He steps on stage and draws the sword of rhetoric

games, mass effect, zoso 3 Comments »

With Bioware releasing the “Extended Cut” DLC, I’ve popped back to the single player campaign of Mass Effect 3 to see the new versions of the endings. Haven’t got terribly far yet, being distracted by The Secret World, but I thought I’d go back to a save game at the temple at Thessia to get a decent run up to the finish, and try and remember what was going on.

(This post is spoilery, in case you still haven’t played ME3 and are thinking you might want to at some point.)

I’d mercifully forgotten about perhaps my least favourite element of ME3. Never mind the ending(s), never mind schlepping around scanning the galaxy for random tat and playing “dodge the reaper”, what really wound me up was Kai “Sodding” Leng. A Cerberus assassin, he turns up and evades your clutches at the Citadel earlier in the game, stabbing one of your chums in the process, then just as you discover the secret of Thessia he crashes the party and spoils your day in a scripted encounter that you have no control over. That’s a little irritating in itself, but such is life in most games with cutscenes; you get captured, a key villain escapes your clutches, you just can’t save somebody, you pick a jacket that *really* doesn’t go with those trousers. Something happens in the story, regardless of what you do as a player. If Our Hero suffers setbacks along the way, it makes the eventual triumph sweeter, fine. Trouble is, so far as I can make out, Kai Leng is A Dude With A Sword. While battling horrors beyond imagination that are wiping out all life across the entire galaxy, you, Commander Shepard, Commander “Wipes Out A Couple Of Geth Fleets Before Breakfast” Shepard, Commander “Punched Out A Reaper” Shepard *and* your two elite highly trained companions are unable to stop one dude. Who doesn’t even have a gun. From a spot of Googling he seems to be in a couple of the tie-in novels, but from the perspective of the game he turns up with little fanfare. No massive build-up of what an awesome foe he is, not a returning nemesis from the first or second game, just A Dude With A Sword. Sure he’s above average when it comes to stabbing people with said sword, there’s a good chance he was voted “Most Likely To Stab Lots Of People With A Sword” in high school, but before that encounter you’ve been taking out gigantic truck-sized Brutes, twisted, mutated Banshees, big stompy Cerberus mechs with rocket launchers. If they wanted A Dude With A Sword (Oh All Right And A Few Psionic Powers) to be one of the toughest opponents in the game, he really needed a bit more build up. Or a much bigger sword.

I say “one of the toughest opponents”, he manages that by cheating; knock down his shields and he calls in backup in the form of a flyer that shines a bright light at you, proving Shepard really should’ve gone to Specsavers for free reactive lenses. Leng’s shields regenerate, and you get to do it all over again a couple more times; a fairly standard boss fight mechanic, but a little unusual in ME3. There’s a sort-of similar previous encounter when you’re using a target designator on a Reaper, but that’s a planet-destroying nightmare from space, not A Dude With A Sword. As boss fights go it’s not quite as jarring as the widely reviled encounters in Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, but it’s a bit of a faff. Though if you’re packing a massive sniper rifle and heavily geared for devastating headshots, three bullets interspersed with heavy sighs are enough to see him off.

Leng turns up once more, when you finally get to kill him off (or do you? Ahhh!) (Yes, you do.) (Or maybe you don’t?) (Except you really do.) (Don’t you?) I thought there might be some revelation; while Cerberus were monkeying around at the start of ME2 they used your DNA in a super-clone project (“Shepard… I am… your brother!” “NOOOOOOOOOO!”) Nope. Just a dude. With a sword.

So. Farewell then
Kai Leng.
You were a
Dude. With a sword.
Keith’s mum did not have
A sword, but apart from that
Would have been about
As plausible as a
Boss.

E. J. Shepard, 17½.

Posted by Zoso at 9:09 am

The pattern of the prodigal is: rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration

games, mass effect, zoso 3 Comments »

Mass Effect 3 got a new multiplayer DLC pack yesterday, ‘Rebellion’, including two maps, three weapons and six new characters, much like April’s ‘Resurgence’ pack. I haven’t posted about ME3 since finishing the story in March, but I’ve been playing the multiplayer since then, hopping in for a quick 20 minute dash now and again, shouting “DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!” a lot. You don’t *need* to shout “DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!”, the guns in the game make actual sounds and everything, but I find it helps. Pro tip, though: don’t hold down the push-to-talk button while shouting “DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA”, for some reason other players find it less helpful.

I played through most of the Mass Effect series as an Infiltrator, heavy on the sniper rifles, and started out similarly in multiplayer, but it’s a rather different prospect when waves of mobs are charging around the place, you don’t tend to have so much time to line up your shots (though Infiltrators seem to be the class of choice for the hardest difficulty levels, when tooled up with a Black Widow). I switched to Adepts, Sentinels and Engineers for a while, focused more on biotic- or tech-powers, but after unlocking a Krogan Soldier discovered the Joy of Melee. Running towards a bunch of Cannibals full-pelt, unleashing the heavy melee charge/headbutt/swipe and laughing (both in and out of game) is great fun, though since superseded by the Batarian from the Resurgence DLC pack who couples short-range high-damage Ballistic Blades with a magnificent SUPERPUNCH as a lethal one-two combo. It’s been most illuminating, trying out different races and classes and their play styles.

I doubt ongoing multiplayer numbers are going to be challenging Team Fortress 2 or Warcall of Halofare Dutyfield, but 1,800 years of time played in the first few weeks isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s testament to the combat mechanics of Mass Effect 3 that they stand up well enough on their own to make a decent game, comparable perhaps to something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fallout Tactics that took CRPG systems into a more combat-focused direction, or Wing Commander Academy (if anyone’s misty-eyed for the halcyon days of gaming past when publishers were benevolent charities, before the evils of “Day Zero DLC” and the like sullied the whole business with squalid money, bear in mind Wing Commander Academy was pretty much the Wing Commander 2 engine with no plot or missions, shoved in its own box as a standalone game).

If EA/Bioware are such bastards, you have to wonder as well why the two multiplayer DLC packs so far have been free. Fear of more bad publicity after the ME3 ending business? Seems unlikely, passage of time and the promise of “clarification” seems to have calmed things down, Retake ME3 on Twitter has been quiet since April, the Facebook page looks like it’s mostly just internal bickering now. Generosity of spirit? Would be nice, but also seems a touch unlikely. They make the money from players spending to unlock new equipment? Seems plausible; I enjoy the multiplayer well enough, but not to the point of shelling out real money on a couple of maps, whereas the prospect of some new characters and weapons is bound to be enough to get a few impatient people splashing out the Bioware points on equipment packs. The gambling aspect of the equipment packs still makes me a little uneasy, but if free DLC packs are part of the equation that sweetens the pill slightly.

Posted by Zoso at 4:36 pm

I once told a friend that nothing really ends, no-one can prove it

games, mass effect, zoso 5 Comments »

(BBBC Spoiler Warning: this post finally gets around to talking about the end of Mass Effect 3 but in broadly non-spoilery terms.)

Back at the start of the month I quoted David Mitchell on expectations, and to grab another piece from the same column:

“Our level of expectation is crucial to our enjoyment of food, wine, holidays, plays, films and TV shows. We flatter ourselves that we’re objective but our judgments are clouded by our hopes, by whether something was better or worse than we’d anticipated.”

Some people were particularly miffed about the end of Mass Effect 3 due to anticipation stoked by pre-release quotes from Bioware, but for me it was quite the reverse. The rumblings of discontent started with leaks, the storm broke with the US release, so even before the game was available in the UK the “Retake Mass Effect” initiative had kicked off and it was impossible to avoid the fact that a lot of people were Really Jolly Cross. Expectations duly set, as I started the final mission I was waiting for the game to format my hard drive while the screen flashed “HAW HAW THE REAPERS HAVE DELETED ALL YOUR DATA PUNY HUMAN”, or to cause the PC to eject the game disc with crushing force into my crotch. All through the mission I was anticipating some devastating blow; as we lined up for a final push, I was thinking “hmm, about to go ‘over the top’, a hint of Blackadder Goes Forth?”, and as everyone was cut down and the screen briefly faded to black I thought for a moment they really might have done it. Now that would’ve been brave.

The actual ending, though, was… all right. I’ve read a lot of cogent pieces articulating numerous problems with the ending(s), and some equally cogent counterarguments around certain aspects, a more nuanced and worthwhile debate than a blanket demand for a “better” ending when everyone has a slightly different idea of what “better” would mean. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone come out and praise it as the perfect conclusion to the series, it’s undoubtedly flawed, but it didn’t spoil the whole game for me, possibly in part because I was expecting it to be terrible thanks to the campaigns. Overall, though, Mass Effect 3 was a fantastic three-coarse meal, even if the dessert wasn’t quite up to scratch. Or if taking each course of the meal as a separate instalment of the series, most of the dessert was excellent (the high point of the meal, in fact), but the custard was a bit lumpy. OK, tell you what, if each of the three Mass Effect games is a separate three course meal, with Story, Combat and Progression represented by a different course, and Bioware are the chef, EA the waiter and the internet is the restaurant, then the mariachi band going around the tables (representing the 1981 NatWest Trophy winning Derbyshire cricket team) are playing the wrong song.

That analogy got away from me slightly, so I’ll borrow some words from author-type-person Joe Abercrombie instead:

“[The ending] was confusing, maguffin heavy, not really set up in this game let alone the earlier ones. As is so often the case, the villain’s plot, so mysterious and thrilling when unknown, seemed rather silly and baffling when explained. Plus heavy exposition from a glowing child is really, really never a good idea. On the other hand, I was so impressed with the sheer scale, bombast, and technical achievement of the action leading up to it I didn’t care.”

Posted by Zoso at 9:13 am

Evolution of a Shepard.

bioware, mass effect, melmoth 4 Comments »

I didn’t read many reviews of Mass Effect 3, didn’t need to, I knew I was going to buy it. What I haven’t seen much of –other than in passing comments– is how incredible the graphics are in this game; I mean, it’s more than a modest jump in improvement, it’s as though they shoved the graphics engine through a Mass Effect relay. That sort of jump.

As evidence, here are screen captures of my Shepard from the three episodes of the game. I remember watching some of the cutscene sequences in Mass Effect 3 and being profoundly impressed by the high fidelity and detail of the signal being sent to my retinas, but comparing these screenshots really slams home the magnitude of the improvement.

I really didn’t mind the ending of Mass Effect 3, but more on that in another post; regardless, I still can’t help but admire the improvements (not just the graphics) which BioWare keep bringing to their section of the genre, improvements which seem to have been generally overlooked or dismissed due to the unfortunate backlash which has occurred.

I hope BioWare continue to stick to their beliefs and make the RPGs that they want to make, because, my goodness, they seem to be getting exponentially better at it with each and every release.

Posted by Melmoth at 7:34 pm

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

mass effect, melmoth 5 Comments »

“Shepard, where are we?”

“London… I think.”

“London? How did you work that out? Some sort of alien navigation fixing? Did EDI, our spaceship’s virtual intelligence, triangulate the location using the galaxy-spanning Mass Effect relays? Did you manage to patch your omni-tool’s computer microframe and sensor analysis pack into the Alliance spaceship fleet and get them to relay the output of your cybernetic tracking implant via subspace comms?”

“No, look, a red phone box.”

It’s comforting to know that, around two hundred years from now, we English folk will be firmly ignoring the flying cars, VIs, aliens, spaceships, Mass Effect relays, space stations and the like, and stalwartly sticking by the good old copper wire public payphone. ‘If it was good enough for my great-grandparents, it’s good enough for me. Now you kids get your hoverboards off my lawn!’

Did anyone else notice that each civilian corpse was wearing a bowler hat and clutching an umbrella?

Posted by Melmoth at 9:05 am

Terry you slag you nicked the leg of time, give it back before you get a slap

games, mass effect, swtor, zoso 4 Comments »

This post for has been classified as Spoiler Free for Mass Effect 3 by the British Board of Blog Certification, but may include light spoiling of Mass Effect 1 or 2, early Star Wars: The Old Republic flashpoints, Dragon Age: Origins and the film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (spoiler: he eats his shoe).

As widely observed by, to pluck some random examples, Kieron Gillen, Penny Arcade, Melmoth of this parish and Vic Sandman in the comments, the narrative personalisation of the Mass Effect series is rather impressive. The decisions of each player affect their own observable universe, and each instance of the game forms a separate strand of a Mass Effect multiverse in which other characters may be alive or dead, friend or foe, comrade or lover. Every time Shepard dies you take a peek down a different leg of the trousers of time where you fail to save the galaxy before quickloading back onto the right track.

It’s something I posted about before in Dragon Age: Origins, the way that a fundamental story can be the same for everyone at a very broad level (go to planet/village A, planet/village B, defeat The Big Evil, save the galaxy/world), and yet completely different in details. It’s something Bioware do rather well in their single players games, especially the way Mass Effect choices continue to ripple through the sequels, but it slightly unravels when transferred to a massively multiplayer setting in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

During the first Imperial flashpoint in SWTOR, Black Talon, the Captain of the titular ship refuses an order, and your party can either give him a stern talking to (“Now look here, Captain old thing, I’m awfully sorry but we’re really going to have to insist”) or, if taking a more Sith-like approach, kill him (“The penalty for disobeying an order is DEATH! The penalty for the rest of the crew for not killing the captain for disobeying an order is DEATH! The penalty for not bringing me a nice cup of tea is also DEATH! Now I come to think of it, the official Sith ‘Book of Penalties’ is just one page with ‘DEATH’ written on it…”) In a single player game this might crop up again later; perhaps you’d bump in the Captain on another planet and he’d be grateful that you spared him, while down the other leg of the trousers of time another player would meet the First Officer who’d taken over after his Captain had been demoted in a mysterious lightsabre-based industrial accident. In the shared universe of a MMOG both things happened, Schrödinger’s Captain is both alive and dead depending on who you talk to. Chat with someone who’s done the flashpoint a few times and it’s even more confusing:
“Oh, you’ve done the Black Talon, did you spare the Captain or kill him?”
“The first time, we spared him. Second time, we killed him. Third time I wanted to spare him, but got outvoted. Fourth and fifth times we were after the loot from the Republic group that spawns in if you spare him, then sixth through ninth was speed runs for social points so we killed him.”

Much of the narrative is experienced through the class-specific story missions, and these at least aren’t repeatable so make events more definitive per player, but you’re still sharing the world with other players who may have made different choices. I don’t think any of your SWTOR companions can die; if they could, the emotional impact would be lessened by seeing other versions of them accompanying other players around the world. Things are even more confusing across factions, as Spinks mentioned, due to visiting planets at different points in their timelines (or possibly alternate versions of them), rendering it all a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.

The class stories of SWTOR do work, but it doesn’t feel like they naturally mesh with the multiplayer elements of the game, the flashpoints and warzones and operations. It’s almost like playing two different characters, in the same way that you don’t take your Shepard into the multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3. I wrapped up my Imperial Agent’s story and it was interesting enough, albeit with a slightly anticlimactic final confrontation with my nemesis (perhaps it was unfair to have been kitted out with gear from a few operations and quite a bit of end game PvP), but it never felt as personal as Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Like I mentioned I actually got into a bit of raiding in SWTOR, something I’ve hardly done before, and that had less than nothing to do with story; there’s probably some deep backstory about how The Infernal One ended up in The Eternity Vault and why he’s a Bad Person, but the Imperial briefing might as well be “There are dudes. They have loot. GO!” It’s probably best not to try and construct a narrative imperative to explain why this needs to happen twice a week and again at the weekend, the attraction is the prospect of loot, and the cameraderie of the guild who are a great bunch. I’d been meaning to keep dabbling in both SWTOR and ME3 but I’ve hardly logged in to the former since the latter arrived; it doesn’t feel like I’ve completely lost touch with the SWTOR guild, though, with forums, Twitter and blogs, so hopefully they won’t be too put out if I return at some point.

So as Gillen also tweeted “The silver lining to the ME3 ending debate: it shows the “who plays games for story?” position to be complete bullshit.”, but I don’t think a developer-driven story will be a vital pillar of MMOGs until they’re running on quantum servers.

Posted by Zoso at 2:19 pm

The key to good eavesdropping is not getting caught.

mass effect, melmoth 3 Comments »

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

I like to play blackjack. I’m not addicted to gambling, I’m addicted to sitting in a semi-circle.

games, mass effect, zoso 7 Comments »

The British Board of Blog Classification (Game Plot Revelation Committee) has classified this post as Spoiler Free for the single player story of ‘Mass Effect 3′. Please refrain from any revelations in the comments, especially about that bit where that thing happens. I mean I was all totally like “NO WAY!”, and the game was all totally like “WAY!”, and then when the thing turned out not to be that thing but the other thing? Definitely don’t tell anyone about that. Though I was a bit disappointed when it all turned out to be a dream.

Like much of the rest of the galaxy I’ve been desperately fighting off the Reapers in Mass Effect 3, but I haven’t got terribly far in the story yet, so there really won’t be any spoilers. If you’d manage to insulate yourself from ME3 information so completely that “fighting off the Reapers” is a surprise, I apologise for ruining the first 17 seconds of the introduction. One of the main reasons for lack of single player progress is that I keep getting distracted by the multiplayer.

The mechanics are pretty simple, you create multiplayer-specific characters from slightly cut-down versions of the main classes (Soldier, Infiltrator, Adept etc.), kit them out with a couple of guns, then either host or join a co-op fight in a squad of four against 10 waves of opponents. I haven’t heavily played an online shooter since Unreal Tournament 2003 so I’m a bit out of touch, but the combat elements of ME3 stand up well enough on their own, and one round is a nice 20-minute chunk of gaming (so long as everyone hits “Ready” fairly promptly to start things off, and three of you aren’t sitting in the lobby staring at one “Not Ready” status).

There are a couple of slightly troubling aspects to the multiplayer, though. The first is the contribution to the single player story; success in multiplayer improves the “Galactic Readiness Rating”, which is helpful in the single player story. It’s not a bad idea, to give people a bit of a nudge to at least try the multiplayer to see if they like it, but it sounds like it can have quite a significant effect on how the game ends rather than being a bit of an optional bonus (I might revisit the subject after finishing the game myself, until then: NO SPOILERS!). It’s particularly jarring in light of the separate settings for Combat and Narrative that allow a player to adjust one or the other to their preference, whereas the multiplayer is exclusively combat, and not particularly forgiving.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theory of “world leaders are giant lizards in human skin polluting our essence by fluoridating water” proportions to connect the less than subtle shove towards multiplayer with the second troubling aspect, the equipment upgrades. You earn credits through your battles, and with those credits you can buy Recruit, Veteran or Spectre packs containing a random mix of consumables, weapons, upgrades and multiplayer characters (you can always create a human of any class, other races like Salarians and Krogan are unlocked via the upgrade packs). The kit you get is mostly Common, but with a chance (or certainty, depending how much you spend) of Uncommon or Rare items. Sound familiar? As Evan Lahti of PC Gamer put it, “When I play it I smell Magic cards.” It’s not Magic for me, it’s 1983 Panini Return of the Jedi stickers, isn’t it? Wasn’t it? Small boys in the playground, jumpers for goalposts, got, got, got, got, need! Need! I’ll give you two ewoks and a quarter of the death star for the top of C3PO’s head! No, Mrs Brown, I wasn’t playing with the stickers in class, don’t confiscate them!

Random loot alone isn’t so much of a problem (or churches surely wouldn’t hold so many raffles), it’s a staple of many games, and though it can be annoying when you seemingly turn up endless shotgun upgrades and nothing for your favoured assault rifle it’s nothing that hasn’t been hashed out many times here and elsewhere around the blag-u-spore (and doubtless would have been on the Panini Stickers forum in 1983, had it existed; “drop rate of admiral ackbar is REDICKKYEWLESS!!1!”). As well as being available for in-game credits, though, the Veteran and Spectre equipment packs can be bought for real money (in the form of Bioware Points). I’ve got no fundamental issue with microtransactions (again, see repeated discussions here and elsewhere), but the combination of real money and randomness puts gambling on the table, then spins a big wheel and shouts “faites vos jeux”.

I haven’t really got a problem with gambling, but for whatever reason it’s not something I particularly enjoy, perhaps I’m too risk-averse. I can appreciate the appeal (win lots of lovely money, check), I’ll happily bet piles of virtual money on virtual blackjack in something like Fallout: New Vegas (especially when there’s a Quick Load option), but I’ve no desire to to shovel 10p coins into a slot machine. Mind you the slots player might be just as baffled by me and a friend doing the same thing with a Golden Axe cabinet when there isn’t even a chance of getting money out of it. (Note: adjust for inflation and substitute a more modern game to avoid too much 80s nostalgia.)

Turbine’s treasure hunting event in Lord of the Rings Online has similar overtones, offering random loot and requiring Treasure-hunter’s Picks that can be obtained either via in-game quests or from the store, although they sound quite easy to obtain via quests. Cryptic have rightly been drawing more flak for the Cardassian Lockboxes in Star Trek Online that can only be opened with a store-bought key. Some people can get into serious trouble with gambling, and though a stack of lockboxes are unlikely to cost someone their rent money or bring down a bank, a friend who worked in a games shop had enough stories about Magic players begging, borrowing or stealing enough for a couple of booster packs, feverishly ripping them open, and collapsing in a sobbing heap surrounded by discarded Sorrow’s Paths without a Yawgmoth’s Will to show for it. At least ME3 multiplayer is co-op rather than PvP so it really doesn’t matter if other players are tooled up with diamond-encrusted hyperguns, worst case your comparative contribution to the team might be reduced, but you’ll get the overall team rewards.

Venture Beat spent $100 on Spectre equipment packs in an interesting investigative piece that doubles up as a genius wheeze to claim Bioware Points as a tax deductible expense, and the results aren’t terribly impressive; as it concludes: “I’m sure there will be those who purchase just a couple packs and get some awesome stuff, while others will go on to have worse luck than I did. That’s the problem with gambling. But according to our little test, the odds are stacked against you in Mass Effect 3.” There is another method of boosting your single player Galactic Readiness as well, an iOS game that doesn’t sound terribly good, and *also* has an option to purchase equipment upgrades for cash.

It’s not that the purchasable equipment packs are a hideous abomination that completely ruin Mass Effect 3, they’re just a bit of tarnish on what is otherwise a rather nice addition to the game. If the co-op multiplayer was a separate free-to-play download with microtransactions that would be one thing, buying equipment packs seems a little excessive on top of a big-box full price game, but then so does launch-day DLC and the piles of tie-in merchandise unlocks, such is the way of so many titles these days. The Galactic Readiness aspect of the single player game may not turn out to be such a big deal after all, rendering this something of a storm in a teacup; perhaps we should just be thankful that Bioware didn’t use a less subtle approach to hook in players who care more about the story and relationship between the characters…

“Commander, over the course of our mission I feel we have become close, so close that I can’t help myself, I have to ask… Have You Tried Mass Effect 3 Co-Operative Multiplayer? Why Not Do So Now! Buy A Spectre Equipment Pack For Just 160 Bioware Points!”

“Shepard, I treasure our time together, but… it’s just… your Galactic Readiness score is rather low, so there’s a good chance I’ll die in the climactic confrontation. If you really loved me, you’d play Mass Effect 3 Co-operative Multiplayer and buy lots of Spectre Equipment Packs for just 160 Bioware Points!”

Posted by Zoso at 2:05 pm

The Shepard Brothers Save the Galaxy

mass effect, zoso 6 Comments »

Confirmation of some form of multiplayer component in Mass Effect 3 is prompting feverish speculation. How can Bioware possibly explain three Commanders, all called Shepard? We might just have the answer in these exclusively fabricated scenes that certainly won’t appear in Mass Effect 3: Salarian Crackers:


[Opening scenes of the game]

The Illusive Man: We’re at war. No one wants to admit it but Humanity’s under attack. Three very specific men might be all that stands between Humanity and the greatest threat of our brief existence. We need three leaders, and we need to surround them with the brightest, the toughest, the deadliest allies we can find. The team will have to be strong, their resolve unquestionable.

Commander Groucho Shepard: Well that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself.

Commander Chico Shepard: What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?

The Illusive Man: That’s irrelevant.

Chico Shepard: Irrelephant? Hey, that’sa that answer. There’s a whole lot of irrelephants in the circus.

Commander Harpo Shepard: HONK!

Miranda Lawson: Please, Shepard. Shepards. I know you distrust this organisation but you must believe me, Cerberus is dedicated to the cause of Humanity.

Chicho Shepard: Cerberus? Cerberus up some lemonade, maybe we can talk.

Harpo Shepard: HONK!

Groucho Shepard: Why, you’re the most beautiful NPC I’ve ever seen, and that’s not saying much for you. Will you marry me? Do you have any side quests with good rewards? Answer the second question first.

Chicho Shepard: And-a marry me as well!

Miranda Lawson: I can’t marry both of you, that’s bigamy.

Groucho Shepard: Yes, and it’s big of me too!

Harpo Shepard: HONK!


[The Shepards and Miranda are pinned down by enemy fire while investigating a research facility]

Groucho Shepard: Hello, Normandy? Three men and one woman are trapped in this building. Send help at once! If you can’t send help, send two more women! No good, they’re not receiving. Someone has to flank those heavy weapons and take them out.

Chico Shepard: I wouldn’t go out there unless I was in one of those big iron things, go up and down like this… What do you call-a those things?

Miranda: Tanks.

Chico Shepard: You’re welcome.

Harpo Shepard: HONK!


[The Shepards confront the gravest threat the galaxy has ever seen]

Reaper: We are legion. The time of our return is coming. Our numbers will darken the sky of every world. You cannot escape your doom. You cannot even destroy any part of us.

Groucho Shepard: Oh yeah? One morning I shot a Reaper in my pyjamas. How it got in my pyjamas, I don’t know.

Reaper: My kind transcends your very understanding. We are each a nation – independent, free of all weakness. You cannot grasp the nature of our existence.

Groucho Shepard: Yes I can, you’re just some alien vessel.

Chicho Shepard: An alien what?

Groucho Shepard: Not an alien what, an alien vessel. Don’t you know what vessel is?

Chicho Shepard: Sure I can vessel!
[Starts whistling]

Harpo Shepard: HONK!

Posted by Zoso at 11:57 am

Rejected side quests in Mass Effect 2

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As Melmoth rather splendidly points out Bioware games do have a bit of a formula, a key part of which is getting to know the other members of your party by chatting with them, discovering unfinished business in their past and helping them out on some form of quest. When Bioware are on form with characters, story and voice acting these can be amongst the most engaging parts of the games, forging bonds with your comrades beyond the fact that they’ve got Shield Block Level 4 to handle an alpha-strike and helping to establish popular characters like HK-47 and Minsc (and Boo, of course).

It’s a short hop from formula to formulaic, though, and Mass Effect 2 does tend to emphasise the latter a bit. If you had three or four companions it might not be so noticeable, but running through the same set of actions ten times in a row rather drives it home; crew member has something on their mind (if you don’t pick up the subtle signals like them appearing distracted in conversation then your Yeoman will shout at you every time you pass: “hey Captain, someone wants to see you!”), have a bit of a chat to find out that their brother/sister/mother/father/son/daughter is in some sort of trouble, fly to a planet/space station, have a bit of a chat to a few people with some connection to your party member, shoot a bunch of bad people, get to the big finish where your party member is pointing a gun at someone, right click the blue option to grab the gun off them and say “you don’t want to do this”, home for tea, cake and Paragon points.

It could’ve been worse, though; entirely fictitious leaked documents that we’ve just invented reveal Mass Effect 2 originally had no less than 25 recruitable characters, and they were starting to run out of ideas for new and interesting side quests with some of them:

Eliza, a biotic freelancer: “Shepard, I’ve just got word from my brother Jeff; he and his wife live on the frontier worlds, they went out shopping leaving their children with the nanny, and while they were out there was a planetary alert warning of Batarian slaveships.  On returning home the children were nowhere to be seen, and they couldn’t get hold of the nanny.”

   That’s terrible, we must get after the Batarians, there’s not a moment to lose!
 /
O
 \
   I’m sorry Eliza but the fate of humanity is at stake, we can’t dick around looking for a couple of kids.

Eliza: “Oh, no, they’re fine, turned out they’d gone to the zoo and the nanny hadn’t charged her mobile comm unit so the battery was dead. Anyway, my brother and his wife had bought a load of furniture while shopping and it’s all flat-pack; they had a go at putting it together but silly old Jeff, he’s all fingers and thumbs and almost nailed himself to the coffee table when putting it together, so could we pop around and help them finish it off?”

Sharmura, the Asari Commando: “Shepard! I am so sorry to disturb you, but I do not know who else to turn to. You have already done so much for me, but I must ask for a favour. It is my… I am not sure how you humans would describe the relationship, but somebody I met while on holiday and exchanged addresses with and we send each other a postcard now and again. They are facing one of the ultimate rites of Asari culture.”

   We must go and help them at once!
 /
O
 \
   Yeah, whatever.

Sharmura: “Thank you, Shepard, I knew I could rely on you. The ritual is difficult to describe, but… do you humans have what we would know as Cornflakes? They are like flakes, made of corn; served with milk they are a breakfast delicacy, or sometimes even as an evening meal when you can’t really be bothered to cook and you’ve run out of Pot Noodles. My friend had a bowl of them, and forgot to rinse it out straight after finishing as the ancient texts decree, and now faces the Rite of Brillopad to cleanse her crockery. I was thinking we could pop along with the M920 nuke launcher, that should do the trick.

Abel, an ex-Alliance soldier turned Mercenary: “Hey Shepard! Y’know how, like, I don’t talk about my family much? Well I just got this message from Uncle Geoff, he’s the guy who got me into the Alliance in the first place, I really looked up to him as a kid, he’d let me dress up in his tac pads and stuff. Well it’s bad news; see, his patrol got caught in a duststorm on one of the dark zone planets, took out comms, their support ship had to pull out ‘cos of heavy Geth presence, Uncle Geoff caught a slug in the knee and can’t walk.”

   Don’t worry, we’ll pull him out and make those Geth sorry!
 /
O
 \
   I haven’t got enough Renegade points so I’m going to be pointlessly insulting.

Abel: “Huh? Oh, no, this was last year, the patrol holed up until the storm cleared and the Alliance came back in force. No, he’s fine now, well, apart from the knee, even with reconstruction he was invalided out of the military. He used the pension to set up as a handyman, though, and he needs some business cards and a few fliers. He got a quote from a local printer for 79 Euro, and I was all “Whoah, total rip-off, I could pick up the blank cards and stuff and do them for 20 Euro tops”, so can I use the Normandy’s colour laser printer? We’ll put 10 Euro through to cover the costs of the paper and stuff, split the other ten between us, whaddya say?”

Posted by Zoso at 7:01 am
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