I started playing the original Mass Effect (ME), but stopped playing for reasons I can’t remember. Somehow, Mass Effect 2 (ME2) passed me by – or I passed it by. I’m not even sure how I came to pre-order Mass Effect 3 (ME3), though perhaps I’m not as immune to advertising as I thought. Still, I began to regret it, given all the angst around day-one-DLC and DLC that depended on where you bought the game.
Still, I have the game, and decided to play it; it was $108 worth, after all. Don’t you love Australian prices?
My very first impression, before opening the case, was good. I like the idea of the reversible cover so you can have either Male Shepard, or Female Shepard prominent. Sure, it’s a marketing gimmick, but I still think it’s a minor step forwards. Opening the case to reveal two discs dropped my enthusiasm a little. My ‘360 isn’t really set up to enable easy swapping of discs, due to the strange layout of where I’ve had to put it. L.A. Noire was a bit of a pain in that regard.
Once I’d installed Disc 1 on the Hard Drive and loaded the game, it really didn’t grab me. I enjoyed the character creator, but then dropping into the introduction/tutorial section left me a bit cold. Firstly, it was cut-scene-central; though to be fair, most story-driven games are like that these days, to establish the world and character. Secondly, the combat/movement felt very clunky; however I was willing to put that down to simply being unfamiliar with the controls.
As the story/tutorial progressed off-planet, and onto another planet (ok, I’m trying to avoid spoilers here), I still didn’t quite click with the game, and kept finding excuses to pause the action, or not return to it. I couldn’t quite get on with the combat, and the fact it felt like more cut-scenes (interspersed with a choice or two, if you were lucky) was beginning to put me off.
The fact that I (once again!) couldn’t pause cut-scenes just annoyed me. Especially as there were often a few strung together. Is it really that hard to allow these things to pause?
I think I finally began enjoying myself more when the game slipped out of linear tutorial mode and allowed choice as to where Shepherd went, and what she did. I began to feel like I had some control, and began to explore the world a bit more. This was more like it.
I’ve played it quite a bit since that point, slowly getting used to the controls, and enjoying the story as it unfolds.
The ‘conversation wheels’ are as I remember them from ME (the only thing I really remember from ME!), giving you “flavour text” but not actually telling you what Shepard is about to say. This often led to rather nasty surprises as the tone and/or exact speech was not what I was expecting, or wanting. While I can understand them not wanting to put huge chunks of text in the wheel, I’m sure they could do a lot better.
The combat still feels clunky. Using the one button as a context sensitive run/cover/leap/etc button often means Shepard doesn’t do exactly what I want, when I want. Having said that, most of the rest of the button assignments for reload, melee and so on work well. I’m also sometimes having trouble finding where to go next. Usually I have this issue on worlds where some of the “exits” are in darker areas, or hidden by walls and angles. I usually work it out, but sometimes an extra way-point marker would be useful.
My big annoyance, though is the way some cut-scenes are handled, especially in combat situations. The combat is often broken up by cut-scenes to give new information, or have the characters interact in some way. It’s also often broken up to introduce a new enemy, and this is where it really frustrates me. Having to watch while the new enemy is able to carry out whatever actions the plot demands before you can take control and do something is infuriating. Shepard is a veteran soldier, I can’t believe she’d let a new enemy arrive, get its bearings and start shooting before she began shooting back – especially when she’s protecting an installation or another character. I almost found myself screaming at the screen to give me control back so I could stop one enemy or another doing whatever damage it pleased while I watched helplessly.
For all those gripes, I’m still enjoying the game – mostly because of the story. It also gives a reasonable sense of urgency without (as best I can tell so far) penalising you for taking time to get to a particular mission.
The “down time” where you can wander the decks of the Normandy, or around places like the Citadel are a good contrast to the missions where you always feel ‘on the go’. It also allows more side-quests and gives an impression of a working, breathing, universe. As it were.
Strangely, I’m also enjoying the political aspect to the game, where you are given the impression that your choices can not only affect your immediate future, but also relations between races. It’s also really good to see that individuals of various races aren’t all the same as every other individual. It feels much more realistic for there to be so much diversity within species rather than “all of species X like to fight” or “all of species Y are scientists”.
I’m not completely sure I “love” this game, as it hasn’t dragged me in like Skyrim did, but so far it’s (mostly) quite a fun diversion.