When I finished Mass Effect 2 last winter, I created some flimsy justification in order to write a big auld post on the game. People then expressed an interest in reading my thoughts when I finished Mass Effect 3. So here you go, I’ve given you guys that plus way more besides. Perhaps my anime blog isn’t the correct place to post this stuff, but I had so many thoughts spilling out of my head that I had to write something about it anyway. This is more for me to get these thoughts out of my head so I can move on with my life than it is for anyone else’s enjoyment. But for what it’s worth, here are my long-winded thoughts on Mass Effect 3 and the franchise overall.
This post is full of spoilers.
This will probably be the only time I mention the actual shooting gameplay in this post, but for what it’s worth, ME3 has easily the best gameplay of all the games. As part of the general internet backdraft anger machine that ME3 had created, one of the complaints was that they had dumbed it down to bring in a bigger audience. So with that in the back of my mind, I played the game on hard difficulty. Actually I played ME2 on hard as well, but I played sniper in that game so it was fairly easy to hang back and let my squadmates run up and get their asses handed to them. My main issue was just running out of medi-gel. This time though I went full on shotgun tech armour bastard, running up to people and detonating myself in their face. I don’t even know if the earlier games had a melee attack, but I abused the shit out of it in this game. Anyway, because I was running face first at the enemy, it made the game super difficult. The first time I met a pair of banshees, it took me about 10 tries to beat them.
I genuinely enjoyed the gameplay in Mass Effect, to the point that I am quite intrigued at the idea of playing the multiplayer. Seems weird for the game to have multiplayer given it’s a single player RPG, but resources they put towards the multiplayer didn’t in any way drop the size and scope of the rest of the game so I guess it’s not really an issue. I haven’t touched the multiplayer yet, and feel a bit weird doing so at the moment because I’m still stewing in the aftermath of the game’s story. But I am really interested in jumping into it sometime soon. If you have ME3 on PC and are willing to put up with my noobishness and that I am terrified of playing Mass Effect without the ability to pause and stare around the battlefield to cue up my attacks, then
leave a comment with your steam username and I’ll gladly join up with you oh wait durr no Steam because EA wants us to all use Origin because they’re stubborn like that. Well, leave a comment with Origin username then.
Goodbye moral choice bullshit
I said in my post on the first two Mass Effect games that I thought the whole moral choice thing was bullshit. Morality is not quantifiable and just because someone is short tempered doesn’t mean they also are a space racist. A calculating person who reasons that curing the genophage is a bad idea is more likely to not be the kind of person who will randomly interrupt conversations to punch someone in the face. I particularly disliked this in ME2 where people could die because you didn’t adhere to one side or another on their bullshit morality spectrum. Very quickly in the franchise, I took to ignoring the paragon/renegade system altogether and simply chose whatever I thought my Sheppard would choose.
ME3 dealt with this by making it a non-issue. Paragon and Renegade still exist, but they’re all part of this larger ‘reputation’ bar that filled up with your actions. The only appreciable change they made was a sort of score tally of how angry your Sheppard was and how the scars damaged their face, which I actually quite liked. It kept score of your decisions without hampering your option to do anything. Every single time one of the choices where you could choose one of the specific paragon/renegade options, both sides were open for me to choose, unlike previous games where the renegade option would normally be greyed out, with sometimes the paragon one too, hampering my ability to do anything with the situation. So good job bioware. Hopefully other games that try to tackle stories with areas of grey in the morality scale won’t try to make the choices binary and hamper your decision-making as a result.
The story of the genophage is my favourite part of the whole series. Back in ME1, talking to Wrex was such a strange experience because the guy was so hopeless. There was a real sense that he had nothing to fight for anymore and was basically dead inside. His reasons were fighting were as though he was looking for an excuse to die, because this was the only way he could justify his existence. Pretty apt calling him ‘dead inside’ since that’s exactly what his whole species effectively is. That’s what made Mordin’s story in ME2 so absorbing. It was impossible to disagree with his logical reasoning behind why the genophage had to be instated. And indeed in ME3 there’s the very real threat that curing the genophage will result in another Krogan rebellion. If logical, why feel guilty? Problematic….
The thing with the genophage is it crippled the krogan people mentally. They felt that with the genophage in place, their people could never advance again. With no hope for the future, you get people like Wrex in ME1. You get Tuchanka turning into this desolate wasteland where nobody can be arsed to invest in infrastructure to make something for the future generations. It’s all petty rivalries and clans and infighting. The krogan are sort of a brutish race anyway, but there is still pride there that can develop into a race that can stand proud. The mission on Tuchanka in ME3 where you explore the underground city with its great halls and statues show that once the Krogans had a great civilisation. Once upon a time they too had hope.
Wrex’s development through the series from that sulking hollow beast in ME1 into the sharp talking, confident inspiration leader in ME3 symbolised what the Krogan people would go through if they could cure the genophage. Tuchanka is mythologised quite a bit in the games to the point that it practically has a personality of its own. The fact that it was the Mother of All Thresher Maws that wiped out the reaper was symbolic of the planet in general. It was brutish and uncivilised, but the awesome raw power and determination to defend its homeworld represented the Krogan people and Tuchanka as a whole. Plus it was FOWRKING OOORRWWSOMEE watching a giant thresher maw crash through the landscape as you fight reaper troops and run past about 20 brutes to set off those hammers, culminating in that shot of the thresher maw taking down the reaper.
I touched on Mordin earlier. His story in the larger Tuchanka narrative is one of redemption. There is always that edge to his story that he can’t quite explain why it is he had to go to Omega and set up the clinic to help the downtrodden. Similarly, while he tries to rationalise his reasoning why he has to go cure the genophage, there’s always this edge to him that you feel he is living a life fairly similar to Wrex in that you get the sense he’s just waiting for an excuse to die. In his sense though, you feel he can’t live with what was effectively genocide and his whole life since then is him trying to help needy underprivileged people to put his mind at ease. His death is painful, but in that good way in that you felt he achieved what his narrative arc set him up to do.
I played ME3 with the extended cut, as well as the Citadel, From Ashes, and Leviathan DLC so I understandably had a rather different experience of the whole product than those who played it at launch. Admittedly I don’t play enough games to have DLC problems ever come up. I don’t play games at launch. Too expensive and for years I didn’t have a machine that could play it anyway. It didn’t really do anything to my Mass Effect playing experience either because I love the franchise enough that I knew I was going to get the DLC anyway. The one part I didn’t like was that the cost of DLC by EA never drops. There’s not even a bundle deal if I already know I’m in. So for both ME2 and 3, I didn’t buy all the DLC because it would be dropping too much money on the table. Would a bundle deal seriously be too much to ask for EA?
Anyway, the Citadel DLC is written primarily for people who have already finished the game long ago and doesn’t really fit in well with the regular story. It’s actually kind of jarring because it’s way more difficult than the characters are making it out to be. As I said, I play the games on hard, so I was getting my ass handed to me while Sheppard was joking about how she keeps getting into these messes. It does oddly have the best boss battle from the entire franchise because, without saying any spoilers, you get to see your own tricks used against you. It’s one of the most effective methods of showing how powerful Sheppard really is.
As for the other DLC, a big part of the criticism is that they are required to make greater sense of the ending. Which I can sort of see with Leviathan. It fills in a chunk of the lore and makes the ending feel a little big less of an asspull. It’s hardly required though. From Ashes does nothing to the whole Reaper story. I think Javic’s importance has been way overstated. He’s neat to have around, but saying you miss massive lore dumps or story beats without him really isn’t true. Most of the time when I brought him on missions, he just said generic soldier stuff and the occasional asshole comment about primitives. The one exception to this was him debunking the Asari religion when I brought him with Liara to the Asari homeworld.
The one part of the story where I genuinely feel that Javic really added to the story was the development of Liara’s character. The first game makes a big deal that she’s quite young and has an optimistic, slightly naive view of the world. I thought this was just part of the sexy blue alien hottie idea they were pushing, which it does still feed into. But events in ME3 really start to break down her worldview and give her a much sober, bleaker picture of the world. She sounds pained and sorrowful a lot of the time. Javic is the key to unlocking that feeling when he destroys her naive beliefs about how wonderful the Protheans are. Without Javic, that story doesn’t have nearly the same impact.
The part I like the most about the game is how it delivers on 3 games worth of individual character arcs and overarching story threads (yeah yeah I’ll get to the ending itself in a bit). It’s interesting to look back at the first game and realise how unremarkable your crew are. Garrus is just some grumpy C-SEC officer, but now he’s a special advisor for his people’s survival, practically a Sheppard mark 2 in his own right. Tali is just some kid on her pilgrimage but by game 3 she’s an ambassador for her people and a fully fledged admiral who can barely believe her position. Liara is naive kid to weary controller of information across the galaxy. And I’ve already praised how Wrex changes throughout the story. The things I wanted to see in previous games are realised here. Tali stepping onto her homeworld is a hugely powerful scene that caught me welling up a bit. Much like the story with the Krogan, it’s about finally being able to have pride in yourself and your people again as represented by your homeworld.
Let’s start talking about that ending
All right here we go. First off, the game does lose its head of steam towards the end. Kai Lang is a crappy villain, introduced because the game realised they couldn’t make you have a boss fight with the Illusive Man because that would undermine the strength of his character. But having this new guy with no personality wasn’t a great move. To make the indoctrination idea more prominent, they really should have made the character you fight be someone else, like maybe Miranda Lawson. What also bugged me towards the end was how dragged out it was. There were several dramatic inspiring speeches within the last half hour and it started to get a bit silly. You didn’t need Admiral Hackett’s speech for example. His point was made far more saliently by simply showing the huge fleet from all species warping in at the one point.
Then came the magical star child. I thought the purpose of those dream sequences with the kid were supposed to represent Sheppard’s struggle with her failings to save everyone. It was kinda dumb, but at least thematically sound with the rest of Sheppard’s story. I don’t get why the representation of the Reaper’s AI was the kid though. How do those two tie together? And then there was the reveal of why the Reapers were created. I’d already figured they were created as some way to stop civilisation evolving too far, but to make the reasoning be because they’ll create AI that kills them seemed a bit off-message. It was a small part of the story in the first place that only loosely connects to the larger themes. I’m no professional writer and neither are you, and the alternatives I’ve seen for how the story should have ended are almost universally worse.
That said, I thought the story was leading towards a similar way to how Gurren Lagann turned out. That if they kept evolving they would destroy themselves, so the Reapers were keeping them from evolving too far. That would have fit the narrative of not just how the Quarians turned out, but also the Krogans and the Rachni and all the various story threads that had been running through the franchise. Even the humans, whose first contact resulted in instant war. Sheppard fighting the Reapers and showing them that they could evolve in such a way that means they don’t destroy themselves would have been more relevant to everything you had achieved as Sheppard throughout the story. The way the Reapers are presented here still loosely connects to that idea, but not strongly enough and it makes it feel like a bit of an asspull. It seems weird to say the plot of Gurren Lagann, a story where robots are powered by manly spirit, has a better final story reveal than a hard sci-fi like Mass Effect, but it really does fit the plot better that way.
The very very end
What I don’t have a problem with though is the final decision you like to make. I gather the main complaint here is that the ending didn’t take into account all the decisions you had made in the game until that point, instead gave you a bunch of options and you chose. Which also happens to be exactly how the previous 2 Mass Effect games ended as well. This ties in with the moral choice bullshit and how I play the games and decision making process in that game. I make whatever decision I felt was right for my Sheppard to make in their story. This normally meant I drifted towards Paragon. However at the end of ME1, I chose to leave the council to die to save the massive human fleets. That was the renegade choice, but that made more sense for my Sheppard to make in how I envisioned their story. Same with ME2. I went mostly Paragon, but at the end I chose to save the Collector ship even though that was the Renegade choice.
By ME3, it felt to me that the creators had realised the moral choice thing was dumb and stopped factoring it into gameplay, and thank fuck they did. If the ending had roped me into a decision based on those previous paragon/renegade choices I made, I would have been pissed. In my mind, that would have gone way further against the entire point of the games way more than leaving it a multiple choice at the end. It’s about Sheppard making those key choices at key moments, and none more important than right at the very end. The story I had built up required my input at the end to choose what my Sheppard would do. To drive this point home further, the first time I played that last mission, I accidentally went for the ‘choose nothing’ option. This was because I thought there would be another option to save the galaxy, but instead the magical star child went “well fuck you then” and walked off. Which made no fucking sense in the context of the story Sheppard had gone through and was a massive kick in the nuts. Apparently that ending was added in the extended cut as Bioware saying “fuck you needy whiny fans and your entitled bullshit moaning” in a very End of Evangelion way. Which in a way makes it understandable and kinda awesome in a messed up way.
But I reloaded the final mission and instead went for the humans and machines are one choice, which made far more sense in the context of the narrative I was building. The entire story is about everyone working together and all that. By becoming one with machines, it overcomes the final barrier between themselves and the Reapers that were the one creature left that were against the rest of the species. It does fly in the face a little bit with the idea that you can have pride in your people when everyone becomes homogenised, which is why I’m not totally cool with the ending. But hey, it works for the most part. And considering how this ending was billed as being literally Hitler, it’s far better than I was expecting.
Now that I’ve finished the game, I’m more than a bit pissed off at the reaction it got. What the hell were people expecting with how your choices over the games would factor in? If you saved the Rachni Queen, that meant a rachni popped out and changed how the final reaper boss presented choices to you? Having everything factor into this crucible and the creation of that Dues ex Machine device represented the numerous rivalling factions of the galaxy join together to defeat this enemy was enough for me. It fit the narrative just fine. I get that I had a different experience with the ending because I had the extended cut and DLC so I can’t truly understand what position they were in, but the ending doesn’t invalidate the previous 30-40 hours of story the rest of the game delivered so perfectly on. I’m pissed off that this franchise I love so much is going to be remembered for a disappointing ending by a bunch of fucking whiny twats for inflated expectations that didn’t make sense for what the game was trying to do anyway. Fuck you guys, seriously. I hate you. Yes, especially you.
*cough* where was I? Ah yes, Mass Effect. I rather like Mass Effect, as you may have gathered from this post. It’s my favourite game of all time by quite a considerable distance. Which isn’t quite the astronomical praise it sounds like given that I’m not a hardcore gamer or anything. So let’s make this more impressive by saying the three Mass Effect games combined are my favourite piece of entertainment ever. As in all of entertainment, from books to movies to anime to sports to whatever. Mass Effect is my favourite out of all those things. Perhaps recency bias is coming in here, but nostalgia is a considerably stronger emotionally manipulative power and Mass Effect manages to overcome than even that, so I think I’m safe with that statement. It’s not perfect. It’s attempts to push progressive boundaries in games means it stumbles every now and then in its efforts. It’s got that bullshit moral choice stuff for the first 2 games and I sort of hate how that factored into how the second game ended. Plus the ending is a bit off an asspull. But even with all that, it’s my favourite thing.
I feel a bit like I’m standing on the edge of a deep dark hole, and just one step will send me spiralling into Mass Effect fandom. This must be how the first people who saw Star Wars felt, or the original Trekkies. One step and suddenly it’s 10 years later and I have an Liara hug pillow and have built a lifesize reconstruction of the bridge on the Normandy.