Fear not, spoiler free.
I have now seen a full play-through of Mass Effect 3. I haven’t actually played the game, because I am physically incapable of playing shooters and could never get anywhere in the first game, but lucky for me BlueJay was doing his play-through in our lounge so I got to be a spectator (as it is, I may take a friend’s advice and start an adept on ME1 and just use powers in place of guns wherever possible).
So, what did I think? Many, many things. So many that I’ve got a series of posts planned to cover criticism and discussion. Having watched the ending last night, though, I thought I’d give an overview of my general impressions before launching into the specifics.
Firstly, the beginning sucked. Having heard rumours about the ending I was anxious about what Bioware might have done with the story (under whatever external pressures or misguided good intentions), and the opening of ME3 made my heart sink. The thing is, there were so many things that should have been caught, so many that could have been easily fixed or for which a number of much better alternatives were readily available. My aforementioned friend pointed out that while she felt strong emotional investment in the fates of worlds like Palaven and Thessia, she felt nothing for Earth throughout most of the game. That’s a botch, guys – you can’t just assume we’ll care because you tell us it’s our homeworld. This is extra disappointing because weknow the Bioware team can make us feel for things. They do it exceptionally well elsewhere in the game.
Which leads me to the missions in the middle. There are some amazing storylines in this game, many of which build on previous investment in galactic political issues and moral issues. Mass Effect 3 has a number of choices that stopped me in my tracks and made me think, really think, about what I wanted to do. It did feel like every choice had a consequence, and it wasn’t a case of stat bonuses or cosmetic changes or even branching stories, it was the fate of the galaxy! Shepard is called upon to determine the fate of entire races, and I felt that. This is some of the best storytelling Bioware has ever done. This is one of the finest examples in existence of how video games can use dialogue, art, sound, mechanics and choices to tell a story more powerfully than other media can. Of this, Bioware can be proud; more on the specifics later.
But in light of that it’s only more disappointing to find such apparent neglect of the beginning and, of course, the ending. Certain choices about the game’s ending I will definitely defend. In line with Dan of Extra Credits’ summary, I don’t think the story ending in itself is bad. I just think, having chosen to end it this way, they grossly mishandled it. I’m disappointed because they should have seen that before they released the game, because the reasons we’re disappointed reflect what they have been working to make us feel this whole time. To be clear, I don’t think the game needed multiple vastly different endings – I’ll discuss my ideas about choice and consequence in ME3 in a separate post about the ending. However we don’t like illusory choices, and while I approve of leaving some mystery at the end, you need to give some suggestions to go on, some pretty cinematic epilogues to give that sense of closure we’re so desperately lacking.
(It’s just occurred to me that they might have wanted to restrict the story to what could be witnessed by Shepard, our perspective character, but the game breaks that rule in at least one glaring precedent earlier in ME3 so I won’t accept that logic for now.)
It’s just such a pity. I’m not annoyed at Bioware for their design choices, for the most part; Bioware Is Not Your Bitch. I am disappointed in the way that some of their greatest work is bookended by material which seems to show such negligence and obvious oversight, as if they just didn’t think it through properly. That can’t possibly be the case, so I don’t understand why they missed the effect so badly in places.
That’s right Bioware, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
But as Dan says in the link above, the only reason people are this upset is because you were so successful in making them care. For that, I admire you nonetheless.