Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mass Effect: Thoughts and Reflection

Warning: Mass Effect 2 spoilers all up in here!

On March 29th we get the (presumably) last bit of downloadable content for Mass Effect 2. In honour of that, I would like to add my voice to the millions of angry nerds on the Internet to decree what I would like to see happen in the last installment of the Mass Effect trilogy.

What I want to see in Mass Effect 3...

The Hammerhead -- If you didn’t pick up the Firewalker or Overlord DLC for ME2, you’re missing out. They took everything that was wrong with vehicular exploration in the first game and replaced it with something that is actually enjoyable. The Hammerhead hovercraft vehicle can go up mountains, regenerate health, has a delightful VI, and it isn’t constantly flipping over. I wouldn’t mind more exploration and vehicular combat if it was built around the Hammerhead instead of that insufferable Mako.

Greater variety of mini games and more ways to get around them -- The hacking mini games in ME2 were fun at first, but are a drag later on in the game. I would have loved the option to buy an upgrade that made them quicker. Instead, there’s an upgrade that made them slower (therefore, easier). A useful upgrade should have reduced the number of steps in the mini game, not double the amount of time we were allotted to play it.

Turian Females -- Seriously, BioWare? Humans and Quarians are the only two species in the galaxy that have equally divided male/female populations? We got an interesting explanation for the Krogan, a hand-wave explanation for Salarians, and a sexy sci-fi cliché for the Asari (all female race, sigh). So why are there no female Turians, Batarians, etc? It just seems lazy.

The continued debate over the morality of the Genophage -- Throughout ME1 the Krogan are said to be on the edge of extinction because of the Genophage. I believed that, because I had no idea what the Genophage really even did to their bodies, but in ME2 Mordin Solus reveals that the Genophage had successfully brought Krogan birthrates to stable pre-industrial levels. In other words, modern technology let them reproduce too successfully, leading to overpopulation.

We’re going to have a similar problem on Earth. As infant mortality rates decrease, overpopulation increases. How do we resolve this catch-22? If you could genetically engineer a biological weapon that ensured that every woman on earth could only produce two children, would you? Questions like that are the difference between good science fiction writing and great science fiction writing. If ME2 doesn’t continue that debate, I would at least like to see some other relevant writing of equal or greater quality.

Better music -- ME1 and 2’s music isn’t terrible, it’s just really forgettable and... synthy. Good music does incredible things for a game. I’m not even the biggest Halo fan, and I have two of the series’ soundtracks. With Clint Mansell doing the music for ME3, I think that will change. If you don’t know who that is, he’s the guy that scored Requiem for a Dream, the movie with that song that’s been in a zillion trailers.  Even if you don’t know his name, I’ve you been to the movies in the last ten years you’ve definitely heard his music.

What I don’t want to see in Mass Effect 3...

Probing planets - It’s one of the last fringes of terrible RPG tropes: putting a boring a monotonous step between you and power-ups. For those of you not familiar with Mass Effect, to improve your weapons you need to find or purchase research upgrades with credits, but in order to actually *research* these research upgrades, you need to spend mineral resources. You can find the odd 200 to 500 of any resource during a mission, but upgrades cost around 60 000 of any given mineral when you reach the top of the upgrade line. The only way to get the required amount of minerals is to scan and probe planets. There is nothing remotely entertaining, redeeming, or uplifting about this process. You slowly move your mouse across the display and hit probe when you see a spike in the mineral scan. And you need to buy probes with your currency to do this. It’s every bit as boring as it sounds.

A slight advantage to scanning planets is that you can occasionally find missions in the form of “anomalies.” Alien signals, distress calls, crashed ships, etc. Too bad all of these missions are terrible. They’re usually very short with little reward. And maybe, MAYBE, you’ll make enough credits to cover the cost of probing that stupid planet in the first place.

You know what would make the game funner and faster? If researching only cost the initial credit purchase. Here’s how it goes: You find the research upgrade or buy it for credits, then go to your ship to research it. Done! Would that process have been improved with hours of tedious planet probing? No, it would not. At least scanning led to this great easter egg:

Inventory Management -- This has split the Mass Effect fandom down the middle. The FPS fans are glad the inventory system is gone, and that researching weapons upgrades your entire party. In Mass Effect 1 you had to manage six weapons for every character, and two upgrades slots for each of those weapons, and their armor, their armour’s upgrades, and their tools. You picked up items from enemies when they died, and you ended up with an inventory of hundreds of items that you had to sort/sell/break down. The RPG fans want this system because it reminds them of Diablo II or something. I don’t know what’s going on in their turn-based heads.

I’m still on the fence about...

Ammo -- Initially, I was absolutely ENRAGED by the fact that the weapon cool down had been replaced by ammo packs. I preferred the ME2 system of controlling your shots to prevent overheating, and ME2’s glitchy sniper rifle reload system always seemed to flare up at the worst. However, once I got used to ammo it was kinda neat to switch to pistols or shotgun and go in guns blazing when my sniper rifle ammo ran out. It’s a different strategy, and I’m not sure if it’s better or worse. I miss being able to get two sniper shots off.

And that’s that. Since you were kind enough to sit through my self indulgent ramblings about video games, I reward you with a screenshot of my Commander Shepard snuggling with Yeoman Kelly Chambers.

Awww, that's... actually really creepy, with Jane Shepard's eye half open like that. If BioWare can get the romance portions of the game less terrifying, that would be great. Now let’s see how many Google hits that picture gets me!

So what do you want/do not want in Mass Effect 3?

(Yes, I did give Shepard black lipstick. It matches her Cerberus cargo pants/t-shirt combo.)

1 comment:

  1. Herpa-Derpa James.March 24, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    Dear Lord, planet scanning was the worst idea ever. If Bioware can just fix that annoying little tick sucking the life-blood out of their franchise then I'd be pretty happy. Also, bring back more of the experience tree! ME1 gripped me so much and made me WANT to level up to flesh out my characters, not just give them more HP and choosing to slightly boost one of my special attacks.

    Not sure what Bioware's got planned for the series, I just know it'll be grand to play through and practically has my down-payment already. Despite ME2's mind-numbing scanning though, I was more-than satisfied with the experience to do it again and again. Happy times :3