By Bryan Smith on August 9, 2015 at 7:57am
I have a feeling I’m going to make some enemies here. When I came up with this series, I always had the mindset that whatever game gets a “How to Fix,” it had such great potential… only to have that potential gutted. A bad video game is one thing- look at “Ride to Hell” Retribution.” That game was unanimously voted as the worst game of 2013 with maybe “Day One: Garry’s Incident” as a contender. However, most people don’t typically get hostile or disappointed because the game is so laughably made and executed that people just love riffing off it.
That’s why games like “Resident Evil 5,” “Batman: Arkham Knight,” and today’s “How to Fix: Mass Effect 3” are more disappointing. I find games that have both good and bad to be worse because publishers and/or developers got lazy and couldn’t be arsed to commit to either ends. I’m not saying that people should commit to being bad, of course. It’s just that consistency helps make identifying a game’s quality easier. You either have “The Last of Us” or “Ride to Hell: Retribution.”
So let’s get the nitty-gritty with “Mass Effect 3.” Bioware has been a video game developer that has been praised for great titles with little to no murky entries… until EA began to get more involved. “Dragon Age: Origins” was a fantastic game that had a great expansion. So “Dragon Age II” came along with an unfortunate… short development time. One of the designers Brent Knowles resigned during the development, with word that the game EA and Bioware were making wasn’t the RPG he wanted. It was more action oriented than RPG, which the series itself along with most series from Bioware are more known for. That trend also wiggled its way into “Mass Effect 3.”
“Mass Effect” started without EA as a Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusive until EA bought Bioware. The second game, “Mass Effect 2,” is regarded as the best game out of the three for the character interactions, blend of RPG elements and action, and world building. Sure, it changed a few things from the first one, but “ME2” felt more focused, well designed, and geared to take player actions into consideration. The suicide mission serving as “ME2’s” ending has multiple outcomes in terms of who lives and dies dependent on how you interacted with your crew. They could all live, some could die, most could die, and even everyone could die (but that leads to a non-standard game over and a rather unwinnable situation for that safe file, seeing Shepard has to be alive for the next game). Choice for the player is the thing that made “ME2” fleshed out, which also leads into why “Mass Effect 3” is getting a “How to Fix.”
Without further ado, let’s figure out how to make “Mass Effect 3” more fantastic than just good enough.
Fix #1: The Ending and Player Choices
You know you done goofed harder than Goofy on a goofy day when there are petitions and cupcakes with hilariously colored icing hunting the writers down at Bioware. Aside from “Rise of the Tomb Raider” and “Metroid Prime: Federation Force,” I have never seen such a massive backlash for a video game. I’m one of those who think the writers at Bioware messed up badly for several reasons. They had a perfectly good dark matter story that unfortunately got leaked. Instead of throwing away lord knows how much writing went into that ending, EA and Bioware could have kept it. They did not, however. I have a feeling that’s where the rather shoved in star child (Catalyst as it is properly known as) came from where there wasn’t any allusion in previous games.
Secondly, and probably more important than a leaked story, was that a wide variety of endings for the game were promised that didn’t boil down to “A, B, and C…” which actually happened. In fact the red, blue, and green centric decisions, which are destruction, control, or synthesis, are either a “shout out” (a term I use loosely) to “Deux Ex” and its endings or just flat out ripping them off. This is what pissed people off. The endings were so laughably the same to each other that it boggled many minds that the space opera trilogy known as “Mass Effect” ends so… unsatisfying tame. The Normandy escapes to somewhere else and either synthetics are dead, controlled, or organics and synthetics are one in the same. Oh, and Shepard dies (except for one tease at the end of one if you play enough multiplayer before the Extended Cut). That’s it.
The outrage was pretty damn big, and I have a feeling that some sort of DLC ending was being conceived because of… well, development being pushed by time constraints and rather shady business practices. “Mass Effect 3” played a large role in landing EA the Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award. Not twice, mind you, but just once. Not to piss people off more, EA and Bioware promised to “clarify” the endings with an Extended Cut DLC for free. Without the rage, I have a feeling that the Extended Cut would have been given a charge.
What makes the ending leave a nasty, disappointing taste in the mouth is that in addition to the promised varied endings, the players’ choices would affect the game. They do not. No matter what you do, the three endings are what you get with very slight variations (i.e. squad lives, dies, EDI dies, etc.). You remember the Rachni Queen that you either saved or didn’t save back in “ME?” It was greatly hinted at that saving her and her species would make a large impact later on. They do not. All they do is help the score at the end, the War Assets, so certain variations of the three choices happen. Sure, either the Aralakh company or Rachni help chances, but they really are just numbers to fight the Reapers and nothing more.
Before I carry on with the fix, I’ll mention the Extended Cut. It helps “explain” reasons why characters do something or what have you. There were additional cutscenes showing what your squad members briefly do after your decision. It’s nice to see some clarification, but some of it feels… hollow, especially with the photo-still scenes. They did add a fourth unique ending, however. You get to shoot the bastard star child! Sadly he lets the Reapers commence with their plans and wrecks the galaxy. This ending, however, is what people wanted more- not the clarification.
The biggest fix would be to completely reevaluate the War Assets feature. Having it just calculate what ending variation comes out at the end is rather disappointing and uninteresting. Why not spice it up with certain key events that only happen if X or Y happened? The Rachni completely devastate the number of Reapers easily, making it easier for Shepard and company to get into the Crucible at the end? If you kept Miranda alive, she could miraculously find Shepard and have an option of her killing the Illusive Man. What people wanted was complete, unique endings that felt like anything could happen. Remember Garrus (assuming he’s alive) wanting to retire on the beach with Shepard? That would have made for a great ending, yet we get stuck with three endings (or four with the Extended Cut). We the players chose something and having a decision not really matter makes the ending feel… empty. That’s a good reason why TellTale games get criticized because a lot of segments (looking at you “Walking Dead Season 2”) don’t really matter at the end.
Fix #2: Use All the Squad Members (who can be used)
“Mass Effect” had characters for your squad. “Mass Effect 2” had a legitimate reason why certain characters like Ashley/Kaiden and Liara couldn’t be part of your team, seeing that Shepard is working for a really shady man who is pretty much an antagonist further down the line. “Mass Effect 3,” though… doesn’t have a particularly decent reason. Sure, some characters are destined to die and are forced to doing something to save people, but there are some who aren’t doing a whole lot important. The Reapers are coming and your help would be appreciated, but it’s fine you have some silly other priorities. Your loved ones can wait as these giant death machines liquefy them.
What frustrates me is that one of the DLC packs lets eight of them return as temporary squad members. They have programming now, so why forbid them to this tiny part of the game? There are love interests here, yet they’re sidelined into brief segments. Kasumi and Zaeed were DLC characters to begin with- why put them in the timeout pen now?
Fix #3: The Day-One DLC Nonsense
Another reason why EA was put on that Worst Company list. Shady and disgusting business practices often slings vitriol at EA. So here comes this Day-One DLC pack. If it were, say, items, costumes, and something cosmetic in general, people would have been annoyed but nothing serious. Oh no- “From Ashes” is mandatory for some plot information and a pivotal squad member. You can’t use Javik the Prothean without having the DLC.
The simple fix is to not have DLC cost anything. I’m willing to bet this story important DLC was cut just to make more money.
Don’t do it again.
Fix #4: Less Action, More RPG
Another common complaint I have seen for “ME3” is that there’s a super emphasis on action. I think that the emphasis may be a bit greater than the RPG parts. They even gave Shepard a melee attack that is rather strong… maybe a bit too strong. This can make tactics a lot simpler, which is a shame since that also makes the game feel a bit duller. I know this is an action RPG, but there are segments that feel so… scripted just so things can explode and look cool.
Take “Resident Evil 4” and “Dead Space” for example. Those games had action elements but their main draw, the horror element, was stronger because they’re known for horror first. Leon Kennedy and Isaac Clark had ways to physically attack enemies, but they were either weak in comparison to a gunshot or leaves you in an arm length to getting horribly eaten. Now look at “Resident Evil 6” and “Dead Space 3.” Too much action threw the game off of its core elements. Ammo is pretty much thrown at you and enemies who shouldn’t have weapons are suddenly shooting at you. Now having enemies shooting at you isn’t a problem with “ME3,” where your biotic or different abilities are a better option. However, there are a lot of instances where simply shooting and melee attacking the enemy isn’t challenged.
The fix for this? Ease back the action. This is a RPG. Make things more of a challenge that incorporates your abilities. A functional game simply lets players play the game and win without much of a block other than enemies attack. A great game forces players to use everything they have to take down threats.
Fix #5: Technical Bugs
This one is short, and ties into the Day One DLC fix. When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era of games happened, the mentality changed from “release the game as polished as can be” to “release the game now as close to presentable and fix the game with patches after the fact.” “Mass Effect 3” is no different. Looking back at previous reviews of the game, I’m surprised no one mentions the numerous bugs and glitches. There’s an entire forum dedicated to chronicling the problems since its release. The list’s length could make “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” blush. We got textures popping in and out, audio from dialogue cutting out, characters doing the wrong animation, and a character talking to you… while she’s turned around and not facing you, among other things.
Simply put, polish the game more before release. There’s no reason why these bugs should be in a game to begin with, along with the fact that plot important characters being cut for Day One DLC.
Fix #6: Character Emotions
This is more of an annoyance I have with Bioware as a whole and not “Mass Effect 3’s” fault alone. The lack of emotion and facial conveyance is… not the best, to put it lightly. I don’t know what I find sadder- that the robot and masked characters are capable of emoting more or that a PlayStation 1 title like the first “Crash Bandicoot” can emote better than these models. The uncanny valley is present, and instead of making me feel uncomfortable, I more notice that I’m watching wooden robots trying to convey emotions when, by rules of robotics that program them, they can’t- and no, I don’t mean Mokujin the wooden robot from “Tekken.” Think he just looks like a robot made of wood at that.
Now as I’m not all that familiar with “Dragon Age: Inquisition” to know if Bioware has improved on this, but these facial expressions need more work. I understand that having a custom character means animations for said character would be hard, along with the additional work for other characters based on certain decisions. It just feels like I’m watching a school play where no one knows how to bring a character to life. I feel bad using that analogy because there are really talented teenage actors in some of those plays too.
“Mass Effect 3” had the biggest potential as the last game of a trilogy. It, by all rights, should have ended on the largest of notes. Something happened though. Some form of executive meddling must have seeped through the development. “Mass Effect 3” should have been the best end to a trilogy of action-RPGs, but the game was pushed to a release date- resulting in horribly limited endings, shady Day-One DLC and bugs, and lack of grandness in terms of characters, choice, and a solid RPG. I strongly stand by my notion that fans should never settle with just good enough. “Mass Effect” had been a series destined for greatness and the last chapter should have been grand.
With that, how do you guys feel about “Mass Effect 3?” You think these fixes could make a better “ME3?” What changes you want to see in a new “Mass Effect” game? The new one is coming in the distant future. Do you have faith in them ever since “Dragon Age: Inquisition” proved to be an excellent game by critics, or has “Dragon Age II” and “ME3” kept you skeptical on “Mass Effect: Andromeda?”