Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Relay Race

I get the feeling I'm nearing the end of Mass Effect 3. The climax isn't in sight yet, but the rising action feels like it is reaching a peak. I kind of wonder if my increasing attachment to the multiplayer game is at least partly an attempt to delay the inevitable end.

I don't have a whole lot to add to the multiplayer conversation from my last post - I still enjoy it, and seem to be getting better at it, to the point where it might make sense for me to try a Silver match sometime. (I only tried Silver once previously, several months ago with my brother; I think we made it to about the fifth wave in Firebase Reactor before getting horribly overrun by multiple Banshees.) I have noticed one interesting trend: while my scores and kills are going up, my gold medals are going down. Previously, I would almost always end a successful round with a gold medal for 50 Assists, and about half the time I'd get a medal for 50 Tech Kills. I think that these days, I'm more likely to finish killing off an enemy that I would otherwise have "lost" to another player, and I'm also getting more kills from my Geth Plasma SMG and fewer from Incinerate. So, for example, instead of 50 Incinerate kills and 50 Assists, I might now be getting 40 Incinerates and 40 SMG kills and 30 Assists. Which overall is way better, but it's funny to see more mediocre medals even as I climb higher on the score charts.

I do really love how the game strongly encourages a team focus, though. For players who have already reached level 20 (and it looks like some people are happy to keep those characters without promoting, which makes sense if you aren't continuing the single-player storyline and want to get the most out of multiplayer), XP doesn't matter at all, so all you'll care about is accomplishing the objectives and finishing the match as quickly as possible. And for those of us who are leveling characters, we gain far more by helping the team succeed than we do by focusing on our own achievements. For example, an individual gold medal gives you +2000 XP, and it's rare to see a player get more than one of those; in contrast, a full extraction gives everyone +15,000 XP. I've also recently played a few games with excellent teams that were able to stay alive through the whole match with no deaths, and was pleasantly surprised to see that this "10 Rounds Survived" bonus is also +15,000 XP. (The downside is that knowing this makes it even more annoying when you see someone chasing after kills and screwing over the objectives, but whatever. It's just a game.)

The most exciting thing, though, has been the single-player game, which is coming along quite well.

MINI SPOILERS (for ME3, mega for ME2)

A few random thoughts that I failed to mention in my last post:

I'm convinced that the game is fully aware of my obsession with what Quarians look like, and has decided to tease me mercilessly as a result. During the Geth Consensus level, you see flashbacks of the Quarian creators prior to the Geth rebellion; Shepard asks Legion, "Wait a minute... if this was on Rannoch prior to the war, then why was everyone wearing environmental suits?" Legion's lame response was "Oh, uh.... your own consciousness knew that they were Quarian, and so you filled in the images with your own concept of what Quarians look like. Yeah. Yeah! That's the ticket!" The worst moment, though, was at the end of the Rannoch mission when Tali, full of emotion (and high off of claiming beachfront real estate), decides that she will risk infection and take her first breath of her homeworld's fresh air... she reaches up, unclicks, and removes her face plate... AND SHE'S FACING AWAY FROM THE CAMERA! ARRRRRGH! Stop being so MEAN, Bioware!

A similarly amusing bit of story that attempts to justify the game's technical limitations in plot-related terms comes during a great scene with Dr. Chakwas. Back in ME2, I had bought Chakwas a bottle of her favorite brandy, which led to a great scene where the two of us killed it in the med bay. During that conversation, she mentions that we should do it every year. In ME3, she returns the favor - it hasn't yet been a year, but hey, we'll probably all die soon anyways, and it would be a shame to waste perfectly fine brandy. Once again, I departed from my standard Paragon predilection - the Paragon response was something like, "Let's save it for later", while the Renegade option was, "Yes, let's." (I can see how "don't drink" would seem like a Paragon move, but personally, I think it's even more of a Paragon action to show appreciation for a subordinate and spend time with them.) This led to a delightful scene of two buzzed women reminiscing about their time together and speculating about the future. Again, I was amazed by the terrific voice work in the game: Shepard in particular perfectly captured the slightly over-focused rhythms of speech you get into when you've had one too many beers (enough to get a bit drunk, but little enough that you can still control it). Anyways. Shepard thanks the doctor; she says, "Oh, please call me Karin. You've earned it," which leads you to say, "All right, then. Thank you, Karin." And then SHE says something like, "I, on the other hand, would NEVER refer to you by your first name! It would be disrespectful in the extreme! After all, you are the person who is saving the galaxy! No. No, to me, you will only be Commander Shepard." There's a respectful pause, and then Shepard says, "That's got to be the stupidest reason I've ever heard."


Back to the story, proper:

It took a while, and a lot of arm-twisting, but I finally got the resolution I had wanted from the Quarian war. We went down to Rannoch, and effing killed an effing Reaper. That was AWESOME! The earlier fight against the Reaper on Tuchanka was a frustrating challenge with an epic ending; the dang thing kept stepping on me, which instantly-killed me, so I eventually just gave up on fighting the enemies and ran to the thumpers, which led to the phenomenal Mother of Thresher Maws - vs - Reaper battle, which is like a knight fighting a samurai but a million times more violent. On Rannoch, I deactivated the broadcast system that was controlling the Geth, which got the Reaper's attention. We had an entire fleet of space ship ready to bring the bastard down, but it was jamming the area and so they couldn't get a lock. So, in one of the most kick-ass scenes of the game yet, you jump out of the drop ship with a laser rifle - not to damage the Reaper, but to paint it so the ships can target. That led to a unique and very satisfying boss fight where you try and hold a target steadily on the Reaper while it is trying to focus its own beam on you; I got really good at doing side-rolls during this sequence, which in turn has helped me out when I need to avoid charging Brutes in multiplayer. After a few paints, the sky rains destruction on the beast, and all the galaxy rejoices as one of these seemingly invulnerable enemies is destroyed. There was a brief, odd conversation with the "dying" Reaper; he says that all organic life is chaotic, while the reapers represent order, and it is inevitable that the order must prevail over chaos. Later developments make it seem like the Reapers are not actually the primary agents of the universe; there is some other intelligence, force, or SOMETHING that is somehow directing their movements. I'm a bit curious if we'll find out what this is or if it will remain mysterious.

Ahem. Anyways, Legion had, without my prior permission, added Reaper code to his programming; he had cleansed it from Reaper control, and as a result he gained the superior capabilities of Reaper technology while staying free of their control. Around this time, Legion became an "I" instead of a "We": the Reapers had unintentionally granted "him" autonomy, independence from the Consensus. This had freaked Tali out, but I backed up Legion. Once the Reaper was dead, the Geth became inert. Legion asked for permission to upload his modified Reaper code to the Consensus, which would not only liberate his brethren but also make them more capable AND give them self-determination. Tali was reluctant. Her fellow admirals were apoplectic. I used my ultra-Paragon charm (I've had my Influence bar maximized for a while now) and browbeat them into holding off their fire against the defenseless Geth for twenty precious seconds. Legion finished the upload, then discovered that he would need to deactivate himself in order to propagate the "virus". (I'm still unclear on exactly what made him do this, apart from the Law of Narrative Causality.) And so, Legion, who had just become a self, sacrificed his self in order to save his species... and, potentially, the galaxy.

And so, the grand alliance that I have dreamed about ever since first learning about the Heretics in Mass Effect 2 has come to pass. The war between Quarian and Geth has ended. Quarian engineers and Geth warships have joined in my campaign to destroy the Reapers. It has ended on an even better note than I could have imagined: the Geth have invited the Quarians to re-settle on Rannoch, and are even assisting them in plowing the land; it's highly ironic that they are doing the very tasks for which they were first created, but are now doing it from their own free will. Tali has been overjoyed by the outcome, noting with wonder that Geth have even moved their consciousness into some Quarian environmental suits, and are acclimating those Quarian bodies to the native bacteria of Rannoch; as a result, it may not take generations before Quarians can shed their suits and actually live in the atmosphere of Rannoch.

I was sad to see Legion go, and felt touched to see his name added to the memorial wall on the Normandy. Even though we've seen the end of the story, I still feel like we haven't learned everything there was to know about him. He seemed a little odd, even back in ME2 long before he acquired Reaper upgrades; specifically, he was actually... coy, I guess, about why he was wearing a piece of Shepard's armor. I guess we'll never know, and I'm okay with that. It's another example of feeling like I'm part of a vast universe with many stories going on around me, and even the stories that come closest to me contain elements that I may never see.

Like I mentioned above, I feel like I'm heading into the endgame, and I mostly base that on the fact that I've finished my work with all the major species of the Mass Effect universe. After the Quarians, I flew to the Asari homeworld of Thessia, trying to retrieve a cryptic artifact that could lead us to the Catalyst and, thus, a chance at completing the Crucible and defeating the Reapers. I had mixed feelings about Thessia. On the one hand, I like the Asari, and hate the Reapers, and hate what was happening to their home. On the other hand, the Asari leadership has been astonishingly obstinate throughout the course of the war, even more so than the Salarians; I fail to see how the Asari could have ever believed that they could defend against Reapers on their own, even just within a single theater of war. If they had engaged with allies like the Turians and Krogan did, they would at least have a shot. Instead, they went it alone, and are paying for their leaders' arrogance with their civilians' lives.

Liara is a mandatory companion for the Thessia mission, but I would have brought her along anyways. Ash came as well. I would have loved to have seen Thessia in peacetime: as the capital planet of the oldest, most cultured, and wealthiest race in the galaxy, it must have been astonishingly beautiful. However, I've only seen it as a smoking pile of rubble. The individual Asari you meet are incredibly brave: confronted with overwhelming odds, they are doing their best to try and save as many as they can. I felt really bad about endangering them, like when two helicopter-type gunships are taken down by Reaper Harvesters while trying to open a path for you.

Eventually you reach the temple of the Goddess; most Asari are no longer religious, but their ancestors credited the Goddess with giving them various knowledge, such as the cycles of the moon for harvesting, the making of metal for weapons, and so on. Approaching the statue, you feel the buzzings of a vision, and immediately intuit the truth: the Goddess is a Prothean beacon! Like the one back on Eden Prime all these years ago! Instantly, dozens of thousands of years fall into place and make sense. It isn't accidental that the Asari have grown into such an influential position within the galaxy: they (or at least the people at the highest level of religion and government) had access to Prothean data, the apex of the most advanced civilization before the prior Reaper invasion. Granted, it's almost impossible to comprehend the Protheans, but every scrap the Asari could decipher advanced their society by hundreds or thousands of years. That's all fine; the part that sucks, though, is that the Asari have selfishly kept this beacon secret to themselves even after meeting other races. This has ensured continues Asari superiority, but indicates a colossal wasted opportunity. If they had shared this knowledge, then the whole galaxy could have benefited from the Protheans' knowledge, and as a result might actually have been prepared for the war.

A Prothean intelligence makes contact and fills you in with some interesting tidbits of knowledge. One, which I'd mentioned above, was that the Reapers aren't the top of the hierarchy; some other thing behind them controls or compels them to repeat their cycle of annihilation. And it is a cycle: the Protheans themselves were aware of previous civilizations lost in earlier cycles, and realized that the patterns of destruction were eerily similar. In their time as in ours, a splinter group thought that they could dominate the Reapers, and so betrayed the Protheans working on the Crucible and destroyed the war effort from within.  Shades of Cerberus! The intelligence (or whatever) directing the Reapers seems to have a great deal of control over the organics as well, in ways that the Protheans never understood.

More immediately and surprisingly, I learned that the Crucible itself was NOT of Prothean origin. Much as we had learned of it from them, the Protheans had found plans for the Crucible from the species who had been extinguished 50,000 years before them, who in turn had learned of it from their own predecessors. This cycle has been going on for a very long time, and I can understand why the Prothean is skeptical that we might be the race that finally breaks free. I'll show him, though! I'll show them all!

First of all, I need to show Cerberus. There's a very frustrating case of forced failure at the end of your time in Thessia, when Kai Leng shows up with a gunship, shoots up your team, and takes the Prothean artifact. I re-played the fight three times and am pretty sure that the game doesn't let you beat him; it switches to a cut-scene once you get his health low enough. It's a bit glaring just compared to the incredible flexibility of the rest of the game, which has multiple possible outcomes for pretty much every encounter. It's also a big part of the reason why I think I'm heading to the endgame: dramatically, this feels like a late-game twist.

And, that's where I am at the moment. Just need to finish a bunch more simple fetch quests and then I'll take my vengeance!


Yet another reason why I think I'm near the end: my Effective Military Strength is getting awfully high. I don't know exactly what the maximum is, but I'm getting close to 7,000, with a 100% Galaxy at War readiness rating. It looks like the "minimum" (I presume to get the worst ending) is just around 2,000, and my bar has been completely filled since around the time I reached 5,000, so further improvements to that score aren't even registering anymore. I'm sure I'll continue to play multiplayer until I finish the single-player game, but it's nice to feel like I have some breathing room so I don't need to worry too much about the score slipping a bit.

Let's keep on pushing. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

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