Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Before I Face the End

Caution: This blog contains minor Mass Effect 3 spoilers if you happen to be even slower than I am at finishing video games.


                 I’ve been hearing a lot of opinions now about the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. It has taken a lot of willpower, initiative, and persistence to keep my uncorrupted ears free from spoilers. But there seems to be a pretty general consensus from the gaming population – including my twitter followers, Facebook friends, and roommates – that the ending “sucks.”
                Currently, I have only made it through the mission on the Geth ship, in which you reunite with Tali to disable the reaper communication to the Geth and encounter Legion along the way. Since I am at least a little bit away from finishing the game and I will certainly have an opinion when I reach the conclusion to this story, I thought it would be interesting to record my thoughts while my mind is still relatively protected from bias.
                So far, I can’t begin to fathom what could possibly happen in the ending that would cause such a widespread and unified hatred. I can’t say that I have heard a single positive thing about the “last five minutes of the game.” In fact, I have been advised to shut off the game and never return to it once I reach that point.          
                This mass outrage certainly has me theorizing about the ending. There aren’t many ways I could imagine that would cause such a negative response. So I’m thinking, it has to be:

  1. The ending is overwhelmingly gloomy, depressing, and disheartening. e.g. The reapers win, all of humanity is destroyed and everybody dies. OR the Reapers enslave all species and all of our hard work was for absolutely nothing.
  2. Cerberus has played a huge role in this game thus far. In Mass Effect 2, The Illusive Man basically rebuilt Shepard, brought her back to life. Did he implant something and has been using her as a pawn all along – e.g. the ending has a big Bioshock Atlas reveal, everything you have done has been preconceived and predetermined a la “would you kindly”
  3. The ending is vague or inconclusive, and thus it ends up being dissatisfying – i.e. Some sort of cliffhanger, loose ends left untied, plot holes.
  4. There is some sort of cliché “this was all a dream” reveal. Shepard was a psycho war vet stuck in a hospital somewhere having delusions aka “The Catcher in the Rye” effect and humanity has never reached this level of space travel. This could go in many super cliché ways including a “Wizard of Oz” effect, a “Lost” effect, or a “Princess Bride” effect (it’s really just a child’s interpretation of a fairy tale, a book). 
Is this even reality?! Have we all been dead...OR have we been trapped on an island in the Bermuda Triangle?!
                Beyond those ideas, I cannot possibly fathom what would make the ending so “awful”. I know people have also cited that “your decisions have no effect on the ending at all,” and of course I don’t doubt anybody on that… But I wonder if your decisions have an effect on the actual game itself. If the ending is simply one linear conclusion, okay fine, but what would have happened if most of my team died in Mass Effect 2? Would the missions with those squad mates have not appeared, would there have been a nameless member of the species in their place, or would that person magically have been alive anyways? What about the dialogue, the cut scenes, the interactions? How much variability was there in the story at all really?

                I’m going to address this right now because I’m pretty firm on this regardless of the ending. Yes, it is kind of a bummer that the ending isn’t drastically affected by our choices. Bioware had been promising us this extremely divergent conclusion to a five year animated choose your own adventure book. I can understand the knee jerk negative reaction to finding out that the ending isn’t as in your hands as was promised. But on this one simple thing, I have to defend Bioware. Unfortunately they gave us the Peter Molyneux effect. They promised us an experience that they ultimately were not able to deliver. But was Fable a bad game because it didn’t ultimately meet the original expectations? Absolutely not. It was still a fantastic game that won tons of awards, left a mark on the industry, and provided a completely new experience. 

Some might call it a failure - I say he was just a wee bit too enthusiastic and ambitious...like three times.

                I think it is important to differentiate between disappointment and poor quality. It is pretty safe to say that Mass Effect is not a bad game. Bioware created an entire galaxy. An entire galaxy with an entire history. And it’s an extremely rich history – full of different species, conflicts, traditions, mannerisms, locations, wars, technology, Science – I can’t think of another game that even scratches the surface of what they created. Beyond the depth of the background of the setting, they also developed extremely realistic characters with legitimate personalities. These characters are dynamic, they personally develop as the story progresses. They change and grow and learn things with you. You create a relationship with them that is so much deeper than anything I have ever experienced in a video game, book, or movie.

                Mass Effect is absolutely, no doubt, one of the most in depth, detailed, elaborate, and mystifying stories ever told through the storytelling medium of video games. So what could possibly go SO WRONG that leaves a fowl mark on everybody’s experience? I guess I just have to keep playing.

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