Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Backstory

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going to tackle some of the backstory in the Fable series.  Most of this is taken from the Fable wiki, which was taken from a previous version of the Fable websites.  And if you truly want to verify anything I'm going to say, the Lionhead forums have this information somewhere.

That said, on with the show.

Centuries before the events of Fable 1, before even the Old Kingdom of legend, there were three demonic beings known as the Court from a realm outside Albion known as the Void.  The Court consisted of three powerful entities: the Knight of Blades, weakest of the three; the Jack of Blades, and the Queen of Blades, most powerful and highest of the three. They came to the world seeking dominance over its people, demanding that they bow down in obedience. The people refused, and in turn, Albion was burned until the earth was as black as the smoke that filled the sky. Once again, the Court demanded total obedience, and again were refused. The result was the raising of the sea into the sky and the flooding of the world. After this next disaster, the Court asked for worship again, this time promising peace, but met the same result. Angry at being refused by lesser beings, the Court twisted the minds of the people of Albion until the entire land was insane. Finally, after many years of suffering, the people bowed down. The Court had won.

 As time went by, there came a challenge from one of the denizens of Albion: a man named William Black, who wielded the Sword of Aeons, rose to the highest peak of Albion to fight for the freedom of his people. First to answer the challenge was the Knight, who was quickly slain by Black. Next came the Jack, who proved to be more of a challenge than the Knight. However, the Jack met the same fate as his ally, yet was still able to cheat death by having his essence escape into his mask. Finally, Black challenged the Queen of Blades. Their titanic battle was waged for weeks on end, with mountains and valleys forming as the result of their seemingly endless fight. At last, William threw down the Queen, ending the reign of the Court over Albion.

Once he had vanquished the Court, the Archon set his mind to unifying Albion into a great kingdom. His powers of Will were so great that it seemed the world reshaped itself in accordance with his wishes. Cities were built in a week's time and marvellous machines were constructed that ran on Will alone. Through a thousand years of peace, Albion reigned as the greatest centre of commerce and philosophy the world had ever known. The Archon had many descendants during this age of fortune, all of whom shared his powerful Will abilities through his bloodline. These descendants were also called Archons.

But without an enemy to vanquish, the Archons grew petty and cruel. They called themselves Heroes and used their powers of Will to terrorize the people. The first Archon might have stopped them, but his battle with the Queen and his time in the Void had infected his body and mind with a wasting illness. To combat this illness, he returned to the Void and cast it from his body, fearing that it would one day control him and use him to rule Albion and twist it to the dark wishes of the Void. William successfully managed to cast out most of this illness, which became the Corruption and its leader, The Corrupter, who would repeatedly try to take over Albion. With remnants of the disease still decaying him, William wrapped his body in golden mail and a royal blue cloak before vanishing.
Thus began the corruption of The Kingdom.

A descendant of the Archon later constructed a great tower that stretched thousands of feet into the sky. This tower was named the Spire, and it had the power to concentrate all of Albion's Will into a single area. This caused a rift to open between the Void and Albion, a rift through which the Crawler, the Corruptor's chief lieutenant, attempted to invade Albion through. The Old Kingdom's greatest Three Heroes, Stone, Sol, and Blaze responded by combining their power and targeting the Spire. Though they managed to imprison the Crawler within Shadelight dungeon in Aurora, the explosion also destroyed the Old Kingdom, wiping out William Black's empire in an instant.

Black returned centuries later as Scythe (which is speculation, mind you, but Lionhead has pretty much "confirmed with out actually saying it officially"), and began to council a bandit named Nostro. Young Nostro was not without a sense of decency, but could not reach his full potential until he met Scythe took an interest in him. Scythe saw in Nostro the power of the Archon and his descendants, the former masters of the Old Kingdom, and believed that with proper guidance, Nostro could perhaps even unite Albion and undo the damage that Archon's children inflicted. With Scythe as his teacher, Nostro founded the Heroes' Guild, and using his newly taught powers of Will, he raised an army and enforced peace on Albion's people.

Nostro's reign was a glorious one, marked by a return to peace enforced by the Heroes of the Heroes' Guild. Nostro commissioned the Witchwood Arena in order to solve disputes between Heroes, and had the Avo's Tears created to further defend Albion. Unfortunately, he was eventually corrupted by a courtesan named Magdalena. Seeing her chance to acquire power, Magdalena became Nostro's wife, and through him undid all of Nostro's great achievements. Under her influence, the Arena degenerated into a source of violent spectacle provided for the masses, and the once-mighty Heroes' Guild was reduced to a house of mercenaries. Scythe, disgusted by the slow erosion of Nostro's achievements, left him to his fate: death by the hands of an assassin who slipped poison into his food. Seeing how his power had corrupted him, Nostro called upon Scythe to stand vigil with him in his final hours, at peace with himself. However, a warrior at heart, Nostro's soul haunted Lychfield in perpetual torment, seeking a Hero's Death with sword in hand.

And yes, I did directly copy most of that from the Fable wiki.  It took less time than typing it out myself, though I did fix a LOT of spelling errors.

Now, for Heroes, they are extraordinary humans with knowledge and the power over the three heroic disciplines of Strength, Skill, and Will.  It is very rare that a Hero may possess control over all three of the Hero disciplines. The Hero of Oakvale, Hero of Bowerstone and the Hero of Brightwall (who are the protagonists of the three games I own.  The only other Fable game that's canon at this point is Fable Journeys, but that is Kinect only, and I don't own it, not do I want to. Fuck motion control) possess control over these three disciplines as they belong to the Archon's Bloodline, and are descendants of William Black. Only a true descendant of the bloodline can master all three disciplines. That said, there are exemplars of the individual traits; Twinblade and Hammer are exemplars of Strength, Reaver and Ben Finn are exemplars of Skill, Maze and Garth are exemplars of Will.  You also have hybrids like Briar Rose (who shows some Strength and Will), Thunder (also Strength and Will) and Whisper (whom looks more like Strength and Skill, since she shows no Will). 

As for the "disciplines", Strength is built around melee combat, Skill is built around ranged combat, and Will is about magic.  It's my theory that all Heroes are technically Will users, but not in the same way; their blood born affinity for their chosen discipline, like Garth, Hammer and Reaver in Fable 2.   Some manage to become hybrids, like those I mentioned, but all channel their Will to enhance themselves and affect their surroundings.

The amusing thing is that most of the backstory is not presented in the games, not is it hinted at.  We get vague information the Old Kingdom, Jack, the Archon, Scythe and Nostro in the first game, a little bit more in Fable 2 about the Old Kingdom, and a little bit of vague info on the Void and Corrupter in Fable 3.

And with that out of the way, I can talk about the games individually, not worrying about the lore except when how it affects the story of the game I'm focusing on!

Until then, Happy Gaming!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 9: Final thoughts

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Mass Effect is a fun game series, though incredibly troubled.  When EA acquired Bioware's holding company, VG Holding Group, in 2007, fans who know their history knew that the company was on borrowed time.  EA destroyed Origin Systems, the company best known the Wing Commander and Ultima series, with its heavy handed management and unrealistic fiscal demands.  EA enforces hard deadlines that no company that focuses on good gameplay and storytelling can meet, and when they don't get the success that they mandate, they start cutting staff in order to compensate.  It's all about the "almighty dollar" for EA, and they care nothing about their fans. 

That's not to say that Bioware's not fighting to stay in the game; the release of the Extended Cut DLC, which fixes the vast majority of the issues most people had with the original ending to ME3 shows that Bioware still cares about their fans. But with the retirement of the founders, I don't know how much more the company has. 

Don't mistake me; the game series is, and always will be, fun.  The combat system for the games is fun, despite the hiccup that was ME1's combat engine.  The characters we meet (except for Jacob) are endearing and it is a delight to see them grow as we fight along side them.  And the story is rich and a delight to experience anew every time I put the games into my console.  I love watching Liara fall in love with me every time I meet her, and hear the heartbreak in her voice when you tell her you don't feel the same.  I love listening to Wrex's stories about his past. I love watching Tali and Garrus stand by my side every step of the way.  And I even love the ending of ME3, despite how others complain about it.

The best way to think of Mass Effect is what Bioware used to be; a great company that made great games with great stories.  Remember Mass Effect as the story of how Commander Shepard saved the galaxy from the Reaper threat at the expense of her own life, instead of what EA is going to make Mass Effect 4 into.  Because Mass Effect 4 has been announced.

I, for one, will not be purchasing Mass Effect 4, or any new game from Bioware from this point. I will only support their Austin office, since I play Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mostly because Disney won't let EA fuck their franchise like a two dollar whore.

In short, Mass Effect is a great game series from a formerly great game developer.

As for me, I just picked up Fable 3, and I plan on doing a retrospective on that series as well.

Until then, happy gaming!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 8: Companion stories

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going tackle what I believe to be each companion's overarching story throughout the three games.  I'm going to focus on the order they are introduced into the series, their importance to the story, as well their romance, if any.  And when I'm done with all playable companions, I'm going go into important, but unplayable, characters important to the story.

First, we start with Kaidan Alenko.  He is your first companion, and he is an L2 biotic, and went through the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance program when he was a teenage.  (You get more information on both of these things by from talking to him and from the codexes you unlock.) His role in the games is to become a positive role model for human biotics, and to become a leader for them.  Regardless of romance or not, he talks about his time at the BAaT program, and how much it affected him.  He says, in the infamous "elevator conversations" that he's been holding back with his biotic power, because of what happened with Vyrnnus.  This is why I think he's a Sentinel, rather than an Adept; even though his L2 power output is stronger than the L3 Commander Shepard, he's not comfortable with his power, and chose to train as a military "engineer".  Talking to him over time helps him get over his hang up about killing Vyrnnus by accident as a kid.

The romance in ME1 is female only, and pretty much just adds flirting with femShep, from both parties (whether you want to or not.  But I'll get into that later).  He can be rejected, but actually getting the rejection to take is difficult.  He's basically a Paragon companion, though he can be turned partially Renegade during the romance.  Though this piece of development is pretty much thrown out in 2.

If he's the Virmire Survivor, he shows up in the intro of ME2, and again on Horizon at the end of act 1.  Here he rejects you, as you are "with Cerberus", though if he was romanced, he sends you an email.  You also have a picture of him on the Normandy.

In ME3, he shows up again, now a Major, (outranking Shepard as well, so some of his lines are strange. But I digress.) and the Commanding Officer of an entire division of human biotics.  He's one of your first two companions in this game, though you don't get to make that permanent until after the Cerberus coup on the Citadel. He's also made the second human Spectre, though this has no effect on the story other than put you and him at odds during the Cerberus coup.  As for his romance, whether you romanced someone else in ME2 or not.  If you didn't romance someone else, he has slightly different dialogue, and when he rejoins the party permanently, Shepard can stare at his ass. (Yes, this is in the game.) He's also available for new romance for both genders.  Some would consider that fact he suddenly swings both ways odd, until you find out that there's dialogue in ME1's code that makes all romance options romancable for both genders, not just Liara.  (Don't believe me? check this;

So yes, there is indication that he swung both ways.)

Next is the male only romance option, we have Ashley Williams.  And to be honest, I don't think she has an "overarching story".  She's a Renegade character who can be turned Paragon, which helps her get over her racism, but like with Kaidan, that gets thrown out the moment you load up ME2.  Like with Kaidan, she makes rank in ME2, and again in ME3, though how much rank she makes in between ME2 and 3 is impossible; she goes from E6 to O4 over the course of 6 months. THAT. DOESN'T. HAPPEN. MAYBE she makes O2, and that's pushing it. But a jump of four ranks in the matter of 6 months? Impossible.  (Though Mass Effect's ranking system makes no sense either.  Modern militaries have 9 enlisted ranks and 10 officer ranks, and you can't slide to an officer rank without a bachelor's degree from an accepted university.  And while she may have finished her degree between games, jumping to O4 is impossible in the game's timeframe.) Now, this does show she is overcoming the "Williams curse" by making rank, but that's circumstantial, and through no effort on her part.  She doesn't change or grow as a person, nor does she take on any new responsibilities in ME3 like Kaidan does.  And she's kind of bitchy when she reacts to Shepard romancing someone else.  Kaidan accepts that he pushed you away on Horizon, but Ashley? She expects you to stay true even when she says "fuck you for being Cerberus."  And my thoughts when I first got this from her?  "I'm surprised with how much you hate Cerberus with how much of a racist you are."  In my book? Letting her live beyond Virmire is the worst mistake a player can make; if she dies on Virmire, she gets to be a hero. If she lives, she gets to be a bitch. 

Anyway, we come to the final romance option in ME1; Liara.  Due to her species, she's technically pansexual; gender means nothing to her, only the person.  Her story is about unrequited love. (Unless you romance her, that is. Then it's just about love.)  She fell in love at first sight with Shepard, and everything she does from that point in is to be close to Shepard and ensure that Shepard succeeds.  Or, in the case of her story arch up to the end of Lair of the Shadow Broker in ME2, getting revenge on those that hurt you.  And once she gets that revenge, she falls right back into the "ensure Shepard succeeds" mindset, able to do this far better as the Shadow Broker.  This mindset is all the more evident in ME3, with how she wishes to help Shepard save Earth, as well as the project she brings to you, where she can preserve Shepard for future cycles.  And when things go wrong for either, she's the first one to offer Shepard comfort, and she goes directly to Shepard for comfort herself.  Obviously, if she is romanced, her feelings are reciprocated, and additional and different dialogue is when and where appropriate.  And like Kaidan, she can be romanced new in both games she is in your party for the entire game.

Now, before I go on to anyone else, I must say this; the romances, at least on the Xbox 360 version, are BUGGED.  Liara especially; there is a crisis point where you either have to reject either the potential Virmire Survivor or Liara.  I have rejected her more than once before this point, and I still got it.  I have also tried to reject both the human romance option AND Liara before that point, and had the game lock Liara in as my romance option. I again tried to reject her, both at the point after you complete all the missions in ME1, and again when she tries to spend the night with you.  And yet, even after 3 rejections, the romance still continues in ME2 and 3.  I didn't get to reject her completely until ME3, when she finally asked if I wanted to continue with the romance (as all romance options from previous games do.)  So if you don't want to bring anyone as a romance into ME2, you have to go with your gender specific option, reject Liara at the crisis point, then kill the gender specific option.  Unfortunately, this leaves you with Ashley in subsequent games, but I digress.

Now, I come to the ones who aren't romanceable  in the first game, but are in the next two; Garrus and Tali.

Tali'Zorah Nar Rayya (vas Neema and vas Normandy in the future. Ascension book explains the reason for the change in the name, and the second game explains her second name change.) is a young girl on her pilgrimage, or rite of passage into adulthood.  Like Liara, she is immediately enamored with Shepard.  Unlike Liara, however, she is exclusively heterosexual.  Tali's story is one of growing up and becoming her own person.  When you meet her, she is a 22 year old woman who is the daughter of the famous Admiral Rael'Zorah, who serves on the admiralty board.(The importance of which is explained by Tali, so I won't get into it.)  Shepard helps her on her pilgrimage, and she returns home, a full adult in her society, and begins helping her father on a secret project.  A project, which you find out during her loyalty mission, takes his life.  You can choose to either protect her father's legacy and get her exiled, or protect her name at her father's expense.  Or, if you have enough alignment points, you get the best of both worlds.  And in ME3, she takes her father's place on the admiralty board, but only if she survived ME2 and was not exiled. (And the best way to get this and the romance is to have enough alignment points to avoid the choice altogether.) Otherwise, she returns as an exile, and does not have the authority she'd have otherwise for the quarian fleet.  And if she survives the third game, she becomes a spokesman for her people.

Her romance is the most interesting is that the seeds are sown in the game she's not romancable in.  Little moments in this game can easily be interpreted as the fact that she's got a crush on Shepard.  (She, as well as Garrus for that matter, became a romance option because of her fans in ME1.) She reveals this in her second conversation after her loyalty mission; that she'd never trusted anyone more than Shepard, even among her own people.  If pressed by a male Shepard, she reveals her crush on him, and Shepard can reciprocate or gently let her down.  (And this is why I like the romances in ME2 better than 1; it is the player's choice of whether you want to lock in a romance, not the game's.) She also tries to push you away at first, unsure she deserves Shepard, but Shepard can once again conform his feelings for Tali, telling her "I don't want someone closer to home, I want you, and I'll do whatever I can to have you."

In ME3, she gives you the out that all others do, but unlike the others, you can lock her in right away (instead of waiting until after the Cerberus coup. Mostly because you don't get her until after the Cerberus coup, but I digress.), and you get some specific dialogue changes that reflect the romance.  And in the infamous "Tali's drunk" scene, where laments about having to live up to her father's image, where she basically says that being with Shepard is the one thing she's ever done completely for herself.  And she has the most heartbreaking moment in the Extended Cut ending if she is part of your final squad. 

And she is my favorite romance option in the entire series.  She is so sweet and so funny that I can't help but love every moment between these two.  And unlike Liara, she's self assured; an unromanced Tali doesn't need Shepard for her self identity.

As for Garrus, his story is "Shepard is my mentor".  He wants to make a difference in the galaxy, and Shepard is his example how.  And unlike Kaidan and Ashley, turning him Paragon or Renegade DOES stick. And through Shepard's example, he becomes a good leader.  If you turn him Paragon, he is more about protecting the innocent, where as Renegade is about punishing the guilty.  And in his loyalty mission in ME2, you get to see how you've influenced his personality; if he was Paragon, he's like "I know you don't like this, but I have to do it.", where as Renegade is like "You agree that we have to bring his to justice.".

As with Tali, his romance option is opened in the second conversation after his loyalty mission is over.  Unlike Tali, though, it is opened up via a half joke by Shepard.  The next conversation after that, though, shows that there are real feelings involved between the two. Shepard is like "I know I came on strong, and I don't want to pressure you, but I want to try this."  And Garrus is like "While I'm not attracted to humans, but if there's a chance for something real between us, I want to try too."  And as fans of the games know, this is where the endearing awkwardness begins; his attempts at being romantic are hilariously bad, but in a way that shows that he cares.  He's trying despite his lack of experience with romance, and for the one who loves him, "it's the thought that counts."

In ME3, Garrus has come into his own, and is the "Reaper expert".  He's a leader in his own right, and is the adviser to the turn Primarch, who, due to the events of ME3's opening, is essentially the ruler of his people.  Garrus is essentially making command decisions for the entire turian military during the Reaper War.  Far cry from the frustrated C-Sec guy we met in ME1.  And even though he still looks to Shepard for advice, he's also giving advice to Shepard as well, making them equals in status.

The romance continues in ME3 when Garrus offers the the "opt out" (which, from this point on, is implied for all romance options, because they all do it,) and is locked in after the Cerberus coup (which is also implied for everyone else, except when stated otherwise.) during the "sniper rifle scene".  This scene happens regardless, like all the "lock in" moments, but this is where they profess their love for the other.  

His heartbreaking scene in the extended cut is less heartbreaking for me than Tali's, but he's still my second favorite romance of all three games.

And finally, we get to the only non-romancable character in ME1; Urdnot Wrex.  I previously said that he's the nicest krogan you'll ever meet, but if you look up his species, you'll see that they are all violent and savage, and each and every one had a blood rage that can send them into a killing fugue.  But where most male krogan are bitter and selfish, Wrex is something more.  He wants what's best for his people, and is enamored with the stories of his people's heroism during the rachni wars, as well the stories about his ancient ancestors.  He wants to do what's best for his people, and he believes that curing the genophage is the first step in that.  Which is why you have his crisis point in ME1 on Virmire. If you retrieved his family's armor in his personal quest, he's practically saying "Please talk me down, Shepard.  I know why we have to do this, but I need to hear it."  But if you didn't do that quest before Virmire, you have to persuade him, through Charm or Intimidate.  And if you can't or don't, then either you kill him, or Ashley does.  At that point, his brood brother Wreav takes his place in the next two games, who is a traditional krogan, and desires revenge on the galaxy for the genophage.

But Wrex?  He's a reformist. He starts making changes to his clan and starts making alliances with other like minded individuals.  He is working to unify his people, channel their blind aggression into something that could benefit not only his own people, but also the rest of the galaxy.  And this is why he gets even more pissed at you if you destroyed the genophage cure in ME2 when you see him in ME3.  In his mind, he is making his people worthy of the genophage cure, and doesn't appreciate the lack of trust. (Wreav gets pissed too, but in all honesty, that's his default expression.)  But if you kept the cure you find in Mordin's loyalty mission, Wrex is once again your buddy, willing to do what he can to help Shepard against the Reapers.  But don't take the salarian offer, or you'll be forced to kill him when he finds out.  (Wreav is too stupid to catch on, so betray him all you like.)

Now, on to the ME2 companions.  First off is Miranda Lawson, who is best described by Jack, another companion, as a "Cerberus Cheerleader". Which makes her arch "showing her how evil Cerberus is". She also has an additional one involving her sister, which is her storyline in ME3.  Shepard's continual denial of the virtues of Cerberus, as well as the Illusive Man's many betrayals of Shepard's team, shows that "the best interest of humanity" is the farthest thing from the Illusive Man's mind.  (And yes, I know that you can agree with Miranda about Cerberus, but based on Miranda's choices between games makes more sense from a narrative standpoint.)  Her other story is based around her sister and her father; she and her sister, Oriana, are essentially clones of her father, but with "desirable traits" added to the Y chromosome to make them female.  They have also been heavily modified to make them "stronger, faster, smarter, better".  Yeah, I don't fully understand the science behind it either, but just accept it and move on.

Her romance option opens after the events of her loyalty mission for male Shepards only, though there is dialogue recorded by Jennifer Hale (femShep's voice) in Lair of the Shadow Broker that suggests that she might have been romancable for women as well at one point in development.  Skip to 3:46 in the following video for proof.


Anyway, the Miranda romance is all about the little moments between her and Shepard. There is no big "I love you" between them; only the little moments that show how they feel, instead of telling how they feel.  The facial expressions between the two, the tone of voice, and the moment where Miranda says that she considered breaking into where Shepard was locked up are great examples of their "show, don't tell" relationship.  And it is with Miranda that I bring up the moments in the Citadel DLC in ME3; yes, no matter who you romanced, they all get special moments in that DLC after the action part.  But the Miranda romance is best represented by this DLC; the quiet moments between the two illustrate that they are in love, rather than directly state it.

And I'd be doing this romance a disservice if I didn't bring up what happens if you break up with Miranda in the beginning. First off, unlike all the others, who are like "Oh! Okay..." and deal with their grief inwardly, Miranda cries.  Granted, she turns her back to Shepard, but we can hear her sobbing.  And also, unlike all the others, the break up has effects on the story; all others don't even acknowledge that there ever was a romance. Miranda?  All I can say about it is "all that's left unsaid". This is the only breakup that shows that no matter what, there are still feelings there. Not even Liara, who has been in love with Shepard since she first saw him, shows that as much as the this moment.

Next we have Jacob Taylor, who, like Ashley, has no over arching story that I can see.  Yes, he shares the "show that Cerberus is evil" thing, but beyond "I have daddy issues" and "I'm a philandering prick", I don't see a story for him.  He's the first you can flirt with to initiate the romance, but you will regret it, as there is NO pay off in ME3.  Why, you may ask?  Because no matter what story you play, he knocked up Brynn Cole from the ex-Cerberus Scientists quest.  That's right; he can't keep it in his damn pants for six months.  What's even worse is that you can get him to admit that he's still in love with femShep.  

The worst part is that he knows what he's like; check out the ME Galaxy ios device game, and you can see that he had a thing with Miranda for a little while, and then he says, in ME2 that "She deserves a better man than me".  And the fact that he cheats on Shepard says, to me, that he cheated on Miranda too.  Either that, or he did something just as bad.

This gets me for two reasons; 1, infidelity is my hot button.  My best friend is going through a divorce because of his future ex-wife's cheating on him, both while he was at basic training, and after he got back. I also broke up with a girl because she cheated on me.

And 2, the fact that the other romance options wait just as long, or far longer, than he does, for Shepard to get out of lock up.  And he chooses to justify his infidelity by rationalizing that "the Normandy is [her] one true love".

The only pay off with the entire Jacob romance is in the Citadel DLC, where you can slap him and tell him off.  And even then, it's not all that satisfying, which is why he's the only one I can advocate killing him in ME2.  And the easiest way to do it is, whether you do his loyalty mission or not, is to send him through the tunnels as your "Tech Expert" during the suicide mission; he gets shot in the head because he doesn't know what he's doing.  :)

Next up is Jack. Her story is "learning that it's okay to trust".  When you meet her, she is a foul mouthed, psychopathic, antisocial young woman who hates Cerberus with a passion and wants to see the world burn.  Scratch below the surface, and you'll see that she has been both physically and mentally abused by Cerberus from a young age, all in Cerberus' attempts to "build a better biotic".  And even after she escaped from Cerberus, she has been beaten, burned, scarred and raped (both her mind and sexually) by those who "got close to her."  

And then she meets Shepard.  Through Shepard, she learns to work as part of a team, and to watch the backs of others, and trust them to watch her back.  She learns that other people trust her, and that she must trust them in turn.  And after her loyalty mission, she learns that it's okay to open her heart to others.

And this is how we see her in ME3.  She's the instructor for the biotic students at Grissom Academy, and will do whatever they can to protect them.  She even allows herself to be turned into a monster by Cerberus to protect the kids if you don't save Grissom Academy in time.  She's that attached to those kids, and it's all due to Shepard's influence.

Through the romance, however, Jack learns that it's okay to be vulnerable.  That it's okay to let her guard down. That it's okay to love.  So long as Shepard is male and avoid sleeping with her when she offers not long as she is recruited, he can learn that Jack carries a great deal of survivor's guilt; that she someone she cared for deeply, that admitted that he loved her, and that she pushes people away so she never has to feel like she did that day again.  But if Shepard persists, you get the most beautiful love scene in the game.  She comes up to see Shepard right before the suicide mission is launched, tells Shepard that he was right, he pulls her close, and she starts crying, her mascara beginning to run.  And from there, a "Terminator love scene", with the showing of the emotional connection, passion, and the focus on the hands, with the ending showing Jack and Shepard lying on the bed, Jack smiling happily, in love.  (I'm not going to link to it, because, while I don't have a problem with it, the love scene from the original Terminator shows Linda Hamilton's tits, and I don't want google shutting me down because of it.)

She also gets a special scene in the Citadel DLC; the tattoo.  She gives Shepard a tattoo as a way to "claim him"; that no matter what happened, that "you belong to me!"

Next comes Thane.  He's a terminally ill assassin who is looking for redemption.  His illness is non-communicable, but he is going to die, no matter what anyone does.  This makes the romance for him very tragic.  Regardless, Shepard's mission gives him the opportunity to reconnect with his son, and make friends, and get some peace before he dies. And the romance?  Shepard's got to initiate it, but this allows Thane to love again.

Now, since he's dying, he gives Shepard to back away, but if Shepard pursues this, you get one of the more rewarding romances in the game.  A painful one, but rewarding.  All parties involved know that Thane is going to die, so they appreciate each moment they have together.  Which is what makes his involvement in ME3 all the more heroic, but at the same time, tragic.  Like Jacob, you can't "lock the romance back in". Unlike Jacob, there is a good reason; Thane sacrifices his life to save another. During the Cerberus coup in fact.  He dies due to a combination of his disease and blood loss, watched over by the two people that matter the most to him; his son, and Shepard. The payoff happens in the Citadel DLC, when you have Thane's funeral, and his son gives you the messages you didn't receive while in lock up.  And if you romanced him, you get one additional message, where he professes his love for Shepard.  And, as with all other romance options but that cocksucker Jacob, you get an extra scene when you reboard the Normandy. (Thane's a ghost, obviously.)

And now, we hit the non-romancables.  First is Mordin Solus, a salarian biologist who was a member of the STG.  He feels a great guilt over his part in the genophage modification project, and is doing what he can to redeem himself in his own eyes.  He opened a clinic on Omega, and joins Shepard's crew to stop the Collectors.  His loyalty mission involves his protege Maelan's attempts to cure the genophage.  You can either save Maelan's data, or destroy it, which ties into Wrex's story in ME3.

Mordin pops up in ME3 as Wrex's contact inside STG, where one of the female krogan that Maelan was experimented on is immune to the genophage, is is the key to curing it.  If the data was destroyed, Eve (the female krogan) will be healthy and survive the events on Tuchanka. If you didn't save Maelan's data, she's going to die.  And her fate affects the fate of the krogan.

Mordin, however, is going to die, unless both Wrex and Eve are dead.  If either live, Shepard either lets him go to his death to cure the genophage, or kills him to cement the deal with the salarian dalatrass.  If both are dead, you can convince that Wreav is not someone who should be leading the krogan after they are free from the genophage, and he goes off to become a war asset.  

Regardless, at the end of the Citadel DLC party, you find a message from Mordin, with him reciting some of his past acting pieces.

Grunt is essentially a teenage krogan. Bred in a tank by Warlord Okeer, Grunt knows what he is supposed to do, but he doesn't understand what he is.  His story is of self discovery.  Since he wasn't raised by krogan, there's a lot of things about himself that he doesn't understand, and he needs to be taught by other krogan to understand what is happening to him.  His loyalty mission? Going through the rite of passage, and joining clan Urdnot.  If Wrex is in charge, he is whole-heartedly accepted due to Shepard.  If Wreav is in charge, he is also whole-heartedly accepted, but he is a tool for Wreav to use.

He returns in ME3, as a leader of an elite unit, fighting a unit of Reaper controlled rachni. If you did his loyalty mission, he survives it. If not, he dies.  If he survives, he shows up at the Citadel party and in a hilarious side moment.

Samara is an asari justicar, a "knight errant with a little bit of samurai" as she says it after you finish her loyalty mission, who is compelled by the justicar code protect the innocent and kill the wicked.  She has spent the last four centuries hunting down her daughter Morinth, an Ardat-Yakshi, who is best described as a vampire.  When Morinth mates, she drains the life force of those she mates with, taking in their strength, speed, power and knowledge.  These two are tied together, in that you can have either one or the other in ME2, though only Samara returns in ME3. (Technically Morinth does too, but she turns up as Reaper troop you have to fight.) 

Anyway, in ME2, you find out that Samara and Morinth are attracted to Shepard, for pretty much the same reasons.  Both are attracted to Shepard's strength and power, but where Morinth practically jumps all over Shepard (only stopping when she remembers that Shepard's mission comes first), Samara practices great self restraint, appreciating the attention, but still pushing Shepard away if Shepard asks for more.  Samara returns in ME3 at the Ardat-Yakshi monastery that her other daughters live at, to find it overrun by Reaper troops, and are turning the Ardar-Yakshi into Reaper troops.  After saving her surviving daughter, she will kill herself rather than killing her daughter (because her code won't let her let an Ardat-Yakshi without a monastery live) unless you stop her.  If you stop her, she shows up on the Citadel later, and become a war asset.

Zaeed Masani best described as a mercenary version of Shepard; someone with a reputation for doing the impossible.  You get his loyalty mission, and either help him get revenge on the one who betrayed him, or tell him, if you have enough alignment points to do so, that "You're part of my team, Zaeed. You either follow my orders, or I leave you here to die, because if I can't trust you to watch my back, I'm better off without you."  (If you don't have enough alignment points though, you bring him with you, not loyal.)  However, as  DLC character, he sits on the ship, telling stories about his past missions, and every few story missions, he remarks on them.

He returns in ME3, once again working for Cerberus, though not to his knowledge, being paid to kill someone you briefly met in ME1. If he was loyal, he survives the reveal that he's working for Cerberus, and helps you convince the cameo dude that he needs to spite Cerberus and help the turians. If he wasn't loyal, he doesn't survive, and you have to choose.

Kasumi is like Zaeed in that she gets her loyalty mission at the start and tells stories and remarks on missions. But her mission is heist movie. The only way you won't get her loyalty is if you don't do the mission.  In ME3, she allows you to get two war assets if she wasn't loyal, 3 if she is.

Legion is a geth infiltrator. His story is opening the geth to interaction with organics.  In ME2, you learn that he's somewhat obsessed with Shepard, not having a reason for why he waited to patch a hole in his chassis until he found Shepard's N7 armor.  Through conversation, however, you mange to form a bond of friendship with Legion, giving him and the geth a reason to consider peace with organics.

This becomes the crux of his existence in ME3.  His people have chosen to ally with the Reapers after the quarians attacked them, and the presence of Legion is the only way to broker peace between the quarians and the geth.  However, no matter what you choose, Legion is going to die; either by giving up himself to his people to give them true intelligence, or at the hands of Tali or Shepard for choosing to the quarians over the geth.  The best option for Legion, however, is to let him upload the intelligence he acquired from the Reaper code after you broker peace between his people and the quarians. At this point, he has fully actualized an individual personality.  In order to do this, you need 5 points from a 7 point scale. Which I will not get into, since you can find that anywhere at this point.

And finally, we get to the final 3 companions; James Vega, EDI and Javik. 

Vega is supposed to be the audience proxy; the guy who is supposed to represent the audience if they came in for number 3 only.  But unless he has extra dialogue for those who started ME3 without importing a ME2 save, I don't see it.  And I don't intend to find out, since not having my choices from the previous two games isn't as fun.

No, I see Vega as "Garrus mark 2".  You play a mentor role for Vega in this game, though for a different reason; at one point in the game, Vega receives that he was accepted into the N7 program, and Vega is hesitant about accepting. He looks to Shepard, and experienced N7, for guidance.

EDI's story is about "becoming human".  In ME2, she is the Normandy's AI, and her role is cyberwarfare.  But when Joker unshackles her, she is free to learn as she pleases.  She essentially takes over the Normandy, but because of the bonds she forms with the Normandy's crew, she still wants to help.  ME3 gives her a mech body, and she is then able to join the crew as a squadmate.  From here, she's asking questions about human behavior that she doesn't understand, because she desires to be more like those she serves.  She even expresses romantic interest in Joker, and Shepard can either tell them to cool it, or go for it.

And Javik's story is about confusion and vengeance; he awoke after 50,000 years to find everyone he ever knew and cared about is dead, and the Reapers are back and started it all over again.  Nothing more can be said about that.

Finally, Joker and Doctor Chakwas.  Joker is voiced by Seth Green, and he's comedic relief.  That's why he's there; to give levity in a serious story about war and galactic extinction.  Doctor Chakwas is the Normandy's medic, and acts like a den mother for the Normandy. She worries about their health, both mental and physical, and does what she can to make sure that Shepard succeeds. Drink with her, however, and you get to see a different side of her. I won't elaborate, however, since some it is funny.

And let's not forget the two final new characters, Samantha Traynor and Steve Cortez.  Both were on the Normandy for the Alliance retrofit, both contribute heavily to the war effort, and both are exclusively homosexual.  That's right, Bioware took 3 games to finally make that happen, and both are good.  

Cortez is dealing with survivor's guilt over his husband dying in the Collector attack on Ferris Fields (you get references to this in ME2 through background dialogue), and it is Shepard's job to help him get over it.  You can open the romance with him at the Purgatory bar if male Shepard says that he's eye candy when Cortez mentions watching people dancing.  It's a story and good romance.

Traynor is the communications' specialist, and is also into strategy games.  She has no real overarching story, but all things considered, that doesn't bother me as much as Ashley and Jacob.  That said, she flirts with female Shepard the moment you talk to her, and the romance is activated and locked in if you let her use your shower, and enter with her.  From there, Shepard and Traynor are flirting throughout the rest of the game.  To me, this romance is the most light hearted, because it's playful throughout the game, until after the attack on Cerberus, since all know that "this is the end".

Finally, all companions but Mordin and Legion, (and Doctor Chakwas, because I don't think they could get Carolyn Seymour back for her voice.) who are either expected to be dead, or definitely dead, can shows up at the Citadel DLC party, and each has a special moment if you romanced them.

And man, this turned out longer than I thought it would be.  I promise, my wrap up for the series will be shorter.  :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 7: Combat, minigame and morality system in the games

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, as my header says, I'm going tackle the combat, minigames and morality system in the games.  I'm going to go through each one sequentially, giving my thoughts, as well as tips, to play the game in a way that maximizes your fun.

I'm going to state right here that I own the Xbox 360 versions of the games, and thus some of my problems and praises may not apply to the PC and PS3 versions. Though, since we are using the same game engine, I'm sure MOST of what I say still applies.

Mass Effect 1's combat system has a LOT of good ideas, though some are poorly implemented.  The way the game is designed to be played is to give you tactical control over the battlefield, allowing you to flank your foes and use powers to dominate the battlefield.  In practice, though, there are issues with the implementation.

First off, cover.  The way it is supposed to work is that you use the control stick to press up against the wall, and you use the trigger buttons to aim your weapon from cover.  In practice, however, it doesn't always work like that. Sometimes, when you want to press up against a wall, only to lift your weapon and stand there like an idiot.  You also need to click the control stick to crouch, and you can't move to certain cover unless you are crouched. 

Cover is also pretty useless because your enemies don't fight from it.  They run around the battlefield, shooting and flinging powers as they run and gun, forcing you to do the same.  And if you try to fight from cover, especially in an enclosed area, you are going to get flanked and killed.  This forces you to run and gun to survive.

And your companions are useless too. Both companions are tied to a single button on the d-pad, so you can't really send them around the battlefield tactically, since both are going to the same place.  And for some reason, they tend to "blow their load" on their powers if you don't set them to "defense only" in the options menu.  This becomes a real problem with you are fighting geth armatures in the early game, since their main cannon can kill you in one hit. So if you want to use squad powers when you want them, set the usage to "defense only" before you start the game.

Now, since you have to run and gun to survive, proper weapon and extra skill (remember the first game's post?) selection is essential.  There are four factors to consider for weapon selection; aiming, recoil, heat generation and firing rate.  It is these four factors that makes the Sniper Rifle all but useless.  On every console version I've played, the Sniper Rifle reticule takes a LONG time to finally settle on where you are pointing it, even with the best rifle in the game and 12 points in the ability.  It's pretty much "one shot at the start of a battle and then switch to another gun, and ONLY if you get the drop on your foes, which isn't often".

That means you have only 3 real choices in firearms.  The pistol is the one gun that all classes can use without advance training.  It a reasonable firing rate, reasonable damage output, and reasonable heat generation, and low recoil.  It's a good backup weapon when your other guns are overheated.

The assault rifle puts a lot of fire down range, but also has the highest recoil after the useless sniper rifle.  This one also has the highest heat generation after the sniper rifle, but one point in assault rifles gives you overkill, which mitigates the recoil and heat generation for a few critical seconds.  More points in the skill reduces recoil, and better quality guns reduce heat generation. And with proper upgrades, recoil and heat generation become a thing of the past.

The shotgun, however, has great accuracy, has low recoil, and has high heat generation (though that's the nature of a shotgun, so I wouldn't hold it against it), but also a high damage output.   It is only truly useful at close range, though.

My suggestion is to either give the assault rifle or shotgun skill to all but the Vanguard (as that class already has a good weapon), depending on your play style. If you like fighting from mid to long range, use the assault rifle. If you prefer close range combat, shotgun.

Be careful with close range though. The melee attack in this game is the same as the gunfire button, and can trip you up if you don't want to use it.  More than once, I've wanted to plant a shotgun shell into an enemy's chest, only to elbow them instead, because they were too close.

As for your load out, go with Spectre guns. They are the best guns in the game, hands down.  As for armor, Predator has the best shields and Colossus gives you the best damage protection. But since you have upgrades that upgrade your shields, you can go with the Colossus, then the Titan, Predator and then Mercenary, based on availability.

Biotic amps should be Savant, Polaris and Prodigy in that order. Omni-tools should be Savant, Nexus and Chameleon for Shepard, Tali and Garrus in that order, and Savant, Logic Arrest and Polaris for Liara and Kaidan in that order.

 Medi-gel is your healing ability, but the problem with it is that it has a long cooldown; if you use it to bring back your health, you have a long wait to use it again. A step back from KOTOR and Jade Empire, if you ask me.

Grenades in this game are pretty much useless as well.  They are thrown sidearm, have a low blast radius, and are very hard to replenish.  And they are only useful if you choose the Paragon path in the Feros mission.

Which brings me to the alignment system.  The Paragon path is all about protecting the innocent, working together toward a common goal,  and doing things the right way.  The social skill you get is charm, which, at certain levels, gives you discounts at the stores. 

Renegade is all about ruthless determination. Renegade choices are about getting things done no matter the cost and forcing people to aqueous to your desires.  The social skill you get is intimidate, which gives you more credits from merchants when buying the gear you sell.

These two morality choices affect the ending you choose, and what is said about you and the human race.  But as more info will spoil the ending, I won't go into details.

Now, I feel like I'd be doing new players a disservice if I didn't tackle the two things that aren't fun, but are unfortunately very prevalant; the the QTE hacker minigame, and the damn Mako.  Anyone who has played Shenmue, Indigo Prophesy or Resident Evil 6 knows the pain of QTE, so I won't go into it.  As for the Mako, that's another "cool idea, but poor implementation".  It controls like a brick, and despite what the pre-release and in game codexes say, this thing flips over at the slightest bump on the ground.  I've actually had to start the section over when the damn thing flipped over and got stuck.  Add to that to the fact that killing things with the Mako only nets you 75% of the xp you would get on foot, and you're better off getting the side quests with the Mako out of the way just after picking up Liara and doing all the fighting on foot, unless you are fighting a thresher maw.

Don't get me wrong; this game is fun.  And going with the tips I've given you makes the game more fun.

This game fixes a lot of the problems I had with ME1's combat system.  First off, you no longer have to put points into a gun; they are as accurate as your aim is.  As such, the sniper rifle is a LOT more viable choice of weapon.  In fact, this is my preferred extra gun for all but the soldier and vanguard, for the reasons I've already covered.

Next, the cover mechanism is much easier to drop into; it is tied to the run button, instead of the control stick.  This is important because your enemies now fighting from cover, and you will get killed if you try to run and gun.  And since your squadmates now have their OWN button to move them around the battlefield and are no longer retarded about power usage, you now have the tactical control over the battlefield that the ME1 wanted you to have.

And as I explained before, the classes are a LOT more distinct, so your game will be different each time, as will your squad choices.  Some squadmates are better against machines, others against armored targets, and others work great for biotic detonations.  Others are just weapons specialists.  Whom you pick is determined by the mission and who compliments your class choice.

This game isn't without its flaws as well; the planet scanning you need to do to upgrade your health, weapons, powers, damage protection and heavy weapon ammo capacity is dull, but can be made less painful by using the wiki for planets rich in resources that you need.

And yes, I mentioned heavy weapons; these replace the grenades, and are far more useful.  They are just as limited as grenades, yes, but they hit harder and are easier to aim.  That said, some are better than others, so choose based on your preferences.

I also need to mention the Hammerhead tank.  It fixes all the problems with the Mako; smooth controls, no longer lose XP when using the cannon, and no longer integral to the game.

The mini-games are a lot more fun too; "Connect the wires" and "match the symbols". Both are simple, and while both are times, neither are QTE.

The Paragon and Renegade meters have also been streamlined; you don't have skills to put points into, so your Charm/Intimidate score is based on your alignment meter.  We also gain interrupts; Paragon interrupts stops fights and cools tempers, where Renegade interrupts either intimidates with threats of violence or outright commits acts of violence.

Finally, we get to my preferred load out.   This time, it's very different between the squadmates and Shepard. For Shepard, I go with the Kestrel armor from the Aegis Pack, with the Kuwashii Visor replacing the headgear for the soldier and infiltrator, and the archon visor from the Equalizer pack for the other four.

Gun loadout is the Mattlock assault rifle for all who can use it but Shepard, and the Phalanx Pistol for all who can use it but Shepard. These two guns are great in the hands of companions, but not so much as Shepard; the Mattlock is a single shot, while the Phalanx removes the target reticule and replaces it with a laser sight.  But companions are always accurate with their weapons, so the damage boost they get from these guns is worth it. 

The shotgun you want is the Eviscerator, which does the most damage after the geth shotgun and the Claymore.  However, the geth shotgun is a charged weapon, and companions don't charge it.  It also won't charge from cover, so it's less useful in combat.  I recommend the Eviscerator for all but Grunt and Vanguard Shepard, who can use the Claymore once it is unlocked.

The sniper rifle you want is the Mantis, which is a single shot, powerful gun. The other two are either high magazine/low individual shot damage, or a three round burst, which loses accuracy after the first shot.  The best, though, is the Widow, which only Shepard and Legion get access to.

As for the SMG, use the Kassa Locust. It is the best SMG in the game, and since the Kasumi DLC can be played immediately after Horizon, it will carry you through the whole game.

And for all of them, make sure you fix your load out when the game "upgrades" your guns as you acquire new ones.  In the vanilla game, those guns were better than the ones you start with (with a couple of exceptions), but with the DLC guns, you will want to fix them at the first available weapons terminal.  This is only problematic on Haestrom, where the closest weapons terminal is after a large battle.

As for Shepard, I prefer the Carnifax pistol, which does more damage than the starting pistol, but still maintains the target reticule that the Phalanx doesn't have.  For the Soldier and Vanguard, I prefer the Eviscerator. Vanguard upgrades to the Claymore on the Collector ship.  All classes but the Vanguard, I go with the Mantis sniper rifle, unless Infiltrator, which I upgrade to the Widow.  And the Soldier gets the Avenger, since I prefer my assault rifles to go full auto, until I can get the Revnant on the Collector ship.

As for Heavy Weapons, I go with the Grenade Launcher, then the Cain when I can get it.  The missile launcher is good, because you don't have to aim it, and has the largest ammo capacity.  But it also does the lowest damage. So I go with the grenade launcher, which does the second most damage, after the Cain.

Oh, and melee combat has it's own button, so you no longer have to worry about elbowing something that you wanted to shoot.

And this brings me to bonus powers. Unlike in ME1, you gain your bonus powers from your companions loyalty missions; whatever power they get, so does Shepard. As such, I have three powers that I prefer; Warp Ammo from Jack, which tears through barriers and armor, Energy Drain from Tali, which takes your enemy's shields and adds them to your own, and Samara's Reave, which does the same as Energy Drain, but for health.

Finally, I need to bring up Medi-gel.  In this game, it is used to resurrect your allies and not to heal you.  You gain your health and shields back through hiding on cover or the above mentioned skills. In game codex explains why.

Mass Effect 3's combat system brings back the best of both games.  You have situations you have to run and gun, and situations where you have to fight from cover.  For this reason, you gain a heavy melee attack and a melee combo.  The heavy attack allows you to one shot (or nearly one shot, based on difficulty), any enemy that gets close to you.  Melee combos are just that; combos you get from continually tapping the melee button.

Heavy weapons are different; they have limited ammunition, are found around the battlefield, and are dropped when they are empty.  But there are a LOT more of them, and they are ALL useful.

Grenades return, but are far more plentiful and far more useful.  What type you get is determined by your class, (or what you get instead of grenades, in the case of the Engineer and Vanguard. Engineer gets a sentry drone, and the Vanguard gets Nova.  The wiki I linked to gives you more details) and you can get up to six of them.  And you can replenish them at ammo caches that can be found on most battlefields.

Other than that, the game controls the same as ME2, with a couple of exceptions.  Ammo powers no longer trigger global cooldown, so you could sit in cover all day switching out your ammo powers quickly. And the major change, the weight system.  Which requires a full explanation.

The weight system means that weapons are no longer restricted by class. Want to build an Adept around the assault rifle? Go for it! Soldier with an SMG? That's good too.  Sentinel built around only a pistol once again? That's good too.

But the downside to this freedom is that each class has a different weight capacity, which, while able to be upgraded via your class trait, does affect the cooldown rate of your powers.  So trying to load out with the heaviest assault rifles, shotguns or sniper rifles as an Engineer or Adept restricts availability or your class' strength.

What you have to do for all the classes but the soldier is to balance what guns you want with power cooldown rate.  The more under your weight capacity you go, the faster the cooldown rate for your powers, and vice versa.  Weight of weapons can also be lowered through ultralight material upgrades for your guns, as does upgrading the guns at the armory on the Normandy.  (Yes, weapon upgrades are back, and you have a LOT guns to choose from.)

There's another problem with the heaviest guns; reload animation.  The heaviest guns (and any sniper rifle for that matter) have a LONG reload animation.  So even the Soldier, who only has two powers that trigger the global cooldown, has to worry about weight in a hectic firefight.

This is why I go with a very specific layout for my classes. First off, I forgo a pistol on Shepard, since I can carry an assault rifle and sniper rifle with me, no matter the class.  For all classes but the Soldier, Infiltrator and Vanguard, I go with Mantis sniper rifle and the Avenger assault rifle, as these are the lighest possible that function the way I like them (single shot and full auto, respectively).  I put ultralight material in the assault rifle to lower my weight capacity, so I can use my powers more often.

The Infiltrator gets the same, until I can afford the Black Widow at the Spectre store, and can pick up the Kassa Locust late in the game.  The Vanguard takes the Eviscerator shotgun in place of the sniper rifle, to be replaced with the Wraith from the Spectre office once I can afford it.

As for the Soldier, I replace the Avenger the Cerberus Harrier, which you get from the Firefight DLC pack, and I replace the Mantis with the Widow once I get it, and the Eviscerator until I get the Claymore.

As for companions, I go with the Harrier, Mantis/Widow, Eviscerator, N7 Piranha, Claymore, Tempest SMG/Kassa Locust, Talon Pistol, Carnifax Pistol and Phalanx pistol.  I go with three shotguns, since the different shotguns fit better with certain companions roles; Vega is better with the Claymore, since he's a tank, where Tali is better with the Eviscerator, since it has a longer range. (Aria from the Omega DLC gets the Piranha, which is in the Groundside Resistance Pack, because giving her what amounts to a grenade launcher fits her power loadout.)

I focus on armor that boosts weapon damage for Shepard, so I go with the Hahne Kedar armor (with Armax shoulder guards until I can get Hahne Kedar versions after Rannoch), and Kuwashii visor.  However, you can find artifacts artifacts around the galaxy that you can use to research character boosts that benefit your class in whatever way you want.

The health system is different though; instead of one long bar, your health bar is multiple smaller bars.  You regenerate your health to fill up that bar, and require medi-gel to heal the rest.

Finally, extra skills are received the same way in this game, but this time, they are gained via an unseen "how much I like you" stat. I can only advise one skill this time; armor-piercing ammo.  There is one abundant enemy that is a pain without it; the Cerberus Guardian, who carries a big wall shield.  The only way to damage them is to either hit them through the "mailbox window", use the biotic power "Pull" to rip the shield out of his hands, or get behind them.  But since they quickly turn to face you, the third is difficult to do.  But with armor-piercing ammo?  One point in it allows you shoot through the shield, damaging it directly. More points allows you to shoot through cover, to an extent.  This extra skill is the best in the game, hands down.

Oh, and no tank and no mini games in this game. Mini games have been replaced with multiplayer, which functions the same as single player, except your squadmates are other players.  Also, you get to play as other races, which have their own powers for multiplayer. See the wiki for more details.

The best part of all three games is that they teach you through gameplay.  Yes, the first area is a tutorial area, but the whole time, you are running, shooting, using powers and getting exposition on the fly.  It doesn't talk down to you, and doesn't hold your hand.

Remember though, that you can play your game any way you want, and ignore any tips I've given as necessary.

I'm going to finalize this with a blog on the companions, and then my thoughts on the whole story.  Until then, happy gaming!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 6: Final game

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

I'm glad I didn't set a time table for this retrospective, because had I done so, I would have been more irritated that I stepped on my game disc for disc 1. (I've been playing the games in order to refresh my memory on how they work.)  But now that I've got a replacement for it, I'm starting on the third and final game with Commander Shepard.

First off, do NOT load up this game without the Extended Cut DLC installed.  It is completely free, will remain so until April of 2014 (originally 2015), and fixes several things that weren't flagging properly in the original pressing. And with it installed, you won't have to deal with the major issues that internet was butthurt over when this game was originally released.

 The game opens with proof of what we and Commander Shepard already knows; the Reapers are real, and they are invading.  Earth's leadership is freaking out, starts demanding ways to beat the Reapers from the relieved-from-duty-for-committing-a-war-crime Shepard (but only if you played Arrival. Then, Shepard was relieved from duty was for working for Cerberus. I think that Arrival gives a better opening.), only to get "Sorry, we're screwed because you didn't listen to me three years ago."  And to put a point on that, a Reaper beam blows up the Alliance military leadership, leaving only Shepard and Anderson alive.  They make their way to the Normandy, where Anderson stays behind to remain Earth's military leader, and reinstates Shepard into the Alliance Navy.

From there, Shepard, the Virmire survivor and new squadmate James Vega head to Mars on the orders of the head of the Alliance Military, Admiral Steven Hackett.  They make their way into the facility, only to meet Liara, who tells them there is data about a Prothean superweapon that could give them a chance against the Reapers. Shepard, the Virmire Survivor and Liara (Vega was sent back to have the shuttle ready for extraction) make their way through the facility, fighting Cerberus troops the whole way, until they retrieve the data they need and head to the Citadel to present this information, but the Virmire Survivor is critically injured in the process, and needs immediate medical attention.

Once on the Citadel, the group presents the info to the Council, who says, in so many words, "Sorry folks, we can't help. We must secure our own borders.", but the turian Councillor, in private with Udina present, "Appeal to our leadership directly. We're upholding/reinstating your Spectre status. Go save us."

And this is the major focus of the game; gathering allies and resources to bring the McGuffin against the Reapers.  You fly around the galaxy, scanning planets for resources for one of the other, and follow the story to gain the actual allies.  And it's a fun ride the whole way.

The gameplay is mostly the same, but with one major change; there is no longer such a thing as "class specific weapons." It has instead been replaced with a weight system; Shepard is now use any gun he or she wants, without extra training.  You want a soldier with an SMG? Perfectly fine. An Adept with an assault rifle? Go ahead.  But be careful; how much weight you carry affects the cooldown of your powers.  So if you decide to haul around the heaviest assault rifle as an Adept, you're not going to be using your biotics all that often.  (I'll explain the intricacies of the combat systems of all three games in a separate entry, since I didn't tackle it in any of these.)

Your squad is mostly composed of characters you had in ME1, with a couple of exceptions.  Liara and the Virmire Survivor return, as does Garrus and Tali.  EDI makes her debut as a squadmate, and you've got a new squadmate James Vega.

But don't think all the squadmates you got to know over the course of the previous two games won't show up.  Mordin and Wrex play an important part in the Tuchanka questlines.  Jack makes her presence known in the Grissom Academy quest, as well as a cameo later.  Miranda has three meetings on the Citadel, as well as playing an important part on Horizon.  Jacob drops in during the Ex-Cerberus Scientists questline.  Grunt shows up in the rachni quest, and only survives if you did his rite of passage in ME2.  And Legion pops up during the quarian/geth war questline, and having him is the only way to broker a peace agreement between the quarians and the geth. But if they died, don't worry; they all have place holders.   They're kind of like Biff the Understudy from Baldur's Gate 1; they come in and perform the role of the previous squadmate, though they have different personalities.  Urdnot Wreav being the most glaring, but all the place holders are different than their squadmate counterpart.

Now, this game is all about consequences.  Garrus and Tali didn't survive ME2? Well, they won't appear in the squad, and will have a placeholder at their important point in the story.  Wrex's survival or not affects the story, as does whether or not you saved Maelan's genophage data in ME2.  Whether you performed loyalty missions affects certain quests in the game, as does something as simple hanging up on the Council in ME1.  So many quests are affected by your decisions, and you could play both games many times just to see how your actions will affect one little quest.  That's the reason I said to get that Asari writings quest; it affects a quest in this game!

And I'm glad to say that this game finally brings in Kahlee Sanders into the games, and shows up what she looks like, and gives her a voice. I was so happy to see the protagonist of all the novels was finally in the game, and to see that she has an important part of the Grissom Academy storyline, and becomes an important war asset.  Kai Leng also shows up in this game, upgraded by the Illusive Man and works as Shepard's antagonist.  And I'm happy to say that yes, you do get to kill him. :)

Now, everything you do builds toward the Military Readiness Rating. You have three factors; Total Military Strength, Galactic Readiness Rating (which you build via multiplayer), and Effect Readiness rating.  Without multiplayer, you only get half of your TMS rating as your EMS.  In order to get the best possible ending, you need an EMS rating of 3100 (4000 without the Extended cut, which is impossible without multiplayer or other DLC) when you invade Earth.  You gain TMS by completing the story, sneaking into Reaper territory with the Normandy's stealth capability and scanning planets for War Assets (yes, planet scanning is back, but unlike ME2, it's not painful).  Yes, this game has the Normandy's main selling point, the stealth system, as a tangible game mechanic. About time, I say.

This game is heavy on the DLC.  You have From the Ashes, which introduces a new squadmate, Javik, the last Prothean, a new gun, and a war asset.  Leviathan gives you a couple of quests about a "Reaper killer", a couple of new guns, and a couple of war assets. Omega has you retaking Omega with Aria T'Loak, who becomes a temporary companion, and you gain a couple of weapons and a war asset.  And finally, Citadel is essentially Bioware's goodbye to the franchise, which gives you a story about a Cerberus clone of Shepard its attempt to steal Shepard's identity.  The second half of the DLC involves shore leave, which allows you to have some fun with your friends from the past two games (sans Mordin and Legion, who are gone due to to storyline reasons), and have a party with them. You also gain access to mini games, which include an arcade and a combat arena. As for what you gain toward the ending, you gain a new gun, and two new war assets.  You also get the groundside resistance pack, which gives you new guns, and an alternate appearance pack, which nets you outfits for a few of your squadmates, which boosts certain stats or them.  There's also a multiplayer pack with maps, but I don't really play them, since I don't have an Xbox Live gold account.   (I'll go ahead and say my views on multiplayer; it's fun. Not necessary once you have the extended cut DLC, but it's fun.) Finally, you have the Genesis comic, which functions exactly like the Genesis comic in ME2.

Oh, and a special note on the DLC "mission packs"; they come available at a certain point in the story, and make more sense at a certain part in the story.  From the Ashes is available after you finish Mars, but you don't get to use Javik until after you finish Palavan.  Leviathan is not available until you get EDI in your party, and should be picked up at that moment.  Omega isn't available until you've been to the Citadel after you finish Palavan, but you should wait until you finish getting the Blue Suns, Blood Pack and Eclipse under her control, and if you chose the Paragon path for the Blue Suns, that takes a little longer.   Citadel becomes available after Cerberus invades the Citadel, but in my book, should be completed no earlier than Thessia's quest.  However, Miranda is not available for the party until after Horizon, which, in my book, is where the ending starts, and wouldn't make sense to take a break just as the Alliance is gearing up to take down Cerberus once and for all.  I can understand that having the Normandy get some much needed repairs and the crew get some much needed rest right before the final assault would be healthy for them, but I kind of feel like the pacing is spoiled. Going from full tilt to a long stretch of downtime feels off. That said, I still wait until Miranda is available for the party to start it, because I love her scenes in it.

Now, even with all the praise I'm giving the game, there are a few things I don't care for.  The art redesign is irritating.  If you were like many ME1 players working to get their Shepard just right, you were pissed off when you import your Shepard and find that he or she looks NOTHING like what you worked for.  I once had a Shepard that was a red-head, but when I imported her, her eyebrows somehow turned green.  GREEN.  Any who doesn't accept the default Shepard is going to want to accept the offer to modify the imported Shepard to fix the eyes, hair, nose and the other things that the new options for character creation have introduced.  And while I will never begrudge more options for character creation, they shouldn't come at the expense of existing character models.

I also don't like basic uniform redesign.  From a military standpoint, that uniform doesn't make sense.  That high collar looks wrong to me, but this complaint is minor, since we finally get the Alliance dress blues, as well as  what has a "BDU" feel to them.  You also get an N7 sweatshirt, if you bought the collector's edition, though I doubt the code to get the DLC no longer works.

And I really hate Ashley's redesign.  She goes from a no nonsense, tough as nails soldier to a femme fatele look.  Her new look does not conform to military standards, and every time I import a game with her as the Virmire Survivor, she looks wrong in ME3. 

But these are minor complaints, and should not detract from your enjoyment of the game. You CAN fix your character's face. You don't HAVE to wear the ugly looking uniform, though everyone else who is in one is stuck with them.  And while the Ashley redesign can't be fixed in game, she doesn't HAVE to survive Virmire.

Finally, my take on the ending. I really think that most who are still butthurt after the Extended Cut DLC don't understand what the game's story is about; your are preparing for an invasion so you can stop the Reapers.  Once you start the invasion, it's a straight shot toward the end. Not a lot of room for a "Lord of the Rings ending".  People are going to die in this kind of story, even the hero.  You're not supposed to have the "Mega Happy Ending", and to expect one shows you don't understand what is going on.

All in all, Mass Effect 3 is a satisfying end to the series, and can be picked up on the cheap. I picked up my new copy for 15 bucks new, and you can find older copies for cheaper. 

Next up is an in depth look at the combat systems of all three games, followed by an entry on the companions and the romances.  After that, I'll close it out with my final thoughts on the entire series.

Happy Gaming!