The End of an Era
I didn’t know quite what to expect from the third installment in BioWare’s space epic. I got into it well after much of the hype surrounding its now-notorious ending had already started to die down. Back when it first released, it was almost impossible to hear anything about the game itself, in terms of gameplay or storyline. Everything was “ending this” and “ending that”. The little bit I gleaned in passing while recording a podcast was information I would just as soon not have known – relating to the death of one of my companions, Thane. So it was with a skeptical mindset that I got into Mass Effect 3.
Like many, I found the game’s trailer to be incredibly exciting; sure, it appeared to veer away from the space opera set up by the first two entries, but damn did it get my pulse pounding! Of course, even though there are a few segments, most notably the beginning, set on Earth and playing out the events of the trailer from Shepard’s point of view, the remainder of the game once again had me hopping from solar system to solar system, exploring alien worlds and settling interplanetary disputes. The latter even more so than ever; with fighting breaking out across the galaxy and emotions running high with most friendly alien races, squabbles, double-crosses, and sneaky alliances abound. In this regard, the game was more successful than either of its predecessors in achieving a truly “galactic” scope to its plot; previously, Shepard and his team more or less existed and acted in a bubble, without worrying about the outside world.
Speaking of Shepard’s team: Where would the Mass Effect series be without its stellar characters? The line-up over the course of three games has evolved into a veritable Who’s Who? of amazing personalities! I’ve grown to love many of them, and the arcs they’ve went through; I’ve come to accept this fictional universe, shaped by my decisions, as canon, with no regard for how others may have played it. I am proud to say that I (unlike my friend and former colleague Martin Watts) did not lose Urdnot Wrex on Virmire in ME1, saved Ashley while Kaidan didn’t make it, and completed the suicide mission in ME2 without losing a single party member. With all that, I highly enjoyed meeting old friends and allies again, something that a second sequel can really revel in. And it had all the more impact on me, possibly more than any other game I’ve played in quite a while, when Mordin Solus sacrifices himself to cure the genophage (I know there are ways around his death, but it seems like what he would have wanted, what with all his built-up guilt) or standing by the sickbed of my boy Thane Krios with his son, and comforting him as he passes on. The list goes on and on: literally holding my breath as Grunt holds off the Rachni by himself, being there as Legion finally recognizes his own soul before shutting down forever, and on and on. These moments, which I wouldn’t want to have any other way, are the way the ME story was meant to go, for me, and are testament of a superiorly-written cast of characters!
Even my Shepard, as ugly as sin with a prominent, sloping caveman brow and favoring Dennis Rodman with a dark complexion, a thin strip of sleazy beard and bleached-blonde buzz cut, looks, in my mind, the way Shepard is supposed to. It’s just too hard to imagine anyone else, or anyone who looks different for that matter, after all the things I’ve seen him through. I’ll probably never forget my unique Shepard, but I usually need to do a double take whenever I see the “official” Shepard in ads or images. I’ve got to wonder, did anyone (outside of magazines or Let’s Play videographers) keep that look?
Overall, ME3 clocks in as a worthy conclusion, and provides enough emotion and spectacle to bring the story to a, in my estimation, satisfying close. I suppose I still favor the second installment by just a little; that finale was near impossible to top in terms of immersing me in the happenings on-screen. But now, the more I think on it, the more I find myself strangely affected by the ending, especially the ultimate death of Shepard and a number of his most trusted allies, as well as the doomed love between him and Liara, whom I pursued doggedly for three whole games. I couldn’t fathom restarting the story, since a) I don’t have that kind of time readily available, and b) I prefer to think of my version as the “true” story, and don’t want or need an alternate version. But at the same time, I am saddened to know that Shepard’s tale, at least, has ended.
There is one and only one thing I will say about the controversial ending and its “fix”, since it was such a hot-button topic. I fail to see how the expanded ending was superior in any way to the original one, which I think was just fine, but I am let down by the fact that the ending itself was a “choose your destiny” moment, as opposed to being dictated to me by the way I’d played the game the entire time. The way it was implemented just invited me to go back to my last save multiple times and try out all available endings, effectively removing any emotional impact any one of them would have had on its own; now there really is no ending “truer” than any other, and that’s disappointing.