It was a brief comment in Dave Halverson’s review of Dragon Quest VIII from the November 2005 issue of Play Magazine, and not especially relevant to the full review, but it’s stuck with me ever since: “…given the detail, that the lead character is not dynamic to steps and slopes does take a bite out of the realism.” I wouldn’t say I’ve paid attention to the functionally irrelevant detail of characters walking on stairs in every game I’ve played since, but sometimes I notice. In Shenmue III for instance, whenever the protagonist Ryo walks up or down a flight of stairs, his feet hit every step. Every. Step. I know relatively little about the rigors of game development, but it seems ludicrous to offer such attention to detail for something as banal as navigating a flight of stairs. And yet, Shenmue III is in many ways a game about embracing the banal, for better or worse. Continue reading Shenmue III [PlayStation 4] – Review→
Released for the Nintendo DS in September 2008, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is one of the most unique games in the iconic series. Unlike almost every other entry in the franchise, it eschews fast-paced platforming in favor of turn-based battles. This is unsurprising considering BioWare, the Edmonton, Alberta-based developer responsible for it, is best known for their various role-playing games. It features a few trademarks associated with their gameography but plays more like their spin on the Japanese RPG. Continue reading Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood [Nintendo DS] – Review→
About this time last year, I decided to begin playing the Star Ocean series in anticipation of the release of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. After completing the PlayStation Portable remakes of the first two games, I finally got around to playing Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PlayStation 2, the third entry (discounting the Japan only Game Boy Color release Blue Sphere). Developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix in the United States on August 31, 2004, it’s well-regarded among many RPG fans. Conceptually, the series has always been ambitious, but I feel it was with this release that the developers were able to execute their vision in an overwhelmingly successful manner. Continue reading Star Ocean: Till the End of Time [PlayStation 2] – Review→
Who is Commander Shepherd? Is he simply an avatar for players, or is he a distinct character who evolves over the Mass Effect series? Since beginning Mass Effect 3, I began pondering this question. In the most recent game, BioWare and EA made this game more open to new players by introducing a mode where decisions are taken out of the player’s hands, in essence creating a Shepherd with a personality, morals, own thoughts, et cetera. Not only that, but Shepherd has dreams in Mass Effect 3, implying further that he is his own person.
I believe Commander Shepherd is a blank slate. Through the decisions the player makes, he gets filled in. As the three-game story arc progressed, Shepherd grew, maybe. As the player, we can make any of the available decisions we want willy nilly. I assume that most players are role-playing their Shepherd as either a paragon (good) or renegade (bad). However, we can ultimately make nearly any decision we want, whether it fits in line with our Shepherd’s alignment or not. So long as we’re role-playing Shepherd with an eventual goal in mind, he does grow as a character. Otherwise, he’s just a mishmash of what we’re feeling at the moment.
I argue that Commander Shepherd is an avatar for the player so they can build an emotional connection to fully enjoy the depth of the games. The positions Commander Shepherd takes are entirely representative of us. My Shepherd had distinct characteristics that are also found in me. I imagine this is the same for anyone who describes Shepherd as “their” Shepherd. The only reason we would ask ourselves what Shepherd would do in a specific situation is because we have already crafted what Shepherd would do because he is a version of ourselves. Shepherd isn’t a distinct character that has his own viewpoint, his viewpoint is ours.
However, for Shepherd to truly resonate with us and allow us to build an emotional connection, he does have to be a distinct character. He has a back-story and interacts with others more so than a silent protagonist. In reality, he’s akin to the silent protagonist of so many other video games. In a way though, Shepherd is the next step of the silent protagonist. He is a blank slate for players to utilize and choose their own choices thereby creating a character, but he does have a voice (figuratively and literally).
Writing down my thoughts about Commander Shepherd has made me think more about the avatars we play as in video games. There are many ways to get players involved in a video game and there are a lot of variables. Commander Shepherd can’t be pinned down as a silent protagonist or a distinct character because he’s a combination of these two alternatives. Truly though, I’d argue he’s closer to a silent protagonist because the decisions he makes are in the player’s hands and therefore, they’re really the stars of the game.
Mass Effect 3, what a game! BioWare and Electronic Arts have closed out the trilogy amid much controversy. The increased amount of related downloadable content and the botched ending have irked many people. Still, the proof is in the pudding and Mass Effect 3 retains the high pedigree associated with the previous two games.
As was the case with Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 plays more fluidly than its predecessor. Commander Shepherd has a newfound agility that allows him to weave around a battlefield much better than he’s ever been able to. Still there are some annoyances that make Shepherd’s movement feel very rigid. Turning while running was a process I had to become accustomed to and getting into cover was oftentimes finicky. For instance, when I’d run into a wall at an angle, Shepherd wouldn’t get into cover; to get into cover, I’d have to hit it head on. These are a few minor annoyances but overall, Shepherd’s agility is net gain in my book. As far as other elements of the gameplay getting improved, any enhancements were either very subtle or not worth mentioning. The game plays better than ever.
I’ve played as a soldier in each of the Mass Effect games and compared to the other classes, it’s a relatively boring one. Thankfully, the big addition to the series – multiplayer – allowed me to play as the other classes and experience their specialties easily. It’s a much lower barrier of entry then just creating a new character for the single player.
In the multiplayer, teams of four battle through about ten waves of enemies. Most of the time, survival is the only focus although every few waves, teams are tasked with uploading important data, guarding an important terminal, or taking out specific enemies in a timely fashion. I thought the multiplayer was okay, but feeling like I had to do it dragged down my feelings of it.
Mass Effect 3 integrates the multiplayer into the single player and represents the conflicts as actual battles that the good guys are fighting. Each multiplayer arena resides in a galaxy and each galaxy has a readiness rating. Each galaxy begins at 50% and for me, it was necessary to get the average up to about 70% to get the “perfect” ending. And since I was getting it that high, I figured I might as well get the overall number up to 100% to get the achievement for doing so. This was additional time to me because it forced me to halt my single player game and focus on the multiplayer for about ten hours, instead of enjoying it after “the main attraction” concluded.
“The main attraction” in my book is the story and with this I was fulfilled. It was inevitable that the trilogy would end with this, the third game, but as the first few hours of Mass Effect 3 make clear, there was still much work ahead of Shepherd. Constructing a force large enough to deal with the Reapers required Shepherd to put to rest events that have affected the galaxy for hundreds of years. Dealing with the genophage and the Quarian/Geth problem are two of the subplots that stick out largest in my mind.
Still, I can think of other, very memorable moments that may not have had a major impact on the universe as a whole, but affected me greatly. Whether it was losing close allies or making gut decisions on the fly, Mass Effect 3 had some memorable moments. Plus, seeing people I spared in the previous games reappear and discovering how past decisions reverberated was neat too. All the while, these decisions played into Shepherd’s war assets. In combination with the aforementioned readiness levels obtained through multiplayer, the war assets dictated what endings would be available. It’s weird to have every decision I’ve ever made to be distilled into a quick number, but it’s great for comparison to other players!
When everything is said and done, Shepherd once and for all deals with the Reapers. There’s been so much fuss over the ending that forming an opinion is a tough task when there’s so many others floating around on the internet. I had multiple options available to deal with the Reapers, and they were pretty diverse. While I got the “perfect” ending, everything didn’t turn out perfectly. I believe a lot of anger has been directed at the vague resolution of what key characters do after the events of the game, and that’s fair. I also think it’s fair that if players have spent over one hundred hours in this universe, they have enough to go on to form their opinions of what everyone did. Still, recent revelations over the “true ending” downloadable content give me a sourer outlook of the ending.
Overall, I’m pleased as punch with Mass Effect 3. It’s the best playing game in the series and thanks to the multiplayer I have a better understanding of every character class. Leveling up characters in it is pretty fun to boot, as long as I’m not “forced” to do it; most importantly though, I’m pleased with the conclusion of the trilogy. The bevy of events throughout the game was entertaining and I know that if I slightly changed my decisions, they could’ve ended up entirely different. Ultimately though, Commander Shepherd did what he set out to do from day one: deal with the Reapers.
From Ashes is the first major piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 3. It was included in the collector’s editions of the game and is available on each platform’s respective digital store. In it, Commander Shepherd receives word that Cerberus, the pro-human ne’er-do-wells, has unearthed Prothean artifacts on Eden Prime. Whatever they’ve found is said to be important and could aid Shepherd in his quest to defeat the Reapers. What he finds is much more important than simple artifacts though, it’s a living Prothean frozen in time.
Mandatorily joining Shepherd is Liara T’Soni, the resident Prothean expert. With her intellect and Shepherd’s insight into the Protheans (thanks to the visions he received in the first game on non-other than Eden Prime), they’re able to piece together how to release the Prothean from his contraption and keep him alive. As the crew searches the dig site, they discover evidence of Cerberus troops attacking civilians, a puzzling move that reveals ulterior motives for the dastardly group and ties into their work in Mass Effect 3 proper.
When the Prothean is revitalized he joins Shepherd to take the fight to the Reapers personally, after all, Javik is extremely distraught upon learning of the events of the past 50,000 years. Back on the Normandy, Javik answers many questions one might have about the Protheans, such as Liara, but what I got a kick out of the most was hearing other people’s reactions to him. When using him as a squad mate, people would occasionally reference his presence and the conversations that ensued were interesting.
As far as combat goes, I used him quite a bit after he joined up, but he’s fallen by the wayside now that I’ve found my “go to” teammates. He uses biotic powers like slam and pull so he’s still of use to my biotic-less soldier Shepherd. Javik also brings along a new assault rifle, one of Prothean origin. It operates differently from just about every other weapon in that it doesn’t require ammo. It had a meter that depleted when used, but if I used the gun properly and didn’t exhaust its charge, it’d fully recharge. Plus it fired a neon laser beam that melted enemies and that’s pretty cool.
I’d recommend From Ashes. It doesn’t add to Mass Effect 3’s plot in any substantial way but playing through it will provide players a deeper understanding of the Protheans. The ancient civilization was influential in shaping the universe and they’re often mentioned, but details on them have always been a little murky. Beyond gaining a deeper understanding of Mass Effect’s lore, gaining a new squad mate is a great perk and personally I really like the new assault rifle.
The final piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 2, Arrival, leads directly into Mass Effect 3 and explained away some of the confusion I had after playing the demo for the trilogy’s finale.
Admiral Hackett reaches out to Commander Shepherd and asks him to undertake a rescue mission solo. An agent of Hackett’s has been working in Batarian space and has uncovered substantial evidence relating to the arrival of the Reapers. She has been apprehended by the Batarians however and is currently in prison. The Batarians and humans have a frayed relationship and if Hackett sent in a squad, this would cause turmoil; much like the relationship between the USA and Pakistan when a special forces squad took out Osama bin Laden. This relationship is why Hackett is asking Shepherd to go it alone. Hackett explains that it’s better for the operation to be viewed as the act of an individual rescuing a friend, rather than an act by the Alliance itself.
So, Shepherd sneaks into the prison and rescues Dr. Amanda Kenson and the two then battle their way out and back onto the asteroid that houses Dr. Kenson’s base. When they arrive Shepherd is shocked to see what Dr. Kenson has found – a Reaper artifact, and one that’s out in the open. Shepherd is immediately worried that everyone on the base has been indoctrinated as Saren had been in Mass Effect; Dr. Kenson claims that’s not the case and they begin discussing the importance of her find.
What Dr. Kenson has gathered relates to the Reapers arrival through the mass relays. Her crew had developed a plan to crash the asteroid her base resided on into the nearby mass relay, preventing the Reapers from entering the solar system. However, they had a change of plans because they had been indoctrinated. They overtake Shepherd who wakes up days later as his window of opportunity to save the day is shrinking. Shepherd proceeds to blast his way through the indoctrinated Alliance members until he reaches a lacking conclusion.
One of the hallmarks of the Mass Effect games has been the ability to shape Shepherd and the universe around him through key decisions. Arrival finishes in a way that seems (almost) ideal for a chance to make hefty moral decision but whimpers out, in spite of an explosion.
Arrival leads directly into Mass Effect 3 (despite the two year gap between games) and explains away my confusion over the soon to be released finale’s opening. Arrival is heavily combat skewed and not having Shepherd’s crew is pretty lame. It’s probably ideal to play Arrival to fully understand Mass Effect 3, but compared to the three other DLC packs for Mass Effect 2, it’s my least favorite. Plus I’ve explained much of the DLC anyways so go figure.