Mass Effect 3 in General

Posted: August 28, 2012 in General Musings
Tags: , , , , , ,

ME3 FemshepHere there be spoilers, mateys. (But really, what else would you expect?)

Overall, I think the game was good. The effects were gorgeous. And the soundtrack? Stirring. Emotional. Beautiful. I could listen to it all day. Seriously. I even made a Pandora station around it, and I’m listening to it right now. Most of the new enemies, especially the Banshee and the Brute, were a pleasant challenge. (“Pleasant challenge” meaning, of course, that the Banshees freaked the shit out of me with their—apt—shrieking and the Brutes had me running terrified most of the time.) The pacing, which has always been a nagging issue in the franchise for me, was pretty good in this game.

The narrative was also good, though problematic (to say the least) at points. Many people seemed to be upset that pretty much nothing you did could avoid Shepard’s death (which isn’t entirely true, but true enough). Personally, I think it was fairly predictable given the number of hints that were dropped during the game, not to mention the game developers’ continued insistence that this installment would definitely be the full-stop end to Shepard’s story. And then there’s the hero’s name itself: Shepard. The highly religious symbolism that accompanies this name is hard to miss. We end up with a character who is a leader and a unifier, who brings peace through self-sacrifice. Could the story really have ended any other way with such contextual trappings? Without the Reapers, Shepard has no purpose. She becomes Frodo, wasting away in the Shire, hollowed out from an experience that was just so much bigger than she was. The Mass Effect world didn’t need her anymore, so it was necessary to cut her out of it.

Mostly, I was just disappointed that I wouldn’t get to have a bunch of little blue children.

Shepard’s nearly unavoidable demise, however, is only a symptom of the most disappointing (and ironic) aspect of the game: that ultimately your choices don’t matter, or at least they don’t obviously matter much. They matter in building your Effective Military Strength and in whether less than a handful of side characters survive, but not in the fundamental narrative of your Shepard’s story. Did you kill the Rachni queen in ME? That’s okay, the Reapers got a replacement. Did you choose Anderson to join the Council? Udina takes his place anyway so that he can serve the story by betraying them. Did you destroy the Collector base? Meh. The Illusive Man still got some of it anyway. To me, any one of these events should have forced the narrative in distinctly different directions. That the game more or less “corrects” your decisions undermines the entire gaming model, which is supposed to be based on choice. At the eleventh hour, the game shifted gears and becomes about the inexorability of destiny—the antithesis of free will and making choices of any kind, moral or amoral. I would have been perfectly content if at any point it became impossible to beat the Reapers due to past decisions. That’s war, especially when the opponent is so vastly superior in every way. If BioWare had taken that direction, I have a feeling they would’ve actually gotten a few backslaps for being ballsy enough to make a game with the possibility of being unbeatable.

And let’s talk more about this war thing. The game is overt in its value of Paragon character decisions. Literally. You gain way more EMS points, in general, for overall Paragon actions than you do for Renegade ones. I find this system lacking in nuance and sophistication because, frankly, being a nice person doesn’t win a war by itself. It might win charisma and support, which could translate into a victory, but you get a good dose of charisma and support in the game no matter what—it’s just written into Shepard’s character, regardless of your actions. Critical military decisions, though, don’t always reward goodness—because people lie and have ulterior motives and change their minds when their situations change. From a military perspective, there is no reason to allow the Rachni queen to live. Cold as it might be, saving the Council was not mission critical and could very well have resulted in losing the battle against Sovereign. And yet killing the queen and letting the Council die are designated Renegade (translation: “asshole”) actions, even though they would be perfectly defensible from a martial standpoint. Furthermore, these decisions are punished in the third installment, most commonly through the awarding of fewer EMS points.

All that being said, I’ve always found it difficult to choose anything but the Paragon actions. Because I’m a sap, I guess. I saved the queen. I spared Wrex. I saved the Council. I trusted Grunt. I trusted Legion. I protected Tali’s secret. I destroyed the Collector base. And so on. By the time I got to the Crucible, I’d maxed out my EMS with all the extra points I’d gotten for being such a good person—just like the game wanted me to be. So WHY THE FUCK is surviving only an option for the Destroy—i.e., Renegade—ending?! I feel like I did everything the game wanted me to do, had trained me to do, and got shit on for it. I feel like the Prodigal Son’s brother. Where the hell are my goddamn little blue children?!

Despite my misgivings, I really thought the game was excellent. The game itself was wicked fun to play, and I absolutely love the story. BioWare did a fantastic job if only in the spirit and not exactly the delivery of a moral-choice game. They’re doing something relatively new by blending the free will inherent to sims with the structure and engaging narrative of good RPGs. They’ve made colossal strides toward achieving a true synthesis of the two platforms (for loners like me, that is, who don’t play MMOs). I can’t wait to see what’s next from them.

  1. I agree that a lot of the choices from previous games just got washed over in Mass Effect 3. The biggest one for me was the genophage cure. I was all for the genophage cure in Mass Effect 2 until talking to Mordin. He convinced me to destroy the cure. (I know, I’m terrible!) And then in ME3, he has a change of heart, doesn’t really explain it at all, and I was basically forced to cure the genophage? (There was no way I was lying to my squad or stopping Mordin the way the game makes you…) Maybe this wasn’t a problem for the kinder characters who always wanted to cure it, but my Renegade Shep was super confused.

    Anyway, I agree that this was a really enjoyable game to play overall. In spite of a few flaws, the Mass Effect series is still my favorite and really well done. Great review! =)

  2. Thank you! I’m glad you liked my review!

    You’re right, Mordin had a pretty quick change of heart that wasn’t really explained. I grudgingly agreed with him in ME2 that the genophage was for the best, but still kept the data because I wanted to have hope. And there was no way I was going to stop Mordin like that either. It’s bad enough that he’s pretty much going to die, why do I have to pull the trigger? Next to the ending, that had to be the toughest choice in the game: kill your friend and comrade in arms or unleash an angry dog out for blood and hope for the best. I did tear up when the krogan were finally cured, though. I was so happy for Wrex!

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