Mass Effect 3 Demo Annotated – Part 3

This one’s a little late, but given my typical update schedule it’s blazing fast and mad as a hatter by comparison. I figure it’s only polite to put this commentary out as close together as possible since each video runs straight into the next without much of a break.

Part 1/2


0:54

Well that was abrupt. Judging by the fact that suddenly we’re staring at Mordin behind a glass wall without any explanation, I’m guessing that either Shepard died a second time and was brought back to life in time to save additional quantities of the galaxy, or the demo skips you straight to the next combat segment for the sake of trying out skills and the like.

1:09

Ah, the long-lost skill menu of Mass Effect returns to us, but mixed in with ME2-style branching trees with increasing costs for higher levels of each individual category. I heartily approve of this, as it allows for RPG-like power progression while still making each tree feel specialized within its own mutually-exclusive choices. Picking the right skills for your character takes some actual thought now, and the skills themselves seem to branch out sooner than the final category, which I hope is a more impressive reward this time around.

Maxing out Throw in ME2 only to get a final choice between radius and force was very anticlimactic and didn’t change the use of the skill in any way. By comparison this is closer to system that Bastion used, though with admittedly less interesting upgrades (most seem to just tweak the existing parameters rather than adding new effects).

I also notice that one of these skills increases “Weight Capacity”. Does this mean we now have a proper inventory managed by a weight system as well?

4:01

The squad characters have far fewer skills compared to Shepard, but gain levels at the same rate… I suppose they max out sooner like in the first Mass Effect while Shepard claws his way up the ranks to becoming an omniproficient god?

4:27

“Grenade Power is now available for use”

Believe me Shepard, I’ve played enough rounds of classic tc_iwojima to know that grenade power is a vile and all-consuming force which turns sporting young soldiers with a strong sense of decency into sniveling M79-spammers. Don’t succumb to its dark whispers! You’re better than that! You don’t have to camp narrow hallways from the ammo box!

That said, I’m glad to see grenade ammo return because it gives the player something to do besides throwing out a skill at a time and firing their gun while they wait on the universal cooldown. It’s nice to have a limited but powerful resource which you don’t feel bad about using to break through tough situations for fear of even tougher ones to come (eg. heavy weapons and their extreme ammo scarcity forcing you to stock it up exclusively for the big boss fights).

4:53

“Liara, move!

4:01

“Possibly a mole in STG. Could be indoctrinated.”

Do correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the indoctrination take quite a while to set in? You would think a missing STG member in the small circle that knows about these Krogan would raise some eyebrows, especially since indoctrinated people have a tendency to turn into raving lunatics after a while.

Just once I would like to see something obviously secret stay secret in a story like this. It’s more compelling to see people fight to keep information out of their enemies’ hands than it is to see them fight these enemies reactively all the time because they can never be subtle and as a result are perpetually under attack. The former is much more “high stakes secret agent”-ish (as befitting a Spectre, a Turian agent, and the new Shadow Broker), while the latter is plain old incompetent. Information is the key to victory in asymmetric warfare, and Shepard’s war is nothing if not asymmetric.

Anyway, I really liked the idea of Reapers eroding the minds of other species back when they were the ancient leviathans of space because it reinforced how far removed they were from other forms of life and inverted a very common science fiction trope by allowing the machines to effectively reprogram the organics. The knowledge that they could essentially format the mind of a living creature made you question whether or not Sovereign’s claims that machines predated organic life were true (making them literally our creators), while the counter-evidence from the Thorian kept it as a suspicion rather than a fact.

I’m very wary of indoctrination being turned into an easy excuse for characters to turn against Shepard now that the story has shifted into a straight up “us against them” scenario. It could horribly cheapen the entire plot up to this point if not handled correctly. Is the Council being ineffective? Surprise! They were indoctrinated! Are the heads of other planets refusing to cooperate with Shepard? They don’t have interesting reasons – they’re just indoctrinated! Aria T’Loak? Indoctrinated now. The Illusive Man? Well he was always indoctrinated.

It really seems to me that the original writers never planned to make a Reaper “invasion” the focal point of a game, and instead wanted to have you fighting their agents to stop it from taking place at all, because the moment they arrived the fight would already be over unless every disparate race and sub-faction could unite and stand against them as one. That ship has literally sailed at this point. Shepard wasted an entire game doing nothing of consequence to rally or even convince the galaxy in Mass Effect 2, then threw away further months in fruitless pursuits for the time between games. This installment begins with the Reapers arriving and attacking Earth, and not a single ally has joined his cause.

By the logic of the first Mass Effect, it’s far too late to do anything and he has already lost. By the action movie logic of Mass Effect 3, the Reapers will fail this time even though everything is going perfectly for them because… Shepard will kick their asses that hard.

5:31

“Hurry! Next checkpoint!”

I know that feeling all too well, Mordin. It’s a travesty that other games still can’t get checkpoint-based saves right, or that so many of them won’t just let you save where you want. At least Bioware seems to understand how this works.

6:22

The Adept’s heavy melee attack: Talk To The Hand.

6:52

“Cerberus isn’t fooling around.”

“They’re capable of anything.”

I half expected a tamed thresher maw to explode out of the floor right as Shepard said this, a bunch of dead Salarian colonists still hanging from its mouth-equivalent.

See! Cerberus experiments do have a purpose!

7:00

It is that guy we already know with that gun we do not. I can only imagine how hard it was for the writers to avoid mention of the holding of lines during this firefight.

7:36

Hey buddy, I’m a Cerberus engineer. That means I solve problems. Not problems like “why does every one of our top-secret cells doing questionable things go rogue and absolve us of blame?”, because that would fall within the purview of your conundrums of basic storytelling. I solve practical problems. For instance: how am I going to stop some mean player character from tearing my fancy plastic suit a structurally-superfluous new excrement tube?

The answer? Use a gun. And if that don’t work? Use more gun.

7:44

“Taking them head on may not be the best idea.”

Says Liara as she stands directly in front of the player and proceeds to charge headlong into the deployed machine gun.

“Maybe try to flank them instead.”

Says Garrus as he strafes back and forth right in the gun’s line of fire like an oldschool Quake player.

I love the AI in this game.

8:55

Door scanners: the new elevators?


Part 2/2

1:17

I wonder if this wait time to bypass the door security is in lieu of the traditional minigame for the sake of the demo, or if they simply threw out the concept altogether and turned it into some new system completely, even if that system is just an additional button press to open a given door.

1:22

What in blazes did Shepard just do to get behind cover there? A tactical one man air-piledriver? Once again the sped up animations look silly because they’re not properly timed to give their various parts the right sense of weight relative to how fast they move. The irony of this happening in a game called Mass Effect is not lost on me.

2:01

Where are you going, player-who-filmed-this-video? I wanted to hear those interesting things about Varren and their biological warfare potential!

2:15

Why are power conduits in video games always massive metal tubes or levers apparently designed to be flipped by deranged circus strongmen? You would think that a little switch in a fuse box would work just as well in the future as it does today – but no! Shepard must brofist the electricity back into the facility!

4:20

“Shepard! Get your ass up here! I can’t fly around forever!”

Without any forewarning I accidentally pictured Wrex flitting about in midair like a huge ugly Navi with a shotgun. Until I see what he’s flying I now cannot un-think it.

Hey! Assholes! Listen!

No, seriously – stop running by those recordings of Mordin you impatient and uneducated swine!

6:15

I absolutely could not take this boss seriously from the second I saw him. It’s a giant bipedal suit of mechanized armour with a transparent helmet/cockpit, inside which is sitting a bipedal guy in his own very similar suit of pseudo-mechanized space armour… wearing a helmet that I could swear contains a midget in yet another suit of armour pulling various levers to control the suit controlling the suit. It’s Gurren Lagann all over again! It’s a matryoshka doll of armoured suits!

It doesn’t help at all that every movement this thing makes looks like it’s trying to perform a smooth dance move… like the moonwalk! Now that I’ve said it, I can’t help but think that’s exactly what the mech’s walk cycle reminds me of – a robot engineered to break it down in the manner of the late Michael Jackson.

The pinnacle of Cerberus engineering.

7:54

So that’s what Wrex was flying! I’m not sure whether this makes me relieved or disappointed.

Now would be a good moment to point out that Bioware is seriously overusing that dropship model even in this short segment of a mission. When you think about it, these exact same ships were shown flying around between the cruisers in the intro cinematic, used as a taxi service pre-invasion, evacuating civilians and transporting soldiers on Earth, dogfighting above the Salarian complex, used as dropships for Cerberus troops, and finally piloted by Wrex at the end of the mission. On top of this, it’s the exact same model you used as your mission transport throughout the entirety of ME2.

Shepard, The Alliance, The Salarians, and Cerberus all use the exact same vehicle for just about every purpose, and field nothing else. The only other flying craft I’ve seen at all was a brief glimpse of the gunship that shot up Garrus in his recruitment mission – another reused model from the second game. I don’t get it. They can model a moonwalkin’ matryoshka-bot, but not one new aircraft?

3 Responses to Mass Effect 3 Demo Annotated – Part 3

  1. (I’ll try to keep this a bit shorter :P)

    … Yep, that’s not my Mordin. Man, I know I’m going to get used to it eventually, but it still sucks :(.

    Yeah, this character stuff seems pretty good. Also: actual numbers for everything! I can compare things now!

    Going by what Saren said, I think the idea is the indoctrination can be fast, it’s just less time before the indoctrinated goes crazy – an STG member. Assuming they still give a shit about their canon, it’s unlikely anyone on the council is indoctrinated, for example, since their whereabouts for the last few years is fairly well known, so they haven’t been near a Reaper either long enough that there was any effect, or recently enough that they haven’t gone crazy yet. But that seems to be a weak assumption….

    Actual spy-craft in theory should be boring if done well, so you’d have to balance not making everyone look incompetent and actually having something to do (you can’t recover or destroy unaccounted for equipment if it was never left behind, for example). Playing detective and vault-robber in ME2 was not that far off otherwise, so they definitely can build missions like that.

    Someone was researching some human classical theater.

    Dunno what’s up with the security thing. Maybe a loading time thing?

    See my novella on your last post – I mention the “mass effect”.

    Heck, just the fact that a “security bypass” is apparently pressing a button on a console (on a balcony to the open air at that!), rather than, say, a 12-character mixed case alphanumeric password seems somewhat silly.

    Great minds think alike, and so do you and I about a Wrex-fairy it seems.

    Well, at least they’re not all in the same buildings now, right? (Right?)

    • I believe the council is indoctrinated is how many players expect Bioware to cover the council being so stupidly unsupportive in ME2. And they have a lot of ways to handwave the difficulties here. Sovereign remains being the most obvious ones (we know that even a heavily damaged, effectively “comatose” Reaper can indoctrinate people). Though heck, seeing as we only get the holograms in 2 and judging by that game stupidity they may just tell us those were keepers holding up sock puppets to the camera. (I may or may not have grown bitter towards ME plotline after game 2 and the press releases for 3.)

  2. (I wanted to inform you that the link in this comment has just earned you a new reader.)

    That was an interesting and insightful commentary. As for the mysterious “weight capacity”: it’s not connected to inventory at all. I have read in CD-Action‘s beta preview that the weight of equipped weapons affects your cooldown rates, i.e. the heavier weapons you carry and the more types of weapons you use, the longer your cooldowns are. But judging by the demo, this mechanic is so poorly balanced that nearly everyone will fail the temptation of turning into steam-rolling, gun-totting Master Fenix wannabe, while classes will become only a subtle flavouring (notice that the Shepard in the playthrough is a 100% biotic – a class that in the first installment could only use pistols effectively).
    Or maybe BioWare tweaked the demo to show the flashiest guns and powers in one playthrough.
    (No love for engineers. *sob*)

    Anyway, the fragment about the tamed thresher maw was so great I couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes and added it to my favourite quotes, next to

    “So, basically, saying that this game should be burned is an insult to fire.” (Jason Sartin, review of RPG system F.A.T.A.L.)

    and

    “You can’t make an omelette without ruthlessly crushing dozens of eggs beneath your steel boot and then publicly disemboweling the chickens that laid them as a warning to others.” (General Tarquin, Order of the Stick webcomic by Rich Burlew)

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