Thursday, July 5, 2012
Mass Effect 3 Review: The Ending, Before and After!
The ending of the Mass Effect series has been discussed a lot. A LOT. It's kind of an unprecedented situation.
BioWare, a company known for awesome video game storytelling, creates a trilogy of games in one of the most well-realized imaginary worlds ever created in the medium. People love this world. Passionately. Then BioWare fails to stick the landing. Deafening rage and butthurt echo across the Internets, who have nothing more important to worry about. So BioWare, at what I'm sure was considerable expense, makes a free patch to expand the ending. It makes things kind of better. Life, somehow, continues.
(By the way, this whole sorry incident is excellent proof that their IS such a thing as bad publicity. BioWare's reputation for good storytelling is invaluable. They saw it threatened. They reacted appropriately. But I don't think anyone working there is happy this happened.)
What the ending screams to me is that the developers didn't have the time and budget to do the ending they wanted to do. ME3 is SO ambitious and covers SO much ground that they didn't have time to give the Reaper issue the attention it needed. But this isn't the end of the world. The Reapers were never very multi-dimensional. The Krogan and Geth and even Cerberus were far more interesting.
So, if this is the case, piling onto the ending seems a little mean. Making a video game requires doing much with limited resources. You can't afford to do everything.
But, then again, after three games of this size, we have an expectation that the writers will end it well. I want to talk about my two problems with the ending- one which the patch fixes, one it doesn't. I aim to discuss game storytelling in general and what does and doesn't work.
(Please be assured that the following has no spoilers for Mass Effect 3 whatsoever!!!! If, for some reason, you don't believe me, leave immediately!)
What Is NOT a Problem
Some criticized the ending for creating some plot inconsistencies with things learned in the DLC for Mass Effect 2. (Namely, that blowing up a mass relay destroyed the solar system before and now it doesn't.) The horrors.
DOES ANYONE REALLY ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THIS!?!? IF SO, RAISE YOUR HAND.
I didn't think so.
Also, some put a lot of time into proving Shepherd was actually under Reaper control and the last game was a dream or something. (The famed Indoctrination Theory.) Of course this wasn't true. This was a AAA mega-million dollar game series that had always approached everything in a reasonably sane manner. They weren't going to end it with goofy Sixth Sense trickery.
And many thought that you didn't find out enough about what happened to your friends and to all the races you helped. I can buy this as a complaint, but it's a judgment call. I honestly felt I'd learned enough about what was going on and where things were heading to have closure. Bloody, unrelentingly gruesome closure.
So what are the problems?
Problem 1 - The Incredible Grimness
The unpatched ending of Mass Effect 3, unless you do a ton of side-quest farming and multiplayer, is awe-inspiringly grim. Everyone dies. Shepherd dies. The mass relays are destroyed. The Normandy is a wreck. The Earth is a cinder, surrounded by fleets of aliens stranded far from home. (Including the notoriously peaceful and easy-going krogan.) Space travel is over for, well, a very long time, if not forever.
Dude. And I thought the ending to The Sopranos was a poke in the eye.
But here's the thing. This aspect of the ending is legit. People don't generally like unhappy endings, but this is a subjective judgment. Unhappy endings are legal. They are allowed. It's not where I would go as the default ending for a series of this magnitude, and it is a HUGE change in tone from what came before it. But it is not technically wrong.
And, just between you, me, and these four walls? I admire their balls for going so dark. I wish more developers did it. Unless you believe things can go really wrong, there is no real sense of achievement or relief when they go right. One of the reasons Law & Order was such a compelling show is that the bad guys frequently won.
But the patch changed this. It's less bleak. Gives more hopeful details of the future. I can live with it either way.
But what really bugs me is the main element of the ending.
Problem 2 - The Star Child. Or Whatever.
My biggest disappointment in the ending of Mass Effect is this: It was a cheap deus ex machina. I didn't get to make the WIN for the team.
Look. The galaxy was invaded by the horde of horrible bug creatures. I wanted to FIGHT them. I wanted to figure out their weaknesses. I wanted to use the cunning and resources of the peoples of the galaxy to figure out how to kill them, and DO THAT. I wanted the ending of the story to be a celebration of courage and general badassery.
What did I get? You take some weird spaceship and stick it into some other spaceship. And then baby SpaceJesus (tm) appears from somewhere and uses StarMagic (tm) in the way you tell him, and this makes everything different forever.
Now, let's set aside the ookyness of having the fate of the whole galaxy be decided on a whim by one bloodthirsty gun guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time. I think the ending was perfunctory, non-sensical, and a true wasted opportunity.
At the end, you push a button to choose the fate of the galaxy. It did not provide a fraction of the joy I would have felt at actually finding a way for humanity to take down those stupid Reaper ships ourselves. The ending, as written, was the space opera equivalent of giving the last place soccer team a trophy for Trying Very Hard.
Whew. I Should Take a Pill.
I generally love BioWare games and write nice things about them, so much so that I have been accused of sucking up to them to try to get a job. (I have a job, thanks. And, believe me, if BioWare wanted me, they'd have said something to me by now. They know I exist.)
It's a great series, full of fond memories. My wife and I spent an enormous amount of time in their world, and I don't regret it. I still recommend it, especially ME1 and ME2. And then ME3 with the patched ending.
So. Any news about Dragon Age 3 yet?