Books and movies tell us stories of heroes whom we may or may not be able to relate. Video gamers are at the frontier of active entertainment. When you play an epic game like Mass Effect, you write your story. You make your decisions and live with the consequences. No longer are you sitting back at your sofa or bed reading or watching a story unfolds. You are the story. It is your world that is in jeopardy and it is your galaxy that you are going to save. You lay waste to the enemies at the battlefield. You engage in a romantic relationship in the mist of this galactic warfare, making friends and enemies along the way, and making difficult decisions whereby morality is not as black and white as you would hope. You are Commander Shepard. You can be male or female, straight or not. You can make your Shepard looks completely different from the Shepard your neighbor is playing. It is a franchise not to be missed. So, game on!
Single Player Mode
“Make no mistake. This is girl power!” – A screenshot taken from within the game.
If my memory serves me right, the first installment was released five years ago. Then we have the second installment released in year 2010. For many fans, this space-role-playing-game-slash-first-person-shooter franchise has been a long affair. Decisions made in Mass Effect are carried forward to Mass Effect 2. And now, Mass Effect 3.
Are you new to this franchise? Here is what you are going to do. Start with Mass Effect 3. Preferable get the Digital Collector’s Edition (From Ashes DLC is a must). You get to experience the climatic ending of a trilogy. Since you have not played the previous games, the background story has been defaulted for you. There is enough in-game codex for you to catch up on the lore and technology. Once you are done with the first play through, go back to the original Mass Effect. Finish it and import the saved game into Mass Effect 2. Make sure you buy the Arrival DLC (downloadable content). I regret missing that important story link. Then play Mass Effect 3. The experience will be more holistic. But that will certainly take a longer time.
Besides the benefit of carrying through your stories across the installments, when you import your first game into the second, you get a little boost to your character’s level and resources. And when you import your second into the third, you get a massive level jump of 30. That is pretty neat and rewarding.
“OK, I see a Reaper. I ain’t gonna down that thing, am I?”
The original Mass Effect has its charm. I in particularly like how immerse the game is. In order to explore a foreign planet, you land onto one with a vehicle. Some terrains are so irregular that navigating would be a pain if you fail to observe the best possible path. You get out of a vehicle to interact with the environment. You could talk to your teammates during any mission. Back then, the technology was so advanced that no ammunition was required. You could shoot as long as your weapon did not overheat. There was inventory management. You got to modify your weapons, assign weapons to your teammates. It was a role playing game in space, with a bit of shooting. The ending moves me to tears, every time I experience it.
“Check out the field of depth in Mass Effect 3. This game is an art.”
Mass Effect 2 has turned into a first person shooter first, role playing second. I like the original Mass Effect a lot, and felt somewhat betrayed. Ammunition (or rather thermal clips) – the hallmark of a shooter game – was and still is a must. God knows why enemies left behind ammunition all over the floor for you to pick up and shoot them with. At the end of each mission, there is a scoreboard to tell you how well you performed. Loading screens replaced elevator rides that were used to be an opportunity for news announcement. You could not talk to your teammates during missions. Planet exploration has turned into scanning through the terrain thousands feet above ground. All these shooter friendly mechanics killed the immersion, just a little bit. The ending did not move me. I played once, and stopped. Mass Effect 2 is still good. The story in between is compelling. The computer graph is beautiful.
“Space traveling is like previous installments. Scanning planets though has an overhaul.”
Mass Effect 3 so far seems to be a happy medium of the two previous installments. From the role playing view point, there are enough side missions to keep me happy. The dialog is lively. I cannot help but chuckle at some private jokes (like Conrad on thermal clips). Each dialog has at least two types of responses: paragon or renegade. You can be a ruthless Shepard. Or a nicer Shepard. There are big decisions to be made. What I like about this installment is that prior to that decision, you get to see things in different perspectives. At times, that turns the decision making process even harder than it already is. Characters who survive the last two episodes according to your actions and decisions make a return to Mass Effect 3. Romance can be rekindled. All those people you have saved in the past? They are going to lend a helping hand either directly or indirectly. One noteworthy improvement on this third installment is that characters move around quite a fair bit in and out of the ship. Most of them are no longer stationary at the same location waiting for you to have a conversation. Some may even have a conversation between themselves.
“Centered to the galactic survival is the War Assets. Commander Shepard must travel all over the Milky Way to rally support.”
In Mass Effect 3, everything you do – be it as main or side missions – contribute to the chance of success ‘when the time comes’. The story begins with Earth being under attack by the Reaper – a mechanical race that purges organic life forms in cycles. In fact, the entire galaxy is under siege. As Commander Shepard, you must leave Earth and rally the support from all alien races, friends and foes, to save Earth. Given the political complexity of the different races, it can be a tedious and dedicate matter. Those numbers add up. Every trooper you add into the War Assets matters. Even the most insignificant mission seems significant when looking at the overall picture.
“Overlay on top of the War Assets is Galactic Readiness. If co-op mission is not your cup of tea, 50% of readiness is all you get. But fear not, according to BioWare, you can still have a good ending if you complete enough missions in the single player game.”
By default, on the single player mode, galactic readiness is set at 50%. You may be able to gather 10,000 strength. But effectively, you get half of it. To boost it, you have to play co-op missions. Fortunately, even as someone who hates co-op first person shooter mode, I love Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode. Before I get there, let’s talk about the combat.
I am not a fan of first person shooter. So I struggled a great deal with Mass Effect 2. In Mass Effect 3, it is even harder. I have to take cover, jump over obstacles, dodge, and sprint. On top of that, I have to aim and shoot and use my bionic power. Some may disagree. But I find the control a bit clunky. My character somehow does not do what I want all the time. I get stuck in cover, wanting to run through door only to find myself going in cover, and etc. But I live. I learn to cope with the mechanic and enjoy the game.
“Weapons now come with a level. And you can modify them as well.”
Another reason why I feel that this installment is a good middle ground between the previous two is that weapons now come with a level, and means to modify them as well. I sense a better incremental progression without the headache of inventory management. Because the total number of weapons you carry adds onto your weight. That inversely affects the recharge time of the bionic power. Hence, there is a trade off on what to bring to the battlefield. This varies between different classes of course.
Not in a million years would I imagine myself liking the multiplayer aspect of the game. I am not a competitive first person shooter. And I don’t like shooting other people. In Mass Effect 3, multiplayer is a co-op mission. Four players go against the enemies in 11 waves that last around 20 minutes. It is fast pace, action filled, and quite honestly, doable. Even for a novice like I am. I have so much fun that lately, I spend more time playing co-op mission than the single player mission.
“In co-op mode, you don’t get to play as Shepard (thank God, imagine the otherwise). You are one of the foot soldiers who answer to Shepard’s call and stand against the enemies.”
Co-op missions are rewarding. There are three ratings – gold, silver, and bronze – according to difficulty level. If your team succeed, you receive a heap of experience points and credits. Credits can be used to purchase rewards that may include one time use items, better weapons, and unlocked characters. Receiving the same weapon increases the weapon’s level. Receiving the same race, sex, and class combo gives you experience bonus. You can take control of multiple characters of different classes. Once one of the characters reach the level cap of 20, you may promote him or her to the single player story and add that into War Assets. This action increases your leader board rating as well. More importantly, each co-op mission you complete ups the galactic readiness. From my experience, it does not take long to get that index from 50% to 100%.
“There are four types of packs that cost a certain amount of credits, or even real money. You may gamble for an expensive pack for a better chance of getting some good rewards. Or you could go for the cheap Recruit Pack to quickly level your weapons and mods.”
Initially, I wanted to continue my First Eight Hours series with Mass Effect 3. That is proven to be impossible. I spent the first eight hours admiring the in-game artwork, talking to other in-game characters, and refreshing my knowledge of the lore with in-game codex. Completing missions now require you to pay good attention to the dialog. Combat mechanic has also become more complex. Even the planet scanning mini-game requires me to run like hell when my ship is spotted by the Reapers. All in all, Mass Effect 3 is, to me, the hardest of the three installments. But once I get over the initial learning curve, I am cruising and enjoying the journey. I like both the single and co-op aspects. I do not know when I will finish this game. When I do, I will certainly discuss the ending here. No spoiler on the comment section please!
“The female version of my Commander Shepard looks like this. What about yours? How does he or she look like?”