Archive for June, 2012

The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 was released on June 26. As expected, it provides some clarification and a bit more closure than the original ending, but it’s still pretty much “pick your favorite color”. I still see several gaping plot holes that it failed to address and the ending cinematics are more reminiscent of the “Fallout 3” and “Fallout: New Vegas” slide shows than what I would have expected from Mass Effect. So, taken as a whole, all I can say with any degree of honesty it that the ending is somewhat improved.

As an example in the area of plot holes, BioWare tried to fix one by showing that your miraculously teleporting squadmates were actually picked up by the Normandy in response to Shepard’s call to evacuate a wounded member. But in filling that hole, they had to teleport the Normandy itself. Well, maybe not teleport, but if you consider the amount of time it took for Harbinger to break off from the fight and arrive at the transport beam and then compare that to the amount of time it takes the Normandy to break off from the fight and get to the beam, it might as well be a teleport. They also fail to explain how Harbinger can be aware of these teeny-tiny little people on the ground (because it’s shooting at them), yet overlook a frigate making a pickup right in front of it. Perhaps there is such a thing as “space magic” after all. At least Joker isn’t looking back over his shoulder during the escape sequence.

Voice-overs from Hacket (Destruction), Shepard (Control), and EDI (Synthesis) serve to explain the post-ending Mass Effect universe through a series of slides (which mostly get reused in each ending). I suspect that this was done to alleviate concerns that the destruction of the Mass Relay system effectively ended galactic civilization. However, the rosy future painted by each of the endings stands in stark contrast to my expectation of a return to factious infighting once the threat of the common enemy was removed (OK, rosy future mostly works in the Synthesis ending), but it’s their story, so I’ll just let it go at saying that it stretches my suspension of disbelief. The word “blivet” comes to mind, but that’s a bit harsh. Maybe “mini-blivet”?

On the whole, the ending is a bit (only a bit) more palatable than the original. We players are now faced with a different issue. Since this is the only fix we can reasonably expect, do we play the game or not? Taken in this light, I’m back to the conclusion of my original review: the game itself is very good. My heartburn was and is with the ending. To that extent, do you play a good game whose ending is less than stellar or do you let the ending color the whole experience of the game? I tend to go with the former in the hope that BioWare will learn from this fiasco and not repeat it in the future.

It’s impossible to tell a story in which you expect the player to invest themselves in a character and then also expect that everyone will be thrilled and overjoyed with the ending of that story. It’s not going to happen. But it is possible to tell a story where the vast majority can accept the ending with little fuss. This is what I expect BioWare to take away from the ME3 experience. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. In the interim, I suspect we can look forward to at least a couple of paid DLCs. My money is on Aria retaking Omega now that the Illusive Man is out of the picture. It might be worth it in light of the more palatable ending, but we shall see the future when it gets here. In the meantime, don’t let the ending get in the way of enjoying the ride. It’s still a very good game.

While searching high and low for my Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas CD (it’s around here somewhere), I thought that I might have purchased a digital download version from Direct2Drive a few years back. Turns out that I hadn’t, but GameFly (the successor to Direct2Drive) had GTASA on sale for $3.75 and L.A. Noire for $4.99. One of my student has been pestering me to get it and, short of totally hozing my system, you can’t beat a $5 game. Sign me up.

After downloading and installing the game with GameStop’s client, I checked to makes sure that it launched OK and then went on to playing Origins. When it was time to fire up DA2 for real, I initially had no problems. The game played well with no major technical issues. It turned out that there had been a patch released that GameStop never told me about, but that has been my experience across the board with their games – they sell you the earliest stable version they can and leave later patching up to you. An hour or so into the game, I decided to call it quits for the evening, saved and went on my merry way. The trouble started when I tried to load my saved game.

It turns out that although I bought the plain-jane Dragon Age 2, GameStop delivered the Signature Edition, without the appropriate product keys. The only difference in the versions is that the Signature Edition came with two DLCs. In their infinite wisdom, BioWare decreed that all DLCs must be associated with a player’s account. The way that they decided to enforce this is that the game will not let you load a save created with DLCs that are not tied to your BioWare account. I understand the reasoning behind this approach and more or less agree with it. People do need to pay for stuff, after all.

So, it looks like there are three solutions to the problem. First, someone can cough up the product keys for the two DLCs that are not currently tied to my account, a major win for me since I didn’t pay for them to begin with, but it’s a solution. Second, I can purchase the DLCs with my existing BioWare points and, since they’re already installed, I don’t have to hassle with downloading them. The only problem with this is that the Signature Edition Rewards is not available for purchase, although the other DLC is, so it’s half of a solution. Third, I can just remove both DLCs. The problem with this option is that DA2 didn’t come with the capability to mod, so no mod installer was included. No mod installer means no mod uninstaller, so I’m going to need a bit of help with this. Off to tech support I go.

I described the problem to EA’s tech support in a chat session and offered two acceptable solutions. Either tell me where to get the product keys so that I can associate the DLCs with my BioWare account or tell me how to remove the DLCs. I was good either way. The tech support guy told me that I needed to repair my installation and had me looking high and low for an executable that didn’t come with GameStop’s version of the game. He demanded a remote desktop session, which I eventually allowed him to have, where he found that the executable he wanted wasn’t anywhere on my system (which I had already told him). Then he demanded that I uninstall the game, redownload it with Origin’s client, and then get back with them. Figuring that an uninstall and fresh download couldn’t hurt (aside from the several hours that it takes to pull the game through a DSL connection), I uninstalled, deleted the folders, redownloaded and reinstalled from GameStop. The same two DLCs were there causing the same problem.

So I contacted GameStop’s tech support and offered them the same two solutions: give me product keys or tell me how to remove the DLCs. GameStop’s tech support operates off of email, rather than chat, so I was stuck in a holding pattern until they got back with me. In the meantime, I started poking around in the game’s files and managed to locate the two DLCs in the \addins folder. With nothing to lose by trying, I stuck them into a .zip folder and moved them elsewhere. Whereupon the game worked, saved games loaded and I was off and running. After a few rounds of email from GameStop, their description of the cause of the problem was “glitches due to server maintenance”. In common parlance, that means, “we have no idea why, either, but it sounds technical enough that you’ll shut up and go away.”