Before starting the final missions of Mass Effect 3, I took several days away from the game. While it was sort of obnoxious to have the game unfinished, I didn’t want it to end. The Mass Effect trilogy is such an astounding product that is was tough to realize that it was finally over.
Mass Effect 3 does a great job of bringing in the tiny bits of story and minor characters from the proceeding games. There are probably people that turned up that I didn’t remember, but the effort it must have taken to squeeze all of those in is pretty astounding. I loved that previous decisions mattered…though in one case I did feel the game kept beating me over the head because a choice I had made in MEII had an unexpected negative consequence (I destroyed the data from Maelon’s experiments).
This also makes it fascinating to watch Genghis play the game: he and I actually play Shepard as a fairly similar sort of character, but we have made a few different choices along the way, and seeing how that effects things is interesting. To use the above example, he saved Maelon’s data, and there are only a few mentions of that. Mostly it’s a non-issue, though it does lead to slightly different results for the Krogan. When talking to people about the game, I think it’s interesting that the first step is finding out the similarities and differences in the respective versions of Shepard.
The space flight is the most interesting it’s ever been. I love the mechanics for the Reapers chasing you…though they aren’t really that much of a challenge to avoid. I also love finding the disparate war assets scattered around. For the first half or more of the game, the discovery of even some cruiser or other tiny resource would cause me to cheer.
The combat isn’t really changed from MEII, nor did it need to be. The upgrade system is a nice refinement, though.
A very minor gameplay addition that I loved was the Spectre terminal on the Citadel. It made being a Spectre actually matter, but in ways that weren’t critical to the plot. IE I can give authorization to cut through bureaucratic red tape and help person or group x, y, or z, but I do not have to.
A major plot hole that I found consistently obnoxious is Cerberus. Not just because the Illusive Man always seems to be one step or more of anybody in authority, but because of the unlimited resources it seems to possess. I find it hard to believe that a terrorist organization would have effectively unlimited men, money, and material. The Citadel Council, especially the pre-ME council that had no humans and plenty of Spectres, would have a vested interest in shutting that down, hard. I seriously consider Cerberus’ inclusion as a major enemy an effort to give players something more “human” to combat…and probably make it easier on the developers, too.
The thing that’s attracting a lot of attention is the ending. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about the ending, and I’m going to try to work through some of them here.
First of all, I was anticipating Shepard’s death. Part of this was because I knew people had started loudly complaining online, and I figured PC death would certainly cause that. But it makes sense: if Shepard doesn’t die, then his story isn’t really over. There’s a next chapter, whether or not we see it. Killing Shepard in the act of victory, whatever form that takes, wraps up his story. As far as the conscious Shepard is concerned, there is no more.
I rolled my eyes when it was revealed that the Catalyst was/was on the Citadel. One major secret per galactic super-structure, please. Also, most people have the sense to move out of a haunted house after it tries to kill them once, and I don’t understand why the councilors couldn’t do the same. I also found it obnoxious that the capture of the Citadel was instantaneous: it doesn’t even warrant a cut scene. And it’s immediately transported across the galaxy to Earth, so that the final battle can be there.
Something somebody online mentioned, which does annoy me the more I think about it, is the absence of those war assets once you head back to earth: ie it’s not clear that all of that hunting and gathering that occupies a substantial period of the game actually means anything once you get to it. There is a tiny little bit about the various fleets reporting in, and there were Krogan, Turian, and Asari marines shown on Earth, but that’s it. I don’t know what happens to any of them…which is kind of disappointing since I had taken the time to read about them and become invested in the forces I was assembling. The final space battle in general feels like it gets short shrift, which is unfortunate because of how cool space battle scenes are.
The final conversation with the Illusive Man was sort of boring, and definitely anti-climactic. I never found him an interesting or believable character, and that continues throughout the conversation. I did finally get what I wanted, which was to shoot the bastard.
And then there’s Catalyst. Setting aside the (important) questions of how Catalyst came to be this way, the choice as laid out for me was a very sci-fi choice. Did I think that any of the solutions were particularly elegant, creative, or elucidated well? No. But they were choices that reminded me of other science fiction, and they’re very real choices about how to shape the future. For me, the choice was a no-brainer: my Shepard spent to much time making peace with the Quarians and the Geth, and encouraging EDI and Joker, not to pick synthesis. And I didn’t have a problem that that was the choice I made.
One of the complaints I’ve seen online is that this is forcing all life to change in a particular way, a forced homogenization that doesn’t alleviate the existing tensions among organics, much less between organics and synthetics. I’m not sure I buy that: seeing Joker after choosing that, he still seems to be recognizably Joker (though he doesn’t say anything, so it’s not entirely clear). I interpret it as finding a new common ground, rather than as forcing everyone to be the same.
Unfortunately, that’s really it. The biggest complaint I have about the ending is that there is no epilogue. While Shepard’s story is complete, and it’s a story that has shaped the galaxy, we aren’t given a lot of information about how that all plays out. I’m not saying the choices I made didn’t matter, but I would really liked to have known how things played out after Shepard was gone. This is actually something Bioware has done before: the ending of Dragon Age: Origins featured a series of still pictures with epilogue text that wrapped up actions for important characters and places. Something like that here would have been appropriate.
About the Stargazer. It was cool that Buzz Aldrin voiced him, but does he really say anything? It’s such a generic postscript as to be effectively meaningless. Unless that “one more story” is later turned into a setup for DLC…which I hope it isn’t. I don’t think this title is very DLC friendly: this isn’t the time for mucking around, that kills the tension of the galaxy being on the line.
In conclusion, I’m glad I didn’t miss the Mass Effect trilogy, and I'll be curious to see what comes next from the company that made it. I have to thank Genghis for giving me the opportunity to play the games. Even if the destination was a little bit of a let down, the journey was well worth the effort.