Sunday, 18 March 2012

What Choice Did I Have? - The Mass Effect 3 Ending

The Mass Effect series has, alongside Portal, been my stand-out gaming franchise of this generation. Both tell interesting stories and provide fantastic gameplay. Mass Effect in particular stands out for its hard-hitting moral choice that can often force the player to set down their controller and think for what feels like hours on end about the correct choice to make. Who do you save? Which side has the right ideas? Is dead more favourable than brainwashing? All these questions are ones I’ve had to answer to save the galaxy, and every one of them has been like a punch to the gut.

That’s why, when the third and final instalment was released on the 9th March, I wasted no time in setting forth on my mission to unite the alien species and take Earth back. Along the way there were tear, triumphs and moments where I was left genuinely speechless. The game, and the journey it takes you on, is one that nobody should miss, and one which seems to reference every single choice made by the player during the trilogy. It’s an incredible achievement, and Bioware - the game’s developers - should be commended for it.

**** SPOILERS START HERE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! ****

Which is why the ending is so damn terrible. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how hard you’ve fought, you’re left with three uninspired and (frankly) clich├ęd options which, while providing closure, never feel like the ending you deserve. These three choices are:

1. Destroy the Reapers (synthetic creatures who harvest the most advanced organic species every 50,000 years in order to allow lower races to grow in time for their next arrival), but also destroy the Geth (another synthetic race, provided they survived the events of your game) and the rest of the galaxy’s advanced technology. This includes you, seeing as how you died and were brought back using synthetic components.

2. Take control of the Reapers, but in doing so destroying yourself.

3. Fuse all organic and synthetic life together, creating ‘the next stage of evolution’, again destroying yourself in the process.

As I was playing a good guy, I instantly ruled out choice 2. My character had always upheld the belief that the Reapers could not, and should not, be controlled. That much power given to one person was bad news, seeing as how absolutely power corrupts. This left me with two choices: destroy synthetic life or fuse synthetic and organic life together.

Legion: This guy. This is the guy.
There are merits to each choice, but also potentially dire consequences. Destroying the Reapers in choice 1 would mean that the threat would be gone, but we would also loose the Geth, a hive-mind people who were created by another race called the Quarians but became too advanced, leading to the Quarians attempting to destroy the new intelligence and eventually all-out war between the two species. This had ended in the third instalment where I allowed the Geth to become individual beings, but at the cost of the Quarians who were decimated in battle. In order to do that, a former Geth team mate, Legion, had been forced to sacrifice himself, and my romantic interest, a Quarian called Tali, commited suicide when she saw her people dying.

Because of this, choice 1 boiled down to sacrificing one species (a newly-created species at that) in order to destroy the Reapers. It would also make the sacrifice of Legion almost pointless, destroying what he gave his life to create. As well as this, it meant that the Mass Relays, machines used for faster-than-light travel, would be destroyed, effectively stranding refugees on one planet until technology could be created again. The virtual intelligence which offered me this choice also said that it was likely that, once organic life created synthetic life again, then the mistakes of the past would repeat themselves, as both could not cooperate as “the created always rebel against their creators“. In short, choice 1 would deal with the issue of the Reapers, but in turn lead to wider problems for the galaxy both now and later.

The issue with choice 3 was far more straightforward. Fusing organic and synthetic life together was unpredictable. It might have solved the problem of the Reapers, but it would also force every species in the galaxy to change into a new form of life about which nothing was known. It was also very similar to how the Reapers created their armies, merging species with their own technology. It would avoid the genocide of the Geth, and allow the galaxy to keep its technology, but it would change everybody everywhere. That is one hell of a weight of one person to bear.

In the end, I opted for choice 1: Destroy all Synthetic life. While no choice was ideal, I felt this choice was something the galaxy could recover from, whereas choice 3 was too much of a wildcard. Detroying the Geth was horrible, but the choices ultimately boiled down to the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. By sacrificing the Geth, it meant that a half dozen other species survived. Also, while a repeat of the Quarian-Geth war was a very real possibility, the Quarians always felt very isolationist to me, and now that a number of species were working together they would be able to learn from this past example and do better next time around.

Now that that discussion is over, I’d like to point out one very crucial point - the ending doesn’t make any sense! In reality, my character wouldn’t have made any of these choices. He would have pointed out that the Geth outside, fighting alongside the other races, meant that organic and synthetic life could live side-by-side. It might not have worked, but it was still a choice I feel I should have had because of how I handles the Quarian-Geth situation.

Ultimately, the final chapter in the Mass Effect franchise certainly provides closure, but is it fitting? A heroic sacrifice and fighting against the odds is what this series has always been about, but to me it’s also been about finding a way to win when all things look bleak. To me, and how my character acted, this was not a way to win. This was a compromise.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

“Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost” - My Five Days with League of Legends.

I’ve recently been playing MOBA craze League of Legends, a Massively Online Battle Arena which pits teams (typically five-a-side) against each other in a race to destroy their opponent’s base. While I’ve had great fun with the system, I’m hear to blog about why I’m unlikely to go back to the game.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that League of Legends is by no means a bad game - quite the opposite, in fact. For those unfamiliar with the game, I’ll give a quick rundown of how the game is played. Each player controls a champion, a powerful being which grows more powerful as a single match plays out, learning new abilities but resetting its stats once a match is over. Each champion plays a different role on the battlefield, but they typically fall into one or two of five categories: melee fighters for close quarters combat, ranged fighters for attacking from a distance, mages for casting spells on opponents, assassins for ambushing opponent’s champions, and finally support for bolstering allies. Each team also have 18 minions; low-level creatures who march towards the enemies base and, along the way encounter both opponent’s champions and the opposing team’s own 18 minions.

Annie and her bear, Tibbers:
one of my champions of choice
for the week.
Combat itself takes place over three ‘lanes’ linking the two bases. Six of the team’s minions march down each lane, which are populated by turrets capable of destroying said minions and even champions (albeit at a slower rate) unless players help destroy them, thus allowing their forces to advance further towards their goal. It’s a very simple system, yet one which allows for a lot of tactical variation. Bases themselves contain a number of turrets as well as machines called inhibitors which, once destroyed, allow minions to become stronger, giving a team the upper-hand. While there are other mechanics, such as bushes for catching players unaware, the goal is simple: destroy your opponent’s base before they destroy yours.

So why have I decided to leave League of Legends behind? Well, I’ve managed to boil my reasoning down to two very simple points. Firstly, there is my lack of skill at the game. Anyone who I’ve discussed gaming preferences with knows that I greatly prefer console gaming over PC gaming. I find using a controller to be far more comfortable than a keyboard and mouse, in part due to my lack of hand-eye co-ordination and in part due to the latter often using key configurations which are less-than-friendly towards left-handed players, even after adjusting controls. Because of this, I have never been great at the genres which lend themselves towards a keyboard and mouse control scheme such as real-time strategy. League of Legends is one such game, and I can put my lack of skill down to this ineptitude at the genre. While I would gladly put the time into getting better at the game, this desire is somewhat dampened by my second point, namely the game’s community.

Before I began playing League of Legends, I had heard terrible things about the online community: reports were rife about hostility towards newcomers, and this was something which made me hesitant to play the game at first. Eventually I decided that it was better to try the game out for myself and test whether these reports were accurate or just horror stories. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that it was not, with “n00b” and similar insults being flung around from my first match. Even when I made it clear that I was a newcomer this didn’t prevent both opponents and allies alike from shooting down any efforts I made to play or to improve myself. Honing one’s skills is only made more difficult by ‘bots’ - computer-controlled champions - which struggle to reflect the varied play styles one can encounter online (just over half a dozen champions can be selected as ‘bots’, a miniscule number when compared to nearly 100 champions which are available for players to select). Although I found a group focused about helping new players advice, it was hard to ignore the fact that unskilled players severely weighed down the group - effectively removing 20% of the team’s power - and that this was frustrating fellow players. It makes League of Legends a joyless experience for those just starting out, especially genre rookies who are faced with a slow and unwelcoming slog to prove themselves among not only elitists but what feels like the vast majority of the game’s players.

So, for those two reasons, I’ve decided to leave League of Legends in my rear-view mirror and look forward to the new influx of console games. The combination of my lack of skills and the communities attitude has relegated the game from my most-played list to the dark corner on my Steam library, unlikely to be fired up unless I get a large number of friends who’re interested in a friendly match or two.