Mass Effect 3 has no doubt been talked to death in the video game world, mainly because of its controversial endings to what should have been the most epic conclusion of a well constructed science fiction RPG ever made. There’s a lot of feelings running through my mind long after I have finished my own first playthrough of the game last weekend. A lot has to do with the endings and the rest has to do with my emotional responses to the characters and plot. I’m pretty sure this post will be massive and full of spoilers, but I’ll put the appropriate spoiler tags for those who haven’t played or finished the game yet. Although, it’s been hard not to encounter spoilers for this game since the Internet is practically burning with them since its release back in March.
The game doesn’t waste any time in thrusting your Commander Shepard back into action. The warning of the Reapers’ arrival which has been set up since the beginning of the first Mass Effect finally does arrive. The game opens on Earth where the Reapers make their assault without any warning and any preparation. The Reaper threat is nothing to take lightly, and those who didn’t heed Shepard’s warning about them since the first Mass Effect probably wish they believed him/her from the beginning.
As the hero/heroine of the story, you are given the task of gathering the biggest galactic fleets to fight the Reaper invasion currently going on in nearly every planet and star system in the galaxy. Shepard has his/her work cut for them because before you can gather said army, you have to first resolve conflicts and issues going on between the races or on their own planets. It ranges from acting as peacemaker between the Geth and Quarians to helping the Krogans get their cure for the genophage that has left this race of aliens incapable of spawning a new generation of Krogans to carry the bloodline. And if that’s not enough, you also have to deal with the Illusive Man and his Cerberus organization trying to sabotage your efforts for an agenda that isn’t made clear until much later in the game. A mix of war and politics add an interesting dynamic to the story.
If you have a previous save file from Mass Effect 2, it can be imported for Mass Effect 3 to take into account your actions and decisions from the first and second game. Game mechanics are the same as Mass Effect 2. Not much has changed except for the addition of being able to roll in and out of cover and a super charged melee attack that is unique to the class you are playing as. Enemies in this game compared to the first two games actually charge to where you are hiding in an attempt to force you out of your protective spot. More mobile enemies that actually seek your Shepard out in a fight makes the combat a bit more challenging. While Mass Effect 2 had the little hacking mini-games you could do in order to loot additional gear or credits for your character, it’s completely gone in the third installment. Planet scanning/probing is part of Mass Effect 3, but maybe not as time consuming as gathering minerals from Mass Effect 2. If you do decide to scan a planet that’s already taken over by the Reapers, don’t expect a leisure find this and take that type of scanning you got from Mass Effect 2. The more you use the scan in Reaper territory, the higher your Reaper detectability will be. Once the Reapers lock onto your presence, you see the Reapers coming for your little Normandy ship on the map and you need to remove yourself from the system before it’s game over and you become Reaper food.
The game also adds voice capability functions for the Kinect on the Xbox 360 so you can shout commands like “open” or tell characters like Liara to use certain powers or weapons. I haven’t used the voice functions too much as I felt silly to yell out commands as I played. I found it easier to just press buttons to get my characters to do what I need them to do.
There are less playable squad members in the third game. You do get a few new characters in this game such as your shuttle pilot Steve Cortez, the wise cracking James Vega, journalist Diana Allers––to name a few. It seems like for this third game it’s really about most of the original characters from the first game such as Garrus, Tali, and Liara. If your Shepard ever romanced Ashley Williams or Kaidan Alenko and one of them survived the mission on Virmire from the first game, there is an opportunity in Mass Effect 3 to continue the romance as well as have either character become part of your squad again. Having either Ashley or Kaidan back as a playable squad member makes up for their lack of presence in Mass Effect 2.
As you play Mass Effect 3, you get to track your Galactic Readiness Rating progress in the game. To prepare for the fight against the Reapers you need to raise your Effective Military Strength or EMS to a certain number of points. The EMS is what really counts in the game if you want to get the “best ending,” but more on the disappointing ending later. It’s incredibly hard to achieve a 100% Galactic Readiness Rating without playing the online multiplayer feature created for this game, or one of the apps created only for Apple iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. I never played the online multiplayer since owning Mass Effect 3. I’m not much of an online multiplayer person unless one of my friends owns the game too. I prefer playing with people I know and not so much with complete strangers. Probably if I want to get my EMS to where I need it to be to get the “best ending” as it stands, I’ll need to get one of the apps. Even then, I don’t currently have an iPod Touch or iPad. This sort of limitation is very frustrating, and I don’t know why Bioware thought this was a good idea at the time.
The strength of this installment of the game and pretty much the previous games of Mass Effect has always been the story and the universe’s characters. The gravity of the war and its inevitable losses are felt as you play the game. Characters die and their deaths are a sacrifice that need to be made in the hopes all living beings will have a chance at survival. At times you witness your Shepard make a stunning victory against the Reapers and in others you witness your hero/heroine watch as a race’s home world get utterly destroyed right before your Shepard’s eyes and he/she is powerless to stop it. It’s moments like these where playing for the story is truly worth it.
I can’t comment on any other romance subplots in the game as I have to do more playthroughs of this series to determine how the others are, but I can say I’m completely satisfied with how the romance between my female Shepard and Kaidan has played out in this game. A faithful Shepard since the first Mass Effect is definitely worth having for this romance. A lot of the romance scenes and dialogue choices between Shepard and Kaidan is worthy of any romantic or fangirl who has been in love with Kaidan since the first game. The emotions feel genuine, and the credit definitely goes to the voice actors for selling the romance to the player well. It also doesn’t hurt that the developers have improved on the look of Kaidan as well.
One of the few things I didn’t like about the romance was how the love scene (sex scene) got tacked on before the final mission, also dubbed as the point of no return at the end of the game. It was done in the first Mass Effect and it was done again in the third. Having sex right before the mammoth of all suicide missions is a little awkward, especially when the relationship has already been established between the two characters since the first game. I believed the sex scene before the final mission in the first Mass Effect because Shepard and Kaidan just started their relationship and they aren’t even sure if they’ll come out alive from the Ilos mission and the final fight with Saren and Sovereign. In that scenario, they are acting in the heat of the moment. In this installment, Shepard and Kaidan already have a relationship established and the mission they are on involves the potential of entire races going extinct. A tumble underneath the sheets right before a deadly serious mission would hardly be on the minds of both Shepard and Kaidan. It probably would have been better to have a romantic moment where their love is expressed beyond the physical benefits of their relationship, but that’s a whole other topic entirely. Despite the flaws with the romance subplot, the scenes are tastefully done and a nice moment to witness for those who have gone down the female Shepard and Kaidan romance path.
Romance isn’t the only relationship to enjoy in this game. Your friendships with the other characters you don’t romance are equally beautiful and satisfying. Characters you have known since the first game and gotten to know in the second one become not only allies for Shepard but friends. Some characters change, especially those who have been with Shepard since the first game. Others remain the same for the most part just with more responsibilities and concerns.
I really liked how Liara T’Soni has developed over three games. Gone are those days when she was the shy, awkward doctor with a passion and background in archaeology. She’s now the more confident and assertive woman who gets things done at all costs even though at times it puts herself in more danger as a result. The Turian Garrus Vakarian is probably the few squad members in the game who doesn’t change all that much. Garrus is a fan favorite for a reason. His dry humor, loyalty, and ability to kick ass in a fight makes him really likeable. And Garrus has a really sexy voice! Male and female gamers alike can’t help but be charmed by the former C-Sec officer.
The interactions between my Shepard and these two characters felt really natural and easy going. As I played the game and watched the relationships develop in all three games, I always considered Garrus and Liara to be my Shepard’s two best friends. Liara is kind of like the girlfriend my Shepard never had. She’s thoughtful and contemplative when talking to Shepard, and having Liara as a friend allows Shepard to want to watch out for Liara like a close sister. Their friendship has a calm and emotional heart at the center of their relationship, which I think is necessary for Shepard who has seen so much death and destruction and would really need an anchor to keep her grounded instead of going insane. Garrus is definitely the close male friend who gives things to her straight, and both appreciate good humor to lighten up the situations they are in. As a lot of fans have said, Garrus is the kind of character who has your back not only in battle but as your friend. He doesn’t judge you and he gives good, rational advice when you need it. I guess you can say I view these two characters as the heart and mind for Shepard as her closest friends.
There is a really good dialogue scene between Shepard and the DLC character Javik, the last Prothean to survive the last Reaper invasion during his time, that sums up why Shepard fights. Javik asks something along the lines of if holding onto these human emotions, these connections Shepard has with the crew and his/her love interest is really worth it. Since I’ve been playing as a full Paragon Shepard, I chose the Paragon dialogue response where she tells Javik it is in fact worth it. She goes on to say that she needs them. Without them, all she has is war and death in her life. This scene alone shows you that while your character may be trying to put on a brave, fearless face your character is human just like everyone else. My Shepard has her doubts and fears just like everyone else. She isn’t invincible like most people make her out to be. To be the savior of the galaxy where billions of lives depended on you is a huge weight that is bound to crush anyone in the end. Clinging onto human connections like her friendships with her squad and her love for Kaidan are enough to give her the strength she needs to keep fighting or die trying.
This brings me to the ending of the game. I’m not going to pick the ending apart too much because there are plenty of articles and YouTube videos that already do that and more. All you have to do is Google “Mass Effect 3 Ending” and you will find all opinions from the professionals to the amateur blogger discussing why the ending does or doesn’t live up to the story of an entire trilogy. If you don’t want to know what happens and have managed not to read anything about the ending, then please do not read the following few paragraphs below. You have been warned!
Playing through to the end, I already knew what to expect in terms of the ending falling flat on its face in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game. As you play the game, your only hope of defeating the Reapers is an ancient Prothean weapon (though not really Prothean but let’s not get into the complicated explanation of where the weapon really came from) known as the Crucible. Hackett and his team work on the Crucible while Shepard is busy trying to gather an army to fight the Reapers. At some point in the game, Shepard finds out that in order to make the Crucible work a Catalyst is needed to activate it. Several missions later Shepard discovers that the Catalyst is the Citadel itself, the sprawling city the player has come to know since the very first game.
The Reapers are tipped off about the Catalyst by the Illusive Man (more on why he would help the Reapers later) and are somehow able to move the Citadel from space and has it hovering over the city of London. This where the last mission, Priority Earth, becomes the most urgent and adrenaline rush mission you get. My final squad selection for this mission were Kaidan and Garrus. Shepard and your squad have to fight through the army the Reapers have created in London to get close to the beam leading up into the Citadel. As Shepard and your squad races to the beam, you watch people get blasted by Harbinger’s death beam (Harbinger being a character from Mass Effect 2). At some point, the beam hits or nearly hits Shepard and she blacks out. When my Shepard comes to, her armor is charred with cuts and bruises on her body and is near death at this point but she manages to get up and limp the rest of the way to the beam. For some reason you don’t know where your squad members are, but it doesn’t matter when the goal is to get to the Catalyst. Instead of any big, bad boss fight in the end to further hamper your way to the Catalyst you get to shoot some husks running at you before taking out the final enemy which is a Marauder Shield––easy enemies you have been fighting off as target practice in preparation for the big battle.
Once Shepard reaches the beam and is now inside the Citadel she hears Anderson’s voice, Shepard’s former superior officer on the Normandy from the first game, through her communication device and tells her he made it inside with her but are separated somehow. Shepard continues to communicate with Anderson until the connection gives out as she makes her way through the pathway to get to the module that should activate the Catalyst to make the Crucible work. Shepard reaches the room with the module to see Anderson already in the room but is unable to activate the Catalyst as the Illusive Man comes out of the shadows and has him under an invisible hold. At this point, the Illusive Man’s appearance barely looks human. The player witnesses what looks to be a final showdown between Shepard and the Illusive Man. The Illusive Man spouts out a bunch of crazy things such as working with the Reapers in an effort to try and control them, his solution to ending the Reaper war. It becomes a battle of wills between Shepard and the Illusive Man to get him to back down from going on with this crazy plan, convince the Illusive Man that he has been indoctrinated by the Reapers, and save Anderson whose life is in danger.
I believe with the minimum amount of EMS and a full Paragon/Renegade gauge you can persuade the Illusive Man to see the error of his ways, fight Reaper control by committing suicide, and save Anderson from being shot by the Illusive Man. In my playthrough, I met the minimum requirements and got Illusive Man to kill himself and save Anderson. There’s a nice scene between Shepard and Anderson after the Catalyst has been activated. The scene is very poignant and bittersweet. The way the scene plays out feels as if the game should have ended there. It’s after this moment that the ending gets really confusing and has become the full blown controversy it has been.
Shepard receives a communication call from Hackett telling her that nothing is happening with the Crucible and it must be something on her end. She hobbles over to the module only to black out again. A space elevator emerges from underneath her body and floats up to the ceiling. Shepard comes to and is greeted by what fans have dubbed the “god child.” The god child being declares he’s the Catalyst or the Citadel itself, and the Reapers are his creation. Shepard learns that the Reapers were created in an attempt to keep organic life from wiping out synthetic life every 50,000 years because apparently organics and synthetics are incapable of co-existing together. This mass genocide of races is the god child’s answer to restore order and balance in the galaxy. To be honest, this explanation confused the hell out of me as I tried to follow the conversation going on between my Shepard and this glowing blue kid.
The god child being then continues to say that Shepard is the first to ever make it this far to the Catalyst. He also provides a solution to the Reaper threat for Shepard in the form of three options. Those options being: control, synthesis, and destroy (also infamously known in the fandom as the A, B, or C endings for the game). The control option is pretty much the option the Illusive Man has actively supported while Shepard tries to reason with him by saying the idea of controlling the Reapers is insane and it won’t work. Synthesis is combining organics and synthetics together to get what the god child believes to be the next stage of evolution, a new race so to speak. It’s also considered to be the option Saren from the first Mass Effect game was going for when he was indoctrinated by the Reapers. Finally, the destroy option is exactly how it sounds and what Shepard and everyone has been set out to do from the start of the game, which is to destroy the Reapers. There is a catch to the destroy option as the god child tells Shepard––you will wipe out the Reapers but in the process you will be killing all synthetic life in the galaxy. So whoever Shepard made friends with (EDI) or spent the entire time uniting a race of living beings and synthetics to coexist peacefully (Quarian and Geth), your Shepard is signing the death warrants of all good and innocent synthetics who have souls with this option. The other kicker is that Shepard will die no matter what choice she makes.
The choices are really a take it or leave it moment. I chose destroy in my first playthrough because the other two didn’t really make the most sense at all. Once I made my decision you see a cluster of cut scenes from Reapers keeling over on the ground, mass relays exploding across the galaxy, and then Joker on the Normandy ship somehow high tailing it out of there to be transported onto some exotic jungle planet. Joker emerges from the ship unscathed and takes in his surroundings. The hugest WTF moment was when I saw Kaidan emerge from the ship behind Joker with a smile on his face as he joins the pilot to assess the new world. Camera pans out from the scene and then we cue credits. After the end credits, you watch a scene between a grandfather and child in a snowy forest as the grandfather tells the child a story about “The Shepard” and the game finally ends.
*End of Spoilers*
I really don’t know where to begin in my views about the ending. To be clear, I am very disappointed with how the game ends but I’m not so livid to sign petitions to change the ending or burn up the official Bioware forums with my expression of hate for the endings. It’s already been done by enough people. Everyone practically knows that a huge majority of fans who have dedicated their time into this beloved game series are clearly upset. I may not have dedicated five years of my life to this series as I have just played all three games back-to-back since January of this year, but I can still understand the outrage.
The biggest gripe with the ending was how player choices didn’t matter at all, we didn’t get the varied endings based on how we played the games like we should have, and the endings themselves make no sense whatsoever. I can forgive player choices not being taken into account in the game such as saving or killing the Rachni Queen from the first Mass Effect or deciding to destroy or preserve the genophage cure from Mass Effect 2. I can even forgive not having 16 or more multiple endings in the same style as Dragon Age Origins. It could be budget reasons or time constraints, but the idea of having so many different endings to see at each different playthrough would have been insanely awesome. What I can’t forgive is the glaring plot holes in the game. Those are really hard to ignore. The ending does leave more questions rather than answers and closure. And for a game that has been labeled as the conclusion to Commander Shepard’s story in the Mass Effect universe, leaving more questions unanswered and lacking any real definitive sense of the end for a character you have loved for an entire series is sloppy and poor writing.
I’m more upset (like everyone else) to see my Shepard’s love interest and presumably my squad member somehow back on the Normandy when they were both with Shepard in the final battle on Earth! Seriously, why is Kaidan on the ship with Joker and not with my Shepard? How the hell did Joker somehow manage to pick up my squad, but leave my Shepard behind? Why is Kaidan smiling as he assesses the new world? I can go on with the endless amount of questions the player is left with, but then I’d be venturing back into spoiler territory. It really is out of character to witness Joker chickening out in battle and leave, and find time to pick up my squad but not care about his commanding officer? That’s highly unlikely. And Kaidan? Come on! The guy literally told my Shepard how he can’t lose her again right before the final battle on Earth, and I believe not being at my Shepard’s side until the very end is very out of character for Kaidan. Unless Shepard at some point radioed Joker, told him to pick up Kaidan and Garrus because things are getting dangerous, and leave her behind. I could imagine Kaidan fighting Shepard on this but somehow manages to get Kaidan on the ship anyway. So if it were to play out like that, Kaidan emerging from the ship with a smile on his face hardly makes sense. The man would be wringing his hands in fear for the woman he left behind. He’d yell at Joker for leaving Shepard on Earth. Hell, the guy would tear up the rest of the crashed Normandy’s ship interior in rage for being on some random planet and not with the woman he loves. But smiling? Hell no. Kaidan would not be smiling at all. Unless I want to believe Kaidan went jerk on my Shepard in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game, but I really doubt this is the case at all.
Viewing the endings in a literal sense leaves the player cold and depressed. Not to mention I am upset with the plot holes more than anything else. However, the only thing that will help the endings make sense as it stands now is what other fans have seen as the attempted indoctrination of Shepard. This video actually comes up with some pretty compelling arguments for it, and I’d rather believe this theory than taking the ending literally right now. Again, don’t view the video if you haven’t finished Mass Effect 3. Unfortunately, it’s just a theory. This hasn’t been confirmed by Bioware at all, but considering they are keeping the ending and are releasing their clarification of the endings known as the Extended Cut DLC sometime this summer in response to the fanrage over the endings, indoctrination is the closest you will get to explain the weirdness and confusion that happened. Even if Bioware somehow confirms it to be indoctrination with the extended cut and possibly no additional game play with this cut, it still leaves the problem of having no real ending for the game. It would also mean that the Reaper war isn’t really over either. I am skeptical that the DLC will in fact fix the ending, but one can only hope that somehow Bioware will pull off a miracle and make the endings as they should have been.
Mass Effect 3 is really a good game. I can’t flame the game as a whole when the developers got most of the game right, but severely failed when it came to the 1% which is the ending. I can still replay this game again and ignore the fact that the ending is terrible. I’d rather relive my connection to the characters and story. It is also nice to see characters spread out throughout the Normandy ship and at times talking to other squad members. It shows that they aren’t just stuck to the same place you expect them to be, but are in fact walking around and interacting with other people. Even better when you see characters leave the ship and hang out around the Citadel while you do the Citadel side missions or buy items. Interacting with them in the Citadel adds to the realism of the characters and the Mass Effect universe. These are the huge positives of the game.
The downsides of the game, ending aside, is the lack of interaction with characters on the Normandy ship itself. I missed the times when you can go up to a character and a whole bunch of dialogue options would be available for Shepard to ask the other squad members. Instead, you get the occasional dialogue choices but most of the time you are just clicking on a character to hear a random set of responses coming out of the character’s mouth with maybe Shepard responding automatically to the banter. The new rolling in and out of cover in the game play portion is annoying and clumsy. There were times I rolled my Shepard out of cover when I really wanted her to duck behind objects or pop out to shoot the enemy. The other thing I didn’t like was how EMS relied on playing the apps or online multiplayer. You can do every single side mission, scan every single planet for war assets and resources to contribute to your EMS rating in single player, but you will still come up short in getting the Easter Egg cut scene at the end of the destroy option of the game. I know I didn’t get it and I did a 100% perfect playthrough for this game. The fact that the developers said you won’t need to play online multiplayer to get the “best ending” is really a flat out lie. Like most players have said, to force online multiplayer on people who don’t want to play multiplayer for an RPG game is a bad business move. Of course, the extra scene really isn’t much of anything. I YouTubed it and even then the extra scene is disappointing even though the scene is meant to give the player hope?
Everyone will disagree on whether Mass Effect 3 is worth playing. I don’t think it’s worth paying regular price for it unless it’s on sale, but I think it’s worth playing for the characters and the story––minus the ending. What Bioware got right is making a story with characters you connect with and care about. If the player didn’t care about these characters and the universe then there wouldn’t have been such a huge backlash over the endings like there has been for this game. My enjoyment with this series will always be because of the emotions this game has managed to pull out of me. Not too many games have managed to do that. Sure my game experience with Mass Effect 3 will be slightly tainted by the bad ending, but it’s not enough for me to sell back my copy either. I’ll gladly play this entire game series again to go through the emotional journey with my Shepard all over again. Until then, I’m waiting to see what the Extended Cut DLC in the summer will do for the ending.
Reviewer Rating: 8.5/10