Breaking Down the Backlog: Mass Effect 3

In this week’s Breaking Down the Galaxy, I say goodbye to my comrades as I save the galaxy from ancient genocidal robots.

This may very well be the most difficult BDTB I’ve had to write to date. I became so invested in the Mass Effect series over the years that remaining objective will be a bit of a problem. It has taken me roughly five years to finish off this trilogy and I am genuinely sad to see it all come to a conclusion. Mass Effect 3 isn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination but, for the most part, how Bioware ends the series left me feeling very emotional as I said goodbye to some of the best characters in video-games.

The Reapers attacking Earth!

But before I almost gush about Mass Effect 3‘s positive aspects, I have one big problem with the game: the lack of RPG mechanics. The series has always had a bit of third-person shooter in it’s D.N.A. – something that became more evident in Mass Effect 2 – but this game pretty much gets rid of all of it. Yes, you do level up and put points into skills, but it felt like a half-hearted holdover from the previous games instead of something core to the experience. This transformation completed Mass Effect‘s devolution into a third-person shooter with vestigial RPG bits attached to it. The shooting is pretty good, better than the Uncharted games for the most part. But there wasn’t enough variation in the enemies you fight or the locations you visit to sustain a thirty hour game. Also there are some other minor issues, such as: being too easy, weird graphical bugs and few interesting new characters but ultimately they don’t detract from the overall experience a great deal.

What makes Mass Effect 3 great is the story and characters. I can forgive rote combat because this game has some of the best character and story development in the medium. It begins with Commander Shepherd, the protagonist in all three games, put to pasture after causing upheaval by proclaiming that The Reapers (the antagonists of all three games) are finally coming to harvest the galaxy. Then they do come, lay waste to earth and force Shepherd to flee to space. She is then roped into the difficult task of trying to unite the galaxy together in order to save itself. This leads to is Shepherd roaming the galaxy meeting a mixture of famous Mass Effect figures and friends to solve their centuries old problems in order for them help destroy The Reapers.

Legion saving the Geth and stopping the war between them and the Quarians.

You end up finding a solution for just about every problem that the various species in Mass Effect have had over the course of the three games. The Genophage? Cured. The Geth and the Quarians warring? Peace is found. That whole Ardat-Yakshi cult/genetic disorder the Asari have? Destroyed. The Illusive Man and Cerbus as a whole? No longer an issue. The Reapers? Well…that is up to you how deal with them. It is almost insane just how serious Bioware were when it came to tying up every loose end in the Mass Effect galaxy. Not all of the quests have particularly strong missions attached to them, but they have a great pay-off. My highlight was the Genophage being cured because, not only did it have the best moral choice in the game, but the whole ending was just awesome.

Mordin curing the Genophage. I wonder how the game cures it without him.

Whilst you are doing these missions, if your crew survived Mass Effect 2‘s ending (all of mine did) you meet up with an ex-member in some way or another. It felt a bit fan service-y at times, but it is always a nice surprise whenever you meet one. Bioware make them so important at certain plot points, like how Mordin is instrumental to curing the Genophage, that I can’t imagine how those stories resolve without that character in the narrative at all. Their fate isn’t always positive either, which I really appreciated. Take the aforementioned Mordin, for example: he sacrifices himself in an incredible way to make sure the cure worked and then…that is it. He is just a name on the memorial in your ship along with all the other characters who have died since the first game. There is a little post-script about how Wrex’s mate wants to call their first-born “Mordin” which I appreciated. The developers make sure all your favourite characters, with the exception of Morinth, have a special moment or two with Shepherd that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Which, being the nostalgic idiot I am, I loved.

Now when Mass Effect 3 came out I remember a lot of screaming and bawling by people on the internet about two things: the ending and the DLC. The latter I completely understand but the former was totally overblown. I know that this is a post patch reaction to the ending, but I thought it was great. Shepherd speaking to the A.I of the Crucible was a little silly, yes, but in a series that has always been about the consciousness of artificial intelligence and speaking to an ancient robot who designed The Reapers outline what it’s motives were (hint: it is neither good or bad) was a perfectly serviceable way to end the game. I can see why people would be angry about the entire series of games being boiled down to four choices though. It feels like Bioware wrote themselves into a corner and didn’t have enough time or budget to write themselves out of it so they chose the easiest solution. Even if that was the case, I found the ending I chose to be a satisfying one that fit with my Shepherd’s character.

Javik, the very pissed off Prothean. One of the best characters in the series.

The Downloadable Content situation is a whole different kettle of fish. It disgusts me that E.A, Bioware or maybe a combination of both, decided to relegate From Ashes and to a lesser extent Leviathan to something you have to pay for. Especially the former as it has Javik in it who is basically one of the most important characters in the ENTIRE game, no, series. He, being the last remaining Prothean, adds so much that playing Mass Effect 3 without him would make the game worse. Javik is a top-tier character and stands proudly next to Garrus, Thane, Mordin and Wrex in my pantheon of awesome Mass Effect characters. Leviathan I can kind of understand, even if the revelation it leads to is awe-inspiring. It doesn’t necessarily add much more to the story outside of some extra dialogue with the Crucible’s A.I at the end. Still though, I hope whoever decided to put that stuff behind a pay-wall feels some shame, even if they made tons of money out of it because who doesn’t want a Prothean as a team-member?!

Mass Effect 3 is great and a fantastic way to end a video-game trilogy. I just wish there weren’t so many sour notes in the game that try their best to ruin the experience. But if you can look past all of that, and you have investment in the Mass Effect universe, you will have a wonderful time playing this game.

Next up on Breaking Down the Backlog: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

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