December 22, 2012

2012 Gaming Year in Review: Mass Effect 3 (March)

In 2007, developer Bioware released the first game of an excellent trilogy, the Mass Effect series, where humans discover they are not alone in this galaxy.  The sentient beings that the humans have sought to discover for eons past further encouraged humans to expand throughout the galaxy, increasing tensions between all of the races. The decisions one makes in the first game affects the other two (by importing save files), constantly developing characters, in turn making the player “feel” like they are actually Commander Shepard. The second game in this trilogy was released in 2010, also garnering critical acclaim.

Jump forwards to March 6, 2012 - when Bioware released their finale to the Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect 3. As all Mass Effect fans know, choices matter - especially when they influence a character’s life or death. Either way, there will be losses - and the impact of those losses will be stronger or weaker depending on how many of the games one has played, especially if they’ve been with you since the Mass Effect. If one has imported a ME2 save file into the game, then they can choose to rekindle a romance with a character, provided that they had a relationship and that they survived the events of that game. On the other hand, one can start a new romance, although a “love triangle” might just come into play here.

Aside from continuing the tradition of Mass Effect games by allowing the player’s decisions to affect their morality and outcomes, gameplay mechanics are strongly developed. By updating combat mechanics, such as cover, movement, and weaponry, Bioware has successfully made the game feel more rigid and developed. Aside from those factors, artificial intelligence (AI) has been improved so that enemies act as a group or team, for example, the Cannibals, who regenerate health by consuming dead soldiers on the battlefield. In other games, it may seem that holding a knife makes you run faster than a rifle. Either way, you’re carrying the same amount of weight. Mass Effect 3 is different - the weight of the weapons you carry determines the time it takes for your “powers” to recharge.

Although many consider the ending of Mass Effect 3 as a failure on Bioware’s behalf, which can be justified, seeing that two people wrote it - denying peer reviews or support. It wasn’t only terrible because of the resultant, but due to the enormous amount of plot holes, unanswered questions, and lack of closure. Bioware yielded to requests and complaints from their fans, releasing the Extended Cut DLC, which was free for all players. The reaction to this DLC was quite conflicted, as many felt that Bioware should have “stuck to their guns”, and just kept the original ending. On the other hand, many accepted the new ending for what it is, but others still disapprove, hoping for a “true” ending to the Mass Effect trilogy. The DLC does not alter the possible outcomes, but only adds cutscenes which help fill some plot holes, provide reasons for some “controversial” events during the ending, and ultimately, entails closure for the die-hard fans of the Mass Effect trilogy.

Although Mass Effect 3’s ending might not be what any of us expected, possibly even crushing our hearts in disbelief, it’s not enough to denounce the time that Bioware, or ourselves have put into these games. Don’t focus on the last few minutes, but instead on the intensively developed characters, story, and 80 some hours of jaw-dropping gameplay, which is what the Mass Effect trilogy truly is.