joiedecombat: (denial)
[personal profile] joiedecombat
or, This Is Why Bioware Has All My Money.

The scope of this game is impressive. It's got the usual structure of the Bioware RPG - a string of missions which advance the main plotline surrounded by a bunch of optional sidequests and minor fetchquests - but because the main plotline this time around is Reapers are attacking everywhere, it's the end of all sentient life as we know it, everything comes back to that. Sidequests are about removing complications to the war effort. Fetch quests are for resources that contribute in some way. When you take a walk around the Citadel, you overhear NPC conversations, and they're all about how they've been affected by the war and how they're dealing (or not dealing) with it.

The marketing for the game put a lot of emphasis on how much higher the stakes are supposed to be, and they've definitely pulled off making that come across.

Gameplay has mostly been refined from what they learned from the last two games, specifically where it comes to managing equipment. It mostly uses the ME2 system, plus weapon mods similar to the ones from ME1. They've added a weight modifier to the weapons; the more weight you're carrying, the longer your powers take to refresh. (I still kind of wish I could actually holster my weapon occasionally, but since moments out in the field in which nothing is shooting at me are few and far between, it's no longer as jarring as it was in the demo.) Heavy weapons are now limited to what you pick up out in the field, and once they're used up, or dropped in favor of another weapon, they're gone.

The biggest complaint I have about gameplay is that the journal that tracks objectives is incredibly unhelpful; unlike the previous two games' journals, it doesn't update with your progress toward a given objective, and only sometimes does it tell you where you're actually supposed to go. That makes it only really useful for telling you a) what objectives you have outstanding and b) which ones have been outstanding the longest, if you choose that sorting option. I've heard that sidequests tend to expire as you progress along the main plotline, and the journal doesn't tell you anything about that either, so while I think I've cleared everything as it's come along it's hard to be sure whether or not I've missed something.

I can't help but notice, though, that the game's developers seem to have been paying attention to the things people complained about the most. For example, the conversation system with your companions and crew members been polished to avoid endlessly retreading the same kind of "I have nothing new to say" dialog loops that led to so much frustration over Garrus endlessly calibrating the Normandy's guns, and not only that but they get in a few digs at their own expense about it.

I don't know about this whole multiplayer thing, though. Specifically, playing multiplayer contributes to the "endgame readiness" rating that determines how the ending goes. I have no interest in playing multiplayer, but although the devs have said that it's not necessary to get the best ending, what I'm hearing from other fans suggests that pulling it off without multiplayer requires not only doing everything but doing everything exactly right, which is... going to be an issue, probably.

We'll see how that goes, I guess.

Fortunately, the game isn't repeating ME2's mistake of having way too many squadmates and not enough story to go around. The number of teammates available is more limited, which is as it should be - this is not the time to go recruiting and getting to know a bunch of new people. I like how squadmate interaction is being handled; as I touched on a couple paragraphs ago, this is another area in which they've clearly learned from the experiences of previous games. It's more smoothly integrated with the advancement of the plot, and generally feels more natural.

I'm enjoying the new characters; James kind of looks like he's been chasing parked cars, but he's entertaining, especially as the "new guy" who presents an outsider's view of all the insane stuff Shepard has been doing up to now. Traynor is definitely an improvement on Kelly, and Cortez makes up for the lack of most of the incidental Cerberus crew members I liked from from ME2 like Gardner and Hawthorne.

I got through the Priority: Citadel mission last night and shit is, as they say, getting real. A lot of stuff from previous games is paying off in ways I honestly did not see coming.

As I've said before, the characters and story are what really make a game for me. Bioware RPGs are always really, really good for having loads of likeable characters and giving the player a reason to care about them. What that means in the climactic earth-shattering third game of a trilogy is that they're going for the heartstrings like a crazed harpist from HELL.

Some old squadmates and acquaintances are doing pretty well. Some of them have given me some bad moments but have come through okay so far. Some of them - including some fan-favorites and personal favorites of mine - die. And either you can't do anything about it... or worse, you can, but only by betraying other friends and everything they stand for.

No easy choices.

There is, however, a really fascinating cascade effect from all the major decisions of the previous games. For example, in ME2 at the end of Mordin's loyalty mission when you had to decide what to do with Maelon's research, at the time it was purely a moral decision that helped establish what kind of person Shepard was but didn't influence how the game ended. Now it's important, and so is who survived the suicide mission, and whether or not they were loyal, and what you did in the first game as well. And the readiness score I mentioned earlier means that plot-advancing missions are not just pass/fail where "pass" is "continue the plot" and "fail" is "game over" - make enough of a clusterfuck of a situation, and your readiness suffers.

I'm not sure how much plot I have left to go; I think I've more or less sorted out the Council races except the asari, but I have yet to so much as lay eyes on a quarian or geth, or even heard anything from Jacob or Samara.

I've been hearing dissatisfied noises about the ending, but I'm trying to ignore them right now.
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August 2012

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