The commonly jumped to conclusion regarding Mass Effect Trilogy is that the third one is the bad one. Regardless of the reasoning or actual truth behind that statement, there was such a fiasco over the ending of the game back when it first came out that Bioware actually had to apologise about is and then go back and “fix” it.
It was such a to-do that is remains one of the first things that pop into a gamer’s mind when Mass Effect 3 is brought up at all. Personally, I have a pretty tumultuous relationship with the game too, although I do actually air on the side of loving it more often than not.
In the previous two parts of this series, I talked about how Mass Effect 2 took a step away from the more video gamey, RPG elements of the first game and become much more of a cinematic action game. This final game in the trilogy doubles down on this and perfects the gameplay and integration of visuals and storey to make the finale of the trilogy the most dramatic entry.
There were so many different directions I could take when it comes to this game and talking about it in less than 1500 words: How the concept of your choices mattering from the previous games does kind of fall a little short of the promises is seemed Bioware were making during the previous two entries. Or I could talk about how the original ending was such a monumental bummer to me.
Hell, I could spend a thousand words talking about how much I loved the surprise multiplayer included within the game and how it really showed off how good and fun the combat in the series had become by the time the third game had come out. Or how utterly grimy EA’s monetisation of it was at the time.
It’s a game with so many interesting talking point surrounding it. Ultimately though, having just finished the trilogy and drawing to a close 120(ish) hours I spent with these three games back to back I can’t help but think about what a strange tonal piece this game ended up being by the time it was over.
Mass Effect 3, in many ways like Mass Effect 2 before it, feels like a vector for a series of smaller, self contained stories within the greater Reaper narrative. Like a season of television with a number of story arcs that open and close throughout before the big dramatic season finale.
And the tone of these story arcs can waver from uplifting and fun and then right into crushingly bleak. The game’s opening with the attack on Earth is a super effective introduction the game; finally revealing the Reapers to us in force and showing just how woefully underprepared everyone was for them.
Even if there was any way to prepare for them, the Reapers are such an overwhelming force that fighting them always just seemed like simply delaying the inevitable. Which is why I guess it feels like we spend more time fighting Cerberus forces than we do Reapers throughout the length of the game. Cerberus seems like an opponent we can recognise and realistically see a victory against. Which distracts from the oppressiveness of the Reaper for good chunks of the game.
Because, here’s the thing, after the mission on Palavan’s moon, the game becomes more of a story of diplomacy, getting the Krogen and the Turians to work together, stopping a coup attempt on the Citadel, putting an end to a centuries old war between the Quarian and the Geth. This meaty, middle chunk o the game is the part of it I enjoy the most.
The Reapers are mostly a background element here and the real focus of the story here is seeing these characters and these races come to terms and reach a conclusion. Curing the Genophage, saving the Council (again) and brokering peace on Rannoch are real feel good moments throughout the game.
Esspecially when you get to end them all by taking down a Reaper up close.
By the time you get back to the Reaper storyline and visit Thessia, that oppressive weight of the Reaper harvest sets back in and things start to feel grim and depressing again. Much more so than they were at the start of the game, as Thessia is the first planet we get to see up close that has been utterly reduced to ruins. Which is a mixed bag for me. No doubt it’s all proof that Bioware did a fantastic job making me love this world and setting, thus seeing is all coming to a destructive end hits me much harder than it probably should.
I don’t like playing these segments of the game because they’re a reminder than my time with the Mass Effect Trilogy is coming to an end and by the time I get to chose which colour ending I want, the state of the galaxy has been irreversibly changed. So many potential stories set in this series snuffed out by the immense cost needed to finally end the ancient cycle of harvest.
It’s strange really. It’s like not wanting to watch the final ten minutes of a movie you love because you know know those last ticking seconds inch ever closer to the movie being over. I suppose it was always my deep seeded desire to see the world of Mass Effect become like Star Wars; a setting with a series of rules and archetypes that becomes a canvas from which endless more stories could be told.
The Reapers showing up kind of puts an end to any of those plans. Plans I always knew were never going to become a reality, but still bummed me out nonetheless. Even knowing that this game was released to give EA and this version of Bioware some good will in preparation for whatever new Mass Effect project they have in the works.
Although given Bioware’s track record since this game originally came out, I’m not getting my hopes up for the return of Mass Effect to be anything near the scale and grandeur of this trilogy.
I had been hesitant to pick up this collection when it got announced last year, hell I wrote an entire blog post debating whether or not I was going to buy it. Now I’ve spent the last month playing the entire trilogy again, I can say I’m glad I did. These three games are still super important to me, flaws and all.
No matter how Bioware dropped the ball with the “choices matter” promises, or the original ending of the trilogy felt like trading one death sentence for another, slower one. I’ll always come back to Mass Effect 3 for the setting, the characters and just how damned fun the combat is in this game.
But, I’m not quite done talking about Mass Effect yet. Next week I’ve gone one final post to make off the back of playing this collection. So keep an eye out for that.