The Old Republic E3 Trailer

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Mass Effect 2 Initial Impressions

Mass Effect Harder  

Mass Effect 2 is BioWare‘s hotly-anticipate sequel to 2007’s Mass Effect. The second part of a planned trilogy, Mass Effect 2 makes a number of improvements over its predecessor, and though a few design decisions add little to the experience, it’s an even better ride than the first game.   

Mass Effect 2 picks up almost immediately where Mass Effect ended: player-character Commander Shepard and his (or her) crew of soldiers, mercenaries, scientists and technicians are trying to find a way to prevent a race of ageless god-machines known as the Reapers from returning from Dark Space to devour all sentient life in the galaxy. After an intense and thrilling opening sequence (no spoilers), Shepard ends up on ice for a while, before finally returning two years later. Once back in action, Shepard must assemble a team of skilled and deadly specialists to unravel the mystery of the Collectors – an enigmatic, insectoid race who are kidnapping human colonists by the tens of thousands – and their connection to the Reapers.  

Just Like Old Times  

As part of a truly ongoing narrative, ME2 allows you to import your Mass Effect 1 character, from your appearance and combat class to the many choices and mission outcomes from the first game. The consequences and results of those choices will be revealed throughout ME2; you might bump into someone you saved … or you might hear a news report about a commemorative ceremony for those you didn’t. When you import a character, you also have the option of changing your appearance and class. There’s no good in-game reason for this (characters who know you from ME1 won’t be fooled by a new face), but that doesn’t matter; BioWare realized that players might want to tweak their characters’ appearance, or might want to play through the game with a specific set of decisions from the first game, but as a different class. The face generator is essentially unchanged from the first game, which means that any male Shepard you create will look like an ape compared to the game’s carefully rendered ‘default’ face, and all females will either have the same vaguely pleasing face, or be horrible mutants. The generator does include an alpha-numerical code that allows you to share your face with others or copy good ones.  

But what if you’re new to the Mass Effect universe? Rather than expect you to play through the first game, brand new characters in Mass Effect 2 simply have a series of “canon” choices assigned to them. By and large these seem to be the renegade choice from the first game, which may annoy some people who felt, for example, that the Galactic Council was worth saving. While it would have been nice to be able to go through a checklist of choices, deciding what your ‘new’ Shepard did or did not do in ME1, this would have been a wasted effort: asking someone who hasn’t played the first game whether they saved a character they’ve never heard of makes no sense.    

Shepard's back, baby.

Shepard's back, baby.

I Got (fewer) Mad Skills   

“Trim the fat” seems to have been the mantra of ME2’s design and development, and there are many places where the design has been streamlined. The gigantic and intimidating list of 10+ trainable skills from the first game has been drastically cut down to a leaner, meaner six.  While purists might decry these changes as offering less choice, the reality is that by eliminating many extraneous skills (like weapon and armour training), Mass Effect 2 allows the player to make more meaningful choices about how they build their characters and their squad.  

For example, in ME1 it was critical that you spend skill points on weapon training; if you did not, you would be utterly ineffective in a gunfight. There was no real choice about whether or not to improve your weapon skills. ME2 eliminates this entirely in two ways: first, ME2 uses tighter, more robust 3rd-person shooting mechanics that reward good reflexes and precision. Second, enhancing your weapons’ effectiveness is a matter of finding upgrades, not spending skill points. This allows you to focus on improving the special abilities and powers that make your character unique.   

Similarly, ME1’s electronics and decryption skills – needed to open locked containers or access protected computers – have also been dumped. Regardless of class, Shepard can bypass locks and hack computers; all you have to do is complete one of two quick and simple matching mini-games. These games are more fun than the brain-dead Simon Says system from ME1, while not being as obnoxiously time-consuming as the hacking game in Bioshock. With Shepard handling these tasks, there’s now more freedom when selecting your squadmates: you no longer have to worry about missing out because you didn’t bring a hacker/lockpicker.  

Reinventory-ing the Wheel  

The inventory and loot system have also seen a major overhaul. ME1 didn’t handle either particularly well; of the items you scavenged from the battlefield, 95+% were vendor trash, and even the very best weapon you could strip off a dead enemy paled in comparison to the gear available from shops. When you went to sell something, your items weren’t even organized by type; weapons, armour and mods were all mixed together, which made ditching some items but keeping others a pain.  

ME2 addresses these problems with an axe. The inventory has been done away with completely, and little is left of the loot system; you no longer collect dozens of worthless assault rifles or low-end mods. Instead, you will very occasionally happen across a weapon that is sufficiently remarkable that Shepard either immediately equips it, or scans it so that it can be researched later. Research unlocks upgrades (higher damage, larger clips, etc) that make your guns more effective and deadly.   

Also gone is the ability to swap out armour on the fly: you put your armour together at a special workstation on your ship, and that’s how you look when you’re groundside. As you buy new armour pieces (there are slots for helmet, chestpiece, shoulderpads, gauntlets and greaves), you can mix and match different parts to find the best intersection of performance and style. You can also alter the colour, pattern and texture of your armour to make it even more personal. As with weapons, research is available to unlock armour upgrades.  

Putting your armour together is quite a bit of fun, but the decision to put the armour workstation in your personal cabin is a poor one. If you want to alter your armour, you have to go through a loading screen to get to your cabin, make the changes, then go through another loading screen to return to the bridge. Meanwhile, the ship’s armoury is on the same deck as the bridge – if armour could be modified from there, a couple of loading screens could be avoided.   

Mechs: the other random bad guy

Mechs: the other random bad guy

Lock and Load(ing Screens)  

Speaking of which, the much-maligned elevators of Mass Effect 1 are gone, replaced with more honest loading screens. The screens do a good job of communicating the scope of the locations you’re in; seeing the massive hologram of your ship, with the tiny elevator moving within, is an effective indicator of size. The downside is that the banter between your squadmates which would sometimes fire while riding the elevators is also gone, replaced with more situational chatter as you wander around. Additionally, the load times can be a bit long (60 seconds or more).  

Sixteen Tons (of Iridium)  

Finding rare minerals was part of a go-nowhere sidequest in ME1, but BioWare seems to be in love with the idea, because the concept is back. This time however, gathering resources is tied into the research system, which consumes resources instead of money. Prospecting involves scanning an orbited planet to tease out mineral deposits before extracting them with probes. Though scanning a planet is a slow and tedious process (even when your scanner has been upgraded), and despite being able to carry only a small number of probes at a time, there is something relaxing about the exercise, and getting a massive spike on the scanner never gets old.  

Places to Go, People to Meet  

Visually, Mass Effect 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor. Lighting and textures are much better this time around, and the jarring texture pop-in that plagued ME1 is all but gone. Character animations are sometimes choppy or stuttered, but in general are quite good.  

Where ME2 shines is in the locations you visit and the characters you meet there. While some areas feel small (most notably the Citadel), others feature soaring vistas that really drive home the vastness of the game world. Moreover, each area is packed with personality. The quest hubs are particulalrly good, and there are thousands of lines of background dialogue to listen to and enjoy – some of the advertisements on the Citadel are a riot. The writing and voice acting is solid all-around, and even very minor characters are compellingly acted.  

ME2 keeps things moving by throwing un-skippable story missions at you every once in a while. Not only do these missions advance the story, but they help maintain a sense of urgency and purpose.  

Thane (L) and Grunt (R) are on the job.

Mass Effect 1 was a fairly standard sci-fi story, but what set it apart was the depth of the recruitable characters and your interactions with them. Mass Effect 2 continues this tradition with a large cast that features some of the most interesting characters I’ve yet encountered in a game. From the fast-talking Mordin to the secretive Miranda, your squadmates run the gamut from philosophical to psychotic. The ‘story worlds’ of ME1 have been replaced by recruitment missions for most of the NPCs, which tend to be shorter, more focused quests that can be hammered out in an hour or so, leaving plenty of time for sidequests and other recruitments. Eventually, each crew member will come to you with a personal problem and a plea for help. You can elect to ignore them, but completing these missions will solidify their trust and faith in you and improve your odds of surviving the game’s final suicide mission – and unlock a powerful bonus ability for them and for you.  

Love is in the Air  

BioWare has long been a proponent of allowing players to develop romantic relationships with certain NPCs, and Mass Effect 2 is no different. Not only are you likely to encounter your romantic interest (if any) from the first game, but there are now several new romanceable characters for male and female Shepards. Developing these relationships is always up to the player, so if you’d rather not mix business and pleasure, you can elect to keep things professional.    

Will you woo the genetically-enhanced Miranda ... or the sociopathic Jack?

To Boldly Go  

The uncharted worlds from Mass Effect 1 are also back, albeit in a more refined form. In the first game, every system in the galaxy had a planet you could land on and explore by clumsily driving around in the haggardly-implemented Mako APC. Nestled amidst the not-quite impassable mountains would be a mission area, featuring one of three interior environments, where you’d kill bad guys until a text box told you that you’d won.  

In Mass Effect 2, these outings (now called “N7 Missions”) are fewer and further between, but each has been crafted to have a unique story. There are no recycled enviroments here: each N7 mission is different, and some don’t even involve any fighting; in one mission, a lone Shepard must negotiate a simple environment puzzle to retrieve the data core of a crashed freighter that is balanced treacherously on a cliff. Others missions have you working to put an end to the nefarious activities of unscrupulous mercenaries, or stealing caches of illegal goods. The Mako is gone, replaced with an armoured shuttled that drops you at your objective. BioWare plans to release a new driveable vehicle called the Hammerhead as DLC, but there’s no word on a release date yet.  

Bottom Line  

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I’m over 21 hours in, and Mass Effect 2 has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. It’s not perfect, though: I had a bug that completely killed all sound (had to restart the game to fix it). I also encountered an NPC from Mass Effect 1 who said I took a particular course of action when I know for a fact that I did the opposite. There have been issues with the camera clipping into people’s heads during cutscenes, of animations not playing properly, or of characters floating in mid-air. I’ve also been unable to complete a couple of sidequests because required NPCs did appear. Finally, certain sections of the game will just keep throwing enemies at you until you advance. This isn’t the norm, but that just makes the times it does happen more irritating.   

While these issues are annoying, they don’t ruin the experience. Mass Effect 2 is a deeply entertaining game that offers loads of replay value in a slick package. You owe it to yourself to give this game a go.  

PROS:  

+ Excellent writing and voice acting.  

+ Environments and character models improved vs ME1 – no texture pop!  

+ Background dialogue injects additional charm and humour.  

+ Combat is visceral and powers are satisfying to use.  

+ Large cast of interesting characters.  

+ Lots of sidequests.  

+ Recruitment and loyalty missions are varied and fun.  

+ New mini-games are way better than Simon Says.  

+ Streamlined inventory and loot means less time messing with gear and more time being a hero.  

+ Ability to personalize armour is super cool.  

+ Scanning for resources is strangely addictive.  

+ Strong launch-day DLC offers hope for more of the same going forward.  

+ Spam in your personal inbox.  

+ Fish tank.  

+ Space hamster!  

CONS:  

– Occasional bugs affecting everything from character animations to sound.  

– Some “big choices” from ME1 end up being largely irrelevant.  

– Scanning for resources is boring.  

– Limited number of probes is annoying.  

– Refueling is just an inconvenient cash-sink.  

– Some areas feel really small.  

– Loading times are a bit long. Try not to die!  

– Infinitely respawning enemies are irritating in other games, and they’re irritating here.  

– Shepard still feels compelled to help random people with their stupid problems.  

– DLC armour comes in one-piece sets that can’t be mixed and matched. You can’t take the helmets off, either.  

? Character saturation – is the cast too big?  

 

Whet Your Appetite with ME2 Videos

We’re less than four weeks from the release of Mass Effect 2, and I know that several O514 regulars – myself, Dak, PH and Rusty – are looking forward to January 26th. How to pass the time? By watching neat videos:

Here’s the trailer, featuring Illusive Man, Miranda, Grunt, Thane and Commander Shepherd:

And here’s a look at some of the new abilities available to the 6 different classes:

Curious to know who’s lending their voice to ME2? You might be surprised:

Do you like music? The ME2 Official Soundtrack is available on iTunes. Check out some of the tracks.

And let’s not forget what made the first game so great:

Dragon Age: Origins: Initial Impressions (colon)

Dragon Age
BioWare’s latest RPG, Dragon Age: Origins has hit store shelves, and your tireless gamer pal Tanith secured a Day 1 copy so he could provide his initial impressions of the Xbox 360 version of the game. After 12+ hours of gameplay, here’s what he thinks:

Story: The game sticks pretty closely to well-established RPG tropes. There are three playable races in DA: Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Humans fill their familiar niche as a numerous and adaptable people who are the dominant race in the world. The mighty Elven kingdoms are long-lost, and those that remain either scrape out a living in ghettos among humans or survive as elusive nomads in the wilds. The dwarves are an endangered species, bled white by centuries of unending conflict against monsters beneath the surface and reduced to a single remaining city.

Early in the game the player is recruited into the Grey Wardens, an ancient order of warriors sworn to defend the world from the threat of the Darkspawn – savage mutants who are occassionally united by a powerful Archdemon and boil up from their subterranean lairs to invade the surface in what is known as a Blight. The player must rally disparate factions to counter the latest Darkspawn invasion before all is lost. In this, the game follows the now-familiar BioWare RPG structure: after an initial warm-up period, Something Important happens and the player must subsequently travel to several locations in order to prepare themselves for the Final Confrontation. As in earlier titles, the order in which you tackle story quests is up to you.

He isn't messing around

Duncan is Leader of the Grey Wardens

BioWare aren’t taking many chances with their plot, but the story itself is told well enough to keep the player engaged. Part of this stems from the tremendous depth that exists in the world – entire histories and mythologies have been developed to breathe life into the world of Thedas. The game also draws you in through your chosen Origin story. There are six different Origins, though by the time you’ve selected your race and class you’ll only have one or two choices; regardless of race, Mages must play the Mage Origin, for example. An Origin story is a prologue that lasts just long enough to situate you in the world, establish initial contact with the Grey Wardens, and give you the motivation to move on. The Origins are generally well put-together (some are better than others) and to their credit not every Origin is equal in terms of what it teaches you about the world: the Human Noble Origin provides lots of information about your family and the politics of Ferelden, for example, while the Mage Origin goes into detail about the relationship of magic-users with the rest of the world. By contrast, the City Elf Origin highlights the challenges that elves face as second-class citizens in human society.

Naturally, the Origins also act as a tutorial, introducing basic gameplay elements such as combat and NPC interaction. We’re a far cry from Trask Ulgo, though – your immersion into the world is quite smooth, and your Origin doesn’t end when the prologue is over; the things you see and do during your first hours will continue to come up throughout the game, mostly in conversation with NPCs, party members and otherwise.

Gameplay: Character creation is handled very similarly to Mass Effect, and the facial construction system is nearly identical. Fortunately, the presets are much better in Dragon Age, and provide a stronger starting point for modification; this is especially true of the male faces (which were pretty bad in ME).

There are three classes in Dragon Age: Mage, Warrior and Rogue. While this may sound limited, it is important to note that within each class are 5 or more Talent trees that enable you to customize your character. For example, within the Warrior class there are Talent trees for fighting with a sword and shield, fighting with a two-handed weapon,  two-weapon fighting, and archery – not to mention a Tree of general Warrior talents. It’s probably best to focus on a couple of Talent lines rather than spread yourself thin, but the depth means that two players who make the same race/class selection could nonetheless create very different characters. New Talent points are awarded every level. As you progress through the game, it is also possible to unlock two specializations within your class which grant additional powers. There are four specializations available to each class, including Berserker and Champion for Warriors, Spirit Healer and Shapeshifter for Mages or Bard and Assassin for Rogues.

In addition to Talents, there are also a series of Skills that can be developed over the course of play. Broadly speaking, Talents impact a character’s performace in combat, while Skills often have uses outside of combat. Any character can train up any Skill, but caution must be exercised: Skill points are awarded only once every three levels (or every other level for Rogues), so it’s important to determine roles for each member of your party and to ensure a complimentary composition. There are a number of Skills, including Herbalism (for brewing potions), Coercion (which unlocks new conversation options) and Combat Training (which allows the character to use higher quality weapons and armour).

There’s an abundance of side-quests to keep you occupied if you decide to take a break from the main sotry (or to level up if you’re finding a particular section too challenging). While they are largely of the “Kill X rats” variety, there are some exceptions that keep things interesting.

One thing that you won’t find is any kind of alignment or morality meter. There’s no Light Side/Dark Side or Renegade/Paragon dynamic in Dragon Age. You simply make decisions and deal with the consequences. Your companions have their own alignments and will let you know if they approve of your actions or not (it’s possible to infuriate a follower to the point that they abandon or even attack you), but otherwise there’s no system in place to tell you when you do the “right” or “wrong” thing. Frankly, it’s a refreshing change.

Controls: You’ll control the action from an over-the-shoulder perspective that will be familiar to veterans of BioWare’s other console games like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect or Jade Empire. The player leads a party of up to four characters against all manner of foes in mostly-real-time combat. As in KotOR, the player is free to switch between party members on the fly, and issue specific orders to each. Managing your characters’ large repertoire of spells and special combat moves is handled through a radial menu similar to Mass Effect, as well as six quick-use commands mapped to the X, Y and B buttons. Holding the right trigger brings up a second list of quick-buttons, for a total of six hot buttons for each character. This is quite clever, but as the game progresses, players may find that this simply isn’t enough to manage the many abilities and spells they have, and have to spend more time with the radial menu, which is called up by pulling and holding the left trigger, pausing the game. Unfortunately, the radial menu has a couple of layers that can be a pain to negotiate, and it is only possible to give one order to a given party member at a time; once you’ve issued your command, the game automatically unpauses. Thus, issuing orders to several party members requires a tedious process of pausing, issuing an order, unpausing, switching characters, pausing again, issuing an order, unpausing, and so on. Mass Effect‘s ability to issue commands to the whole squad from the radial is keenly missed, as is KotOR’s ability to queue up several actions per character.

This could potentially be a deal breaker, if not for the Tactics system. Similar to the Gambits in Final Fantasy 12, the Tactics system is a series of If/Then conditionals that you can set up for each character to help govern their behaviour in combat. While the system looks complicated at first glance, it is actually quite intuitive and very flexible. Initially you can only set up one or two Tactics per character, but you can open up additional Tactic ‘slots’ as you level up. Using Tactics, it’s possible to develop fairly complex strategies that mitigate the need to micromanage your party. For example, it’s possible to tell your Healer to heal your Warrior if his health falls below 75%, and to heal anyone who is below 50% health. Your Rogue can be told to attack anyone who threatens the Healer; otherwise, he attacks whichever enemy has the fewest hit points. Your War Hound can be given standing orders to charge any ranged attackers, and to use its Growl ability against any Elite foes. Your Mage can be ordered to save powerful area of effect spells until a certain number of enemies are clustered together, and to heal himself with the most powerful potion if his health drops below 25%. The depth of the Tactics system is impressive, having presets for almost any eventuality. Tactics do not automate combat, however – the character you are controlling always ignores its preset Tactics and does only what you command.

Combat: Paced similarly to Mass Effect, combat is fast and furious, and you’ll frequently face large numbers of enemies. Initial battles are quite easy, and you’ll likely win simply by letting your party auto-attack their way to victory. Use these early battles to get the hang of your abilities, however, because the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly and careless or brash play can be brutally punished. While it’s nice to be challenged, the occassional spikes in difficulty can make for confusing or frustrating battles. Fortunately, the difficulty can be adjusted on-the-fly, so if a battle is giving you fits it’s a simple matter to drop the game down a notch or two so you can get through. There are no difficulty-related Achievements, so those of you who live to hear that little “bloop!” can rest easy. You also don’t need to obsess about keeping your avatar alive: characters are KO’d when their health is depleted, but as long as at least one member of your party survives a battle, the others will get back up, and health recovers quickly outside of combat. Beware however that characters who recover from a KO suffer injuries, which impose a variety of penalties. Injuries stack, and imprudent play can soon lead to you reaching the boss of an area with your party reduced to a battered band of ragged adventurers coughing blood and nursing open wounds, cracked skulls and broken bones. You’ll want to keep a steady supply of Injury Kits handy to treat these afflictions before they get out of control. 

Seriously, they'll fuck you up

Ogres can mess you up.

Graphics: Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t look terrible by any means, but there are definately better-looking games on the Xbox 360. Some of the textures are flat, apparently compressed in order to improve performance. There has also been some minor slow-down during cutscenes, which clears up after a few seconds. Everything else has been quite smooth. Load times are a bit long, but the loading screen displays information on your current quest or on various abilities and game mechanics, so the wait isn’t that bad (apparently, installing the game to your Xbox HDD significantly reduces load times). Weapon and armor models are nice – I’m a big fan of the look of the heavy and massive(!) armour sets, and having weapons that actually look different is a nice change after Fallout 3 and (especially) Mass Effect. There’s not a Borderlands-level of variety, but the slection of kit is good. Combat animations are also solid: spells provide dazzling particle effects, special abilities look cool when you execute them and combatants get splattered with gore. Killing certain important foes will even give you a special “killing blow” animation. In conversation, the character models are comparable to Mass Effect, and there’s none of the irritating texture “pop” that plagued ME on the 360. Conversations are preceeded by a couple of seconds pause as they load, however – installing the game to your HDD apparently eliminates this. Animations in conversation are also on-par with Mass Effect – which is to say that they can look a bit stiff, but facial animation remains a strong point; the characters in Dragon Age have expressive faces, unlike the dead-eyed inhabitants of the Wasteland. One slightly silly thing is that people stay splattered with blood for a while, which means that you can enter into a casual conversation still covered in the gore of your freshly-slain foes. Doesn’t anyone have a hanky? Also, any combat results in a literal blood bath … even if you’re just smacking rats in the pantry.

"You've got something on your face..."

This kind of thing happens all the time

Sound: Sound design is very good. The music is great and ambient effects are classy; the quiet echo of voices in a church, or the layered, out-of-synch whispers and growls when a demon speaks. Spells sizzle and weapons clash in a satisfying fashion. Voice acting is excellent. KotOR and Mass Effect spoiled us, and BioWare has wisely continued to invest in top-notch voice talent. Returning to classic RPG roots, the main character does not speak, but everyone else has been very good so far. The trope of almost everyone speaking with a British accent is present as well, though not as bad as in other examples of the fantasy genre: humans from the kingdom of Ferelden speak in the Queen’s English, but humans from other lands have French or Spanish accents. Elves do not seem to have accents, and the dwarves appear to have been spared the usual Scottish / Ale / Axes treatment.

GUI: Dragon Age: Origins is an RPG in the spirit of BioWare’s hugely popular and successful Baldur’s Gate series, which means that there’s alot to do and keep track of. A game as robust as this can be very hard to manage on a console, but the GUI designers at BioWare (with the help of Edge of Reality) have done as good job of bringing it all together as could be expected. There are a few areas where having a keyboard and mouse would be vastly better, but overall the controls are solid. Menus are negotiated by using the triggers, the bumpers and the control sticks. Generally speaking, the triggers cycle through menu headers (Map, Inventory, Quest Log, etc…), the bumpers switch between characters, and the control stick manipulates items on a given screen (equipping or using items, for example). The menus are quite deep, but sometimes feel a bit unwieldy. The Quest Log is divided into collapsible sections based on where you found a quest, which keeps things neat … but the actual log entries do not always provide adequate guidance. There is a “Set as current quest” function, but it does not appear to actually do anything. The Codex is similarly organized, with new entries highlighted for your convenience. A nice touch is that not all Codex entries are static. For example, when you first meet a party member, their Codex entry might simply say, “Alistair is a Grey Warden who once trained to be a Templar.” As you speak to Alistair and learn more about him, his Codex entry expands to cover more of his background. Sadly, the Codex is not narrated, and reading entries on an SDTV is a real pain – play in HD if you can!

On the main screen, information is presented with fair efficiency and clearity: The character portraits with current health and stamina/mana are displayed in the upper left. The mini-map is in its familiar place in the upper right, and in the lower right is a display showing your hot button layout. Under that are the health and mana bars of the character you are currently controlling. This puts a good deal of information at your disposal, without cluttering the middle of the screen where the action’s at.

Summary: Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360 is not without problems: so-so graphics, unwieldy menus, uneven difficulty, combat that is sometimes clunky, and somewhat predictable plot progression are all factors that cannot be ignored. However, the abundance of side-quests, the richness of the game world, the excellent writing and voice acting, solid design of the main story arc and the moments when everything just clicks all manage to overcome the game’s shortcomings and provide a compelling experience that I’ve been hard-pressed to put down. If things keep up at this pace, I can definately seem myself playing through the game a second time. I’ll reserve final judgement until I finish the game, but at this point I give it a solid 8/10.

WoSW?

Dialogue trees, irreversible choices, love interests. NPC parties in an MMO… and all of the above by Bioware. This could get sexy.

BioWare should fight its own battles: Level Up

Level Up recently interviewed BioWare co-founder and CEO Greg Muzyka and asked why the developer didn’t step up to defend it’s new title, Mass Effect, when it became the target of wildly inaccurate allegations. Spike TV’s Geoff Keighley did his best to defend the title on TV, and EA (which owns BioWare) demanded a retraction, but BioWare itself had little to say, limiting its comments on the “controversy” to a single quote that appeared in the NY Times:

We’re hurt. We believe in video games as an art form, and on behalf of the 120 people who poured their blood and tears into this game over three years, we’re just really hurt that someone would misrepresent the game without even playing it. All we can hope for is that people who actually play our games will see the truth.”

Muzyka let it be known that BioWare was happy to let its community come to Mass Effect‘s defense. This tactic was certainly successful … to a degree. Some of those who over-reacted to Mass Effect have apologized for their hasty words, but Fox News is sticking to their guns.

Level Up says that BioWare should have done more:

In order to sit at the grown-ups table, culturally speaking, developers are going to have to act like adults. And that means not letting other people do their fighting for them.

What do you think, gentle readers? Should developers be at the front lines when their work comes under attack, or is it ok to let others set record straight?

Mass Effect DLC a month away

From Bioware’s Mass Effect Forums:

“To date, over 1.6 million gamers have explored the engaging sci-fi universe of Mass Effect. Beginning on March 10, fans everywhere will be able to expand the “Mass Effect” experience with the release of the first ever downloadable content for the award-winning saga.

The Bring Down the Sky downloadable content pack will be released to Xbox LIVE Marketplace on Monday, March 10 at 2 a.m. PST, and will be available for 400 MS points. This is the first in a series of planned downloadable content that further expands the Mass Effect universe and continues the adventures of Commander Shepard and the Normandy crew.

Bring Down the Sky includes a new uncharted world that introduces the notorious and feared alien race of the Batarians. A Batarian extremist group has hijacked a mobile asteroid station in the Asgard system, setting it on a collision course with the nearby colony world of Terra Nova. Only Commander Shepard can save the millions of innocent civilians before the asteroid completes its deadly descent.

Bring Down the Sky contains approximately 90 minutes of heart-pounding action and a new Achievement worth 50 Gamerscore points.”

Normandy

Batarians!