Monday, June 11, 2012

The Bottom Five Things in Mass Effect 3

Well, it's been a ridiculously long time coming, but I'm finally going to talk about the worst five things in Mass Effect 3, and none of them are going to be the ending (which is terrible in every way a thing can be terrible and has caused irreparable damage to my immortal soul). Officially, I'm saying I was waiting for Pimpmaster Doug and Sam of Dr Pepper to finish Mass Effect 3 so I wouldn't spoil them. Without further ado, let's discuss The Bottom Five Things in Mass Effect 3.

5. The Checkpoint Guards on the Normandy
They're so annoying, no one actually has a screen capture of them.
The most common complaint in Mass Effect 1 was the elevator system. Rather than include loading screens, the development team decided to mask loading times by using very, very slow elevator rides. While this was justifiable (although still loathed) on a giant place like the Citadel, it's not possible when going from one level of your ship to the other. In fact, it was extra painful because this super slow elevator was what stood between the boring squadmates (Liara & Kaidan) and the awesome squadmates (Wrex, Garrus, Ashley, and Tali). So every time you wanted to chill with the cool people, you had to suffer for it. Now, you may wonder why I'm bringing up five year old memories of torment at the hands of a loading system. The answer is that I would gladly bring back all the elevators if it meant never having to listen to those stupid friggin' checkpoint guards ever again.

Once again, these two are the byproducts of a need to hide a loading screen. For whatever reason, Mass Effect 3 can't load the War Room AND the rest of the 2nd floor at the same time. So you need to stop off at a scanner to confirm that the most famous man/woman in the galaxy, whose name is synonymous with the SSV Normandy, is a member of the crew. In an effort to alleviate the boredom of waiting through a lengthy scan, the good folks at BioWare decided to have two lovable guards banter with each other. And by "lovable guards" I mean "stupid nimrods" and by "banter"  I mean "vapidly discuss things you already knew/would never think of because it is so stupid". To BioWare's credit, they tried giving them personalities. It's just their personalities were "Stupid One" and "Pretentious Stupid One". Here are a sample of some things you have to overhear every single time you want to go get some missions or talk to someone or maybe check on your Galaxy at War score.

SO: "Once we beat the Reapers, we should get some payback from all the races that didn't help us."

PSO: "Yeah, that's great. Let's follow up a war with another war."

-In this scene, it appears that SO has forgotten that we're facing an unstoppable armada from beyond the galaxy which has ended all life more times than can be remembered. But hey, don't let that stop you from assuming we'll win easily with enough military capital to overpower any adversary.

SO: "I can't believe the Asari won't help us."

PSO: "If it was Thessia [Asari Homeworld] that was invaded, you can bet we would be holding back around Earth."

-In this scene, PSO forgets that the Alliance's fleets were possibly crippled saving the Destiny Ascension at the end of Mass Effect 1. Also, she seems to be forgetting that these machines are invading everyone they can at this current moment. I guess the Asari and PSO think that the Reapers will kill all advanced life... except themselves.

SO: "We should bomb the Reapers"

PSO: "But the Reapers don't have any planets. If you bomb them, you're bombing yourself."

-There is literally so much wrong with this dialogue, that I will lose my mind if I specify all 17 ways it's wrong. Suffice to say, most planets invaded by the Reapers get pretty chewed up anyways, as is normally the case with world's assaulted by intergalactic genocide. Also, I'm pretty sure there's a level of bombing short of "Planetary Destruction" or "Ecological Collapse". Also, I'm pretty sure we don't have bombs capable of destroying a Reaper. Also, nothing you said or have ever said, made any sense. Also, I'm pretty sure I hate all of you and I just wanted to talk to Wrex. WHY AM I ALWAYS PUNISHED FOR TALKING TO WREX?!

4. The Galaxy at War system

"We are a force greater than any you could imagine. We have destroyed countless civilizations from the dawn of time. Your struggle is in vain, Shepard, for we... wait, you have over 4,000 Military Points! OH SNAP! *explosions*"
When I talked about the things I liked about Mass Effect 3, I mentioned how much I loved Search & Rescue. It was great to finally see a tangible contribution for all your hard work over the course of three games. The problem is the Galaxy at War system ruins it and makes all your hard work irrelevant if you're willing to play multiplayer or buy iOS games.

In a nutshell, your final military score, known as Effective Military Strength, is what determines how successful you are in fighting off the Reapers. This number comes from a formula where your total War Asset score (i.e. the stuff you've been working on across three games) is multiplied by your galactic readiness score (i.e. how much you play the multiplayer or iOS games). It's not a bad idea, because it helps people new to the franchise get a better ending. The problem is that the default Galactic Readiness level is 50%, which means that multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is as important as everything you did up to this point.

The troubling thing is how trivial this makes all your other achievements in the games. Let's say you did everything in the first two games: saved the Rachni, saved all your squadmates, saved Wrex, etc. All those decisions are equivalent to a night of multiplayer. The most frustrating one by far is the Rachni. It was a major dilemma in Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 foreshadowed it would have huge consequences. In the end, regardless of what decision you made throughout the three games, the difference between the absolute worst case scenario and the absolute best case scenario is 300 points. If you only had a total War Asset (known as effective Military Strength or EMS) Score of 4,000 by the end of the game (which is easily done), that means the entirety of the Rachni Dilemma, a drama spanning three games, is worth about two games of multiplayer. In practice, Galaxy at War makes all your previous decisions kinda meaningless in the big picture. Saving the Krogan, uniting the Geth & Quarian, even saving the intergalactic government can all be compensated for with enough multiplayer.

3. The Horrible Political Correctness
I wish I had a personality.
One of the worst things about Mass Effect 3 was this terrible idea to be as inclusive as possible for people of the present day. Don't take that the wrong way; inclusiveness is great. The problem is that this is designed inclusiveness, characters designed solely to be politically correct so that way BioWare can pat themselves on the back and receive accolades for how progressive they are. For my first piece of evidence, watch the first minute of this video.

Now you may have noticed that Cortez, the shuttle pilot, really didn't need to be in the scene. His dialogue didn't tell us anything that wasn't obvious in the next shot. After all, we see that we've approached the base. In Mass Effect 2, we never needed to know who the shuttle pilot was. So my question is: is Cortez a character that needed to exist in the first place?

I am fully convinced that Cortez was added in during the final months of production entirely so that BioWare could raise a "controversy" about having an exclusively gay male love interest in their game and then had to find some way to justify his existence. And before you say "Hunter, you homophobic neocon since birth, you're just projecting your own hates onto a progressive idea so as to discredit it," allow me to present some evidence to back up my claim:

  • No one but James Vega and Shepard ever talks to or acknowledges Cortez at any point, even when they're in the shuttle. No one but Shepard and Vega ever say his name. Is it because they think he's weird or because BioWare didn't want to pay the voice actors to come in and read more lines to make a late addition feel more authentic?
    • For contrast, look at Javik, a DLC character they had planned out ahead of schedule. All the squadmates had significant dialogue with him and even minor characters like Wreav (Wrex's evil brother) had banter with him.
  • In Sur'Kesh, you may notice that Wrex spends the entire time piloting the shuttle. Why would he do that when there's already a shuttle pilot? I can get why someone would think they're better than an autopiloting program, but Cortez is a veteran fighter pilot and Wrex is a veteran shock trooper. It seems kind of redundant to have two pilots on the shuttle when one is all that's needed every other time. Unless the whole idea of a shuttle pilot was added at the last minute.
  • Cortez always has something to say before each mission, but it's never anything that's vital or would necessitate a new character to provide that information. Every single scene of him driving the shuttle could be cut and you wouldn't miss any critical information about the mission. Maybe he isn't that clever or maybe his character was added at the last second and it'd be awkward to have a guy sitting in the shuttle, saying nothing.
Speaking of which, don't get me started on James Vega. He was originally named James Sanderson, but they renamed him Vega so as to avoid confusion with minor character, Kahlee Sanderson (who appeared in the books a lot but never showed up in the game). I can see why some people would confuse a blonde female scientist with a male marine with short brown hair, because they are blind (and we should applaud them for playing video games solely on sound). So naturally, they decided instead to give him a Hispanic last name and have him speak in Spanish sometimes (so progressive!). By the way, how come my universal translator doesn't translate Spanish all the time? It seems like Spanish would be the first language that your universal translator should learn. It's not like the universal translator ever has any other difficulties translating stuff, except maybe Tali's made up swear words (those guards are such bosh'tets) and other Quarian stuff for which there is no English equivalent (at the end of the Rannoch campaign, Tali straight up explains that she had to work on a translation of kee'lah silei for you). Oh, I guess if they didn't have Vega speak Spanish, you wouldn't pick up on the fact he's of Hispanic descent and then you wouldn't be able to praise them for being so progressive.

2. The Even More Horrible Sexism
"Commander Shepard, I've been established as a reliable reporter in the last two games and my voice actress has over 60 voice acting credits on her IMDB page. I think I'd make a wonderful addition to the Normandy's cr- BLARGH! I AM DEAD! ON TWITTER!"
"This is, like, my first voice acting job and also the first time my character has ever been mentioned in the series in any capacity. Yeah, like, I don't even get a throwaway blurb in a novel or anything. I got this job because my personality is just bulging right out."
Basically, as concerned as BioWare was with making nice with minority communities, they have no problem at all with depicting women as trophies. First, let me point you to the romance page on the excellent Mass Effect wiki. In a nutshell, the number of romance options has steadily increased from 3 in Mass Effect to 6 in Mass Effect 2 and 11 in Mass Effect 3. Quick digression, but you may note that 11 seems like a very unusual number to settle on for love interests in a game. It's almost like one CORTEZ was completely tacked on at the last second CORTEZ. But that could be any Cortez... I mean character. But I digress. The important thing to note that of the 11 love interests, 8 are women. Of the 8 women, half are bisexual or lesbian (i.e. playing to the most common porno trope ever, or so I have been lead to believe). Of the 3 men, one is straight (Garrus, who is 23 flavors of badass), one is gay (Cortez, I may have forgotten to mention this) and one is bi (Kaidan, which makes perfect sense in retrospect. No straight man whines that much.). So for the Lady Shepards out there who are actually straight ladies you're options for romance are Garrus or Kaidan (easy choice). But back on topic, almost all of the women in the game are designed for sexploitation: to be sexy figures. This manifests itself in very subtle ways, such as all the asari/human couples being strictly a girls only affair. Perhaps the worst indication of the sexist attitude in the game is the depiction of EDI. For reasons of Tricia Helfer wanting more screen time/the squad needing a non-Tali tech expert. It was decided that EDI needed a body and that she would take over a Cerberus infiltration robot. Now, obviously being designed for infiltration, you'd want as non-descript a body as possible, so as to simplify your facade and avoid drawing attention to yourself.

Or build a giant robot Barbie doll. Whatevs.

The trouble is that Joker is only able to express his love for EDI when she gets a (and this is the scientific term) smokin' hot body is kinda horrible and sexist (and yes it's only once she gets the body, because non-smokin' EDI described her and Joker's relationship as one of professional admiration at the end of Mass Effect 2). Guys, you can have your debilitating brittle bone disease because there is nothing you can do about it, but ladies, you owe it to your man to transfer your software into the most appealing form possible.

But I guess it's not sexist because they have her do math at one point in the game. That's how sexism works right? If you defy one stereotype, you're allowed to play another completely straight.

1. The Lack of Closure and Continuity

I could (and have) spent hours discussing and dissecting why the current ending of Mass Effect 3 is a tremendous letdown and wrecks literally three games worth of momentum in a matter of minutes. But I think I've distilled the main reason why the ending is so bad. There is no closure. Maybe you destroyed the Reapers or controlled them or maybe you did that magic Synthesis option (because there's a beam you can shoot someone with to make them part robot and vice-versa. That's totally grounded in reality.). But what does it matter? You see the explosion in three different colors and that's it. Does it matter if Wrex and the Krogan live or die? Does it matter if the quarians ever rebuilt their long lost homeworld? Does it matter what happened to everyone left on earth? Does it matter what happened to the billions of Reaper abominations scattered through out the galaxy? Not according to the ending it doesn't! All that matters is if you got your EMS above 4,000. This problem of closure and continuity manifests itself in the entire final battle for Earth (which is thematically brilliant).

As contrast, I offer the Suicide Mission at the end of Mass Effect 2. Having spent the entire game assembling your elite team, you have to figure out how best to use them to take down the Collector Base. This means you need to know who your best leaders are for leading the diversionary team, who your best tech experts are for breaking open doors, and who your strongest biotics are for making shields. Every crossroads calls on Shepard to make a major tactical decision on the resources he's gathered with the information he's observed. It makes for a much more personal experience than "they break into the base and shoot guys." In Mass Effect 3, you just go around London, shooting bad guys. It's fun, but you don't see any of your allied troops in any capacity outside of a few cutscenes. Why did I go to the trouble of recruiting Krogan shock troops if it doesn't make a difference in the final battle? Why is the combined armada of the Geth fleet and Quarian flotilla not mentioned in the slightest or change our tactics in the least? It creates a disconnect from everything else Shepard has done in the last three games and just leaves you unsatisfied.

On a fundamental level, the final battle won't change in the slightest if you betrayed Wrex and the Krogan and led the Quarians to their extinction or if you ushered in an unprecedented era of peace and cooperation amongst the races. So long as you got your 4,000 points of EMS, you have your choice of three endings. Now, according


"Affirmative!" McNish said...

Hunter, another excellent blog. It was well worth the wait between when you announced it and when you posted. I hope I will be able to say the same thing about the Extended Cut DLC, although I'm sure that will make for a whole other blog. Brilliant the way you ended, without any closure, it left me wanting more. I guess the difference between you and Bioware is that you actually meant to do that to prove your point.
Definitely sold, on the late addition of Cortez. Also disappointed with how Bioware ruined a good thing by killing off Emily Wong. (on twitter even!)Just so they could add another busty female. Also, I've to you this before but you've completely convinced me that leaving Kaidan on Virmire was the right choice and I regret deciding this originally. One day when I go back again to play the trilogy I will fix my mistake.
To quote Jeremy Clarkson, "If I had to nitpick, and of course I do..." I must say that Kahlee Sanders (Minus the 'on') actually did make an appearance in the game on the Grissom Academy level. This is even one of my favorite parts of the game! Having read all 3 books (THERE ARE ONLY 3 BOOKS JUST LIKE THERE ARE ONLY 3 INDIANA JONES MOVIES. A 4th one with aliens, CGI monkies, and random groundhogs doesn't exist just like a 4th Mass Effect book where they kill off all the major characters and butcher the entire mass effect lore breaking continuity doesn't exist) it was cool to see how she and Grissom academy looked in the game and that it wasn't too far off of what I pictured in my mind. I felt rewarded on some level for reading the books. Which I really enjoyed and still recommend.

"Affirmative!" McNish said...

Oh btw, why can't you write for Bioware???
I still haven't forgot your idea for the Dragon Age franchise, how you draw parallels from history to make it a better game. A good blog? That may be a big one though.

Also,thoughts on E3 2012?