I finished up the campaign the other night and, as with most games, I have a couple thoughts I need to write out.
First off, ME32 has aged really well. It’s 9 years old, but would still be a decent new release today. There are many games that are a zeitgeist, where the only fit in their time period. ME3 is lucky in a sense that it was a refinement of as-new model of action and RPG mergers. And honestly, it looks better than Andromeda.
It would be hard to ignore the social impacts of ME3, where the gamers tried to take ownership of creative direction of a game, and the developer conceded. Without access to the ‘non extended cut’ version of ME3, it’s hard today to have a real apples to apples conversation about the changes. Instead we have to remember through wiki entries, where the original launch had quite stringent requirements on what options were presented to players, and then what the consequences where of those options. Not decided on actual choices in the game, but frankly by the number of planet scans you had performed. Curing the Genophage still has no actual impact on any gameplay, or ending. Saving Miranda in ME2 doesn’t change the fact that her father still does the experiments in ME3. The illusion of choice rears its head in fierce fashion in ME3.
- Asimov’s Foundation series is celebrated because of the ideas it brought to the table without the need for violence. It celebrated diplomacy and scientific prowess to solve galactic issues, and generally looked down upon the military complex (pre-quels aside). The series ends with the creation of Galaxia (a planet where all organisms are interlinked) and the merger of AI and organics (Olivaw). The concept here is that the resolution of differences is only accomplished by merger rather than annihilation or assimilation. That sociopolitical concept is still a challenge today, what with diversity feeling like a 4 letter word. Yet the concept has been essential in sci-fi for nearly 70 years.
- Final Fantasy has a habit of a last minute bait and switch on the villain, where 95% of the time you think the ultimate baddie is say, Kuja, but in reality it’s the essence of death, Necron, who was the bad guy. No setup, they just pop up and that’s the bad guy.
Back on Track
ME3 tries to take this concept and expand upon it, where you are provided the choices of Destroy (all synthetics die, but will certainly be re-created and cause a war), Control (which is arguably Dune 2.0), or Merge (synthetic and organic merge of sorts). The challenge with this line is that none of the options are earned, doubly so if you have not played the Leviathan missions.
ME1 is about the Reaper threat to destroy the galaxy. The reasons are not provided aside from it being a cycle. When the game ends, you haven’t stopped the threat, simply delayed it.
ME2 has little to do with that specific threat, but the proxies around it. It’s a borderline McGuffin, with a weird twist at the end for a human/reaper hybrid. But that’s not the story. The real story is the rebirth of Sheppard and the building of a team to explore the galaxy’s various internal threats. You fight political battles way more than Collector/Reaper battles. Heck, try naming the bad guy here?
ME3 merges these storylines into a concept of unifying the galaxy in order to fight the repears head-on. There are no compromises possible, that was made clear in the first two games and most of this one. There are no alternatives, it’s entirely focused on using the Crucible (which you don’t know what it does until you use it) and the Catalyst (which you don’t know what it is until the final mission). Up until the last minute, the only option you can think of is destroying the Reapers.
Then you learn that no matter what choice you have made, at any point in the entire game, none of them have any bearing on the larger choice. Instead, it’s a point system that determines what choices are present, and the scale of those choices (either Earth survives or doesn’t). It’s a curve ball, with no ability to prepare for the choice, limited understanding of the impacts (Control in particular), and up until the extended cut, no real understanding of why these choices exist in the first place.
There are hundreds of published sci-fi stories every year. Few of them are good, less so great. It’s really hard! Without a clear plan, and lots of effort creating the necessary breadcrumbs, it’s almost impossible to craft a complex story with a satisfying ending. I mean, look at GoT Season 8.
Even after all these years, the ending of ME3 still doesn’t work.
Just quickly here, the Paragon/Renegade improvements of ME2 are mostly removed here. There’s really only 1 meaningful choice here (genophage) and the rest is a tough wash. There’s only a few trigger commands available, and they are either giving a handshake or shooting someone who is about to shoot you. It’s a weird reversion to the ME1 model. Of note, the final decision you have to make is based on having explored every single Investigate conversation option across the entire game with the Illusive Man.
Enough with the bad. There’s a lot of good here.
The inventory is a great improvement on ME2, where you have tons of options and customizations. While there are simple stat upgrades, some changes are substantial (like shooting through shields). It’s powerful without feeling like its tedious.
The powers are also much improved, with faster cooldowns, more choice for a given power (e.g. recharge or damage). There are multiple enemies where fighting with powers is tons more effective than any weapon attack would be. This is a clear precursor to Anthem, and it feels really good. I will say that Liara’s Singularity power (with tons of recharge boosts) is crazy OP.
The fights themselves are generally improved, though a few too many ‘wave’ based fights. The cover mechanics work really well, and the enemy AI is generally decent. Guns have the right feel, the aim is solid, and the physics add weight to everything.
The companions are more integrated into the overall story, rather than being simple DPS items. Well maybe not James, who’s as useful as lips on an elbow. Javik in particular provides some much needed context in many quests, which further solidifies that he was pulled out of the game on purpose. It’s great to see them are more than window dressing.
The majority of quests (N7 aside) are well written and structured. The final Krogan mission with Mordin is the highlight. The DLC quest chains are a real highlight, with multiple steps and great scenery. Leviathan is foundational to the overall story, Omega is a real rollercoaster with a well-written bad girl, and Shore Leave is pretty much Ocean’s Eleven in game form. Fine, in the grand scheme they are meaningless, but on their own, they act as a sort of quality anthology.
I’d be remiss to not mention the audio. The bass reverb sounds of the reapers works to add some awesome atmosphere. The Hans Zimmer influence here is evident, with strong use of contrasting sounds. It’s an interesting mix where a video game has clearly influenced visual media in such a large form.
It’s impressive what Mass Effect was able to do. The series is a true landmark, where the sequels attempted to build on the prior ones. You can trace a lot of games and media to what was delivered here, and the Legendary edition is without question the best way to experience it all. Fine, the last 10 minutes did not deliver on the promise, but it would have been a miracle if it had. (Dark is the only thing that comes to mind that has ever succeeded in this.)
I really enjoyed my playthrough.