Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mass Recap: The End

I've been waiting to review Mass Effect 3 in rather the same way I waited for the game itself to be released. I don't mean "bouncing up and down and running outside at the sound of every car", although that applies too. Rather, I mean that there's a lot emotionally at stake here. The ending of Mass Effect 3 has been so highly controversial that  the fan chatter has even been mentioned in the advertising, and almost as soon as I'd finished the game there was talk of a "new" ending being released to assuage the angry gamers.

I loved the ending of Mass Effect 3, and that's not to say that I loved the out-of-left-field star child or the terrible voice acting and dialogue that showed how Shepard has become a legendary figure. I loved it because I felt emotionally drained at the end. Certain inevitable deaths made me feel like Mass Effect's three-game cinematic experience had meant far more than the sum of its hours. Mass Effect 3 was an incredibly good game, filled with hilarious dialogue, memorable characters, and beautiful action scenes. I was so drawn in that when the final ten minutes came - and then the next few minutes of looking up all the fan reaction I could find - I was not so much disappointed as drawn out of the fictional universe: which amounted to the same thing in the long run.

Because my biggest problem with the ending was the way it seemed to forbid any fan speculation on what happened afterward. If your favorite characters were still alive, they were fundamentally changed and stranded far away from anything they knew. Long gone were the days of wandering around the Citadel Presidium, where after a hard, annoying day of gathering war assets you could sit down with a friend for a chat. Yes there were some quality issues, yes the ending didn't answer questions or quite match up with the Mass Effect universe's pseudoscience. But where it really started to bother me was when I realized I couldn't write fan fiction about what happened afterward. The narrative hadn't provided me enough information to understand the post-ending universe. 

Then I read these clips from an interview with a BioWare writer,  which negate some of the concerns I had about the characters all being irrevocably separate from each other and from any sense of normalcy their universe might have. This explains some of the state of the universe.

In addition, BioWare's "Extended Cut" of Mass Effect 3's controversial final section has yet to be released to the public. The official site declares that it will be out sometime "in the summer".

But I'm not waiting with baited breath for the extra ending. I missed the ideal window for fan fiction writing, while the emotions I got from the game are still running high, because I was confused about the ending. I still bought merchandise and enjoyed the game and plan on replaying when I get the chance. But it feels a bit like the fourth wall has been broken to hear that new DLC will elaborate on the ending. I like to think that canon is irrevocable, but in this case fans have reached in and changed it.





It's rare to find me saying that any form of fan participation is bad, and I have nothing against the various movements to change the endings, even though I'm too content with the status quo to join them. For me, though, the endings were not and should not be the focal point of the game. If you don't like them, like I didn't for many reasons that other fans have expressed, then don't focus on them. There's a lot of bad (Tali's unmasking, EDI's new body) and good (Garrus and Jack's continued characterization, fun modifications to combat, Samara's daughters, and everything on Tuchanka) in the other 29 hours and 45 minutes of gaming experience.

So maybe when I say that talking about the endings is an emotional experience, what I really mean is that it isn't, and that surprised me. The emotional high point of Mass Effect 3 was either Tuchanka or the previously mentioned inevitable death shortly before the star child bit. It's also difficult to name a high point because the game looks very different in hindsight.

To play from the beginning and hear Shepard reassuring people that s/he will succeed gets a twinge going in my heartstrings. Mass Effect has always been a series that has presented moral struggles, whether it be a husband whose wife's geth-killed body is being used to study the enemy's tactics, or whether to tell the harsh truth or a kind lie to an entire civilization. But for some reason, throughout that whole journey, I never thought the fight would be for nothing. I was sure that there would be an option for Shepard to win. Because what does pessimism on a large scale do for a fictional universe? I don't believe it pulls in any emotions or any fans that a bittersweet or at least potentially happy ending would repel. I always felt that Mass Effect was giving off a positive message, darker than Knights of the Old Republic but lighter than Dragon Age, spreading the idea that as long as you have enough help and support, you can get through anything. Mass Effect 3 is all about getting that support, but in the end, Shepard fights alone. The ending was surprising, and not in a good way. The cycles of destruction reminded me of the problems I had with the repetitive ancient aliens in Halo: Cryptum. In the end it all felt like it had been for nothing  - all the friendships, the conversations, the love and attempted love. Whether a story ending with a feeling of hopelessness is a good thing or a bad thing may depend on your personal taste. I felt that the ending prevented further story development for both the fans and the franchise.

Mass Effect 3 was very, very good. The dialogue, the pacing, the characters, the sense of home you can get from the Normandy's halls were fantastic. Those are the things I want to think about, instead of the last ten minutes of the game, and those are the things that encourage ongoing fan participation.

2 comments:

  1. An interesting view on Mass Effect 3, Nem. Very different from the raging and general "ARGHME3SUCKS" that has been cycling around the internet. I like that you have included the good things and the bad things, and that you want to think about all the awesome parts ME3 has to offer instead of dwelling on the negatives.

    Overall, an enjoyable review. I always love reading what you have to say about games/tv shows/etc. You seem to have such different (and insightful) opinions on them. Thanks for sharing. :)

    (Also, Tali was unmasked? As much as I wanted to see what she looked like, it kind of takes away from the "essence" or "mystery" of her character. I think it's silly that her appearance under her mask has been shown. :/)

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  2. Thanks. :)

    (Tali's there on the right. Should I caption her? I wouldn't mind her appearance being shown if it wasn't so...boring. XD)

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