Objective Reviews

I really swore I wasn’t going to do another Mass Effect 3 post, but here I am.  This time, however, I’m going to talk about reviewing things and how “journalists” and “professional critics” clearly are neither.

Bioware has recently been touting that Mass Effect 3 got 75 perfect scores.  Personally, I wouldn’t acknowledge this.  Doing so just sets you up to be torn down a peg, and Bioware certainly deserves it.  Was Mass Effect 3 a good game (ending aside)?  Yes.  Perfect?  Hell no.  Not even close.  And here’s where we begin to talk about objectivity.

Not at all asking for a smack upside the head…

For professional game critics to rate a game as perfect, one would assume that means that there are no glaring flaws in the game.  Clearly nothing is ever “perfect”, but we assume that on a scale from 1 to 10 that 10 represents a game where everything works and works well, with no glitches, and everything is, in a word, seamless.  Having room for improvement shouldn’t stop something from getting this score, but something that clearly doesn’t work and/or detracts from the game experience should.

Mass Effect 3 has several of these sorts of issues; there are problems with the game that detract from the overall experience.  I’m not speaking of the writing or plot.  Those are subjective points, and you either like it or you don’t.  However, objectively, Mass Effect 3 has problems with the gameplay itself.

First, there’s the useless journal system.  This isn’t a statement of opinion – the journal system is literally useless.  It doesn’t tell you where to go or what to do to complete quests.  It doesn’t order the quests in any understandable fashion, and it doesn’t in any way track your progress in multi-part quests.  In a quest based game like Mass Effect 3, this is pretty unforgivable.  A good quest tracking system is one of the basics of any RPG style game.  I might be more lenient if this was Bioware’s first foray into such games, but it’s not, it’s their bread and butter.  They’ve already made two Mass Effect games with functional journal systems, making this miss even less forgivable.  Why not just copy the Mass Effect 2 code?

Speaking of quests, the “eavesdropping” quests were way overdone.  There were a few in Mass Effect 2.  Remember the Krogan who wanted to know about fish in the Presidium?  But in Mass Effect 3, a significant portion of the “side quests” are all based on this system.  The problem is, there’s no way to know if you got all the quests in an area without running laps around and around to make sure you didn’t miss anything.  Take a look at World of Warcraft – those folks with the big glowing exclamation marks over their heads?  Quest givers.  Instantly recognizable and it makes it easy to tell if you’ve gotten all the quests in an area.  This, again, is basic RPG stuff.  Yes, it’s less immersive, but the minute you sacrifice playablity for immersion, you’ve gone off the rails.  In addition, finding those quest givers to turn in the quests is also a chore, involving running around the Citadel and trying to figure out if the marker on your map is really in the right place or not (hint: it usually ISN’T!).  This, again, is basic RPG design.  It’s a beginner’s mistake, not the kind of thing you should see from a major game studio with a number of award winning games under their belt.

Next let’s talk types of quests:

Taken from this thread on Bioware Social Network, original source unknown.  First, as you can see, Mass Effect 3 has fewer overall quests than Mass Effect 1 or 2.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  However, then look at the breakdown of types of quests.  See the bright blue part of Mass Effect 3’s bar?  That’s the “eavesdropping” fetch quests.  They all work the same: overhear a conversation, go scan a planet, come back and turn in.  No actual game play other than the scanning, which isn’t the primary game play method of the game.  This is lazy, there’s no other explanation for it.  These quests clearly all use the same code, and can be easily replicated to pad out the game without using more resources.  That’s not the kind of shoddy work you expect from Bioware, who should know better that balance in your quests is important to the overall flow of the game.

Let’s move on to another problem – the face import issue.  This game is the third in a trilogy and one of the main selling points is that you can bring YOUR Shepard in from the prior game.  In many ways, this is Mass Effect’s primary feature.  There are other shooters, other space epics, but only Mass Effect took the character you played from the previous game and brought it into the next chapter.  It also allows you to build your Shepard your way, right down to the facial features in one of the most robust facial modeling systems in games today.  Your Shepard, if you chose a custom face, was YOUR Shepard.  It was very unlikely anyone else would make exactly the same look.  There are, of course, graphics improvements between the games; your Shepard in Mass Effect 2 looks a little better than the one in Mass Effect 1.  There’s some new shading, new textures, but the facial structure is the same, it’s just very slight alteration like one might find switching from analog tape to digital.

Mass Effect 3, however, shipped with a broken face import system.  I don’t mean your Shepard looked a little different – in many cases your Shepard’s face simply could not be imported, and so the game replaced it with one of the generic face options.  This angered many people who wanted to play THEIR Shepard.  Bioware did acknowledge this as a bug, and, a few weeks later, published a patch.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when a company says they know there’s a bug, and they patch the issue, that issue should be resolved.  The face import bug was not resolved at all.  In many cases, there was no change at all, and faces continued to not import correctly.  Instead of acknowledging that there was still a problem, Bioware has to date ignored the issue and actively locked threads on their forums pleading with them to fix the issue.  This is pretty much the definition of bad customer service, and it means that the game is fundamentally flawed.  Fans have built a work around that fixes the issues, but the fact that fans had to take it upon themselves to fix a basic function of the game is telling.

There are other issues with the game.  People have reported freezing and black screening. I’ve experienced it myself.  Fortunately, the game autosaves often, but that shouldn’t be the answer to what is basically a buggy game engine.  The combat system, while improved, puts too much on a single button leading to Shepard often rolling out into combat.  The multiplayer has issues with event packs and purchased packs not applying.  These have been ongoing issues since day one.

Given all these issues, a reviewer who gives Mass Effect 3 a perfect score clearly is not doing their job.  All of this is sans-comments about the ending or story itself.  These are basic problems with the game, problems that a company that has made these kinds of games before, and are known for their quality, should never have allowed out of beta.  I can only assume the game was rushed, but that’s no excuse.  Nor is it an excuse for supposedly professional reviewers to give the game such high marks when it has extremely glaring problems that they would ding other games over.  Are they in the pocket of EA?  Or just too blinded by the very fanboyishness they accuse people who hate the ending of?

Either way, it’s clear Mass Effect 3 is NOT a game worthy of a perfect score.  Is it good?  Sure.  Is it perfect?  Not even close.  It’s not even in the same league as its predecessor, Mass Effect 2, and certainly not up there with games like Batman: Arkham City, which legitimately deserve the high scores.

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