There’s something you want me to talk about here right? Don’t play dumb. If you’ve even been remotely connected to the online community for the past few years, odds are you’re at least heard about the fan reaction to this game. Well, lets not get ahead of ourselves, and save the ending for the end. For now, this is Mass Effect 3!
Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012 by Bioware, and concludes the adventures of Commander Shepard. The story takes place shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2, when a colossal fleet of sentient machines attacks the entire galaxy. Barely escaping Earth as the invading fleet decimates it, Shepard receives news of the Crucible, a device constructed by previous civilizations that fell to the Reapers, and may be their only salvation. The Reapers were hyped up big time in the previous games; it was their will that led Saren in Mass Effect and the Collectors in Mass Effect 2 to try and bring them back from the edges of space where they were hiding and honestly, they live up to the hype.
The entire tone of the galaxy has changed since the last game. War torn home worlds, refugee camps on space stations, constant bad news and low spirits. Even the Normandy, your capital ship, reflects this tone. In the first games the Normandy was a lot like the game itself; in Mass Effect the ship was fairly basic, functional and provided a fair amount of freedom as you moved around. In Mass Effect 2 everything a lot more polish and features, with more space for your crew.
Here in Mass Effect 3 you have the same elaborate design of Mass Effect 2, but with a few more features sure, but the design is darker, with exposed wiring and patched up sections. It looks like the ship has gone through the wars, and reflects the tone of the game perfectly, in the same way its predecessors did. I actually felt like the despair and depression translated into the game as well. Combat against the reaper husks is damn terrifying; early in the game I felt so helpless against the larger enemies. Though this might be more down to my insistence on starting with the highest difficulty, but the fact remains that I really did feel like I was caught up in this war for survival. But as the game goes on, you seem to bring a little more hope back to the game. Talk goes from despair, to “I can’t believe you did that thing that we all thought you couldn’t do!” It’s like you’re the one bright star in a sea of despair.
The game too feels much larger in scope compared to Mass Effect 2, in which it felt more personal and concerned with solving the problems of your crew. This time you’re solving the problems of the galaxy. From age-old conflicts to recent disputes, you seem to wrap up everything raised in the previous games. Even a lingering thread from one of the DLC in Mass Effect came to a conclusion; an enemy that escapes makes a reappearance.
The weirdest example for me involves a recurring character, who once again gets into trouble. His mission actually involves not only an unrelated side quest from the first game, but also is completed by having all of one of the collectables from the first game, and a weapon license from the game! Its such a strange experience that no other game I’ve played has done. The biggest example involves a mission in the game to end a war between the Quariens and the Geth; the Quariens are nomadic race that originally built the Geth as slaves, but were forced to flee their home world following a revolution. The Geth were the main enemy in the first game and come across as mindless killing machines.
However in the second game you meet a Geth who helps you understand them a lot more, and makes both sides of the war more sympathetic. When the time comes to choose a side, it’s possible to help both survive, but it’s dependent on your actions up until that point. You have a chance to save a member of your crew, Tali, from exile, and in doing so she has some sway in helping you save both sides. Additionally a choice I made a few missions earlier helped earn the trust of a General who also backs you up. It’s strange that decisions made as far back as a previous game can have such a huge impact (a MASS EFFECT, if you will?…..Sorry). I’ve heard people say that they prefer Mass Effect 2 because the focus was on your squad, and lamented that this game didn’t do the same. But why would they? We’ve already met the squad and bonded with them. This is just what happens afterwards, and allows the game to focus on the wider universe.
Now lets get to the gameplay; the combat from Mass Effect 2 serves, with only a few new changes this time around. It feels typical of a third game in a series; the first game establishes, the second perfects and the third adds to the design of the second. This tends to be the trend in most games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Spyro the Dragon series, with a few exceptions like the Super Mario Bros series. Changes made from Mass Effect 2 include a shorter roster of characters, which I’m OK with. In Mass Effect 2 you had a lot more choice, and it didn’t feel as strategic who you brought along. This time the characters feel more specialized to a certain task, like a biotic expert or a combat master.
This also allows the characters that aren’t part of the team to have more story centric plotlines and personal stories. The only real change is to the Melee attack, which now features a powerful energy sword weapon for finishing enemies; the melee has always been pretty weak in this series so it’s cool to have a trump card if you find yourself a little close for comfort. There are also more modifications to your weapon, adding new things like a blade for melee, or scopes or a better stabilizer. There’s a decent variety too, unlike in Mass Effect 2 which usually had 2 variations of a weapon type, specializing in different things, like a bolt action rifle and a semi-automatic rifle for sniping.
Both have their advantages, but I prefer the variety in this case (a strange reversal of how I feel about the roster size changes). Enemies also seem to have more distinct types and specializations. You also have 2 main varieties; Cerberus soldiers, your backers from the second game and a recurring enemy in the first; and the reaper husks. Each have their own style, with the Cerberus soldiers using advanced technology, while the Reapers go for a more alien designs. So we have a decent variety of main enemies, with the occasional other threats thrown in. Also it includes probably my favorite use of the Xbox Kinect, which can be used to give orders to your squad. But personally I just like shouting “incinerary ammo” and having the gun change like I’m role playing as Judge Dredd. Though for some reason it can’t understand me saying shotgun, but it doesn’t ruin the overall Dredd experience.
Probably what makes this game stand out for me most is that, it’s the most emotional I’ve felt in a game. I felt despair walking around the refugee camps.
I felt guilt and regret when a character I liked died. I felt anger at a character, simply because they dared harm a member of my crew. This game made me feel for every one of its characters in some way. I actually found myself visiting a character in the hospital every time I was there, hoping that their might have finally recovered. I realize that this attachment is largely due to my experiences in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have the strongest affinity for this game.
Before I get to the final points of the game, I want to bring up one DLC in particular (I tend to avoid these, unless I feel like they’re significant), the Citadel DLC. The DLC focuses on an assassination attempt on Shepard’s life, pretty standard, but the thing I find most interesting is the tone. It’s so campy and goofy, that it feels so starkly different from everything else. There’s even a scene where Shepard and his team are trapped inside a vault, presumably forever, and they continue to make jokes! In this case however it actually works. It’s nice to have some sort of release from the dark tone and this has enough unique and different gameplay to keep you entertained, not to mention plenty of humour. The second half is even more light hearted; a party! It’s so surreal to see all the characters for your team hanging out and drinking together, not to mention a lot of character centric jokes and odd scenarios, like wondering in on the more combat heavy members of your team taking cover behind a bar and taking pot shots at beer bottles. I recommend saving this party for just before the last level.
It ends with you and your crew smiling at the Normandy contently, in what could very well be their last moment of happiness before shit goes down.
And speaking of which, lets get to the “controversial” ending.
So here’s a question; how do you end a game that at its core is about choices?
With a choice! Namely three choices; how will the Crucible be used? The game is all about building this device. Nobody knows what it does, but when you’re back’s to the wall, you don’t exactly have the luxury of experimentation.
Fundamentally the Crucible is a massive EMP, which uses the Mass Effect relays used for hyper speed travel in the Mass Effect universe, to expand the radius of the blast outward to the entire galaxy.
Let’s look at each choice in turn. The first option (characterized by red) is to destroy the Crucible, sending out a wave that will destroy both the Reapers, as well as all other sentient machine life in the galaxy, like the Geth. The second option (characterized by blue) is to merge your mind with the Crucible and take control of the Reapers, essentially becoming the massive fleet. The final option (characterized by green) is to allow your body to be broken down and used to synergize organics and machines together (I’m not sure of the exact science here, but we are talking about a game where slapping gel on a locked box opens it, so I’ll just assume that I don’t understand the Crucible).
Essentially you’re choosing the future you want to leave behind. You’ve already won; you’re just deciding how the story ends.
Allow me to explain why I chose what I did; I immediately decided to not go with the control option, due to an ideological standpoint. I didn’t think that I should be the one to control these machines. There would be the chance that I would become what I fought against! No one should have that power, not even me. I’ll call this the Superman choice; I can see someone justifying this as, “I will be the one to defend this galaxy!”, so it doesn’t feel like a bad choice to me, just not the one I would use. The second choice I threw out was the destroy option, which took a little longer to think about.
I would destroy the Reapers, which I wanted all along, but it would also destroy the Geth. And what about my android team member, EDI? Could I justify killing her? I’ll call this one the Spock choice; the needs of the many out weighing the needs of the few. The choice I went with was to synergize. I chose it without knowing what it would do, but it gave me hope! I sounded like this would be the choice that would allow me to save everyone. It essentially led to the complete unknown, but it sounded like the best alternative, rather than to let this cycle of destruction begin all over again. I’ll call this the Doctor Who ending (“Just this once, everybody lives!”)
There is a fourth choice added in the extended ending, allowing you to not use the Crucible and try to fight the Reapers traditionally. Unfortunately you lose, and the Galaxy is wiped clean, but leave behind something for the next civilization to defeat the Reapers when their time comes. This really hammers in that the Crucible is the final option; this is a losing war, and there is no other choice. It seems like in everything there is always a chance that the good guys could win eventually, by destroying the master computer or something. Not in Mass Effect. All the Reapers are the Death Star. You are screwed.
But why is the ending so controversial? Because it explains nothing! The ending is left vague, and comes down to a different coloured light washing over the universe with little to no variation. It’s unexplained and leaves no closure.
The extended ending fixes this thankfully, and is the ending I enjoyed (due to being without my Xbox at the time it came out). If you’re going to play this game, make sure you have this DLC! It’s free and fixes the problems that I had with the ending. Some people claim that it doesn’t fix it completely, but I can’t disagree strongly enough.
There is one thing to talk about; the indoctrination theory. This is the theory that Shepard is slowly coming under Reaper control and the ending is all a dream sequence. I’m not going to say what I think of this theory, beyond the fact that I disagree. Why? Because if I was to tell you my opinion on this theory, it would completely contradict the point of Mass Effect. Choice. Who am I to say that the indoctrination theory is not the real ending? It’s the player’s choice how they interpret the ending, and if this is how you want to see Mass Effect and it helps you enjoy the ending, then by all means. It’s your choice.
I want you to think about your choice in Mass Effect 3; really break it down and justify your choices. You’ll be surprised about what it says about you.
I’ve told you how I remember Mass Effect, now remember it for yourself…..