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Fixing Mass Effect 3

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

Image copyright EA, Bioware and Bleeding Cool

Mass Effect 3 was a disaster, perhaps one of the worst disasters in the current history of the medium.  Not only did it have one of the worst, most nonsensical endings of all time, across any medium, it also just wasn’t a very good game in general and probably made it so any follow up would be terrible.  There was no escaping for Mass Effect Andromeda, it had no chance to become anything but what it did, and it’s thanks to Mass Effect 3.  Outside of Tuchanka and Rannoch, there really isn’t anything good about the game.  It starts with a terrible mission, the game doesn’t pick up until Tuchanka and most of the game are just ways to funnel the player into its terrible multiplayer game (yes, it’s terrible).  Still, I can’t help but think it could have been salvageable.  Obviously, the game has tons of great ideas, but the question isn’t if it had potential, the question is if it could have worked in the first place.  I think it could, and for the past five years, I’ve been working a few things they could have done.  This might not be my definitive list, but it’s time I got this written down.  So, here are the ways that Mass Effect 3 could have been fixed.

I won’t be talking about story, though.  That needs to be fixed, obviously, but the fixes to those are obvious.  Make the ending not suck (Reapers lose, Citadel space is hurt, but can rebuild, no fucking ending choice) and generally find a way to make the Illusive Man not a stooge of the Reapers, but some bastard who’s trying to profit on the good guys winning.  Actually, just do that.  Make him a bastard who’s trying to sweep in after Shepard so he can rule over Citadel space after the Reapers are gone.

Oh, and this one is a freebie.  Previous choices have to matter.  Anderson stays as ambassador.  Rachni are dead.  Human council.  The Collector Base is destroyed.  It doesn’t really matter what got picked, just stick with those.  If it means you don’t get to do the shitty Rachni mission with Grunt, whatever.  Hell, just make it a slightly different mission with Grunt.  Christ.

The first issue is that of the cast.  It’s probably the worst of the trilogy, and you can probably include Andromeda in there, too.  Andromeda had Vetra.  It’s basically the Mass Effect 1 cast, but with Wrex gone with James to replace him, and EDI to replace whoever died on Virmire.  James is great, but the Virmire Survivor is much less cool now that Mass Effect 2 made them into a dick and EDI is just the worst as a party member.  She’s still great as EDI, though.  It also brings back Liara.  I don’t like her, but she’s popular and she’s not cool like Miranda or Samara, but whatever, she’s a pure biotic and the cast is pretty short on those unless Shepard is one, and even then, the story doesn’t care if she is or not.  Virmire Survivor is a necessity, since they have a bunch of plots to resolve at this point and a new character to fill in for the big guy is great, so James can stay.  EDI needs to go.  Her sex bot gynoid body is weird and kinda creepy, and she’s just useless as a character.  She only exists so she and Joker can bone, so, whatever, add that to the end.  It doesn’t fill any other plot requirement.

The best thing to do would be to add a few characters from 2 into the mix.  That game has the best cast of pretty much any BioWare game, except maybe Baldur’s Gate 2 (high praise from me, I don’t like that game), and that’s thanks to some really interesting characters.  Oh, but they can all die and you won’t get them?  Yeah, Tali and Garrus can die too.  So can Wrex, Miranda Mordin, Jack and Thane, and they all have major plot points in this game.  Miranda Lawson is the obvious choice, because she has so many plot points that aren’t tied up that there’s a whole subplot devoted to her in the game already, as well as a major role in one of the last story missions.  A story mission that is almost good.  Miranda is also a really cool character in that she fills a role of being your second in command, which no other character does right.  Miranda as Shepard’s XO works really well, and it’s portrayed through the gameplay with her unique set up.  Especially if they found a way to tweak them to make them a little bit better.  The second choice is Jack.  She’s more unique as a pure biotic character than Liara, plus she leans a bit towards Vanguard, so it’s not overkill to have both.  I’d round out the party, giving the game nine companions, with Kasumi.  I don’t care if she was DLC in 2, she’s unique and should be given a chance to expand her character and gameplay in this game.  Also, much like Miranda, she fills a unique niche in story that no one else does.  Mordin does too, but he’s got to die, so we can’t have him in the party.  He should have been a temporary party member on Tuchanka, though.

Second, we need to remove Kai Leng.  He’s lame.  I mean, seriously, look at this Nightwing ripoff mother fucker:

Kai_Leng_amongst_two_Cerberus_Phantoms

Copyright BioWare and Electronic Arts

Fuck him.  He doesn’t get to exist in the Mass Effect universe.  Retcon the damn novels out of existence while we’re at it.  Seriously, he uses a sword.  That’s so lame.

Third, smaller missions should be more like Grissom Academy.  That’s probably the one good mission that isn’t a part of the Tuchanka and Rannoch clusters.  It’s a story based mission that has a time limit, consequences and some serious gameplay challenges.  Sure, there are a few other missions that are single maps like Grissom Academy, like the one with Miranda’s dad (surprise, he works for Cerberus.  Jesus) and the Citadel mission, but most of them are literally just multiplayer maps, and the goal is to literally do a game of the multiplayer, only offline and not with some shitty rando griefing your game.  I may have had bad experiences with Mass Effect multiplayer.

Still, even the single map missions that aren’t just horde mode advertisements for the multiplayer are mostly pretty bad.  The stories are pretty shit, especially the one involving Miranda and her dad and the one where you go to the Illusive Man’s house.  Part of this does involve terrible writing and screwing over your choices in game (oh, wait, you thought blowing up the Collector Base would mean something?  Nope, TIM still has it, somehow).  What each of those missions needed were consequences to go along with their story.  If you don’t get to Jack in time, she can die.  So can her kids.  Hell, if you don’t do the mission itself fast enough, she gets mind wiped and turned into one of those awful ninja Cerberus bad guys (they also use swords, they are so lame), and all of the kids die, or are turned into Cerberus troops.  I forget which.  It’s great, and while it was clearly a set up to recruit Jack (despite the fact you can’t recruit her), it should serve as a template for the smaller missions.

Fourth, most of the Priority Missions, specifically Palaven, Earth and probably TIM’s house, should be set up as mission clusters like Tuchanka and Rannoch.  Yes, the great writing and pay offs from both of those games are sort of what made Tuchanka and Rannoch work, but what also really worked was that the player, as Shepard, had to make a plan of attack, like they were fighting a war.  You know, like they were doing in the game.  Hell, making Palaven a losing battle would be a great way to introduce the threat of the Reaper invasion full force.  Making it so rescuing one city means sacrificing another would be a great way to set up the consequences throughout, as well as showing that your actions would have consequences during later Priority Missions.  It would also make Priority Earth not terrible.

Palaven is probably where I realized that the game was going to suck.  It’s mostly a point defense mission, and while that’s not bad for a mission or two, that’s all it is.  You show up, pick up the President (Primarch, whatever) and fly off with him and Garrus.  Nothing with Garrus’s dad or sister is dealt with (except in a FUCKING EMAIL), we don’t get to see any of the Turian homeworld since it all takes place actually on the moon of Palaven and it just feels helpless.  Yeah, it’s fine that Shepard fails, sort of, but it’s just a pick up mission.  It’s boring and it doesn’t give Shepard a chance to be heroic.  Have her drop in at a city and cover an escape, but that means another city burns.  She saves people, she gets some glory, but she can’t save everyone.  It’s great mission structure.  Plus, it doesn’t even have to be long like Tuchanka and Rannoch.  Those are about five or six missions, but this could be done in four, with the last one being sort of a short boss fight.  Also, it would be nice to have decent boss fights, but this is BioWare.  That might be a ship too far.

Fifth and finally, do something with some of the side characters.  Most of them, both former PCs and NPCs might get a scene, then do nothing.  The person who gets it the worst is either Jacob or Bailey, hard to say which.  An extended cameo sucks, but ruining their character is worse.  I’m not sure what to do with each one, but giving Jacob, Samara and Bailey something to do would be nice.  Hell, put Jacob on the Citadel and have him run multiplayer or something.  I don’t know.  Just have him do something.

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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.

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.