In what undoubtedly was an amazing case of pure coincidence, Diablo 3′s groundbreaking 1.0.4 patch is coming out “the fourth week of August.” Hmm. What day do Blizzard patches come out on? Tuesdays, I think? What is the Tuesday in the last week of August? The… 28th. August 28th. Good thing I have nothing else planned to do that day.
Kidding aside, patch 1.0.4 may as well be called Diablo 3.5 for the sheer scope of the sweeping changes to endgame. Let’s look at them a bit closer:
Gold/Magic Find will no longer be averaged between party members. While Blizzard admits that they were originally worried about leechers jumping into multiplayer with pure Magic Find gear and thereby not likely pulling their weight, the complete lack of foresight displayed was astonishing. If I am capable of farming Act 1 Inferno by myself with 228% MF, why in god’s name would I join with a random stranger who not only increases monster HP (getting nerfed this patch too, by the way) but likely reduces my level of MF by his/her mere presence?
The other guy gets my bonus, and I get his… what? Pleasurable company?
Pro Design Tip: don’t build your co-op or multiplayer system around Russian Roulette, e.g. you are no better off when you win, but when you lose, you lose big.
Severe, Sweeping Elite Pack Nerfs
And I mean severe. Any one of these changes would be huge on its own, but Blizzard is throwing the whole goddamn pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Look at it:
- Elite HP reduced by 10-25%.
- Regular mob HP increased by 5-10%, but 4x more likely to drop magic items.
- Specific nerfs to Fire Chains and Shielding affixes; Invulnerable Minions getting removed.
- Removal of Enrage Timers for Elites (!!!).
- Removal of HP regeneration for Elites after player death (!!!).
Those last two items would have been more than enough to fix most of my issues with Inferno by themselves. The current system is binary: you can either kill the pack (or one member thereof) or you cannot. While removing Enrage Timers and HP regeneration can/will lead to Graveyard Rushes, I never understood how exactly that was a bad thing. Just because I can die six times in a row to finally take out an obstinate foe does not mean I don’t care about those six deaths. Dying in a game is penalty enough because I already wanted to survive; extra penalties are generally superfluous unless death serves some other gameplay function.
Sweeping Item Buffs
Although the buffs appear only targeted for weapons right now, this is nevertheless a big deal:
Weapon damage is the most important stat on a weapon. It can be disheartening to get a lot of weapon drops and you know before even looking at them that they have no chance of being good. To help give weapons a fighting chance, the raw damage value on all level 61 and 62 weapons will be able to roll damage that extends all the way to the top end of level 63.
While we will still see awesome +800 Life per Hit-esque stats on ilevel 62 weapons with unusably low DPS, the mere chance that it could be a better drop instead is a great move forward. Of course, it will lead to rampant stat inflation and subsequent hollowing out of the AH economy, but at this point, who cares? Hell, if we can get to a place where I can get a goddamn upgrade off the ground instead of praying for good drops to sell for gold to buy upgrades from other people, I will gladly throw the entire AH under the bus.
Also, I guess Legendaries are getting buffed? Since the average player is only ever going to see the buffed Legendaries in the AH, I never understood why Blizzard talked much about them at all; it is not as though they are farmable items.
Ridiculous (but Needed) Class Changes
I do not really know anything about the class changes yet, but I am going to go ahead and declare them ridiculous. They would have to be, assuming Blizzard follows through on this:
- Does the skill fill a similar role as an extremely popular skill? If so, buff the skill to be competitive with the popular skill. For example, Bola Shot could be a solid skill, but simply doesn’t have the raw damage when compared to Hungering Arrow, so we’re buffing Bola Shot to be competitive.
- Does a skill have a dominant rune? If so, can we buff the underused runes to be more competitive? A good example here is the Wizard Hydra skill. The Venom Hydra is by far the most popular rune, and for good reason, so we are buffing the other runes to make them more competitive with Venom Hydra.
What could possibly compete with the monk’s Fists of Thunder (Thunderclap rune) or Deadly Reach (Keen Eye rune), for example? Or, god help us all, the One With Everything passive?
I cannot say I have any particular faith that Blizzard will fix everything broken with Diablo 3, but even given this very preliminary information I can confidentially state that I will log back on once 1.0.4 goes live. It may only be long enough to finish out Inferno Act 3 & Act 4 before uninstalling for good, but hey. If there is a chance to relieve blue balls, you go for it.
Game: Mass Effect 3 + Multiplayer + DLC
Recommended price: $40
Metacritic Score: 89
Completion Time: ~32 hours
Buy If You Like: Mass Effect; story-driven, cover-based sci-fi shooter RPGs.
By far, Mass Effect 3 (hereafter ME3) is the hardest review I have ever tried to write.
There are three entirely different prisms through which this game can be judged. The first is as the 5-year culmination of arguably the most important sci-fi videogame story of our time. The second is as a comparison between the individual components of the trilogy, as in how it stacks up compared to the first two titles. The third is as an independent game, divorced from the accumulated emotional detritus and hype of the series.
The distinctions are important precisely because no matter how grating certain features or design decisions are in isolation, I have found myself literally incapable of escaping the rose hue of the first prism. This is not to say I did not notice the deficiencies, but rather they seemed to matter less in the final analysis. Your mileage may vary.
For example, things feel off from the very start. The Reaper invasion – the nightmare scenario that formed the impetus to action in the first two games – has finally arrived. Earth is under attack. And… I feel nothing. Outside of a Lunar sidequest in Mass Effect 1, this is the first time Earth has ever actually appeared in the series in any real way. My Paragon Commander Shepard has never been fighting for Earth, or even humans specifically, but for the right of all sentient life in the galaxy to exist. Indeed, humanity has almost represented a background bumbling bureaucratic force, a one-dimensional foil to Shepard’s actions throughout the trilogy that lacks the novelty of the alien scenarios.
It does not help that throughout the Earth invasion, throughout your leaping from burning building to burning building, throughout the panning of cameras to the monstrous Reaper capital ships landing among the skyscrapers… there is nothing but an eerie, empty silence. Where is the stirring music? I spent the first twenty minutes of Mass Effect 3 wondering if my game had glitched, perhaps setting the music volume slider at 0%. There are plenty of amazing songs in the rest of the game – the absolutely haunting “Leaving Earth” comes to mind, or the stirring “The Fleets Arrive” – so the lack has to be some inexplicable design choice.
Certainly, it won’t be the last such inexplicable choice.
Once Commander Shepard is back aboard the Normandy though, the game once again feels like Mass Effect. And it really was not until ME3 that I could point out what that even meant. The brilliance of the series, in my mind, is the notion that one ship and one crew can make a difference, in a relatively believable manner – the sort of “right place, right time” effect. At no point did I feel like Shepard was a god amongst men, even as I was performing miracles and uniting species after centuries of war. Flying around the galaxy in a desperate attempt to cobble together a coalition for a final stand against the Reapers… yes, this is Mass Effect.
One thing that deserves special attention is the combat system. Simply put, it’s rather brilliant. For the most part, combat in ME3 is the same as ME2 aside from some subtle, key differences. The first is the inclusion of Carrying Capacity, which I will admit to having a strong negative reaction to at first. Shepard and crew can carry all five types of weapons if they wish, but the lower the percentage of Carrying Capacity utilized, the greater rate at which Biotic/Tech abilities recharge. In other words, if Shepard takes an assault rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle into battle, he/she may get a -150% modifier on cooldown times. Alternatively, if Shepard only takes a sniper rifle and pistol, he/she may have a +50% modifier. Given the radically increased power of Biotic/Tech abilities this time around, choosing a loadout actually becomes a choice, especially since some guns are balanced around their weight.
On a related note, the gunplay in the missions themselves has never felt more fun and exciting. You will still spend 80% of the game crouching behind chest-high walls, but the obstructions are less obviously arbitrary, and the environment/graphics look amazing. More importantly, the enemies are radically more varied, have a deeply cunning AI that will flank you or flush you out of cover with grenades, and otherwise keep you in the moment and on your toes.
Any review of ME3 would be remiss to not mention what has become, if not the most, at least one of the most controversial endings in gaming history. Without getting into spoilers, the thing to understand about why it is as big a deal as it has been in the gaming media comes down to this: catharsis. Simply put, there was not any. And with as much passion as the franchise has generated, I do not find it surprising in the least that so many people have taken the pent-up energy to the forums and blogs (as I myself have done). As of the time of this writing, Bioware has taken the rather extraordinary step (if you think about it) to begin development of a free, epilogue DLC to be released this summer. If said epilogue is able to honor the choices players have made in this franchise, if it is capable of giving me the catharsis I hunger for months after the fact, then Mass Effect could very well unseat the sacred cows of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, and perhaps even Xenogears in my Top 3 games of all time.
As it stands, there is really no question that you should play Mass Effect 3 if you have at all enjoyed the first two titles in any capacity. Objectively, I think Mass Effect 2 as an independent experience (insofar as that is possible) edges out Mass Effect 3, but… well. To quote Fight Club: “You know how they say you only hurt the ones you love? Well, it works both ways.” Without a doubt, Mass Effect 3 has wounded me in ways no other game has ever done, and that in itself is a remarkable triumph.
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us… We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
The multiplayer that comes with Mass Effect 3 deserves its own special section, because in many ways it is almost a second, complete game. Indeed, its development started originally as a first-person shooter spinoff before it was enfolded into ME3 proper.
In effect, multiplayer is a stand-alone, four-person co-op survival mode. Although winning multiplayer matches increases the Galactic Readiness Rating in the single-player game (essentially allowing you to skip sidequests and still achieve your goals), there is otherwise zero overlap. You pick one of the six classes, one of the five races, a weapon loadout, a difficulty level, and then head into one of the six maps to face one of the three enemy factions. Each map has 11 waves, three of which will consist of special objectives that will be a King-of-the-Hill, activating four beacons, or assassinating four specific enemies amongst the others. Successfully completed maps will take around ~30 minutes, you will gain XP for the class you chose (with a level cap of 20), and Credits.
The replay factor, aside from the entertaining gunplay, comes from the unlocking of packs. Starting out, you have access only to the five most basic weapons and human versions of the six classes. As you earn Credits, you can purchase different levels of packs – Recruit, Veteran, and Spectre – which unlocks new weapons, weapon mods, races, character customization options, and one-use items or buffs to give you an edge. Obviously this can lead to frustration at times, especially if you opt to buy packs via Bioware Points (i.e. microtransactions) instead of Credits, but it does give you an incentive to try and make weapons or classes you would not typically pick, work.
The sort of bottom line is this: if you had fun with Mass Effect’s combat system, you will have a ton of fun with the multiplayer. I have already spent more time playing multiplayer than I have playing Mass Effect 3 itself. And at the time of this writing, there is a free multiplayer DLC (Mass Effect 3: Resurgence Pack) coming to introduce two new maps, new race combinations (including Geth and Batarian), and new weapons. Given that packs can be purchased with real money via Bioware Points, it is entirely possible all future multiplayer DLC may be free.
DLC: From Ashes ($9.99)
From Ashes is the poster-child for everything evil about Day 1 DLC: it is hideously overpriced, lacking in content, and has fundamentally shifted my perspective about the nature of the Mass Effect plot. What you are purchasing is one throwaway stand-alone mission, a Prothean squad-mate (Javik), a new weapon (a particle rifle with regenerating ammo), and a bunch of new dialog between Javik and the other party members (especially with Liara).
The problem is that without the DLC, the Protheans were always this unknown, almost magical race who fell to the Reapers in the last cycle and whose artifacts you spend a lot of time collecting. Interacting with Javik, however, reveals the Protheans as a belligerent, almost xenophobic race that would have enslaved or destroyed the races we have come to love in the Mass Effect franchise. In other words, by the end of the game I honestly felt that the Reapers did us a big favor by wiping out the Protheans.
So while From Ashes is not in any way essential to the plot of Mass Effect 3, I personally believe that its absence radically limits the scope of the narrative. In other words, I consider it both required and overpriced. Then again, honestly, you could probably just read the Mass Effect Wiki and watch the Youtube videos for the same effect, saving yourself $10.
In the last three days I have spent probably around 8-10 hours playing ME3′s multiplayer. My conclusion? Bioware might be onto something.
At its core, the ME3 multiplayer consists of ~11 rounds of 4-player co-op, Horde-style survival across six maps taken from the single-player game itself. Every third wave is what I’d call a “cash round,” in which you get a specific objective: King of the Hill, Kill 4 specific mobs, or Activate 4 Nodes. Completing those cash rounds successfully earns you credits whereas all the other rounds awards XP. During the final extraction wave, you have to be in the evac area by the end of the mission timer in order to get the highest point score bonus (e.g. XP).
The first thing I would say is this: the multiplayer is fun. It probably goes without saying, but if you enjoy the combat in any of the three Mass Effect games, you will enjoy it here too. You shoot from cover, you gain XP, level up, decide which weapons/mods to outfit your character with and so on.
Other bloggers have mentioned the similarities between the gear situation and Magic: the Gathering… and it’s true. There are three tiers of gear packs – 5k, 20k, and 60k credits – and each pack has 5 random “cards” that represent either one-use consumables (Medi-gel, extra ammo, missile launcher), new weapons (or upgrades to already found weapons), weapon mods, new races for a class, or class XP (which raises the baseline level of new characters of that class). The mid-line Veteran Pack comes with 1 Uncommon item or better, while the Spectre Pack has a guaranteed Rare “or better” (whatever that means).
I am not a huge fan of companies putting literal gambling in even their F2P offerings, mainly based on my Magic Online experience. I played the physical form of M:tG for nearly a decade already, but after a particularly bad night of Magic Online wherein I realized I paid $60+ on a series of Booster Drafts, I deleted the game off my hard-drive and went and bought WoW the next day.¹
That got me thinking though… how different is that really from random loot in MMOs? Could, in fact, Bioware turn Mass Effect into an MMO without much effort at all?
Most of the set pieces are already in place.
Check, check, and check.
Originally, I found the ME2 pivot towards Biotic/Tech power spam (6 second cooldown Biotic Charge, what?) to be disconcerting. I suppose it doesn’t make any less sense than Omni-Tools materializing out of thin air or the titular mass effect, erm, effect in general. By the time I was halfway through ME3, the dynamism of power use was a core part of the entertaining gameplay.
You could even go so far as to imagine the Trinity system existing within the game realm, without too much of a stretch. Unlike Star Wars, it seems intuitively viable to heal people with Tech (Medi-Gel) or even Biotics, or perhaps simply refreshing their shielding with either. Or we could (perhaps preferably) see them go the purported Guild Wars 2 route and have shared role responsibilities – anyone can rez any downed member in the ME3 multiplayer, for example.
Mass Effect has them all in spades.
There are six races in multiplayer already, all with their own sort of racial-esque abilities, motivations, politics; we can imagine Batarians, Geth, Vorcha, or even Protheans being added to that count. I am not a fan of two-faction systems, so I would be overjoyed to see a situation wherein there are no “red vs blue” factions period, but rather players fighting for specific (mercenary?) movements of their choice. Did you choose Krogan and your friend choose Geth? No problem!
Indeed, without spoiling anything, the time period following the events of ME3 would be perfect, perfect for this kind of integrated gameplay. As Mass Effect players, we are already used to mission-based activities spread throughout the galaxy, taking orders from quest-givers, and so on and so forth. Expansions could come in the form of dormant² Relays or new star systems being discovered without breaking any suspension of disbelief.
As far as enemies go, while the main three – Geth, Cerberus, Reapers – have been… explored to various degrees, again, the time period following ME3 will undoubtedly be a fairly chaotic place. And remember, we got along perfectly fine in ME1 without having the geth be the only bad guys. There is no reason why pockets of resistance couldn’t spring up, pirates, mercenary groups, terrorist cells, or even the Salarian STG (or Spectres!) could decide they need to achieve X or Y goal, in opposition to your orders.
Shepard made galactic peace possible. It is up to us to maintain it.©
Whether Bioware makes itemization deeper or keeps it fairly level, the fact is that it already exists. Shepard can wear 6-7 different helmets with different stats, independent of what kind of leg armor he/she has. “Tier sets” exist. There are dozens of different guns, upgrades, and weapon mods. It has been established that new item technologies can be researched and produced, all in the same universe in which “Fabrication Rights Management (FRM)” technology can keep certain items unique (e.g. effectively soulbound).
Now, I have a hard time imagining that chasing
+5 Flaming Shotgun M-23 Katana V upgrades would sustain any sort of ME:O endgame the same way fantasy MMOs can get away with it. But sort of assumes there is necessarily an endgame gear grind at all. Which leads me to…
MMO Structure/Themepark vs Sandbox
I am going to suggest Synthesis here.
Is it possible to have a sandbox in the themepark? I have no idea. But as I was glancing at the Galaxy At War map, I could not help but notice how the southern portions were labeled as Earth Systems Alliance Space, Inner Council Space, Outer Council Space. Meanwhile the northern portions were the Attican Traverse and the Terminus Systems. So… perhaps Terminus = nul-sec? Hell, we can already imagine fighting over bases, planets, and star systems in the Mass Effect universe right? Meanwhile, the people who want missions from High Command can get them while following a proto-typical MMO/ME storyline.
It does occur to me that, in many ways, SWTOR has already laid claim to this particular niche. Voice acting, the dialog wheel, everyone having their own spaceship, and so on. But I believe, in retrospect, that Mass Effect Online would have been a much better fit; with SWTOR, too many mechanics were shoehorned into the MMO mold. The odds of Bioware eating up their own market-share with such a thematically similar product is basically zero, of course.
Something is going to happen with the franchise, though, and I can’t wait to see what that is.
P.S. Apparently Massively beat me to the punch by a day.
P.P.S. Then there is this.
¹ My entire opposition to MMOs up to that point had been “I refuse to keep paying for a game I already bought.” That $60 lasted me about 3 hours in Magic Online, but would have been four months in WoW.
² Shh… it could happen.