Warning: This blog contains Mass Effect 3 spoilers.
Ever since finally finishing (and blogging about) Mass Effect 1 and 2 a couple of months ago, I’ve been eager to jump into Mass Effect 3. I absolutely love the Mass Effect universe, and I was keen to see how Commander Shepard’s fight against the Reapers ended. I’d managed to, more or less, stay away from major spoilers about the ending and, despite the internet outrage, was cautiously optimistic about the third installment in the franchise.
Much like my first thoughts on Mass Effect 2, my initial impressions of Mass Effect 3 were somewhat mixed. On the one hand it opens with a bang. The reaper invasion of Earth. It immediately sets the tone. The galaxy is in turmoil. It’s a crisis. It sets up a fantastic sense of urgency which I absolutely love. On the other hand, I could see my personal effect on the Mass Effect universe being tapered. In Mass Effect I chose Anderson to be the human representative on the citadel council. It was a decision I regretted in Mass Effect 2. It was clear the position wasn't suited to Anderson. Yet in the beginning of Mass Effect 3 he is an Admiral on Earth. There is no explanation for this through in-game dialogue. It is mentioned only in the Codex that Anderson used to be councillor, but he stepped down and Udina took over.
That’s not an entirely unexpected plot point considering how Anderson felt about his previous position, but the complete lack of in-game explanation was jarring. There was a perfect point in the opening scene to explain this: When Shepard and Anderson are walking along a ledge talking about going to the council, Shepard asks if he’s sure they’ll listen. Anderson replies “no, but you were a council Spectre, that has to count for something”. At that point, Shepard could easily say something like “And you used to be a councillor, that has to count for something too” and Anderson could reply saying that the position was never right for him and that it’s Udina’s job now. It is a perfect place for an explanation like that. But instead they ignore the issue completely, only explaining it in a codex entry. That issue didn’t seem to repeat itself later in the game. All my other decisions seemed to have a lasting impact on the galaxy, or in cases where they were negated by other occurrences, the events were always explained. But considering how important your decisions are to the Mass Effect universe, this initial blip was pretty awful, especially when it could have been solved so easily.
The other main thing I can criticise the game on is its pacing, and how that factors into the storyline. Upon leaving earth, the situation is dire. It’s an “Oh shit, we’ve gotta go get help right now or earth will be destroyed” type situation. Yet through the rest of the game there is a real clash between the sense of urgency and the things Shepard is doing. One minute Admiral Hacket is talking about how awful it is on Earth, the next I’m having dinner and drinks with half of my crew on the Citadel. It factors into the missions too. Several of the missions have a level of urgency comparable to the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2, and while that’s awesome, stopping to listen to relatively mundane audiologs takes something away from that experience.
In the grand scheme of things though, those complaints are minor. A game which such a massive scope built around decision making is always going to have some oddities on that front. And set during a massive war with near-invincible enemies, there is going to be some weird pacing. The alternative would be to have constant action with very little time to do side quests and interact with characters, and no one wants that from a Mass Effect game.
Moving onto the things I liked about the game, and I’ll start with the reason I love Mass Effect so much - the story. The story really comes together in Mass Effect 3. The overarching relationships between the species reach new levels. The Quarians and Geth united. The Krogan and Turians together. Humanity’s role in this, both the alliance campaigning to ally the races and Cerberus on the opposite side of it is extremely interesting too. Ultimately, virtually every race put aside their differences and come together to fight the Reaper threat, which is wonderful to watch.
The story on a more personal level is awesome too. The relationships between Shepard and her crew/former crew continue to develop. The big coincidence of bumping into every single former crew member on various missions is slightly weird, but I can get over that. It’s a video game and it’s nice to meet all of my former comrades again, even if it does get a bit predictable. I'm at an Asari monastery for Ardat-Yakshi and surprise surprise, Samara shows up. I'm on a geth ship and who do I bump into, that's right Legion.
There are certain, extremely powerful moments in the story too. Seeing Mordin sacrifice himself to cure the Genophage. And Liara witnessing the destruction of her homeworld. Both those moments sent shivers down my spine. I had become attached to these characters, and witnessing these things was truly gut-wrenching. There are plenty of really awesome scripted moments in the game which are a truly awesome spectacle. My personal favourite moment was on Tuchanka, fighting a bunch of Brutes with a reaper overhead, then setting a giant Thresher Maw on it. It was amazing. It really felt like there was this giant machine overhead, and taking it in such a spectacular way was fantastic. And Udina betraying the council was crazy. I never liked Udina, but I never thought he'd side with Cerberus. Yet it was totally believable too. A fantastic plot twist.
There are also a bunch of really cool moments on the smaller scale. The Normandy feels more alive than it ever has. In both previous games, crew members stay in their specific location of the ship. You'll never find them elsewhere. In Mass Effect 3, they can be found in any number of places, often interacting with eachother, which adds life to the ship. Joker and Garrus telling jokes on the bridge was hilarious, as was Tali getting drunk. And Garrus and Tali getting together towards the end was really sweet. They make a lovely couple!!!
So, you’re probably all waiting for me to talk about the ending, right? That’s what everyone is obsessed about. OK, I will do. I’ll start off with the mission itself leading up to the conclusion of the story. That final mission on earth was extremely dull and uninteresting. Fighting the reaper forces through the ravaged streets of london should have been awesome. But it was a drab affair. There was no atmosphere. It was just a matter of shooting a bunch of enemies, running around and pushing a button or two, then killing more enemies. Totally uninspired. I expected more considering the epic final mission of Mass Effect 2. Instead I ended up bored and just wanted to to get through it and see the ending.
The ending itself though, I don’t see what the big deal was about. I thought it was a decent ending. The whole revelation of the catalyst was weird, certainly. I definitely wasn’t expecting anything like that. And the final decision was slightly forced. But overall they handled it far better than I expected. They could have done a bland conclusion where the crucible is a big weapon, it kills all the reapers and everyone lived happily ever after. How boring and predictable would that be? Or the Reapers could have won and destroyed all life, totally destroying the universe and potential for more stories in the Mass Effect fiction. Which would have sucked, right? They were backed into a corner. There aren’t many places to go with the story. An powerful, apocalyptic force threatens to destroy all life in the galaxy. Someone has to win, and doing that in a unique and interesting way is not an easy task. But they still managed to do something different. It was weird and unexpected, but I certainly didn’t find it to be bad. I don't get the internet rage comments at all.
In fact, certain aspects of the ending have great potential for the future of the fiction. The Mass Relays are destroyed. Large numbers of aliens are stranded in the Sol system. Add to that the destruction caused by the Reapers and you have total disarray. It’s going to be chaos. Relationships are going to be strained and the galaxy is going to be a changed place. The Mass Relays will be rebuilt - the Protheans built a Mass Relay on Ilos and on the Citadel. If they can, so can humanity and the current alien races. They will reunite the galaxy. It isn't the end of the Mass Effect universe. But regrouping and rebuilding is going to be crazy. It’s going to be an almost impossible task, and seeing that will be fantastic.
So ultimately, I had a really great time with Mass Effect 3. The Mass Effect trilogy are some of my favourite games this generation. I want to replay them at some point, playing renegade. I've been playing all three games as a "chaotic good" type alignment. My Shepard always had the good of the universe at heart, but doesn't care who's toes she steps on to achieve that. I'd like to see the story from a fully renegade perspective. I won't be doing that any time soon though. I need a break. It's been a truly fantastic series.