Banshee, And A Look Into Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Versus World Of Warcraft Dungeon Crawling

The resounding wailing of a banshee is enough to send a chill down my spine.  First, the bone chilling scream.  Then, the sighting of a banshee from afar.  Shortly after, she performs a series of biotic jumps that closes the distance in a frightening, lightning speed.  Blast!  There is a big bolt of biotic energy radiates outwards that hurts.  If she is close enough, she would carry you up in the air by your waist and with another hand, she caresses your head.  Time seems to stop.  Before you know it, your spine is snapped, you body is discarded.  It is an instant death that not even your teammates could revive.  The banshee screams, looks around, and onto the next target she goes.  This weekend is Operation Silencer.  Mass Effect 3 players at a global level are tasked to take down 3 million banshees in multiplayer mode.  I have played my part, with blood and fear.

“Into thy embrace I surrender my body, once again.”

Like the picture above?  I have more in my Google+ album.

I wrote about my first impression of the highly anticipated video game Mass Effect 3 in March.  I went on dissecting the controversial ending in April.  To wrap things up, before I dive into Diablo III next Tuesday like millions will do, it is fitting for me to write a short entry on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode.

Initially, I found it odd to read critics’ comments.  They said, the multiplayer mode works much better than they thought.  Now that I have sunk in a fair bit of hours into the multiplayer mode, clocked in enough rating to attain a ranking of #39 at a national level (as of this morning), I can understand the critics’ sentiment.  It is good.  So good that it overshadows the single player story mode, which is a shame.  Because traditionally, the Mass Effect franchise is about an individual compelling story, with players’ decision inputs that steer the events in game.  What makes Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode such a success?  Is there something the aging online game World of Warcraft can learn from it in the design of PvE contents (player-versus-environment)?  I think so.

  1. Fast Pace, Fast Assembly, Fast Reward – Getting a team of four online in Mass Effect 3 is fast.  Almost instant.  Once a team is assembled, you get to pick another class to compliment the team.  Each game takes 15 to 25 minutes to complete.  At the end of the game, credits are rewarded depending on performance and difficulties.  Credits can be used to purchase items.  In World of Warcraft, it may take up to half an hour for a group to be formed.  You are stuck with the character you queue for.  Each game takes up to an hour to complete.  You may end up with no loot after the game.  And some tokens that take a long time to accumulate.  Up to weeks.
  2. Skill Matters, More than Gears – To do well in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, skill matters.  Because the score is published at the end of each game, you feel motivated to do well.  I do not know why till today, World of Warcraft still does not have an official scoring system for PvE contents.
  3. The Same Gear Dropped?  No Problem! – To keep the long term attention of the gamers, developers introduce random rewards.  In World of Warcraft, you grind the same dungeon many times in the hope of a gear drop.  When it drops and is won, you care less about that encounter anymore though you still may have to do it for different reasons.  What if every time you win the same gear (which would have been a waste now), you get a slight upgrade to your existing one?  In Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode, a gear can be upgraded 10 times.  When it reaches the highest level, that gear will no longer drop.  This makes so much sense.
  4. Gear Tiers Decoupled from Challenge Level – In Mass Effect 3, casual online players (or players with a low level character) can join a bronze challenge – an accessible content for most with 33% to 50% of success rate.  Or they can up the challenge for silver or gold.  Higher level of challenge rewards more credits.  Credits can be used to randomly unlock items of different tiers.  High tier items, of course, cost a lot more credit.  If you have a bunch of reliable friends to do gold challenge, that is great.  You get to unlock highest tier items at the fastest rate.  What if you don’t?  Not a problem.  You gain credits in a slower rate through bronze and silver challenges.  But you still have access to the highest tier items.  I wish Blizzard could incorporate this to their massively popular online game.
  5. My Loot Is Mine – I know Blizzard is changing how loot works in the upcoming expansion, for some of the encounters.  However, it is still worthwhile to mention that without having to roll against each other like in Mass Effect 3, it wipes away any negative feeling on who should get what.  Suddenly, there is fun, and peace.
Back to the banshees, I am going to meet a few more before the weekend expires.  Don’t forget to check out more pictures here.  I am out.  Wish me luck.

“Oh banshee, I do love to see you go up in flame.”

The Much Talked About “Mass Effect 3 Ending” As It Is Today

Here is a spoiler free bit.  Some of you have asked “Everyone says that the ending is bad, what do you think?  Shall I still buy the game?  Which installment shall I start first?  One, two, or three?”  I would say, don’t let what you read or hear dampen your journey.  True, some are outraged by the ending.  But there are also some who like it.  You can form your opinion when the time comes.  The beauty of an open ending is that you write your story.  You complete the ending.  It is back to the very root of role playing, the media of good old pen-and-paper.

You may jump directly into the third installment without playing the previous games.  Provided that you have the patience to read the in-game codex, you may still get a decent understanding of the lore.  Since you do not have a chance to form decisions in the last two installments, the game will decide for you.  The first play through is likely to take you 20 to 60 hours to complete, with an option to have a second play through for a better experience and outcome.  You won’t get to experience a full story this way.  But if you have limited time and resource, getting a taste of the game is better than having none.

Some would suggest new players to start with the second installment (first-person-shoot lovers I reckon).  Would you watch The Matrix starting from the second episode?  If you have 80 to 200 hours to burn, I strongly recommend to start from the beginning.

I hope this answer some of your questions.  Now, let’s talk about the controversial Mass Effect 3 ending, an ending that results in the game developer to expand this summer due to online feedback.  There will be spoilers from this point onward.  Be warned!

“I am Commander Shepard.  5 years I have traveled across the milky way in the name of humanity.  Is this really the end?”

SPOILER WARNING

The Year is 2186

It is hard to imagine that in less than 200 years, humans would travel across the milky way, encountering alien races, and realizing that we are a rather primitive race.  There are far more advanced races in the outer space that pay little attention to our humanity.  That is until a dark force launches a galactic level attack to all organic life.

The Reaper

Initially, no one believes Reaper exists.  It turns out to be a highly advanced machine race of synthetic-and-organic spaceships.  The entire sentinel race lies dormant within the dark space for thousands of years.  When it wakes up, the Reaper lays destruction to the entire galaxy by indoctrinating key organic leaders and collecting the organic life one-by-one for processing.  The suitable ones are dissolved and incorporated into Reaper’s gestalt consciousness.  Most are used as raw materials in building the Reaper troops.  During this cycle of extinction, none will survive except a very few.  After Reaper has done its job, it goes back to hibernation in dark space and waits patiently for the next cycle.  The few that are left behind will yet again populate the galaxy.  The cycle repeats.

Its Purpose?

The Reaper believes that in every cycle, there is a natural tendency to chaos.  Organic life will create synthetic life and once synthetic life reaches a certain level of intelligence, they will rebel against their creators.  Reaper’s job is to maintain this fragile balance by harvesting all the organic life at the end of each cycle leaving only a few for a reset.  Does this sound like Zion in The Matrix?  It sure does.

What creates the first Reaper?  When the galaxy is left alone, will organic and synthetic life form become one?  Is the Reaper trying to halt the evolution so that they will continue to be the most superior race in the galaxy?  The lore does not explain this bit.  I could only imagine.

Take Earth Back

Back to current year of 2186, the Reaper invades Earth.  With 400 processing centers killing 1.86 million human beings a day, it will take a decade for the Reaper to complete the extinction protocol.  The human resistance led by Anderson is not going to hold the Reaper for long.  Commander Shepard, that is you, needs to rally the races from across the galaxy to save Earth.  The problem is, why would other advanced races lend their support when their homelands are invaded by the Reaper?  What makes Earth so special?

The Crucible

Because human has discovered the blueprint passed down by previous cycles to build the ultimate weapon of mass destruction – the Crucible.  And we are building it.  The construction of this weapon of mass destruction has soaked up all the knowledge and expertise, as well as resources contributed from all races (or from most depending on how well you play your political game).  The Crucible has become the only hope galaxy has against the Reaper.  All is well but there is a missing component – the Catalyst.  Without it, the Crucible will not work.  No one knows what the Catalyst is.  It seems that all attempts in building the Crucible by the races from the previous cycles have failed.

The Human Politics

While Commander Shepard goes about getting other races on board, humanity is breaking up from within.  The organization Cerberus led by Illusive Man believes that human have found a way to control Reaper.  With Reaper by our side, humanity can rule the galaxy.  Hence, instead of human working together, internally, we are fighting against each other.  You may think that it sounds stupid.  But our human history says otherwise.

Shepard does not think that controlling Reaper is a good idea.  Because it is a power we do not understand.

The Citadel

The Citadel is a space station that has multiple functions.  It is where the Council and the ambassadors resides.  It is where a lone Reaper vanguard signals the invasion at the beginning of each cycle.  And, it is also the Catalyst as discovered by Illusive Man.  Needless to say, Citadel is an important asset to all life in the galaxy as well as to the Reaper.  When Reaper learns that human has discovered the secret to complete the Crucible, they transport the entire Citadel to Earth for protection.  Why Earth?  I suppose it is where their majority of forces are at.  And they have the knowledge that Earth will be where the final showdown takes place.

The Final Assault

After the Reaper knows the coalition’s intend to counter attack, the war is escalated.  All the war assets Commander Shepard gathered throughout the milky way have made good with their promise and they launch an attack to the Reaper on Earth.  Meanwhile, Admiral Hackett together with his feet is bringing the Crucible to be joined with the Citadel.  The only problem is that Citadel’s defense system has made it closed up from within.  In order for the Crucible to work against the Reaper, the best guess is that Citadel has to be functional.  Someone needs to get into the Citadel to open it up.

Since Reaper has opened up a conduit (or a vertical beam of light shooting from Earth’s ground up to Citadel in the sky) to facilitate the transport of human specimen for processing, the coalition’s plan is to launch a ground attack so that Shepard and the coalition forces can get to the conduit and hence reach the Citadel.  As expected, the conduit is heavily guarded by the Reaper.

The Little Boy

In the beginning of this installment, Shepard has found a little boy hiding in one of the buildings on Earth destroyed by the Reaper.  For some strange reasons, Anderson who is with Shepard does not see the boy.  Only Shepard can.  The little boy refuses to go with Shepard and evades the building by himself.

Just before Shepard leaves Earth to rally the alien forces, Shepard sees the little boy getting into one of the transport ships.  The ship does not make it and the little boy is killed in action.

Throughout this third installment, the little boy appears in Shepard’s dreams.  At times, the dream ends with the little boy engulfed in fire.  One time, the dream ends with both the little boy and Shepard engulfed in fire.

The Crash Landing

Back to the final assault, Shepard and the coalition have made a significant impact on the ground against the Reaper.  It is just a matter of getting the coalition transported to the conduit when Shepard’s ship unfortunately crash landed near the beam of light.  All of a sudden, the environment seems dreamy with Shepard and the coalition running to the conduit on foot, dodging fire power shooting from above.

After Shepard makes it to the conduit, Shepard is beamed into the heart of the Citadel.  There are piles and piles of dead human bodies awaiting to be processed.  The scene is unfamiliar and as Shepard enters the gigantic control room overlooking Earth, Anderson is already there.

And so is Illusive Man, who appears to have been indoctrinated by the Reaper.

Under the influence of the Reaper, Commander Shepard shoots Anderson, and then manages to convince Illusive Man that all that he has done is not for humanity, but for the Reaper.  After such realization, Illusive Man shoots himself.  Shepard reaches for the control panel and opens the Citadel up.

Is this the end?

Meet the Catalyst

Apparently not.  Even when the Citadel is operational, nothing happens.  Crucible, the weapon of mass destruction, is not doing what it is supposed to.  What is missing?

As Shepard suffering from multiple combat wounds collapses onto the floor, Shepard is ascended to the top of the Citadel and a ghostly figure that resembles the little boy Shepard has met at the beginning of the installment appears.  It turns out that this ghostly figure is the Catalyst.  He designs a solution for the Reaper to carry out what needs to be done in each cycle: bring order to chaos.  In the past millions of year, Shepard is the only organic life that makes it this far.  So, according to this ghostly little boy, this warrants a new solution.  Shepard has a decision to make.

Why then a human being gets to decide the fate of the galaxy?  Why doesn’t the Catalyst stick to the plan of ascending the older races (i.e. killing) and hence allowing the newer races to flourish in the next cycle?  Does the Catalyst believe that organic life has reached a stage whereby a final peace can be attained?  Or does the Catalyst believe that it is possible to build another Reaper race if need to?

What is the Catalyst?  Like the architect in The Matrix?  What does the Catalyst get out of this?

A New Solution #1 – Destroy the Reaper

Shepard is given three options.  One is to destroy the Reaper.  It appears to be something Anderson would do.  By choosing this option, not only the bad Reaper is destroyed, but also all other good synthetic life as well as major technology currently exists in the galaxy.  The ghostly little boy a.k.a the Catalyst thinks that by choosing this option, chaos will return.  Wouldn’t this go against all that the Catalyst has planned for?

Interestingly, whatever decision Shepard makes will lead to a destruction of all the Mass Relays in the milky way.  Intergalactic travel will no longer be possible.  I suppose from the Catalyst’s perspective, the sole purpose of the Mass Relays is to facilitate Reaper invasion.  Perhaps, this also hints that the Catalyst has decided to put the old solution to rest for good?

Not only that, no matter what, Joker – the pilot of Shepard’s spaceship – will leave Shepard behind and evacuate Earth together with Shepard’s squad mates.  A curious decision Joker has made.  I suppose it is an unspoken piece of story that Shepard must have signaled Joker for the escape.

Imagine for a moment that you are Commander Shepard.  You have no foresight what will happen, though you are presented with scenarios promised by an entity you did not know until now.  Would you order your spaceship to evacuate, along with the coalition forces that are fighting the Reaper in space?  There is no certainty that Earth will be saved (in fact, for some players, Earth will be destroyed).  Why take unnecessary casualty?  Evacuation, in this context, seems to make sense.

A New Solution #2 – Control the Reaper

This second solution seems like something Illusive Man would do.  Shepard could choose to control the Reaper.  But Shepard will die.  My interpretation is that before Shepard perishes, Shepard can issue one final order to the Reaper.  It could a retreat.  Or it could be anything else.  The ending never says.  It is up to your imagination.

A New Solution #3 – Synthesis

Neither of the first two solutions seem ideal.  A part of me believes (or made believe) that when the dust is settled, chaos will return. Reaper may in fact have a role to play in order to ensure the continuation of organic life.  A third option is to synthesize the two by combining the DNA of the Reaper and the organic life.  This becomes the pinnacle of evolution when we are part organic, part synthetic.

This is an attractive option because – again my interpretation – this could be the final test that says our universe is ready for synthesis.  Through Shepard’s action, organic life has stopped fighting against each other.  First time in the galactic history, all alien races stand united.  This could well be the reason why the Catalyst is giving Shepard a free will to decide the fate of the universe.  Reaper could be destroyed, but in doing so, chaos returns and a new Reaper will rise to bring order to the galaxy.  Reaper could be controlled, but the cycle may return.  Synthesis appears to stop the cycle and bring forth the ultimate peace.

There is a small price to pay.  Shepard has to pour his or her energy into the conduit in order to initiate the process.  In doing so, Shepard will cease to exist.

Decision, Decision

Option one appears to be the only option that Shepard may survive.  But many have sacrifice their lives to get to this far.  If this is it, wouldn’t it be selfish for Shepard to think of self perseverance at this final stage?  Wouldn’t self sacrifice be a beautiful ending to such a long saga?  An ultimate sacrifice as decided by the individual player and not by the game developer?

You get to choose to live or die.  You get to decide on the fate of the universe.  Before the final assault, while Commander Shepard is having a final word to the squad members, one has already hinted that the battle ahead will be both physical and mental.  Even Shepard has prophesied that he or she may not join them for a retirement but rather seeing them from Heaven (OK, Mass Effect has no religion so it s not explicitly written as Heaven).

On the record, I chose option three.

Indoctrination Theory

I felt good after choosing option three.  BioWare has mentioned that the journey of Commander Shepard ends in Mass Effect 3.  It is the pinnacle of evolution and it is an option that has to be earned through the three games.  Depending on your war assets, you may not have option three.  You may not even have option two.

After a few hours savoring the victory that is five years in the waiting, suddenly, something hit me.  Was I not supposed to kill the Reaper?  That was my mission, was it not?  To destroy the Reaper at all cost?  What was I thinking?  I did some research on the Internet and I have found this wondering video that explains a totally different interpretation: Indoctrination Theory.

Under this theory, it is said that since Commander Shepard has proven to be a force to reckon with, it is of Reaper’s priority to indoctrinate Shepard in doing its will.  However, since Shepard’s will is exceptionally strong, this indoctrination process takes time.  This explains the dreams and vision Shepard has experienced (codex on Reaper indoctrination can be found in here), as well as all the discrepancies in the ending sequence.

What if, from the moment Shepard crash landed near to the conduit to the final moment Shepard finalizes a decision, nothing is real?  As in, it all happens inside Shepard’s head in this final stage of indoctrination?  Are you as an individual player being deceived to do Reaper’s will?

If so, this could be a monumental milestone in our video gaming history.  Millions of gamers are manipulated by the game developer to potentially choose an option to do Reaper’s will.  Some of us have forgotten our mission and our identity dies in the process.  This explains why option one is the only option whereby Shepard may potentially survive.  This is evident by the final clip when we see Shepard gasps and wakes up inside a pile of debris.  My interpretation is that after Shepard has fought off Reaper indoctrination will he or she wake up from the crash landing.  The war still goes on.  But it is likely that some may have already been beamed up into the Citadel and fired off the Crucible.  It could well be Shepard who does the honor of firing.  Either way, it does not matter.  The battle is won when the last Reaper defense to the conduit is broken, be it as Shepard being indoctrinated or not.

The Legend Continues

Like some of the European movies, Mass Effect 3 has an open ending that is up to our interpretation.  Regardless of the option chosen, there is a small video clip showing a grandfather telling the Shepard story to a little boy.  Whether or not you buy the indoctrination theory, humanity continues for at least a couple of generations.

In my opinion, while the story of Shepard ends here, the Mass Effect universe may continue.  We are introduced to some of the troops who broad the same transport ship and fight alongside with Shepard towards the end of this game.  The war may not be over.  For all we know, BioWare may create a new Mass Effect game from another character’s perspective.  Or they may make Mass Effect a massively multiplayer online game in the future.

Even when the franchise ends right here right now, it is still one of the best sci-fi themed video games we have seen in recent times.

“Who is going to inherit this helmet?”

Mass Effect 3: First 40 Hours, What A Blast

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.

Multiplayer Mode

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.”

In Summary

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?”

 

Kasumi Goto From The New Mass Effect 2 DLC – A Brief Review

Does this digital game copy of the new Mass Effect 2 mini-expansion worth US$7?  Read on to find out.

I am a big fan of BioWare’s DLC (downloadable contents).  They are often of the right length (read: not too time consuming) and are rewarding to play.  Recently, BioWare has run into quality issue with the Dragon Age franchise and hence, I have stopped buying.  Not until they get their acts together and patch up the game.  Mass Effect, is another story.

“Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is the first DLC (with a file size of close to 1 GB!) outside the Cerberus Network.  The Cerberus Network licence worth US$15 in value and most retail copies I believe come with it.  Does it mean that this is the end for “free” downloads?  I don’t know.  Back to this new DLC, for the price of a movie ticket, it took me about 2 ½ hours to complete.  That includes reading the new codex, going through the conversation options, and admiring all aspects of the game including standing by the hillside looking at the breathtaking scenery of the sea.

For those who have started or planning to start a new game, Kasumi the enigmatic master thief can be a good squad member option.  Kasumi is distinctly different from the existing members because she can go in stealth and near one-shot the enemies from their backs.  Almost like a rogue class in some role playing games.  Because of that, most of the time I have no clue where she is when we are in combat and I have to pay attention to her voice cues.  My character is a Vanguard so that seems to complement the play style (up close and personal).  Too bad, I have already completed the game.  It would be fun to continue grouping with her to develop the synergy.

Half of “Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is non-combat in nature, which is a breath of fresh air from the majority of the loyalty missions.  My only slight grievance is that this DLC does not seem to be challenging enough and I have encountered a bug in the final boss fight (the boss despawned and the mission got stuck).  Also, conversations with Kasumi inside the Normandy is similar to Zaeed (from the Cerberus Network), very one-way in nature.  Other than that, “Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is a beautiful DLC – both in graphics and storyline.  And if you are like me, who are just one level under the cap, completing “Kasumi – Stolen” will shoot you all the way to the level cap of 30.

Mass Effect 2: A Masterpiece With So Many Things To Fall In Love With

After spending more than 50 hours to explore every aspect of the game, I would say that Mass Effect 2 is indeed a masterpiece.  No spoilers here of course.  In my over two decades of computing gaming, there aren’t many games that keep me engrossed, playing over a sustained duration.  The Mass Effect franchise could well be one.

But change, can be hard to swallow.  That applies to the world of gaming too.  Mass Effect 2 (ME 2) has fundamentally revamped some of the gaming elements of Mass Effect 1 (ME 1) and you can tell from the fan base that some of these new elements may not go well with some.  And I initially too.  Having said that, now that I have played through the game once, overall speaking, the combat system is more engaging (more complex too!), some dialogs have more depth (you can interrupt them too), the story is a lot darker, and ME 2 is more visually pleasing.

Mass Effect can be classified as action role-playing game.  I am not a shooter type of gamer.  ME 2 is certainly more demanding than ME 1 when it comes to the lengthy combat scenes.  But I live.  I also enjoy the real time interruption to conversation that may change the outcome of the scene.  As far as decision making is concerned, there are plenty in ME 2.  From the very technical aspect of the game to the political influence that one can play, some decisions got me thinking hard on what I should do next.  Judging on how some of the little decisions I have made in ME 1 affect ME 2, I won’t be surprised to see how these decisions I have made in totality will affect the upcoming ME 3 – the end of the trilogy.

It is frequently asked if one should start with ME 1 now that ME 2 is out.  The answer is an absolute yes.  The gaming experience of the two is different.  And you get to experience the best of both world (there are still things I miss dearly in ME 1).  Ideally, you should complete ME 1 fully – that includes all the side missions and planet exploration.  Not only the decisions you have made get imported into ME 1, you will get a little boost in resources, character level, and paragon-renegade inclination (the equivalent of hero and badass).

The Mass Effect franchise as a whole has a great replay value.  After a game completion (“playthrough” as we called it), you may start a new career with a different class and or gender choice.  You may create a new career from one of your existing characters and continue advancing from where you left off.  There is a big boost to all your subsequent characters after you have completed the game in terms of experience gained as well as initial resources.  I enjoy playing the character in either gender, preferably in either alignment.  The voice over is different.  The outcome of the story can be different (romance sub-plot as well as the “good” and “aggressive” decisions you make).  Hence, the overall experience can be different.

Now that we have established that if you are an avid gamer, you have got to check out the Mass Effect franchise, the next question would be: Is the Collectors’ Edition worth it?  For an extra S$20?

It has a mini comic booklet that is nice to have, but I can live without.  A mini hardcover art book that is very nice to have, and I love to own.  A making-of DVD, that makes me appreciate the game better.  Access to Cerberus Network (a.k.a. a portal for the digital download of new contents) that at present has: 2 in-game collectors’ items that I use one but not another (I don’t like the look of the other), a mini-mission called Normandy’s Crash Site that fans would like, and a new squad member that comes with a new loyalty mission – very good to have.  Free to be downloaded if you have the access.  All in all, no regret in spending the extra cash for all of the above.

Below is the cinematic trailer, which I am sure some of you may enjoy watching.