Mass Effect: A Journey in Pictures

I recently finished another complete play-through of the entire Mass Effect trilogy, and I wanted to do a post on it. But giving my thoughts on the trilogy as a whole seemed rather redundant, since I’ve already done that. I considered doing a bio on my version of Shepard including all the major choices I made and my rational behind them and her character, but that seemed like it’d be rather dull.

So I decided I’d take advantage of my compulsive screenshoting and show off some of my favourite images from this most recent play through, along with a little commentary. Click the images to see them full-size.

Mass Effect:

My Shepard in Mass EffectIn all but one of my playthroughs of the trilogy, I’ve modeled my Shepard after Nova Terra from the StarCraft universe. This is because the plot for the original Mass Effect is suspiciously similar to that of StarCraft: Ghost, and because Nova is awesome.

My Shepard and her beloved sniper rifle in the original Mass EffectThis applies to both her physical appearance — blonde ponytail, green eyes, white and blue armour where possible — and her playstyle. I’m always an adept with sniper rifle training, emulating Nova’s psionic powers and skills as a sniper. Plus those are the two methods of fighting I most enjoy.

Killing Wrex in the original Mass EffectI don’t really have a problem with Wrex — though I’m also not especially fond of him — but I’ve decided that I prefer to kill him because it makes the genophage story in ME3 a lot more interesting. A harder decision makes for a better experience.

Driving the tank in the original Mass EffectI never understood the hate for the vehicle segments in ME1. The controls are a little wonky, and they were a bit over-used, but they provided a good change of pace from the sequences on foot, and I think the later games were the lesser for their exclusion.

The first meeting with Sovereign in the original Mass EffectI really think the Reapers are one of the scariest monsters science fiction has yet produced, and Sovereign’s speech when you first encounter it is just chilling. “You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.”

Mass Effect 2:

Kasumi Goto in Mass Effect 2During this playthrough, I decided to pick up all the remaining DLCs that I didn’t already have. That meant that this was my first time meeting Kasumi, and it turns out I quite like her. She reminds me of someone. It’s a shame she couldn’t have a bigger role.

My Shepard making a speech in Mass Effect 2My Shepard talking with Thane Krios in Mass Effect 2Although her appearance and combat style is based on Nova, I tend to RP my Shepard as a female Jean-Luc Picard. She’s a stern but regal figure, noble if not always warm. I wound up with max paragon scores in the first two games this time around.

My Shepard getting to know Samara in Mass Effect 2Tell her that I miss our little talks…

The horrific fate of David Archer in Mass Effect 2: OverlordThis was also my first time playing through Overlord. The ending had a good punch, but overall I didn’t enjoy it that much.

Flying the M-44 Hammerhead in Mass Effect 2: OverlordUnlike in ME1, I find ME2’s few vehicle sequences terribly aggravating. That damn hover tank is made of glass, and for some reason they never let you save in the middle of a sequence. It’s incredibly aggravating.

An armed standoff in Mass Effect 2I feel like this shot was designed specifically for screenshot fans like me.

Traveling through the Omega 4 Relay in Mass Effect 2The Reapers advance on the Milky Way at the end of Mass Effect 2ME2 is my least favourite part of the trilogy by a significant margin. It has some great characters, but most of the game amounts to little more than mountains of repetitive busywork. That said, the ending is really spectacular. Just a shame the rest of the game isn’t like that.

My Shepard confronts Harbinger in Mass Effect 2: ArrivalI’m not normally one to complain about DLC, but I really think Arrival should have been included in the base game. Maybe because it has more relevance to the rest of the trilogy’s storyline than the rest of ME2 combined…

Also, one of my few disappointments with ME3 is that it did not feature Harbinger more prominently. Really felt like they were building it into the “Big Bad” of the series.

Mass Effect 3:

The Reapers descend on Vancouver in Mass Effect 3The Turian homeworld burns at the touch of the Reapers in Mass Effect 3In stark contrast to ME2’s rambling, ME3 hits the ground running and never lets you come up for air, which I love. Also props for giving Canada some time in the spotlight, even if it involves being curbstomped by the Reapers.

My Shepard in Mass Effect 3My squad looking badass on Rannoch in Mass Effect 3I’m pretty sure my Shepard sleeps in her uniform.

My favourite sniper rifle in Mass Effect 3I love this gun.

The Geth and the Quarians battle for Rannoch in Mass Effect 3Keelah se'lai, Tali'ZorahI’m not really that big on the various aliens in Mass Effect. They all seem more like bland archetypes than people. That said, I really like the Quarians, and the Rannoch plot was one of the highlights for ME3 for me. A great note of positivity to counterbalance the unrelenting bleakness of the rest of the game.

All the feelsI like this shot. I must admit my fondness for Traynor is probably a fair bit beyond what is healthy for a video game character.

An adjutant monster in Mass Effect 3's Omega DLCThis was my first time playing through the Omega DLC. It was fun and pretty meaty for a DLC, and I love the new flare power, but if Aria T’Loak’s personality was a sound, it’d be fingernails on a chalkboard, and overall the story wasn’t that interesting.

The fall of the Protheans in Mass Effect 3A Reaper in Mass Effect 3Again, Reapers are bloody terrifying.

A clone of Shepard in Mass Effect 3: CitadelThis was also my first time playing Citadel. I thought the clone story was, well, pretty bad, honestly. All the forced humour seemed jarringly out of place with the tone of the rest of the game. Also, why can’t I get armour that cool?

A drunken Javik in Mass Effect 3: Citadel Catching up with Samara in Mass Effect 3: CitadelWaching a bad movie with Tali in Mass Effect 3: CitadelThat said, the later half with the party and catching up with all the characters was great. Very unique experience for a video game.

A group photo at the end of the party in Mass Effect 3: CitadelMy favourite part of this shot is how Shepard and Traynor are paying more attention to each other than the party around them. I wonder if it’s because of the romance, or if it’s just a happy coincidence? I notice that EDI and Joker also seem to be fixated on each other, but Tali and Garrus aren’t.

The Reapers take Thessia in Mass Effect 3This time around, I was struck by what a brilliant piece of storytelling the fall of Thessia is. I don’t even like Asari, and that sequence still ripped my heart out and stomped on it. I really wish more games had the courage to hand such brutal setbacks to the protagonist.

The fleets of the galaxy pour through the Sol relay in Mass Effect 3A space battle in Mass Effect 3A space battle in Mass Effect 3The space battles in ME3 are fantastic.

A good bunchI miss them already.

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Well, that turned out pretty wordy after all. I wonder if anyone’s gonna have the patience to wade through all this?

WoW: I Accidentally a Draenor

Regular readers will know by now that I am not at all enamored with Warlords of Draenor, but also that Blizzard owns my soul, and therefore it is inevitable that I will play it at some point.

A shot of the Spires of Arak zone in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorThis past week, Blizzard held a sale on the expansion, and since Blizzard doesn’t do sales very often, I decided I’d pick it up, even though I don’t have plans to renew my World of Warcraft subscription right now. This way I won’t have to pay more than the usual price for an expansion.

While in my Battle.net account, I stumbled across an option to play a free trial of WoD. I clicked the link to get more info… only for it to instantly enable the ten day trial for my account. And as it turns out, it no only lets you try WoD, but also lets you play without a subscription for ten days.

So suddenly I was back in Azeroth.

Did not see that coming.

WoD has thus far mostly lived up to my expectations, which isn’t really a good thing.

The world, the story, the content:

I was able to get surprisingly far in WoD in my ten days. I decided to put aside my alt addiction for once (with one notable exception, which I’ll get to) and focus almost entirely on my rogue, and as a result, I managed to get to level 100 and a tier 3 garrison before my time ran out.

A shot of the Shadowmoon Valley zone in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorLeveling seems positively breezy this time around. I skipped nearly the entire Spires of Arak zone and almost every bonus objective, and I was still only halfway through Nagrand when I hit 100. It seemed almost effortless.

Unfortunately, in this case, it is the destination and not the journey, because the leveling experience in Warlords of Draenor just isn’t anything to write home about.

It’s not bad — don’t get me wrong. The quest flow is good, and mechanically, everything is solid. Some of the zones are fairly pretty — especially Talador and Shadowmoon Valley. But it all lacks flavour. There are no stunning twists, no memorably epic quests, no powerful moments. It all feels rote and sterile.

The weak story probably has a lot to do with this. At no point in WoD — at least on the Alliance side — is there any explanation of the Iron Horde’s motivations or backstory, nor are you given any strong reason to hate or fear them. It’s just a lot of “Hey, Orcs. Let’s kill them.” Draenor’s plot has all the depth of a mud puddle.

It also doesn’t help that the Alliance story is almost exclusively focused on the Draenei — I’m hard-pressed to remember a time in WoW’s history when one race has dominated the story so thoroughly. And by now, I think my feelings on the Draenei are well-known.

My rogue surveys Talador in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorThat said, I was actually enjoying their story to a surprising degree at first. One of my main problems with the Draenei is that they are essentially the Mary-est Sues that ever Mary-ed a Sue. They’re utterly flawless, they’re supremely skilled at everything, and they’ve managed to co-opt the identity of every other Alliance race.

But in the early parts of WoD, they’re presented much more as real people, with flaws. I particularly enjoyed the conflicts between the Rangaari and the traditionalists, and the idea that the Draenei have been too reckless in forcing Draenor to bend to their will.

The Rangaari in general are pretty cool… though I guess they are another case of the Draenei stealing the Night Elves’ thunder. But eh, I still like them.

Unfortunately, the Draenei plot soon became hijacked by the newly introduced Yrel, and she is the living embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Draenei: a contrived, shallow character with no flaws who is constantly viewed as a born hero and saviour despite the fact that she’s never actually done anything other than getting everyone around her killed.

Yrel makes me glad that Blizzard tends to be abandon characters after the expansion that introduced them. I’ve only played WoD for ten days, and I’m already sick to death of her.

The remains of Garrosh Hellscream in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorThe moment so far in WoD’s story that I’ve truly enjoyed was Garrosh’s end. It takes a lot to piss off Thrall, but when it happens, it is terrifying.

It also doesn’t help that the soundtrack was quite weak this time around — which is shocking, because WoW’s soundtrack tends to be the best in the industry. A lot of this is probably due to the fact that a tremendous amount of the music in WoD is recycled from past expansions, which is very distracting.

Similarly, the dungeons in WoD are not in any way bad, but they’re quite unremarkable. I’m surprised by how much the removal of dungeon quests has sucked the soul out of the experience, but it really does make a difference. I had no emotional investment in any of the dungeons.

The only ones I particularly enjoyed were Grimrail Depot — or, as I call it, Last Train to Cairo with Orcs — and Shadowmoon Burial Grounds. They both feature nice visuals and some fairly entertaining fight mechanics. I’d still take almost any Mists of Pandaria dungeon over them, though.

The one thing about WoD that I can say is really an improvement is the abundance of rare spawns, elites, and hidden loot throughout Draenor. For the first time in WoW’s history, exploration is actually rewarding, and it does make the world a bit more exciting. I loved hunting down all the elites in Gorgrond; reminded me of giant-slaying in Azshara back in the day.

The first boss of the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds dungeon in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorOstensibly, these treasures are the reason for removing flight. They say flying mounts would trivialize the search for them, and granted, that is true to some extent. But you can quite easily obtain maps that mark every single treasure in a zone on your map permanently, and that trivializes them far, far more than flight ever could.

Also, Draenor definitely does not seem like a world designed without flight in mind. There are hills, cliffs, and pitfalls everywhere, and even just trying to complete quests to level can be quite painful at times due to the unnavigable terrain. Ironically, Pandaria did a far better job of making the world easy to get around without flight.

Overall, I wouldn’t say WoD is bad. The content is very mechanically solid. But it’s all tasteless. There’s no effort to be more than adequate.

Garrisons:

That said, Warlords of Draenor does have one saving grace, and that is garrisons.

I’m still a little disappointed by how little customization garrisons offer, especially compared to more traditional player housing systems, but even so, I love them.

My rogue's garrison in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorI can’t quite put my finger on what it is about garrisons I find so addictive. There isn’t a lot of gameplay depth there; a garrison basically boils down to an elaborate vending machine for free loot. Then again, what self-respecting MMO player wouldn’t welcome such a thing?

I think a lot of it is just down to the flavour of having my own fortress and private army. Who wouldn’t want a squad of minions to do your bidding? As a lore fan, it’s also quite gratifying to be able to recruit quest NPCs and notable characters from previous expansions.

There’s a lot of little details in garrisons that are neat, as well. Like the way the guards will salute you as you walk by, or being able to select your own music, or passing your followers in the streets.

I do worry about the future of garrisons. Blizzard has already said they don’t want to continue the feature in the next expansion — a baffling stance if I’ve ever seen one — but garrisons are so rewarding that people will still want to go back to Draenor to use them. Blizzard has a real problem with outdated content still having some value, so they’ll have to do something about that, bt garrisons are so much a case of something for nothing that it’s hard to imagine how Blizzard could nerf them enough to make them irrelevant without breaking them entirely.

New character models:

This was also my first chance to get a firsthand look at the new Blood Elf models.

My warlock's awesome new look following the Blood Elf model revamp in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorI have to say, I’m quite impressed. Blood Elves got the best revamp to date, I think. The new models look fantastic but are very faithful to the originals. My mage and warlock still look just like their old selves — only better — and I didn’t have to change their faces or anything.

Unfortunately, the other new models have also been tweaked, and I was no longer happy with the new face for my rogue. Her old face still doesn’t look right, either, so I had to choose yet another new face. And then I decided I didn’t like that one, and I switched to another. I’m still not sure I like it, and I’m feeling pretty unhappy with the whole situation.

Maigraith: The woman of a thousand facesDragonwrath:

The one exception to my rogue-focus during the trial was that I continued to pursue the legendary questline for Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest on my warlock, and I was able to make quite good progress, completing much of the story content for the chain.

I feel that this storyline embodies the best and the worst of World of Warcraft all at once.

On the one hand, the story is pretty compelling — not the best I’ve seen, but solid — and the production values are excellent. Revamping the Nexus as a solo dungeon was an excellent move, and the whole sequence was just great.

At the same time, I can’t help but be saddened by how few people got to experience this content when it was relevant. Those of us not in high-end raiding guilds — IE the overwhelming majority of players — had to wait years to see this content, and even now, I have to wonder how many people are willing to go through what is still a pretty huge grind just for some neat lore and an achievement.

Dragonwrath is a testament both to the quality of content Blizzard can create and how horribly skewed their priorities are. They built something truly excellent and then made sure that as few people as possible would be able to enjoy it.

My warlock battling in the Nexus as part of the Dragonwrath legendary quest chain in World of WarcraftThat’s WoW in a nutshell right there.