Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
Note: The following article will not contain any major spoilers for Mass Effect 3. All the information contained below was taken from press releases and previews (of which I’ve only followed a tiny amount). However, if you are in a complete media blackout on every single facet of the game, you may want to stop reading here.
Before we get started, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am very excited for Mass Effect 3. I’ve got one Collector’s Edition awaiting in my mailbox come Tuesday (lord willing), and I find myself counting down the hours in anticipation just as I did with Shepard’s last adventure.
And yet I can’t help but share some of the misgivings expressed by fans in light of the announcements released in the past year. While I don’t doubt that Bioware’s third and final act will exceed all expectations (even after the massive disappointment with Dragon Age 2), there are still a couple of gameplay and design choices that presently baffle me.
It’s a golden rule in both the real world and the virtual world that you shouldn’t judge someone by their appearance. But in a medium filled with bald space marines and Nolan North lookalikes (and sound-alike’s), couldn’t they have been a little more creative with this guy?
No two ways about it, Vega’s appearance is a serious downgrade from the stellar character designs from the first two games…and that includes the humans. Sure, there’s justification in making him look like a military meathead because…well that’s what he is. But we’ve already seen what the average soldier looks like in Mass Effect’s universe…by comparison, James Vega looks like a cross promotional DLC character from Gears of War.
To top it all off, he’s also voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. While it’s a subjective argument about whether that constitutes a positive or negative (I’m not a fan), it only cements Bioware’s attempts to create a character that adheres to the “mainstream” audience.
To be fair, maybe there are deeper layers to the character than what we currently see. Maybe he’ll end up being the biggest bad-ass of the bunch, or contain a backstory that warrants repeat dialog discussions. Even if that ends up the case, it seems like such a pointless gamble to invest so much on James Vega (including a whole anime film dedicated to the guy) when there were already plenty of existing characters fans wanted to see as squad mates (Aria, Bailey, Conrad, a Batarian, a Hanar, etc).
Speaking of bad design decisions, Ashley Williams returns (assuming you picked her to live over Kaiden) to aid Shepard during humanity’s biggest crisis…but apparently had enough time to hit the hair dresser.
Ashley’s new look, which consists of wavier hair, rosier cheeks and bigger breasts, is as much a surprise as it is a setback. While there is nothing inherently wrong about attractive female characters, it clashes against the original portrayal of her last two appearances. In the first two games Ashley was a military officer first and a woman second, as her priority was in being the best soldier she could be, rather than the prettiest. Though she possessed a feminine side that included a love of poetry and a possible romance with Shepard, she was also a hardened tomboy who didn’t seem to hold much stock in her appearance.
Perhaps there’s a narrative explanation to Williams’ new emphasis on looks. Perhaps she’s been hanging out with Miranda and got talked into a few nips and tucks. But whatever the reason, like James Vega it seems like Ashley’s sexier makeover was done primarily to appeal to the mainstream gaming crowd, rather than for story purposes.
I’ll be upfront about this: I don’t like Origin. It has nothing to do with any animosity toward EA or their supposedly shoddy customer service (I never bought anything from them directly, so I can’t comment), I just don’t like the interface of the store or their lackluster gaming deals.
Like many people, I’m wholly invested in Steam, having purchased or been gifted hundreds of titles spread out across four hard drives. While I’m not against competitors trying to earn a piece of the digitally distributed pie, I personally have no reason to use EA’s Origin service…unless I was forced to.
No matter what your online gaming preference might be, it’s hard to justify Mass Effect 3 being an Origin exclusive. EA could have allowed Steam users to purchase the game and still earn millions from its massive audience. Instead, forcing players to use their own service, whether they want to or not, is like a kid taking back all his toys and forcing his friends to play at his house.
They may be his toys, but it’s still a dick move.
When Bioware left out gamepad support for the first Mass Effect, they claimed that it was due to the PC version’s UI being too complex to convert for console controls. When they left it out of Mass Effect 2, they claimed that they just couldn’t find the time to code it in despite the initial desire to do so. Mass Effect 3? “Eh.”
If you’re one of those PC snobs who believe all games should be controlled with a keyboard and mouse, I’ve heard it all before. Regardless of preference, gamers should have the right to use whatever control scheme they want, especially with more and more developers adding native gamepad support for titles developed for both consoles and PC. And with Steam adding in support for both motion controllers as well as an interface suited for playing on a big screen TV, the days of sitting hunched over a desk chair binding character actions to function keys are….well they’re still around. But so is controller support on most multiplatform titles.
Little is known about Mass Effect 3’s main story, and that’s just the way I like it. While impatient fans feverishly pour over Twitter feeds, viral ads, and anything else that may conceivably unravel the loose plot threads, I’m content in staying spoiler-free until the game releases proper.
But there are a few basic story details that were immediately revealed following the sequel’s unveiling that is common public knowledge:
In Mass Effect 2, the alliance between Shepard and Cerberus was shaky, but ultimately necessary. The anti-alien organization used their dirty dealings and corrupt practices for the greater good of humanity, resurrecting Shepard and supplying him with the resources and manpower needed to bounce back the latest Reaper threat. For every debate regarding Shepard’s dealings with the devil, the arguments were always an interesting shade of gray with no clear cut answer on who was “right” or “wrong”.
In Mass Effect 3, all that moral ambiguity has been thrown right out the window. However which way you sided with Cerberus in ME2, it ultimately makes no difference now that the group has been automatically labeled as “the bad guys”. For a series that has pride itself with forcing players to make tough decisions that lead to repercussions across the entire trilogy, the handling of Cerberus feels like such a convenient cop-out, and may just turn out to be the single biggest disappointment in the entire trilogy.
Of course, there is a chance that perhaps the Illusive Man is not indoctrinated, instead staging an allegiance with the Reapers for some other grand scheme. Ultimately it makes no difference, as any such plot twists are likely going to occur without the player making any significant decisions. Simply put, there is no way around having Cerberus as an adversary, which is further cemented in the game’s multiplayer mode. At this point, it’s highly unlikely that the Cerberus plot line will wrap up in a satisfying way.