Images from "The Art of Mass Effect"
(SPOILERS: DO NOT READ UNLESS FINISHED WITH ME3)
(Note: for all purposes of this piece, I'm going to refer to Shepard as "she," since I play the character as a woman. Also, everything written within is my own opinion. I know the game goes many different ways depending on how you play it; this is the ending I got and how I took it.)
So, I recently finished playing Mass Effect 3, and do I have some choice words. Brace yourself, this is going to be a long one.
To give you a background, Mass Effect 2 was the first video game I ever played in full. I played it all by myself, with no help from anyone (though I wanted to hand the controller off many times), and actually finished it, which I have never done before for many reasons (but that's a story for another time). I played it within a couple of weeks at the end of vacation the summer before my senior year of college. Therefore, along with being an amazing game, Mass Effect has a special place in my heart that will always trump other video games.
I was excited to finally play Mass Effect 3 when I came home for Christmas break, as had been the plan. I played L.A. Noire while at school, which became the second game I ever played with no help and completed. Both Mass Effect 2 and L.A. Noire have great story lines. This raised my expectations.
Instead of tiptoeing around it, I'll say it. I am disappointed with Mass Effect 3.
I suppose this is what happens when you play two fabulous story games with great graphics one after another, both of which were allowed years to make and perfect, both of which had great writing, both of which built characters and worlds in the most lovely way. Mass Effect 3 stopped short of being amazing. It even began to fall apart at a certain point.
Now, I know why this happened. Mass Effect 2 was so great because it was following Mass Effect, which didn't have a super great reception. ME2 was able to take more liberties in terms of making character models, creating stories, and world building. It didn't have the daunting task of finishing a story, only that of continuing the story that many already knew. Mass Effect 3, on the other hand, was a different matter. Since ME2 had such a great reception, EA pushed to create ME3 faster, so it would come out while there was still interest, therefore it was more heavy handed and less refined. Along with that, they had to complete the story, therefore this game had to be bigger than the other two before it. To complete this scale of story and game with time and money constraints, they began to cut corners. Where Mass Effect 2 overachieved (and therefore is an amazing game because of it), Mass Effect 3 became too big of a project, and mildly crashed and burned because of it.
I say mildly because I really did enjoy playing ME3. The Mass Effect story is an interesting and amazing one, that constantly raises ideas about morality, humanity, and free will. Mass Effect was the first game I ever played that made me think about the choices I was making and how their outcomes would effect the ones I loved within the game. Therefore, I became much more invested in the characters and began to care deeply for each and every one of them. I know from years of watching movies and television, reading books and comics, that getting the audience to love a character is a hard journey. Mass Effect made me love a whole cast of characters, each with completely different personalities!
One of the main differences I noticed between the second and third games was that if you wanted to play Mass Effect 2 as a stand alone game, you could. That is basically impossible with Mass Effect 3. It is necessary to have previously played ME2 to understand the gravity of the situation. I will hand it to them, however; they did a good job displaying the horror of war in a fast and efficient manner at the beginning of the game, making your choices and the story mean so much more. On the other hand, if you start from ME3, you are given the most awful pre-chosen choices about what decisions you make in the previous two games.
The number one problem I had with Mass Effect 3, however, was that crap ending. I'd been warned, but for some reason when people told me the ending was "horrible," I thought they were talking about horrible in the sense that everyone you love dies, the galaxy is destroyed, etc etc. I never thought they had meant the utter crap that we got.
Basically, I have no problem with the whole game. I played it and enjoyed the entire thing, even with the heavy handedness of morality choices and cutting of corners story wise. I liked it all the way up until the final decision: do you take over the Reapers, or do you kill all synthetic life. After that, it was the worst ending of a piece of media I had ever witnessed. They didn't even try.
I chose to destroy synthetic life, because as my friend Janet said, "absolute power corrupts, absolutely." I completely agree. It is a no-win situation, which is fine to have, because life is full of no-win situations. The entirety of ME3 also forces you to recognize the trials of war, and how sometimes, the sacrifice of a few must be made to save the many. That's fine. Destroying all synthetic life means destroying the Geth and the Reapers, two sentient races. It means destroying EDI, a friend. However, as the catalyst on the Citadel described, eventually the organics would create synthetic life again, and they would destroy organic life. On the other hand, you could take control of the Reapers, and control a race of war machines. How long would it take for Shepard to become corrupt, and start the cycle again?
This choice is about free will. The Reapers come to destroy advanced life every cycle to prevent chaos. However, who are they to decide the fate of so many races, cycle after cycle? Chaos is chaos, but it still is free will. You may wish you were dead, but you have the freedom to wish that. You don't have the choice taken away from you.
This goes hand in hand with the number one ME3 idea: organic versus synthetic life. The entirety of Mass Effect 3 is about this concept, and which side of the debate you fall upon. I like this idea, and I like that ME3 brings this up as a moral point to make the player think, but I think it could have been one of many ideas presented. It didn't need to be so blatantly presented to the player.
The idea of free will versus someone making decisions for a group of beings was also something presented in all the Mass Effect games, such as the Rachni in one, the Geth in two, and the Geth versus the Quarians in three. However, in Mass Effect 2, it was presented appropriately and at the times it mattered. The whole of both games is based around this concept. However, the heavy handed nature of presenting this concept in the third game is completely unnecessary. Basically every choice presented to Shepard is about her choosing between one form of life or another, with no in between (until, of course, they give you a way out, such as with the Quarians and the Geth). But isn't Shepard, in making these choices, becoming no better than the Reapers? She is deciding the fate of individuals and entire races, at some points. Why is she given this power?
This leads in to the concept of the white savior. The intended Shepard character was supposed to be a white, human male. This is the same thing seen over and over in media. The white man must come save the non white people from sure destruction. This time, however, it is the human saving the rest of the (much more advanced) alien races from destruction. Why?
This concept, however, is completely changed if you play Shepard as a woman, and even more if she is a woman of color. This begins the discussion of how socially progressive this game could be.
I played Mass Effect as a woman on the suggestion of a friend. She said the voice acting for fem!Shep is ten times better than male Shepard, and from the youtube clips I've seen, I completely agree. I didn't realize until I was playing the game how cool it was that Shepard is now this high ranking military official who is a woman. Everyone respects her, obeys her command, and believes in her. She ends up being the poster-woman of the war against the reapers, and the savor of the galaxy. How cool is that??
There is still the main question of: why is a human having to save all of these other races of beings? I know that you play as a human because we are human beings, and therefore you can connect with the main character. I felt a connection with the other races, however, even more so than the humans at some times (cough Cerberus cough). Along with that, strange plot twists lead the player to see that, maybe, these races aren't as smart as we thought they were. How convenient.
Even after Shepard warns everyone that the Reapers are coming, no one believes her. All the races have super advanced science and a plethora of scientists (except for maybe the Turians, who I know are basically a military based race). They all seem to suddenly have their heads up their asses. This also comes up with the war between the Geth and the Quarians. The Quarians seem to have lost all reason when it comes to the Geth in the third game and basically require Shepard to step in and calm everyone down. Along with that, the game conveniently shows that it was actually the Quarian's fault that the Geth went to get help from the Reapers, since the Quarian's started the war against the Geth. The Geth felt as if they had no choice. How lovely.
Final note: what was with that ending?? Like I said earlier, I chose the red ending, destroying all synthetic life. I then got the cutscene of the crucible deploying, the Mass Relays being destroyed. I cried when Joker was trying to escape the Mass Relay, because that is when I felt the weight of my choice: my friends and the ones I loved were being affected and killed because of what I had done. The Quarians and Turians left without dextro foods from their home planets, therefore essentially looking to a future of starving to death.
And then, they show Joker crash landing on to a planet. Still sad, because here is a human with almost no ability to move without hurting himself on a random planet in the Milky Way, with no way of calling for help or receiving said help. But then, Garrus climbs out of the Normandy. What? Why was Garrus with Joker on the Normandy? Wasn't he just running towards the beam with me, dodging Harbinger's attacks? Guess not. I found out later that in the extra DLC, you instruct your team to get on the Normandy without you, I think? Okay. That makes sense.
But then, Javik climbs out of the Normandy. I get Joker, Garrus, and Javik. Of course.
It wasn't enough that the three flashes of "the people I love" I got while shooting the whatever on the Crucible were Anderson, Joker, and Liara. I guess that was because those were the three that have been there since the beginning? I can understand Anderson because he just died, he's your mentor, yeah. Liara because she's your blue alien bff (and she grew on me this game). Joker though? Joker instead of your alien space boyfriend that you've been dating since ME2?? Don't you think Shepard would think about the person she loved in her last moments? Guess not.
The biggest problem was that the ending leaves you with no closure. What happens on Earth? What about the rest of the planets where Reaper attacks were happening literally all over the Milky Way? What about the rest of your crew who was fighting on earth: Jack, Samara, Wrex, Tali? Kasumi and Zaeed?? I need to know what happened to them!
Such an awful ending. Awful. I know there's an ME4 in the making, so maybe they didn't want to close the game off for good. I also know that games have a bad habit of taking a crap on their endings. I thought Mass Effect was better than that.
Overall, I really enjoyed Mass Effect 3. I loved playing it, as well as its predecessor. Mass Effect will always have such a special place in my heart, and I can't wait to replay ME2. However, that doesn't make the problems I had with it go away. That's why I just had to get all of that off my chest.
I plan on writing a second "Mass Effect Thoughts" post, talking about the aspects of the game which couldn't necessarily be avoided but would have been cool to include anyway, including romance options, character models and designs, etc. Along with that, I'm going to write up a post talking about my Shepard, since I love her to the end of the world and back.
I leave you with the final note of: PLAY MASS EFFECT. PLAY IT.