What’s the Story?
In Mass Effect, Commander Shepard chased down a rogue government agent and discovered he was working for The Reapers – a race of robots that hide out beyond the galaxy. 50,000 years ago they wiped out the super-intelligent Protheans and all life and now they’re planning to come back. Shepard stops them from returning, but no one seems to believe him that Reapers are real.
In Mass Effect 2, Shepard battles a race called the Collectors, who have been abducting whole human colonies. Eventually, Shepard discovers that the Collectors are the Protheans, effectively brainwashed into being the Reapers’ slaves. They’re stealing people and turning them into goo to make a new, human Reaper. Shepard kills it. Still no one believes the Reapers are real.
In the opening of Mass Effect 3, the Reapers attack Earth. Also, the rest of the galaxy. Also, they’re nearly indestructable. Shepard leaves Earth and finds designs for an ancient Prothean weapon to destroy the Reapers: the Crucible. He must now unite all the disparate alien races so they can retake Earth and use the Crucible to destroy the Reapers.
What’s the Problem?
First, let me say this is an amazing game. Every choice you make over the last two games comes back into play. And some of those choices are whether your friends live or die. If they died in the last game, they’re absent from this. So any two playthroughs of ME3 are unlikely to be the same. I’ve finished it twice. Once I managed to unite two alien races by making a risky decision and then making a rousing speech. In the other, one of my friends had died in the previous game. She wasn’t there to talk sense to her people, so I didn’t get to make my rousing speech and her entire species was wiped out. My character accidentally committed genocide.
That’s the kind of thing that happens in ME3. Constantly. Little decisions have huge consequences…
Smoke and Mirrors
…or so it seems. In actuality, many of the same things happen no matter what went before. If one character is dead, they replace it with a random extra. That still means a huge amount of work, but it also means that the level of difference the game seems to provide isn’t actually what it does provide. The main story will happen regardless of your choices. In most games that wouldn’t be a problem, but ME has set itself up as the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure game, where every choice has consequences.
And let me say, I was blown away by those consequences the first time through. The game makes it feel like everything you did is of the utmost importance (which is probably a better decision than actually diverging the story, which would result in a messy game).
The Final Push
In ME2, you have to assemble your squad and gain their loyalty to go on a big mission at the end. The better you’ve forged relationships and the better your decisions in that mission, the more people survive and the better your ending. That’s what I was expecting for ME3, but on a galactic scale: you get species on your side and then make huge decisions about them in the final push. If you don’t get a critical piece for the Crucible, maybe you get to the very end and discover it doesn’t work, or it explodes, or something.
Instead, all your efforts to unite the galaxy result in changes to your “readiness rating” which is, essentially, a number to show how well your forces will do. It doesn’t actually have much impact on the final mission at all. All those choices, all that effort, all for the number to be slightly higher.
That’s part of what’s wrong with the ending: for a game based on big choices, the last mission doesn’t reflect this. It’s the same thing, apart from a few lines of dialogue. It’s essentially the same no matter what you did. Until…
(This guy sums up most of the problem, if you have ten minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H_A7SeawU4)
The end is the biggest problem with this game. Not just because, after all this work, your actual decisions don’t really matter (did you enslave or free that race? Did you find all the parts for the Crucible? Doesn’t matter; it all works out fine), but also because of all the gorram talking.
You see, this Mass Effect, more than any other, was action-based. But the final half-hour of play is more like a cutscene that you sometimes have to select a dialogue choice in. Oh, and those dialogue options don’t really make any difference to what happens.
In a trilogy of games built around player choice, the end isn’t about choice. That’s a problem.
Except, right at the end, you get to make a choice – one choice – that determines which ending you see. Rather than it being the result of three games of decisions, it’s the result of “Which cutscene shall I see?”
Also, some people have noted that the character they’ve been roleplaying would never have picked any of those options. He would have taken his chanced not firing the Crucible. But that’s not an option. Smoke and mirrors, no real choice; pick your ending.
Here’s the problem: if I were replaying this game, there is no reason for me to play the ending. Because the ending will be the same no matter whether my character was good or evil before that point. It’s the same three cutscenes, and once you’ve seen them all on youtube (here’s a comparison. Notice how identical they all are? Also, SPOILERS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPelM2hwhJA) there’s no reason to sit through the ending.
Because, right at the end, the game decides to explain what’s been happening all this time. It just tells you.
And then the game ends, and you never find out what the consequences of all your choices were.
The Ending Cutscene [Minor spoilers]
Makes little or no sense. Established character traits are ignored for convenience. Characters who would never abandon a fight are seen fleeing one (we assume; we’re never told why they aren’t still fighting but instead are flying away); hell, characters who were right next to me (before someone on the radio claimed everyone but me was killed in the attack) are suddenly on the ship, alive, and unharmed. How did they get there? Why did the ship leave? Did you arseholes see me lying there nearly dead and just get back on the ship and fly off? Did you forget the fate of all life in the galaxy was at stake? Did you forget all those motivational speeches I made about how we get the job done or we die here?
It’s like someone made a cutscene, and someone else said, “That’s a neat cutscene, Bob,” and no one asked the writer if it had anything to do with the ending that he just wrote.
What’s the Solution?
It would have been preferable to learn about the Catalyst in small bits throughout the game than have a character come out and tell you about it at the eleventh hour (actually, it’s a long game, so it’s more like the twenty-fifth hour). That would have been more satisfying.
Also, stop with the slow-walking crap at the ending. I want to get from scene to scene without a three-minute meander between the two.
And tell us what happens to all of our friends. Do they die fighting? Do they go on to live happy lives? On my first playthrough, I released two alien species that breed like bunnies. My rationale was that they’ll be hard for the Reapers to kill because there will be so many of them. That said, one species has the express mission of breeding until they conquer the galaxy. That has huge consequences for when the Crucible saved the day. Did they take over all sentient life? Dunno.
Hells yes, especially if you’ve played the first two.
The point of this game (much like the others) isn’t the ending, it’s the journey getting there. And this journey is quite phenomenal. I think one reason everyone was so upset with the ending was the rest was so damned good.
So, yeah. If you like shooters, or ethical dilemmas, or if you’re fascinated with the mechanics of intricate Choose Your Own Adventure stories then this is for you. If you like all three of those things then you’re me, and this is damned near your perfect game.