Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Things That Should Be In Mass Effect 3, But Probably Won't Be (Part Five)

I love Mass Effect. The third and final installment--with little more than one teaser trailer and one gameplay trailer released so far--already has me grabbed by the wrinklies, and I'm certain it's going to be a truly epic end to a great saga of heroism and hard choices. But there are a few things that I'd really love to see--that I think are very possible for the Bioware team to make--that I'm fairly certain won't make the cut. These are things that should be in Mass Effect 3, but probably won't be:

I want to have some direct sway over the inevitable epic space battle's action.
Why I want it: In the climax of the first Mass Effect game, you had the opportunity to tell the Earth Alliance fleet to either rush into the final battle, trying to help the embattled Citadel fleet, or to bide their time and wait for the enemy fleet to present a better opportunity to catch them off guard. It was a fun--but all too small--chance to exercise a little tactical control over a space battle that in the end just slightly modified the final cut-scene and whether or not the Citadel Council survived. In Mass Effect 2, the final space battle cut-scene was determined by which upgrades you had bought for the Normandy, if any, and that in turn affected which crew and party members might get injured in the fight. Both of these elegant teasers were well-executed, but they weren't very ambitious. ME 3 should give the player a chance to direct the final space battle with the Reapers in progress--along with a few Paragon and Renegade options that only unlock if you maxed your alignment by the end of the game. This, of course, supposes that this sort of massive fleet combat, composed of the Reapers on one side and a rag-tag assortment of all species' ships on the other, will be the immediate prelude to Shepard's final struggle to wipe out the machine overlords.

Picture this: Joker jumps the Normandy into Earth-space well within the lunar orbit, with a smattering of Migrant Fleet destroyers, turian dreadnoughts, batarian raiders, and volus gunships following in close formation. After a moment's delay, the viewscreen fills up with hundreds of Reapers as they lift off the planet to intercept the allied fleet in low Earth orbit. Immediately, the volus commander begins to freak out--because that's what space-bankers do when galactic poop-storms show up on their viewscreen. Shepard can tell the volus commander to retreat, fall back into a support formation, or to go into a flanking surprise attack. A renegade Shepard can threaten the volus, telling him that there's always time to blow up a retreating gunship, or a paragon Shepard can appeal to his sense of honor and outrage: "These things wiped out your homeworld, they're here to enslave you all, and you want to retreat?" At which point the volus will shout something humorously overblown and charge his vanguard into the center of the Reaper blockade.

Imagine getting several meaty choices like this in the course of an epic space battle leading up to whatever the game's climax will be. Really, nothing less would fit the galactic scale that is the Mass Effect universe, and making it so thoroughly interactive will engage players to a new ridiculous degree that will make them want to play the game's climax over and over to experience all the permutations of the battle. And having the conversations tree direct the course of the battle would be an awesome recognition of this scope and Shepard's authority as Big Damn Hero over the forces involved.

Why I won't get it: This is mostly pessimism, really. There are very few good space battles depicted in video games. Most of the time you're shown the bare minimum to accomplish a sense of urgency. The most common iteration along these lines is a randomly exploding internal corridor if you're on a ship, or a lot of orange bubbles bursting in the night sky if you're on the ground. Bioware really impressed me with the battle at the end of Mass Effect, and though it was smaller scale and shorter, the ME 2 ship battle was also engaging if simplistic. I have a feeling that Shepard's method of fighting the Reapers in ME 3 will be something more innocuous than a space battle, but it's possible that they will need to break a Reaper blockade or something in order to deploy the anti-cthulhu-bot super-weapon effectively. But Bioware will probably downplay the interactivity to reflecting a few prior choices in the game and at most two choices at the moment. Given that the space battle in ME 2 was fully rendered--a resource-consuming process--I'm certain they won't want to eat a lot of development hours and disc space with all of the set piece shots they'd need to make an interactive space battle. If they made the space battle based on the engine like in Mass Effect, though, then ME 3 should be able to accomplish something like this without too much technical overhead.

I want more Spaceship porn.
Why I want it: Over the course of Mass Effect, players become intimately familiar with Shepard's ship the SSV Normandy. Like Serenity, fans easily memorize the layout as they live in the space between their adventures, and memorizing how the specific spaces of the ship lead to beloved characters makes that connection a much more real, emotional tie to a fictional inanimate object. In the prologue to Mass Effect 2, fans wept as the beloved spacecraft died a hard death, particle-beamed to pieces, puffing smoke, with secondary explosions ripping through exposed bulkheads as it tumbled into a planet's atmosphere.

Then, at the close of the game's first act, we were treated to this--the unveiling of the Normandy SR2. That's finest piece of sci-fi hull-plating I've ever seen. It's an utterly decadent indulgence in the cool design and emotional attachment players feel to the character of the ship and the crew to which she's home. Beats the pants off any car commercial or Michael Bay money-shot I can think of at the moment. I love it and want more of it. There was a whiff of this effect when players first saw the Destiny Ascension in Mass Effect, but the moment doesn't compare. When those cargo bay doors opened for the shot of the ship leaving port, I was a drooling mess, soon to be mumbling "I have to load my last save so I can watch that again." As a game developer, if your players want to load-save to experience the same content over again immediately after first witnessing it, you're doing something right.

Why I won't get it: I actually think I've got a good chance of getting this one. In Mass Effect 3 Shepard will once more be operating outside of Cerberus' control, so it's a reasonable assumption that there might be a Normandy SR3 money-shot in the works. Of course, it'd be great to get some shots like this of other ships in the Mass Effect universe. The Reapers are a shoo-in for this kind of treatment, but in a more kinetic, I'm-vaporizing-the-Eiffel-Tower-and-looking-oh-so-sexy kind of way. And when the cavalry fleet arrives and the player gets to take cursory control over the proceedings, there ought to be a glorious passby for the flagship and a handful of the notable combatants.

So come on, Bioware. Polish up those hulls, prime that starport's lighting, tune those lens flares, and get started with the spaceship porn. And Normandy, I don't care what anyone says, you can still move it with the best of them, even if you have put on a little weight. Work those canards, baby.

Well, that's it for Things That Should Be In Mass Effect 3, But Probably Won't. Barring any startling revelations I just have to blog about, I'll clap my trap shut on this topic and wait for the game's release.

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