Mass Effect 3 Playtest: A Stellar Story With A Bitter End

By Jenni . March 24, 2012 . 3:30pm

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Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

 

Marie Shepard has always been a fantastic engineer and girl-next-door type. Her parents were both Alliance officers, so she grew up in space and knew that she needed adventure in her life. When the opportunity to enlist presented herself, she took it. She joined the Alliance, spent years working with tech, and a war hero who risked her life to repel an attack on Elysium by Batarian slavers. She’s an exemplary Paragon N7 who’s as comfortable on the battlefield as she is improving her combat drone with Tali, gossiping with Liara or snarking with Garrus and Joker.

 

Shepard doesn’t remember much about her early adventures, which is understandable considering she died shortly after talking Saren to death and delaying the Reaper invasion. The dubious pro-human group Cerberus rebuilt her. Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor briefly filled her in, reminding her that Udina’s the human representative, the previous council all died and Ashley Williams made a valiant sacrifice on Virmire.

 

Even though Shepard went through a lot, she didn’t get time to regroup and reflect. Collectors, agents of the Reapers, were abducting human colonists from their homes. She put together a group of the most talented people in the galaxy, among them her boyfriend Garrus, her best friend Tali, and newcomers Mordin Solis, Jack, Thane Krios, Grunt, Zaeed Masani, Kasumi Goto and Samara. Though they faced impossible odds, Shepard has always been a people person and considered her crew her family. Their bonds ensured their loyalty and ample preparations meant the group was easily able to slip through the Omega 4 relay into dark space and blow up the base to get everyone home safely.

 

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Now, the Reapers are really coming. Shepard bought everyone some much needed tie by blowing up Alpha Relay at the cost of the entire Bahak system. As a result, over 300,000 innocent Batarians died. The thought haunts her to this day, but it had to be done. She sits under guard at an Alliance base in Vancouver, stripped of her rank and dishonored, when it happens. Sensors indicate a massive fleet is headed towards Earth and everyone finally realizes she was right. After all these years, the invasion has begun. With the help of Admiral Anderson, a man who’s always stood by her side, Commander Marie Shepard retakes her position as head of the Normandy and sets out to rally the galaxy. It’s time to face off against the Reaper threat.

 

The Mass Effect trilogy has resonated so deeply with fans because of the writing and Mass Effect 3 offers some of the series’ best. The priority missions are just so satisfying and touching. It’s wonderful to see how things play out and the closure that comes from the Tuchanka and Rannoch missions. Even better is the way the characters interact with one another. In previous games, I sometimes got the feeling that nothing was really happening when Shepard wasn’t around. In Mass Effect 3, the characters have lives that go on when you’re not there. If you walk in on Liara in her office on the Normandy, she could be chatting over an intercom with Kaidan or Javik. I stopped by to see Joker and he was swapping jokes with Garrus. Kaidan and Vega play poker together in the lounge. People are constantly moving and interacting with one another, whether they’re on the Citadel or Normandy. It’s just wonderful and it really helps you connect even more to the characters to see how they relate to each other and Shepard.

 

By the way, the Citadel is absolutely fantastic in Mass Effect 3. Sure, I wish I could have stopped by Illium, Omega or Tuchanka, like I did in Mass Effect 2, but I have to say the different areas of the Citadel and the fact that you can touch base with current squadmates and past squaddies there is utterly fantastic. Many of the eavesdropping conversations continue on for quite a while and you really have to pay attention and listen. The reward is occasionally a side-quest to probe for war assets in Reaper-controlled systems or perhaps something you can handle in the Spectre offices. I highly recommend visiting Joker constantly in the cabin and listening to the PTSD Asari in the hospital, though the tale of the teenage refugee in the docks is also quite touching. Also, Shepard gets to actually hang out with some of the crew and former crew on the Citadel, so always keep checking your maps to see if someone you didn’t expect to see is lurking about.

 

The gameplay is also utterly fantastic with multiple difficulty levels and gameplay options to accommodate every user. I decided to go with what my friend and I like to refer to as super easy idiot baby casual mode, even though I played on Normal difficulty for Mass Effect 2. It is essentially a god-mode for Shepard and her crew. It meant that the game felt more like an action RPG for me, because I could rely more on Shepard’s engineer powers and even her omniblade rather than focusing on the third person, cover based shooter elements.

 

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That’s not to say that the more conventional play mode isn’t good. It’s completely fantastic as well. I’ve been playing with my second Shepard (Ariana Shepard, Sentinel) on Normal and am pleased with how smooth and easy it is to move around the battlefield, gun down enemies, mod my weapons and customize my characters’ abilities. Even if you only play for a few minutes, you can see how BioWare has improved the enemy AI as your opponents will also actively seek cover, attempt to flank your squad and use their own abilities to capitalize on your own weakness. The only (minor) grumble I have is that it seemed Shepard’s omniblade took longer to get out and charge up than it did for Cerberus’ troops’.

 

I also liked that the leveling up and weapon modding system felt Mass Effect 3 feel more like an RPG. In Mass Effect 2, I’d always just use whatever gun was newest. I figured if I just got it, it was probably the best and it was difficult to determine if something else was any better. The same could be said for powers. If something worked, I’d level it up. With Mass Effect 3 I can clearly see the benefits of each weapon and customize them to make them more efficient. This means a gun I’ve had longer that may seem weaker could become invaluable with the right mods and upgrades. As for power upgrades, players have some choice in how abilities develop so you can cater to your play style.

 

Something big from Mass Effect 2 did make it back into Mass Effect 3 – planet probing. It’s been tweaked as well. This time, you’re checking systems then heading to specific points in them. Sometimes you’ll hear rumors on the Citadel that certain planets in Reaper-controlled space have resources. You can probe to find wreckage with fuel or assets. You have to be careful though, as scanning lets Reapers know you’re there and you have to hightail it if they come or it’s game over. Really. You get a game over screen if a Reaper catches you while scanning for assets. I recommend scanning an area until Reapers come, highlighting everything. Leave and do a side-quest mission. The Reapers will leave while you’re taking care of business. Go back to the scanned system and instant profit!

 

I do have to warn you though, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t exactly offer the kind of payoff you may have been hoping for from your actions in the previous entries. Most of the decisions made in the first two games factor more into which war assets you acquire, rather than drastic story changes. Good choices mean more assets, bad choices usually mean less. Also, some Priority and side missions are more interesting if certain characters survived previous games. The major point is that no matter what decisions you’ve made, certain challenges come up against certain enemies. This is a relatively minor spoiler, but since it appeared in the demo I figure it’s okay to use to prove my point. Let’s say you decided to destroy the genophage cure data in Mass Effect 2 during Mordin’s loyalty mission. It doesn’t matter. In Mass Effect 3 he, or another Salarian scientist if he didn’t survive the suicide mission, created another cure! There are similar situations involving the Rachni and Geth situations in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, respectively.

 

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Which brings us to the multiplayer. This is going to hurt, but I honestly can’t see anyone getting the necessary assets to get the "best" ending without playing the multiplayer. Especially if you’re playing on the PS3 like I did. For my first playthrough, I used the Mass Effect 2 save from the game I started back during that big PSN outage. As a result, I started with a default opening and couldn’t download the Genesis comic that let me make the better Mass Effect choices. I ended up missing out on a lot of war assets that would have made a huge difference and had to play online to bring up my readiness for the final battle so I could earn the better ending. Even then, I didn’t get the absolute "best" ending that had an additional Shepard scene. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly pleased that I didn’t get that extra scene. (Especially since I stayed up until 2am finishing the game!)

 

Thankfully, the online experience was rather pleasant. I usually play Mass Effect 3 on the standard and casual difficulties, so the multiplayer was quite an adjustment and much more demanding my first few rounds. To give you an idea of how demanding, I’ve played in about 20 Bronze level matches and my groups made it through all 10 waves 7 times. All of the random people I ended up playing with were quite forgiving and accommodating. I didn’t mind having my mic either, as the majority of people I played with were pretty cool people. In my second session, one guy was even giving me tips for playing as an Adept, since it was my first time ever trying the class.

 

Here’s how it works. You have to survive 10 waves of enemies and usually two or three of those waves will involve finding terminals to interact with or targeting certain enemies. They get more difficult as you go on and you’re rewarded with extra experience and credits depending on your performance. Experience lets you level up the character you were using, unlocking new powers and abilities, while credits (and real cash) can be used in a store to unlock weapons, characters, weapon mods and items. After a character reaches level 20, you can import them to your game as a war asset. My only complaint with multiplayer is that my game froze regularly if I played during a peak time. (Say, on weekends after 9pm CST.) I just accepted it as a fact that I’d probably have it freeze at least once during the multiplayer session. It shouldn’t be happening though and it’s unacceptable. Considering the Galactic Readiness rating is constantly dropping rather quickly, you have to just accept and get used to the inconvenience because you have to regularly keep playing if you’re relying on that added boost in the main game.

 

Speaking of complaints, let’s get to that ending. Notice I say ending and not "endings." I’m sure you’ve all heard the rumors and I have to confirm it – Mass Effect 3 happens to have the most disappointing ending ever. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the outcome with my paragon FemShep left me heartbroken over the fates of all the characters I’ve grown to love over these three games and confused by all the plotholes. Most importantly, I’m upset that Marie Shepard, who has always been a fighter and worked to find the best solution that would save the most people, had to just accept what was handed to her without question. Mass Effect 3 has the honor of providing my biggest game ending letdown ever, and this is coming from someone who’s beaten Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Hydrophobia. The three possible endings all offer similar resolutions and no closure. There’s no extra incentive or reward for people who’ve played prior entries.

 

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All the interviews and promotions provided during the Mass Effect 3 development promised our choices throughout the series would matter and we would have a definite conclusion that would take those decisions into account. I didn’t see that. All that seemed to matter were war assets and the choice I made at the very end. I can only pray that BioWare and EA will release some kind of (free) epilogue or additional ending DLC that will offer an ending that’s almost happy or bittersweet, rather than just plain bitter and sad. Granted, Dr. Ray Muzyka has said that there will be "game content initiatives," but the wording of that phrase doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me. As it is now, I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to complete the game again. I’ll go through my other Ariana Shepard playthrough, where I had all the best choices and romanced Kaidan, but I’m sure not going back to Earth to face the inevitable!

 

There have been a few theories over at the BioWare Social Network where fans suggest that the end we’re seeing isn’t the real ending and something more is planned. Perhaps these "game content initiatives" were planned all along. If this is true, then Mass Effect 3 is joining Final Fantasy XIII-2 in setting a dangerous precedent where companies may start thinking it’s okay to deliver an incomplete game experience that will be amended later with a patch, DLC or expansion. Having to pay more to see the real end of the game would be ridiculous, but I can’t see a free patch or update as being any better. If someone is paying $60 for a game, they have a right to a full and complete experience. They shouldn’t have to wait for additional content to make it complete. I can’t imagine what this experience would be like for someone whose PS3 or Xbox 360 isn’t connected to the internet.

 

Before I wrap things up, I also want to take a moment to talk about Javik. Javik is the Prothean squadmate that only joins a player’s party if he or she purchases the $10 From Ashes DLC. BioWare has said that his part isn’t crucial to the game and you can enjoy Mass Effect 3 without him. If Mass Effect 3 is your first experience with the series, that’s true. If it’s not, then BioWare’s wrong. I started with Mass Effect 2 for the PS3, picking up a PC copy of Mass Effect for fun after beating it, and I’d consider Javik an essential download for anyone who’s even remotely interested in the series’ lore and the Protheans’ role in the universe. He’s a well-rounded squadmate, offers valuable insight through party banter and event segments and I love his voice. He’s also an extra biotic, which is sorely needed since Liara’s the only biotic squadmate if Kaidan was sacrificed on Virmire. I can’t imagine undertaking the Priority mission on Thessia, or the aftermath from it, without him along. Sure, he doesn’t contribute War Assets, but his value to fans of the series is immeasurable.

 

While I know my commentary about the ending, multiplayer freezing and From Ashes DLC is critical, I have to close this by saying 90% of my Mass Effect 3 experience was absolutely incredible. I loved the first 37 hours I spent playing the game. The writing is fantastic, the combat segments are better than they’ve ever been and I cried three times. When I say cry, I mean major sobbing, not just some minor sniffle. The environments are incredible and if a mission wasn’t time sensitive I’d just look around at the various intricacies and detail to enemies and background. Unfortunately, I’m one of the majority who was very upset by the abrupt and confusing ending. I wouldn’t say the last 30 minutes I spent playing ruined the whole game for me, but I can guarantee that I won’t finish any additional playthroughs so I don’t have to go through that again and I doubt I’ll be buying any additional DLC.

 

Food for Thought

  • If you’ve read the leaked script, then you won’t face too many surprises. Even a lot of the dialogue is word-for-word.
  • The Hanar ambassador quest with Kasumi is explained horribly and is easily missed. Check terminals in the Docking Area and Embassy to actually complete it.
  • Don’t hesitate when completing sidequests, especially if the person giving it makes it sound urgent. They’ll disappear after Priority missions. Also, eavesdrop constantly because you’ll get quests that way.
  • There’s only a 13mb install for the PS3 version.
  • When you hang out with Garrus on the Citadel, miss the shot on purpose to hear one of the best lines in the game.
  • I strongly encourage you to play Mass Effect and/or Mass Effect 2 first. You don’t want to go into Mass Effect 3 without the prior decisions as you’ll be in a horrible position to start trying to save the galaxy.
  • I think BioWare got really lazy with Tali’s face and would rather they left Quarians’ appearances a complete mystery rather than cheaping out and relying on a stock image and Photoshop.
  • The Journal could have been better organized. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if certain quests are time sensitive and you don’t always get all the information about where you should be. Case in point, the Kasumi – Hanar quest.

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