Friday, March 30, 2012

Mass Effect 3

Four years ago I played Mass Effect.  Two years ago I played Mass Effect 2.  Twenty minutes ago, I beat Mass Effect 3.

The journey has had mostly ups and a few downs.  Each game has a fantastic cast of characters and a rich universe that, dare I say, nears that of the Star Wars galaxy.  The combat of the game has had significant improvements from the first to second, and second to third.  The third introduced a multiplayer co-op survival mode that is a ton of fun to play.

The best part though, was the story.  I will not give one plot point away other than to say you play a hyper-competent soldier named Shepard, who can either be a male or female, depending on your preference, and can be a "good guy" or a "ruthless goodish guy," and you are tasked with nothing less than saving the galaxy a couple hundred years from now.  With a wide variety of guns, biotic powers, and tech abilities, as well as two squadmates at any one time, you cut a swath through any opposition.

Which brings me to Mass Effect 3.  I was late to the party since I'm in law school and I wanted it at as a birthday present (born mid-March), and since ME3 came out in early March I had to wait almost two weeks while everyone else played it, and so I heard how supposedly "horrible" then ending was in almost every online post about the game.

I managed to avoid spoilers on the ending, other than how bad it was.  I ignored it as much as I could, since I thought the endings for the previous Mass Effect games were solid story-wise, even if not spectacular in the way the gameplay wrapped things up.

Not so with Mass Effect 3.  I feel hollow inside; I feel let down by Bioware.  Everything leading up to the last 15-20 minutes was superb.  The combat was amazing.  My Shepard, a Vanguard since Mass Effect, was a force of nature on the battlefield, teleporting and smashing and throwing and shooting his way through thousands of enemy troops of all varieties.  There were so many good characters, little improvements to how you interact with the world outside of the battlefield, and the dialogue at some parts was good enough to get me laughing, giving me goosebumps, or even a lump in my throat (but never tears, no-no, never happened).

But the ending. 

Bioware attempted something so ambitious: create an epic story, taking place over three games, where you create a character and make choices and interact with the world in a way that changes the future games.  And besides the ending, or should I say endings, they succeeded.

I loved running around my ship, catching seemingly random conversations between my crew, getting to know them and marveling at how skillful Bioware integrated  your input with your character, the other characters, and the other characters relationships with other characters.

And the ending takes it all away.  Three games, 4-5 years, countless hours dedicated to our respective Shepards.  What's so surprising about it is that even though their games' combat can sometimes be clunky, or sequels not living up to the original (like Dragon Age 2), no one can really fault Bioware for their characters or stories.  Even Dragon Age 2 featured a rich cast of characters and an intriguing, focused, political story (though the unbalanced combat took away from that).

The entire Mass Effect series was fan-freaking tastic, up to the last fifteen minutes.

Have I lost faith with Bioware?  Some.  I plan on replaying Mass Effect 3 with my female Shepard, a badass soldier who will do anything to achieve victory for her team, and I have enjoyed the co-op multiplayer a lot.  I will probably invest more time, money, but most importantly, my emotions, with a future Mass Effect game.

After hearing about how bad the ending was from other people, I hoped against hope that all the haters were wrong.  After all, gamers are notoriously picky, and freak out on favorite companies for seemingly little things.  But this is one thing they got right.  Going into the final mission, wondering what could be awaiting my character, speaking to my crewmates for perhaps the last time, I remained hopeful.

To be sure, Bioware had an epic task, to continually top themselves with improvements to combat, and wrap up an epic story in a way that satisfied us but also leaving open the possibility of having games in the Mass Effect universe in the future.  And up to the last 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3, they succeeded.

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