Mass Effect 3: Thoughts

A lot has already been written on the web about Mass Effect 3.  If you’re a gamer or you follow any gamers on social media sites, you must already have heard about ‘the ending’ and why a lot of fans are unhappy, and the gradual increase in ‘stop crying’ posts in response.  I just wanted to put my thoughts down after having played all three games.  Be warned: there will be huge stonking spoilers ahead, you can’t avoid commenting in depth on the game without spoilers.  In fact, spoilers below for all three Mass Effect games basically.

What They Got Right

Some people don’t like the so called cheesey dialog in Mass Effect (1, 2 or 3).  I’ll assume you do, I’m not trying to win over any converts.  If you enjoyed ME1 and ME2 then you will absolutely enjoy 99.9% of ME3 (and potentially, 100%).  The game format is very much like the first two, side missions between major story progression missions.  The major progression missions are clearly marked (no more accidental progression), and the side missions help you build your military strength.

The primary missions (and some of the side missions) allow you to revisit all of your (surviving) friends from the Mass Effect games.  You will meet them all again, and you will find closure for all of their story arcs.  ME3 tidies up, knowing that it won’t be going on.  There are no loose ends.  It’s all very emotional.  It’s one of the best examples of involving, emotional gameplay I’ve ever seen.  I truly felt like I was taking part in something epic and worthwhile.  BioWare have written some excellent endings and closures for some of the richest characters in gaming history.  They got this bit so right, that it makes the bits they got wrong all the more painful.

I loved so many moments, the foremost being able to finally undo the genophage, something I had disliked from the first moment I heard about it.

The combat is tougher than either ME1 or ME2 and the enemy AI is frustratingly efficient.  The new range of enemies is excellent, and the tactical side of combat is better than ever.  In ME1 and ME2 I rarely used anything but raw firepower on the missions, in ME3 on normal, I absolutely had to rely on some of my own special powers and make far better use of my companions.  Likewise, in the first two games I pretty much stuck to two guns, assault rifle and sniper rifle.  In ME3 I found I both had to, and wanted to, use a broader range of guns, including finally making some use of the shotgun slot I’ve had since the first game!

What They Got Wrong

For me, there’s only one thing majorly wrong, per se, with Mass Effect 3.  The driving mechanic in the game is to build a score that defines how ready the galaxy is to fight back against the Reapers.  It’s made of two elements, military strength and readiness rating.

Military strength is increased by acquiring military assets and is based directly on how you play the game.  The choices you made in Mass Effect 1 & 2 affect it, and all your choices in ME3 affect it.  If you blew up the collector base, or you let Wrex die, how you dealt with the Geth, how you deal with the races in ME3, they all have an effect.  Some are small, saving one person might earn you 50 points, some are large, saving an entire fleet 200.  The whole of ME3 is focused on building that score.  Making the right choices earns you more points, making the wrong choices earns you fewer or hurts you.  That score is then modified by your galactic readiness rating which starts at 50%.

There is no way in the single player campaign to increase your galactic readiness.  None.  The only way is either via multiplayer (not a free option on the Xbox 360 of course) or via external products like the iOS app (I think).

That means you can play the game exactly the same way as someone else, but if they also play multiplayer, they can ‘get a different ending’.  Basically, the final outcomes in the game are based on the effective military strength.

BioWare promised you could get the maximum score in the single player campaign and thus see all the possible endings.  This is true, but only if you play the game their way.  For example, saving the collector base in ME2 gives you a better score than destroying it.  However, my Shepard would never save it.  Okay, some might argue that means I can’t save the galaxy, I’d accept that, if it wasn’t possible to do both as long as you play the multiplayer game.  i.e. I can be a completely stupid Shepard, switching from Paragon to Renegade, making stupid decisions as much as I want (within reason) but if I play the multiplayer game I can still see the ‘best’ ending.

If I stick to my guns, play Paragon, make choices I believed were ‘right’ and for the best, but I’m not quite up to scratch, I can’t see the ending everyone is talking about, more importantly, I might not even know it exists.  BioWare claim they support playing the game your way, but there’s clearly one ending which is best, and to get it, you have to play their way, or play multiplayer, and I think that’s wrong.

I suspect later DLC will allow you to earn more military strength, and as a result, you’ll be able to get the higher score without multiplayer later on in the game’s life, but you’ll have to pay for the privellege.

The Endings

There’s been a lot of commentary on the endings.  Let’s take what we see in the ‘regular’ endings at face value.  The Alliance builds a super weapon.  The plans for that weapon have been incrementally added to over time by the previous intelligent races which the Reapers have defeated.  It turns out the Citadel is sentient (an AI) and that by joining it to the super weapon, you can control the Reapers, destroy all synthetic life (including EDI and the Geth) or merge all organic and synthetic life.

This is told to you by the Citadel itself in the last moments.  It claims the point of the Reapers is to harvest the most sophisticated races every 50,000 years or so, to prevent them creating synthentic life which then rebels and takes over.  The Citadel also claims it is the creator of this solution.  However, in a Matrix-like ending, the Citadel claims you can break this cycle now, and the solution is no longer adaquate.

You then get to pick the ending.  If you destroy the Reapers you also destroy EDI and the Geth, if you merge organics they survive and the Reapers leave Earth, and if you control them then the Reapers also leave Earth.

In all the endings, Shepard dies (or ceases to exist).  If your score is high enough, Earth survives, too low and it is lost.

At face value, I don’t have any significant issues with any of that.  The Citadel AI is just warped, we shouldn’t necessarily believe the aim of the Reapers makes any sense.  I’ve seen people complain it makes no sense, and I agree, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be what the Reapers and the Citadel believe, it just means they believe bullshit.

I don’t think any of the endings are good per se, I hate the idea that destroying the Reapers (my preferred option) means killing the Geth and EDI.  Lots of the dialog and quests in the game focus on deciding if the Geth and EDI are alive, and worth saving.  I put a lot of emotional effort into saving them, destroying them does not sit well, even if it means the Reapers die.  However, it’s my first choice ending.((note: if, as many suspect, you can’t take this quest at face value, this ‘complaint’ is moot, and part of the point))

Merging synthetics and organics also doesn’t sit fully right – my Shepard doesn’t believe you should force change on people like that.  The Salarians are wrong for doing it, and it would be wrong to do it to the whole galaxy, but it does save the Geth and EDI, so it was my second choice ending.

Controlling the Reapers is the Illusive Man’s preferred ending, and hence I would never choose it.

I don’t mind Shepard dying, but taking out the Geth and EDI with him makes me feel like I wasted time saving them in the first place – and if you don’t save them, you can’t win because your score is too low.  That’s my one major complaint about the endings at face value.  Let me destroy the Reapers and not destroy EDI and the Geth and I’d be 100% happy with the game.

However, it’s the ‘not at face value’ ending that causes the biggest problem.

The Other Ending

If you score high enough (4000+ effective military strength) and you choose to destroy the Reapers the ending plays out the same.  However, you get an additional brief glimpse of Shepard waking up in the London rubble.  It’s clearly not the Citadel because it’s mostly concrete, and the body is burned as if it had just been hit by the Reaper beam.

There’s a huge amount of speculation about what this means.  For me, there are two issues.

Firstly – you need to score (as said) 4000+ effect military strength to see this ending.  If you don’t follow stuff on the web, you might never know it exists.

Secondly – what the fuck does it mean for the run-up to this point?  If Shepard is in London, how does he get there from the Citadel he just blew up?  Was the last section of the game happening only in his head, is he indoctrinated? Has most of the game been an illusion, or just the last few moments?  It doesn’t matter to some extent what is true here, it is the following sequence of statements which cause the problem.

  • Shepard makes it onto the Citadel.
  • Shepard makes a choice.
  • Shepard clearly dies as part of that choice.
  • Shepard wakes up back in London.
  • Shepard can’t have died on the Citadel.
  • Shepard can’t have made a choice.
  • Shepard didn’t even make it to the Citadel.  WTF is going on.

This ending basically pisses on the last two hours of gameplay, and you might not even know it exists.  Without this ending, the story of the Reapers might not make sense, and the three choices might be sub-optimal, but at least the last two hours of the game can be taken at face value.  This ending means you can’t take any element of the game at face value.

What were BioWare thinking?  Are they trying to be too clever?  Will they, as they are now promising, clear this issue up?  It’s good for art to ask questions, I love the debate about EDI and AI, about the Geth and personal individuality.  I liked the questions the game asked about the Genophage and the relationship between the Quarians and the Geth.  I loved the Prothean story arc, and the truth behind the Asari and what questions that asked.

What I don’t like, is having to question the whole point of decisions I made earlier in the game, and the last two hours of gameplay, because of a throw-away 5 second clip based on a score.

My hope is that BioWare clear this up quickly and either say how Shepard got to Earth from the destroyed Citadel, making the endings ‘real’, or that the last two hours of the game take place in Harbringer’s head and a later DLC will allow you to really destroy them once and for all.

That Epilogue

There’s a final epilogue in which an older man talks to a child, telling him the story of The Shepard.  I don’t mind this, it shows humanity survives in some capacity and that the legend of Shepard lives on, like the Protheans.  This is Javik’s prophecy.  Again, taken on face value it’s just an attempt to bring some closure to the game and prove that Shepard’s choice ends the cycle, and humanity survives the Reapers.

Other Unanswered Questions and Random Thoughts

Exploding Mass Relays

When Mass Relays blow up, they destroy star systems.  The Arrival DLC in Mass Effect 2 proved this.  So either the Mass Relays don’t ‘explode’ at the end of ME3 (they certainly look like they do), or BioWare forgot.  The explanation doing the rounds on the ‘net is that the energy from the Citadel merely ‘breaks’ them, causing bits to fly off, but not explode.  I guess I can live with ‘the Crucibal depletes the energy in the mass relays, so that when they blow up, it’s just a regular old big thing in space exploding’ option.  But it’s untidy.

Does the Citadel go boom

This isn’t clear, but if you destroy all synthetics, then the Citadel must count and so must be in some way, deactivated.  Although let’s not forget none of this might have happened anyway.

Indoctrination Ending

I suspect the indoctrination ending theory is correct, that everything from being hit by the Reaper beam on Earth to making a choice is the Reapers trying to force you to either try and control them (Illusive Man) or merge with them (Saren), both of which are losing scenarios.  Destroying the Mass Relays, the Geth, EDI and all Synthetics is too high a price for Shepard to easily choose, the Reapers know this.  They hope that Shepard will choose one of the others, and hence, never wake up (because he basically becomes theirs).  Instead, choosing Destruction, Shepard fights back, frees himself of their control and wakes up on Earth ready to do what is necessary.  However, that means there has to be some DLC which allows you to play out that ending – if BioWare charge money for that, it’ll cause uproar (but sadly, I will still buy it).

The Protheans

Nice BioWare, I enjoyed the gradual reveal.  I knew the Asari were up to something.

Stuck in Sol

Let’s assume the endings are real, and that Shepard just destroyed the Mass Relays (but they didn’t blow up their star systems) and the Reapers.  Earth is now home to Turians, Krogan, Quarians, Asari, Humans, no Salarians (in my game choices) and who knows what else.  Around Earth is a massive fleet of FTL ships, and the remains of the Citadel (which may or may not have blow up as well).  That’s a lot of intellectual capital all in one place, with a lot of technology and a lot of motivation.

I wonder just how long it would take them to get back to their homeworlds and potentially re-establish the Mass Relays.  Let’s assume the Prothean AI on the Citadel knows how the Mass Relays work, or that the Crucible has enough technology in the design to lead to Mass Relay travel?  Wishful thinking perhaps.

The Reapers made it into the Galaxy from ‘Dark Space’ in a few years once their plan for control of the Citadel was scuppered, so FTL drives must be pretty fast and the Alliance has a lot of Reaper ships to scavenge.

How to Fix It

Controversial maybe, but here’s how I would fix ME3 (option 1 – last bit was real)

  1. Remove the bit where Shepard survives.  Let him die.  It’s time, and he’s worked hard enough.  Forget the idea that the last bit wasn’t real, make it real, let Shepard make the ultimate sacrifice.
  2. Make it mean something, and let the Geth and EDI survive.  Shepard fought for those races to have a place in the galaxy, by killing them, it devalues the effort.  Kill the Reapers, not all synthetics.  If necessary, make this option, Shepard can survive but he has to kill the Geth and EDI along with the Reapers, to save the Geth and EDI, Shepard must die along with the Reapers.  I’d buy that.
  3. Allow single players to get the same ending as multiplayer players, without having to choose what BioWare feels are the best options at every turn, i.e. drop the required score from 4000 to around 3500.
  4. Give us an epilogue, ala Dragon Age, that talks about what happens after Shepard makes each choice.  Give the choice meaning.

Or, option 2 (last bit wasn’t real)

  1. Simply update the ending so it’s more obvious that choosing merge or control are failures, and that destruction offers you a real chance at victory.
  2. Allow single players to get the same ending as multiplayer players, without having to choose what BioWare feels are the best options at every turn, i.e. drop the required score from 4000 to around 3500.
  3. Make the DLC with the real ending free.  Make sure it’s publicised so people who play the game but don’t follow the web or Twitter feeds know about it.

Summary

Mass Effect 3 is an amazingly good game, made all the more amazing by having played the first two, and by revisiting old friends and long running story arcs.  Until the very end, BioWare manage to give all of the characters and plots, moving, emotional and satisfying endings.

The overall effect is spoiled, however, by a confusing ending, that is further confused by a hard to see shot of Shepard surviving.  This is wrapped in the bitter pill of having to play multiplayer to reliably get that ending, despite it being the third instalment of the best single player story arc in history.

Mass Effect 3 is flawed genius.

One thought on “Mass Effect 3: Thoughts”

  1. Well, about the ending. I believe others have covered this, but its basically a mess. Its badly written, bits make no sense (which does point to the indoctrinated: ‘Everyones dead’, erm no. Illusive man shoots anderson, but then its Shepherd wounded in same spot), but to me, the killer is the Joker sequences.

    Why is he driving through a mass relay as it blows up? Whats this with the supposed dead squadmates on the planet at the end? Its nonsense. Even if it was indoctrinated, it doesn’t even work. Was that supposed to be heaven? Then when did Joker actually die? Wheres the rest of your old teammates?

    Its:

    1) Badly written as a dream sequence, I didn’t think that was possible.
    2) Doesn’t make sense.

    I assume at the end, is that they failed, they are all dead, and the writers got into a big fight writing the ending and the guy down the mailroom knocked it up instead. Only real explanation.

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