I can’t believe I am glad I didn’t get Diablo III

Blizzard, what in the World of Warcraft has happened to you? Your abysmal failure of a launch for Diablo III, news that you are delaying a second planned feature of your game, and the loss of senior staff over the past year have made me glad that I haven’t bought your game near opening night. And I haven’t not bought a Blizzard game in almost twenty years!

When I was little lad, I made my parents buy that strange-sounding game Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. I played the crap out of that game, beating it first with cheat codes, and then as my intelligence and skills grew, beat it normally. Warcraft II and its expansion were also bought when they came out adding hundreds of hours of fun.

I bought Diablo before my computer could even play it, and had to wait a year until we upgraded from Windows 3.1 to Windows 98. Then I kicked Diablo’s butt numerous times, delving down below the bowels of Tristram.

Starcraft was equally loved and actually killed two of the old-school rubber-ball type mouses before I joined the new millennium and got an optical mouse. I still play Starcraft to this day, loving the difficulty and story of the game.

Diablo II was next, and I lost the most hours to a non-MMORPG game to date in that. Warcraft III was enjoyed, but I didn’t think it was as good as Warcraft II or Starcraft. I did love the story though, and got World of Warcraft as soon as it came out, along with all he expansions, but I probably won’t get Mists of Pandera and I disabled my account as I don’t have the time for an MMO in my life anymore.

Starcraft II was EPIC. And the fact that it was only one part out of three is awesome. I can’t wait for Heart of the Swarm to come out. But Diablo III has been a different bag for me since Blizzard first announced it.

It never seemed to capture my interest like its previous incarnations. The first class announced was the Witch Doctor, which never really hooked me into the game. Talk about changing combat up, made it sound like Diablo III was going small-scale, which I didn’t like either.

Then came the new announcements. Senior developers left the studio. Promised features like PVP and the auction house were delayed. And this concept of gaming as a profit-based sport, disturbs me. Playing in a Starcraft tournament for prizes is one thing. Crafting a game around ways to make money off it for both the players and Blizzard is just bizarre.

So I am glad that my new custom-built gaming rig is down while I wait for a replacement motherboard and CPU for the defective ones I got. It means I didn’t buy Diablo III and that I didn’t waste my money on a game that has had more launch errors than the Apollo program.

Along with the watered down and lackluster Mass Effect 3, dozens of Call of Duty and Battlefield clones, 2012 is shaping up to be the WORST year in gaming history.

The entertainment industry’s fawning coverage of Mass Effect 3

This post is about the media coverage of Mass Effect 3, mainly the positive coverage and free advertising a lot of gaming websites are giving the game, while not really doing any actually newsworthy stories on the game. Specifically, this post deals with the rather glitchy multiplayer portion of the game.

I will touch quickly on the conspiracy theories about the reviews for ME3. I don’t think there is a vast conspiracy out there where everybody is beholden to Electronic Arts. But I do know people who wrote or write for magazines, and they tell me how advertisers get featured in stories before anyone else and coverage in a favorable light. If this is what happens in newsy magazines, what can you expect for entertainment organizations, which don’t have to hold up to such high ethical standards? And whose ad revenue was significantly boosted by Mass Effect 3 advertisements. Just saying, that might have bumped the reviews up a notch from good to great and “must-buy.”

But what really interests me is the continuing coverage of Mass Effect 3. And how it too seems to only cast the game in a favorable light. IGN, Kotaku, and other media websites have lambasted customers, fans, and others who were disappointed in the game. Beat-downs of your readership isn’t too smart, even if they don’t contribute a lot to your revenue. Advertisers don’t buy space on websites that have pissed off their readers by calling them childish names. That’s you Colin Moriarty!

For more on these two subjects read the good Forbes piece on media reviews and treating your readership with respect. http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/22/gaming-journalisms-problem-isnt-being-beholden-to-companies/

And what’s with the multiplayer coverage of Mass Effect 3. I can’t go a session without glitches, long waits for game lobbies, and now the fact that multiplayer has been so taken over by exploits that BioWare turned off the reward system for the multiplayer weekends and I cannot get a reward I earned by playing their game, and a fix for problem of which they have no ETA.

Yet, all those gaming websites I have mentioned and others haven’t said a word about the fact that BioWare hasn’t developed safeguards and ways to stop exploits that Blizzard and Activision developed years ago for World of Warcraft of Call of Duty. Never a mention that glitches continue to plague multiplayer, sometimes ruining the whole experience and making the game unplayable.

But what does IGN report on? The only thing they write about multiplayer (other than single-sided articles where BioWare execs get talk about how awesome their game is) are essentially advertisements for the multiplayer weekends and leaks for cool new DLC for multiplayer. Doesn’t really help support your argument you aren’t in BioWare or Electronic Arts back pocket when all you do is give them free advertising.

Do your job as journalists. Its a sad day when I trust user generated metacritic scores more than professionals paid to review and report on gaming trends and issues.

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t live up to the hype

My first BioWare game was Baldur’s Gate II. I loved it so much that I went and got Baldur’s Gate (along with Tales of the Sword Coast) and there was no question that I would buy the Throne of Bhaal expansion pack when it came out. I even stopped my current game in Baldur’s Gate II so I could go back and create a character to import and play through from the beginning.

Baldur’s gate was a true epic roleplaying saga. Yes, it involved high fantasy and was set in the established Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. But the storytelling of the three games is what made it so great.

You started off in the first game at the very first level. You had an entire world to explore, but hints at a dastardly plot and bigger threat were given to you bit by bit in the game, only to be more fully fleshed out at the ending. This too hinted at a bigger story and struggle going on, that was then expanded upon further in the sequel.

Baldur’s Gate was originally intended to be a trilogy, but BioWare didn’t have the resources a decade ago, so they condensed the third part of the game into Throne of Bhaal expansion pack. Even with those limitations, the Baldur’s Gate saga came to a spectacular conclusion and all the choices you made along the way came to a head.

Unfortunately, even though Mass Effect 3 is a full title, it doesn’t live up to the legacy of Baldur’s Gate. Where the other series finished strong, Mass Effect 3 falls just short enough to leave a bitter taste in your mouth at the end.

Why are these guys so pissed? Probably the taste of vomit in their mouth after playing Mass Effect 3.

And it isn’t because of Day 1 DLC, or crappy endings. Those are just symptoms of the larger problems of the game. Then entire game seems to show a lack of care and detail.

Let’s take the multiplayer component of the game first. Its actually the part of the game I enjoy the most. And that’s the sad part. Not that the multiplayer good, but that the single player game is overshadowed by it. All of the enemies in the single player game are the same ones you face in multiplayer (with the exception of the game’s longeboss Kai Leng).

Otherwise the entire game is based on fighting the same units, over and over again. There are no bosses, no variation. And it become mindless after awhile. Which sucks because the combat has been improved again for this third iteration.

Combat is great in Mass Effect 3. Just wish it wasn't against the same enemies, over and over and over again.

The combat is pretty fluid in Mass Effect 3. The cover system works well, each gun works differently and uniquely. The rock/paper/scissors system of ME2 is dumbed down a little, ammo and weapons don’t seem to have the strengths weaknesses versus health types anymore, but the combat is still fun and engaging.

And that’s why multiplayer shines. Since you face the same enemies over and over again in the single player campaign, you can simply come up with a winning strategy and weapons load-out you use for each level since you can control you AI companions in single player.

In multiplayer you have to adapt to a squad of human companions and work together to beat the level. Even facing the same enemies over again is different based on your fellow players. Trying new strategies can be fun and frustrating in equal amounts. But Mass Effect 3 is the end of an epic story, not random cooperative matches of multiplayer.

The story of Mass Effect 3 is lackluster. It starts out strong, but quickly peters out. There is much more story in the first act than the second, and the third act has even less.. Its very depressing to realize as you play that things speed up and you care less.

You can see this everywhere. Side missions in the previous two Mass Effect Games may have involved fetching something or finding someone, but they required you to explore the galaxy map, and fight through some kind of enemy. At the end you usually got a choice and there was at least some kind of a decent story to the whole mission, no matter how small.

Mass Effect 3 loves fetch quests, and makes them the most boring thing on the planet. Instead of getting a tale about why you need to fetch something and the quest giver imploring you to finish the task, you randomly overhear a someone on the Citadel whining how they need an item for the war. You then go and send out sonar pings in star system map until you find the object. Then you bring it back for a quick reward and go find the next random item.

Conversations with squad-mates are also less filling. Instead of full conversations each time they have something new to say to you, Mass Effect 3 decided to have many of them be ambient where you “overhear” the conversation. Makes it easier to write dialogue if you aren’t allowed to make any choices, but definitely isn’t as filling.

Also your choices have no impact, or very little. Every single character that you chose to live or die has a filler replacement in Mass Effect 3. With the exception of Kaidan and Ashley. Those characters are still fully fleshed out and you feel like you actually made a choice that matters there.

If you killed Wrex, his cranky brother takes his place. Having Wreav instead of Wrex affects some lines of dialogue and is harder to persuade than his brother, but otherwise fills the same role. The most hilarious and blatant abuse of this was the “Geth VI” that looks exactly like Legion and takes his place if you never activated him or he died in Mass Effect 2. Talk about a slap to the face.

Even the major decisions have no big impact. Killing the council or saving them only affects some numbers assigned to war asset units in the game and a couple of lines of dialogue. There are no major repercussions for gutting galactic government in the first game. And while saving or destroying the Collector Base has some ending repercussions, it has no effect on the game. It makes one wonder why they bothered playing through the first two games more than once.

You can tell the writers were sloppy with the story. Its little things like talk of ammo capacity popping up in weapon descriptions (even though the universe canon shows that guns still shave little pieces off a an ammo block, thermal clips aren’t really ammo), to major canon violations.

You can call me a mad fanboy all you want, but Mass Effect 3 was billed on its story. One of the main plot points that made Legion and the Geth memorable in Mass Effect 2 was the conversation where you learn that the Geth distance themselves from the Reapers philosophically.

Legion brings up a quote by Sovereign on how the Relays and Reaper technology force civilization to evolve in ways the Reapers themselves have determined. The Geth denounce this, and refuse to use Reaper technology in order to evolve on their own.

Mass Effect 3 ignores this completely. Legion (or the Geth VI), refuses to give up the Reaper tech advances in order to evolve the Geth consciousness centuries ahead, despite the fact that they become more like the Reapers. This kills the plot and the point of one of the major (and popular) characters in Mass Effect.

BioWare managed to make an imposing and threatening enemy into a two-dimensional baddie. Way to go!

And what the hell happened the games’ main enemy, the Reapers? You fought against Sovereign in Mass Effect, battled Harbinger and his army of Collectors in Mass Effect 2. Other than a couple of cryptic lines from an unnamed Reaper in the game, they are just a monolithic enemy in Mass Effect 3. You don’t even get to blow Harbinger out of the sky. And don’t get me started on the bare bones artificial life versus organic ending thing the game had.

It’s a shame, but it seems when Drew Karpyshyn left Mass Effect, the quality of the universe went downhill. The novel Deception was the just the start.

There is also less Mass Effect there for you to experience. The first Mass Effect took 25-30 hours to beat. Mass Effect 2 was a little longer. These are efficient numbers since I have played through Mass Effect games a lot. I did everything in Mass Effect 3 in my first playthrough in 15 hours.

Quality over quantity is a useful adage, but there has to be some meat to what you are playing. And Mass Effect 3 lacks meat along with flavor. Mass Effect 3 might get the same size as the first two games, but only after you drop a lot of money into the game with DLC. Something I don’t plan on doing myself.

Despite the combat, design, and story writing flubs, Mass Effect 3 is still a good game. Its better than a lot out there. But we weren’t promised a good game. We were promised a great final chapter of a beloved series of games.

And we didn’t get that. And it probably means I won’t buy another BioWare game or DLC for Mass Effect 3. I’m getting older and I have to take care what all I buy since I don’t have time to play anything but the very best anymore. Sad that BioWare has slipped on my list of great game publishers.

Personal Note:
Just a personal shot at Colin Moriarty. Baldur’s gate II was $49.99 when I bought it in 2000. That is $65.80 in todays money. Still less than it cost to buy ME3 and From Ashes, and you got a way bigger game back then too.

Hype and Mass Effect 3

SPOILERS: If you haven’t played Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 at least once, I will give away big plot points. You have been warned.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised when Mass Effect 3 launches in March. I am busy finishing playthroughs of both games (I have four done in Mass Effect and two in Mass Effect 2 and I know I will not finish before Mass Effect releases — especially with Amalur out in a little over a week) and can’t wait for the game to come out. So didn’t think I won’t love Mass Effect 3 or dislike the good work at BioWare. But, I do worry about some of the hype and potential Mass Effect 3 will not be able to live up.

Toby McCasker at IGN has a good post about choices and consequences in BioWare’s recent titles Mass Effect and Dragon Age. He brings up some good points and concerns about the the universes of both games and the vaunted save game transfer systems they use. I’m going to add some of my thoughts and feelings about the hype behind Mass Effect 3’s story, and some concerns of my own. This is kind of a rush job so I apologize for typos and any parts where the narrative rambles, but I felt it important before the next Mass Effect novel comes out as I feel some of my predictions might pan out its in story.

In interviews with the media, Mass Effect team members mention more than 1,000 different variables will be a factor in the storyline in Mass Effect 3, and that the decisions players make and import into the third and final installment can and will have a dramatic impact on the story. And because of the quality games that have come from BioWare over the years, that gives me a lot of hope that the hype will be for real in ME3. The only problem is that ME2 let a lot of people down in terms of impact from your choices in the first game.

A lot of your choices in Mass Effect 1 were only mentioned in passing, through emails to Shepard in game, news stories, or advertisements. A few others added a character or a bit of dialog in the game, but none really affected the story at all. Two of the biggest decisions in ME1 were what happened to Wrex and what happened to the Citadel Council.

Doesn't matter if you kill off Wrex or not. His brother will be on Tuchanka so the story can go on in the sequel.

If you killed Wrex, no matter. His brother takes over the clan and is the leader of the Krogan on their homeworld. He’s a little bit more conservative politically, and he doesn’t like you as much as Wrex would if you saved, but for the most part it doesn’t change your interactions or what you can do. Similarly, killing the council gets you some negative reactions on the Citadel, a slightly fascist Avina program, but doesn’t change the story or your choices one iota. The science fiction equivalent of letting the capitol building get blown up by terrorists in the middle of a joint session of Congress really doesn’t do anything.

The games’ developers did address those concerns I believe in interviews saying that most of the decisions won’t really play out until the third game just to keep the branching storyline manageable. That could be a cop out, but I understand. Mass Effect with the ability to import save files is like a gigantic choose your own adventure novel. Something with this kind of scope hasn’t been done before and BioWare gets props or at least trying.

But Mass Effect 2’s storyline shortcoming does leave me very worried for Mass Effect 3. Sure its great that my decisions are recorded and things do change as a result, but I really want to my choices to have REAL IMPACT. I want my decision to save or destroy the Reaper technology on the Collector base to vastly change the storyline of the finale. Shouldn’t the decapitation of the galactic governing body have huge and far-reaching consequences? If I ignore Legion in Mass Effect 2 and sell him to Ceberus does this destroy any potential for an alliance or truce with the peaceful Geth faction and organic races because I wasn’t there to stop the heretics from rewriting all Geth into worshiping the Reapers?

I hope so, but I am also prepared to be let down in some way. What follows is a little bit of a pipedream, but since this is a blog I don’t care too much. Here are my thoughts on three plot choices and how they could awesomely play out in the finale and what I fear BioWare might do with the decision.

1. The Collector Base

It doesn’t matter whether you blow up the Collector Base or not in terms of story. In both cases, the Illusive Man still is indoctrinated by the Reapers (Or what I think may be the more interesting but less likely possibility that the Illusive Man sees the Reapers goals as the best way for humanity reach dominance with indoctrination) and uses Cerberus to foil Shepard. The only change is the ratio of husk type creatures that are in the mix he sends against you.

What I think is a better example of the story branching is if you spare the Collector Base, the Illusive Man bolsters his forces with husks. He also builds himself another Reaper as the indoctrination takes hold or he comes to believe that Cerberus’ ultimate goals are the same as the Reapers. You actually get to face the Illusive Man in a human-form Reaper in the finale as a result. Might be farfetched but it would make sense for Reapers to need a pilot that integrates into the shell. Otherwise, you face his human forces, and actually have the chance of turning him to your side like Saren.

2. The Geth

How much of an effect will choices involving Legion and Tali have on Mass Effect 3. I hope a lot, but I'm preparing for not much.

What I would hope would happen with the storyline between the Geth and the Quarians in the finale is that your decisions affect whether or not there is a truce. If you played a pure paragon playthrough in the second game, you asked the Quarians not to war with the Geth, helped Legion reprogram the heretics to stop worshiping the Reapers and got Tali and Legion to sorta see eye to eye. This brings the option of the Quarians and Geth brokering a truce like the Cylons and humans did in Galactica. They both help you against the Reapers and you get a major boost to your galactic readiness.

If you ignored Legion, and told the Quarians they should go to war your options might be more limited. The Quarians may be all but annihilated when they try to take back their homeworld. You only get a small boost to your readiness if you save them, or none at all if you let the Geth eradicate them. You could also possibly get the Geth on your side depending on whether the heretics or the main Geth forces are left standing.

Instead, Bioware will probably do what they did with Wrex, things will be written around. If you sold Legion for scrap the Geth send another to stop the heretics and it happens regardless. This way BioWare wouldn’t have to program different scenarios with the Geth/Quarian finale.

3. The Council

Saving the Council lets you bring peace and democracy to the Galaxy. Your galactic readiness starts off with a boost, and it is easier to bring it to full. Screwing the council will make things harder but allow for a Galactic Empire style ending where humanity takes control of the galaxy and aliens are second-class citizens.

Instead, BioWare will just continue the slightly more fascist, pervasive racism feeling but no substance style from Mass Effect 2.

Again, I hope to be pleasantly surprised come March 6. But with every game, the promises don’t live up to the hype. Every game says they will provide revolutionary combat, mechanics, graphics, etc. But at the worst you get a game that goes backward and at best a game that makes a good, but incremental step forwards. In an age of a down economy, why spend money and resources on a wildly branching storyline when you can take the easy way out?

Mass Effect 1 Quests that need resolution.

If you are like me, when the time comes to finish the epic journey of Commander Shepard and get your hands on Mass Effect 3, you will have to start from the beginning and create a new character in the original Mass Effect, taking him or through the whole epic storyline.  Just like those nuts who have to watch all of the five previous films every time they want to watch Return of the Jedi, I am a completionist.

And going back to Mass Effect, there are a bunch of quests in the game that took a bunch of time and never really did anything in Mass Effect 2.  Maybe you got an email, or there was a news announcement in the Citadel, but for all your efforts nothing has come of your work yet.  So here is my list of quests or assignments from the early days of Shepard’s career that should be addressed in Mass Effect 3.

UNC: Valuable Minerals, UNC: Asari Writings, etc. etc. etc.

You remember how much of a pain it was scouring every planet and asteroid belt, and you didn't even get an email in ME2!

You remember these quests don’t you?  You are tasked with basically scouring the entire known universe for every mineral deposit, gas deposit, and survey site hidden on the galaxy map.  And after you were all done, you didn’t even get an experience bonus, message, or a damn email in Mass Effect 2.  So BioWare better have something nice for us in the 3rd Mass Effect game.

I guess the minerals quest makes sense.  You work for Cerberus in the sequel, so you shouldn’t be getting any rewards from the Systems Alliance that could help a terrorist organization.  But while you were away saving humanity from the Collector’s, the military had better be putting those resources to good use.  My hope is a fleet of Normandy SR-1 type frigates for you to lead into battle fighting the Reapers as you attempt to save Earth.

The Asari writings angle could be tricky.  Maybe like in Dragon Age, you will get allies as you fight the final battle on Earth.  A squad of Asari commandos as a bonus for finishing this quest in Mass Effect 1 would be a nice perk.  They could do the same thing with Salarians and the Turians as well.  Or maybe a unique squad member from each race for completing the quest.

The Prothean data disks could net you your own personal Vigil AI installed on the Normandy, maybe if you completed the Blue Sons/Prothean artifacts quest and Firewalker in Mass Effect 2.  I am sure the Protheans knowledge on fighting the Reapers would come in pretty handy.

Citadel: Homecoming

I got your wife back, so I better get a discount when I order curry the next time I am planetside!

The only reward in ME2 you got for negotiating with Samesh Bahtia and Mr. Bosker was an email.  But this quest could have some pretty far reaching consequences.  If you sided with the Alliance and kept the body for study, could you possibly be rewarded with some bonus defenses against Geth and Reapers in the final showdown?  If you gave the body back to a grieving Samesh, he then sets up a restaurant on Earth serving veteran soldiers and lauding your accomplishments to them.  Could we see some hardened soldier allies when you showdown with the Reapers as a result?

Citadel: Scanning the Keepers

Remember Jahleed and Chorban, the annoyingly annoying scientists who had you crawl all over the citadel to scan every single keeper you could find?  Well, after two and a half years pouring over the data you got for them (not to mention negotiating a cease-fire between them) all you get is an email saying that the Keepers were engineered by the Reapers.  You already knew this from Vigil in ME1, and had just found out that the Protheans were repurposed into the insect-like Collectors.  Way to go guys!

But what can we expect from Jahleed and Chorban in Mass Effect 3?  Could they give use something cool, like a way to protect ourselves from Reaper Indoctrination.  Since they are incompetent, it wouldn’t be too effective, but hey its better than slowly going mad and worshiping the bastards.

 

All they do is sit there and tweet. Slackers...

This actually opens up a possibility of multiple paths in ME3.  Consider that if you are a renegade bastard you kept the collector base for Cerberus to study and use to dominate the galaxy.  This allow for multiple and blended outcomes.  If you help the scientists scan the keepers you get a bonus against indoctrination.  If you helped Cerberus, maybe you don’t have to face any human baddies when you assault the Reapers on earth.  If you helped both, then you don’t face indoctrinated humans, and have an easier time downing indoctrinated enemies in your assault

 

Wait, slow down you say, fighting humans and indoctrinated on Earth… where did I come up with that?  Well who do you think you will be fighting in the endgame?  The guy with the rifle in the trailer surely wasn’t shooting at Reaper ships, that pea shooting probably wouldn’t even bounce off the shields on that sucker.  Plus the Reapers are big and bumbling, they use indoctrinated slaves to do the articulate tasks and majority of fighting for them.  So when you go to the final showdown, you are probably going to be facing indoctrinated troops and armies of husks.

And finally, my biggest prediction for ME3 is that the Keepers are really the original Reapers, at lost those members of the species that refused to be ‘saved through destruction.’  My guess is the Reapers found a way to become immortal by cooking themselves down and combing their collective consciousness and will into giant death machines.

The Reapers that refused were indoctrinated and modified to maintain Reaper technology, a slave race to serve them.  That would explain why the Prothean went from humanoid bipeds, to multi-limbed insect people after the Reapers got their hands on them.

So that winds up my list of wanted quest conclusions from ME1.  What neglected plot elements from ME1 do you want to see resolved in the final chapter of the trilogy?