So in one twenty four hour span I finished Mass Effect and Arctic Rising. I want to give both of them the justice they deserve so Mass Effect is up first what since I finished that last night, andArctic Rising was finished on my lunchbreak at work. I’ll pontificate about the book I just finished tomorrow (and I’ve got some pontifications ready).
Before I forget, spoiler alert. I’m gonna talk about the ending.
Now you’re all like “Dude. Really? Video games?” and I’m all like “Yeah but…” because I’m not talking about this from the point of view of a video game reviewer. Absolutely I could if I wanted to. I may not be a hard core uber gamer or anything, but I play plenty. I’m here to talk about Mass Effect in terms of narrative. Back when the first game in the series came out in 2007, the story was what blew so many people out of the water. Now, a game still needs to play well as a game (Homefront, I’m looking at you for a great story and crap gameplay) so it played well too. But when BioWare dropped the first, it really put a game’s story up on the same pedestal as the guns and graphics.
Yeah yeah, Assassin’s Creed dropped in the same holiday season and Kotor existed and yada yada yada but whatever, Mass Effect built on and improved on the story and dialogue tropes of Kotor. Deal with it ’cause we’re talking Mass Effect, not video game history.
On top of all the effort put into the story, I completely agree with the idea that Mass Effect is the most important sci fi franchise of this generation. Trek was the product of the Cold War and I could get all film nerdy about how Star Wars was from the 70s but really a throwback even then but whatever. This generation… it’s Mass Effect.
So I was wicked excited for this game when it came out and I picked it up on day one and plugged away at it in those bits of free time I got. I beat the game last night after about 27 hours of gameplay, putting the total of all three around 100 hours. To put this in context, I tend to read 50 to 60 pages an hour. Average paperback being 350-400, I knock them off at about seven to eight hours of read time spread out over a few days depending on how busy I am. In 100 hours of focused reading, I could take out an entire shelf. Needless to say, I’ve become quite invested in the story. Because I wanted to stay invested in one, singular story, I never once played a second run through of any of the games. One character, one story. Now stack that up with the twenty characters you can take with you as part of your squad across all the games.
Holy crap I was getting nervous at the end of the game that someone wouldn’t survive! I remember helping Legion become an individual, saving Tali’s ass in the back alleys of the Citadel, having to choose that Ashley lived instead of Kaiden, helping Thane keep his son from becoming an assassin. I want every single one of my crew to survive this mess.
Of course this can’t happen. A lot of the characters which were playable in ME2 were NPCs in the third game. While I did miss out a little bit from a gameplay standpoint, it all makes sense from the story’s point of view. I can accept that, as much as I miss tooling around with Jack.
This goes back to that Boskone panel that keeps popping up in all the things I talk about and Jennifer Pelland saying how bad things have to happen sometimes otherwise any good things that happen aren’t legitimate. I can get behind that and accept that some of these characters I care about had to end up on the wrong end of that stick.
So I’m tooling through the game getting to the end and the showdown with Kai Leng was satisfying, if not seriously surprising. I actually thought he was going to stab Liara who was standing closest to him. I was all like “Turn around damnit! You’ve followed me everywhere! He can’t stab you!!” I Renegaded through it even though I almost always do Paragon, mostly I think it was a twitch reaction whenever I see the option come up, but again, I’m really gunning to keep everyone alive.
So far everything is awesome. Tension galore because I thought someone wasn’t walking away from that Cerberus base. Now it’s off to the showdown on Earth. Awesome, let’s have at this. My party is Tali and Liara, as it has been every single time I’ve had the choice (Jack filled in during ME2). The run up to the very end is appropriately hard fought and epic. I was satisfied with the gameplay, very good challenge to success ratio. I thought I saw a laser cannon waste Grunt, but I wasn’t totally sure. I felt bad I wouldn’t be seeing him at the end, but he wanted a glorious death in combat. I can be satisfied with that. I get shot by a similar laser, wasting my whole strike team. Crap I think my squad died and I’m really not happy with that because I kept them with me thinking it was the best chase that they could live. But the whole thing is ambiguous. I’m scratching my head but trusting it will be cleared up.
Now we’re at the very end. Anderson fights to the end but can’t quite make it. Holy shit that’s sad. But oh eff me, the buttons I pressed didn’t do anything, I gotta go up this elevator and talk to the actual Crucible and now those weird ass dream sequences make sense. Now here’s the big moment, I have to make a choice how to save the galaxy. The whole damn galaxy. One will definitely kill me but will be a longer guaranteed peace afterwards but no galactic travel. Hope everyone likes the planet they’re on now. The other might not kill me, nothing was mentioned about destroying the mass relays that facilitate galactic travel, but it kills off all synthetic life. Crap.
I go with the one that gives me a better chance of living (also, both the other guys in my office playing did the same thing). I feel really bad about this because I helped all the synthetic geth but then just killed them off at the end, same thing with EDI, but I want my version of Shepard to end up with his lady friend again at the end and shoot for that happy ending even though I don’t think it’s looking good at this point. And boom! Explosions. And for some reason my ship and crew are racing through the mass relay. Why? Double You Tee Eff?? The battle is on Earth, I see no reason for you to be racing ahead of a shock wave that I thought wasn’t supposed to be destroying these relays. Why the hell is this going on? I’m at once tense because I want them to survive and the ship isn’t looking so hot but still, seriously confused as to why they were there at all.
Bam! Crash land on uninhabited jungle planet. Time to create a new society. That’s the big ending thing that so many people are pissed off about I guess. I’m neutral about that. It comes off as very old school sci fi to me which I’m not against, but it seems out of place a bit for a series that wants to mix up a lot of our genre tropes. (I really like the word trope) Out of the wrecked ship three people come out. Joker, the pilot who wasn’t a regular playable character but was in all three games, Liara and Ashley. Ok good, Liara was my Shepard’s lady friend so she was on the top of my “must survive my game” list. But wait… she was ambiguously shot in the face by the laser with me. Well, I was unconscious so maybe she did something cool and survived. Show me how. Seriously. Damnit game! Show me how this works!! I want it to work but I want logic too!!
So on this final battle, one definitely dead, three definitely alive and two question marks. That’s six out of what… thirty? What happened to everyone else?
I was awake a lot last night thinking about this. I didn’t hate the ending. The new planet thing seriously doesn’t bother me, but I definitely didn’t like what happened. And I figured that it’s because it doesn’t seem complete to me. I understand sequel possibilities in anything successful, games, books or movies. It happens and while sometimes I think it’s cringe worthy, I can live with that, we’ve all been living with that for ages. But there are just too many strings left unattached. How hard would it be to show a montage of cut scenes in those final moments showing how my friends and allies fared? Me and Garrus made a pact to buy each other drinks in heaven, is he pouring one out to his dead homie (me) or do we have that drink in the afterlife? Does Tali take off that helmet and breath some fresh air before dying or does she go back to her homeworld and build that house she talks about? I can list off dozens more of “What happened” questions.
After all this my biggest urge after playing is to write endings. Good, bad or whatever… any ending is better than none. I love these games and will probably play them again. I still think Mass Effect has changed, not only video games, but the genre as a whole for the better. I just want a little bit more. Two, three scenes more and I could be happy. I guess I’ll just make them up myself.