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Mass Effect 3: The evitable conflict

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

The convoluted logic of the Mass Effect trilogy's controversial ending hinges on the idea that sufficiently advanced species will inevitably create artificially intelligent life that will rebel and, if left unchecked, exterminate all organic life in the galaxy. To combat this threat, the Reapers harvest advanced civilizations, giving primitive ones the chance to flourish without being snuffed out in their infancy.

Mass Effect 3: Requiem for the ME Universe

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

We should have known the conclusion would be trouble. Ending a game like Mass Effect 3 poses a special set of problems, because a central attraction of Western RPGs is that their systems respond to player choice. Mass Effect and its like are the classic case of games that generate stories through collaboration between designer and player. Drawing things to a close, however, requires the hand of the developer to show, often in ways that seem unattractive.

Skyrim: A dirge for the Falmer

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

The Falmer are coming. You can hear guards whispering about them in Skyrim's towns. You can encounter them through their attacks on trading caravans or isolated, unlucky outposts. In the journey to Blackreach, if not before, you will encounter the Falmer. Blind and pale, they scurry through the caves beneath Skyrim, clothed and armed with chitin from their hideous insect livestock, communicating in primitive hisses. Considering only these characteristics, it would be easy to dismiss the Falmer as goblins by another name, like Mass Effect's awful Vorcha. However, the fiction surrounding the Falmer positions them as a touchstone for many of Skyrim's main ideas.

Mass Effect 3: Day one

Mass Effect 3: From Ashes Screenshot

Among core gamers, Electronic Arts and BioWare's decision to deliver an additional squadmate as day one DLC for Mass Effect 3 continues to rile people who haven't yet finished the game and gotten angry about the ending. Fast-flying accusations and defenses about whether the content was stripped out of the game mostly miss the point.

Extending Mass Effect universe beyond Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

Although I don't know whether there has been any TV presence, Electronic Arts has mounted a decent push behind the game, with some mobile tie-ins that are mediated to the main game's fiction by the Galactic Readiness mechanic. This is also integrated with the game's packed-in co-op third-person shooter. Tying that kind of functionality to a role-playing game (RPG) suggests that EA wants to expand the audience, and perhaps turn BioWare's world-building into a company-wide asset tied to multiple games.

Skyrim: The orphans, the clown and the mothers

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

When Skyrim tries to go big, it often falters due to poor writing, over-promising, or a disconnect between the story and the gameplay. The happiest exception to this trend is the Dark Brotherhood questline, which is one of the game's great successes. This is because it obeys the rules of good writing, and of good game design.

NeverDead: Failure in four bosses

NeverDead Screenshot

The only interesting thing about NeverDead is that it's not actually as bad as it seems after you've beaten it. I don't mean that NeverDead is secretly a good game. It truly stinks, mostly for boring reasons—awkward and mushy controls, inconsistent mechanics, stock characters, vapid story. However, NeverDead leaves an even worse impression than it deserves to, because its concluding bosses exhibit excruciatingly stupid design.

Resistance 3: Capelli's progress

Resistance 3 Screenshot

On the strength of Matt Kaplan's review, I decided to grab Resistance 3. Kaplan didn't steer me wrong. Alongside solid gameplay, Resistance 3 delivers a compelling story about a man's journey through an interesting post-apocalyptic landscape. Like many other recent games, however, Resistance 3 flubs the ending, betraying its own tightly-crafted atmosphere.

Skyrim: The war that wasn't

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

Skyrim is a huge and uneven game, and I will be discussing many of its high points. In the spirit of getting the bad news out first, however, I want to discuss the game's secondary quest, concerning the civil war between the Imperial Legion and the Stormcloaks led by Jarl Ulfric of Windhelm. There is much to admire in the way this quest is set up, but as a world element and gameplay series it falls short in several respects.

Skyrim: The Alduin/Dagon dichotomy

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

I have a lot to say about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and indeed I've already said some of it. Some of it has been said for me, for instance in Shamus Young's takedown of the Thieves' Guild quests, which after a promising start became too intolerable for me to bother completing. Uneven writing quality is almost a certainty in a game this large, though, and perhaps it was the Thieves' Guild's time, after being one of the best sidequests in Oblivion.

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