Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes, It's A Mass Effect 3 Post, Part 2

More spoilers while I talk about this to myself more than anyone.


Completely and absolutely everything else. The more I look at it, the ending is riddled with a lack of testing, editing, and peer review.

Let's start with the big picture and point out that, for the purposes of this game, the purpose of ME3 was to assemble the Crucible, because it would do something. The fact that it wasn't a weapon, or a big switch with a sign on it saying "REAPERS", was just fine and I will defend the idea of there being a plot twist. But the plot twist was a deus ex machinae. Literally - the plot was to assemble a computer, and inside of the computer they found a God who can fix everything.

But, on the whole, I could accept this, were it continued in the traditional Mass Effect way. But instead everything is tossed aside. The Catalyst says that the cycle has to continue, but since Shepard is here, that means there must be a change, whatever it is. And Shepard just takes this.

I could see acceptance of this from certain Shepards, but I had played straight Paragon through the whole game. My Shep didn't believe in inevitability or impossibility. There's always a way, and he would find it. But no, instead, he sits there and listens, accepts that the computer will never understand, and picks one of his three options. The fact that we are not even given a choice is the greatest slap in the face of all.

And I understand the futility of it all thematically, but when you start to implement game mechanics around grinding, it begins to feel like a chore, and we wish to be rewarded for our efforts. The fact that it is a yes or no option (Did you get 100% completion? If yes, secret ending. If no, you get nothing.) makes the entire effort of trying to save humanity feel like a waste of time. And not in the cool way, where you realize it was all for naught. It's the irritating sense that, after three games of your choice and work mattering, somewhere a game developer is about to pop out from behind a wall with Ashton Kutcher and yell, "You got punked!"

The reward doesn't even need to be that substantial - just different levels of how screwed the planet is after the fight. If you assembled enough manpower, Earth is saved! If not, organic life is extinct, but hey at least you got those Reapers, right?

But then we get to the part that completely befuddles me, where it cuts to the Normandy in hyperspace (?) where it crash-lands on a jungle planet (??) along with Garrus and Ashley and sometimes EDI (???) and makes some kind of finalized wrap-up, with them starting a new life on the planet (?????).

I mean, primarily, I thought the Normandy and Joker were in on the final fight? How did he get out when we spent so much effort getting *in*. And you can't say that the Reapers died because of your actions, because it all happens at once and there's no way he would be able to Relay jump before the Relay sent the self-destruct signal!

And secondly, what jungle planet, and how did they crash? Where is this jungle planet? I thought most of the universe was explored due to the Mass Relays - wouldn't we know where it is? Wouldn't everyone? And how did the beam destroy all technology in the Red ending, but Joker landed the ship on planet?

And how did my team get onto the Normandy, anyway? The last effort I had Ash and Garrus with me, charging the beam, and everyone but me and Anderson were liquefied by Harbinger's beam. How did they not only survive, but get onto the Normandy before it took off? They don't even have Cortez's shuttle! It makes absolutely no sense!

Even if it DID make sense, did anyone think about what it means? Turians and Quarians can't eat our food. If tech is destroyed, they can't get any more of it anywhere, let alone on Earth or the jungle planet because they can't get home. Hundreds of aliens are stranded on foreign planets, looking at decades of interstellar travel if they survive the initial waves of starvation and panic? It isn't a happy ending that Garrus didn't die on Earth - it's more horrifying that he starved to death on a foreign planet away from his loved ones after his best friend or lover died.

The ending, in short, is completely unsatisfying. While the themes and nature of the story is there, it misses everything else. Narrative consistency. Player agency. Character consistency. Closure in outstanding questions. Shepard bold-facedly absorbs everything told to him, makes a choice that makes the last eight hours meaningless, a god in a box does it all for him, and then we see nothing else of the world we left behind or how our choice affected them. ME3 asks that we allow it to close with it asking more questions than it answers, instead of leaving it ambiguous.

And I say, "Fuck that."

To me, the game is over after Anderson dies. From that point on, Shepard barely hears Hackett hailing him on the radio distantly before he closes his eyes and dies, his mission complete. What does the Crucible do? What happens? Is Earth saved? I dunno, maybe. Let's let forums discuss it, much like the indoctrination theory going on right now.

Yes, It's A Mass Effect 3 Post, Part 1

Okay so this has been going on for a while and I think I'm at the point of where I can talk about Mass Effect 3. This will be Part 1, spoilers, etc.


The crushing inevitability of losing, of course.

Mass Effect 3 is unique in that it completely hit full reverse to the tone of the rest of the games. The first two were triumphant and all about combating the threat of the Reapers one way or another. Each time, you were victorious. Mass Effect 3 is not about victory. The Reapers are here, in full force, and they have gone to each planet and are spending their incredible power crushing them. Shepard is now tasked with unifying a force to stop them, using the blueprints for a really big thing - maybe it's a gun - he found that will, hopefully, somehow help.

Every race needs to be convinced they should drop the defense of their planets and help on the Crucible, but none of them are eager and ready. Nobody knows what it does, or how it will help, even if it does anything. And all the while, as you run these errands, death racks up constantly. Legion sacrifices himself to give the geth sentience. Mordin is killed when he cures the Krogan genophage. For me, Miranda died, because I didn't warn her about Kai Leng.

And the dying all ties it closely into what happens - you don't win. You just can't. All of the effort is just a desperate last struggle before you die. The Reapers are stopped, but billions of people have died, many of them your friends. The one who's been with you the whole time, Anderson, lies bleeding next to you in his final moments, bleakly joking before falling silent.

And, of course, the Catalyst isn't a weapon. It's just the hivemind, with a computer older than God in it that controls everything. No matter what choice you make when it offers them, it is a bad one. People will die. Those that have died sacrificed themselves practically in vain. The Mass Relays are no more, meaning entire colonies are separated from their homeworld, such as Garrus and Tali. It's not even bittersweet - it's just bitter. It sucks.

And that's the end of Shepard's story (or at least it should be - I hate the idea that they're secretly alive). They die, and that's all, folks.

And the Crucible/Catalyst twist works. You spent the entire game not knowing what you were even building, only hoping it would help. The Prothean even doesn't know what it really does, and it was assumed that they built it. The Citadel has already been previously established to have an ancient and mysterious purpose to allow the Reapers in, and it was built with the Relays. They are all connected, somehow. And the Catalyst is how - it built them.

Throughout all of Mass Effect, but especially ME3, the presence of cycles is a constant theme. The Geth and the Quarians. The Krogan and the Salarians. Whatever happens, the races are both in a rush to change things in hopes to stop the inevitable, and the inevitable is said to happen anyways. The Catalyst says that a new cycle must happen, because it is an impossibly old computer program with a broken subroutine.

The times when death has shown up in the past has been extremely safe and controllable. Sure, you could screw up at ME2's suicide mission, but it was always possible to keep everyone alive. ME1's choice was outright A or B - which one were you going to have sex with, essentially? The rules were clear cut, and it set up the expectation that it would continue.

And that's how ME3 dashes your hopes away. People will die. And you can't stop it.

Mass Effect 3 is about loss, death, inevitability, and the extinction of life. It's about someone with the fate of everything resting on their shoulders, and how it finally wears them down as they try to keep the galaxy safe against a threat that constantly reminds them that they are one man. It's not a happy game. And it can't be.