This post for Mass Effect 3 has been certified SF (Spoiler Free) by the British Board of Blog Certification.

I’ve been playing a fair bit of Mass Effect 3 recently, and when I say ‘a fair bit’ I do mean those extensive sessions of intensely focussed play, where every time the player blinks they see the game’s UI as a soft orange glow against the dark backdrop of their eyelids, and upon finally crawling into bed their dreams coalesce from a fog of the evening’s play which enshrouds their mind.

Dreams being dreams, mine didn’t stay true to Bioware’s carefully crafted Mass Effect universe for long, and I quickly found myself as Commander Nipplard, trying to protect the Areola galactic sector from the suffocating constrictions of the Bra’rians. It all turned out well in the end, especially when chocolate Roman Polanski flew me to the local supermarket and I got a job as a badger in the swimming pool section. With the Bra’rians clapped in irons, the finale of my dream was quite uplifting (and separating), unlike the nature of the Mass Effect 3 ending, of which I have managed to learn little, other than the fact that there are people on the Internet who are unhappy about it. ‘Are people on the Internet angry about things?’ is one of those rhetorical questions that’s right up there with popes and woods, or bears and Catholicism.

What I’ve taken away from Mass Effect so far is that it really is an exemplary example of how to gently evolve a game’s systems without breaking the continuity of the player experience. The evolutionary jump from Dragon Age to Dragon Age 2 was a brutal mass extinction event where players either rapidly evolved to the new order, or soon found their enthusiasm suffocating beneath the sticky tar pit of the unfamiliar game system. Mass Effect’s evolutions have been kinder. For example, the quest system has evolved once again in this latest incarnation of the game. Bioware have moved away from the improbable ‘butting-in to everyone’s conversation’ system, which led to such classically surreal scenarios as Commander Shepard helping a couple of complete strangers in deciding whether to abort their unborn child, a sort of drive-by moralising more in line with a comedy super hero, who drops from the sky to smack the unsure about their head with the Holy Book of Morals. The moral decisions have been maintained in the game, but now exist in a quick-fire choice of supporting one side or the other in a public argument, with each argument being tailored towards the events of the galaxy-spanning genocide at hand, rather than a four hour winding conversation which eventually leads to the question ‘Should NPC A continue to kick kittens?’

The new side-quest system instead involves Shepard overhearing conversations, finding the object of that conversation while out fighting the good fight, and then returning it to the NPC whose conversation was overheard. It’s a slightly more organic system, and certainly doesn’t grate as much as running up to complete strangers and punching them squarely in the conversation with your fist of moral obligations, but it’s still just a bit silly in the context of the cinematic and elegantly dominoed chain of events which form the main story. And me, being me, can’t help but wonder how far Shepard will go to overhear these conversations: sweaty naked couples in the heat of passion rolling over to see Commander Shepard peering above the end of the bed. “I couldn’t help but overhear… you were desperately trying to find a rare artifact called the G-Spot? Well, I just happen to have found one while fighting the Reapers on the planet Sirotilc Prime in the Avluv sector. Enjoy!” Then Shepard’s head slowly descends below the bedline, but when ecstatic ululations are not forthcoming, the Commander’s head slowly rises to peer above the end of the bed again. The shocked couple, their actions frozen mid-coitus, stare in stunned disbelief.

“I saaiid: ‘en-joy‘”

Posted by Melmoth at 10:47 am