Mass Effect 3. Yeah. So how about it EA? Feeling pretty silly with yourselves now, aren’t you? No, of course not. If Mass Effect 3 showed us anything about the way the gaming industry treats their employees, titles and audience, is that it feels detached from reality to a concerning point, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the top of the corporate ladder who might show some self-awareness or criticism of their business model and industry. Or maybe all those people just got banned from all the important meetings on count of making everyone really depressed.
The most memorable thing about Mass effect 3 is of course the controversy around its release, and the huge amount of fan disappointment and indignant rage directed towards EA and Bioware from every corner of the sentient universe, which is quite disappointing, since Mass Effect 3 is a very good game, and in many areas the best one in the series. It’s absolutely not a perfect game, and is flawed in many places, in others seems plain unfinished, while still plays up to its strengths and does well on the whole. It might have been even better, say, if someone had pushed the release date ahead by a couple months to finish making the game.
Time to save the day
Mass Effect 3 begins, as it is, really from nowhere. Disappointingly, Mass Effect 3 does not really offer any good build-up or introduction, but starts literally five minutes before the Reapers show up and smash all of Earth’s defenses in one devastating wedgie. At this point, Shepard has been relieved of duty and locked up for being a bad, bad man/woman and destroying a star system if an effort to slow the coming invasion by destroying a mass relay (which really became a sticking point for the original, rushed-out ending).
So, the Reapers come to murder everyone and Shepard has to run from the fight holding his/her really sore bum, and gather all the galactic fleets into a big showdown against the enemy. On the way Shepard is directed to the Mars archives to retrieve plans for a really deus ex machina super-weapon, that could theoretically kill all the Reapers and sort the whole problem out.
On Mars Shepard finds himself racing to find the blueprints against Cerberus, as they are returned to the unambigious secondary villain role. The Illusive Man has become even more bat-shit bonkers after the previous game, and is now convinced he can enslave the immortal and overpowering genocidal Reapers, and through them, the rest of the Galactic community, like he has become the Space Hitler.
Cerberus has killed everyone on the Mars base with the aid of a sexy sleeper-agent android, and after fighting through regiments of Cerberus goons, she nearly gets away with the data, until forced to land her shuttle because of being rammed into by another shuttle. One of Shepard’s crew is hurt, but they are able to scarper with the disabled android carrying the data inside her sexy metal frame.
Shepard and his crew go to the Citadel to present their evidence to the galactic council, who, again, for plot related reasons, are nonsensically unhelpful and non-committal in the face of certain death for for everyone in the Galaxy, claim that they have to see to their own planets first, and can’t send any help for Earth. Apparently, being the only person in the galaxy with a functional brain and full set of functional limbs, Shepard’s job then is to run errands for every galactic power to persuade them to throw in their resources and forces for the Alliance’s collected armada, and towards building the mysterious doomsday device – including finding the enigmatic missing component, the Catalyst.
It’s nice that it’s clear from the very beginning what Shepard’s final goal in the game is, and you are able to monitor your progress aboard the Normandy. You can see all your pooled resources geared up for the final fight, and the forces you gather affect whether you stand any chance towards victory in the final fight. Of course, that doesn’t really matter too far, because there is an arbitrary threshold in what is enough to win the game, which is set ridiculously low, and anything extra is only going to have expositionary meaning in the game.
At this point the game really gets going, and starts serving the best Mass Effect gameplay and story so far. The main plot-line missions are interesting and well-designed, and Shepard has to bring the other major powers in the Galaxy to his side, while also sorting out every Galactic problem from missing house-keys to ending genocides. Most of the major plotlines are tied up in really nice and satisfying ways, and among the best moments in the series are bringing peace for the Krogan and Turians by ending the sterility-plague carried on for centuries, and ending the conflict between the Geth and Quarians, by effectively shouting at people.
The optional side missions are very numerous and provide plenty of hours of stuff to do, while also working towards the ultimate goal by adding allies and resources to the armada. It is kind of nice that finding all the tasks and getting all the content requires active exploration, while at the same time we still carry around the issue of having to trek back and forward alot, badgering NPCs for more character dialogue.
Changes from Mass Effect 2
The biggest tweaks to the game came in the game-play front. The action was really polished to complete smoothness, and particularly introducing weapon-mod and weapon-weight mechanics make outfitting choices interesting. Every kind of weapon was made available to the player, and heavier load-outs are balanced with shorter power recharge-times, which actually works pretty damn well. All the different classes work well enough and are fun to play, but the real fumbling point is making the Vanguard class ridiculously over-powered.
The problem is that the Vanguard can slam into enemies with the Biotic Charge, regardless of how far away they are, staggering them and doing huge amounts of damage. This is then combined with the Nova power, which allows the player to slam the ground with a powerful shock, powered by Shepards barrier, discharging them in one go. A high-pay-off but risky strategy perhaps, which would be fine, except that by now, assuming you are not carrying a lot of weight, your powers are already recharged, allowing you to slam into them again with the Biotic Charge, which also instantly refills your barrier. So you can slam them with the Nova again. You probably see where this is going. This effectively turns Shepard into a continuous series of self-charging detonations, happily zooming around the battlefield and wiping out everything with a pulse before they get the first word out. The only good analogy I can think of, is a fighting game with an option to fight roomfuls of toddlers with bad inner-ear infections, and you also get to have a big stick.
One real disappointment is the cutting out of all the real mini-games, as now planetary exploration is cut down to an absolute minimum, short of a text-based adventure, and hacking and bypassing are relegated to one press of a button. In one hand it might cut an unnecessary chore out of the game, but it’s not replacing it with anything else, and having a sequel with less player agency and less stuff to do, seems like an odd direction to develop.
The biggest selling point/gimmick of the series is the story and story continuity, where you have to hold onto your old save games, so you can pick up where you left and have your decisions follow you around and affect your experience in really inconsequential ways, like a returning character waving to you, shouting “Hey, remember me from the previous game?!” That is a bit unfair, there are some plot points where you need to make the correct choices to have the best ending, and some avenues are closed if you made the wrong decision. The Krogan plot-line, for example, is not going to end particularly well, if you decided to shoot Wrex on Virmire in Mass Effect 1, so it’s actually quite nice having ramifications carrying over a surprisingly long way.
The bad news is that if you want to pick up Mass Effect 2 or 3, and simply want to start playing, then you get to eat shit, because the game decides that you get to carry around the worst possible decisions from the previous games. Unless you hand your wallet over to EA of course, and get the Genesis DLC which lets you make the less stupid choices – but that just says all you need to know about EA, doesn’t it?
Another plus was the addition of a multiplayer, which was quite well thought out and fun to play, adding lots of playable grunt characters with inventive powers in 4-player co-ops, fighting increasingly difficult waves of enemies and performing repetitive tasks. The multiplayer included some nifty RPG elements, where your grunt characters would level up the same way as single-player characters, and be able to buy upgrades, weapons and gear from cash received on the missions. Of course there was the option to inject real money to buy shit and level up faster, but the multiplayer worked well enough without it, so kudos for that. The only bit where the design shit on its own foot, was adding a mechanic where multiplayer ‘galactic readiness’ score affected your single player readiness. By default your galactic readiness was set at 50%, which you could up by completing missions in multiplayer, maxing out at hundred, which acted as a modifier to your readiness score. The sticking point is that percentage drops every day you didn’t play multiplayer, which turned the multiplayer into a functional chore.
All good things come to a sticky end
All good things must come to an end, and so Mass Effect 3 came to a close and left the stage, not so much with a bang, as with a wet, squeaky fart that goes on uncomfortably long, and follows the performer all the way to their dressing room.
As the story plot lines all get tied together, allies are gathered, and finally Shepard is lead to a mission on the Asari home world, where a mystic Prothean VI, which holds the answer to the Catalyst, is snatched under Shepard’s nose by Cerberus. Determined not to be foiled by that bunch of racist dickheads, Shepard is able to follow Cerberus’ steps to their personal Auschwitz, Sanctuary, an advertised safe-haven for refugees, but a true center for brainwashing and gruesome human experiments. So thanks for that subtle bit of subtext. From Sancuary they are able to track the Cerberus assassin Kai Leng to Cerberus HQ and the Illusive Man, where they can have trashing the station and having a discussion with the Prothean VI, revealing that the Catalyst is actually the Citadel.
Bad news is that the Reapers are onto their little game, and have moved the Citadel into the deepest Reaper controlled space, this of course being Earth. So it is finally time to cash in all the chips, say your goodbyes and launch into the suicide mission to end all suicide missions.
Attacking London means facing all the hardest gameplay all in one go, as you have to fight your way to a teleport leading into the closed-up Citadel, and the game gets pretty liberal in throwing all the toughest enemies at you, making the difficulty curve shoot up like a vertical wall. The final attack in London is filled up with foreboding, as all the major characters hang around long enough to say goodbye to Shepard like he’s already dead, practically nudging him or her with their elbows, as they go on about the impossibility of the mission and unlikeliness of us making through this, *wink, wink*, *nudge, nudge*, say no more.
So eventually Shepard clears the way to the teleport, after fighting waves after waves of boss-enemies, when the game throws its curve-ball and smacks you in the face with a really dark change of tone.
What the shit’s going on…
The final assault is a run to the teleport, down an alley with a giant Reaper shooting at all your supporting characters, when there is a direct hit next to Shepard and all goes dark. This is where it seems like the game goes through a totally psychotic, bipolar episode, as the final half-hour of the game goes amazingly dark, mind-bendingly bizarre and fantastically depressing. Shepard wakes up bloody, injured, alone and barely walking, and teleports into the Citadel, where all the residents have been turned into a bloody mess, with gore all over the walls, ceiling and knee-deep on the floor. Anderson is also somewhere in the Citadel’s bowels, and they have to find the control center to open the Citadel up, so it can be linked with the Crucible superweapon.
Inside the Illusive Man jumps out from fucking nowhere, taking them into his mind-control squeeze and talking about how insane and evil he is. He forces Shepard’s hand to shoot Anderson, and he is persuaded by Shepard that he is already indoctrinated by the Reapers, which explains quite a few things about his recent behaviour. Shepard then shoots the Illusive Man, or persuades him to shoot himself, little Dr. Phil that he is, and opens the Citadel arms before collapsing.
Shepard is then transported into the strangest encounter with the Citadel AI, who claims to be the Catalyst, and controls the Reapers. Oh yeah, they were feeling lazy, so they made it look like a ghost of a dead little boy, who comes and haunts Shepard’s dreams every now and then.
The Catalyst claims the Reapers are his solution to the problem his creators encountered creating a synthetic life, and having it turn against them. His logic is that organic life, after developing to a certain point, will always create synthetic life, which will always turn against its creator. So, obviously, the best thing to do is to create a species of immortal killer robots, who come and kill every sapient species every 50.000 years, to stop the twats getting uppity and creating killer robots, who would then kill everyone. So yeah, the mysterious and enigmatic Reapers, whose purpose was claimed to be beyond limited, organic comprehension, turn out to be a loop of faulty logic.
Since Shepard has made such an untidy mess of things, the Catalyst decides the solution doesn’t do the job anymore, and it’s time for a new solution. Shepard has to decide the fate of the galaxy, either destroying the Reapers, taking control of them, or radically changing the DNA of everyone in the Galaxy to be fuse organic and synthetic DNA. And no, I have no idea how it’s supposed to happen, apart from making everyone glow green.
So the final solution comes down to three choices, originally resulting in almost identical cut-scenes, where the biggest difference was the colour of the following explosion. You can probably still remember how butthurt gamers were as a result of the confusing and underwhelming ending, especially since the developers had been making all kinds of promises about several possible, radically different endings, affected by player decisions throughout the trilogy. The ending also had all kinds of other unpleasant implications, such as destroying most of the central council star systems, as the destruction of a mass relay is established to eradicate everything within millions of kilometers, see Arrival DLC and the destruction of the Alpha Relay, and ending the time of galactic unity, making mass relay travel impossible.
EA and Bioware of course immediately faced immense amounts of rage and hatred directed towards them by all Mass Effect fans everywhere, partly for making the ending really depressing and killing off their precious projected Shepard, but mostly by ending things in a very incoherent, underwhelming and confusing way, raising serious implications about the game being rushed out the door to make the release date. Initially Bioware stood behind the ending and defended it as an “artistic choice.” They claimed to have made the purposeful decision of leaving the ending vague and open to player interpretation. This of course did nothing to placate the fans, and many were demanding that Bioware should change the ending to the game, and while this sparked some kind-of-interesting conversation about the ownership of story and character in gaming, as well as the creative rights of developers, the whole thing was just kind of embarrassing and made absolutely everyone involved look like an asshole, player, developer and publisher alike.
This of course was a very short-lived EA and Bioware corporate lie, and was quickly spun around, as Bioware put together and pushed out a quick free-of-charge-expotinionary DLC, which expanded on the red, green and blue explosions, clarifying the context and consequences of Shepard’s decision, to make it a bit less fuck-bumbling baffling to everyone. You might also say that Bioware was pretty quick to spindoctor the ending, which kind of puts doubt on how important keeping this ending was to them from an artistic standpoint, and why they didn’t fight a bit harder to keep it that way.While the additional content is very bare bones and mostly involves character monologues over still images, it does the job. It’s ok. It’s got my personal seal of approval, for overcoming the threshold of being ‘kind of ok’. Well done for your achievement of ‘kind of ok’. You achieved in filling the minimum requirements.
Anyway, This expands the ending enough to make most of the butt-hurt fans stop crying, and put an end to the alternative theories about the ending, the main one being the Indoctrination Theory. The three different endings are fleshed-out, I admit, quite nicely, but they have a really sour smell of fan-appeasement about them. Especially the green explosion, or the Synthesis, if you really prefer, is sugarcoated to stupid levels, where everyone is going to be ridiculously happy, living in perfect harmony with each other, enjoying all the scientific advancement and knowledge made by every species ever in the Galaxy, and to top it all off, it’s implied that eventually everyone is going to be immortal as well. And then everyone went out to get ice-cream. And lemonade. And adopted an adorable puppy. And shagged your mom.
If it makes any difference to anyone, I chose the Domination path, or the blue explosion, as it made most sense to me. Sacrificing, the Geth, EDI, or anything more complex that a smartphone seemed absolutely stupid, after fighting to reach peace for the Geth and Quarians for so many hours. The green explosion felt equally wrong, enforcing a genetic fusion on everyone seemed kind of messed up as well, while one of the moral point of the series up to this point, to me at least, seemed to be that you shouldn’t fuck with free will and individual development, evident in the shitty actions of both Cerberus brainwashing and Reaper indoctrination. Besides, it seemed right that Shepard should take control of the Reaper armada and carry on doing in death what he has been doing in life: taking care of things for everyone else, because they can’t seem to get off their arses to sort out the smallest problem themselves.
After the rushed out Happy Ending DLC Bioware carried on with the shameless fan-appeasement policy with Citadel DLC. Since we’re going this way, might as well call this ‘the DLC-bit’.
This being released in a time before EA’s consumer-backslash of 2012 and 2013, (and probably 2014 as well,) and them having to face cavalcades of angry gamers throwing poo all over their shiny, expensive things, Mass Effect 3 had a bad case of the DLCs. Worst of course – while not necessarily the most dishonest, Citadel gets to go home with that particular trophy – was From Ashes, since it mainly adds one crew member character, Javik the last remaining Prothean, who has been on ice for 50,000 years, and some character dialogue, which you could easily just watch on Youtube. The main reason it gets to wear this proud shit-stain, is that it was already locked on the disk on release day, and is therefore by definition a dick-move.
Omega and Leviathan DLCs are actually both good, and introduce some interesting missions and decent game-play. Leviathan is the one that stood out among the DLC, introducing some decent mystery and horror elements, as well as really good atmosphere, which has been kind of missing since the first Mass Effect, so it gets to go home with the first prize.
A good portion of the available DLC is actually free, including the Extended Cut ending DLC, for which they aren’t scoring any points, in free multiplayer DLC, introducing new maps and characters, for which they are scoring some points, well done on that one.
But then there’s the Citadel. This one deserves some special praise and special shit, as while it has some of the best character dialogue and funniest dark comedy in the entire series, the whole thing smacks of desperate fan-service to appease angry fans and try to blow over the shitstorm after the release, like a cheating boyfriend begging forgiveness and coming to your door with expensive gifts. That you have to pay for. The content isn’t terrible by any means, including some decent missions, one kind of awesome boss-battle and a whole lot of character dialogue. The Citadel arena, where you get to set the conditions to fight waves of enemies of your own choice, is a fairly decent way to kill a few hours, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that you could save your money and have the essential experience by spending two hours on Youtube watching all the cut-scenes.
Renegade vs. Paragon
What Mass Effect still does well is enable player choice, even though the variation amount the Renegade, Paragon and neutral options is a bit stumpy. All the game’s best resolutions are locked behind renegade and paragon actions, which is kind of ok, since the player at least has to put in some thought to decide their own stand on things, but which makes the neural option kind of redundant, if not actually stupid.
I still have the same problem with the moral choice aspect as with Mass Effect 2, being that some of the renegade choices are kind of comic-book-level stupid. The best ending pretty much is only attainable going paragon all the way, and some renegade choices just seem evil for really stupid reasons. I do have to give Bioware credit for their creativity, as this was the only one in the series where I didn’t do a full Renegade play-through, because I got too depressed with my Shepard being absurdly evil for stupid reasons. That point came when I had sold the Krogan out to the Salarian Dalatrass for a couple fleets, lied to Wrex and Eve about the cure for the genophage, shot Mordin to stop him saving the Krogan, doomed the Krogan to permanently live with the sterility-plague, and shot Wrex to death when confronted about lying and condemning his people to permanent misery, shooting bullet after bullet into him, as he lays in the ground, cursing my name with his final breath. So, all in all, good stuff.
Mass Effect 3 also took another little step towards player inclusion, as you were now able to make your Shep a gay man. This is quite a curious aspect of the Mass Effect franchise, as Bioware seems to be a forerunner in offering player inclusion – you have huge freedom in character customization, plot-choices, plot-continuity, ethical choices and gender-neutral relationship options – while at the same time they have to lug around the Hyde to their Dr. Jekyll: namely EA with it’s cynical and short-sighted business-policies. It is quite funny that if there was a game where you played an EA executive, all your business choices would be Renegade quick-time events.
So is the bloody game still good or not?
Yes, Mass Effect 3 is still good. At its best it’s fantastic, and at worst it’s still ok. All the Mass Effect strong points are still here, including the rich, fleshed-out universe, story and characters, while it puts a definite polish on the game-play. It’s definitely a flawed game, and shows signs of being pushed out unfinished to meet the deadline in many places, not least in bringing back those shitty two-dimensional cutouts for the big group scenes, which in 2012 should be considered fucking lazy by anybody’s standards. There are also many places where Bioware seems to address issues in the game without actually doing anything about them, such as referencing the Mako and Hammerhead vehicles, explaining they got left behind on Earth because of ‘retrofits.’
Now I better get going, cos those calibrations aren’t going to do themselves. Hah, that’s never going to get old.