Bioware dropped the ball tremendously in one important way. One of the first moments when I knew Mass Effect 2 was going to be something special was when the character creator popped up, and it loaded in my Mass Effect 1 Shepard, and I recognized her face. It’s a small, purely cosmetic thing, but that was really the moment I realized I felt a possessive attachment to the character. This was my Shepard in a way that it’s never going to be my Master Chief or my Ezio. So I was tremendously disappointed when I attempted to import my Shepard into Mass Effect 3, and got an error that her appearance couldn’t be loaded. Apparently, I’m not the only one. As an extra irony, the bug apparently only hits people who imported their Mass Effect 1 Shepard into ME 2 and then were sufficiently happy with her appearance to not change it. I know it’s just cosmetic, but I also know that I’m not the only one who is attached to their Shepard, so this bug in particular seems like a pretty inexcusable oversight on Bioware’s part. Anyways, I did proceed into the game (after first turning it off in disappointment, and then spending an absurd amount of time trying to recreate my Shepard) and while I’m having uncanny valley issues with my Shepard not quite looking like I expect her to, I’m going to be able to live with it.
I’m still very early on – towards what feels like the end of the Mars mission – and things are going ok. The combat feels good, and the different enemies already seem more varied and interesting to fight than in Mass Effect 2. It’s still a bit too easy to tell a combat environment from a non-combat one, but that’s not the worst thing in the world.
It’s a little troubling that the early approach to the Mass Effect 2 suicide mission plot-branching problem has been to side-step it entirely by featuring (or even mentioning) any squadmates from the core of the second game. It seems really incongruous that none of them are still hanging around, especially given that Shepard still seems to have ready access to the Normandy.
As for who we’ve got, James, off the bat, seems completely dull. He’s not even given a proper introduction. He’s just sort of there. He doesn’t seem to have much understanding of or investment in what’s going on.
It’s nice to see Kaiden again, but my Shepard is being flirtier with him than I’d like (I had a romance with him in ME 1, just because I found him sort of dull but cute, but then I went with Garrus in ME 2, and I really liked how that played out, and so I’d like to keep progressing that angle). I was presented with just a top-left and bottom-left dialogue option, and so, since I’ve been running Paragon since the first game, I picked the top-left, and that led to the flirting. If there had been a neutral option, I might have picked it, or at least have been more clued in that the top option would be a bit forward. (Granted, this is all fairly subtle, which the game should be commended for in and of itself. It’s not like I picked a dialogue option and they made out all of a sudden.) Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen a neutral dialogue option yet. Are they pushing people to define their Shepards more in one direction or another? Is it a cost-cutting measure to reduce the number of dialogue options that need to be written and recorded by a third? Did they test and find that nobody was picking the middle option anyways? Like I said, it’s still early days, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
It’s also nice to see Liara again. I didn’t have much affection for the character in 1, and I didn’t play Shadow Broker, but even her brief appearance in 2 was pretty interesting, so I have high hopes that she’ll continue to be interesting going forward.
The actual opening seems pretty confused. After all the work we went through in the first two games, the galaxy at large, and even the Alliance military, is still largely in denial about the Reaper threat? And now the Reapers are invading the Solar System, but no one can get a clear shot of them? They’re obliterating colonies left and right, but we have time to go on a jaunt through the galaxy recruiting allies, with the expectation that there will be any Earth left to save by the time we get back? I realize they wanted to open with a bang and put the focus on Earth, but they made it really hard to get a sense of the scale and urgency of the disaster. The early choice to make Cerberus straight up be bad guys seems like a downgrade from the more nuanced approach of 2, but it’s still early days, and I did choose to leave Cerberus at the end of 2 (though there’s no strong indication that that choice had an impact).
As a final note, I can’t say enough good things about the music. The franchise had good music from the start, and it seems even better this time around. Tense and dramatic and not bombastic, with exactly the late-70s scifi vibe that the franchise goes for.