Mass Effect 3—Let the Haters Hate

Mass Effect 3: Take Back the Earth cinematic trailer

So, there has been a lot of hullabaloo about the final installment of Bioware’s Mass Effect 3, the final game in their wildly successful sci-fi RPG series. Most of it stems from the less-than stellar ending to the game. Though this one complaint has opened the floodgates for people to grous about every little thing from day-1 DLC to the inclusion of a multi-player mode. Fortunately for you, this isn’t one of those kinds of posts.

I finally got around to playing Mass Effect 3 in May, months after the release date, and finished up some time in July. I mention this because I did have access to the Extended Cut DLC, which adds more cinematic content to the end of the game, tying up some loose ends as well as some of the more WTF moments in the original final cutscenes. So, you can take this with a grain of salt, but I quite liked the game.

It wasn’t just the improved graphics, which are even more lovely than Mass Effect 2, the lush audio including a soundtrack that spins regularly while I work the day job, or even the improved combat mechanics which demolishes the barrier between traditional RPGs and third-person shooters. What did it for me was the overall story, and how it carefully put to bed all of the various story threads that were woven across the 80+ hours I’d spent playing the previous two games.

The graphics improved greatly from Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3

I am one of those rare gamers who are completionists. Part of this may stem from me being a cheap-bastard, wanting to get every penny of enjoyment out of my game purchase. But what it really means is that I play through the whole game from start to finish, wich is after I’ve meticulously fiddled with the appearance options until my in game avatar is a ruggedly handsome approximation of myself. I fuss over every decision that drives the story, I jump on every side quest that I can get my hands on,  going so far as to purchase at least half of the story-enhancing DLC that comes out for my favorite titles. In the case of western RPGs it also means that I only play through a game once. Part of this has to do with the uncounted man-hours it takes me to finish one play-through, but mostly—especially in the case of Mass Effect—it’s because through the wonders of some very complex if/then statements I have crafted a unique story that is all my own.

I love having a story that is unique to me. That is cultivated not only from my decisions in a dialog tree, but also from my actions or lack there of throughout the game. There has not been a single video game that has done this more convincingly than Mass Effect and I applaude the team at Bioware for their effort in curating the pieces of my story. If anything, Mass Effect provides the player the opportunity to explore their own sense of morality, all while blowing zombie-robots to smithereens. The series is chock full of moments where you have to weigh you’re own interests with the good of the entire galaxy. This is less evident in Mass Effect 1 & 2, but becomes strikingly clear as various plot points wrap up throughout the game.

A quick example of this longview storytelling comes from my own career as Commander Shepard:

During ME1 I hurried through the middle part of the game, skipping over Wrex’s “Find My Family Armor” sidequest entirely. This forced me to have to put him down on Virmire. Which meant I met Wreave, Wrex’s brother and a right-prick of a Krogan, on Tuchanka in ME2, something I didn’t think much of at the time. Then I destroyed Maelon’s research in ME2 because I thought he was a monster. The sum total of these seemingly minor choices came to head in ME3 when I chose to tell Eve, Wreave and Mordin about the Dalatrass’ offer to sabotage the genophage cure. Which led to both Eve and Mordin dying, leaving the future of the Krogan race in the hands of a tyrannical warlord.

Mordin went out in style, with smile on his face and a song in his heart.

While all of this has zero impact on the real world, it still took me a while to reconcile the gravity of my decisions and their impact on the game lore that I had a hand in writing. Never before has a video game made me this mindful of my choices, or caused me to become emotionally invested in the stories of my NPC companions.

Illusive Man Boss Concept from Bioware

From my point of view, the entirety of Mass Effect 3 was an endgame, all of the various story-lines concluded, there were epic boss-battles, and the book was closed on the Mass Effect Universe. If I could change anything about the game, I would have liked to have seen the final Citadel sequence fleshed out into a complete level, similar to the ramp-up to the fight with Saren in the first Mass Effect. Topped off with a legit boss battle, either against the illusive man or the Reaper’s core AI… Or an AI controlled Illusive man. Something that would’ve given the final cut scene a sense of accomplishment.

All in all, the ending in no way way diminished the 120 hours of fun I had playing through the rest of the series. The nihilist in me even got a chuckle at how despite all of the choices you make throughout the game, you have very little say on the ultimate fate of the galaxy. If you’re lucky enough to get to choose from all 4 possible endings, you’re still left to pick the lesser of evils.

This sort of definitive ending has become a rare thing in video games nowadays. Developers hoping for a sequel always leave a little something out, wether it’s a wink’n nod or a blatant bait and switch non-ending, gamers are often left with the feeling that their princess is always in another castle. I respect Bioware for their decision to close the door on Commander Shepard’s story, and doing it in such a way that it would be impossible to continue the story from that point on. While I’ll miss my Shepard and his ragtag crew who saved the universe against all odds—the upshot of being an completionist—I look forward to seeing what the gang up in Edmonton come up with next.

Overall, I can appreciate what a daunting task it must have been to create the Mass Effect Universe, and I thank the employees at Bioware for having the passion to bring it to life. Most of all, I want to tell the Bioware team that their efforts did not go unnoticed by the fans, and their time—especially the long nights and weekends spent away from their families—was not in vain.

So, let the haters hate all they want, I’m giving Mass Effect 3 two thumbs way up.

For more insight into the creation of Mass Effect 3, I highly recommend The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3, by Geoff Keighley.

If anyone is game for waxing philosophical about the major or minor plot points of The Mass Effect series drop me a line. It’s my belief that science fiction is the safest arena for working through very complex moral and social dilemas. Which is half the reason I love the genre so much… the other reason can be summed up in two words: Robots & Lasers.

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