Mass Effect 3: the ending, and what comes next

[I’m doing my damnedest to keep MASS EFFECT 3 SPOILERS to a minimum, but you know how these things go.]

I finished Mass Effect 3 very late last night.  It wasn’t my intention, necessarily, but I’d finished every other side quest I could find and there wasn’t an easy place to stop.

I’d been trying to live in a spoiler-free world regarding the game for the last 6 months or so, but I also spend a lot of time on the internet, and so it was impossible to ignore the controversy brewing about the game’s endings.  I didn’t know why they were upset, or how many of them were out there, or if it was even something to take all that seriously, being that there’s a riot goin’ on over the internet at pretty much any given time.

And anyway, I wanted to see the ending for myself.  (My “galactic readiness” was somewhere in the low-to-mid 60%, but my strength was in the mid 4000s, high enough to get the best endings.)

As it happens, I saw my chosen ending at around 2:00 in the morning, after a 6 hour marathon, and as such I’m probably not in the best shape to discuss why it’s a terrible ending or why Bioware needs to change it.  I’m not entirely sure they do need to change it, anyway.  I made my choice after what felt like 30 minutes of hemming and hawing, and when I finish this post I’m probably going to head back to my apartment and fire up my last save just to see the option I almost picked instead.

It was a tough choice, there’s no doubt about it.  It was absolutely the toughest choice I’d made in the entire series, especially since none of the three options were terribly appealing, and also since I was exhausted and forgot what the choices actually were for a little bit there.  But it would’ve been silly to hope for a “happy” ending – in a series where millions and millions of people/creatures died over the course of a years-long galactic war, having an Ewok dance party would’ve been stupid.

In any event, it wasn’t a cop-out, which (to me) is what’s most impressive.  Even in spite of the fact that it’s a literal deus ex machina.  I did what I did and the war ended, and it hurt a little bit, as it should’ve.

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I’ve read in a few places that even though the trilogy is over, Bioware isn’t done with the Mass Effect franchise, which is good.  I don’t want to leave this world they’ve created.  They’ve created one of the most compelling sci-fi universes in any medium, and there’s a lot more to be seen and done.  But there are some game things that need to be addressed.

For one thing, is there any game franchise that would benefit more from L.A. Noire‘s amazing facial tech than Mass Effect?  As it stands right now, all of the otherwise excellent dialogue sequences are hampered by robotic facial expressions and the occasional strange, unconnected wandering around by a speaking character.  (This happens a lot in The Old Republic, come to think of it.  In fact, some of the wandering-around animations might be identical.)  Better facial tech would go a long way towards making these characters feel even more real than the script allows them to be.

I might also add that a lot of the optional crew conversations in ME3 – the ones where you finish your mission and then wander around the Normandy – were almost exclusively of the pep-talk variety.  Everybody’s feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders, sure, but I felt like I was having the same conversation with 12 different people.

The quest system was more than a little messed up – at least as far as the optional side stuff went.  For one thing, picking up side missions by overhearing conversations in the Citadel just felt lazy.  Secondly, the quest system never updated itself, so it was hard to know what you’d actually found and what was ready to turn in.  At one point, I’d kept a notebook on my coffee table so that I could keep track of what I was doing.  This seems insane, given that the game has a built-in quest log already.

One of the things I liked in ME2 was that not every side mission involved combat – sometimes it was just exploring an environment.  As far as I could tell, there was only one (1) mission like that in ME3, and it was a neat change of pace (even if it felt like a puzzle idea that only got half-baked), and I wished there was more.

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My big dream for the next console generation is for a mega-hybrid RPG combining the sci-fi world and strong character development of Mass Effect, the wide-open expanse and the sense of discovery of Skyrim, and the true open-world freedom of GTA.  You put that together with a truly kick-ass graphics engine (idTech5? UnrealEngine 4?) and maybe a multiplayer component worth a damn and  you’ve got yourself a monumental work of art.  Make it so.

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