I'm still cruising along and loving my experience with Mass Effect 3. I'm getting more engaged with the multiplayer as well. I think a big part of the reason I'm enjoying it more now is just being more familiar with the controls. Around the time I first started playing multiplayer, I was still playing Mass Effect 1, which had reversed keys for Storm (left shift) and HUD (spacebar). I would adapt, but little things like that would throw me off. Now that I'm playing the same class, on the same engine, with largely the same powers, I don't really need to adjust, and can pretty directly apply the skills I'm picking up in single-player to the multi-player game.
I'd previously mentioned how deeply I enjoy the cooperative aspect of multiplayer. I still stand by that, but it's also true that enjoyment has a lot to do with how good your team is. I'd had an especially good run when resuming MP, with experienced players who played well and supported each other. In recent days, I've had some really good matches with my brother, but also some mediocre matches with strangers where people will do dumb stuff like wander off into a group of enemies during an objective-based round. Weirdly, there isn't a very tight correlation between a player's N7 rating (basically a global experience level) and their skill in the game; I've seen a person with an N7 rating of 4 who acquitted themselves quite respectably (hanging back behind the front lines and getting in a good number of kills while staying alive), and people with N7 ratings of 2000+ who die every round and don't participate in objectives. It's weird. I suppose maybe roommates might play under the same gamer tag, or maybe some people are just kind of moochers. For better or worse, everyone shares in a mission's credits and XP bonuses, so if you free-load for long enough you can probably get decent advancement, even if you aren't really playing well.
The addictive part of MP comes with the equipment packs. You earn a chunk of credits after finishing a mission; I always play Bronze challenges, and usually end up with a little over 15,000 credits for a successful match. You use these credits to buy what are essentially booster packs, which unlock a bunch of stuff. Some of these are consumables: medi-gel, rockets, special ammunition. Some of them are weapons or weapon mods. And some of them are new characters. When you first start playing MP, you can play as a Human in the six classes, which are the same as for single player (Soldier, Infiltrator, Engineer, Sentinel, Adept, Vanguard). So it's basically a Shepard-like character, although you only have a subset of the available skills (five trees per class, generally three offensive and two passive) and are limited to reaching level 20. With the right cards, though, you can unlock new races for each class. These aren't necessarily better, but each offers different assortments of skills, and possibly different primary stats - for example, a Krogan Soldier will have a lot more Health than a Human Soldier would.
A while back, I had unlocked a rare Drell Vanguard. After promoting my first Engineer to reach level 20, I'd switched over to the Drell. Another advantage of getting these cards is that they provide an instant XP boost to that class, so instead of starting from level 1 I was able to start around level 6, with a good chunk of developed skills. I ended up taking that Drell to level 20. It was VERY different than playing as an Engineer... an Engineer is arguably the best support class in the game, and their main purpose is to soften up targets so other team members can take them down. In contrast, a Vanguard is typically at, well, the vanguard of a conflict: they charge into battle, stand toe-to-toe with the enemy, and do a lot of damage. It was fun, but very different from being an engineer.
While I was Vanguarding, I kept saving and buying new packs. These days I always save up almost 100,000 credits so I can get a Premium Spectre Pack; this typically contains two rare cards, one uncommon card, and two common cards. Even the common cards are usually better in a Spectre-class pack, though, since they grant more consumables. (A regular Recruit Pack with a Medi-Gel card will give you 1 Medi-Gel, but that same card in a Spectre pack will give you 5 of them.) Over time, I should have a better shot at filling out my selection of rare equipment and classes. (I've since learned that many people actually prefer to start out buying a ton of Recruit Packs, then moving on to Veteran and then Spectre. The advantage here is that you can get all the mods for your weapons, and can get higher-quality versions of each weapon. For example, if you get 5 copies of the Predator heavy pistol, then that means you'll have a Predator Pistol V, which is a little lighter and does a bit more damage than a Predator Pistol I. Over the long term, though, everyone wants high-end rare equipment, so I think my premium-only strategy will eventually pay off.) Along the way, I got a few more unlocks, including a Salarian Infiltrator, a bunch of rare sniper rifles, and a Geth plasma SMG.
After promoting my Vanguard, I tried a couple of rounds with my Salarian sniper, but gave it up; partly because it was highly redundant with Andrew's preferred playstyle, and also because I'm not great at headshots. (My firearm MO is generally to aim for the center of mass, and while I'm emptying my clip, gradually move up so the end of fire is centered between the eyes. Works well for a pistol, not well for a single-shot rifle.) So, I'd switched back to my Human Engineer, and was delighted to see that my Geth Plasma SMG was a perfect complement to my skills. My two SMG mods are an extended ammo clip and Ultralight Materials; taken together, that means I have a 200% recharge time on my powers, and never, ever run out of ammo, even during extended objectives. I'm generally not a fan of SMGs - they're inaccurate at long range, and if you're shooting at short range, a shotgun has more spread and does more damage - but the Geth variation (which, as far as I can tell, is only available in multiplayer) is actually highly accurate, and has an incredibly fast firing rate, even compares to other SMGs. So, my general strategy is to drop a Combat Drone behind a group of enemies, take out any shields or barriers with Overload, then fire away with Incinerate, filling in the (very short) recharge times with a hail of Geth bullets.
I'd taken a break from MP for a while as I played ME2, but picked it back up again and finished promoting my second engineer (and third overall character). In my next premium Spectre pack, I unlocked something awesome: a Quarian Engineer! That was my first Engineer-specific rare card, which made me very excited, I created a new chatacter, SebVasQwibQwib, and started to play.
The Quarian engineer visually looks to be modeled after Tali, but has an almost completely different skill set: instead of drones, energy drain, and sabotage, she has a sentry turret, cryo blast, and incinerate. I had just recently picked up the sentry turret skill in my SP game, and while it didn't seem as useful there as combat drone, I had a feeling it would be more useful in MP. Unlike the drone, which can move around in pursuit of enemies, the turret always stays in one place. That generally limits its usefulness in SP, since most levels involve you steadily going forward and encountering fresh batches of enemies. In contrast, MP is confined to a single stage, and particularly in objective-based rounds, you'll be spending a great deal of time within several meters of space.
I maximized my sentry turret, opting for boosts to its damage and a flamethrower mode that unleashes 84 points of damage every second to anyone within close range. This is an awesome upgrade for MP, especially for situations like uploading from the reactor core: when you have a Banshee and two Brutes in a confined space, you want that sustained damage. In contrast, in SP I'd opted for the upgrade with long-range rockets, since that gave it a longer period of usefulness.
After that, I maxed out my Cryo Blast and Incinerate powers. I usually spec for maximum damage, but in this case I opted for spread: my goal was to use them as crowd-control powers. A shot of Cryo will freeze or slow down a group of enemies for a few seconds. If they freeze, I can then shoot them with Incinerate for a tech combo that creates a Tech Explosion, dealing a chunk of damage to anyone nearby.
I've played a few rounds with this build, and while I enjoy it, I think I'll be switching back to my human engineer. I've gone from generally being #2 on the score chart to #4. I get more kills as a Quarian, and my turret is capable of killing quite a few weak opponents without any assistance from me, but I make a lot fewer assists. I'm also finding the Cryo/Incinerate combo a lot less satisfying than I had hoped. It's decent against Reapers, but since I no longer have a way to easily strip shields it's basically useless against Geth, and by the time I strip armor off of Cerberus I might as well just finish the job.
The best game I've played with this character was actually the first one I ever played. It was a totally crazy class grouping: me, the Quarian Engineer; a Geth Engineer; a Salarian Engineer; and an Asari Adept. So, basically, the four squishiest classes in the game. BUT, thanks to our various drones and turrets and singularities, we essentially had eight bodies on the field. We MASSACRED the Geth. We were playing on Firebase White, and we set up our armaments at the various points of egress, then waited outside on the top ledge and just slaughtered everyone when they came out. It's a beautiful thing to see a Geth Prime go down in three seconds: shocked by a combat drone, flamed by a sentry turret, its shields overloaded away, its armor incinerated.
Since that promising start, though, I've generally felt a lot less useful than usual in my matches, so I think I'll regretfully leave SebVasQwibQwib behind and get back to what I do best: getting rid of barriers, shields, and armor so my buddies can kill people.
It's been interesting playing the SP game after spending time with MP. I'd mentioned before that the presence of Cerberus in the MP games made me suspect that they couldn't be trusted in ME2; similarly, the fact that recent expansions of ME3 MP have added Geth as a playable race has foreshadowed the part of the single-player campaign that I'm currently in.
Super-random note: I kind of hate the music in the captain's quarters in ME3. ME2 and ME3 have both had sound systems that you can play and switch between songs. ME2 had just a couple of tracks, but they were awesome: a sweeping, dramatic, classical suite, and a cool, bass-heavy electronic track. ME3 has a ton of songs, and they all suck; they sound like pre-sets on a 1992 Casio keyboard. The music in the rest of the game is quite good, though. I'm happy to be able to recognize some returning themes from previous games, like the Presidium theme that's been around since ME1. The dance track in Purgatory is pretty good, too. I just wish I could relax with some better tunes for myself.
Oh, but I'm pretty happy with the new fish tank system. In ME2, all my fish died since I didn't always visit my quarters to feed them between every mission. (Chambers eventually volunteers to take care of them, so I should have waited until after then to start getting them.) In ME3, one of my very first purchases was a new aquarium feeder that automatically dispenses food as needed to keep them alive. I'm now getting some rarer fish, including a sweet electric eel thingy. The ship models are pretty neat - there are some new ones in ME3, like a Quarian Lifeship. My favorite thingy, though, is the space hamster. In ME2, you buy him; in ME3, he's gotten loose, so you need to find and capture him in the Engineering quarters under the drive core. It took me way too long to figure that, duh, of course this is Boo, from the Baldur's Gate games. Hooray for crossover continuity! I think that might even be the same "Squeak!" sample they play in the BG games.
Let's see... after the attack on the Citadel, I got Ashley to join my team, which I'd been expecting but still made me very happy. I've been feeling serious nostalgia for ME1 now that my standard away team is the "girls group" of Shepard, Ashley, and Liara that I always used in the first game. Ashley's been a good character. She's lost some of the xenophobia that she exhibited in ME1, although she can still be a little prickly. She's a bit less confident than I would expect from the second human spectre. (Incidentally, I'm still really curious about what Udina's whole story was. He promoted Bailey and Ashley to their new positions, and both of them ended up helping to thwart him. Just how long was he working for Cerberus? Did he think that he could control Ash and Bailey, or was he hoping to keep an eye on them, or was he actually trying to do the right thing by them and only turned bad later?)
Returning to the Citadel after the attack was a sobering experience. The Presidium at first looks as lovely as ever, but then you start to notice little things: the large glass windows were smashed, and so they're now just empty frames; many of the large monitors are now on the fritz; various engineers with omni-tools are repairing vending machines and other equipment. It's also been sad to see the misery in Huerta Memorial Hospital. It's now so crowded in there that many patients are on operating tables in the middle of the hallway. Once again, I wonder how much responsibility I bear for that. There have been a few times that I've weighed in on arguments, and when it comes to medical treatment I'm very much a Paragon: I'll always argue for treating as many people as possible, even if it means fewer supplies may be available for future conflicts. If I'd pushed more for triage and rationing, would this level be less crowded? It's interesting to think about.
Oh, Huerta is also the site of a phenomenal example of the diffuse storytelling style of Mass Effect. Like most of my favorite pieces of fiction, Mass Effect gives the impression that you're a single (albeit important) particle in a huge universe; for every story that you're involved in, there are many other stories progressing on their own. Often that takes the form of conversations that you overhear as you wander the Citadel. One story, which has been playing out ever since I first visited right after escaping Mars, concerns an Asari commando who seems to be suffering from PTSD. She's talking with a therapist, describing a horrific encounter with the Reapers she had on her last mission. Each time you visit, you'll hear maybe a minute of the story, and there are probably a dozen or so sections. (Spoiler: the humans she was trying to protect has been Indoctrinated, the farmgirl she was trying to save broke her leg, and the commando apparently ended up killing all of them in order to secure her own escape.) She's clearly distraught. Later on, when visiting the Spectre Terminal on the Embassies level, I was asked to authorize her request for a firearm. I usually authorize any request I get, but giving a disturbed ex-military woman a gun just seemed like a bad idea, so I refused.
My next Priority mission was at the Quarian fleet. Ironically, Priority missions are the ones you should do last: the Priority missions will advance the main plot, which sometimes will close off side-quests, so you should do every available non-Priority mission before the Priority. (But, again, some of your missions won't be accessible since their Galaxy Map locations won't open up until you do more Priority missions. It's confusing. I really wish this game had a better Journal.) So I explored everywhere, did a bunch of the fetch-quest-type side-missions, and the combat side-missions. I'm now finding many of the multiplayer maps in the single-player game, which is pretty fun. They tend to play pretty differently, but I enjoy walking into the situation already having a feel for the lay of the land, anticipating choke-points and escape routes.
I've managed to reconnect with a few more of my squadmates from ME2. The saddest was Thane. I'd run into him at the hospital before Cerberus's attempted coup. He was terminally ill in ME2, and had already lived years longer than his doctors had thought he would, but the illness was now in its final stages; he refused to join me, and I understood given his weakness. So, he surprised me when, during the coup, he turned the tables on Kai Leng, the assassin who was trying to kill the Salarian ambassador. Thane saved the ambassador, but was brutally stabbed through the chest. He didn't die immediately, and later I visited his deathbed at Huerta. His reconciled son joined him there, which was particularly bittersweet; I had worked hard in ME2 to get the two of them together, and it was touching to see Thane get some peace, and just as touching to see that his son was turning into an honorable man, free of the anger that had driven him to crime. There isn't much religion in the Mass Effect series (other than the occasional Asari exclamation of "Goddess!"), but I appreciated the scripture reading at Thane's end, which had a Catholic last-rites feel to it, and also focused nicely on the living. (I forget the exact phrase, but one part of the prayer said something like, "Please watch over her," and afterwards I asked Thane's son, "Why did he say 'her' instead of 'him'?", to which he replied, "He is at peace. He is praying for you." Anyways. It's something that could easily have been melodramatic and saccharine, and instead felt very earned and appreciated.)
But, boy, it sure would have sucked if you were romancing Thane. I wonder if they let you carry that forward into ME3, or if he dumps you? I suppose players would already know what they're getting into once they start dating a terminally ill assassin, but still that would be doubly harsh to lose both a friend and a lover.
The Crew Quarters floor on the Normandy has a memorial wall, somewhat like the Vietnam Memorial or the new 9/11 Memorial, which lists the names of everyone from either Normandy who has died. Since I messed up the rescue attempt at the end of ME2, my wall has a lot of names on it, including Chambers and Gabrielle. It also includes Pressley and Kaidan from ME1. Now, with Moridin and Thane joining the wall, the sense of death is growing stronger and more pervasive.
Not all reunions are that dire, though. Miranda has left Cerberus, and is resuming her conflict against her father in protection of her sister. If she wasn't such a capable woman, she'd be an a really bad spot: she has betrayed Cerberus, the Alliance has no reason to trust her, and so she's left without any allies, meeting you clandestinely (in a busy shipping corridor, or on a secured vid-screen channel, or in a private residence) and swallowing her pride to ask for help. She also apologized for how she wanted to implant a control chip in you, when she'd fought so fiercely to keep her father from controlling her and her sister. I just now sent Miranda off with access to my Spectre codes, without a clear understanding of what she'll do with them. I wish her the best, and wish I could accompany her wherever she's going, but I have a galaxy to save.
There was also an interesting reunion with Zaeed. It actually started as an investigation into a Volus diplomat; you learn that he was secretly in Cerberus's pay and was selling them Turian secrets. Since the Citadel attack, he has tried to cut ties, and now he's in a very bad spot. Cerberus can blackmail him, while the Turians want him dead and have hired some mercenaries to kill him. The diplomat feels remorse for his actions, and you eventually track him down, where Zaeed has captured him. I eventually persuaded the diplomat to provide info on a Turian colony under attack, and also donate some Volus materials to the war effort. Zaeed was slightly annoyed at the job's complications, but was happy to stick it to Cerberus, and eventually said that he would get in touch with some mercenary buddies on Earth to join the resistance. Anyways. I was never a huge Zaeed fan, but it was good seeing another familiar face. (Even one with icky scars.)
On to the Quarians!
I really dig all the interesting races that Bioware has created for the Mass Effect series. The Quarians are one of the most interesting, though. They all speak with accents that sound Eastern European, but to me, the story of their people sounds a lot like one of the tribal groups from the Middle East - perhaps the Hebrews, or the Kurds. Their story is focused around a lost homeland, a diaspora, a long time spent wandering in lands that are not their own, and a yearning desire to fight those who took their homeland and reclaim their home.
The deeper I've gotten into the game, the more complex their story has become. The rest of the galaxy views the Quarians with a mixture of pity and distaste. Pity, because of their trials in exile; distaste, because they feel like the Quarians not only brought it on themselves, but also brought danger to the rest of the galaxy. The problems started several hundred years ago, when the Quarians created the Geth. Quarians were always technologically sophisticated, much like the Salarians, and made the Geth as a set of autonomous, intelligent, networked helpers who could fulfill mundane tasks like farming, mining, and construction. However, the Quarians had accidentally given the Geth too much of a capacity for self-learning and improvement, and so the Geth evolved from being a VI (Virtual Intelligence) to an AI (Artificial Intelligence).
What happens next is murky - as you hear in the first game, the Quarians realized what had happened and tried to shut down the Geth; the Geth rebelled against their masters, eventually defeating them and forcing the Quarian into exile. The Geth claimed the Quarians' former home planet and colonies in the Perseus Veil for their own. The Quarians had already built the largest fleet in the galaxy, and now the Flotilla became a mobile home for the survivors: it nomadically flew from system to system, buying food and fuel as they arrived, and selling the advanced technology that they're good at creating. The Geth were the most terrifying enemy that the galaxy had faced between the Rachni invasion and the reappearance of the Reapers, and the organic species of the Milky Way quickly learned to stay out of the Perseus Veil if they wanted to survive. At the start of Mass Effect 1, there's an enormous amount of unease among the Citadel races about what the Geth are up to: they are presumably building a larger and larger army, and one day they may emerge from the Far Rim and destroy everyone.
I've previously noted how the "all Geth are evil" meme of the first game gave way to a more nuanced view in the second, which posited that most Geth actually just want self-determination. The third game is expanding the view even further, and revealing that, in a certain sense, the Geth are actually the victims. In one mission, you penetrate into the Geth Consensus, the shared consciousness that all Geth inhabit. Here, you witness recordings from the birth of the Geth, and see how it was the Quarians who first struck against them. Even more intriguing, many Quarians (who Geth call the Creators) supported the Geth, arguing that they should be protected, even while others started their campaign of extinction. We learn that the Geth don't hate the Quarians, and, in their odd, digital way, actually kind of honor the Creators who stood by them.
I should back up a bit. I'd held off on starting the Quarian priority mission until I'd finished all my side-quests, even though I had a hunch that I'd be able to pick up Tali once I started. I now wish that I had done it earlier. You basically get Tali right away, and still have a few other Quarian Priority missions after that's done, so there's no harm in heading there first. I really enjoyed being reunited with Tali; along with Garrus, she's one of the few stalwart companions to have stood by your side in all three games. She has recently been appointed to fill her father's Admiralty Board seat. Much like Ashley, she's a bit self-conscious and not sure whether she's ready for command yet. However, she's an extremely capable and intelligent woman and a great member for that position. She's done an even better job than Ashley at overcoming her prejudices: her experience with Legion has even helped her overcome the anti-Geth animosity that most Quarians share. (There are definitely factions within the Quarians between hard-liners who want to launch a war to retake their home and doves who want to preserve their own race, but even the doves don't feel sympathy for the Geth, they merely recognize the danger they pose.)
Quarian politics are maddening - again, I found myself thinking frequently of today's Middle East, where persecuted groups with grievances perpetuate endless cycles of violence against one another. I'd thought that I'd left it in a good place at the end of ME2, as I'd urged the Quarians to avoid attacking the Geth, modified the Heretics to rejoin the main Geth consensus, and secured Legion's allegiance and even an agreement to avoid betraying Quarian logistics to the collective. (Side note: it's interesting that the Geth are so reminiscent of so many famous sci-fi species, and yet feel so unique. The story of their creation has very strong echoes of the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica and the Replicants of Blade Runner, while their collective mind and endless drive makes me think of Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation.) That's all gone to hell now. Admiral Xen of the Quarians had discovered a new type of signal broadcast that could shut down individual Geth; elated at this breakthrough, the admirals decided to launch a full-blown attack for their old homeworld, even strapping cannons onto civilian ships to increase their firepower. The threatened Geth were then targeted by the Reapers (the "Old Machines") who upgraded the Geth as they had the Heretics, and broadcast their own directives through the Consensus, using Legion as a medium. These two groups, who I had hoped I could rope into the war on my side, were about to murder one another and hand the Far Rim to the Reapers.
One thing that makes me very happy about starting Geth missions is that I can finally justify taking EDI along. She's a lot of fun in the squad, as she is on the ship. All of my Geth missions so far have consisted of me, EDI, and Tali: that's three female engineers, tearing stuff up. We're... basically unstoppable against machines.
In the first Geth mission, things are looking grim for the Quarians. The Reaper-aided Geth have overcome the signal attack, and are leading a counterattack against the flotilla, putting countless civilian lives at risk. The most dangerous component of this is an enormous Geth dreadnought, which is single-handedly annihilating all resistance. The three of us got on the ship, starting with a very cool zero-gravity level where you enter through an exterior docking tube. That vaguely reminded me of the Battle of the Citadel at the end of ME1, which had a similar mission outside gravity at one point. Once on board, we fought our way to the server control room, where I was reunited with Legion. Legion had been aiding the Reapers, but not through any choice of his own; I chose to trust him, and together we shut down the dreadnought's defenses.
Of course, that made one of the battle-crazy Quarian admirals "seize the opportunity" and open fire on the ship, while we were all still on board. Fortunately, with Legion's help we were able to make it out, but I was TICKED. Here we had an opportunity to open a division among the Geth, weaken them and improve our overall chances of victory, and the Quarians were too short-sighted to take advantage of it.
This led to some... unpleasantness back on the Normandy. In this game's dialog/morality system, the answers at the top of the wheel are usually the "Paragon" answers - not exactly "good", but generally more peaceful, diplomatic options. The answers at the bottom tend to be "Renegade" - not "evil", just more focused on getting results, willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term objectives. (I think I've made this observation before, but the best analogy I can think of is Machiavelli's classic distinction between Love and Fear; Paragon choices make people love you, while Renegade choices make people fear you.) Anyways, I'm usually around 90% Paragon, but I think carefully about each choice, and don't regret picking Renegade when it suits me. There are some cases where a situation is so complex that even the game's thoughtful dichotomy doesn't seem to apply. After we (barely) escaped the dreadnought, I confronted the two other Quarian admirals on board the Normandy. The admiral who ordered the attack said something like, "Well, you made it out alive. I saw an opportunity and I had to take it." The top response was something like, "I understand." The bottom response was basically "Unacceptable." I chose the latter. Not so much for myself - I'm used to being put in danger - but for the Geth: I've been trying my hardest to broker some kind of rapprochement between Geth and Quarian, and this admiral had spit in the eye of the great opportunity Legion had just handed him. He started to argue, and I got a Renegade interrupt action; I usually let these pass, but this time I selected it, which led me to the rare satisfaction of my Shepard gut-punching the Admiral, yelling at him for endangering our lives, and throwing him off my ship. Yeah! Take that! So, he's gone now, and a much more reasonable female Quarian admiral and Tali are the only Quarians left on board.
Since then, I've continued a bit farther with the Quarian missions, which means more installments of the Shepard/EDI/Tali show. In one of them, I tracked down the Quarian admiral of the civilian fleet, who was stranded on the homeworld. Without his leadership, some civilian ships were starting to talk about breaking off from the flotilla and retreating back to the Mass Relay; this would have been suicidal in the face of the Geth warships, and we needed the admiral back to maintain the population. This mission had some really fun elements to it, including a segment where you're firing an artillery cannon from a flying gunship as you escort the admiral to an extraction point.
The last, very cool mission was where I entered the Geth Consensus, as I'd mentioned above. This part of the game vaguely reminded me of the very cool Fade sequence from Dragon Age: Origins; of course, the Consensus is digital, while the Fade was dreamlike, but both are awesome in the way they present a thoroughly unreal world inside your familiar interface.
Some quick notes on romance:
After repelling the Cerberus attack, you get a bunch of chances to move your romances forward. I'm very pleased to see that Yeoman Traynor is an option for female Shepards; like I'd said, I'm a sucker for British accents, and she has a really fun personality, with a nice combination of intelligence, humor, and self-awareness. I kind of cheated there - I saved, started the romance, smiled, and then re-loaded. I'm pretty committed to Liara at this point, and didn't feel sufficiently callow to abandon her. Still, that's a pretty nice scene. An officer's cabin has some definite perks.
It looks like Diane Allers is another romance option - at least, you can flirt with her, and she flirts back, though it doesn't lead to anything as, um, visual as the Traynor cut-scene. I re-loaded again. I'm happy to have Allers on my ship, but she isn't too tempting as a romance partner.
Instead, I met with Liara on the Presidium, and we had a very nice chat. She's far more calm than the others, and things are going slow, but I'm optimistic about the progression. It feels like we still aren't quite back to where we were at the end of ME1, but we've re-established the trust that was damaged during ME2.
I think I'd sufficiently repelled James in my first couple of conversations with him, since he hasn't even broached the subject recently. (Other than a crude comment he made while getting tattooed, which led to an entertaining "put up or shut up" challenge from Shepard.) And it looks like Garrus and Thane got the message from ME2, since neither of them has offered any openings.
It's good to have filled out my party more, though I'm curious whether I still have any more recruits to go. At the moment I "just" have six companions, exactly as many as in the first game. I'd love getting more like I did in the second, but I won't be too disappointed if I don't, since the game has done such a good job at letting you keep up relationships with people who aren't currently in your squad.
Wow, that was a long update. Time to stop typing and start shooting!