Thursday, April 05, 2012

Mass Effect Saga ends

Even before I started playing Mass Effect 3, the "final" installment of the popular Mass Effect series from Bioware, I had seen the rumblings of discontent about the ending. I'm just writing to etch my preliminary impressions.

I just finished playing the game, and I had a lot of fun (once you accept some of the landmines and necessary evils of its particular genre/conceits). I certainly thought it was better than Mass Effect 2, and I felt it was technically better than the original Mass Effect. There was a lot to like.

From here on out, I feel compelled to say there are possible SPOILERS, although I will try to avoid them when possible.


Before I continue, I watched a couple of Youtube videos because I wanted to make sure I hadn't gotten the worst ending or something, and that my experience was, in fact, representative.

These included:
"Mass Effect 3 Ending: Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage": a stunningly long, but surprisingly well-composed critique of the ending with relevant background and some cogent criticism.
"Mass Effect 3 Ending and Why We Hate It!": a short but fairly effective nerdrage that must be taken with a grain of salt.

1. Disconnect between the experience of the game and the experience of the ending.

I'm no English major, but I do enjoy good stories in any number of media. But my initial impression was that the ending was, in layman's vernacular, "lame." It just felt broken, like I had just spent dozens of hours on three games in the past 8 or so years, and the journey ended with a whimper. I like a happy ending as much as the next guy, but it's fine for a complex story to have a complex ending or tragic ending. Sometimes, that's what the story demands and I'd be the last to second-guess it.

Therefore, I don't think my problem is with the tone or content of the ending, as much as it is with how far in left field it came from. The whole series of games seemed to be built upon how you dealt with the NPCs both in and out of your party. But the ending involved NONE of those NPCs, and instead focused on what I had assumed to be, in most senses, a MacGuffin (def'n) ~ the magical "Crucible." So it seemed that all of the fun I had with my imaginary friends was meaningless, and I was forced to surrender those experiences to the usurpation of what had been until recently an almost transparent entity.

From a plot-specific standpoint (spoiler alert), this ending reminded me very much of the series of books starting with "The Reality Dysfunction." I can't remember the details since I read it so long ago, but it had an ending where the universe has gone to heck in a handbasket, and the solution was to interface with some god-like entity to "magically" solve the problem. The reason I bring this book series up is because, while I didn't like that series all that much, at least I respect the resolution because the final book really led logically to that conclusion. Hence, perhaps why ME3's was "lame" to me was because the game did not lead logically to the conclusion provided.

2. Technically lazy
After all the paths and all of the possible permutations that I had imagined for the ending, all of that was stripped away into three possible choices. After all the awesomeness of the previous games, I was expecting some great story telling with lots of different paths. But no. I got three choices.

Fine. Three choices. I don't care anymore if that's the way you want to end it, but tell me more about the ramifications of those choices! Let me (1) decide meaningfully between them (give me a coherent explanation of how it works and what it will do), and let me (2) see what becomes of the friends that I have made along the way (show me what actually happens to the people I care about).

It's just sad that after all the work I put into my character and developing the relationships with my party NPCs, the choices I am presented with are completely divorced from that central focus of the games.

3. Poor reward after 3 games and many many hours
This criticism is the least reasonable. But because the impression is both real and a bit unreasonable, it will probably be the best understood.

I really liked the games. I'm a story guy, and as long as the gameplay isn't terrible, I can take it as long as I'm rewarded with a good story. But the end of ME3 did not reward me with a good story. The ending I got was a paradoxical Frankenstein of being the agent of cataclysmic change melded with the futility of trying to guide that change along the lines you desire. The world changes in its own way, and doesn't take my Shepard's desires into account. Well, screw you, too, world.

If the writers want to end it this way, that's their prerogative, of course, but I don't have to like it. And if I don't like it, then maybe I'll think twice about buying the next game.

Anyway, what a fun game. In the end, too bad.