The reviews continue to pour in for BioWare’s latest, and almost all of them heap praise and percentage points upon it. Reviewers seem divided as to whether the endings presented in the game are a high point or a sour note in both the game itself and the series as a whole, but praise much of the rest of the game almost universally.
GameBanshee’s very lengthy — and very detailed — review is probably the best of the bunch, so here’s the opening thereto:
Mass Effect 3 is a game that is desperate to conclude itself spectacularly. From its opening attempts at tugging on heartstrings to its closing moments reveling in galactic spectacle, it brings the Mass Effect universe’s characters, creatures and locations into scenarios which are committed to bringing them to their limits. Familiar companions and old enemies are tested in fire and pushed to their limits, and the tale is dramatic to the point of self-indulgence.
BioWare were clearly working on all cylinders to provide fans of the series with a game that sees the concepts and universe fully realized in a way the first two Mass Effect games could never hope to match, all while fine-tuning the tried-and-true cover-based shooting action. However, the narrative side of the game simply cannot manage to live up to the expectations of both a series finale, much less the previous two titles. The end result is a game that is nearly ceremonial in its pomp and excess, and which plays faster and smoother than any previous BioWare title, but one that is also clumsy and strained, both on design and technical fronts.
Go and read the rest. It’s the second link, above.
The Legacy system has been hailed as a major feature of The Old Republic since before the game’s launch, it was the highlight of the TOR Guild summit last week, and now we’ve finally gotten to play with it ourselves. Here’s a quick run-down of what we learned about how it works and the amazing things it lets you do.
As you probably know by now, the premise of the Legacy system is that as you complete major milestones on your characters in The Old Republic, you’ll unlock new skills, emotes, or stat boosts that are made available to all of your characters on that same server. You’ll also be able to purchase most of these perks with in-game money if you’re not up for rolling multiple characters.
After reading the article, I’m…less sold on the idea. I like the concept of having multiple characters on a server (“alts”, in the popular parlance) all being related as if they were family, and all contributing incremental amounts of XP toward a common pool that can unlock perks and whatnot. I’m…less thrilled about said perks being new emotes, or hugely expensive (in in-game credits, mind you) character race unlocks.
Since then Mass Effect 3 has been released worldwide, giving PC gamers the chance to dive into Mass Effect 3′s files. Some players found evidence of voice files, animations and character models for the From Ashes companion character on the Mass Effect 3 disk, leading many to believe that, contrary to Bioware’s statement, the DLC had been developed alongside the main game.
Gamble took to Twitter to explain the files. “Because the plot of ME3 is so richly interwoven with the character interactions and moments, you simply cannot use a DLC module to ‘insert’ a new character,” he said. “As we’ve mentioned before, that character has to be planned and the framework has to be established ahead of time for us to build off of with the DLC module.”
He also mentions that elements like the character selection screen can’t be overwritten with DLC, so spaces had to be left for the DLC character from the start. “certain elements of the Javik appearance and some of the VO needed to be included on the disc. That is a fact,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t mean the content was created, and then removed. It is a necessity of adding a rich character presence in our game.”
Although, if some of the leaked plot documents from late last year tell the truth, Javik was at one point supposed to appear as part of the main game, albeit in a rather different role. That’s not proof that BioWare is pulling the wool over our eyes, however. It’s simply proof that the character is one they’d had in mind for a while, and were casting about trying to figure out what to do with.
As to the ending:
…[Mass Effect producer/director Casey] Hudson said he likes its mystery and interpretation possibilities, and having a reactive ending is better than one that falls flat and fades out. “I didn’t want the game to be forgettable, and even right down to the sort of polarizing reaction that the ends have had with people — debating what the endings mean and what’s going to happen next, and what situation are the characters left in — that to me is part of what’s exciting about this story.”
“Any publicity is good publicity”, then.
I’ve still not finished the game, though I am aware of its ending(s)…or rather, its one ending and the various minor differentiations that emerge as a result of a handful of factors, not all of which are within your direct control as the player. If you want to know what I mean, IGN has the details. It should be obvious that a spoiler warning applies to that link.
The problem, as I see it, is that this much-discussed ending is much-discussed in no small part because it does kind of fall flat, and upends much of what had previously defined Mass Effect as a series.
On Friday night, I suddenly, desperately wanted to play Mass Effect 2. I’d procrastinated all the way up to the release of Mass Effect 3, and finally snapped out of whatever was holding me back. No problem: digital distribution makes the PC the best-suited platform to satiate sudden cravings. ME2 is on Steam, but since ME3 is exclusively on Origin, I figured I’d buy it there so the two games could snuggle up together in my library. That arbitrary decision was a huge mistake.
In Steam, when a game finishes downloading, it’s ready to play (unless any prerequisites need installing, but that’s generally painless). I assumed Origin would work the same, and the service’s FAQ claims it does: “Installations are easy, as Origin technology enables instant play after a successful download.” But when Mass Effect 2 was finally on my hard drive, the download button turned into an install button. No big deal…until I clicked on it.
Not only did I have the Hungarian version of the installer, but it was encountering an error which I couldn’t read. That’s pretty damn absurd, but I wasn’t going to give up so easily. I really wanted to play Mass Effect 2, and hey, I’m a resourceful PC gamer! I can fix a simple localization mix-up! So I poked around in the installer’s directory and discovered the installation configuration ini. A simple change to the file name loaded the installer in English. Easy. Now what was that error?
What was that error? Click through to find out. It’s…amusing, to say the least.
As you can probably guess, most of the reviews are very positive, and none in this particular batch are particularly negative. I’m going to highlight GameBanshee’s excerpt from the PC Advisor review, though:
I have to commend the folks at 38 Studios for making their first game as ambitious as Reckoning is. In a time when most new IPs are Call of Duty or God of War rip-offs, Reckoning harkens back to a time when games were supremely immersive. Yes, it may not bring much new to the table and the plot and characters may feel hackneyed at times but in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning we have a game done right. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is now available for the PC and it requires EA Origin installed on your PC to run. It has also been released for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.
What’s important to remember about Reckoning is that it’s the first in what I earnestly hope will grow into a quite decent series. While it’s most obvious and most direct competitor is Skyrim, it should be pointed out that Skyrim is Bethesda’s fifth Elder Scrolls game, able to build on a lengthy history of experience and a massive body of lore that has been fleshed out and added to over the course of many years.
By contrast, Reckoning — though it has a massive series bible courtesy of author R.A. Salvatore, and though Big Huge Games has developed other titles prior to this one (e.g. Titan Quest) — is a new thing. That it merits comparison — favourable comparison — to Skyrim is pretty impressive, and I think suggests that the next game set in Amalur will be even more impressive.
The legendary pirate Dead Kel and his Hanged Men have returned to haunt the seas of northern Amalur. Embark on a journey to the distant island of Gallows End with the eccentric Captain Brattigan in an adventure that will uncover a secret so great that it has incited wars and toppled kingdoms. Discover powerful new weapons and Twist of Fate Cards and use them to conquer the island’s unique inhabitants. Become the Lord of Gravehal Keep and lay claim to this once great fort that stands upon the edge of a cliff in the most expansive player housing option yet. In an extensive new story and a host of new side quests, battle treacherous new enemies and face exciting new challenges on the mysterious island of Gallows End.
The DLC adds a fair bit of new area to the game world…a 15% increase is what I’ve seen the majority of gaming sites report. It sounds (and looks) as though a few new monsters will be added as well, as well as a castle that your Fateless One will be able to call home.
The Legend of Dead Kel will be released on March 20th, which means you should all have just enough time to finish your first Mass Effect 3 playthrough.
I’ve already made my own thoughts known where the demo for Mass Effect 3 is concerned. But if you’re looking for what actual gaming press websites had to say about it, RPGWatch and GameBanshee have aggregated a few lists of notable commentary.
The basic gist of the Legacy System in The Old Republic is that you can create what is essentially a family of characters whom the game will label and treat as related. If you create alternate characters (“alts”) on the same server once your Legacy has been established, they’ll automatically be treated as Legacy characters.
When you first gain access to the Legacy System (which happens once you complete the first chapter of the single-player campaign for any one character), a second experience bar appears on the game’s interface, which tracks your “Legacy Experience” points; you gain Legacy XP at a reduced rate compared to base XP. But (and here’s the kicker) all your alt characters, even freshly-created ones, all feed into a common Legacy XP pool.
To this point, there have been no rewards granted for gaining Legacy levels, but that is evidently set to change in future SWTOR updates.
Razer naturally had something Mass Effect 3-related to announce:
Award-winning developer BioWare, a label of Electronic Arts Inc. along with Razer, the world leader in high performance gaming hardware, reveal today peripherals and gear created for the highly anticipated Action RPG Mass Effect 3. Fans of the Mass Effect series can arm themselves for the all-out galactic war with the Razer Mass Effect 3 Edition peripheral line which includes a Razer Imperator gaming mouse, Razer Vespula dual-sided gaming mouse mat, Razer BlackWidow Ultimate gaming keyboard, Razer Onza Tournament Edition Xbox 360 controller, and Razer Chimaera Xbox 360 gaming headset. The cutting-edge peripherals will give fans of the series a competitive advantage in the epic battle to save the galaxy from the ancient alien race known only as the Reapers.
I intend to play the game with a cheap little half-sized wireless mouse I picked up at a Wal*Mart in Wyoming, myself.
I just got back from Vegas. Now, I don’t really need an excuse to go to Vegas, but this time I had a good reason. You see, I was celebrating a major life milestone. As of last week, I have officially retired from BioWare. (I’ll give all you gamers a second to let that sink in. Just to be clear, the parting was completely amicable, and 100% my decision.)
For the past twelve years I’ve had the privilege to work at one of the best companies in the video game industry, side by side with the most talented and incredible group of people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. I’ve enjoyed my time at BioWare immensely, but it’s time for me to move on.
I’m leaving to focus more time and energy on my novels and other non-video game related projects. But even though I’ll no longer be working on games for BioWare, I’m not going to be severing all ties with them. Many of my closest friends still work at the company, and I’m also in the process of writing the next Star Wars: The Old Republic novel, though I can’t say too much about it yet.
Karpyshyn has worked on numerous BioWare titles, from Neverwinter Nights onward, and is by any measure a very talented writer who rightly deserves to enjoy success telling his own stories.
Here was Joystiq’s take on it when it was first announced:
EA really wants you to know that Mass Effect 3 exists. Like, so bad. The publisher’s fervor for raising awareness about ME3 is so great that it’s strapping six copies of the game to six high-altitude weather balloons spread across the globe, and launching them into the literal stratosphere, which is effectively space when spoken in the same sentence as “balloons” and “video games.”
Paris, London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas will all play host to one of these advertising airships, which are set to launch next week. Eventually though, these puppies are coming back down.
Each copy of the game is equipped with a GPS tracking device, and crazy people will be able to monitor the games’ positions on the official Mass Effect website. Once they land, whoever scrambles to a crash site first will get to keep the copy and play the game a week early, assuming the damn thing is still somehow intact.
No word on whether they’re actually calling it the “Space Edition” of Mass Effect 3, but that’s a label I’ve seen used in a few places.
Anyhow, as I said, these were all lanuched this week, and in at least one case the result was rather hilarious. Leave it to a strong wind and a tall tree to mess everything up, eh?
Buskell is the game’s associate producer, and Gaspur is the senior combat designer. As you can well imagine, the interview mostly focuses on topics like the addition of multiplayer, and changes to combat and class powers.
Ilum stands in PvP limbo. Camping hasn’t exactly vanished, it’s just shifted to immediately outside a faction’s base. Rather than an overwhelming bombardment of Force powers and missiles over the spawn point, there’s an almost-constant, uneasy standoff just on the border of the instant-kill line. It’s an improvement, certainly, but it’s still not fun. Ilum as it stands currently discourages aggression, because pushing the enemy into their base means you will get fewer kills. So instead of an all-out war, players tend to wait in specific locations, kill each other until one side has been pushed back a certain distance, then stop the advancement and let them regroup. It’s functionally not so different from Ilum’s original iteration.
Ilum, by the way, is one of the planets in The Old Republic, and then one for fairly high-level players as I recall. And, evidently, PvP there isn’t so much fun as it is tedious and stalemated. Which is rather like war, I suppose…and which is why players don’t like it.
And if you thought Reckoning’s “Houses of Valor” at-launch DLC was shameless marketeering, consider the fact that at least the Houses of Valor (and the seven or so associated quests) were just a minor side element in that game’s plot (and then one which, after a cumulative day of play, I have yet to encounter).
What has been removed for the “From Ashes” DLC is just…I’m glad I pre-ordered the edition of the game I did, and so will have unfettered access to it. Had I not done so, there is a possibility I’d be furious. I think it will depend on what they do with the new squad member who is central to the DLC. If they turn out not to use him well, I might be more upset at having the DLC than I would have been not having it.
On the other hand, if he’s as critical as reason suggests he should be…
RPS reports on the findings of Destructoid’s Chris Carter. Carter some numbers, adding up what it would cost to obtain all currently-announced DLC for the game. This includes things like hardware purchases for various hardware+DLC tie-in deals.
The number he arrived at: $870 USD
I will love to hear what everyone has to say about that number.
Such reviews as these will be moderately spoilery, although not egregiously so since they are from mainline gaming sites, who are likely subject to NDAs. What details have emerged, however, suggest that the main campaign of Mass Effect 3 will run about 20 hours, with another 20 or so hours of side missions which will add to your in-game ability to effectively combat the Reapers.
Which means I’ll be able to put down Reckoning‘s 200-300 hour-length story for a week to finish ME3, and then dive right back in before I forget anything about my charater’s progress.
BioWare community manager Jessica Merizan waded into the swamps of Reddit just recently, subjecting herself to the vissictitudes of an “Ask Me Anything” thread. Naturally, “From Ashes” was front and center:
What is your personal opinion on the day 1 DLC situation- do you believe it is acceptable?
If that isn’t really a question you can answer, then what do Bioware think about the reaction in the community to the announcement of the day 1 DLC?
I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and I wish the guy who made the initial video about it would have had an open mind before jumping to conclusions based on a leak we weren’t ready to address. Since I’m a BioWare employee, I know people won’t automatically trust me, but I hope people will consider that it wasn’t cut content from the larger game. I was in Edmonton when we were finishing the game in November/December and I was in Edmonton again last month when they were working on the Day 1 DLC. It definitely was only possible to do because the main game was in certification (which means we had to wait for people to test it and make sure everything was good etc before we could get the greenlight to sell it). I also played the game WITHOUT the DLC in my first playthrough and honestly, it’s an awesome addition but I was more than happy with what I was given in the game. It’s bigger and more expansive than ever. Of course, I understand the concern but I hope we can all have an intelligent conversation about it and cover what the facts are in this situation.
Hope that helps a little bit. This is an awkward format to answer this question, but I know I could explain it if you were sitting next to me on a couch with some coffee/tea
IO9 doesn’t so much pose the question (actually echoing Pop Bioethics), as beg it and answer strongly in the affirmative. And in some ways, I agree with them. Consider:
In nearly great popular science fiction universe, there is a flaw. Born of systemic bias, the flaw is one that fundamentally undermines the narrative that carves its way through the characters, species, technologies and worlds that populate any given sci-fi story. Our greatest stories set in space often reference the flaw with oblique references to a long forgotten species, cataclysmic events, or godlike entities. Something is wrong with the universe, but we cannot place it.
Consider the canon of epic science fiction universes. Like a black hole one can see the flaw by observing the light cast in those moments that confront it at its edges: the series finale of BSG, Q’s tests of Picard, the Butlerian Jihad, the Buggers, the Borg, the obliteration of Alderan by the Death Star. Yet ultimately each of these narratives turns away, unable or unwilling to withstand the abysmal gaze emanating from the depths of the universe. The flaw in every science fiction series is that they shy from the deep horror of the existence of intelligent life in infinite spacetime – save for two: the one that brought first brought it to our attention and the one that sees this horror as the framework for reality.
The flaw is a simple one: the assumption that life has meaning, that intelligent life has a purpose, and that humanity contributes anything to the universe. H.P. Lovecraft, a man “against the world, against life,” refused to assume the universe was good.
Underneath it all, there is the Cosmic Horror of Sovereign, The Collectors, Saren’s indoctrination, and the Keepers. Mass Effect has not one but two entire species — the Keepers and the Collectors — that exist as mindless drones at the beck-and-call of the Reapers. It is herein that the great flaw of the universe so often unaddressed by science fiction is elevated and exposed by the narrative of Mass Effect. The Reapers are biomechanical equivalents of the Elder Gods of H.P. Lovecraft. If the xenomorphs in Alien had a deity, it would be a Reaper. Inconceivable, immortal, uninvolved super-beings that are not divinities per se, but so far beyond our realm of existence as to drive insane those who encounter and worship them. The seat of being, the mind, becomes rent apart and irredeemably misshapen to bend to the whims of a malevolent ancient life form.
The resulting slaves, the Keepers and Collectors, act without thought, remorse, or concern. And they become all the more horrible once they are fully revealed. The Keepers are thought to be beneficent until it is revealed they serve not the inhabitants of the Citadel, or even the Citadel itself, but the purpose of ensuring the Citadel will serve the cyclical apocalypse. The Collectors are revealed to be the remnants of the Protheans – the foundation species that was thought to be the galactic civilization in the wake of which Citadel Space had formed. Instead, Mass Effect exposes the very basis of intelligent exchange in the universe, the Mass Relays, to be a Trojan Horse. Reality is a ruse. Progress a lockstep, well-treaded path to oblivion.
The Reapers and their cyclical destruction of civilization represent one of the most nihilistic interpretation of intelligence in the universe ever presented. Mass Effect answers Fermi’s famous question, “Where is everyone?” with a matter-of-fact, “They have been consumed.”
Now, at the same time as it tells a mostly Cosmicistic tale, Mass Effect does flip the script somewhat. The Protheans figured out, too late, how to avert the main trap that the Reapers had set, and despite the seemingly hopeless disparity in technology, there exists a threadbare reason to hope that this time around, the combined might of the various galactic races might just be enough to drive the Reapers back (albeit at staggeringly high cost).
And lowly humanity will be at the forefront of that fight; in fact, they are central thereto. We do not get the option, after all, to have a Turian Shepard.
This trailer includes some footage from the E3 trailer for the game, and given the way its release was staged over the course of a couple of weeks — with bits of footage being added with each iteration — one suspects that in the end it was all prepared as one massive trailer and chopped up for later release.
IGN has an interview with The Doctors BioWare, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka. Nothing incredible, but there are a few interesting comments on the challenges of building games that offer meaningful choices to players.
I’m not really opposed to the idea of DLC for the most part, but I worry that in the case of Mass Effect 3, BioWare is going to saturate even the most ardent DLC proponents with so much additional content that the end result will be…ugly and kind of backlashy.
It’s too early to tell, but based on what few screenshots have been released for it, it seems to be a better effort from BioWare than their previous foray into the iOS space. Which was also a Mass Effect tie-in. And which…wasn’t great.
Actually, that might not be a bad way to put it; the game has to some level been architected to let you play it as…well…yourself. Only with a spaceship, big guns, some badass friends…and an ample supply of potential sex partners.
And don’t forget: The Mass Effect 3 demo drops tomorrow!
I know, I know…you Dragons and Dragonettes are probably wondering why it matters, to me and to Aiera, that Raven Software is falling on some hard times of late. After all, Raven has most recently been involved with developing DLC for Call of Duty: Black Ops, and has historically been a producer of games involving Star Trek, Marvel franchises, or iD Software engines.
Being an Ultima fan, I’ve always measured add-on content — DLC included — against the metric established by the two expansions to the Ultima 7 games: Forge of Virtue and The Silver Seed. And really, the standard set by either expansion really is the one that I think most would agree that modern DLC should adhere to: you get new locales, new missions, new items, new characters, and a substantial amount of additional gameplay time relative to the length of the original game’s narrative.
But Lair of the Shadow Broker looks like it might just meet the standards, which would be a good thing and a fine bar for BioWare to set as far as DLC is concerned. I’ve no problem, at the level of principle, with the idea of downloadable add-on content for games; the Internetis today’s means of transmitting content that would, in a previous generation, have shipped out on 3.5″ diskettes. It’s really just a question of the quality of the content getting pushed. Thus far, it hasn’t seemed to measure up…but that might be about to change.