Monday, 9 July 2012

Four Deaths and a Funeral

I’ll apologize in advance for yet another Mass Effect post. However, the game has been at the center of my life for a few months now and is looking to be there for a while longer. Posting about the game therefore complies with this blog’s mission statement.
Another apology is due for this post's numerous Mass Effect 3 bloopers. Be warned!

The promised Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut had finally reached Australian PS3 shores on 5 July, more than a week after it was released in America and a day after it was promised for Europeans and “the rest of the world”. Even then, it was not made available through the game itself, but rather required me to go to the PlayStation shop separately and outside the game. One would expect more from Electronic Arts (EA), the biggest player in the video game world.
Now that I played the Extended Cut in various iterations I can confirm that it had turned what used to be the best video game ever into a mildly better one. It does so by providing closure as opposed to ambiguity, and it does so by letting the player make their own choice on an ending – as befits a game whose main claim to fame is it putting the galaxy’s fate in your hands. There are a few questions raised by this now extended game which I would like to discuss.
First, Electronic Arts and developer Bioware have failed to unambiguously explain how readiness scores affect the ending. Readiness, to those unfamiliar with Mass Effect 3, is a score you got not by playing the normal campaign Mass Effect 3 is famous for, but rather for playing its multiplayer mode and/or a couple of iOS/Android games/apps. The higher the readiness, the more detailed and better the ending is supposed to be. While EA announced readiness requirements have been lowered, the iOS Datapad application has stopped working roughly together with the release of the Extended Cut. It seems EA cannot do things right from start to finish.
Regardless, the household still converged to watch the ending[s]. Perhaps the best indication for Mass Effect’s impact has been my wife forbidding me to play the Extended Cut without the whole family there to witness the event. Together, we noted the improved closure around supporting characters: whereas before a lower readiness score would have you witness a dead Liara as you make the final run towards the Citadel, the Extended Cut has the Normandy come in to rescue the wounded and leave Shepard alone to take care of business. Clarity is further improved at the very ending[s], all of which have the Shepard we know and love dead in one heroic way or another (note that's not completely accurate but it's close enough; it's a bit sad the developers couldn't come up with more variety).
Which brings me to ask: how are we going to have a Mass Effect 4 if Shepard’s mostly dead?
One way of solving things is by reviving Shepard. After all, she/he has been dead before. Another way is to create a subplot of a game involving one of the other characters. There is no shortage of worthy characters to follow up on, but whatever course the plot would take we will have to go through some process of being underwhelmed: having just saved the galaxy from an extremely powerful enemy, a subplot would always feel “sub”.
Of course, there is also the option of closing the shop after this third episode. It would mean finishing on a high; on the other hand, it would also mean leaving this whole established Mass Effect world behind, which would be a bad way to deal with an investment as well as a waste of a world that competes and in many ways beats sci-fi worlds such as Star Trek's and Star Wars'. Being the greedy company it is by reputation I doubt Electronic Arts would let this milking cow go. I have to say that as a fan, our interests match: it is clear Bioware has the ability to come up with worthy goods. Let’s say early 2014, shall we?
Till then, let us kill some more Collectors!

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut image by Electronic Arts

Further notes added on 11/7/12:
I have to say something about the Extended Cut’s “destroying the Reapers” ending, one of the four potential endings, even if the price is offering a huge blooper. This is the only ending where we receive a sign for Shepard still being alive in his normal human form. However, this is also by far the silliest of the four endings:
  1. Being the Shepard is part machine himself, as we are told, how come he’s still alive? It seems the only one to pay a personal price for destroying the Reapers with this ending is EDI, which is a bit of a cheat given the way all potential endings are supposed to come at the price of a major trade-off.
  2. The ending has us witnessing a memorial service for Shepard on board the Normandy. They even carve his name to put on their on board list of KIAs. Only then do we get to cut to a still breathing Shepard. Now, didn’t it occur to the residents of the Normandy that perhaps they should take their lovely spaceship and search the Citadel’s wreckage for Anderson and Shepard’s bodies? Potentially before running any memorial ceremonies? I can see where this would lead to: a Mass Effect 4 where Shepard, the only living thing on board the Citadel, has to forage for food and make a living for himself while the rest of the galaxy plays business as usual. “He saved the galaxy, but now – can he find enough food for lunch? And this time, it’s personal!”
It has to be said: The Extended Cut is an improvement, but it is still suffering from many of the problems inflicting the original ending. “It doesn’t make sense” stands as very valid criticism.

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