Mass Effect 3

Frustration of the month: I have still not found the time to finish Mass Effect 3.

Between work, family, and various other environmental factors, I have been making very slow progress through the game that I have now been spending the better part of the last 2 years looking forward to. This is especially painful thanks to all the drama surrounding the ending to the trilogy.

I don't expect to hate it as much as some people seem to. I don't expect to feel inclined to go sign any petitions or demand that Bioware give me a new finale. But given some of my experiences with the game, I am getting the sinking feeling that I will not be completely satisfied.

Some of the choices made during the development of this game have left me scratching my head. While the overall experience so far has been great, and I feel more like the beleaguered last hope for the galaxy than ever before, there have been some changes made to the formula that undoubtedly leave me feeling cold.

Gone is the planetary scanning for scraps of resources necessary for weapon and ship upgrades, which I am thankful for. But in it's place we are left with what feels like a tacked-on scanning system where you are playing a game of galactic tag with the ultimate bad guys, the Reapers. Send out pulses as you flit around a solar system, in the vague hope that you might discover a nebulous trinket or a military asset that ultimately boil down to a codex entry and a point value attributed to your overall "score", which quantifies your probability of success in the climactic battle against the Reapers. Each system usually has one or two "pings" to locate as you dodge the enemy vessels that are attracted to your scanning pulses - which seems like a completely wasted mechanic, since it's extraordinarily hard to actually be caught by the Reapers, and while it does mean instant death, since the game autosaves every time you enter or exit the galactic map, even if you meet your fate that way, it means at most a setback of several minutes of star-hopping, and nothing more.

Gone is both the convoluted and horrendously overpopulated inventory system of the original ME game, as well as the depressing dearth of equipment options that was introduced in the sequel. In Mass Effect 3, we are given a happy medium at least in the actual number of death-dealing implements, featuring a decent selection of each weapon type, if you manage to acquire them all through exploration during missions. We've also been given the ability to incrementally upgrade each individual weapon for a price. Each weapon can be enhanced four times, with each level slightly increasing damage and ammo capacity, while also decreasing the weight of the weapon (which, in ME3, affects your personal encumbrance, making your powers and abilities faster to recharge). Mods are also obtainable and can be applied to any weapon, two mods per weapon which can be switched or removed infinitely across all weapons once they are acquired. The selection and customization is nice, and one of the few things I really felt was lacking in ME2. However, any interaction with your weapon inventory must be done through several kiosks located in the Normandy's shuttle bay (or at certain spots during missions where you find either a similar kiosk, or a new weapon, when the game allows you to change your loadout in case you want to try out your new toy). Want to upgrade a weapon? Check in at the upgrade kiosk, where you're given a list of everything in your possession and the price for upgrading it to the next tier. Want to see the actual stats on your weapons, and the effect that upgrading will have on it? Well, now you have to go over to the weapon bench and equip the weapon in question. If you upgrade a weapon, the only way to really see what the actual improvement is is to run back and forth between interfaces, and trying to estimate where the stat bars were prior to the upgrade, and where they are after (because while the weapons have stats again, they are represented with bars as opposed to numbers, so any real values are nebulous to the player. Even ammo capacity is shown as a bar, and the actual number of rounds you can carry (and how many fit in a clip) are unknown until you actually take that weapon into battle with you, at which point you're stuck with it in most cases until you are back on the Normandy. So, two steps forward, one step back, I think.

While on the subject of inventory: there is none. That is to say, aside from being able to check your stash of weapons and armor at the appropriate kiosks, there is no way to see them, or any other items that you have acquired. This is especially irritating at times because you will acquire artifacts or information while on a mission, or scanning a planet, that are needed to complete one of the various "side-quests" garnered by creepily listening in to NPC conversations aboard the Citadel. Once you find these items, though, there is no way for you to confirm that you have them in your possession, and the mission summary text in your Journal does not update, ever, so if you don't immediately go back to the Citadel to turn over the sought-after item, it is possible that you may forget that you have it, and neglect a trip back to the NPC in question (if you're lucky to remember which NPC is looking for which item, since these missions are mostly picked up through overhearing ambient conversations of the various unnamed characters inhabiting the Citadel, leaving you with hardly any memory of why the item is important, or who actually needs it). Typically, you will wind up returning to the Citadel after every few missions that you complete, and running around each section looking for the people that are highlighted by your targeting marker, indicating that you can interact with them. The reward for these "missions" is usually some cash, some XP, and a line or two of "thank you" dialogue between you and the instantly-forgettable NPC. There are no conversations that give you insight into who this person is, or why the item needs to be brought to them, specifically. It all feels very clinical and fetchy, and in the end, it winds up tacking a few extra points onto your overall score in your game of Galactic Pac-Man against the nigh-invincible Reaper threat.

There are more issues I have with the game so far, and I would say I'm only about 1/2 - 1/3 of the way through the journey, but I don't have time to delve into them at the moment. I do want to point out, however, that I'm only specifically targeting the things that the lovely people at Bioware bolted onto this installation of the Mass Effect series that I don't feel particularly work. In my opinion, Mass Effect 2 was, in most ways, an amazing and near-perfect experience, and some of the changes made to that experience fall notably less in the "improvement" category for me, and rather more into the "if it ain't broke, etc" category.