I will not be playing Mass Effect 3 this week. Upon its release this Tuesday, I shall sortie to my local game emporium to acquire my prepaid Collector’s Edition, return straight home, and place it carefully upon a shelf until I’ve completed my replay of the first two games. I need to set things right.
It’s what No High Scores’ chief gaming philosopher Brandon Cackowski-Schnell calls “the Save of Record.” It’s the endgame of your choosing; the version of events that you consider canon. I have multiple saves in both games where I was grinding out Achievements, farming karma points, or exploring alternate plot decisions, but this will be a quest to resettle the Mass Effect universe into my “official” version.
Our community is brimming with people who know the Mass Effect series better than I do, but in thinking about the path I want to take leading into the final game, I’ve realized a few things about what I’d like to find when I get there. Maybe they’ve already been discussed in the prerelease coverage — I’m still in hardcore spoiler block-out mode — but they still represent the sorts of things I’d be looking for when judging Mass Effect 3 as a solid finale.
1) Improved class balance
The previous Mass Effect games both had balance issues. Some of them skewed towards making the games too easy, with min-maxers discovering ways to stack class bonuses and weapon augments to produce pistols that fired like howitzers, or allowed them to ping-pong wildly from one enemy to the next for a series of instant kills. Those don’t trouble me a bit. If anything, crazy, unintended side effects speak somewhat well of the skill system Bioware has set up.
No, it’s the other end of the spectrum, where certain classes were practically helpless at the higher difficulties. Engineers got the short end of the stick in the first game, stuck with hacking gadgetry that simply couldn’t keep pace with the heightened enemy resistances. They received a nice buff for the sequel but the poor biotics took their place, saddled with abilities that didn’t have a prayer of cracking an enemy boss’ shields on Insanity.
Character specializations should play differently. Build choices should matter. Some should be tougher, or at least require more advanced tactics, than others. I just don’t think anyone enjoys the realization that their chosen class is inherently impossible to play on the tougher difficulty settings.
2) Tangible consequences from the previous games
The Rachni are historical bad guys in the Mass Effect universe. Their war of conquest and consumption was only halted by desperate measures, uplifting another warmongering species with the tenacity and breeding capacity to turn back the tide. It’s a well told backstory with dark implications for everybody involved.
It’s also been used to frame some of Commander Shepard’s most gut-wrenching decisions. It feels like your character is standing at a crossroads in galactic history, planting seeds that will someday blossom into drastic consequences. Someday.
Well, if Mass Effect 3 is to be Commander Shepard’s last hurrah, I think that day has come. The timeline has advanced some three years since my Shepard decided to release the last remaining Rachni queen on her own recognizance. I got a little bit of followup in the last game, but it didn’t carry any game play weight at all – just a “How Have You Been?” chat with one of her thralls. I want something more for the grand finale.
I want to feel the results of those decisions. I want to have one mission get completely upended by swarms of Rachni reinforcements arriving on the battlefield, and another go totally cock-eyed because my would-be allies are really pissed off that I saved the Rachni. Ditto goes for a bunch of the other Paragon / Renegade pivoting points. When closing out your grand trilogy, story forks like those should matter.
3) A plausible conclusion
The old axiom goes that the best way to predict future behavior is to examine past results. That’s bad news for the Mass Effect galaxy, as the Reapers have established a decisive track record over the last fifty million years. Modern Earth mammalia were just starting to evolve when other spacefaring species were scoured from existence by vast AI-driven constructs from beyond the galactic rim. They’ve got a lot of experience with winning.
An infinitely patient, quasi-immortal threat like the Reapers cannot be ended by the protagonists conveniently unearthing a Super Anti-Reaper Gun that previous species forgot to use. No Macintosh viurs, logical paradox, or holodeck program is going to be an acceptable foil for a race that has spent millennia stacking the deck in its own favor. Coordinating a defense they haven’t prepared for needs to be a big honking deal.
Mass Effect 3 promises a decisive battle that pits all the disparate sentient species in the galaxy against an enemy that has had unlimited time to quietly assess every strategic strength and weakness at their disposal. Their first modern gambit only failed by the narrowest of margins. If the final climax doesn’t do that justice, doesn’t fully commit to the specter of a full-blown interstellar genocide, with the sort of desperate decisions and horrific losses such a war would entail, I’m afraid all the build-up would be for naught.
4) Better animations for Shepard
Conversations in Mass Effect 2 took on a much more dynamic, cinematic feel compared to the rigid shot / reverse shot stylings of its predecessor. 95% of the time, it was great.
And then you’d get something like this.
Humorous caption aside, this isn’t a poorly executed fan mod. It’s in the game. Bioware, apparently occupied with squashing last-minute bugs and readying their Cerberus Network content, simply applied the MaleShep motion capture work to regular Shepard’s character model.
Mass Effect 2 was a complete reinvention of the franchise that moved most everything in the right direction, so I’m willing to give a lot of slack for the sudden appearance of “heat clips,” the replicated Normandy, and the occasional goony character animation. This third time around, though, I think it’s fair for my expectations to be a lot higher.