Last week was an exciting week for us here at Darkstation and for gamers all over the world. Of course we are talking about the release of Mass Effect 3. It took our staff by storm and we had to get as many editors that we could pry away from the game to give their impressions on the experience so far. And as you might also expect they seem to really be enjoying it.
I’m only a few hours into the game, so I can’t say too much about my gameplay impressions just yet. However, I’m really enjoying it thus far. I like how the game imparts a feeling of dread, fear and loss as the Reapers begin to blow the hell out of planet Earth, making it easy for the player to develop an emotional connection to Shepard’s plight. When aliens attack, it’s usually on far away colonies, but now the fight is at home and the stakes are much higher for humans (which makes me all the angry with the Citadel Council). I was struck with how less of an RPG the game is as it has opted to be considerably more action-oriented with barely any item management. There are still side quests, but they seem to be a little out of place considering that the main mission involves halting the Reaper attack on Earth. I’d hate for Shepard to return to a bunch of human survivors and have to explain that more mothers, sons, fathers and daughters could have been spared if only he didn’t waste time scanning planets for resources or spending time in a strip club in the Wards. Thankfully, the much ballyhooed Omni-spike melee weapon thing doesn’t get a whole lot of play if you don’t want it to.
Mass Effect 3 experienced a significant jump in visual detail, as certain characters - like Captain Anderson - look more defined and realistic and show signs of age and weariness. Ashley Williams is considerably more sexualized since her appearance in the first game and has now quite literally let her hair down, showing off long, dark flowing hair. Although her outfit seems to show off her curves a bit more, I’m glad BioWare didn’t resort to putting her in a revealingor skin tight outfits. So far, the biggest disappointment with the game is a bug that prevented me from transferring my character over from Mass Effect 1 and 2. My stats and decisions carry over, but it couldn’t render my face. Thankfully, I found a site that walked me through a step by step process of getting the right face imported to the third game. Hopefully BioWare will fix this as soon as they can.
I should point out that the game looks absolutely phenomenal on the PC.
So much to talk about in only two paragraphs. Well, if that’s all I have, I guess I shouldn’t waste it talking about how little space I have. One thing that struck me about Mass Effect 3 in my time so far its directed nature. In most RPGs, you have a very narrow beginning before the game opens up. In the original Mass Effect, you had the Eden Prime mission and then the plot to uncover Saren. In Mass Effect 2, you had to escape the Cerberus facility and then investigate the colony of Freedom’s Progress. Each of those beginnings takes about an hour and a half. The narrow portion of Mass Effect 3 took me between 3 and 4 hours to get through. But it doesn’t feel overblown or out of place, the game really tries to set the stage for this war to end all wars. And so far it’s working, which leads me to my next “it struck me” topic: tone.
The ME1 has a very 60’s “vision of the future” thing going for it and I think it’s fantastic. ME2 has more of a 80s bad boy vibe and if you’ve heard me talk about before, you know I think that was a step in the wrong direction. Bioware doesn’t normally do “gritty” and that’s very evident in ME2. The game ended up feeling like it was pretending to be dark rather than actually being dark. Words of wisdom: saying the “f” work doesn’t automatically make something dark and gritty. Thankfully, ME3 doesn’t do “dark,” it does “desperate.” And it does it well. I’m finding it very hard to do side quests even after the game opens up because the game really sells that the end of the world has arrived. I feel like I have to concentrate on the mission or everyone will die. Whether the game can keep that illusion going is a completely different story.
But there’s always hope.
Right off the bat, I love how Mass Effect 3 balances the volume of your personal control and choices with the realization that the universe is still well and truly screwed. It kicks you into the maw of Reaper conflict with a quickness and severity outdone only by the <em>God of War</em> series. So far, with just 9 hours under my belt as of Thursday morning, it’s been a really engrossing journey. Whereas ME1 was a slick, black-ops cat-and-mouse game, and ME2 was the Dirty Dozen of sci-fi epics, this feels unlike anything I’ve seen or read. The expanse in scale feels perfectly executed and manageable, if not at all particularly hopeful, and the War Room, as an idea and a gameplay device, is just perfect. The transition from ME2 to ME3, however, is not making me very happy right now. As a Renegade Shepard who looked up to the Illusive Man and cleaning up Cerberus’ reputation, I’m really frustrated by how everyone has just parted ways and gone back to regarding the Organization as a bunch of insane terrorists. I really hope I have the opportunity to pick up those threads again further along, because right now, I’m tired of kissing Alliance ass without any opportunity to explore other options. Also, just a minor thing, but all the women (including one unexpected character change that I won’t spoil) seem a bit overcooked in the sex-appeal department. It’s not a big deal, but it is pretty jarring and silly.
Gameplay wise, this is the best the series has ever been. I love the pattern of “If/Then” combat tactics that govern your approach to enemies and squadmates, making enemy encounters feel like syllogisms as much as firefights. In ME3, the veil separating the strategies and bombast has become all-but-transparent, and it’s a great iteration. The controls are much more responsive, and the unique upgrade branches provide very distinct avenues for your playstyle without feeling overwhelming. Charging someone as a Vanguard and sucker-punching them to instantly clear my cooldown time so I can charge another enemy clear across the map makes the class feel more effective and more true to its purpose than ever, and the new encumbrance system for weapons allows me to speed up or slow down that process depending on how much firepower I want to carry with me into battle. It’s very well thought out, and I’m already looking forward to more playthroughs as different classes.
The Mass Effect games are known for their tough choices. It's 2 AM and Bioware's final entry in the Mass Effect trilogy has me scratching my head, unable to decide whether: (A) press onward and see more space drama or (B) get some sleep and continue as soon as I'm free. Mass Effect 3 does what the first two games have done; it pulls me in with its fantastic cast of characters and does not want to let go. I have invested so much time in this trilogy of games and playing ME3 is like sitting down with an old friend. And boy does that friend have a great story to tell! I think the beginning could have been handled better and didn't exactly leave a good impression. However, I got past it and soon found myself having a blast. I'm really enjoying this fantastic game, despite a rather weak start.
Seeing how Mass Effect 3 came out two days later (The 8th of march) here in Europe, my impressions are somewhat scant and non-conclusive, but I can still very much say that Mass Effect 3 is about as far from being a bad game as humanly possible. I’ve put roughly seven hours into the game thus far and man were those some memorable hours! Mass Effect 3 is a game that has made me feel -- I care an awful lot about the characters involved and all the ongoing events and if you thought that the demo’s tearjerker-opening was emotionally charged, just wait until you actually play the full game. So far, the combat feels impactful and wholly satisfying, the dialogue and characters even more evocative, and this might be the tightest blend between shooting and role-playing I’ve seen in a long, long time. I personally cannot wait to wrap up this gargantuan sci-fi epic, which looks to be one of the best games of 2012.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.