Review: Mass Effect 3

Reviewing Mass Effect 3

Reviewing Mass Effect 3

The cannons have long fallen silent, both in the game and among the fans of the series. Commander Shepard’s adventures are over. He, or she, died at the end at the end of the game. BioWare declared there will be no new DLCs. Also, the controversy over the ending is settled, though probably not to the satisfaction of many. BioWare said the ending will not change. They moved on to Dragon Age 3, then to Mass Effect 4.

The war is over.

The cannons have gone silent.

The warriors have long since retired.

So, what can be said that hasn’t been said before?

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

So let’s start with the obvious:

  • The ending was terrible.
  • The battle interface was greatly improved when compared to its predecessors.
  • The graphics improved a great deal.
  • The voice acting was top-notch.
  • The game won a multitude of awards.
  • The game had over 20 perfect scores from noteworthy reviewers.
  • Multiplayer had bugs, but was still quite enjoyable.
  • The interactions between the characters were equally charming and heartbreaking.

So what’s left to talk about?

Mass Effect 1 & 2

Mass Effect 1 & 2

Mass Effect 3 should only be understood in context of the first two games, as the game is the end result of the journey Commander Shepard made to stop the Reapers. Every struggle he had throughout the series. Every victory. Every defeat. All were focused one one goal. There were doubts raised in the second game that showed this wasn’t the only goal. A much larger problem was raised. The player was given reason to believe that the technology everyone used was responsible for the increase of dark energy and increasing the expansion of the universe. And the possibility was raised that the Reapers weren’t actually antagonists, but actually machines attempting to solve this very problem.

This review is taking this sort of holistic approach to Mass Effect 3. Rather than revising grounds and battle sites that’s been well explored, this review will take a fresh approach. We’ll be looking at the game using the following lenses: story structure, tone, and Drew Karpyshyn’s intentions for the series.

I’ll touch on the ending in a later post.

Story Structure

Mass Effect 3 hits the accelerator, so to speak, at the beginning of the game with the invasion of Earth and does not let up until the very end.

Hi. We'd like to share the message of Jesus Christ with you

Hi. We’d like to share the message of Jesus Christ with you

It’s an interesting idea, as it throws the player immediately into the action and emphasizes the danger the Reapers present. This is also a really, really terrible idea. Let me repeat that: the Reapers attacked Earth. It’s difficult to imagine any event hitting closer to home than this. So after the Reapers appear, and prove they are nigh invincible, the writers are forced to present to the player antagonists the player can fight and defeat: Cerberus.

by: RayzorFlash of DeviantArt

by: RayzorFlash of DeviantArt

This move should have caused a lot of confusion among Mass Effect fans. Mass Effect 1 positioned Cerberus as a rogue organization. Mass Effect 2 expanded on it, showing Cerberus to be a highly complex organization with humanity’s best interests in mind. They weren’t evil as much as controlled by one man with questionable motives. And then in Mass Effect 3, they went full blown evil, removing the complexities from the second game. They had to be the bad guys, as Shepard could fight them. Shepard couldn’t possibly fight the Reapers.

I think Shepard could have taken 'em.

I think Shepard could have taken ’em.

The Reapers were the antagonists of the series, not Cerberus. So what if the story structure was different to show that?

The Reapers hit the Vular system first, then proceeded to destroy the entire Batarian Hegemony. I’m betting every major government in Citadel space has spies on the Hegemony. The moment the Reapers hit, everyone in the galaxy would know about it. After that, Shepard is released, as Shepard is the expert on the Reapers. The Council would demand to see Shepard and issue a pardon for what happened.

The Turians are next

The Turians are next

The Reapers move against the Turian Hierarchy next, this time meeting stiff resistance. The Reapers need to take out the Turians for them to have a chance at taking the Citadel. The Turians are the military arm of the Council. Take out the Turians and the Reapers can take the Citadel easily. So Shepard heads to Palaven and meets up with Garrus and does what he can to help out.

The Genophage cure mission comes next, but replace Cerberus with the Salarian STG on Sur’Kesh. They would make a lot more sense as antagonists for this part, as the Salarians are the ones responsible for the disease and would be the ones targeted for revenge if/when the Krogans find out. So Mordin is working with a limited amount of STGs and scientists and needs Shepard’s help to get Eve off of the planet before the STG kills her.

The Reapers find out about this through an indoctrinated agent, causing them to break off their main thrust against Palaven and send Reapers to Tuchanka. Make it clear that the Reapers do not want the Genophage cured, as the Krogan are a real threat to them. The Salarians don’t want the Genophage cured for the same reason. On this part, replace the Rachni with all the other Reaper enemies. The end results can be the same. The Reapers cannot get a firm foothold on Tuchanka because of the natural hazards and the Genophage can be cured, or not, depending on Shepard’s actions.

Hugs are a natural hazard on Tuchanka

Hugs are a natural hazard on Tuchanka

The threat continues to build. We have more side-missions. Most of them can play out the same. Jacob’s will have to be scrapped, or move him to Miranda’s mission. Change Miranda’s antagonist from Cerberus to having Miranda’s father working alone. Cerberus funds the mission to stop him. Miranda and Jacob go there to back up Shepard. At the end of that mission, the Illusive Man would want to get his hands on Miranda’s father’s research. This would still keep Cerberus in the gray area, as the research was pretty evil and who knows what they would do with it.

The assault on the Citadel comes next.

Yep.

Yep.

The Reapers send their indoctrinated agents into the Citadel to take it over. They lost the element of surprise and a direct assault would threaten to destroy the station, so they need to do something indirect. So even the Citadel mission could play the same, except add in a greater variety of enemies. Don’t just use Cerberus. Use every species there is. Shepard shows up and wins.

And that would piss off the Reapers and they finally attack Earth.

Attack Earth last, not first

Attack Earth last, not first

Earth is the home of humanity, so any attack on Earth should be saved for last, as it’ll have the largest impact. This sends the game into overdrive, as the Reapers HAVE to be defeated now before humanity loses its home.

All of this was meant to show one thing: the story structure for Mass Effect 3 was done very poorly. It forced the video game developers to make Cerberus into the antagonists, taking the focus away from the Reapers. But if the missions were switched around slightly, the antagonists can easily remain the Reapers. This pacing also slowly increases the dangers of the Reapers, showing them to be a dangerous enemy. Once they arrive on Earth, the game goes into overdrive and becomes serious….

Which leads us to…

Tone

Mass Effect 3’s tone was incredibly dark. I suspect this was because Earth was hit first. Everything became quite serious. There was no way Shepard would be joking around and relaxing (like in the Citade DLC) when his home is being destroyed and humanity’s dying. Mass Effect 1 wasn’t a dark game. It was a game that explored humanity’s future. It was optimistic and upbeat. Sure, there was danger there. But that danger wasn’t something so overwhelming that everything was bleak.

Same with Mass Effect 2. Things were a touch darker there, but it wasn’t overwhelming and hopeless like in Mass Effect 3.

Yes, war is bleak. Yes, war is dark.

But Mass Effect was never about war. It was never about reflecting reality. It was about the future of humanity.

How do I know that?

Drew Karpyshyn’s intentions for the series

Drew Karpyshyn

Drew Karpyshyn

Mass Effect was about humanity’s potential. Exploring the hope and wonder of it as well as the fear of it. It was about the future and what it could hold, showing that no matter what… humanity can survive. You can see the full post of his thoughts on it in the book Extra Lives or from an excerpt I gave in a previous post.

Plus, the 2nd game made it clear that the background story was really about dark energy and the potential threat it held. The crux of Mass Effect 3 was how to address this problem, as you can see from an excerpt from an interview he did here.

This didn’t focus on “realism” or “reality as is.” We get real life is dark and depressing. We get that life is hard and everything’s a struggle. These science fiction games that focus on the future always touches on themes of hope, not despair. This is something we need to keep in mind of, and what I strongly suspect Drew would agree with as well….

Mass Effect 3

I found Mass Effect 3 to be ultimately disappointing. It was structured poorly. The tone was incredibly dark. It didn’t follow the vision that the creator of the series wanted. The sad thing about is all is this: if the story was structured just a little bit differently, everything could have been so much better. But it didn’t happen. They rushed the attack on Earth, leading to a lackluster story rather than one that could have been far richer and meaningful… as well as based firmly in the past games rather than wanting to make Cerberus the omnipresent enemy.

Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell me. Let’s talk about it.

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4 comments on “Review: Mass Effect 3

  1. I really enjoyed the way you approached your review of Mass Effect 3! It was for me a fresh way to bring up how the story of Mass Effect suddenly seemed to disappear. As I played the game, something seemed wrong/off to me though some suggested it was the lack of hope, I think you got it right it was the story. Except for a few storylines (Tuchanka) Mass Effect 3 was very chaotic and disjointed. Thanks!

  2. Thanks! I really didn’t want to revisit the same themes as everyone else. I thought saving the Earth as the last stop for the Reapers rather than the first stop would open up far more possibilities and allow the story to remain somewhat light.

  3. You know, I never did read this particular review. Am glad I didn’t miss it. It’s an extremely well thought out and fair review, given your investment in the game. What a shame Bioware never took their critics – who I consider to be their true fans – seriously.

  4. Man this is amazing.

    I just read the dark energy article. That would explain all that “you can not comprehend the reasons for this” soverign said in the first game. It would even be true, being an actual problem that has never been seen until Tali was send to investigate this in ME2. It would have been a perfect moral component as well “Did I do wrong in killing the reapers? Should I let the reapers consume humanity in hope that the end justifies the means or should I trust humanity to also overcome this problem without having to sacrifice themselves?”

    It explains the “we are each a nation” and it explains the indoctrination (thousands of minds of one species influencing the people around them with the power of thoughs => It would, with that, even touch on the topic of the noetic scienes)

    Hell, why did they ever change it??

    That sounds SO much better than the “A VI that drew the wrong conclusion” explanation we got. lol

    This original vision of the writers would have been the perfect ending to an amazing game.

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