Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cleared: Mass Effect 3

Well, it's time to put the defibrillator paddles on this blog, I think. Criminey, it's been a long time with no new content. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I finished playing through Mass Effect 3 earlier this week, and I've been ruminating over it a bit, along with a lot of the other folks who have played it, I imagine. One spoiler-free bit before I get to the spoilery part of the post: the multiplayer, while something I was initially skeptics of/uninterested in, has turned out to be a ton of fun and well worth playing if you have the game. I've found it very enjoyable, and that's playing with strangers. I can't wait to try it with friends. Anyway, onto the real "meat" of this post.

SPOILER WARNING: It's pretty much impossible for me to discuss Mass Effect 3 in the way I'd like to without going into substantial spoilers, so if you'd rather not have the game spoiled, you're going to have to skip this post entirely, I'm afraid.

Here's the thing (and this is a common theme around the web) most of the game is brilliant. In fact, I teared up a couple of times and not from frustration of disappointment. It bears mention that the game included every single thing I wanted the mid-game to contain and more. Jack, who I'd written off in the first game, is back as a biotics instructor at Grissom Academy and is fiercely protective of "her kids." The changes in her make her actually sympathetic, and that's very cool to see. Thane Krios single-handedly saves the Salarian councilor from Kai Leng, and then passes away peacefully in a hospital bed, praying for Shepard.

Those, by the way, are the more minor parts. The Geth and the Qaurians can finally make peace in one of the most tense and touching bits of game story I've ever seen. The depth to which the Geth are willing to forgive the Quarians is staggering. I don't think I've found any line in all my gaming history as touching as: "You are welcome to return to Rannoch, Admiral Raan. With us." It's both amusing and a little poignant to watch the almost paternal body language of the Geth Prime towering over Admiral Raan as that conversation happens, especially since the Geth are actually the Quarians' "children." This is made even more touching still when you talk to Tali on the ship afterward and find out that the Geth are helping the Quarians adapt to life without enviro-suits.

The situation on Tuchanka isn't quite as touching, but it's still really satisfying. Mordin sacrifices himself to put the old injustice of the Genophage right, and despite the fact that at the time it looks like you lost the support of the Salarians, it feels pretty fantastic to watch what looks like snow fall from The Shroud. Eve and Wrex make a great "first couple" for the new Krogan society, too.

There are some other bits as well, and by the time I made it to the final confrontation, I felt like I'd laid the groundwork for a golden age in the galaxy. A common threat did a lot to unite the disparate, bickering factions, and the one true wild card, the Batarians, had been mulched by the Reapers on their way to Earth, so they wouldn't be a problem in the future.

It was at this point that the game proceeded to pull the rug out from under its own story. There's not much that I can add to the discussion that hasn't already been said, but it was kind of a let-down to see so much of the preceding storyline disregarded in the final cutscene. I had also hoped for a more strategic show-down with the Reapers, with old crewmates leading special ops strike teams you could direct to accomplish various tasks in a manner somewhat similar to ME2's suicide mission. I can picture vividly Samara and some Asari Commandos or even the rest of the Justicar order, Miranda and some former Cerberus ops, Grunt and his Krogan unit, Liara and a squad of Shadow Broker mercs, Tali with a mixed Quarian/Geth strike team, etc.

Alas, however, my military/strategic ending was not to be.I still think I got my money's worth, though.

RPG notes: The Mass Effect universe just begs for a licensed series of tabletop RPG products. The setting could not be more perfect for adventuring in, and playing out "alternate histories" in which the Reaper War ended in whatever way a specific group would have preferred (possibly using something like Microscope to set up the post-war setting) would be amazing.

In addition, the themes of reconciliation and forgiveness present throughout the trilogy make for a very meaty and though-provoking bit of inspiration for any campaign, as does the concept of the Reapers themselves. Because they aren't annihilating all organic life, but rather "pruning" it, they make for a more nuanced villain than your typical omnicidal maniac elder evil thingy.