Hopes and Fears: Mass Effect 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3

There’s been a lot of talk recently about two of the biggest games of this year: Mass Effect 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3, and, since I feel pretty attached to both franchises, I figure I’d throw in my thoughts too. (Note that I could have included Halo 4 as well, but while I was very attached to it in the Halo 2 and 3 days, as Bungie has distanced themselves from the franchise, I’ve found my interest waning as well.)

Mass Effect 3 is out today. The reviews showed up this morning. I’m not reading any of them. I’ve been on a pretty thorough information blackout and I don’t intend to stop now. I’ve got my copy on the way, so I won’t even have to wait long this time.

I loved Mass Effect 2. It was the easiest Game of the Year choice I’ve made since I started this blog. There’s a lot that’s great about it, especially the opening sequence, but the thing that surprised me the most was how attached I was to my Shepard. Even the fact that I feel like I have a Shepard of my own is pretty remarkable, but there it is. I wasn’t too attached to Mass Effect 1, but the devotion to continuity in Mass Effect 2, of calling back to every little thing that possibly could be from the first game, of making it all feel consistent to the choices I’d made, gave me a sense of ownership over the proceedings that feels really unique.

So I’m worried that the weight of all the different possibilities, the way the choices I made in Mass Effect 2 will filter down into Mass Effect 3. There were just so many variations in 2, in particular as to which crew members could have survived through 2, that the task of keeping everything consistent is exponentially harder this time around. I remember how upset I was when Dragon Age: Awakenings forgot an important event from Origins. I’m even more invested in my Mass Effect world so there’s even more pressure to get it right this time.

Then there are the story worries. I don’t like how Human-centric the universe has gotten. In the first game, aliens were predominant and Humanity was an upstart, a young new-comer species upsetting the galactic status quo. But now, Reapers have apparently deemed Humans to be the winners of the Most Important Species contest and are heading straight for Earth. There was already a bit of a feeling that the universe revolved around Shepard in 2, and this just makes it worse. There’s been a trend towards promoting the game as being accessible to newcomers. I’m concerned that this is going to mean that there’s less nuance and alienness to the story as a result. Given the early party members they’ve been promoting, the Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jessica Chobot ones, I think this is a valid concern.

There’s the talk of the game having an “optimal ending”. I’m not thrilled by that. I do think it’s pretty essential that Shepard dies, or at the very least pulls a Halo 3, at the end. It really is the only fitting way to end the heroic arc. I’m going to be renting, so I’m concerned that without access to the multiplayer it’ll be harder to get access to all the single-player content. It also seems deeply weird and troubling that the collector’s edition bonus character occupies a pretty important place in the lore, and while I’m not going to go on a Total Biscuit-esque rant about it, locking people out of or asking more money for access to significant story content on Day 1 is concerning. It’s a fine line. Bioware promotes the bonus content as being unique and important to the universe, but makes it harder to argue that the base game is a complete experience.

The thing I’m not concerned about it the gameplay. This is a game that clearly had enough of a budget, and that EA considers important enough, that there’s not going to be a Dragon Age 2 repeated-dungeon fiasco. I think the stripping-down of the RPG trappings, and narrowing of the story in Mass Effect 2 worked great (in no small part because Mass Effect 1 gave such a broad introduction to the universe). I played the multiplayer part of the Mass Effect 3 demo, and it’s clear that, in terms of combat and character progression, the game is going to be fine. We’re going to get the same basic core as 2, with some more choices and smart little refinements.

The other game that there’s been a lot of talk about recently is Assassin’s Creed 3. It’s a little further out so it’s hard to judge, but I’m likewise both worried and excited about this one. My biggest concerns stem from how jingoistic the game is going to be. Assassin’s Creed 2, with its Medici-good Borgia-bad morality was already lacking in nuance, and the early messaging on 3, what with the hero scalping Redcoats and helping Washington cross the Potomac, doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction. It feels like so much of the American identity right now is tied up with the myths that have developed about its founding. Look at the Tea Party. Look at the conservative wing of the Supreme Court, with its doctrine of constitutional originalism. Look at just the general reverence for the Founding Fathers. Maybe the developers will make the more interesting choice, and have the Templars infiltrate both the Patriot and Loyalist forces (this would be similar to how both Assassin’s Creed 1 and Revelations play out). I think it would be much more interesting if our hero was ambivalent about the whole conflict, but from what’s been shown, it seems like he’s whole-heartedly on the side of the revolutionaries.

Mechanically, the setting provides some interesting opportunities. Enemies already possessed lots of firearms in Revelations, and stealth still seemed to work ok. There’s going to be less verticality in urban areas, and colonial architecture isn’t going to be all that interesting, but the wilderness areas have potential. Tree-climbing is hard to render well, I suspect, but I’m sure the developers are up to the challenge. I can see plenty of interesting opportunities for cliff-scaling. The wilderness setting should also mean that horseback riding makes a welcome return.

I’m also very much hoping that this means that the followup game will be set in the French Revolution. There’s so much potential for a good, tragic arc in that setting, to have a hero who gets swept up in the excitement of the Revolution, and then gets crushed by the Terror. Stories are much more interesting when things go wrong, and I’m concerned that the American Revolution is going to make for a story with too much triumphalism to it.

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