“This is it, isn’t it?”

Mass Effect 3 by Bioware (EA, 2012)

Nearly five years ago I was feeling lonely and decided to make a pretty big commitment. The girlfriend was gone, off visiting her family, and I was working an awful job that, while giving me the illusion of being “flush with cash,” was wearing me down.[1] I decided, then, that I needed to buy an X-Box 360 so that I could play Mass Effect (which was coming out in a few short weeks). I’d played virtually every Bioware game to date (c. 2007) and loved them all.[2] This made ME a deeply appealing game; it was the first Bioware game with new generation graphics; they’d guaranteed it would be a trilogy; the game was the beginning of a brand new and interesting looking franchise. The “problem” was that I didn’t have a computer that could run the eventual PC release. This made buying a 360 my only option to play the game.

And boy did I play it. Despite a few big flaws (awful inventory system, uneven plotting, the MAKO) and the fact that I am terrible at shooters, I loved the original Mass Effect. I was at the Charles Town, WV Gamespot at 10am the day the game was released and playing it devoured my life for over a week.[3]  The story was captivating (especially those final few hours racing to the Conduit and into the Citadel) and the characters captivating (Garrus! Wrex! Ashley! Liara!). For a derivative sci-fi universe, the world of Mass Effect was compelling – humanity was important but not dominant, political struggle between different alien races was treated in fresh ways, the alien groups were diverse. The dialogue wheel was a revolution; that ME had a fully-voiced protagonist while still maintaining player control over dialogue was simply amazing.  That  an edge that few games at the time had. So much of what Bioware did in ME has become the “common sense” of more recent Bioware games and Western RPGs that it makes it difficult to recapture the exhilaration of playing something so new and refreshing.

More important than any of that, though, was the promise that there would be two more games just like it.

To say, then, that I was excited for Mass Effect 2 would be an understatement. I bought a wireless adaptor for my 360 in order to take advantage of that’s games DLC, I was there for the midnight release at the Fairfax, VA Gamespot, and I took the release day off work and graduate school in order to devote an entire day to the game.[4] That I was in a long distance relationship allowed my life, once again, to be devoured by playing the game.[5] ME2 was an amazing experience and despite more than few flaws (throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it came to clunky RPG elements from ME1, for example) it was what everyone one expects from a sequel: a more refined and reified experience. Ditching the terrible MAKO game play was a revolution in and of itself.[6] At the heart of this franchise, really, are the characters and Mass Effect 2 provided a bonanza in that department with twelve well-defined squad-mates, with their own interests and drives, plus Martin Sheen.

Above and beyond all that, what made ME2 so appealing, was the promise that there would be yet another game just like it.

It should come as no surprise, then, Mass Effect 3 has devoured nearly every available hour since its release last Tuesday (March, 6th 2012). I, no joke, put my personal and professional life on hold to play the finale of this franchise.[7] I bought a headphone adapter for our television (as to not annoy the girlfriend with the noise of killing Reapers), wrote all of that week’s lectures well in advance, got all of grading done before hand – all to maximize my time with ME3. On Sunday (March, 7th 2012) I completed the game.[8]

To say that I enjoyed this game is an understatement. The experience of ME3, as the girlfriend can readily attest, was exhilarating – was swept away in the finale to a franchise in which I’ve invested five years of my life. This game has very much earned a place in the rotation of games that Roy-plays-when-he-is-stressed-or-depressed, along with the rest of the ME franchise.[9] My final feelings towards ME3, however, are mixed and muddled. When the after-credits sequence ended and they dumped me unceremoniously back on the Normandy (same as in ME1 & ME2, so I do not consider that a spoiler), I was left feeling bittersweet and more than a bit sad. These feelings were a product of the fact that the franchise is complete – Shepard’s story is done. My time with these characters, in which was I invested in as much as I am towards any of that figments which populate my pop-culture imagination, was over. My sadness, though, went further than that. While I’d gotten virtually everything I’d wanted out of the experience of this game, one element (at the very end, discussed in detail below) left me feeling more dejected than satisfied.

I can no longer talk about my experience with Mass Effect 3 without wadding into some pretty MAJOR SPOILERS. I am going try and keep the spoilers in much of what you find below relatively mild. I’m going to relegate the extreme SPOILERS to the footnotes and the very end of this post.[10]

A few things need to be out of the way before this wall of text can begin in earnest. First, I have only beaten Mass Effect 3 once so far (obviously) and I’ve done so with “my” Commander Shepard. This is the character I first completed ME1 with, along with ME2. He’s been with me for five years. As per usual, I played a diplomatically minded character and, thus, almost always selected the paragon options. I romanced Ashley in ME1 and stayed faithful in ME2. Taking this character through ME3 will always been the definitive Mass Effect experience for me – despite the fact that I will likely be completing the game (at least) couple more times. Second, my thoughts on this game are over the place, so the rest of this post is going to be organized thematically around few key points I took away from the game.

With no further ado… Read the rest of this entry »