Friday, August 3, 2012

Mass Effect 3's Ending (At Last!)

So I finally finished Mass Effect 3, much later than the rest of the internet did, obviously, and after the "bonus content" was added. I think the bonus content was a good thing, having determined what portion of it was included at the end, I can see how not having that content could lead to closure issues for many people. I do have the following to say, first...and I'll provide a couple spoiler-free paragraphs initially, then warn you when I am about to go waste deep into spoilerville:

The Ending was good. Damned good. It was the kind of ending I'd love to see at the end of a well-considered trilogy, and worthy of literature. It was thoughtful, it was unexpected (somewhat), it required heroic sacrifice on a cosmic level, it demanded the player to suffer greatly in trying to figure out which option to choose. It was, in short, not a good ending for a video game that was dominated by players utilizing the game to act out power fantasies involving guns and super powers (biotics), because that crowd was going to be happy with nothing less than your typical "space marine kills 'em all and retires happily until the sequel" plot. You know....a Halo sorta ending. (And Halo is another series I love, albiet for different reasons).

The ending was not as impactful to me as Dragon Age's ending was, but it was close. I didn't want to see my femShep's tale end....but as it turns out, the option I chose wasn't really an ending for her, nor was it an "ending" for the Mass Effect universe, or so the extended content revealed. It was, however, an end to the war. It was bold....I really expected a game with a heavy multiplayer component like ME3 that was built around point-based boost purchases to provide a conclusion that encouraged you to keep playing the multiplayer so that EA can keep making money. That they didn't do this, and that my desire to play multiplayer again will depend entirely on my interest for its own sake, or in conjunction with more playthroughs....was cool. I salute Bioware for not obviously trying to focus the end game on more monetization when I suspect they could have (the multiplayer is built around some very specific reward/time/pay-to-win thematics that can sucker the weak willed or impatient in easily, I have noticed).

Let me say one thing: I want to say a lot of unpleasant stuff about all the...ah..."people" out there who have blogged or written articles or just bitched in forums at length about how painful and bad the ending to ME3 was...for them. They all forget that part: for them. My personal feeling? It's a conflict between the "player engagement" component for story and immersion vs. the emplowerment issue of playing the ultimate badass. I think Me3 had far too many of the latter and not enough of the former. But more on that in a minute. If you have ever read Romeo and Juliet and gotten rip-roaringly pissed at how that story turned out, then stay the hell away from ME3. The idea that a story can end in a sad or tragic fashion (even in the face of victory) will be a huge disappointment. Also, stay away from most Asian cinema while you're at it. And good literature. Hell, anything that isn't a glitzy summer blockbuster designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

However, if you're one of those people who's main gripe was that the game required some time in multiplayer to get the best effective war readiness, or who disliked that the "From Ashes" content was a $10 extra and not part of the core game....I empathize with you. Bad EA/Bioware decisions there. I can't imagine playing this game without From Ashes, and the multiplayer, while fun, was still a painful interruption to the cool bits (the story campaign) and is not in itself as good as multiplayer in...oh, I dunno...most other games out there. Still fun, but not good enough to keep acting as an intermission for the main plot.

Also, if anyone tells you Earth bites it in the end, tell them not to be so lazy and to get their damned effective readiness score up higher.

Now, Welcome to SPOILER LAND. Stop here if you haven't played or finished Mass Effect 3 and prefer not to have it spoiled.

So I picked the choice where Sheperd sacrifices herself, assimilating into the machine intelligence to take control of the reapers. The bonus content demonstrates that the reapers, under the "new" Sheperd's direction set about to repairing the Mass Relays and the harm done galaxy-wide, rebuilding the universe, effectively. It was a good ending, both sad and meaningful all at once as Shepherd becomes her literal namesake for the galaxy at large.

I couldn't in good conscience kill the reapers, because I had united the Quarians and the Geth, didn't want to see EDI go away, and it would just be a perpetuation of an endless cycle of violence anyway. I also didn't buy into the synthesis deal, which sounded like million-year old alien hippy hooie. Why a merger of organic and synthetic life (VGer anyone?) would stop violence was beyond me. Likewise, why it would even work (and I may play through to that point to see what happens and how) is beyond me. Sheperd would rather have seen all species get a chance to evolve as intended, not as some relic AI from a bygone era might predict it should go, especially one so flawed as to have allowed the reapers to function as they did for countless eons.

That so many ME3 players out there didn't "get" the ending, or the meaning of it, or who thought that Bioware was going to offer a wider range of endings....that these gamers all then decided to crap on such an amazing, thoughtful and literate game and its ending is just beyond me.

This is why we can't have nice things, and video games will continue to languish with a dunce cap in the corner while art and literature laugh at it.

We got genuinely close here, and the fans fucked it all up. Not Bioware....they did everything right. This was a worthy creation, and a worthy conclusion to the series. Maybe I can blame EA for prompting Bioware to shift focus so much toward the shooter genre and away from the RPG genre? Maybe. But having seen that ending, and gone back to re-read what was written on it, I see (as always) a sea of infantile power gamers online as far as the eye can see. Geez.

Bottom line: if you like a good tale and you do not have a sense of personal entitlement that requires your every power fantasy be rewarded (up to and including perpetual immortality for your avatar), and you have ever read or watched anything in which great sacrifice and the heroic journey came to a close with both sadness and remorse mixed with joy and relief, and if you have ever relished the prospect of making hard and unpleasant decisions....if you do not care that there is no happy shiny rainbow ending, but instead a series of increasingly more unpleasant choices that force you to think hard about what, really,you should do to save the galaxy....then maybe you should try ME3.

Okay, so time to play through all three again. Someday...think I'll take a bit of a break, go focus on one of the other countless games languishing in my collection, starved for attention.

Thera Sheperd
Actually, I have seen some of the more thoughtful, story-baseed objections out there, and plan to review what I can find and see if there's any merit. I didn't spot any thematic shifts or egregious errors myself, but I tend not to approach fiction of this nature from a hardline pedantic perspective....we shall see. I understand, for example, that (SPOILER) the way the mass effect relays are disabled/broken at the end game is a bone of contention for some. My suspicion is they are assuming that what we have seen in other situations (like the destruction of the relay at the end of Arrival) is somehow directly analogous to what we see at the end of ME3 (which I feel it plainly is not; the manifestation of the entire network for its true purpose is clearly a different phenomenon than that direct destruction of a relay). Anyway, I'll take a look around for these criticisms that go beyond the shattered dreams of our entitlement generation's power fantasies and maybe post on them with a rebuttal (or agreement, you never know) soon.

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