Posted Thu 24th May 2012 5:07pm by Ruser Saldana
Mass Effect 3 Review
I had several issues with Mass Effect 2, the biggest being the contrived determinants of my squad’s survival. Tying their lives to their loyalty to Shepard (amongst other things) made very little sense to me, and the religious undertones, intended or not, were disconcerting (I feared a cult that preached salvation through loyalty to “The Shepherd” would not be too far off). Bioware, I thought, held their protagonist in too high regard.
This setup caused a disconnect between the context of the game (a suicide mission) and the game itself. Much of ME2 was spent recruiting friends and strangers, and then helping these friends and strangers resolve family issues and identity crises. The game climaxed with the suicide mission, but it felt like an afterthought considering how much time and energy was spent catering to my squad’s personal lives instead of, you know, saving the galaxy. It was as if Bioware was keen on having this suicide mission take place but was desperate to find a game to build around it.
I expected Mass Effect 3 to have similar narrative troubles, partly because of the franchise’s narrative history, but mainly because reconciling gameplay and story is a difficult task. When it comes to telling stories, I am of the opinion that if Naughty Dog struggles with something, 99.9% of all developers will struggle with it. And Naughty Dog, for all they get right, struggles mightily trying to get the Uncharted game to jive with the Uncharted story. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what Bioware was able to do in ME3.
The game begins with the Reapers attacking Earth and the desperation I perceived in Bioware throughout Mass Effect 2 was evident in Shepard in Mass Effect 3 (I can say, unequivocally, that it is better for a character to be desperate rather than the people in charge of telling that character’s story). Shepard is casually dressed and lightly armed during the Reaper attack, evoking a rawness in the opening minutes that sets a vulnerable and personal tone for the rest of the game.
For Shepard, desperation means doing anything it takes to gain support against the Reapers and retake Earth. Every mission is put into this context, keeping most of the different stories and plots from wandering off on their own. Even missions that seem totally unrelated to the main plot are somehow tied up with the Reapers. This might seem trivial, and for some, maybe it is. But I find missions much more interesting when they logically and directly affect my ultimate goal.
Missions are mostly straightforward, and I wonder if this is on purpose or if there is a lack of viable options to make things more interesting. After all, we have been doing the same thing for the better part of three games, and I imagine that if Bioware knew how to shake up their missions, they would have done it by now. Typically, Shepard and company must get from one end of a map to the other and shoot everything in-between; I was hoping that there would be more to saving the galaxy than this, but apparently there is not. Still, the game does combat well, and I appreciated how fresh most shootouts felt despite fundamentally being the same. At one point, I had to fight my way to a room to pull a couple of switches, then turn and fight my way out of that room. This occurred in a small area, yet Bioware was able to make these two separate fights feel very different despite using the same exact space.
At the end, ME3 peaks not with a battle, but with a choice. A lot has already been said about the story’s conclusion and I will not add much to that except for this: knowing Shepard’s fate is nice, but ignoring everyone else was an odd choice considering how much Bioware wanted people to care about them throughout the series (particularly in Mass Effect 2). The conclusion also left me with many questions, primarily: if Bioware doesn’t care about the decisions I made, why should I?
Overlooking player authorship turned the most compelling aspect of the entire series into irrelevant plot points. Series writer Mac Walters said he found most people "play Paragon," and I suspect this is because the game effectively conveys the consequences of Renegade choices. Maybe there's a lot of people out there who have no problems telling Joker he's an idiot for looking at the android EDI in that way (probably breaking his heart but apparently saving his pelvis). But I expect that the majority of the players are, for example, anti-genocide, and the game is successful appealing to that, making even virtual genocide seem like a very bad thing. That Bioware showed little regard for such a cogent and personal part of Mass Effect is the game’s biggest disappointment. I find this to be especially astounding considering how even trivial things in Mass Effect 2 affected the ending in that game (yes, I'm back on this point. I'm still trying to figure out how loyalty can stop a bullet from entering a person's brain once it has penetrated the skull).
Finally, I was most surprised by how effective I found the game’s soundtrack to be - a big surprise considering I find most music in games to be inconsequential. However, I thought the soundtrack here did exactly what it should do: make me aware of the effect the music is having without distracting me with the music itself. When Shepard leaves Earth in the game’s opening sequence, there is music playing in the background, but I could not tell you what it sounded like. I can, however, tell you that the sight of Reapers on Earth is the most heartbreaking thing Shepard has ever seen: it was hinted at in her facial expression and driven home by the music that accompanied it.
I find that amazing visuals can make for some memorable scenes, and Mass Effect 3, without exception, has amazing visuals. On the other hand, I find amazing music can make for memorable moments, and there are many moments here that I'm sure I'll remember for quite some time.
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