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The Spaceman Game – Mass Effect

Posted by joeabbott on June 5, 2012

I’ve just completed playing the game Mass Effect 3 (and by “completed”, I mean “I’ve amassed all achievements”) and it seems like I should do more with those many hours of gameplay than just walk away.

imageMass Effect 3 was the massively anticipated finale to the Mass Effect series of games. It was/is a hugely popular space-adventure story set in the near future. The backstory to the game is that we discovered alien ruins on Mars that allowed us (Earthlings/humans) to achieve faster than light travel, accompanied by the discovery of “relays” that allowed spaceships to whisk around the galaxy. As part of that whisking about, we found many other species, joined the “space council”, and are smack dab in the middle of the end of the galaxy as we know it. You see, a sentient race of machines called “the reapers” emerge from “dark space” every 50,000 years and destroy all advance cultures, leaving the future for less advanced cultures to flourish and, well, it’s time for another reaper culling.

imageimageIn the first game you meet the protagonist, Commander Shepard, and see him rise to influence, discover the reaper plot, but generally get ignored. By the end of the game he destroyed a reaper what was a vanguard of the invasion, but everyone seems to think it was a single entity and is now gone. Everyone but Shepard.

imageIn the second game, Shepard finds himself in the employ of a shady organization, Cerberus, (it’s a long story) and manages to unearth more evidence of the impending invasion along with stopping a group used by the reapers called the “Collectors”. The Collectors “harvest” advanced species for the purpose of turning them into part of the invading force.

At the start of game three, Shepard is now in open combat against Cerberus and leading the galactic war effort against the massively more powerful reapers. As Earth is under all-out war (and losing badly), Shepard’s finding sympathetic ears to his rally cries.

It’s the third game in the series I most recently completed and am compelled to write about. Not so much about the Mass Effect 3 story, but my play-throughs. Yes, there were multiple.

Play-through 1: Good Guy Biotic

In addition to being a space-adventure game, it’s also an RPG (Role Playing Game); which is to say, as your character advances through the story, he’ll gain “skill points”. Those points can be applied to various talents and faculties that run a broad range of martial, technical, and “biotic” skills. “Biotics” is equivalent to “magic” in that you’re granted a skill allowing your character to “cast spells”.

imageimageIn the first play-through, I chose an “adept” character class which allowed me the “biotic” skills. My adept special skill was “singularity” … a mini-black hole is cast and those caught in it become levitated and slowly lose health. Great for taking out groups of bad guys.

I also chose to play the super-good-guy. One of the hallmarks to the Mass Effect game is a rich dialog tree in which you’re allowed to choose different responses and questions as you interact with the many NPCs (non-player characters) you meet throughout the story. By being the “super-good-guy”, I always chose the most positive response or made the most optimistic statements.

Finally, I played the game on the easiest difficulty level. I knew I’d be playing a LOT of this game so I figured I could slowly ramp up the difficulty as I marched through it. Ultimately I’d be playing on the hardest level: Insanity.

In all, I found the game compelling, it was a lot of fun to meet up with characters I’d run into throughout the game series (yes, I played both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2), to visit familiar areas, and to play the character of Commander Shepard yet again. The rich story, use of both space guns and magic (er, biotics), and playing the game on easy all made for a fun romp through the story and space.

Ultimately the ending had me scratching my head and saying a lot of the same things other people said. While the game was wildly popular, the public response to the ending was so strong and pointed, the game creator, Bioware, has started an “update” that will help explain the ending and hopefully bring some closure to many of the dangling plotlines left in the original telling.

While I recognize their right to do whatever they want with their game/story, I do look forward to seeing how they respond.

Play-through 2: Bad Gal Engineer

imageimageIn my second play-through, I chose a female character, selected the “engineer” class, and had her respond as the “super-bad-gal”. In the Mass Effect world, when you choose bad/negative dialog options, you give the equivalent of tough love. You’re less belligerent than outspoken, less in-your-face than confrontational, and quicker to react with force. The end result of your actions rarely changes the storyline, but it does color things different.

As an example of the dialog options, in the first play through a long-standing squad mate offers me a gift before we head into the final battle. As the super-good-guy, I accept and she (an alien called an “asari”) gives me the equivalent of a friendship mind meld; as the super-bad-gal I just responded that I wasn’t interested in the gift but the story proceeds unchanged from there. Sometimes it was hard to choose the negative option but if I’d ever have wanted to be a total ass, this was my chance. Unfortunately, I’ve never had that interest. Some of my friends say they always play as the “bad guy” but I just can’t see how you’d do that. Not my cup of tea.

As an engineer class, I was able to pop up a turret that could stand as sentry and spit out a blast of bullets at all passing enemies. It was like having another squad mate at your side and definitely made the game more enjoyable and easy. That said, I did select a harder play-through and definitely found it to be more challenging. Even on “normal” difficulty, I couldn’t charge mindlessly headlong into battle, enemies stood upright a bit longer, and I even found a few sections that were downright hard!

While it was fun to play a second time, to uncover parts of the story I might have missed, and to try the bad gal options, it did get a bit old and I started to wonder if I shouldn’t just jump into my final play through.

Play-through 3: Good Guy Infiltrator

imageMy interest in playing through several times was motivated by wanting all the achievements … and three achievements had me playing this a bunch. The first was Veteran: Kill 5,000 Enemies; to get this achievement, I’d be playing a LOT (I got this about 3/4 of the way through my final play through). The second was Unwavering: Finish all multiplayer maps on Gold or all single-player missions on Insanity; this was a subset of the last achievement, the aptly named Insanity: Finish the game on Insanity without changing difficulty after leaving Earth.

imageSo, all along I’d planned on playing multiple times: trying out the different character classes, mixing up the good guy/bad guy responses, and finally working my way to being good enough to finish the game on the Insanity setting. I thought I’d play three times but a wrench was thrown into the works.

First, having a challenging time on the “normal” difficulty setting, I read up on the Internet and found a lot of people to enjoy the Infiltrator class. The chief skill here being Tactical Cloak: an invisibility spell (for lack of a better description). By having this skill, many found the challenge of Insanity mode to be greatly reduced, however, most all reviewers suggested using an ME3 imported character!

An option while starting a new game is to use an imported character from a previous play-through. The benefit here being that you could start the game at an advanced level with the weapons and skills of the previous play-through. So, for my third play-though, I returned to the easy difficulty and made sure I found all weapons and bought all of the equipment my money could buy. I breezed through, didn’t really get stuck much at all, and had a blast: I knew what to do and when, had a good character and knew how to fight. It was great. Even for the third time.

Play-through 4: Mostly Good Guy Infiltrator II

imageI did everything about the same as I did in my third play-through but didn’t always choose the most positive response. To be honest, there were very few scenes that stopped me from blowing through the conversations; I avoided most conversations unless it furthered the plot. The shine had diminished for this game and the only novelty was the fact that it didn’t seem to take much to kill my character.

I didn’t discover much that was new on this play-through. I did have fun visiting the characters who would give me a chuckle. The salarian (a “lizard alien”) who liked to sing songs but had a terrible voice, the macho commando who intoned, “I wear heavy armor and I have perfect spatial awareness”, or the female robot who responds to me when I visit her, “Shepard … you’re staring”. All fun and helped to alleviate the pain of playing a game a fourth time through.

In the end, the Insanity run wasn’t all that tough. Yes, a few places ate me for breakfast, but I could mostly work through them in one sitting and then go on to fight another couple battles before calling it a day.

The missions are broken into four areas:

  • Priority – the main game storyline
  • Planetary – either Tuchanka (home of the brute warrior aliens) or Rannoch (home to the humanoid tech-loving aliens who created a robot race who rebelled against them)
  • N7 – these missions were mainly against your old employer, Cerberus
  • Miscellaneous – a grab bag of four optional missions

I completed all missions (had to for the Unwavering achievement) but didn’t find any of the non-Priority missions to be terribly hard. I died a few times while giving a squad mate time to defuse a bomb on Tuchanka, I was overwhelmed a few times in fights against Cerberus, but for the most part I moved forward slowly, used my Tactical Cloak as often as possible, and remembered to revive my squad mates if any of them went down.

There were a few Priority missions, however, that had me darned annoyed.

imageFirst, some of the characters seemed to be able to see me even when I was cloaked. I’d be sneaking along and, all of a sudden, I’d get blasted. Next, I could find myself getting overrun and find that my partners would just let me get swarmed. And in the final fight, you’re a very damaged Commander Shepard, you can’t use your magic, you can’t aim well, you can’t fire a gun quickly … heck, you can’t even crouch or hide; in that condition you are faced with an enemy who willfully blasts you to pieces. I tried a lot of ways to fight that guy and even read some options on the Internet. Finally, after failing a lot of times, I went head on and rather than trying to minimize how much he could see me, I chose to optimize visibility … figuring I’d have a bigger target to aim for. And it worked.


imageIn all, I played this game hours and hours. I earned my first achievement on 4/21 and my final achievement on 6/3; in between, I played that game just about non-stop. I’d get home from work, play a bit, have dinner, then play another hour or two. I’d come to bed late and spend a large portion of the weekend playing yet more. I blame it for some of my weight gain, some of my lack of exercise, and a lot for not making time for projects around the house (including blogging).

But, I’m done. There’s a small chance that I’ll play additional DLC (download content) as it comes out, but that’s thin. I’ll likely just read up on the details of the game on the Web. It’s been a fun game but time to get back to making use of myself around the house and to me.

Or, in other words, it’s time to find out what’s going on out there besides “playing the spaceman game”.


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