Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Happened to April?

How is it already April 28th? My silence this month is directly a result of Crusader Kings 2, a game I now simultaneously love and hate. I love it because it is literally the closest thing to Game of Thrones the game as you can get, mixed in with a healthy dose of medieval history, but I hate it because it has swallowed all my spare time. Tonight, I've got lined up with other stuff to do, but I'm going to begin writing my concluding thoughts on Mass Effect 3 and some other stuff.

Oh, also, I guess Master's courses are to blame, but that is for quitters! The real villain is the King Gerard the Bold, ruler of twelve kingdoms. If he would just hurry up and let Gerard II, Duke of Damietta succeed him, I could get back to work. Also, in the interim, blogger has changed their interface. I am afraid now!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Top Five Things in Mass Effect 3

First, let me begin with a sincere apology to all the fine honeys who read this blog and don't play Mass Effect. You ladies have really missed out. I'll tell you what, I'll make it up to you by talking about the Hunger Games next and how that girl you hated in high school is exactly like Clove. But for now, we're going to talk more about interstellar politics, spaceships, aliens, guns, and explosions. Hurray!

Like I alluded to yesterday, the best way for me to handle Mass Effect 3 is to break it up into composite parts. I know it can be hard to tell, but I really like this game. If you're the type of person who puts stock into numbers, I'd give it 4.75 English Muffins out of 5. Someone burned a bit of the last muffin, but you can scrape off the black stuff and still enjoy its nooks and crannies. I feel the real measure of a game is talking about the things you liked and the things you didn't like. It gives a clearer picture of what people would like about the game than just a raw score and rambling.

5. Squadmate Closure OR They Should Call It Terminus Graffiti

Going into Mass Effect 3, I thought it would be easy to release a revised "Top Whatever Squadmates". The wheat would be separated from the chaff and it would confirm my every complaint about the poorly written characters. But I wasn't permitted to be that lazy. With the exception of Jacob Taylor (more on that later), every other squadmate had significant and meaningful closure to their story. More than that, it also improved my opinion of every non-Jacob character. Best of all, their involvement in the story never felt cliche or forced, but rather an organic growth from the story.
Jack became an effective & caring teacher for biotic teenagers, rather than a selfish nihilist. As a non-Jacob, she saw growth as a character. Is this what you'd call a "character arc"? It feels good!

No one did anything that felt out of character or that looked like three separate kinds of impossible. Not everyone survived, but not everyone died either. It honestly kept you guessing. The ones who did die died in an awesome way, which is how characters we care about should die. No one wants to see Darth Vader die from a complication in his breathing machine. They want to see him die from a complication in his breathing machine, caused by Force Lightning after he threw the Emperor off the Death Star!

The real genius of this set-up is the squadmates' stories are interwoven into side quests and other areas of otherwise non-essential importance. Each person is in a believable scenario, and it's just as believable that Shepard would run into them there. The side quest would still make sense if the former teammate wasn't there, but the end result wouldn't be as good. It rewards your hard work for keeping people alive (except Jacob). Honestly, I could do a whole separate update on just how great each and every one of these moments was (and I just might). For now, it's enough to say that these quests which were pretty boring in prior Mass Effect games provided an absolute roller coaster of emotions. I'm going to close this entry out with the best moment from the Former Squadmate Quests: The Conclusion to Grunt's Investigation of the Rachni.

4.The Search & Rescue system

In a vacuum, the Search & Rescue system is merely adequate.  But this review is not in a vacuum, it's in the context of all other Mass Effect games (even the terrible iOS game). The absolute worst non-Kaidan, non-Jacob part of every Mass Effect game has been gathering resources. In Mass Effect, it revolved around methodically clicking on every planet and/or asteroid and hoping the game asked you to press A a second time. If you were real fortunate, you'd have to go down to the surface on the Mako and navigate the seemingly randomly generated terrain to get to spare resources. God help you if it's not immediately clear if you should go up the side of the hill in your ATV.

I'm 73% sure I can go the rest of the way up!
 In Mass Effect 2, they decided the solution would be to force you to meticulously scan every square inch of every planet from space, hunting for four different kinds of resource in the hundreds of thousands of... um... whatever the standard unit for video games is. I don't have to say anything about this, the sheer slowness of the scanning and silliness of the concept has been a running joke on the internet for two years now.

In Mass Effect 3, instead of hunting for resources, Shepard now uses the Normandy's stealth engines to perform interstellar search and rescue for vital war assets (think way ward capital ships, stranded spec ops teams, etc.) in Reaper-space. This is balanced against the fact that scanning for resources draws the attention of the Reapers, who will destroy you if they catch you. This gives the entire affair a feeling of tension prior resource gathering mini-games lack. This does have the unintended consequence of making you outrun the Reapers often, which undermines them as a threat. But even though it's not perfect, the fact that resource gathering is no longer the worst part of Mass Effect is a minor miracle.