I regret not going further into detail with my first rant. It was just a series of isolated incidents spread across parts of the game, instead of the grandiose deconstruction I wanted it to be. The point I wanted to make is that this is pretty much the whole game - It’s 100% this lazy/rushed/buggy/any combination of the three. Frankly, for a multimillion dollar triple-A blockbuster title that’s inexcusable. I’ve seen ten dollar indie games with more polish. Super Meat Boy is one example - Pin point controls, sharp graphics, bitchin’ soundtrack - but I’m not here to talk about that.
What I am here to discuss is Mass Effect 3’s ratchety, disjointed narrative and abuse of the fan’s trust.
oh and uh, big goddamn spoilers below if that wasn’t obvious
The idea is that throughout the other two games you’ve been piecing together a mysterious mystery about the Reapers: Immortal machines that exterminate all life every 50,000 years. Awfully specific, I know, but we’ll get to that later. Towards the end of the first game, you figure out that there’s actually enough of them to make the machines from Terminator wet their pelvic servos - And they’re coming to our galaxy. Shepard is the only one who can stop them.
Going from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2 was like going from Star Trek to the Matrix. The first was a quite solemn traditional sci-fi experience, while the second is a bombastic thrill ride with enough gas to drive the length of a rollercoaster. It should probably be pretty obvious that the story didn’t quite make the jump. One of the best comparisons I heard is that the first game is like a movie, while the second is a season of the TV show based on said movie.
The characters were great. Seeing the likes of Garrus and Tali back in action, along with newcomers like Legion and Thane was a blast through and through. The overarching story was more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, however. By the end of the game nothing had really been accomplished - Sure, we stopped the collectors from kidnapping entire colonies of humans and blew up/kept their base (you get to choose) but the reapers were nowhere to be seen, and we hadn’t struck any major blow against them (DLC notwithstanding).
We’ve gotten a little sidetracked. The game (Mass Effect 3) opens with the player character Commander Shepard in an unnamed city on earth, having had his/her ship grounded after smashing a mass relay (giant space slingshot) into a Batarian colony in order to stop the reapers from getting into the solar system. Hm? What’s that? You didn’t play the Arrival DLC in Mass Effect 2? Congratulations, you just missed out on an important part of the game’s story because you didn’t buy it.
Shepard goes into a council room and the earth government says “Oh shit, we got a radar signal. Is that the reapers?” And then Shepard’s like “Yeah it’s the reapers” and then michael bay assumes direct control of the script and a bunch of explosions happen. Cue some running away and shooting at cyborg zombies.
And then you see it. You see that hideous little franchise-destroying abomination. The kid. The moment you see the kid you know his only reason to exist is to die in some amateurish emotionally manipulative scene. And he does just that - After Shepard gets aboard the Normandy (the aforementioned ship) he looks across the harbor to see the kid getting on a transport shuttle. It takes off and is immediately blasted out of the sky by a reaper.
I had to contain my laughter. Never before had I seen a scene so blatant in its attempt at tear jerking. Everything about it - The close up on the kid’s scared face, the melodramatic piano music - it was clear that bioware didn’t have any grasp on how to do a scene like this. We had no attachment to the kid. He shows up, disappears for a few minutes just to show up again and get killed. That’s the long and short of it, aside from him showing up in the dream sequence they repeat three times.
You want a good example? Go play Katawa Shoujo (don’t play katawa shoujo) or Homeworld. Holy shit, I teared up in level 3 of Homeworld. You return to your home planet to find it’s been incinerated. Kharak is burning. Adagio for strings is playing and all you can do is save who you can while gunning down the scouts the enemy left behind. Then Mass Effect 3 comes along and pffffhahahaha that kid got his ass kicked
Once you’re off the planet, you begin on a mission to gather up who you can to fight the reapers, and this includes more than a few familiar faces. Absolutely everyone’s here - be it a full appearance or a minor cameo. This is where the bulk of the game takes place, and for the most part it’s actually really good. Uniting all the different alien races is most satisfactory, except for the Quarians (space gypsies.) Back in the second game they agree to work towards fighting the reapers but noooo all of a sudden they’re trying to retake their homeworld from the geth who are not the reapers and they’re getting themselves blown up and accomplishing nothing in the face of the impending machine apocalypse.
It’s inconsistencies like this that start to accumulate and drag down the whole experience. Did you blow up the collector base or give it to Cerberus? Doesn’t matter, they recovered stuff from it either way. Did you save or kill the Rachni Queen back in the first game? Doesn’t matter, she’s just a footnote in the third. Did you nominate Captain Anderson (Keith David) or Councillor Udina for a spot on the Citadel Council (space government)? Doesn’t matter, Udina is the Councillor in the third game either way.
Hang on, Cerberus - I haven’t mentioned them yet. Cerberus were little more than sidequest fodder in the first game, but in the second they took a much bigger role. They’re a pro-human organization that go above and beyond galactic law to secure our safety. Led by the Illusive Man (Martin Sheen), they bring Shepard back from the dead so he can fight the Collectors who, as I mentioned, are kidnapping entire human colonies.
In the third game, you’re fighting them for some reason. TIM (The Illusive Man) comes to twirl his mustache at you in the second mission where you are trying to recover data about a weapon that could destroy the reapers. He still claims that Cerberus are working to save humanity, but keeps trumping Shepard at every turn be it sabotaging a research facility, stealing critical data, or staging a coup. If you’ve been keeping up with the reaper’s abilities you’ve probably figured out he’s been indoctrinated - the reaper’s slow, gradual mind control that makes the victim think what they’re doing is correct.
TIM was an awesome character, but he came off as very phoned in here in the last installment. Mainly because in ME3 he’s a huge rehash of Saren Arterius, the first game’s villain but instead of wanting to join the reapers he wants to take control of them. Hell, if they were going to rehash Saren why not just bring him back from the dead? I mean, sure, we vaporized him back in the first game but it’d make as much sense as some of the other design decisions they made.
I guess I can’t put this next part off any longer. I’ve already talked about how stupid the rest of the galaxy is, so let’s chat about something from a different one - the reapers.
The weapon I mentioned is called the Crucible, an enormous macguffin that will supposedly destroy the reapers. ‘Course, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. The aliens who designed it went extinct 50,000 years ago and they never finished it. As you complete missions, assets you capture and secure from them go towards its construction and every now and again Admiral Hackett (Lance Henrikson) gives you a progress update. Sounds like a good set up, right?
Now, the reapers somehow captured the Citadel (space new york) and have moved it to earth, which is their most heavily defended foothold in the galaxy. Turns out the citadel is like a focus for the crucible - when the two are attached, it can fire. After a surprisingly boring level on earth you make your way aboard the citadel so you can allow the crucible to connect. This is the point where you realize there is no final boss. Just thought I’d point that out.
TIM shows up and he’s like “I am still not a bad guy even though I am and I must use the crucible to control the reapers” and then you shoot him and keith david dies and lance henrikson is like “do something”
Then Shepard does something. He pushes a button and goes up an elevator. This is it - He’s made it to the crucible and the first thing he sees is that fucking kid. Yes. The superweapon that’s going to save all life in the galaxy is operated by that fucking kid. The idea is that the citadel houses a being called the Catalyst, and it’s read Shepard’s mind and has taken the form of the kid because that symbolizes Shepard’s guilt over everyone he wasn’t able to save. Okay. I can buy that. But the kid? Seriously? That little arrangement of pixels dumps a bunch of nonsensical plot resolution on you that just makes you feel angry. Not angry because of what the reapers have been doing, but because it’s so stupid.
Alright. With me? The reapers destroy all sentient life every 50,000 years because if they don’t we’ll create synthetic beings that will take over the galaxy but the reapers are synthetic so that makes them a paradox and ultimately pointless because why not just exterminate life altogether but that implies someone thought this ending through I’m looking at you mac walters you goddamn hack and
alright you get the message. The ending makes the reapers out to be really stupid. Once you’re onboard the crucible you get to choose one of three endings. The first will let you control the reapers and do what TIM could not. The second will destroy all synthetic life (including Shepard because he’s a cyborg). The third will merge organic life with the reapers, but all of them will destroy the mass relays, and if that happens the galaxy will become disconnected since there’s no means of lightspeed travel.
I picked the destroy ending. This is what I came here to do, after all. So, Shepard smashes the crucible and the crucible sends out an energy wave that smashes the reapers and also smashes the mass relays. After a short ending sequence that told us nothing of what happened to our favorite characters, the credits rolled on.
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s it, huh?” “The ending was dumb, sure, but at least they didn’t ruin everything.”
They did. After the credits there’s a brief sequence with an old man telling a child a bedtime story. Yeah, all that kickass space action with rockets and laser guns? That was all a bedtime story.
I wouldn’t hate the ending so much if it weren’t for that bit after the credits as it basically nullifies everything that happened in the entire trilogy. Everything you fought for has been for nothing. Tuchanka? Rubble. Sur’kesh? Ruins. Rannoch? Wasteland. Thessia? Wreckage. Earth? Crater. It’s a giant slap in the face for the people who have been waiting five years for this.
There have been some attempts to rationalize all of this. One of the popular theories is that Shepard had been indoctrinated and this was all in his head, but I believe theories like this are called “being in denial.”
Mass Effect 3 has its moments. The gameplay is generally fun, and while the writing ranges from great to awful, the good stuff is really good. Anything with Garrus or Wrex is fantastic, not to mention some of the stuff that comes out of Javik’s mouth will leave you in stitches, and hell, I almost teared up when Legion bit the dust.
When Shepard goes up the white elevator, turn off the xbox, switch off the ps3, quit the game, and just make up your own damn ending. I guarantee it’ll be better than this.