I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Earth is under siege from enormous, timeless robotic squiddy insect-lookin’ things. And our last best hope is Commander Shepard and his/her band of merry … beings. But while we wait for Shepard to come back from some galactic fetch quest, I have a few things I’d like to talk about.
No, I’m not going to spoil any part of the Mass Effect franchise below (except that Shepard survives the first two games).
I wish the multiplayer were free-to-play
The Horde-like multiplayer included in Mass Effect 3 isn’t half bad, especially in light of my low expectations. I don’t think anyone would mistake it for top-shelf third-person shooting, but it’s challenging, fun, and supportive of different play styles. And it’s almost required for those of us wanting to improve our Galactic Readiness.
But the mode doesn’t scale well for small squads. Gig friend Dan and I played a few rounds this past weekend, and until we opened our lobby to strangers, we were lucky to get through the third wave. If Aaron and Brian played Mass Effect we’d have a nice posse. But they don’t. And they won’t.
So for entirely self-serving reasons, I wish EA would make multiplayer free-to-play. If my gaming buddies played ME MP with me every Thrusday, my Galactic Readiness would be maxed out in no time. There’s a (kinda bullshit) microtransaction apparatus built in, so opening MP up to everyone might even make EA a couple bucks. And I think a free multiplayer experience could even serve as an effective demo for the full game. If you like the space-magic-and-guns formula, maybe you’ll like it even more when it’s backed by a decent story.
Speaking of which…
The story and writing are good, but probably impenetrable
Mass Effect’s combat has evolved from “painful” (in the first game) to, at least, “competent.” People who need good shooting in their games would not hate Mass Effect 3.
But so much of the game has nothing to do with shooting, and if ME3 were your first exposure to the series, the story would probably kill your desire to play. So much of ME3’s plot is built off the decisions you ostensibly made in the previous two games. Y’know how J.K. Rowling spends two-thirds of every Harry Potter book setting up little unresolved scenarios, and the last third resolving them into one giant deus ex machina? That’s kind of what’s going on in ME3. If you jumped in to Prisoner of Azkaban on page 300, would you enjoy it?
The underlying plot isn’t anything unfamiliar (overwhelming evil threatens all you know; stop it before it’s too late!), but without the setup provided by the previous two games, the story of ME3 is just a bewildering lattice of alien races, galactic politics and ancient history. I doubt new players would be willing to slog through the story just to get to the shooting.
What other franchises have this problem? Most combat-oriented games do only that; if you’re not shooting (or punching or slicing), you’re watching a cut scene. Your understanding of or investment in the story is almost entirely independent of your enjoyment of the combat. It doesn’t matter how Adam Fenix was involved in the rise of the Lambent in Gears of War. They’re there now, and you need to shoot them.
In Mass Effect games, though, you spend a lot of time talking and gathering and requisitioning and upgrading and outfitting. Some of that you can skip: ME3 includes an option to have the game navigate conversations for you. They become non-interactive cut scenes, and you just play the path the game sets for you. But you still have to run around the main hub environment, navigate your spaceship to places of import, and improve your weapons. All are things some players, like our pal Aaron, would probably consider obstacles to getting to the part of the game they want to play.
If you’ve put time into the previous games, though, the payoff can be rewarding. I played a mission the other day that wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t made a couple of the dialog decisions I did in the original Mass Effect. In fact, huge swaths of this game would be different (or missing, perhaps) if I’d handled the other games differently, a phenomenon Penny Arcade has already explored. I consider this one of ME3’s strengths, and the main reason I’ll play it several more times.
Someone read my post about mobile apps
Well, probably not, considering how little traffic we get here at Gig Matrix. But ME3’s iOS tie-ins are a tiny step in what I consider to be the right direction.
EA published an iOS third-person shooter, Mass Effect Infiltrator, in the days leading up to ME3’s release. It’s not the greatest game I’ve ever played, and if you hate virtual thumbsticks in iOS games, it won’t change your mind. But you can improve your Galactic Readiness rating in ME3 by finding and uploading “intel” in Infiltrator. It’s a small—and ultimately unnecessary—benefit, but I do appreciate that struggling through the game during my commute has some benefit for the Shepard living in my 360.
ME3’s other iOS tie-in is Datapad, a non-game app that gives you access to the game’s codex, an encyclopedia describing every alien race, point of interest, and historical event in the Mass Effect universe. The codex is built into the game, so I’m not sure what practical use Datapad offers, except for obsessives who need to research the Krogan Rebellions in their “off” hours. The app also allows you to improve your Galactic Readiness by deploying “fleets” to points around the galaxy to perform various tasks. It’s rinky-dink stuff, for sure. But I think publishers are just starting to think about how all these platforms might work together. If and when there’s a Mass Effect 4, maybe EA will force Popcap to make a match-three “hacking” game that will let you raise money for your main-game cause. Now wouldn’t that be fun?
I want you to play Mass Effect 3, but you probably never will
Guys—Aaron, Brian—seriously. This a great franchise. And you’re missing out on ME3. But there’s just no way you’d enjoy it if you weren’t already invested in the narrative. Save your money, I guess.