The quandaries and possibilities of Mass Effect 3
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Some speculative elevator talk to while away the year before the coming of Mass Effect 3...
The first teaser trailer for Mass Effect 3 has finally hit, and though its coming is as predictable as the sunrise, you can colour me officially excited. Maybe downright bouncing would be more like it. The beauty of these games is that there are so many ways for each player to make it their own galaxy, and each decision is weighed against others - and all have consequences. In ME3, BioWare will be bringing those decisions and their consequences to a close. In the first two games, many events were initiated with a clear development set to take place in the future; but for the majority of those scenarios, few have yet to be fulfilled. In ME3, all those decisions come to a head. And there are many, many decisions we’ve each made.
Take the Rachni, for example, as just one. A race that damn near destroyed every other, yet when you find the last vestiges of their species on Noveria under the manipulation of Matriarch Benezia, you’re given the opportunity to grant these arachnids a second chance, which in turn guarantees you a strong ally for the coming apocalypse in ME3. Despite the Rachni’s absence from Mass Effect 2, the Rachni Queen sent a message via an envoy on Illium to let you know they haven’t forgotten the chance you gave them and they are coming. On the other hand, if you decided to put an end to the Queen and all her six-legged minions, this plot point is unlikely to have any follow up at all, and your foolish arachnophobia cost you any ally. That’s what you get for your arachnicism!
Then there’s the Korgan, the frog/turtle/gecko dudes who stepped in and saved the entire galaxy from the Rachni before when they were on the verge of wiping everyone else out. Despite this, the galaxy then decided to reward the Korgan with the Genophage, a plague-like virus that depleted their fertility, making it almost impossible for them to live as valued members of the galaxy. After several conversations with morally-ambiguous genius Mordin Solus, it emerges that there may yet be a chance to reverse the effects of the Genophage, and though morally it may be considered the “right” thing to do, what would the consequences be of removing the population cap on such an aggressively primitive race? An act of this magnitude may earn you a good deal of Paragon points, but somewhere down the line it could spell certain doom for all the galactic races. One can only hope to see both a returning Mordin and Wrex, but in the meanwhile we’ll just have to imagine their confrontation.
"Surely in ME3, with the Reapers now attacking Earth outright, Shepard can count upon the Council’s aid? You’d think so, but politics is ever the field of self-interest and it’s not too difficult to imagine the Council being as short-sighted as they have been for the last two games"
The Quarians also have a big decision ahead of them: should they try to retake their home planet by battling the Geth, or continue to live as nomadic separatists, roaming from one side of the galaxy to the other? In ME2, you have the chance to influence this particular decision, and although the ramifications of your advice are not clear, it’s a safe bet that somewhere down the line the consequences of this idle chat will make themselves known. The Geth themselves, meanwhile, are having a civil war of their own between the “heretics” (the Geth who worked with Sovereign and Saren) and the “true Geth”. By assisting Legion in ME2, Shepard has the option of either destroying the Heretics or rewriting their programming, potentially making them an ally. Either option is clearly going to have strong repercussions for the Geth, and may affect the Quarians' chances with regards to retaking their homeworld.
Finally, there’s us - humanity. At the end of both ME1 and ME2, Shepard is given an opportunity to greatly alter humanity’s destiny. If you elected the Renegade action, you let the Citadel Council die, replacing them with a barely-disguised human dictatorship. If your conscience got the better of you, however, you could save the Council at the cost of many human lives, but secure a seat for humanity on the Council itself. Rather irritatingly, despite saving their lives, the Council continue to be nothing but a thorn in your side throughout the short time you see them in ME2, offering virtually no aid.
Surely in ME3, with the Reapers now attacking Earth outright, Shepard can count upon the Council’s aid? You’d think so, but politics is ever the field of self-interest and it’s not too difficult to imagine the Council being as short-sighted as they have been for the last two games. That leaves Cerberus and the Illusive Man, who we can almost certainly say will do whatever it takes to secure humanity’s future, regardless of the cost.
"It’s difficult to imagine BioWare being willing to fund a whole game’s worth of material for characters that may not even have survived your personal story, not to mention paying all the voice actors for work that many of us may never see"
At the end of ME2, you’re given another crucial decision: destroy the Collector’s technology and vow to save humanity without “sacrificing our soul” or use the base for our own ends, with its advanced technology, possibly providing greater security for humanity in its hour of need. This decision is very morally ambiguous, as destroying it would in all likelihood be judged as nothing more than chivalric folly, while keeping it always leaves open the door of it being used for evil, rather than good. And can we really trust the Illusive Man? He is, after all, Illusive and not Elusive, and you have to wonder about exactly what his intentions are. Now that the fight for humanity’s home planet and in all likelihood survival is here, will we find our selfishness rewarded, or see the sacrifices made and friendships forged paying off?
There’s also Shepard’s position with the Alliance itself to consider – military posterboy though he may be, Shephard has been keeping some slightly suspect friends of late by way of Cerberus. Although officially still a SPECTRE, Shepard and the Council are barely on speaking terms and his two-and-some year leave of absence is going to create an interesting vacuum in their relationship.
Any Time, Iceman
Throughout ME1 and ME2, Shepard’s made quite a few friends, and a few enemies to boot. Although the squad number in Mass Effect was a maximum of a modest six at the endgame, its sequel allowed you to have up to twelve (twelve!) characters in your team at the end - and that’s not including Shepard!
As much as we love the freedom of choice and a diverse crew, twelve squaddies is pushing it a little far, and only two of these were characters returning from the original game. With ME3 shaping up to be the epic final battle of the series, it’s hard to imagine some of the old faces not making a return and bringing some closure to those old storylines.
There’s also the question of who is going to come back. At the end of ME2’s “suicide mission”, it’s entirely possible for all of your squad, including Shepard, to die. Such being the case, it’s difficult to imagine BioWare being willing to fund a whole game’s worth of material for characters that may not even have survived your personal story, not to mention paying all the voice actors for work that many of us may never see. The flip side of this coin is, it’s entirely possible for everyone to survive, and just imagine the scope of BioWare including all those characters in the sequel. Sure, not all of them will be playable again, but even if characters showed up to deliver just a few lines of dialogue, it would be a brilliant inclusion and would earn them no end of critical and fan respect.
"Garrus and Tali would be severely missed by fans if they weren’t in your squad for the final chapter, yet I can imagine BioWare ruthlessly taking them out of play at this point in return for giving us back Wrex and the others"
But then, it’s hard to imagine a sequel to ME2 without Thane, Miranda or Mordin at your side. There’s no telling if Wrex would be prepared to temporarily abandon reassembling his clan to help you save Earth (assuming of course that you didn’t kill him in ME), but it seems almost inevitable that both Liara and Ashley (or Kaiden, depending on who you martyred) will make a return as full-time squad members. Garrus and Tali would be severely missed by fans if they weren’t in your squad for the final chapter, yet I can imagine BioWare ruthlessly taking them out of play at this point in return for giving us back Wrex and the others.
Thane may be dying, but BioWare could very easily come up with a MacGuffin fix to this. Mordin has seemingly made peace with his life and seemed prepared for death at the end of ME2, so there’s no reason for him not to return with the possible exception of him having a change of heart and trying to reverse the Genophage. Miranda now no longer seems to care about Cerberus or the Illusive Man and if Shepard said jump, chances are she’d say “How high?” Jack has always maintained that she’s a self-interested bitch, but it’s fairly safe to say we know better, but with Liara almost certainly returning, it makes me question Jack’s relevance as another high-powered biotic.
"Kasumi and Zaeed, both DLC, will almost certainly not be returning, save except for a cameo appearance or throwaway line of dialogue, and excepting Kasumi’s Shadowstrike ability, I can’t imagine either of them would be particularly missed"
Of course, there are other characters that may or may not come onboard one last time, but somehow I’d be surprised if Jacob, Grunt or Samara made a return. Possibly excepting Samara, none of them has much by way of personality to speak of, and Grunt certainly pales in comparison to Wrex. Finally, there’s Legion, who it seems I am not alone in wishing for a return. Oddly intriguing for a monotone Geth, Legion came into play so late in ME2 that it almost felt we didn’t have much time to use him. Kasumi and Zaeed, both DLC, will almost certainly not be returning, save except for a cameo appearance or throwaway line of dialogue, and excepting Kasumi’s Shadowstrike ability, I can’t imagine either of them would be particularly missed.
How the final squad pans out could end up being determined by the decisions made in the previous games. For instance, if you pursued a love-interest with Liara rather than Ashley or Kaiden, maybe only Liara rejoins your squad. Similarly, if you cheated in ME2, perhaps your original love interest doesn’t return, or then again, maybe your “cheat” partner is the one to stay away. BioWare head-honcho Casey Hudson recently claimed that Mass Effect 3 would see the results of over 1000 variables throughout the first two games determining the course of the final chapter. Bold words, but who’s to say these decisions won’t affect who makes a return in the third game.
My personal ideal squad would see a return from Thane, Liara, Mordin, Garrus, Tali, Miranda, Wrex and Legion, along with one or two new characters for good measure. I, along with I’m sure many other fans, would be sorely disappointed if these characters did not make a return as playable. However, each of us have our preferences; there will be some who care more about Grunt than Liara, Ashley more than Miranda, and that’s part of the beauty of the ME universe. If BioWare were brave enough to open the possibilities for your squadmates from both games returning, it would forge them a legacy few other developers could compete with. Perhaps BioWare will allow you to pick and choose your own squad, but put a cap on the number of people you can allow into your crew, therefore forcing players to choose who’ll save the galaxy with them. This would certainly maximize replay value, not just for the third game but for the entire trilogy. Who do you want to make a return? How many squad members is too many?
It Must Be Love…?
In ME, Shepard had the chance to form a romance with either Liara, Kaidan or Ashley, depending on your character’s gender. This then culminated with the oh-so controversial “sex scene” towards the end of the game, before the final mission. Little more than a suggestive glimpse of polygon curves, this sexual encounter wasn’t much by way of a pay off, but it was never BioWare’s intention to create pornography – Rule 34 already exists. Instead what you got, if you chose to pursue it, was an engaging romance subplot that few games have managed to rival. As some fans have pointed out, it’s a little disappointing that the relationship always seems to climax and end with sex without much actual relationship depth, but really, who wants to see Mr and Mrs Shepard squabbling and living a mundane domestic life? Leave that to Fable.
Whether you chose xenophobic Ashley “I’m not racist” Williams, monotonous red-shirt Kaidan or librarian-esque Liara, the storyline felt, most of the time, believable and compelling. ME2, however, made things a whole lot more complicated. In ME2 you were given the opportunity to (gasp!) cheat on your original partner, create a new romance or simply jump Jack’s bones. The one thing that ME2 absolutely did better than ME1 was to broaden your options. In ME1 you had a choice between one of two characters depending on your gender, whereas in ME2 male Shepards could pursue Miranda, Tali, Jack, Kelly Chambers or even black widow Morinth. For female Shepards, you had the choice between uber-cool Thane, veteran Garrus or bland Jacob.
"It seems BioWare are leaving the impending Jerry Springer: Mass Effect Edition episode until the final game"
This cheating is said to have consequences for the unfolding of stories in ME3, though nothing has been made concrete as to what these consequences might be. In The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Shepard reunites with Liara and has the chance to rekindle their relationship, even if she is aware of Shepard’s straying. However when you return to the Normandy and speak to your most recent love interest, nothing resembling a confrontation occurs, and it seems BioWare are leaving the impending Jerry Springer: Mass Effect Edition episode until the final game. The question remains as to whether or not BioWare will grant us the chance to choose between our two conquests, or if the cheating was only a one-time thing. Here’s hoping we have the option of continuing either relationship. Then again, we may have yet another opportunity to add a notch into Shepard’s bedpost in ME3.
From the teaser trailer, it’s quite clear that Mass Effect is finally coming home: at long last, we’re going to see Earth. Only, by the look of things, our home planet is in a state of serious disarray, with the Reapers already initiating their genocide of all organic life, and don’t you just know it, they’ve decided to start by taking on the little guy – us.
"As exciting as the prospect of seeing Earth through Mass Effect’s eyes is, I can’t help but feel the littlest bit of trepidation"
Since ME1, fans have been clamouring for a glimpse of Earth in the late 22nd century, trying to imagine how our civilization would look upon discovering a vast array of other sentient species, not to mention a plethora of vastly superior technology. It’s hard to believe that our world and the world of Mass Effect are the same, but the post-invasion London from the trailer can leave little doubt. Even when we see the Reapers, it’s still a little hard to digest that this is Mass Effect, and only at the trailer’s very end when we see Shepard walking away with the signature soundtrack do we really connect those two disassociated jigsaw pieces to complete the puzzle.
As exciting as the prospect of seeing Earth through Mass Effect’s eyes is, I can’t help but feel the littlest bit of trepidation. The world of ME is so well realized, so detailed and rich that to suddenly change the focus back to future-Earth feels a little jarring, almost as if this were a Halo game rather than Mass Effect. I sincerely hope that BioWare don’t sacrifice the rest of their beautifully constructed galaxy for a story that is mostly centered around Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see the place, but I’d always imagined it as a part of the story that would fold into a larger one rather than act as the centre stage for the culmination of the trilogy. To bring the focus so narrowly back to humanity would diminish the entire multi-cultural, multi-racial element of Mass Effect that most of us as fans have come to love.
"Don’t examine the trailer in too much detail, as it’s unlikely to have too much resemblance to the game we’ll eventually get"
Yet, this is BioWare we’re talking about, and in their long and prestigious life as a games studio, they have yet to disappoint. Not to mention that the debut trailer for ME2 was similarly cinematic, but bore little actual resemblance to the plot of the game. Later trailers were similarly deceptive, in one case showing us nothing but some intriguing combat with Thane and Grunt. The next trailer was of the Illusive Man commenting on Shepard recruiting a team alongside Miranda, while in the game itself it is the Illusive Man who gives Shepard the resources to form said team, and is actually the one giving Shepard his orders. What point am I trying to make with this? Simply put, don’t examine the trailer in too much detail, as it’s unlikely to have too much resemblance to the game we’ll eventually get, and BioWare’s track record proves this.
One of the main criticisms of ME2 was that while its motley crew of characters was interesting, and building your team was the crux of the game, their loyalty and recruitment missions took up the majority of the game's content, while the core “storyline” missions took a backseat. When you consider that there are twelve recruitable characters, each with two missions, and only seven “main” missions, it’s certainly a criticism that’s hard to argue with.
Brilliant as the character missions were, BioWare need to rein them in a little for the third outing, as this, the final battle in the survival for all life in the galaxy, is not really the time for personal endeavors. The best way to do this is by balancing character-centered stories with an abundance of “storyline” quests to make us feel that we’re not merely completing content that is, essentially, optional.
As for the locations in Mass Effect 3, it’s almost certainly time to reopen the Citadel and give us full access to this massive space station. In the past two games, exploration of this behemoth always felt narrow and constrained, particularly in ME2. It’d also be nice to see some more ‘climate-based’ planets, like Noveria from ME1. More important, though, is to make each place feel distinctive. BioWare did a great job of this in Mass Effect 2, giving us industrial locales like Illium and Omega balanced with space stations like Purgatory and the Collector Ship. With London now seemingly the next on a list of destinations, the scope of diversity in ME’s settings looks set to expand once again.
Either way, this is the final chapter in a series that’s been enormously successful from a studio at the peak of their powers, and it’s fairly safe to say that the we can trust in BioWare to deliver a final chapter worthy of this awesome trilogy.
If It Ain’t Broke
With Mass Effect 2 coming to the PS3 in January, the Mass Effect fanbase is set to expand once more, and the rumours of multiplayer in ME3 are hotting up. At a time when more people are playing online games than ever before, and giants like CoD and WoW dominate the market, it seems almost redundant to attempt to challenge these kings of the MMO realm. ME’s class-system would certainly make for some interesting multiplayer, given the diverse abilities of the different classes - but this is beginning to feel like a step too far.
"According to IGN, a recent poll shows that an overwhelming 80% of fans don’t want Mass Effect multiplayer, and I find myself among them"
It seems that games feel compelled to enter the multiplayer fray these days, even when those games would not be obvious candidates for it. Take Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood for example: a great single-player campaign has long been the cornerstone of the AC franchise, and while adding multiplayer was an interesting component, I couldn’t help but feel that the focus was being lost a little with the multiplayer aspect. So it is with Mass Effect. As it stands, BioWare have not currently announced a multiplayer mode in ME3, but other major franchises seem to be zeroing in on this market, with Naughty Dog recently announcing that Uncharted 3 will feature a dramatic overhaul in its multiplayer, fully intending to “take on the big boys”.
According to IGN, a recent poll shows that an overwhelming 80% of fans don’t want Mass Effect multiplayer, and I find myself among them. Let CoD be CoD, and let Mass Effect deliver what it does best – well written, expertly crafted single player story-driven campaigns. However, a comment from a BioWare forum moderator stating that ME3 is a “a single player game” has put speculation on hold. Though a forum moderator, it’s unclear just how official this comment is right now with BioWare “officially” keeping schtum.
While we’re on the subject of what else needs to be brought in or left out, here’s hoping BioWare finally get the vehicles right, as both ME’s Mako and ME2’s Firehammer handled like a fold-up tricycle. The mining system also got monotonous very fast, and while the hacking minigames were less arduous in ME2, they were still felt like an obligatory stop-gap than a necessity, not to mention unchallenging.
As for the elevators and loading screens…well, if there’s one issue that could split the ME fanbase, it’s this one. I never had much of an issue with the elevators, as you usually got some snappy bit of banter between your squadmates, while all you have to occupy you in ME2 is the blueprints of the Normandy .
The class system itself was such a dramatic improvement from ME1 to ME2 that I almost can’t see where else BioWare can take it, except perhaps to introduce some sub-classes. For instance, both Tali and Mordin are technically Engineers, yet their combat abilities differ greatly. Tali’s focus is on electronic enemies while Mordin is effective against organics – this kind of subclass specification is something BioWare very lightly touched upon in ME2, but they certainly have an opportunity to expand it for ME3.
Ultimately though, these are small details in a vast, epic landscape of gaming, and BioWare aren’t going to lose any fans because they brought back elevators. With BioWare GM Greg Muzyka recently claiming that the best is yet to come, Mass Effect 3 looks set to champion its predecessors and a new standard for Western RPGs once more.
Roll on December 2011.
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