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It couldn’t have gone any other way

We’re going to be talking about Mass Effect again this week.  I’m going to be talking about it a lot now, especially after the news that came out yesterday.  Because I kind of think that it’s sort of inevitable, actually, but it’s also kind of gotten me thinking, so, let’s get back to it.

Mass_Effect_Andromeda_cover

Copyright Bioware and Electronic Arts

Right, so, yesterday, EA said they’re “scaling down” Bioware Montreal and that Mass Effect was officially on ice for the time being.  What that means specifically is unclear, because it does seem that Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer will still be updated.  No one has said anything about the single player DLC, which was teased (and possibly leaked a month ago) at the end of the game, at least as far as I can tell.  This, combined with the confirmation that Andromeda was mostly pushed out at the last minute and wasn’t really ready for release when it came out is dissaponting, but also not really surprising.  I loved Andromeda, but it did feel a bit like a cash grab.  Not when I actually played the game, because it was clearly made with love (just not ready to be played yet and filled with small flaws), but in the marketing and how EA didn’t seem to care about whether or not the game got fixed after it was out and the lack of notification if there was going to be more in this series.

Honestly, though, I think this might be pretty much all that could have happened, and it’s not Andromeda’s fault.  Andromeda was a wonderful game, and I loved the 70+ hours I put into actually beating it.  The thing was, it proved something to me that I was afraid of.  Mass Effect is dead, and the ending of ME3 killed it.  Not because of the choose your color bullshit of the ending, but because it was such an obvious “burn the setting and run” sort of ending that there was no coming back from it.  Pushing the game to a galaxy literally far, far away, 600+ years removed from the events of the game meant that nothing we as players grew to love was part of the game.  Yeah, it had the aliens and vague references to the characters, and they really tried to shoe horn in a Citadel equivalent, a lot of the game felt like they were trying to do the same thing, but different for no reason.

Andromeda is disconnected from the other games because Mass Effect 3 destroyed the setting.  Sure, I guess it got fixed/not broken depending on your Extended Cut ending, but it didn’t matter.  All three endings are mutually contradictory, have nothing to do with the game itself, and ignoring them would also prove to be something of a problem with any potential sequel.  Throwing it into another galaxy, though, does nothing to help, since all it does is give us some familiar faces, and has us go over the same issues once more.  Andromeda rehashes conflicts that were already resolved in the original trilogy, for good or ill, and it makes all of the decisions we did matter even less.  The Milky Way is toast.  Fuck it, we’re moving on.

It’s not just the fact that the three endings are mutually contradictory, meaning that in order to make an actual sequel, Bioware would have to pretty much invent three different settings for one game.  Hell, in one of them, Shepard would still technically be running around, even if you knocked the timeline up thousands of years, since she’s all the Reapers now.  Also, the Reapers would still be alive in two endings, but the Geth, EDI and any other AI based creature would be gone in another.  That’s a huge undertaking to make a game, and it wouldn’t be worth it to wade through.  That’s, of course, using the Extended Cut endings, which of course Bioware would do, but those endings clearly weren’t the intent (which is why they’re pretty much shitty PowerPoint presentations tacked on at the end of the game).  The original ending is a straight up massacre, with the Mass Relays being canonically destroyed and the world returning to a pre-spaceflight setting, which is literally the destruction of the setting.  If you can’t go into space, there’s no point of a space opera setting.  Now, of course they would go with the Extended Cut, but there’s no way they could make a decent sequel incorporating that ending, unless EA is willing to basically make three different Mass Effect games.  Still, they’re color coded, and that’s worked for Pokemon.

Even ignoring the ending, and just giving some sort of handwave of “yeah, the Reapers died, Crucible, whatever” is a problem too.  Three had so many choices, but that could be implemented in a variety of ways, or, let’s be honest, there was a reason why there was a golden ending for each major conflict in 3, just make all of them canon.  It’s the ending that’s the real problem.  Ignoring it is pretty much what I would have done, but it’s also a tacit admission that it was a terrible idea, and I doubt that Bioware would want to retread that whole discussion, regardless of how they feel about the ending 5 years removed.  Yes, it has been five years.

It’s hard to know what to do with Mass Effect.  I would be willing accept pretty much anything, because I love the ideas.  Andromeda was fun, but it missed so much about the original settings, that while it works for a side story, I’d rather return home.  Especially if Andromeda itself isn’t going to be any more interesting to see than home is anyway.  Still, I wish we could see some of the secrets of the new series revealed.  Maybe in time.

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Game Anatomy: Tuchanka

Believe it or not, I do have good things to say about Mass Effect 3.  I mean, it’s not a lot, and four years on, I still haven’t played Citadel or Leviathan (although I plan to while preparing for Andromeda), but there are good things to talk about in Mass Effect 3.  I mean, the game is a raging dumpster fire in most aspects, but man, when the game works, it comes together in ways the rest of the series doesn’t.  Tuchanka is the best part of any Mass Effect game, including the Suicide Mission (but not by much), because it actually delivers on something the series always promised, and never managed to do.

mass-effect-3-the-real-female-shepard

This image is actually the best part of Mass Effect 3. Copyright Electronic Arts and Bioware

First, let’s start with the best part: Mordin’s death.  It’s one of the few video game deaths that isn’t emotionally manipulative, while also being the culmination of a character arc, a plot arc and the end of just a damn good mission.  Whether Mordin sacrifices himself for the right ideals, or whether Shepard betrays him and murders him, it ends Mordin’s story in the only way it can: trying to fix his great evil.  Someone on a forum I used to go to once compared Mordin to Josef Mengele due to his work on the geonophage.  It’s not a comparison I would agree with, and not just because Mengele was a real life monster, but the inaccuracy of the comparison has stuck with me for years because it does speak to Mordin’s culpability in making sure that 1 in 1,000 krogan were stillborn.

1 in 1,000.

It’s a stark number, and even though we’re talking about fictional dinosaur men, it’s a terrifying thought.  Mordin wasn’t the only one who did that.  Maelon, of course, and the rest of his Special Task Group squad were involved in it, but he was the one who led it, and he considered it “humane.”  So humane that he had to hide in Omega as a doctor after he did it.  Mordin is driven by guilt because he did something terrible and horrifying and he rationalized it to himself that it was the greater good.  He can’t be Josef Mengele, because he got to die trying to redeem himself, and that says a lot about one of the themes of the series, second chances.

Tuchanka is all about that second chance.  For the Krogan, for Mordin, for the Primarch’s son, for the galaxy itself, Tuchanka embodies a lot of the themes that are present across the series and the best part, all of it comes down to Shepard.  It’s the one fo the few parts in the whole series that has true consequences, and if Shepard screws it up, well, then it’s over.  Kill Wrex in Mass Effect 1 (which is like, why?  Wrex is the best) and you have to deal with Wreav, who shouldn’t be in charge of anything.  Mordin didn’t survive, well, Mordin wasn’t kidding when it had to be him.  Someone else does get it wrong.  Not take the data in Mass Effect 2?  Then the data isn’t complete.  All of some of the hardest choices across the whole series culminate right here all in an explosion of one of the major themes of the series, and the impetus of the Paragon/Renegade divide: do you give them a second choice or not?

For me, I managed to get the best ending.  I gave everyone a second chance across all three games, and Amanda Shepard was rewarded with one of her best friends giving his life to save a people he had greatly wronged.  I cried.  I seriously did.  I cried like I do whenever I read the Grey Havens in Lord of the Rings (or, hell, see the movie).

It’s not just across the series, either.  In order to get everything needed, you can’t just plow right into the fight.  One of the themes of Mass Effect 3 is that running headlong into the fight is going to get people killed, so in order to get the best ending for each of the two major campaigns is to do all of the side missions, whether it’s to curry political favor, destroy an emplacement or get reinforcements for the battle.

In order to make everything work, Shepard has to save the Primarch’s son, which gives access to Turian fighters who can cover Shepard, Wrex, Eve and Mordin from the Reaper.  Deactivating the bomb prevents Cerberus from murdering a bunch of people after completing the main mission, including Eve.  All of it comes together in ways the rest of the series never manged.

Of course, it helps that it has some of the most intense battles against the Reapers, too.  One place where Rannoch falls down is that the missions aren’t as intense of as well designed, either.  There are also some issues with who you have to side with on Rannoch that bring it down a bit too, as well as the weird scoring system to determine if you can save both the Geth and the Quarians.

Not everything is great.  It does feel like the game is sending mixed messages on the use of Maelon’s data, considering Mordin goes back and forth on whether or not it was necessary or should be destroyed, but ultimately, it’s the best part of Mass Effect.  It’s almost worth playing Mass Effect 3 just to repeat it, but then I remember Priority: Mars and I turn of the system.

Twelve Point Font Please

This is going to be kind of a short one today.  Things are a little crazy for me in my professional life (classes are starting and I’ve had meetings all week), so I’ve been having difficulty getting things written.  Plus, with summer finally ending, I’m having a hard time wanting to write when I can watch all the anime I can before it’s time to teach some kids.

Today, Bioware linked a lot of cool screenshots.  To be fair, a whole bunch of them seem to be taken from the last couple of trailers, so there’s very little new here outside of the new class powers for Liara, Garus and Sentinel Shepard.  What I did notice though is that the font is much larger.  It looks like it might actually be readable for a change.

Holy crap, it's actually readable!

Look at that!  As I’m writing this, I’ve got a super scrunched up version of it and I can still read it.  Mostly because the font isn’t so friggin’ tiny.  This has been something of a pet peeve of mine for the past couple of years.  I don’t have a big HD screen, so, I know I’m not going to get the full graphical force of the game, but by god, this tiny font crap really needs to stop.  Even on an actual big screen television or a computer screen, I have a really hard time reading some of these fonts.  Mass Effect is a little better about it thanks to the lighter colors in the background, but I started playing Dragon Age II and I can’t see a damnable thing thanks to the black background.

Look, the tiny font can hide the subtitles a little bit when they’d otherwise obstruct the cinematography, but when it starts to obscure the actual gameplay, it starts to become a problem.  I think it’s good that Bioware is finally starting to figure out that a bigger font isn’t a bad thing all the time.  It’s good to be able to actually know how many resources I actually have.

Of course, they could still do a little better.