First Thoughts – Mass Effect 3 (Ben, Al, Phil & Lee)

Versions played: PC (Ben), Xbox (Al & Phil), PS3 (Lee)
Producer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year released: 2012

Ben – The PC Collector’s Edition

For a Collector’s Edition the package isn’t particularly large. So to speak. There’s no fancy 10″ version of your favourite character from the series for you to unwrap, put on a shelf and to gather dust. Bastards. This can be easily rectified by visiting play.com, searching Mass Effect and looking at the impressive range of character models they have there. I digress.
The contents that you get with this edition are pretty much all virtual goods that we are told will “add” to your experience with the game. These include a virtual N7 hoodie for your Shepard to wear, a Mechdog for your Shepard to walk and play with whilst on the Normandy (because you know, you’re going to have time to do that when you’re saving the universe) and a new mission and character that you can download called “From Ashes”. This From Ashes DLC isn’t exclusive to this edition incidently, and can be purchased from the Bioware store, and for you Xbox and PS3 players I believe that you can purchase from XBLA and PSN accordingly.
There’s an actual physical N7 patch, hopefully it works much like a nicotine patch, in that it will help ween you off when Mass Effect 3′s final credits roll.
You also get a download code for the soundtrack, which I have no doubt, those of you that listen to the podcast, that Phil will spend the next few months driving around in his car, listening to, pretending to be Joker, the Normandy’s pilot. Again.
The final part is a tidy little artwork book containing sketches and so forth from the Mass Effect Universe. To be honest, i’m being vague here, as I haven’t actually looked at the book yet. There have been warnings on twitter that some of the artwork spoils parts of the game for you and I don’t like the idea of that happening so i’ll look once i’ve played through the game.
So that’s the contents of the box.

Now, being that I got the PC version, my fun doesn’t stop there. I had to now go through the hideous process of using Origin to install the game. To be fair, the interface seems better than when I last used it, which was quite a while ago, but it certainly doesn’t have Steam’s user friendliness about it.
It took about 20 to 30 mins to install the 2 discs to the hard drive and after that I made sure that I downloaded every piece of digital content that I was entitled to, which seemed to take forever using Origins slow arse servers. Finally, everything was installed and I was ready to go.
Now at this stage I need to state that I was fortunate enough for my copy to arrive on the Thursday, the day before the official UK release.
So, like I said, everything was now ready to go. It was Thursday at 7.30pm and I decided to press the “Play” button in Origin. It brought me back to when I was a kid and I was as excited as when I was unwrapping my presents at Christmas and had just got my hands on a shiny new M.A.S.K. toy. Anyway, things started to whir into action and then a message appeared. “Unable to play game until midnight 9th March”. Right.
I tried again, thinking that it’s worth giving it a second go. Exactly the same message. So, Origin was punishing me by not letting me play the game early despite the fact that I had legitimately got hold of the copy early. The equivalent of giving me my Boulder Hill and then saying, actually, no, you can’t play with this just yet because we’ve got to go for a nice long walk and then watch some cack on TV. This made me very sad. Especially when I had a quick look on xbox.com and noticed that Phil, who had also managed to get his Xbox copy early, was merrily playing away back aboard the Normandy.

So, as I write this, i’ve yet to experience the game, but fortunately that’s something that Al has done, so let me hand over to him to tell you about the first few hours in the game…

Al – The Xbox 360 Collector’s Edition

When I finally got my copy, a day late I might add, and after watching Phil over Xbox Live having the time of his life, I finally got to play the game on Saturday night.

Thankfully there is no Origin log in required over Xbox and it took around 10 mins to install the first disc to the HDD. All that remained was to redeem the various codes that came with the Collectors Edition plus the dreaded EA online pass and press play game.

The first thing that struck me was how much crisper it looked than ME2 and that was just the start screen!
As with ME2 you have the option to import your previous Mass Effect game save and therefore continue with your own personal journey. It was just as simple as the first time, with no problems finding the save and importing your Commander Shepard.

If you have a previous save from ME2 (if you don’t, you should be very ashamed with yourself!) then Commander Shepard starts off at, in my case, level 30. Once I had re-applied his stat points I was good to go.

Now obviously how my game starts may be slightly different from yours because it takes into account my previous actions, but I have to say that the opening 30 minutes is a non-stop ride of action that throws you deep into what is already a raging war. Even though there is also a tutorial as part of the opening, it didn’t get in the way. In fact it served to show me some of the new moves in Shepard’s arsenal. The Omni-Blade is definitely my favourite!

The team at Bioware have done a bang up job with the graphics and style of ME3. Making the game look very sharp and enjoyable to look at. The sound is also top notch, especially regarding the Reapers themselves, they SOUND scary let alone look it!
The action flowed very well, the story skipping along at a good pace but not leaving you in the dark as to what is happening and what has past since the end of ME2.

There is one bit at the start that really sets the tone of the task before you and I found myself actually saying out load, “I’m gonna kill every last motherf***ing Reaper!”.
Yep, I am well and truly hooked again, and to illustrate this point I have to tell you that it is now Sunday at about 12pm and I haven’t been to bed yet!

If you have been listening to the podcast then you will know that we all have been quite vocal regarding two of the new features in ME3. Kinect and multiplayer.

I have to say that I am eating my words regarding multiplayer. I have played about 2 hours of it and it is very enjoyable. It plays in the same way as the single player campaign as far as the controls but with very subtle differences i.e. there is no selection wheel for weapons and abilities. All of those need to be sorted prior to starting a match.
The games are very simple in design and there has to be something said about having three other real people by your side helping to repel enemies.

The second feature, Kinect, and I’m sure Ben is probably not going to like this, is actually really good. It feels seamless and I felt immediately at ease calling out commands on the fly and also speaking at conversation choices instead of using the selection wheel. Kinect can be used or not, it is entirely up to you. It doesn’t get in the way nor would it be missed if you didn’t own a Kinect. The only sad thing is that the voice commands can’t be used with a normal headset i.e. on PC. Just by simply saying open to a door and have it respond by opening make you wish your real doors did the same.

Over all Mass Effect 3 really is living up to the hype in my eyes. I can’t wait to finally finish my story and see how it all pans out, but believe me when I say that I will be taking my sweet time!

Now if you don’t mind I need to get back to killing every last motherf***ing Reaper!

Phil – The Xbox 360 Collector’s Edition

M’Learned friends have already dealt with all the unboxing goodness so I’ll give that a miss, save for one correction. I have never, ever, driven around with the music for ME2 blasting out pretending I’m Joker.
Pretending I’m Commander Shepard, however…”Pretending” that I’m Shepard, or the feeling that something isn’t quite right as far as my character goes, is the only thing that I can possibly criticise this game for so far – I’ve been one of the many people caught up by the “facial importing” bug that’s been heavily reported over the internet. While it’s so far from being a deal breaker – it took me less than ten minutes to knock together a new fizzog for my Shep – the settings appear to have changed slightly from the previous two games, meaning that while the new face is pretty close to how it was, there’s a tiny difference that’s just enough to give a sense of disconnect – the character acts like my Shepard, all his decisions are there, it’s just that… y’know…

I’m sure that BioWare will correct this soon, however, and this little grumble was quickly forgotten once I got thrown into the action – almost immediately, as Al’s pointed out. Satisfyingly, old acquaintances are soon introduced and BioWare’s achievement in carrying over and weaving together the smallest decisions and the most fleeting relationships from previous games becomes apparent. In fact, it’s the storytelling in the game so far that I’ve found to be particularly striking. Obviously, I don’t know if this would have been the case if ME3 had been my first entry into the series, but so far there’s been no heavy-handed exposition as to what’s occurring and why. There are subtle conversations, moments of dialogue, and frequent pops of new Codex entries that fill in backstory without interrupting the action.

The quality of writing and storytelling in ME3 give the game an emotional heft that’s like anything I’ve experienced in the medium before. There’s a real sense that things are moving – rapidly – towards a conclusion, and the feeling of urgency and desperation that this adds is palpable. On top of this, there are moments where you – Commander Shepard, intergalactic saviour – feel utterly powerless, both on a grand scale in the face of a Reaper armada, and on a personal level. Frighteningly, at one point in the game I found myself in a blind fury, a genuine, almost primal, rage due to one of these more personal incidents – I pulled the trigger and just kept shooting and shooting. Fuck paragon. You’re going to pay for that. And I don’t get angry easily…
Did I mention that I’m only four hours in?

Al’s mentioned the sound design in his first impressions; on a similar theme, I was a little disappointed to find out that Mass Effect 3‘s soundtrack wasn’t going to be composed by Jack Wall, who’d handled the first two games (I love the synths in the first Mass Effect). Thankfully, former Pop Will Eat Itself member and now highly-respected movie composer Clint Mansell has done a fantastic job with this one. Many of the themes from the first two games are present (the soothing Galaxy Map tune, to name but one) and Mansell lends his own touches – an early, atmospheric piece is all stark, echoing piano notes, similar to his work on Duncan Jones’ Moon. What I’ve heard so far is less stridently Hollywood than the orchestral sweeps in ME2 but it fits the tone of the game itself perfectly.

I can’t wait to invest more time in this game and see how everything resolves – although this is tinged with a certain degree of sadness. I’ve put so much into the previous Mass Effects, got so involved with the stories, that I’m not sure if I really want it to end. I’d happily experience the Mass Effect universe for years to come… but everything’s got to end, and Mass Effect 3certainly has that sense of finality to it. So if you don’t mind, I’m off to be Commander Shepard and save what I can of the galaxy – and of my friends, of Ashley, Garrus and all the rest – one more time. It’s been a blast.

Lee – PS3

Some of you may be aware of my love affair with Mass Effect 2 (the girlfriend is definitely aware of my love affair with Miranda) and how, along with Arkham City, it has rekindled my love affair for gaming so it will come as no surprise that ME3 was a very rare day one purchase for me. I spent the week before it came out plunging myself deep, deep into ME2 to get it done in time, this distraction along with my general lack of decisive decision making meant I didn’t get round to pre-ordering ME3, a mistake admittedly and up to now I haven’t got round to downloading the “From Ashes” DLC but I will do shortly. The most important thing however, is that on release day I had the game (unlike some other who had pre-ordered it – Al).Like an excited child I ran home (actually I sauntered home and via the pizza counter at Sainsbury’s – other supermarkets are available!), unwrapped the game in a frenzy of knife wielding excitement took ME2 out and with an air of trepidation, replaced it with what I hoped would be the new Holy Grail of gaming excellence.

I think in my previous Blog, I started describing ME2 by saying “WHAT A GAME!” I’d like to start the description of ME3 off by saying “WHAT A FRICKIN AWESOME GAME!” If ME2 grabbed me by the balls, then ME3 grabbed my balls, yanked them off and hurled them into deep space.

The game looks simply fantastic, graphically far superior to ME2 especially the charactors faces. When you’re fighting on the Turian home planet recruiting the Primark look up, the vista of the Reaper ships against the backdrop of the nearby planet is purely breathtaking. The gameplay is so slick, the action moves so much smoother than its predecessor and the noise of the action especially the weapons has more depth and feel to it. The fighting is a lot harder than before played in open arenas rather than huddled down corridors so the enemy can approach from all angles. The enemy AI itself is far superior some even gathering in formation behind shields. Defeating them needs a good mix of Biotic and weapon fire power and I have already manually directed my comrades far more than I ever did in ME2.

For previous ME players the controls are unchanged (PS3 version played) and the menus are largely familiar, this time emitting a very pleasing neon glow. The only issues I have with the game so far are the weapons upgrade menu which I don’t think needs to be as fiddly as it is and the Normandy, which for some reason is very dimly lit.

The game itself starts off at the Citadel and launches into the action straight away and takes you through a nice early “mission” the primary function of which is to get you used to the controls. Shepard has obviously undergone some military training and turned into all- action Shepard, now possessing the ability to run for more than 10 steps without panting and jumping across gaps. After this introduction to the game, Shepard is dumped on Mars and this mission provides the catalyst for the rest of the story and soon after it becomes apparent what the aim of the game is going to be. Armed with this knowledge and a familiarisation tour of the new Normandy we’re off to save the Universe.

I’m 8 or 9 hours into the game and I’m totally in awe of everything it has to offer, which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I went to hammer it to death and play it all the time but I don’t want it to end too soon.

What to do, what to do? I’ll think I’ll lay off it for a bit, eek it out, take my time, saviour every battle, decision and every inch of Miranda’s curves. So now what? I’ve got half hour to spare, where’s that controller gone!!!!!!

 

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