Five things to watch for in reviews of 'Mass Effect 3'
“Mass Effect 3,” the reported final game in this science fiction, action, role playing game trilogy, is being released today. An early review called it “the most compelling experience in the franchise yet,” which is easy to believe, considering Bioware’s track record for compelling games. (See “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” and the “Baldur’s Gate” series.) But the company isn’t perfect, and there are some ways they could screw this up. (See “Dragon Age 2.”) Read on for what to watch for in reviews of this game.
Whether the developers tackle the mysteries introduced in the original game. The series’ story revolves around the Reapers, a mysterious group of beings that lies dormant for thousands of years, awakens to destroy or enslave all intelligent life in the galaxy, then travels out into the edges of space to await new life to repopulate the galaxy. Where they came from and why they do this is unknown, and “Mass Effect 2” provided next to nothing for answers. Instead, the second game in the series focused on the stories of random characters the player needed to recruit to go on one deadly mission. Don’t get me wrong, those characters’ stories were fantastic. But if the developers take a page from the writers of “Lost” and abandon the mystery that sucked many a gamer in, it will be disappointing.
Whether the mature portrayal of female characters continues. Women make up 42 percent of the video game playing population in the United States, according to a 2011 Entertainment Software Association report. Yet gamers are still forced to put up with impossibly proportioned women bouncing into combat wearing "metallic lingerie," as one blogger put it, in a significant number of games. The “Mass Effect” series has rejected that cliche; the female characters wear the same armor as the male characters with the exception of Jack. (She has incredible biotic powers, so in theory she doesn’t need armor, at least.) This treatment extends throughout the series, with female characters filling strong roles in the story. In fact, the female version of the main character is widely regarded to be superior to the male version, which can be credited to the performance of voice actress Jennifer Hale.
Whether the minigames are fun. The developers have a history in this series of completely changing up the gameplay. For example, a big part of the first game involved exploring worlds and fighting enemies in a six-wheeled rover. Widely criticized by gamers, the element was dropped for “Mass Effect 2.” But the second game introduced its own annoying gameplay elements, such as one where you had to manually hover a circle around planets to collect minerals you needed to complete research projects. That minigame also didn’t make any sense; your spaceship was sensitive enough to detect whether a planet was “rich” in resources or “depleted,” but it couldn’t figure out where those elements were. Right.
Whether more complex story choices are a good thing. In the first two games, the story choices often boiled down to whether your character was a knight in shining armor or a guy with a leather coat and an eyepatch. In “Mass Effect 3,” those choices will be more complicated, according to one Bioware blog post. A scenario described by Patrick Weekes, the senior writer for the game, forces the player to confront a human colony overtaken by a brutal alien enemy. Do you nuke the place, killing innocents, or let the aliens grow more powerful by turning the humans into zombie slaves? It is unclear which option is the best one, much like many decisions for people trying to save the world in real life. I’m hopeful that this will increase the quality and complexity of the story and not just be a gimmick.
Whether the developers go overboard on paid downloadable content. Game developers are under immense pressure from publishers to make games profitable. Only 20 percent of games that make it to store shelves turn a profit, according to a 2008 report from Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. But does that mean that players who shelled out $59.99 for a game should be solicited to pay more money to access downloadable content on the first day the game is available? The DLC is available for free to people who buy the $79.99 collector’s edition, so the idea that the developers didn’t have time to get that content ready for certification doesn’t really make sense. This is on top of the fact that people who buy the game used will have to pay extra to access the multiplayer, too. I’m all for supporting game developers, but it’s hard not to feel taken advantage of by this system.
What are your hopes and fears for “Mass Effect 3”? Did you preorder it, are you waiting or are you not interested? What do you think about it if you have already started playing? Let me know in the comments.
Follow Andrew Reuter on Twitter at @andrewreuter.