Monday, March 26, 2012

Mass Effect 3, minutiae

Spoiler free. Here's stuff I thought while playing the latest and hottest "guns and conversation" game:

  • I had 300,000 credits and didn't know what to do with it. Upgrading guns seemed pointless (the bars barely budge in the stats readouts) and clicking on stuff in a menu with little visual change or feedback was unsatisfying. Seems like the gun upgrades were a last minute feature that could've used another GUI design pass.
  • Functionally, all squadmates seem pretty much the same (1 crowd-control ability, 1 buff, 1 debuff) except Liara who has significantly less health. It doesn't really matter who you bring, which I somewhat liked, because that meant squad choice was based on narrative and characterization instead.
  • My Shepard had a "biotic charge" ability that lets her fly across rooms through cover, tackle enemies, and completely recharge her shields; combined with other bonuses, the cooldown period becomes negligible even early on. I didn't feel particularly smart when I figured out how overpowered this ability was -- I felt like the balance was broken. 
  • Well, I don't think anyone plays Mass Effect for the gunplay anyway. It serves an aesthetic purpose: to make you feel like you're fighting in battles. What baffles me is spending time developing a multiplayer game that capitalizes on the weakest, least interesting part of the series?

  • Again, I chose a LadyShep who decided to romance her secretary. From watching the YouTubes though, the GayMaleShep stuff seems pretty well done and even a little cute. (see above) I wish I had had the faith to stick it out with a MaleShep through the entire trilogy, but the male voice actor is just so much worse.
  • Given the heavy proceduralizing of conversations, BioWare does a really smart thing during cutscenes: it cuts to different cameras frequently so that your brain better processes the discontinuities. The dialog doesn't sound as disjointed if there's a visual cut in time. (see above)
  • Some weird player to player-character dissonance when my Shepard always confesses how much she misses Ashley, when I'm wondering, "Ashley who?"
  • They kept all the core design from Mass Effect 2 and instead pooled all their resources into art, which I think was a smart move: there's a lot of variety to the levels, and the abundance of scripted animations turned stale conversations in a hallway into "getting dinner" or "going out to the bar" -- functionally, nothing is really different, but the new narrative context does wonders.
  • When the characters aren't blathering on about the price of war to the point of parody, there's some genuinely good writing and characterization going on -- well, Garrus and Liara mostly. The "military stud squadmate" NPCs (Kaidan, Jacob, and the new unexplained mildly hispanic guy) are still awfully boring characters with amazing normal maps on their pecs. I guess Alistair really was the anomaly in a milquetoast lineage of Carths.
  • I like how RPGs always have the "endgame" moment; a character literally tells you that the endgame is beginning, all side quests will be disabled, and you must confirm whether you're ready. It kind of breaks the fourth wall (assuming you really care about that) but at the same time you appreciate the game signaling itself to you. It's such a uniquely game-y thing to be able to read and understand what the game is actually saying beneath the thin narrative skin.