Okay, so before I tackle anything else about Mass Effect 3, there’s one thing in particular I need to start off with… unfortunately, it will involve major spoilers so if you haven’t played through the thing already and want your experience to contain some semblance of surprise, stop reading now; I’ll see about getting to non-spoiler thoughts later. For the rest, well… I suspect you know what’s coming.
Right, so with the warning out of the way, let me just start by clarifying that for most part, I consider Mass Effect 3 excellent. The mechanics, once I’d adapted to them, are much improved, the multiplayer component was far more fun than I thought it would be, and there are several scenes throughout the game that, in my opinion, contains some of BioWare’s absolute best writing and voice acting ever. If it was solely down to that, then I could happily declare Mass Effect 3 my game of the year right here, right now. Sorry all other games, but outclassed and outplayed. Done.
Of course… then there’s the matter of the last 5-10 minutes of the game, which – again, in my opinion – contains some of the absolute worst things BioWare have done ever. And it comes so out of nowhere that it feels rather sour at best and like an outright stab in the back for the rest of it.
Okay, I do realize that not every game or story has to end on a high note and all, but here’s the thing – for me, Mass Effect is a journey about the Shepard – whoever your Shepard is, whatever gender they are, whatever their actions, seeing your Shepard through the long journey of three consecutive games is what the games are ultimately about. The result of all this is that my own Mass Effect experience is the journeys of Kate Shepard with her sidekick Garrus, her little sister Tali, her loud bro Wrex, her beloved Kaidan, her geeky friend Liara and that sarcastic bugger who helms the ship. The problem then about the last 5-10 minutes is that they’re not about that at all – they’re about this out of nowhere existensialist idea of organics versus synthetics and how Shepard gets to decide which colour of magical space explosions he or she wishes to unleash upon the galaxy when pressing the magical reset button that destroys all the mass relays.
Allow me to say no.
Don’t get me wrong either, games that attempt to tackle those sorts of questions can be interesting, and I thought Deus Ex: Human Revolution was really quite good, but it’s neither what I’d want or expect from Mass Effect – it’s not like Deus Ex where every single game ends on that kind of note, Mass Effect 1 ends on a triumph, Mass Effect 2 ends on a slider between total triumph and miserable failure, and then the third ends on Let’s Change The Fundamental Aspects of Life. Uh, okay BioWare. Great. Don’t think you could’ve told me this before I sunk three games worth of investment in?
Again, here’s the thing – I wanted to see the story of Kate Shepard and her friends. I cured the genophage and was declared honorary Krogan, sister and total badass of overkrogan Wrex, I brokered peace between Quarians and the Geth and got to see them start working together in peace – as equals – to forge a better existance for both of them. I got to be part of this amazing journey with characters I’ve grown fond of, and now at the very end I basically get told that none of it mattered in the least because no matter what I chose or did, everything gets reset as all the Mass Relays explode? Huh, yeah. You know, I don’t buy that. Just, no. Sorry, but no.
About three years ago, I wrote a ramble on Fallout 3 and the immensely negative reaction I had to its ending devaluing everything I had done up to that point by replacing it with something completely different – I began the very last paragraph with “I feel like I could use a quick dive into Mass Effect or similiar, now, just to get into a story that feels more providing for the characters themselves.”. Funny, then, how now three years later, Mass Effect has gone and done the very same thing.
Mind you, it’s not a total rejection this time – the multiplayer is still fun, and the last five to ten minutes aren’t enough to undo that long a journey, but just enough to leave it on a sour note. It’s a real shame, because up until that point, I thought it was great and I was really enjoying myself. Part of me is trying to kindle this faint hope that BioWare will go the same way Bethesda ultimately did and “fix” the ending in future DLC, but as I don’t find it very likely, I’ll have to settle for trying to rewrite the last few minutes in my own headcanon. The sad thing is that there isn’t all that much that has to be changed either, just that bit at the very end there.
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” the saying goes, and that’s fair enough, but it won’t stop me from wishing the destination had been somewhere I actually wanted to go.