Things haven’t been going too well for BioWare lately. After the fantastic high they experienced from Mass Effect 2, we were treated to Dragon Age 2, an unfinished and messy action-RPG that destroyed any feeling of closure the first game might have given and left a bitter taste behind as it obliterated any sense of choice or plot. Then came the long anticipated The Old Republic, which at this point is lovingly called the Tortanic by a large group of people. Mass Effect’s been the one last beacon of hope for BioWare for not just me, but a large group of gamers everywhere. It’s the ending to one of the biggest gaming series this generation. Can Shepard save BioWare’s universe?
I’m sorry. I am terribly sorry. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the demo. Somewhere halfway through the second part, I found myself pressing the guide button on the Xbox 360’s controller, followed by the Y. Exiting the game in favor of the dashboard. I sat staring at the screen for a while. How could this have happened? How could things have gone this wrong?
There was a lot of good in the demo, I will freely admit to that, but I haven’t felt this cheated since the release of Guitar Hero 3. Remember when Harmonix sold the rights to that franchise after the second game so they could move on to Rock Band while another company took over Guitar Hero and made something that, despite being Guitar Hero at its core just didn’t feel right at all? That’s what it felt like to me. In a lot of ways, yes, I played a Mass Effect demo, but in a lot of subtle ways, I wasn’t playing Mass Effect. I was playing something else.
A large part of this feeling came from the fact that there was no subtlety involved in this experience. I know a demo doesn’t embody the full experience of the real game, but that is still not an excuse. The game seemed to be trying to hard to wow me. To amaze me. And it did it with cheap straightforward trickery the way I’ve come to expect from games like Gears of War and Call of Duty. It works when those series do it, but this isn’t BioWare. This isn’t what I started playing these games for.
Yes, I am mad. After I set down the controller, I was seething mad. I had to play several rounds of Geometry Wars 2 to cool down and reflect on the experience. It didn’t help. The more I thought about it, the more problems I had with the game.
Let me recap the experience, to give an idea of the problems I had with it.
First of all, I wanted to roll a FemShep. Since it’s just a demo and not a lasting thing, I wanted to go with the default option. The default FemShep looks terrible. I really wish they hadn’t let the community decide. I went back, selected the default male Shepard and started the adventure. Also, I got to decide that Ashley was dead right there! Excellent!
First 5 minutes: Wait, what. What is happening. No. Fuck. Bullshit!
Commander Shepard is not a commander anymore. He’s kicked out of the Alliance Military. Okay… I’m failing to see how this is a relevant plot point. Commander Shepard died at the start of Mass Effect 2, Cerberus resurrected him. He worked for them after that. He wasn’t a Spectre anymore. He wasn’t Alliance anymore. He went rogue. Assembled his own crew with his own ship. That was what all of Mass Effect 2 was about. Shepard getting his own independence away from the Council and Alliance so he could fight against the Reapers with his own loyal crew.
How the hell did the Alliance ground him? How did they take away the Normandy 2? It’s not even their ship. How did his crew get disbanded? It’s his own crew, nobody was working for the Alliance. Why didn’t anyone take Shepard seriously about the Reaper threat until now? The Reapers attacked at the end of the first game. Without them, Shepard wouldn’t have died in the second game. They even found the damned relay proving the Reapers really are a fucking threat, that they need to be stopped. Shepard was on his own, if nobody believed me he should’ve started his fight with or without them already. Not sit by idly because his planet tells him to sit down. What the actual fuck is going on?
I should not be able to call bullshit to this degree in the first 5 minutes of a demo. That is not good writing. That is worse than Dragon Age 2. Sweet jesus fuck, I’m going to hate this game, aren’t I?
Shepard meets the human council. Because. Well. It’s too late to talk to them. So we should talk to them now. Okay, makes sense.
Earth gets attacked by the Reapers. Okay, I have to admit, this looks really, really cool. But at the same time, is this really the Reaper threat we’ve been building up to all this time? I’m not really impressed. It looks directly copied from the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds. Which was also a really, really cool movie and totally pretty to look at. But no more than that. You would think interplanetary warfare would have become a much more impressive and technologically advanced thing. Big ships shooting big lasers is not really that impressive considering some of the things we already have within the Mass Effect universe.
Kid appears. He’s going to die isn’t he?
Normandy appears. Oh hey, it’s got an Alliance sign on it again. Looks like they really did take Shepard’s own ship. Oh, and Shepard got reinstated. That would’ve been really impressive if Shepard’s biggest accomplishments were actually within them. Oh, and hey, the kid does die. No surprise there.
AWKWARD PART OF A CONVERSATION TO CRUDELY ESTABLISH THE CONVERSATION
I choose a dialogue option, and it suddenly faded to black and then skipped a whole bunch of stuff. Erm. What?
Okay, so this time we have some more abilities, and an area much more suitable for combat so we can find out how the combat in this game works. I do have to admit, the controls are much, much better during combat this time around. Although I feel awkward about how I can dive back and forth, kinda like Gears of War. Then there’s the extra power behind the melee attacks, which is also like Gears.
And why did I just randomly get Paragon points? This isn’t the first time this happened. Is this game choosing dialogue options for me? I’m pretty sure I turned it off by choosing RPG Mode. Which shouldn’t be an option anyway.
That’s another thing that’s been bothering me this entire demo long, actually. There are much, much less conversation options involved. And Shepard’s talking without any options every now and again. Just like Dragon Age 2. It broke the sense of control over the character, and I’m starting to get the same feeling with Shepard now too. The game is also much more action-driven, and from what I could see from the demo so far, the previous story doesn’t really matter much at all.
Shepard, once again, starts without a ship, without status, without a team.
One of the biggest problems I had with Mass Effect 2, despite loving the fuck out of that game, was that the story hadn’t moved forward at all. At the end of the first game Shepard had his ship, his crew, and the reapers were coming. At the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard had a new ship, a new crew, and the Reapers were really coming this time. Now we have another time skip, and we have to get the Normandy back and assemble our crew yet again.
This is not how you create a series. There isn’t much in the way of continuity going on. Each game could be the start of the whole experience, and I understand why they’re doing that. They’re trying to appeal to a broader audience with every single game. Doing their best not to exclude anyone. But they’re doing this at the cost of the story.
One thing is clear here, Mass Effect 1 was created by a different BioWare than the one that made Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 2, the game that was right in the middle of the two games, had just the right balance of what the first and third games are trying to do. And BioWare did admit that in terms of story, they never really planned much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ending in Mass Effect 3 has absolutely nothing to do with the events and planning in the first game.
I always wanted to know how this story would continue, how it would end. But it’s no longer the same story. The story to Mass Effect 1, to me, will never have an ending.
Mass Effect 3’s demo has killed my interest in the game. And with that, my interest and involvement in anything to do with BioWare.
I’m sorry, Commander Shepard, but you no longer have my favorite game series on the Citadel.