing in my seat with joy and excitement.  And it’s not just because of the fan service (which Avengers offers in spades).  It’s just flat out entertaining as hell.  I don’t mean to sink into clich├ęs here, but if you only see one movie this year, see The Avengers.  And then go see it again.  And make sure to stick around for the entire credits to be done.  You will be glad that you did.  I give The Avengers a 10 out of 10.  In fact, I might give it an 11.    

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

C2E2: Friday Report!


Yup. It’s that time again. C2E2 has come and gone. Last year, C2E2 became my first comic convention that I actually participated in. It was a great show, and Star Crossed Galaxy and Twilight Pop Productions had a huge turnout. As for me, I was a rookie looking to drink all the knowledge and experience everyone else had to offer. This year, I was a little more seasoned. I had a better booth, more freebies and more products to sell.

It all started on Friday morning. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before. I was nervous about oversleeping and missing the train. I also couldn’t stop thinking about if I had packed enough supplies for the show. After convincing myself that I was just fine, I ate a half a bowl of raisin bran, showered up and headed off to the train. Last year I went with my pal Andy, which made the trip go by rather quickly. This year I was going solo, and without my i-pod. I was pretty screwed. Fortunately, I was sitting next to a pretty cool guy and we chatted most of the way up.

Eventually I made it into Chicago, and though I was not quite as idealistically enamored by the large cityscape as I was last year, I was equally overwhelmed. I was looking for Graham Cracker Comics which had a shuttle pick up just outside the building. I was told that Graham Cracker Comics was right across the street of Millennium Station. Of course, being in the big ass city all by your lonesome gets a tad intimidating. I ended up walking the totally wrong way, but by the time I realized I was going the opposite direction, I noticed the Sheraton Hotel was in sight. I stayed there last year, so I knew they had a shuttle pick up right outside the hotel. I figured heading that way was a better alternative to doubling back and searching for a comic shop that I have never been to. On my way to the Sheraton, some guy attempted to con me twice. Fortunately, I’m no sucker. I know a bullshit story when I hear one. It was actually kind of funny the second time he tried to con me, because it was only a minute or two after the first attempt. Either way, I was headed to the shuttle and nothing could stop me from getting there.

After arriving at the station, I went to my hotel room, which was attached to the convention center. A little advice, never stay at the hotel that is attached to the convention center. This trip became so expensive there was no way I was making a profit. My fault for procrastinating on a hotel. Anyways, I ended up getting lost trying to find my hotel, because McCormick is frigging huge! Seriously, it was like walking around the Citadel in Mass Effect. Actually, it kind of looked that at times too. Anyways, I finally checked in, got to my hotel room and unpacked. My initial plan was to check in and eat some lunch before heading down to the show floor. Sadly, getting lost in Chicago set me back a whole hour, and it was time to get to the show. I had to forego lunch for today.

At long last I made it to the show floor. I set my booth up and got know my neighbors. Antonio, Elvin, Bryan, you guys were awesome. All three were fantastic artists and awesome neighbors. I have been very fortunate that both of my C2E2 experiences have been with great neighbors. I hate the inevitability of one day having crappy ones. Either way, Friday was kind of a slow day. Not many sales or a whole lot of interest. Though there was this funny rumor that Shia Labeouf of Transformers and Indiana Jones 4 was there selling his comic in artist alley. Yeah, right. We got that dude who played Boomer in the old school Battlestar Galactica signing autographs, but a rising Hollywood pet managed to sneak into artist alley unnoticed? Give me a break. It was nothing but a goofy rumor that would soon become an urban legend. Most everyone discredited it because most people said they heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy.

I was starting to get bogged down in the weakness of Friday. I decided to take a trip around artist alley and introduce myself to the other artists. I ran into my old neighbors Stephen Bryant, Jeremy Dale, and Dave Crosland. It was great seeing all of them once again. I also ran into Enrica Jang, a fellow writer and editor working on an anthology dedicated to William Shakespeare (submission is incoming, I swear!). I also ran into a few newbies, Sean Bishop and Gabriela Sepulveda. Sean was selling his first comic, The Freeloader which is a very charming and fun little comic. Gabriela was selling her paintings and taking commissions. It was their first shows so I was interested in checking in and looking out for them. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the same position. Big congratulations to both of you. I met so many great people over the weekend I have actually lost track of who and when I met them. In fact, I could dedicate a whole post to the great people I met up at C2E2 (which I may actually do).

Anyway, the show winded down. Friday turned out to be a horrifically bad day for me in terms of sales, but in terms of networking, it was excellent. Now that the first day was done, my number 1 priority was to get some gorram food. I had been awake for more than 36 straight hours with only a half bowl of cereal to sustain through the day. Fortunately, the hotel was just a brisk walk away from the show floor. I met with my dad and my little brother as they were just entering the hotel. My little brother loves comic cons, so I invited them up to the show for the weekend. We headed up to our hotel room. I was so dizzy that I fell getting off the elevator. Turns out that not eating anything for a whole day while running around near constantly has a bad effect on the body. Who knew? Anyways, we ordered some pizza a buffalo wings, watched the Red Wings game (in Chicago no less), and then I passed out near instantly. All in all, it was a good first day. But this was just the beginning...

PS: The picture above is a shot of my booth on Friday. It really sucked but it got as the weekend progressed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Visit Me at C2E2 April 13-15


Hey everybody! I thought I would pop in and say howdy. Also if any of you loyal readers (all 3 of ya) happen to be in Chicago this weekend, take note that I will also be there! Yes, I will be at C2E2 in Artist Alley this Friday through Sunday selling copies of my comic book series Star Crossed Galaxy. I will also be promoting TwilightPop Productions, selling copies of the most recent issue of TwilightPop Presents and just generally hanging around.

So if you happen to be in Chicago, or even at the show, stop by, say hi, purchase some good reads, and profess your love for my blog. Also I will freely sign anything. Mostly copies of my comics that I sell you, but I am willing to sign boobs like all great celebrities should. Moobs are okay too, as I am an equal opportunity signer.

So there you have it. C2E2 this weekend. I will be sitting in Artist Alley at table F19. And of course, I will absolutely write up a full report on how the show went when I return, just like last year. Hopefully I will meet some cool celebrities. Last year, I bumped into Ghost Hunter while he was on the phone and Badger from Firefly perused my table. It was cool. Now I must go and pack. I have way too much shit to do and not nearly enough time to do it in.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Mass Effect 3 DLC Epilogues Announced


Bioware announced today that they will be adding a new DLC extended ending to Mass Effect 3. This extending ending will add new cinematic sequences and epilogues for those looking for further closure to Shepard’s story. Any combat? No. Do we get to kill Harbinger? No. Does the Normandy crew get saved? No. Do we get to live happily ever after with our love interest? No. Do our choices matter? No. The only thing this DLC will do is explain the ending. Wow. That’s it? Good to know you were listening Bioware. If you were listening, you would know that clarification is not what we needed. We needed a real ending that fits consistently with Mass Effect and its lore. Clarification will not work, and this is why.

The Final Battle

In case you don’t know, let me give you a brief rundown. Mass Effect has been a trilogy of games that have emphasized choice, individual freedom, and player empowerment. You are Commander Shepard, and throughout the trilogy, you the player force Shepard to make difficult choices that have an impact on the story as it moves through it three chapters. Imagine it like this: Mass Effect is a movie. Bioware represents the writers and producers. They have a story in place and have already built the sets, filled out the cast, and have everything they need to execute the greatest sci-fi epic ever. They just need a director. We, the players, are the director and we get to cast the main character and shape his personality throughout the trilogy. Mass Effect 3 is where it all comes to an end. Sort of…

So here we are, at the end of the story, and therefore the end of an era. Shepard leads his massive army of thousands, maybe even millions of ships to duke it out with the Reapers, ancient immortal space machines bent on destroying all organic life in the galaxy. It’s us versus them, man versus machine and this will be the final battle of our time. If the Reapers win, the extinction of all organic life in this cycle is complete and will begin anew 50,000 years from now, but if we win, our civilization has a chance to live on and experience the very tomorrow every race before us has fought to achieve. The stakes are at the absolute highest in the history of trilogy, and the tension is so thick you can practically cut through it with a knife. So why then is the final climactic battle so… dull?

In ME1, we had one Reaper and only a handful of human ships to fend off the Reaper invasion. The climactic battle for the Citadel was one of the most epic and thrilling moments in the entire game. ME2 lowered the stakes slightly. Instead of fighting for the future of all races, we were just fighting for humanity. However, with the very real threat of dying during the climactic suicide mission, and the battleground taking place on the enemy’s home turf, ME2 end battle turned out to be even more exciting and thrilling than ME1’s. It is actually quite a phenomenal feat to achieve considering the smaller scale of the battle in comparison to ME1’s. ME3 is similarly phenomenal in the sense that it is literally the biggest battle we will ever see in a video game, with everything on the line, and yet, it somehow manages to not only be the most boring mission in ME3, but also the most boring mission in the entire trilogy. Typically, you want your last battle to be the most memorable battle in the story. ME3’s final battle was surprisingly bland, uninspired and uncreative. When a battle against thousands upon thousands of nearly invincible Reapers fighting against an army of literally every race in the galaxy is dwarfed by ME2’s climax involving only a dozen specialists against a few hundred peons, something is dreadfully wrong. Tell me how a cut scene and an epilogue can fix this, because I would really like to know.

Fans want to earn their victory. We want the satisfaction of knowing that what we did mattered. We want a final battle that showcases our hard work and effort. You did it in Mass Effect 2. If we didn't get the armor upgrade, Jack was toasted. If we sent Garrus into the vent, he got his face blasted off (one missile too many I guess). If we didn't have Mordin's loyalty, he was probably going to die. You did this throughout ME3, why did you pick the epic climactic battle to cheap out? Our only objective was get to the beam. You should have had the squadmates take an active role in the end. Perhaps you are being swarmed by husks, and the only way to make it to the beam is for someone to hold them off. If you have Garrus he volunteers and successfully holds the enemies off (if you got his loyalty in ME2). If Garrus died in ME2, Vega would step in and die fending off the horde. Have a team of asari vanguards pull our ass out of tricky situation. Have a wall of krogan charge a brute. Show us that what we did mattered! But most off all, we wanted to kick Harbinger's ass. We should have the chance to fight and kill him. An epilogue and a cutscene is no replacement for gameplay.

Pick a Color

This of course brings us to the end choices. I’m not going to go into a huge explanation as to what happens, because I’m sure you’ve already done it. Shepard seems to have overcome nearly all of the obstacles that prevent from destroying the Reapers. Suddenly, Shepard is transported to some heavenly area where he speaks with this ghostly child-looking entity telling Shepard that the Reapers were the creation of this “Star Child.” He created the Reapers to prune the galaxy of all organic life because organics will always create synthetic machines that will eventually rebel against organics. By killing all organics with his synthetics, he prevents organics from being killed by synthetics. No really. He says this.

So the Star Child’s motivations make no sense. Big deal. He’s the bad guy so he does not necessarily need to make sense. He just needs to be killed like the bad guy he is. There’s only one problem with that scenario. There is an implication that the Star Child is not necessarily the bad guy. In fact, the implication seems to be that Commander Shepard is the bad guy. The Reapers are doing their job, and this Star Child seems to performing a civil service to the galaxy as a whole. According to him, we need to be extinguished because organic life only destroys. He’s not wrong. We human beings are very destructive at times. But then again, he is also being hypocritical. Shepard probably should tell the Star Child that he is a massive hypocrite and extremely narrow minded. After all, the Geth, a synthetic race that once rebelled against their creators are presently helping Shepard and co. rid the galaxy of the Reapers. While the Star Child was accurate when he said that “The created will always rebel against their creators,” he seemed to miss the part where the created also made peace with the creators. My Shepard would tell the Star Child this and reject his reality. Does he? Nope. He listens quite intently and believes the little twerp. He doesn’t question the Star Child’s insane, circular logic. He doesn’t point out the obvious fallacies in his words. No Shepard just goes along with what this ghostly toddler says.

Finally, the Star Child presents Shepard with three color coded choices. Option blue is become a Reaper, which is so anti-Shepard it’s not even funny. In fact, this is so against the morals and ideals of Commander Shepard, regardless of whether you are a Paragon or a Renegade, that it is beyond logic to include such an option in the first place. The theory is that if Shepard becomes a Reaper, he will be able to control the other Reapers and send them away, allowing the galaxy to live on until they return once again in 50,000 years. So basically, he’s telling you to surrender. You surrender yourself and allow the Reapers to escape to return to reap again another day. Of course to become a Reaper, Shepard needs to die because it’s not art if the hero lives. Next we have the Green Option, synthesis. This basically means that Shepard can choose to create a hybrid race of synthetic/organics, preventing all future wars because we will all be the same race and therefore have no quarrel with each other. Just like how it is on Earth now. We’re all humans and we never fight each other ever. The Alliance and Cerberus, both human organizations, never fight each other right? And the geth never fought each other for any reason either right? Turians and the Unification War, Wrex against the traditionalists among the krogan, the asari and that whole pure blood dilemma… These are civil wars being fought between the same races. Obviously we just need to synthesize them into one species to put an end to all these inter-species civil wars. I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! Anyways, if you choose synthesis you must melt yourself down and spread your essence to the new synthesized race, killing you because it’s not art if the hero lives. Option Red destroys the Reapers, which seems like the right call considering the entire trilogy has been leading to that very end. However, destroying the Reapers will also destroy all synthetic life, including the recent allies, the Geth and your AI buddy, EDI. The result will also kill Shepard because he is partially synthetic due to his extensive cybernetic implants used to revive him in ME2. Now the quarians have the same level of cybernetic work done on them, but they should be fine because they aren’t Shepard. And Shepard needs to die because it’s not art if the hero lives.

Now, the obvious option is kill the Reapers. Look if you chose joining the Reaper or synthesizing all life in the galaxy, you simply weren’t paying attention to the story. Shepard’s number one goal is to kill the Reapers. Whether you are a Paragon or a Renegade, the goal is always the same. Harbinger wanted to turn you into a Reaper in ME2, so by choosing that option, you will play right into their hands. Synthesis is essentially turning the galaxy into husks. Did you fight the Cannibals during the story or ME3? That was a race of human/batarin/robot hybrids. Sounds like synthesis to me. Does that sound like a fate that you want? Me neither. Either way, your choice doesn’t really matter. Regardless of your favorite color, Shepard dies, the mass relays explode, the galaxy is stranded in a Fallout 3 scenario, and your fellow companions, including your Shepard’s love interest, are stranded on an uncharted world where they can rebuild and repopulate. Yeah that’s right. Your love interest is going to need to become a baby farm for the future. Bioware is nothing if not classy.

Everything about this just wrong. All three of these choices betray the themes of Mass Effect. The themes of Mass Effect have always been individuality, unity, altruism, sacrifice and freedom. Though all of these choices represent sacrifice, none of the other themes chose to join the party. Not that it matters what you choose, everyone dies in some way no matter what. Out of curiosity, has anyone ever seen a movie where the entire universe died? No? Huh. I wonder why that is…

It continues to get worse when you look at your three options and begin to evaluate how achieving these ends is even possible. What exactly is the purpose of destroy as an option? You think that the destroy option would be summed up by Shepard sitting down in front of the Star Child indignantly and saying, “Taste the wrath of army bitch!” Why is there a tube on the Citadel that destroys all Reapers after it gets blown up? What kind of sense does that make? Perhaps you are merely shooting a lock that opens the Citadel doors so that Hackett can take the Crucible and use it against the Reapers. That makes sense right? No it doesn’t make sense because the doors open, the Crucible fires and all mass relays are destroyed in every single ending regardless of your choice. On the topic of the Mass Relays, how the hell does killing the Reapers equate to destroying the Relays? Because they created the Relays? But if that’s true, why is it that all synthetic life is destroyed in the process? How is any of this possible? This makes no sense.

What about Control? This one actually makes the most sense, believe it or not. Being that the Citadel was built by the Reapers, as was the Collector Station, we can infer by way of inductive reasoning that the Citadel has the ability to melt down organics and transfer their essence or soul or whatever into a Reaper or Catalyst or whatever. The Collector Station could do this, so why not the Citadel? However, once the Reapers are under Shepard’s control and forced out of the system, we have one issue. Why do we need to use the Crucible? The job is done, the Reapers are defeated, and yet, the Crucible is still used, effectively destroying the Citadel (which means Shepard dies too, being that he is now the Catalyst) and the Reapers are still destroyed. Why bother adding Control as a choice at all? The Reapers are still killed by the Crucible, the Catalyst still blows up, and the galaxy is still fucked. Control literally has the exact same outcome as destroy, so why bother including it?

What about synthesis? Well the theory behind synthesis is that if Shepard is melted down and his essence is spread to all races in the galaxy, organic and synthetic alike, it will create a hybrid race that will never be at war with each other ever again. I already pointed out the fallacy in believing that just because you are one race, that means you will forever be at peace, but an even more damning question remains. How the fuck is this even possible? If the Reapers can turn people into other Reapers using the Citadel, it makes sense they could synthesize an individual using the same tech. After all, synthesis is basically the same as turning people into Husks. But could someone please explain to me how in the name of God distributing the essence of one guy can somehow turn organics into half machines? I can somewhat see how it may work to turn synthetics partially organic. You take the organic genetic code from Shepard and fuse it with a synthetic and viola, hybrid race! It’s stupid and the means of dispersing this essence to all synthetics makes less than zero sense, but I can see it as a possibility. But if I combine Shepard’s organic essence to other organics, what exactly is accomplished? How can you make a hybrid organics/synthetic being with only organic genes? You would think you are missing a key ingredient here. Of course, ME3’s ending was designed to be bittersweet, but they left out a key ingredient here as well. Bioware just can’t cook, I guess. This whole portion of the ending can in no way make sense at all, even with highly descriptive epilogues. Fail.

Closure? Too Mainstream

No matter how you slice it, Mass Effect 3 is incomplete. When you write a story there is a method that really should be followed, no matter what story you are trying to make. This is called story structure, which is a fundamental rule set of writing a complete story. It doesn’t matter if you are writing an action story or a comedy, the story structure is the same. It is up to the writer to adapt the story structure to fit the needs of the particular genre. Every story has an introduction, rising action, climax, etc. The problem with Mass Effect 3 is that it has no denouement. The denouement is the point in the story where all remaining questions are answered, all loose ends are tied up and everything comes to a full and complete close. A perfect example of a text book denouement is ironically from Bioware itself. Dragon Age Origins had a perfect denouement. During the Coronation, Alistair becomes king (or maybe he doesn’t) and every major character tells you where they are going and how the story has changed them. You as a player can decide what direction your character heads in. It wraps up every character and plot point relevant to the story. It is a near perfect denouement in video game form. Also notice that Dragon Age had both a denouement and epilogues. Why? An epilogue is not a denouement, that’s why. Mass Effect 3 has no denouement, and from the sounds of things, it won’t be adding one. It has no closure. It leaves everything wide open and makes the players feel like nothing has been accomplished. The story does not end. It simply stops. It is incomplete. No epilogue can fix this, because a text epilogue is not a part of the story. Not really.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Another issue I have is that Shepard’s goal is changed in the last minute. The entire trilogy up to this moment has not been to stop the reapers. The goal was to save the galaxy. Destroying the Reapers is merely the means of achieving that goal. However, the ending makes sure that the galaxy is destroyed no matter what. Sure the next cycle can live on without the threat of a Reaper invasion, but Shepard was never fighting for them. He was fighting for this cycle, for humans, turians, asari, drell, elcor. He wasn’t fighting for the future of organics he was fighting for the future of his civilization. He fails. The galaxy is destroyed. That is why players keep saying the felt like Shepard lost, because he did. His mission was to save this galaxy, not the next. He failed to do so. Shepard lost the war with the Reapers, he just happened to take them down with him (sometimes). Sure, an epilogue could say that the galaxy is fine and still alive, but that simply introduces retcons and plot inconsistencies with the effects of a Mass Relay explosion, which is something that has already been retconned. Are you going to retcon the Relays in each game? Is that really making things better?

Finally, the biggest sin Mass Effect 3’s ending commits is the fact that Bioware changes the rules on us in the last few minutes. When the Citadel blows up, it creates a giant singularity black hole thing that sucks the Normandy through and transports them, in all likelihood to either an alternate reality or an extremely distant galaxy, maybe even a new one created from the white hole the destruction of an entire galaxy would create. What? Sense when are black holes, alternate realities and intergalactic travel through time and space possible in Mass Effect? To this point we have only dealt with interstellar travel (interstellar meaning between stars) not intergalactic travel (between galaxies). Bioware changed the rules of the universe and how it works in the last few minutes of the game. I remember Bioware talking in their behind the scenes footage about how they spent the first year of development discussing what is possible and what is not in the ME IP. Concepts like time travel, alternate realities and intergalactic travel were abandoned early in the process. When you saw the Normandy is swallowed by the black hole, you were also witnessing the betrayal of the IP that is Mass Effect. The rules of the universe were turned upside down and altered for reasons that are as of right now, completely unknown. This cannot be changed and the damage will forever stain the franchise. This was Bioware’s biggest mistake in Mass Effect 3, one that almost certainly serves as a starting point for Mass Effect 4. Selling out your trilogy in favor of more money? Show me the artistic integrity in that.

In Conclusion...

In the final 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3, the story retroactively abolishes all of the themes of the entire trilogy, feebly attempting to rewrite its own history while simultaneously destroying what we loved about the franchise. All the good deeds Shepard has done are erased. All of the hard choices he’s made are invalidated. The entire story of Mass Effect is rendered meaningless because it turns out that the story had no meaning. How can simple cut scenes and useless epilogues fix the fact the end of Mass Effect 3 rendered the entire trilogy meaningless? How do you intend to sell DLC with this ending in place? Bioware chose to double down on their pathetic excuse for an ending, hiding behind artistic integrity. Well I’m a writer too, and in my professional opinion, Mass Effect’s 3’s ending compromises the artistic integrity of the Mass Effect story. I find the game’s ending to be an insult to the art form that is writing. Maybe I’m not a great writer. I’m young and I am still learning, but I know the fundamentals of writing. I know how a good story ends. Claiming artistic integrity for an ending that nullifies the entire story is offensive to the art of writing. Artistic integrity you say? Please. Mass Effect 3’s ending is where artistic integrity goes to die. Bioware, this extended cut ending was a bad move. Doing nothing would have been a wiser strategy. This situation will now continue to get worse. You should have listened to your fans, like you said you would. I know you're trying Bioware, but sometimes I wonder who are trying to impress. Is this Extended Cut meant for the loyal consumer base you alienated with your uninspired ending? Or is this just a PR stunt designed to make the fans look unreasonable in the eyes of the public? I guess we'll wait and see.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Finally: Mass Effect 3 Review!


Finally, enough time has passed for me to cool down and evaluate Mass Effect 3 with a clear head. It is no secret that the game has come under considerable fire lately, specifically over its ending. You can see that I have already written a few posts here that demonstrate both the best and worst of ME3. Mass Effect originally started out as a sci-fi action/RPG based on classic sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s. It was to take your hero, Commander Shepard across a trilogy of adventures, allowing you to make hard choices, the results of which would culminate in its third act. A lot of hype was built up around Mass Effect 3, as it carried the weight of not just one, but three games on its shoulders.

Mass Effect 3 really is a great game, a great game that suffers from monumental problems. Problems that I never would have expected coming from Bioware, of all studios. In fact, I think Mass Effect 3 may very well have become a vessel of Bioware ineptitudes in many ways. It is also an example of their greatest triumphs. This is one of the reasons that Mass Effect 3 is hard to review. It is both a symbol of excellence, and sheer disappointment.

Mass Effect 3 tells the final adventure of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect trilogy. For years Shepard has fought against the Reapers, desperately trying to keep them out of this galaxy. Unfortunately, the Reapers have arrived, laying waste to entire planets and civilizations. Shepard sets out on a mission to unite the entire galaxy behind him and lead the largest military force ever assembled against the seemingly endless might of the Reapers. It has all come down to this. Everything you ever wanted to know about the galaxy will be explained… or not…

Mass Effect 3 tells an absolutely amazing story, filled with tension, sorrow, loss, emotion and hope. Unfortunately, this excellent story goes absolutely nowhere. Bioware promised that ME3 would answer all of your questions and give closure to the story and the characters. Instead, Mass Effect 3 provides little in the way of answers, but leaves us with more questions than we have ever had. The Reapers, the supposed primary villains of the story, are little more than window dressing. For all of their otherworldly mystique and terrifying awe, they really come off as just mindless chaos machines. The chaos they bring about is rarely seen. I always thought the Reapers were supposed to intelligent, cold, brutal exterminators, but they seem to be nothing but nonsensical drones. The way they are portrayed in ME3 is expanded on even less than either of the previous installments, in which the Reapers weren’t even within our galaxy. Their motivations are never clearly touched on, with the exception of an explanation that is so ludicrous it has to be a bold faced lie.

One of the elements of a Bioware game is their cast of deep and compelling characters. Not so much here in ME3. Though the cast is primarily made up of the cast of ME1, one of the most compelling casts of any Bioware game in my opinion, it is clear that your squad this time around is riding on the depth of the previous games. Ashley, Tali and the DLC character Javik are handled quite well. Each has excellent story arcs that really bring their characters full circle. Meanwhile, Liara and Garrus are pretty much just along for the ride. Garrus, once my second favorite ME squad members, has proven himself in ME3 to one of the most mishandled characters in any form of entertainment ever. Garrus was introduced in ME1 and had a really cool character arc. In ME2, his character reset himself and had to learn the same lesson all over again. In ME3, he has no character development whatsoever. He’s just there. His development over the three games was extremely poor, and beyond frustrating for me, considering he was one of my favorites.

Newcomer James Vega proves to be the weakest link. He starts out with so much promise. He’s reckless and impulsive and has a real up and at ‘em attitude. Sadly, after the first act ends, he completely stops being relevant at all. His character development pretty much stops at the middle of his arc. I can’t speak on how Kaidan is handled. I have heard that he has pretty much the same role as Ashley. If that is the case, then it is pretty obvious that Bioware wrote that particular role on the notion that most players left him on Virmire. The role seems more tailored to specifically fit Ashley, given her opinions on the Council races in ME1. If that is true, that is extremely unfortunate, as Kaidan deserved better. Overall, this is certainly Bioware’s most uneven cast of characters to date. It’s sad that such great characters like Liara and Garrus seemed so shoehorned into the plot. Bioware is capable of far better than this.

Another classic Bioware element that was extremely mishandled was the dialog system. Not just the dialog wheel, mind you, the entire system. The amount of auto-dialog in this game is staggering. It seems like players no longer have any control over what Shepard says. In fact, the auto-dialog got so bad at one point, when the prompt came up, I sat there wondering why Shepard stopped speaking. I didn’t even notice the dialog wheel. Not only that, but you had only two options, nice guy response or mean guy response. There was no longer any neutral option. There were hardly any persuade/intimidates, or investigate options and you never made any big choices. I suppose you could make an argument that in ME1 and ME2 you were setting up the dominos and now comes the time to watch them fall down. I’m still not happy with the lack of player determined dialog.

The new reputation system completely nullifies the paragon/renegade system despite the fact that it is still there. I’m not even sure how the new rep system works, all I can figure is that they may as well have just left everything open to everyone and threw the entire concept of reputation and paragon/renegade in the trash. It would have saved a lot of time, money and resources while yielding the exact same results. The interrupts, a brilliant innovation in ME2, are now utterly pathetic. Before the interrupt system had Shepard take a direct action in the middle of a conversation. Sometimes, you would throw a guy out a window, or maybe you shoved someone out of the way of an oncoming bullet. This time, Shepard simply interrupts the conversation, forcing the dialog to its end. That is it. Out of all of the interrupts, there were only two where Shepard actually took a direct action, one for renegade, and one for paragon. What the hell Bioware?! Whatever happened to Mass Effect being our story? Whatever happened to no canon? Whatever happened to wildly different conclusions? The lack of consideration of player freedom is deeply concerning.

Over the course of the trilogy, Commander Shepard has made some brutally hard choices. Do you kill or spare the rachni? What about the Citadel Council? How many members of your suicide squad made it out of ME2 alive? Nearly all of the choices get a payoff, but more often than not, they fall a little flat. The choice involving the rachni has an extremely weak payoff, while the Citadel Council choice changes the landscape of the story in an interesting, albeit minor way. Other choices, like preserving the Collector base, result in simple changes in dialog, while choices like keeping or throwing out Maleon’s genophage cure has enormous ramifications. The biggest divergence seems to be centered around who is alive and who is your Shepard’s love interest. These choices do not necessarily have large impacts, but they do effect the story long term. One thing I can say is that for most of the game, it felt like the story was custom tailored to me, even if the choices I made did not amount to all that much. That is something I can appreciate. On the topic of that romantic subplot, I must confess, Bioware did an excellent job seeing this plot through. The romantic dialog is sweet, occasionally sexy, but most of all, very heartfelt. There are lots of nice touches when interacting with the love interest characters. Sometimes it’s as subtle as holding hands while talking, or a brief kiss on the shoulder. And not to sound creepy, but the kissing animation was really well done. It wasn’t over the top or awkward. It’s a little weird to me how much attention to detail they put on making a kiss look real, but in the end, it sold the scene. I applaud Bioware for actually telling a beautiful love story over the course of the Mass Effect saga.

On the gameplay side, ME3 features a new and improved combat system. It’s much more akin to Gears of War, but that’s not all that bad. In fact, ME3 has some features that Gears does not, like the slick cover movement around corners. The combat is faster, more intense, and truly makes you feel like a soldier on the battlefield. Shepard is more mobile on the battlefield, able to perform more combat maneuvers, evasive actions and slick cover to cover movements. One of the problems I had in ME2 was that the combat was very stale and repetitive. Not so in ME3. Shepard is constantly being redirected into new areas, forced to overcome obstacles and puzzles. It really keeps you on your toes. One of my favorite bits involved a chase on the Citadel elevators. Even though the combat is really fun and exciting, there is just something wrong with the fact that combat outshines the narrative gameplay features like the dialog wheel.

The weapon modification system was one of the many talked about features, and I can’t say it delivers on all of its promises, but it’s still pretty cool. Throughout the game, you collect upgrades that you can plug into your gun on any weapon bench you find. Scopes, extra clips, damage enhancing barrels, you can collect quite a supply of upgrades that will change the functionality of your weapon. Just don’t expect them to do too much. In fact, some upgrades, like the shotgun bayonet, are purely cosmetic changes, offering very little in enhancing your weapons functionality. Overall, I like the system well enough. I wish they went a little further with it, but it is pretty cool as is. On a slightly related topic, the SPECTRE shooting range is such a nice touch. Again, I wish they took that one a bit further, but the fact that it is here at all is much appreciated.

But what about the RPG features? ME3 showed me that Bioware really has no clue how to craft an RPG anymore. The branching levels in their new stat progression are pretty cool, I won’t lie. It does give you opportunities to define your character in the way you like to play. On the other hand, many of the powers seem very nerfed. Adrenaline Rush was the end all be all soldier power in ME2. In ME3 it’s an obnoxious headache that really doesn’t even slow down time at all. The new powers are hit and miss. Frag grenades for soldiers? Yes please! Nova for Vanguards? Hell yes! Sentry turrets for Engineers? Gimme! Cluster grenades for Adepts? WTF?! Seriously, some of these powers are just damn lazy. Why give biotics grenades? That’s just stupid. The powers are supposed to enhance the character we design. If I play an Adept, I want a cool Adept power, not stupid grenade. Grenades are for non-biotics! You want a cool power for an Adept, I’ll give one. It’s called Syphon. It drains the defense powers from enemies and enhances your abilities, giving a +5% to all powers used. Bam!

Side quests suck too, by the way. The mining mini game is back, only not as boring, but twice as obnoxious. This is how a side quest works in ME3. You walk by a guy, he mentions that he lost something, it goes in your sloppily designed journal and then you go out and mine planets to find it. Don’t mine too much though because the Reapers will enter the star system and chase you out. After that, you are locked of the system out for a whole mission. It sounds kind of cool at first, but it wears out its welcome fast. N7 quests are enhanced, featuring actual stories this time. Basically, you are thrown in a multiplayer map and asked fend off waves of the enemies (just like multiplayer!) until the mission is done. Oh and you get war assets, which theoretically help you achieve the “best possible ending.” Except for the fact that all endings are nearly identical, leading the galaxy into some apocalyptic nightmare, meaning the war assets you spend 50% of the game collecting amount to jack shit. Yay.

All in all, ME3, does tell a very emotionally gripping story, one that I am not afraid to admit that I cried during. However, the emotion is meaningless as the game’s ending invalidates the entire Mass Effect universe. The RPG features range from shoddy to well done, the combat is solid, but not perfect, and the dialog and reputation system is completely fucked, to put it mildly. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t really feel like Mass Effect, not by a long shot. And when the game ends, you can’t help but feel depressed. And you’re not depressed because the story you loved has come to an end, you’re depressed in the same way that you are when you finish watching the movie The Road, that post-apocalyptic movie with Viggo Mortensen. At its best, the ending necessitates a DLC continuation. At its worst the ending embodies nihilism, genocide, hopelessness and leaves you wondering if Shepard was the good guy, or the most evil son of a bitch ever born. Mass Effect 3 is a good game, but it is far and away the weakest of the franchise. The intensity of the combat and the generally well presented story can’t save the game from all of its failures. Had this game come from a studio other than Bioware, or even if this were Mass Effect 1, I would give it a 9. But seeing as how ME3 breaks the most traditional Bioware conventions and ends the trilogy on its lowest note possible, I can’t honestly give this game that kind of score. Is it worth playing? Hell yes it is. Just make sure you have plenty of antidepressants around the house first. Seriously, this game is so depressing that I haven’t eaten in a week. I’ve lost ten pounds! Best diet plan ever.

As it is called Mass Effect 3, as in the third act of one story, one would expect that the same themes, atmosphere and gameplay mechanics should be maintained from previous installments. Mass Effect 3 throws out nearly everything the fans from ME1 and/or ME2 have come to love about the series, and clearly focuses on building a new audience completely separate from Bioware’s core fanbase. The game starts incredibly strong, weakens in its second act, picks up again in its third and then commits franchise suicide at the end. As excellent as much of this game is, Mass Effect 3 abandons far too much of what the series stands for. Things like choice, freedom, hope and unity are all abandoned in the third game for reasons no one is quite sure of. I give Mass Effect 3 a score of 7 out of 10. It pains me more than you could ever know to give such a score to Mass Effect 3, but I have to remain true to myself and my opinions. I should note that I gave both Mass Effect 1 and 2 a rating of 9.5 out of 10. That was on a different blog though, one that is long gone. And before I go, I would like to leave you all with a quote from my Mass Effect 3 is Going to Suck series of articles written back in July 2011:

“Let’s say for the sake of argument, that ME3 story disappoints the wider audience. It’s filled with plot holes, inconsistencies, ass-pulls, and baffling character derailments and has an ending like The Matrix Revolutions. The gamers who play Mass Effect for the story all walk away with negative opinions. The game is further streamlined to be a Gears of War clone, so the RPG fans walk away with a negative opinion, but the game features enough RPG elements and conversations to cause the shooter boys to walk away with a negative opinion as well. Most of the characters and plots unfold in a way that screams it was written in an attempt to please the hater crowd, leaving the fans with a negative opinion and the haters (shockingly) still hate it. Fans who would be pleased with just seeing their favorite characters back are disappointed with their lack of screen time and relevance and also have a negative opinion. EA demands multiplayer, so many of the core fan base do not even pick the game up. Those who do buy the game feel EA is responsible for all of its problems and its fall from grace. The negative opinions catch up to Bioware and ME3 has some of the worst reviews a Bioware game has ever had. New players who were interested no longer are, and sales are in general, are very disappointing.

God I hate it when I’m right…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Defending Mass Effect 3


Only days after writing an open letter to Bioware about how disappointed I was with the ending of Mass Effect 3, here I am writing up a defense letter. Am I consistent or what? The truth is, I feel really bad for Bioware right now. Sure ME3's ending was confusing, anticlimactic, and flat out disappointing. When the two most popular interpretations for the endings are either a) a dream that does not exist in reality and therefore never happened, or b) completely illogical nonsense that makes no sense to anyone, there is a serious problem. However, the ending is not the only part of the game. Mass Effect 3 is a great adventure nearly all the way through. I really enjoyed playing it.

The reason I decided to write this defense letter was because I saw a Twitter post from Jessica Merizan, community manager at Bioware. On her tweet, she asked what the fans' favorite mission in ME3 was. I wanted to respond her because I have a pretty great story behind why my favorite mission in ME3 is my favorite. Sadly, those stupid tweets have such a limited amount of characters, so I could not write what I felt needed to be said. Luckily, I am not limited on my blog, so I will write it here. Before I begin my tale about my favorite mission in ME3 and my defense of Bioware, I must warn any and all who read this. There be spoilers in this post. Pretty big ones too, so if you have not played ME3 to at least the start quarian/geth plot in the story, I suggest you move along now and preserve what is certainly the most compelling part of the game (at least to me).

I woke up one morning looking to get through the krogan story arc once and for all. I was frustrated at this point because my favorite character, Ashley, had been stuck in a hospital since the end of Mars. I wanted to get her back on the Normandy where she belonged. A friend told me that if I finished the krogan plot and then returned to the Citadel afterward, she would be back on my team. That was today's gaming goal. In order to finish up the krogan plot, first I had to do a favor for Wrex. Now, we have all played Wrex's mission so I won't go into details, as that is not the part of the game I wish to discuss. However, we can all remember that it was quite an emotional experience. I was never a huge fan of Grunt. I liked him, but I didn't love him. However, I was still very protective of him. Daddy issues I guess. I am not sure. Either way, when he got his full on Boromir moment, I was weeping. I went from liking Grunt, to loving his sorry ass. And when Grunt reemerged victorious, I cried even more, with happy tears this time.

After that emotional end to a very cool mission, it was time to cure the genophage. This mission was so epic, so awesome, and so emotionally moving in more ways than one, I almost thought I was at the climax of the whole game. It was that supercharged. When the mission ended, I was crying again. But I was also jazzed. Several of this game's best moments happen in this mission. "You've been a champion to the krogan people, a friend of clan Urdnot and a brother to me," Wrex says. And to top it all off, we get the sad, yet inspiring farewell to one of the best characters in the ME universe, Mordin Solus. Again, I cried.

At this point, I was emotionally drained. I just wanted to quit. I needed a break from ME3 for at least the rest of the day. I decided to follow my friend's instruction and pick up Ashley so that I would have her for the next mission. Big mistake. I headed back to the Citadel only to find that Cerberus was throwing a coup. I couldn't quit now, I had a galaxy to save.

This was my favorite mission. The Citadel Coup. The action was intense, the story was solid, the tension was at its peak, and I was already emotionally drained form the missions that came before. At one point in playing this mission, the batteries to my controller died. After a brief freak out, I quickly leaped up and grabbed some spare batteries, however, I couldn't swap them out. You see, due to my obsession with marathoning this game, I played the most tense, exciting and emotionally gripping missions in rapid succession. This was like swallowing 5 pounds of sugar, drinking a quart of coffee and then taking a hit of speed. My hands were shaking from all of the adrenaline, and as much as I tried, I could not replace the batteries to my controller. My hands were literally shaking that bad. Thankfully, my little brother was watching me play, and he kindly assisted me in my time of need.

The Citadel Coup garnered a physical reaction from me unlike any game I have ever played, movie I have ever watched, or book I have ever read. Battling all of those Cerberus agents in a familiar area, facing off with Kai Leng for the first time, Thane's epic biotic bitch slap, the confrontation with Ashley, a sad yet fitting goodbye to one of my personal favorite characters; all of it combined to make these the most memorable moments in ME3. And when it was all over, I had my two great loves back on the Normandy, Ashley and Elanor, where they belonged. Oh, you don't know who Elanor is? Oh yeah. That's my Revenant light machine gun. I loved the gun so much that I named her Elanor back in ME2. Yup. That may seem strange to you, but when your two favorite sci-fi stories are Firefly and Farscape, you grow an affinity for naming fine weaponry.

Amidst this ending debacle, I just wanted to voice my appreciation for ME3. I already voiced my concern, but I have always said, if you are going to cut someone, you may as well have the common decency to put a band-aid on the wound. So here is your band-aid Bioware. ME3 was a thrilling experience. No matter what happens, you gave me one of the most thrilling gaming experiences of my life, one that will not easily be outdone. Heck, maybe that is why I did not care for the ending, because that Citadel Coup was just so unbelievably impressive. Even you couldn't out do that moment. That's not a bad thing, really. I'm sure some fans hated this mission, but for me, it was the best. So thanks Bioware for the Citadel Coup.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Letter to Bioware


Dear Bioware,

I just wanted to step in and voice my concerns for Mass Effect 3. I feel it is necessary that I give my opinions because I think that with all that has happened over the last few days, it would be good for you guys to hear from a clear head. There seem to be a lot of angry fans out there, and while I am not angry, I am disappointed. First of all, I would like to begin by saying that Mass Effect 3 was immensely enjoyable. It was brutally intense and the story was better written than I could have ever hoped. I also really appreciated the more emotional side to the story. I felt that ME2 was a bit emotionally shallow in comparison to ME1, but for ME3 I am not afraid to admit that I cried more than a few times.

That being said, the ending really was a kick in the head. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what was going on. It seemed like Shepard was being indoctrinated. If that is the case, I applaud the ending, at least to some degree. It was cool how you designed the dialog wheel to seem like the Paragon action was really a Renegade action. Or perhaps it was a Renegade action. Either way, the real problem I had with the ending is that it really wasn’t an ending. The story just stopped.

There was no resolution. In fact, I am not entirely sure if Shepard even beat the Reapers. Was it all just a hallucination brought about by indoctrination? Did we take back Earth? What about all of those people on the Citadel? Are they dead? What about all of the races Shepard united? Where do they go? What happened to them? With the Mass Relays being destroyed, if they even were actually destroyed, then are all of the alien races stranded on Earth? I found this to be particularly alienating because I literally just got the quarians their world back. Now, they’ve lost it again. That was very unsatisfying. The ending took the choices I made throughout the trilogy away, and frankly seemed like a betrayal of concept, at least to me. I know I am not a game designer or anything like that, but to me Mass Effect has always been about our Shepard and the impact his choices have on the galaxy and the people around him. In ME3’s ending, I felt like nothing Shepard did mattered. I felt like the galaxy was in a worse state than if the Reapers would have harvested everyone. Of course that is assuming they didn’t harvest everyone. The ending was quite confusing on this topic.

I am also really upset with the Normandy crashing on the jungle world scene. It looked as if you guys were going for some kind of rebuilding the universe, brave new world type ending, however, the implications of what would have to transpire I found very unpleasant. I chose Ashley as Shepard’s love interest (all the way back in ME1), so am I to believe that Ashley is now a baby making machine for the future of the human race while Shepard lies in rubble? I find that notion to be extremely unsettling. Even more so when you take into consideration that Ashley just got Shepard back. She clearly had some deep personal issues that sprouted from Shepard’s death at the beginning of ME2. Now that they have been resolved, Shepard is lost to her yet again. That is such a depressing and cynical thought. So much so that it goes against the more idyllic vision of the Mass Effect universe. In fact, I felt the ending was extremely cynical all around. Do we not deserve a better tomorrow? Perhaps that was intended however the reality of the situation is grim. With no Mass Relays and entire races cut off from their homes, are we to believe that all of the races wouldn’t devolve into barbarians fighting for the dominance of their new world? The krogan would. The krogan did. On the topic of the krogan, we spent the whole first act of the game trying to build a future for their race, only to have that future destroyed. The males of the krogan race were out fighting the battle on Earth while the females were left on Tuchanka in order to protect their future. Does this mean that the krogan are extinct regardless of our choice? In which case, Mordin’s sacrifice is completely meaningless. The krogan die off anyway. Again, that is cynical and depressing.

If Mass Effect 3 had a more traditional ending, Shepard destroying the Reapers, saving the galaxy and living happily ever after with his or her love interest, if desired by the player, the ending would have been much more satisfactory to the players. This doesn’t mean that it would be all butterflies and roses. Obviously sacrifices must be made to ensure that victory. Sacrifice and hard work. I recall that Mac Walters said that Mass Effect 3’s theme was victory through sacrifice. I didn’t feel like Shepard was victorious. I felt like he lost. In my opinion, the theme seems to be nothing matters. Perhaps that is why the ending put such a bitter taste in my mouth. Because nothing seemed to matter.

I think Shepard deserves some happiness and peace. He’s been through enough. Some people may like an ending where Shepard sacrifices himself for the greater good. I do not. I want to choose an ending where my hero lives. If other players like Shepard dying for the cause then that ending should also be viable. That is the ending they should choose. I would like to choose an ending more fitting for my Shepard. I really enjoyed all of the endings in ME2. Shepard can sacrifice himself in the suicide mission as well, but it is one of a few options. Shepard can also live if it is what the player desires. Why could we not get endings like that in ME3? You say that the canon story for Mass Effect is decided by the players, but the ending of Mass Effect 3 is a canon ending that was forced on us. We players have spent 5 years with our Shepard’s now, and it just seems so depressing that this is how it ends for him, and for us.

Personally, I think it would have been cool if you made an ending like Dragon Age Origins. Perhaps a victory ceremony on the Citadel or Earth. The Council (provided they are even alive) could present Shepard with some medal or special honor. Maybe even give players a choice on where Shepard might go. There is an empty seat on the Council for humanity after all. Just saying. All of the squad mates and major non-companions like Wrex and Anderson (provided they are alive) could be in attendance, allowing the player to talk with them and get closure on their character arcs. And for players that like Shepard dying in the end, why not create a funeral scene. Anderson and maybe whoever the player’s love interest is could say some nice words and give Shepard the sendoff he deserves. Sure it is complete and total fan service, but isn’t that what it’s all about?

All in all, Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game. You guys should all be very proud of the achievement that it is, even with all of the negativity around the endings. I loved every minute of Mass Effect 3, with one obvious exception. And it is not that the ending is bad, it simply feels incomplete and offers little variety for players who may not wish for the story to end in this way. Considering that the major most selling point of the series has been choice, it is somewhat distressing that the ending does not offer many choices beyond Shepard’s (and the galaxy’s) demise. In the event that the rumors of a DLC that will effectively end the tale of Shepard and Mass Effect are true, I wanted to share my thoughts. I loved Mass Effect 3. I just do not think it was the ending that neither Shepard nor the fans deserved. We all know that in reality, the whole galaxy would likely succumb to the Reapers. But that’s why we play video games. So we can escape the truths of reality and bask in the fantastic, experiencing a brighter tomorrow, if only for a few hours.

Thank you for your time,

Ryan