Saturday, March 10, 2012

"And End It Once And For All" - Mass Effect 3 Review *Spoilers*

I completed my playthrough of Mass Effect 3 a few days ago. After giving myself some time to let everything I had experienced sink in I knew that this review would be the hardest review I would ever do.

I'm certain that, by now, everybody knows that Mass Effect 3 has been met with what can only be be described as the epitome of mixed emotions. Some adore this game, others hate it with a fiery passion, and some fall within the middle. It's not unexpected, considering this game is probably the highest anticipated game of the year. Like any blockbuster title, everyone's going to have their own opinion. This is mine, as clear and thought out as I can possibly make it having allowed myself time to simmer and stew in my fanboy juices (it's just as nasty as it sounds... I've been playing this game for three days straight).

Mass Effect 3 is a tragedy in every sense of the word.

The folks at Bioware once again show just how talented they are in the realms of storytelling and character development while delivering a solid shooter/RPG hybrid. As a fan of the series I can safely say that this game is everything I expected it to be and more. The characters are once again flawless and memorable, even the new additions manage to hold their own amongst the fans' favorites. Gameplay has been perfected, the shooter aspects merging seamlessly with the RPG aspects. Just as Bioware had promised, Mass Effect 3 is a great mix of 1 and 2. This is further influenced by the fact that newcomers can choose the type of game they want, Story centered, Action centered, or Classic RPG mode, which will no doubt encourage a plethora of varying players to pick up a copy.

Graphics are beautiful and remarkably detailed. From character models to environments this game is great to look at. However the best graphics are no doubt the pre-rendered graphics in loading screens and cinematics. My favorite being the establishing shot of the Martian Base, which I initially thought was from a big budget movie.

The sound design is fantastic. Weapons sound like they have power behind them, Shepard's footfalls as he/she runs around sound heavy from all the armor he/she is wearing. The ambiance further captures the sci-fi feeling of the world.

The music is undoubtedly the best in the series. Clint Mansell's work should be noted as he brings a new found emotionality to the series that previous entries lacked. Even with this the soundtrack doesn't lose sight of it's sci-fi setting with fantastic synth and techno tunes mixed in. There are even tracks from previous titles to illicit fond nostalgia. I will definitely be grabbing the whole soundtrack to this game.

The story, now 5 years in the making, continues to grab you emotionally with memorable characters and stories. The gravity of the fact that the Reapers have arrived and that war is upon the galaxy is felt throughout the game as you travel from planet to planet. Character interaction and banter returns in full force with what I think is hours of dialogue. Bioware makes you love these characters, and by god do you love them. It is this fact that is a crucial element to the issue that has become evident since the game's release, which I will get to in the spoiler section.

It is everything you could want in a Mass Effect game. Well, almost everything. The game does have its faults. Without getting into spoilers here are some things I had a problem with:

Exploration is once again significantly reduced. Gone is the mineral scanning system (gladly gone by the way) and in its place we have its bare bones. You fly around the galaxy like before, but instead of scanning planets you scan the solar systems with a pulse which finds nifty items that you either have to scan a planet for like in ME 2 but everything you scan for is marked on your reticule as an arrow (much like searching for distress signals in ME 2). This in of itself isn't a problem, it's the fact that reapers inevitably get alerted to your presence when you use the scanning pulse and chase you out of the system. This wouldn't be a problem if the damn Reaper Awareness bar didn't fill up to halfway with the first pulse alone (sometimes it fills up more than that too). Initially this discouraged me from exploring as I didn't want to get caught by reapers, and the only way to get rid of them is to play through a mission. Over time I did learn that by using "scan and run" tactics you could gather resources in reaper infested zones with little trouble which in turn made the whole mechanic of Reapers chasing after you if you scan too much completely irrelevant.
Along with this, I was disappointed to find that the work Bioware did in the DLC that revealed the Hammerhead transport vehicle didn't make its way into this game to fully replace the Mako segments from the first game. However it isn't a big deal since the game makes up for it with memorable missions on a wide array of alien planets.

Managing missions in the menu is a hassle, this is where things seem to take a step backwards as every mission is on one page where in previous titles primary missions and sub-missions were separated into their own groups. They also lack a lot of important information and I found myself trying to figure out where and what I was supposed to do in order to complete them. Then, as I moved further into the game I found myself getting bogged down by completed missions and having to scroll up to active ones, annoying but not truly terrible.

The largest complaint I have about it is how Bioware has allowed multiplayer to actually affect the single player game, which I thought they said wouldn't happen. However, it very much does. I wasn't impressed when they announced multiplayer from the beginning (I believe multiplayer, though just as credible a form of gameplay as any, shouldn't be a requirement for every game). Having the multiplayer game affect the readiness score in your single player campaign is not only stupid, it's down right wrong. I never once thought that the multiplayer in Halo didn't take place in the world of the story, it was more of an extension of the game using the mechanics in an online environment.

Apart from that Mass Effect 3 is a solid game. Anyone would enjoy it.

Then we move on into SPOILER territory....

The story finally solves all the issues that have been prevalent in the series from the get go. You find out how to cure the genophage. You can end the Geth's war with the Quarians. You can unite the galaxy against the threat of the reapers. However, while this story is exactly what I wanted in the final installment to this trilogy, everything it either established or concluded is ultimately rendered moot by the endings. I may be beating a dead horse but by god will I beat it. Like a number of fans (and not enough actual reviewers) I can't help but feel betrayed. And it is in every way a betrayal.

Of all the things I could've seen this game getting wrong, the endings weren't one of them. Which only makes the shock that much worse.

Suffice it to say this is now how I wanted my Mass Effect story to end. This isn't how I wanted my Shepard's story to end.

What's surprising is how these endings hardly differ between one another. For one, there isn't an ending where the reapers actually win, which I felt would've been an interesting one to see. What they all boil down to is that the Reaper threat is neutralized in some form and it results in the destruction of the mass relays and the stranding of the Normandy crew on some unknown world.

You don't get to go back to the Citadel and have a drink with your friends to celebrate your hard earned victory. You don't get to be with the character you chose as your love interest. The worlds of the galaxy have been cut off from one another and have no way of reestablishing contact with one another.

In hindsight, these endings aren't even that terrible. They do end the struggle of the reaper war, regardless of the sacrifices you do achieve what you set out to do: stop the reapers. However, I expected something more optimistic, especially considering how big these games are.

Admittedly, it may sound silly to expect everything to have a happy ending considering the stakes involved. However, it should've at least been an option among many. Just to be given the option would've been appreciated.

You're left with so many questions

But the question everyone is asking is:

I for one am asking why anyone in the writer's room thought these were a great idea. As an amateur writer I know a story requires a good payoff. Of course this doesn't apply to all stories, not all stories require a happy ending to be great stories. However, there's a reason why a majority of stories have happy endings, and it's not because it's cliche, its because audiences respond better to them. Especially if the audience has become emotionally invested in the characters and in these games we have become very invested in these characters (the damning characteristic I mentioned earlier). This is more so in a game like Mass Effect where you personalize the protagonist which immediately builds an emotional investment in the character because it is MY character. This translates into the world because I'm not simply watching a character make choices that affect the world but MY choices that affect the world. I'm not watching a character build relationships with other characters I'M building relationships with characters.

So when people see the anger from everyone who has played this game it's not just because the poor folks at Bioware have "ruined the game" it's because they ruined OUR game.

What it all boils down to is that a majority of the fans have been left confused, embittered, and betrayed. This one included.

Mass Effect 3 is a great game, it's a brilliantly constructed piece of entertainment. Which begs the question of how it could've gone so wrong? All we can do is continue to ask and hope someone has the answers.

However, as the game stands at this moment. I cannot bring myself to recommend it. It may be great, it may be one of the best games of 2012, but I will not recommend it.

That is why Mass Effect 3 is a tragedy.

I must then, sadly, give Mass Effect 3 2 broken hearts out of 5...

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