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Mass Effect 3: Too Far?

10 Mar

I need to vent about this, badly.  So, I’m doing it here rather than Facebook so I don’t spoil it for my friends still in the trenches.  I know, in the grand scheme of things this will never amount to much.  But it’s upset me tonight and I’m going to deal with those feelings.

I’m completely let down by the ending to Mass Effect 3.

The entire game was perfect.  It hit all the right notes.  It was intense.  Incredible.  Epic beyond compare.  Every moment was golden.

I can handle the Starchild on the citadel.  I can handle the final choice.  I can handle Shepard being fated to die.  Lots of games and films end with the main character being killed, and it makes sense if that’s their story.

Shepard was a solider and a fighter who wouldn’t have much use elsewhere.  I just can’t see her (yes, HER – I play FemShep and I quite enjoy it) settling down long-term somewhere with Liara (yep, went that route, too) to have kids and raise a family.  This is all she knows.  And once you’ve seen these things, they can’t be unseen.  There comes a time when you’re fighting to protect a life you can never go back to, and I suspected as far back as Mass Effect that this would be the case for Shepard.

John Marston is another great example.  It wouldn’t have made sense for him to have a happy ending.  The kind life he lived, the deeds he’d done…those things make a happy ending impossible.  Oddly, one could also look to Frodo Baggins for much the same thing.  Once you’ve experienced that darkness, there’s no going back.

So I’m okay with that.  Shepard has to die to save everyone.  And the brutal final stage with the limping and the blood was all brilliantly, brilliantly executed.  It finally felt like Shepard could really be hurt.  That she wasn’t immortal after all.

I’m even willing to go so far as to be okay with the mass relays being destroyed (though I would prefer they simply go offline like the Reapers did [if you choose to destroy them] rather than blow up, which creates a major inconsistency I’ll speak of later).

The part where it started to not be okay, was when this wave of destruction was chasing the Normandy.

Now, I know that the destruction (or synthesis, or control-wave) targeted mass effect drive cores, which are powered by Eezo.  So it’s possible that this is why the Normandy was being chased.  The problem is, we don’t know this because it’s not put in context.  All we see is Joker freaking out in the cockpit for a few seconds, and then the Normandy is swallowed up.

Fast forward a bit, and they’re on a planet.  If you get a halfway decent ending, you see Joker and EDI emerge (unless you destroyed synthetics, in which case it’s another crew member) and everyone looks out over the horizon.  And if you get the “perfect” ending, you see Shepard’s torso in unnamed rubble somewhere, and it inhales.

My, how it derailed so quickly.

My major problem with this is that, in a game that has redefined the term immersion even more so than its two predecessors, our characters are given the worst possible outcome for everything.  We spent the entire game uniting the GALAXY!  And now, all of the races are stranded on Earth without any ship capable of mass effect.  Wrex will never see his new children born, or oversee the rebuilding of the krogan empire.  Tali will never see Rannoch.  Liara cannot help rebuild Thessia.  Garrus cannot help rebuild Pavalen.  Grunt is also stranded away from his people.

Some may argue that this is an artsy ending that is classy.  Maybe it is.  Maybe it’s poetic and beautiful in its own way.  Life doesn’t always have happy endings.  And if I had invested two hours of my life into watching a film that ended this way, then so be it.  But I didn’t.  I spent dozens – HUNDREDS – of hours of my life in this world, living this story.  And I can unequivocally say that I hated this ending.

Bioware blew it in a number of ways: first and foremost by giving this, the END of a TRILOGY, what is possibly the shortest ending out of all three games.  That’s not what I wanted.  That’s not what ANYone wanted.  We wanted resolution.  We wanted to know that all those hours, fighting for those characters, wasn’t all for nothing.  That the choices we made, and re-made, and re-re-made in subsequent playthroughs had meaning.  Had value that would reach beyond the moment.  Mass Effect 3 was a dark game.  People died, even if you tried to save them.  I only had one “unexpected” loss (Legion), but there was so much oppression and darkness and sadness in this game that it really started to wear on me emotionally.  Which is fine – again, the game redefined immersion.

But it also had a theme of hope.  Hope victory, hope of preserving some piece of who or what we are.  Death, hope, sacrifice.  I get it.  These themes are all intertwined and we saw just about every side of them throughout the game.  And it built up to a very logical finale: Shepard sacrificing herself so that everyone else would continue to have that hope.

But it went too far.  Crashing the Normandy on some random planet, offering no context, no closing dialogue, no big, epic ending to what was a big, epic trilogy… it was the wrong move.  Creatively, the ending works.  But you’re not writing a novel.  You’re not filming an art movie.  You’re making a video game that people are investing many, many hours in.  If you’re going to kill the character they’ve spent 3 years building, you damn well better show us the aftermath.  Not some artsy, poetic aftermath of the Normandy survivors playing Robinson Caruso and populating an entire planet.

So what did I want to see?  More.  I want some questions answered.  And these are questions that should be answers.  Mass Effect is not the sort of game that should have gone out on such a quiet note.  Casey Hudson promised they’d tie up all the loose ends.  But they didn’t at all.

What happened to your squadmates from the end run towards the beam of light?  If they died, we should have seen an enraged Shepard pressing on.  (I had Liara with me – it should have been a major moment.)  I realize she’s focused, but her team has always come first.

Why in the hell, after building up the rivalry throughout ME2 and The Arrival DLC, do we NOT get a confrontation between Shepard and Sovereign?

Why is the crew of the Normandy back on the Normandy?  When we last see them, they were supporting the troops in the base camp before you head out to your final charge.  Am I to understand they abandoned the fight and jumped on the Normandy?

Why is the Normandy anywhere other than Earth?  When we do see the ship, it’s being pursued by a random ball of doom.  If we needed to see this impact, why was it not shown above Earth, with every other Eezo-powered ship meeting the same fate?

Why do we get no scenes of resolution for any of our characters?  This is where they went wrong.  They banked on their brilliance for creating such an artsy, gorgeous ending, without understanding that they basically nullified the first two games, since nothing we do matters him them.  The choices we make affect very little in the big picture.  The ending is always destruction.

This ending should have run for 20 minutes at least.  We should have seen the counsel coping with the destruction of the citadel and the relays, if they’re hellbent on going that route. (While they’re at it, they can explain why the relays blowing up didn’t destroy the system in which they resided, like the so-called Alpha Relay from ME2: The Arrival.)

Or on a happier note, we should have seen the characters returning to their war-torn worlds to rebuild.  But at the very least, we should have seen something.  We should have seen Liara mourning Shepard, inconsolable.  We should have seen the crew giving Shepard and Anderson a proper funeral.

We should have seen the Reapers being dismantled and the broken counsel worlds picking up the pieces.  Which is why the relays shouldn’t have been destroyed, either.  Kill Shepard if you must…but show us how it impacts our crew.  Show us Liara and Samara returning to a broken Thessia.  Show us Wrex and his little krogan babies.  Show us Miranda and her sister trying to live normal lives now that Cerberus is gone and the Illusive Man is dead.

The destruction of the Citadel, the end of the Reapers – this is a MAJOR EFFING EVENT.  It deserves more than a whisper for a send-off that, while lovely, was entirely unsatisfying.  And if we want to do the whole continuation-of-life-into-the-future then let’s flash-forward to Earth – seat of the new counsel (they’ve earned it by now) where Matriarch Liara shows her grandchildren the massive memorial statue of Shepard – which also plays the words she recorded for Shepard in the little black box back on the Normandy (yes, I’m implying Liara is pregnant at the end of ME3).  Or if you romanced Ashley, or Kaiden, do the same with them, but make the kids great-grandkids or something.  It works either way.

Is this all a little cliché?  Maybe.  But it’s eminently more satisfying.

Video games are evolving as an art form.  What works well in one doesn’t translate well to another.  This sort of ending would be great for a film, but it’s unfulfilling for a video game.  Just as films would be a disaster without some kind of narrative structure.  Shooting a novel word for word would be impossible and a giant mess.

In real life, bad things happen.  We don’t always get the ending we want.  But you can only take that message so far before you start pissing off on a practical level.  I’m not going to follow another Bioware franchise for fear of getting burned again – that attitude is running rampant right now.

I don’t fault BioWare for trying something different.  They didn’t know this wouldn’t work.  And even if they’ve had ME4, or some DLC, or a new MMORPG in this universe already planned out to give us answers, we shouldn’t have to buy or play it to be more satisfied with ME3’s ending.  It should stand on its own and be complete.  It should be what it needs to be for the type of story it’s telling, and for the platform on which it is being told.  And it simply is not.

I don’t need to see Shepard’s chestplate breath.  I just want to see the characters I’ve fought for move on with their lives.  They get what they wanted – but it’s not really the same.  There’s plenty of drama and tragedy and sorrow to be had…but also hope – which I am now bereft of.

I don’t expect them to correct this.  They really can’t, unless they retcon the entire thing (which maybe their smartest move) because having Shepard suddenly be alive again would be a total cop-out and degrade her final sacrifice.  Maybe we could get a better, wider-spread epilogue.  But I won’t buy it.  I shouldn’t have to.  It should have been included.

It’s going to take some time to decompress here.  I’ve been playing this game a LOT in the past few days, and I need to let it sink in and get over it and move on.  I’m disappointed and empty and let down.  I hope they try to fix or redeem this somehow, but I don’t think they will, or can.  Which is a shame, because it’s the most brilliant game ever – right up until the complete en

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1 Comment

Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Pop Culture, Video Games

 

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One response to “Mass Effect 3: Too Far?

  1. displacedpanda

    March 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Man, I can understand your need to vent. Sorry you got gypped!

     

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