Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Mass Effect 3 or Why Multiplayer Obsession is Ruining Video Games

Fuck that guy.
For the past month or so I have been blasting my way through the Mass Effect games; a steam sale during this past summer let me pick up the first two for very cheap, as well as the 3rd game later. The franchise, or at least the first two, were pretty fantastic although if I'm being honest, I could tell it was going downhill right from the second game. Really? No choice to refuse to work for Cerberus? Didn't I just spend like 6 side missions in ME1 killing off their scientists? Cause I'm pretty sure I did.

But even with that all said, Mass Effect 2 still felt... complete. The consequences were real, the feeling was intense, and you always knew everything was on the line at all times. Apparently, during the suicide mission at the end, you can have everyone on your squad up to and including Shepard die. Of course, if you do all the side missions in the game this doesn't happen, and since I'm the type of person to always do that... yeah, I made it through just fine.

The worst part? I actually enjoyed Arrival
Then we get to Mass Effect 3. The game which, right off the bat, starts off on a bad foot by having Shepard start as having been grounded for actions she took in Mass Effect 2... but only during the DLC. Only if you paid an additional ten bucks for the half our of gameplay provided by "Arrival" do you get to understand why the hell everyone is suddenly accusing Shepard of "killing 300,000 Batarians". So right away, you get that fun bit to deal with.

That's all fine, though, because the action starts _immediately_. A meeting with the defense council for Earth ends sourly as the Reapers, the enemy we've been warned about since early in Mass Effect 1, finally arrive at Earth. The forces are overrun easily, and it becomes apparent that no matter whether or not you win this war, MANY people are going to die here. As Shepard is sent from Earth in the Normandy to seek out assistance from the galaxy's many other inhabitants, she (as my Shepard was, in fact, female; the female voice actor was just SO much better) spots a child she tried to help early evacuate in a shuttle which is then, promptly, shot down - there are no survivors. This fact haunts her dreams throughout the game, which frankly are done in a pretty hammy fashion but I get the idea.

Sassiest Bird in the Milky Way
I wasn't a fan of the exodus from Earth sequence, but from there I felt the plot got much better. Cerberus immediately lets itself be known as it strikes at various colonies in order to recruit for their own studies on the Reapers (whom they intend to control), and the other species, while wishing to help, find themselves unable to do so as their homeworlds are also put under heavy attack by the Reapers. And so you must go, recruiting Garrus Vakarian for a third time (romancing anyone but him as female Shepard seemed rude, considering his dedication to your cause; likewise, male shep will definitely have to go with Tali if I ever play these games through again). and then finding your own squad throughout the game. It also handles all your previous squadmates from ME2, some joining the war effort (Jack, for example, now works as a professor in the biotics school, her tough as nails style making her a very effective teacher) and others, unfortunately, meeting their ends in various ways.

Shepard faces... IN SPACE!!

The scenes are powerful, and the deaths moreso, but the glitches... the glitches start getting out of control. At one point Garrus came to my Shepard and made his move to rekindle their past relationship; it was a touching scene, except anytime the camera shifted to Garrus, some weird visual glitch kept kicking in that made his movements have after images and Shepard's face was imprinted like it was burned into the screen in the skyline behind him.

Then there would be other scenes where Shepard would be making one gesture, but the next scene assumed I had chosen a different response (and thus a different gesture) and so she'd suddenly snap around. For example, in one scene a guy holds a gun to your character's back and threatens to kill her. Choosing the Renegade response, I had Shepard call his bluff and turn around on him... but then the game assumed I didn't choose that, so when he left, she had his back to him again like she had never turned. Just stupid crap like that.

But, and this is just a fact, this is all very typical of BioWare. They have a longstanding history of great plot or details, with very untested technical issues - I was okay with it. My problems came in two other ways:

"Alliance command, this is Master Chief. I think I'm in the wrong game"
1) The dialogue choices. In Mass Effect 1, Shepard never spoke unless you had made a choice; then someone would respond, and you'd be given a bunch of choices to choose from again. Similairly, Mass Effect 2's Shepard I think spoke once or twice without a prompt, but otherwise nothing.

And then in Mass Effect 3, you get like 5 dialogue choices a mission. Maybe. Otherwise, your character responds automatically (presumably using queues from your past responses to determine the harshness of them). And it just isn't the same. Instead of it being Mass Effect, with my character's responses tailored to how I want her to respond, I feel more like I'm playing Square Enix Presents: Halo. It's very frustrating.

2) And  this is where the alternate title comes in - they actually had the nerve to tie multiplayer into getting the "good" ending of Mass Effect 3. Thankfully they nerfed this later, but for the longest time without playing any online games you were unlikely to get the final ending. Your "war readiness" would remain at 50% and you'd need double the required "war assets" to get that ending. Which leads me to my final point...

Why the hell do we always need multiplayer? This isn't the first time multiplayer has ruined an otherwise good game, either. The earliest example would be Halo 2 - while this game did, admittedly, revolutionalize FPS multiplayer (as did the first one), it's a known fact that the plot suffered greatly because Bungie spent all their time working on the multiplayer engine. Call of Duty, games which used to be a pretty decent series that spent a lot of time on their single player campaigns, ended up degrading into ridiculousness all for the sake of their stupid multiplayer "experience". And let's not forget Spec Ops: The Line, the game with a great antiwar message that completely cancelled itself out by outsourcing a multiplayer engine to another company, fearing that the game wouldn't sell if it didn't have multiplayer.

And so that's my problem here. Mass Effect 1 and 2? Great games. Mass Effect 3? Fine, but definitely not even HALF as polished. And really, I blame multiplayer. We need to stop trying to force multiplayer in all games - some thrive on it, sure, but we don't ALWAYS need to play with each other. I'm so tired of games demanding I do a mission in "co op" when I'm like yeah or I could just do this normally like I would have if the game came out 10 years ago. It's insane.

But even with this all said, I didn't feel the same intense loathing when I finished this game that everyone else did. Granted, I played ME3 after the extended cut came out so I had the benefit of playing the ending through in a "better" light, but it still wasn't great. It did, however, provide some closure... And while I think the game could have been better, I also know how much worse it could have been.

That said, let's not even talk about the Mass Effect movie due to come out soon. Let's just... let's pretend that's not a real thing.

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