On Origin

origin-logoA major part of consternation when it came to playing Mass Effect 3 recently was the forced alliance I’d have to make (for the sake of the galaxy) with Origin, a digital distribution system whose existence is gloriously unnecessary.

As it turned out, Origin wasn’t awful, although the experience was nowhere near as tuned as that I receive with Steam.

Firstly, kudos to EA for quickly resolving an issue with the CD key I was given. My good friend Jake gifted me ME3 as a Christmas gift; however he inadvertently sent me a used copy on DVD, which wouldn’t activate. The Origin rep I connected with – once sent photographic proof of purchase and DVD ownership – was very kind in generating me a key for the N7 Special Edition of the Mass Effect 3 game which would have cost considerably more than the base game I was gifted. This impressed me to be honest, and went against my expectations of Origin being awful to work with on a customer-service basis.

The Origin software itself proved… clunky. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Origin does a very good job in flattering Steam. However, the in-game interface proved to be a bit of a handful; the web browser misbehaved and was sluggish and on a few occasions the overlay ceased working entirely. It just felt as if EA had taken a photocopier to Steam but forgot to clean the glass with Windolene beforehand. It worked but was inelegant and seemed immature. Given EA’s vast resources I expected a more optimised and efficient effort.

My main complaint about Origin has to be the complete lack of gifting – this would have sorted my pre-owned key problem in an instant. I do question the point of even offering a DVD edition of Mass Effect 3 as the discs are unused; installation begins with Origin and then proceeds to activation of the game licence – at which point Origin renders both DVDs superfluous by downloading the entire game from EA’s servers. Surely a leaf could be taken from Microsoft’s book in terms of physical copies – distribute them as boxed product keys that save on DVD pressing costs on discs that never get used.

I had very little to do with Origin’s social features as all my gaming friends reside on Steam, and there seemed to be no chat or friends list function to speak of. Achievements were as irrelevant to me on Origin as they are on Steam; however I did end up somehow collecting Origin points, the purpose of which is quite confusing.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Origin’s performance – it did the job of getting me into Mass Effect 3 though I wanted it to do no more. I was quite surprised that the software wasn’t completely unusable and the support reps not complete morons. I still find myself seriously questioning EA’s petulance in making games Origin-exclusive as this is quite anti-consumer in my opinion. There’s nothing in Origin that Steam (or any other digital distribution service) can’t provide; and in terms of social and gifting, Steam certainly offers a comprehensively better experience, and that’s before going into Sales and Greenlight. It’s just a disappointing but ultimately unsurprising epithet of EA’s generally anti-consumer corporate attitude.

Oh, and the plastering of adverts for SimCity didn’t help things either.

Review: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect was a game franchise I really got invested in during 2013 (yes, after everyone else) and I was eager to play the controversial third and final chapter in the epic space saga. Thanks to my good friend Jake, I received a copy of Mass Effect 3 right at the end of the year and, having completed it, feel it’s time to bring my review saga to a suitable condition.

Mass Effect 3

Oh, and if you don’t like the review, I’ll add a bit more to it later.

In Mass Effect 3 the stakes were never higher, with Commander Shepard seemingly the only person in the galaxy able to stop the Reapers and save all organic life. From the moment you re-join Shepard there’s a palpable feel of what’s to come – and it doesn’t disappoint.

Once the main story is set out and the mission made clear, you’re left to unite the galaxy for the upcoming Battle Royale. Once past the opening spectacle, it was down to business, Mass Effect style. The seemingly-simple objective soon becomes more and more complex, but there’s plenty of story and character development to come, too. There’s plenty of side missions to add meat to the bones of the universe and it gives a much more intimate feel to the quest beside the large-scale implications; it’s personal too.

However, going through the missions made me question one thing: to what timescale does Mass Effect run to? Did my mission take weeks or months? I felt, when the Reapers invaded, that help was needed like right now; though conversation later on alludes to a Reaper “cleansing” taking upwards of a century. A little clarification would’ve gone a way for me.

Combat in Mass Effect 3 can be dialled up or down depending on a player’s preference. As shooters are not my preferred game type, I initially thought of toning it down but kept it on the default; combat was challenging but not impossible. I definitely felt the benefits of squad powers more in this instalment, winning a few nigh-unwinnable situations with well-placed Singularity.

Going back to the characterisation – it was great to see my fellow comrades from Mass Effect 2 and explore their stories, which in more than one case proved to be the final chapters of which. Mass Effect’s story and character attachment made some of these scenes pretty intense emotionally, as I really was attached to some of these guys. It’s great to be so emotionally involved in game characters; likewise, my squad members made me feel never truly alone, even though they were just AI players underneath.

Mission tracking was further simplified in Mass Effect 3 going on from 2, though this was a failing in my regard. Missions and side quests (previously subcategorised as assignments) were lumped into one journal list, which annoyingly didn’t stay scrolled to the top. Often I found myself reaching for the game guide as there was no collapsible objective tree for each mission as there was in Mass Effect 2 – rather, the vaguest of vague hints as to where to go. It got confusing pretty quickly, especially as some missions were only found to be unachievable for now, due to artificially graduated galaxy map revelations, after expending considerable fuel and load-screen time.

When it came to the controversial endings for Mass Effect 3, I was lucky enough, by virtue of playing the game now and not immediately after release, to have the patched “extended edition” endings available by default. I can however see why people would be cheesed off by these endings – you’re essentially left to pick one of three endings (though unwittingly I unlocked a fourth, which is more a “game over” rather than a storyline conclusion) and your decisions seem to have but peripheral effect on these; they’re all scripted – your collection of “war assets” throughout the game seems to only determine to what degree of “success” the ending you choose has on the galaxy.

Ultimately with Mass Effect 3, the endings left me unsatisfied, especially after I inadvertently triggered and ending that made my efforts to stop the Reapers completely pointless. That said, the journey in Mass Effect is a lot more rewarding than the conclusion.

I’m yet to decide whether that’s a good thing or a damning indictment. Or neither. Or maybe both. You decide (though what you thought coming up to this point is meaningless. Pick one.)