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My Reaction to Mass Effect 3, and A Retrospective

June 7, 2012

I recently finished playing Mass Effect 3.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that excited about it, especially after the fan reactions started rolling in. On top of this, I had lost my old saves for the game, and knew that there would be parts of the game’s experience I would miss out on simply because it would assume that I had never played the game before. Ultimately, I would compare my approach to the third game as similar to my feelings toward the third Star Wars prequel. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, I heard it was better than the last installment, but at the end of the day I had to go out and do it largely for completion’s sake.

So into the breach I went again, with a new Shepherd that was a mix of my previous two runs of the game. My original run in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 was a male Soldier who made mostly paragon choices. My second run in Mass Effect was a female Vanguard who was mostly a renegade. In this game I played a female Vanguard, who made Paragon choices most of the time with some key Renegade choices because hey, the galaxy’s ending, you can’t be an idealist all the time.

Spoilers past the break…

 

 

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I suppose, I’m expected to start with my feelings on the ending since that’s all anyone asks about when you finish this game, “What did you think about that fucking ending, bro?” As if the ending was the only thing infuriating about this game.

But, the ending…

Well, mostly I was confused.

I had three choices available to me, because even though I didn’t play multiplayer I really did scour the entire Galaxy for every resource I could lay my hands on. None of them really made sense to me, or sounded particularly appealing but I ended up choosing the one that destroyed the Reapers and basically achieved what we were trying to do in the first place. All last minute revelations aside, it seemed to be the best idea.

Having looked into the other choices after I completed the game, and realizing that all of them leave you pretty fucked, I decided that I made a decent one. I don’t mind that the ending choices were all poor choices, or that they all end with a bleak ending. What bothers me is that I had to make them at all.

People can go on and on about Indoctrination theories, their own reinterpretations, and so on.

To me the game ended when Shepherd and Anderson are leaning back on the Citadel, dying next to each other, and talking about how good it feels to rest. It was a fitting end for two soldiers who had been in this whole Save the Galaxy business from the beginning. That paired with the conversations I had with my squad mates right before the final push, particularly the conversation with Garrus (who has also been there since the start), made for a really grand ending. It fit the storyline, the themes of the game, and it ended on a possibly bleak note.

Shepherd and Anderson talk, the screen fades to black. Did the Crucible work or did the Reapers win? Shepherd never knows, and neither does the player. It’s up to the player to decide, they know if they prepared enough, the dialogue toward the end could have been particularly bleak to imply the Reapers end, or hopeful to imply that the Crucible works and does something.

Instead, Shepherd’s glorious, peaceful, and noble death was robbed in favor of making some sort of silly moral choices that don’t really make much sense anyway, nor is one any better than any others. I don’t get it, I don’t care, I’m going with the Penny Arcade thought that we can just choose our own ending anyway.

Of course, I’m still amazed that people can even get to complaining about the ending, when there are other little things that cause problems.

Let’s start with Udina.

Udina, regardless of your choices in previous games, is going to be the Human Councilor at the Citadel. My real question is why? He’s a self-serving dick, who has stood in the way of human advancement as many times as he’s actually helped. While he’s supposed to be a suave and cool politician, most of the time he acts like a dick of a bureaucrat. I don’t even fully grasp how he was Ambassador to the Citadel in the first place, maybe friends in higher places? Still, the only answer I could come up with is that they didn’t want to create a new character for the final installment, and needed a high ranking council member to make the whole Cerberus invasion happen.

What was Cerberus’ interest in invading the Citadel anyway? I never quite understood their goals. I guess they were trying to sow disunity in the races, or did the Illusive man already know that he would need the Citadel? Well, no, because he hadn’t been to Thessia yet, and thus didn’t have the Prothean V.I. What if they had succeeded? What was the goal? Just general furthering of humanity? What happens if in the previous games I had let the Council die and made humans the true power behind the Council? Does Cerberus still invade then?

I didn’t really get that whole sequence, though I really did enjoy shooting Udina, cause he’s such a fucking prick.

Since we’re on the topic of that sequence though, that’s around the time that Kai Leng gets introduced. Kai Leng who is ultimately the villain of the game. Sure, the Reapers and the Illusive Man are the villains, in that they’re causing all of the big issues but it’s Kai Leng who we end up having the big fights with. I really don’t understand why we fight him. I thought he was like a mercenary, or maybe he was indebted to the Illusive Man for repairing him and giving him all the cybernetic enhancements? I wasn’t really sure why he was supposed to be a big deal at all, really.

My only assumption is that he’s from the books and was really cool in those. The problem is, as has been said in the Red Letter Media Plinkett reviews of Star Wars, “Don’t tell me it was in some book or comic or TV Show, what matters is the .” When you have a multimedia franchise, the original medium is always going to be the most important and you can’t assume people are going to be aware of everything going on from other sources. At the end of the game his motivations are unclear, his past is unclear, and none of it really matters because I’ve never met him before. He is literally just another bump in the road, less annoying than a Banshee.

When I compare him to the villains in the previous games, I’m just at a loss as to what his deal was.

Beyond that a lot of the Canon Choices irked me, partially because they’re not what I did but also because they didn’t make sense based on how I was playing the character anyway. A lot of the choices that Shepherd makes if you don’t have a previous saves are largely Renegade choices, which is not how I played Shepherd, nor how I thought the canon Sherpherd was. I guess I was just wrong in that, and it was my own fault for not saving my hard drive after my 360 was bricked.

There are other little things but, the game was really just a let down. I feel like the whole series was just a slow tumble down hill.

I’ve never understood the animosity most people have for the first game. In the first game the galaxy felt big, you could go anywhere, and nearly everywhere you could go had some sort of purpose. The galaxy has gotten progressively smaller as the trilogy came to a conclusion. While I felt I had more freedom in the third game to move around than in the second, I felt like there was nowhere really worth going unless you wanted to get 100% of the resources. Even then going to all those different systems felt more like a checklist than a rousing space adventure.

The various pieces of equipment that you got had meaning in Mass Effect, rather than in the second and third games where equipment changes didn’t matter much and thus money was useless. Credits seemed so useless in the third game that I was reminded of the uselessness of cash in Grand Theft Auto 3 where before the first act is over there’s just no reason to worry about how much money you have because you can buy everything several times over. I did pick up some stuff from shops, but I never felt a real need to. Sometimes, when I bought things or found things, they were worse across the board from my starting equipment. I suppose most people don’t like carrying around eight different pairs of trousers, but I’ve always felt it’s part of the RPG experience to wonder over equipment. Also, I never felt it was a massive detriment to the first game.

More important than the combat, or the inventory, or the feeling of the galaxy, I felt the story was tighter in the first game.

We meet the villain early on, the revelations come at the right moments and they feel big and important. When you first talk to Sovereign, it’s a real ‘Oh shit,’ moment as you talk to this Mecha-Cthulhu Horror and realize that the island can no longer be protected from the sea. Talking with Vigil in the Prothean ruins is the final, last moment, exposition button that really sets the final stage of the game and fills in most of the gaps.

Saren makes a great villain, with clear motivations, and an obvious fall from grace. When you fight him at the end in the Council chambers, possibly pleading with him to see what he’s done, it means something. The banter with Kai Leng in the final battle with him felt hollow, and artificial.

Every choice you make in the first game feels like it carries some sort of weight to it. The weight of the galaxy and the centuries of its history rests on your shoulders when you meet the Rachni Queen, and the Thorian. While the last installment felt particularly grim, it just made me feel tired and not in a good thematic way. I didn’t feel the weight of humanity or the galaxy, I felt the weight of a franchise that was ending.

The side quests in Mass Effect, while sometimes very same-y mechanically, did help to actually fill in the world somewhat. Each side quest was a little puzzle piece that made the setting of Mass Effect come alive with different factions and motivations. The side quests in 2 and 3 felt like chores, and in 3 there were few to none anyway. Most just involved scanning.

Really I felt like the third game was mostly just a let down.

After the massive amount of squad members in the second game, the Normandy feels empty with the couple of people that end up living on it. You already know most of your Squad Mates in 3, and the ones you don’t, you don’t really care about. Even the addition of the Prothean who adds a lot of good abilities mechanically, doesn’t do much for the story of the game. I feel that he should have been included with the game itself, since his few moments of interaction are interesting and helps to flesh out the setting but at the end of the day, even a living, breathing Prothean didn’t give this game that jolt it needed character-wise.

The only truly inspired moments for me were rekindling a romance with Liara and having Garrus in my squad again. Even when I knew what characters from the second game were supposed to be filling the roles covered by no-name NPCs, I rarely felt much. I could feel for Grunt even though he wasn’t present, and I felt a small pang as Tali committed suicide on her homeworld because I gave true freedom to the Geth, but even these things barely moved me. Having bedded Liara in the first game on the eve of the final battle, the conversation with her at the end of the game as a lover and the passionate terrified love scene that followed was really beautiful, and it felt appropriate. It made the series rhyme like poetry.

Garrus mentioning the quote, “May you spend a half hour in Heaven before the Devil knows your dead,” and then discussing a bar in Heaven really made the game for me. Garrus was an ever present member of my squad in the first two games, and he often found his way on my adventures in the third game. He’s truly one of the best characters in the series, and he was hauling most of my appreciation for the game story-wise with him. If Garrus hadn’t felt right, I’d have been far more disappointed in this game than I already am.

Like I said though, the Mass Effect franchise has felt like a long, slow, roll down a hill. The first game to me was really great story-wise, and I enjoyed most of the mechanics and thought that others needed to be overhauled. The second game felt really episodic in terms of its story, but it still had a good villain in Harbinger, and the Illusive Man is nothing if not interesting. The second game’s story though is really just a link between the first and second, which is why it went for the ensemble cast to provide most of the game’s meat, which while not as epic in scope as the first game still made for a fun time. I did not like the mechanics of the second game at all; my inventory was gone, most of my powers seemed sort of meaningless in comparison to a good weapon in my hand, and scanning was the most mind-numbing thing in a video game I had ever encountered. The third game though, just felt half-hearted all around. It was like everyone knew we just needed to get to the end so they did what needed to be done. The story feels like a lot of bumps in the road till we get to the big epic ending, which is the only time when the game feels its scope, but someone ended up shooting a great ending right in the foot with a really vague moral choice rather than a nice peaceful death. The mechanics were definitely an improvement over the second game, but I felt like things hadn’t come all the way back to an improved version of the first game’s RPG elements. Probably because there was no sense in it. The next version of a Mass Effect game (if there is one), will probably be completely built from the ground up anyway.

The third one is an ending, and ending’s are always annoying, and hard to deal with when you’ve invested time, energy, and emotion into something over the course of five years. Yet, it was an ending that didn’t quite live up to its predecessors. It’s not like it was plagued with Ewoks or something silly, it just felt like, “Well, I guess that’s that.”

Which is a good way to sum up the whole thing really…That’s that.

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