I figure that since it's the weekend and I've spent upwards of a hundred hours on the Mass Effect trilogy over the years, I could take some time to reflect on how I feel now that I've just concluded my time with it (barring a second playthrough of 3 in which Phil Shepard does all the shit Josh Shepard can't bring himself to do, being a good guy and all). I don't really know why I wrote this. There are definitely spoilers for Mass Effect below.
I don't know if this is a controversial statement these days, but I think that Mass Effect 3 is a pretty good game. I waited quite a while to play it, initially because I wanted to be sure that my custom faces from ME1 would be transferred correctly and was concerned about that bug. I feel I chose rightly, as that attachment I developed to my image of Shepard over the years paid off here. This isn't The Walking Dead, so the game wasn't exactly reducing me to tears at any point (to be fair, TWD didn't either), but there was a certain sense of closure seeing all the familiar themes, characters, and conflictscome to a close alongside my Shepard.
Were I to list the things I thought were great about ME 3, it would look pretty much exactly like this list:
- The final battles and cinematic cutscenes are fantastic. I'm usually of the mind that a cutscene is just doing the opposite of what a game should do, ie tell a story using gameplay as well as audio and visuals. But both the space and land battles in the cutscenes were simply really well-done. The final battles that Shepard's involved in then felt more intense. Even though I didn't die a whole lot, it felt suitably difficult for being the battle to "take back the earth".
- I found the skyboxes (I think that's the term I should be using) to be pretty amazing as well. Fighting dudes whilst a Reaper is just pillaging in the background makes the fighting of the dudes seem more important and immediately connected to a larger conflict.
- People who hated the sound of the Reaper gun may disagree, but I also thought that the sound design was rather well done. Everything important seemed to have a sound, and all those sounds getting unleashed during a firefight was probably cooler than actually watching the thing that made the sound. Maybe I'm crazy.
- Music Use. I'm not sure what to call it when video games use music well instead of just having good music. I would frame it like so: Hotline Miami has great music, whereas Braid uses music very effectively. In my perspective, there is something special going on when a gameplay sequence has an accompanying musical number that is so complementary it makes the mundane exciting. 3 non-Mass Effect examples: the ending sequence of Braid, the part in Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time where the Prince is just running down a circular staircase for a few minutes, and the part in Red Dead Redemption where John Marston is riding a horse through the snowy forests near the end of the game. In Mass Effect 3, when Cerberus attacks the Citadel, it was giving me some of those same vibes because of that song that played during and between the combat scenarios. Dunno why. They never did anything like it again during the game, but made a good impression, apparently.
- World-building. Mass Effect is probably one of the most interesting intellectual properties to emerge in current-generation video games, and I guess the writing staff continued to make good on that, albeit in less novel ways that ME 1 & 2 did. I had both the Leviathan and From Ashes DLC, so that probably helped, but 3 above either of its predecessors made me really want to see the other stories in this universe, and now I really want to play a non-Shepard Mass Effect game.
Things I did not enjoy about Mass Effect 3 might comprise a list that looks something like this:
- Some of the writing and dialogue for the early portions of the game is downright awful.
- Though I think that this was the longest playthrough of a Mass Effect game that I'd had, it felt like I did less during it than past games. Which doesn't make much sense, since Shepard solved multiple centuries-old conflicts, brought down a rampaging racist terrorist cell, and rallied the forces of an entire galaxy.
- Fancy running into everyone Shepard knows, seemingly randomly. Seriously, they needed to either invent new characters or find an excuse to cross paths with all the good old characters. When we ran into Jacob, the immortal words of Cedric Daniels felt appropriate.
I can see what put a lot of people off about the end of Mass Effect 3. It doesn't feel great, being given a 3-way ultimatum from a ghost boy who's really an old genocidal robot. Both the previous games had some decisions to make after the final battles, though I think they were just more cleverly disguised ultimatums than what we got here. I played through Leviathan, which seemed to prepare me to make that final choice, though I would imagine that a lot of the information presented during the ending would be coming from pretty far outta left field if that were not the case. As the conclusion to a trilogy, during which the conflict with the Reapers had gradually escalated until it became the focus of this game, I think it did alright. Wasn't the greatest, wasn't awful. Actually, what bothered me most was that in the confrontation with the Illusive Man, I was not Paragon enough to talk him down (I assume that's what the last Paragon option was in that conversation), and had spent 2 games training myself not to touch the right trigger during dialogue, as I'm a decent man. I then died because I didn't shoot him. For a second I thought that this was how the game ended and was actually pretty intrigued by that, but then the stupid death music started playing. Ah, well.
In terms of gameplay, I don't think that there's much difference between what's here and what was in ME 2. The biotic detonation stuff seemed to be more relevant, but that may just be because they made a specific sound and I could tell when they happened that way. I found the multiplayer to be lacking until I unlocked the N7 Infiltrator, and don't really enjoy myself using anything else, but other than that it was great times.
At first I was a bit put off by the dream sequences of Shepard running after the dead boy, but they grew on me as time went by. It showed that even though this was the third entry into a trilogy the writers were still trying out new things, and I think they managed to pull off some stuff that you just didn't get in the previous games (making Shepard wounded as fuck, for one). I guess that these more thematic pieces are actually quite complementary to the straightforward aspects of the game. It makes the ending more thought-provoking (Why is this ancient AI taking the shape of a random kid Shepard saw die?) and is more interesting than if they just made a cutscene of Shepard's night terrors.
All in all, I though that Mass Effect 3 was a fitting conclusion to a trilogy, and I think it's mostly hampered by the fact that it had to be a conclusion to a well-loved trilogy. Because they had all this great setup, what with the Geth/Quarian war and the Genophage, they pretty much had to try and deliver on that while also resolving the broader conflict with the Reapers. The alliance-building story sorta handled that, but I would have preferred if the writers had left some of those things more open-ended. I guess that's really the definitive Mass Effect 3 experience; some things you love, some are awful, and everyone seemingly disagrees on what those are. Personally, the alien love-making was a little much, but I'll be damned if Purgatory isn't a great video game nightclub. That song gets me going.
TL; DR: I don't believe in providing short summations for people who don't want to take 5 minutes to read something.