The first huge new release of the year is upon us in just a few short days. Mass Effect 3, the climax to the story of Commander John Shepard — should you go the default character route — launches on March 6th for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, bringing with it epic storytelling, heart-pounding action, and incredible visuals.
But now, thanks to guidance from publishers and sales outlets, investors and product manufacturers, it also brings a host of new additions along for the ride. We’re now told that it’s “Better with Kinect”. It has integrated co-op multiplayer to “fight the war alongside your friends”. The multiplayer is only available with the input of an online pass. Buying the game new will net outlet-specific downloads and bonuses, like guns and more guns. Collector’s editions throw in art books and in-game hoodies… because hoodies are still fashionable in 2186. There’s even the “From Ashes” DLC launching on day one.
It’s quite a bit of stuff to ram into a game that already has a lot to live up to as the closing act of a hugely popular trilogy. But, is it necessary? And more importantly, is it going to be any good?
It’s safe to assume that several factors forced the addition of many of these, not the least of which was EA’s rumored disappointment in the sales of ME2. The game sold over 2 million copies in its first week, but the bar is now clearly as high as Battlefield 3‘s 5 million.
Microsoft’s push for Kinect’s long-term viability forces it into every game being released, with the company asking developers to try and include it if possible. Here, BioWare asks us to shout simple commands to our squad mates about which powers to use or weapons to change to, or making choices in conversations when prompted. Essentially it utilizes Kinect as a voice-sensing microphone. There’s nothing beyond that, though. For a few players it’ll be one less button-press when in battle, and may help with the game’s accessibility. In conversation, shouting one of the supplied replies or questions leads Shepard to say something only remotely similar — Mass Effect games are notorious for pushing good and evil decisions, but the in-game characters’ responses only hint at those extremes. There’s a definite disconnect there.
[pullquote_right]Is it going to be any good?[/pullquote_right]When multiplayer was announced for the game, many fans became nervous that it was going to A) be forced onto those who only play single player in order to experience the full plot, or B) take part of the team of developers away from the main adventure. EA understands that from a business perspective games with multiplayer sell better than those without.
Other additions include the now popular Day One DLC (From Ashes), digital items included for new purchases, retailer-specific bonuses, online passes, an iOS game, Mass Effect: Infiltrator, that affects the console version’s ‘Galaxy at War’ system, and even an iPad app that will connect with the game as we play it to include even more features.
But is it all too much? Are we forced into all of these extras to make the game more enjoyable (or financially successful), or is the loss of simplicity and purity in Mass Effect reflective of a bigger shift in gaming?
It used to be a single, fulfilling experience that everyone shared the same way. Now, very few will have the same playthrough… and is that even a bad thing?
The sales success of Mass Effect 3 won’t hinder on these inclusions — the game is surely going to sell millions in its first week — but fans are increasingly become more weary of them. The games industry hasn’t necessarily sold out yet, but in the eyes of a growing number it may be walking on Reaper egg shells.