Mass Efflections: So…About That Ending

To say that the gaming community was somewhat disappointed in Mass Effect 3’s ending would be a sizable understatement. People HATED it with a passion normally reserved for Friedberg & Seltzer movies and serial rapists.

Want proof? Here’s some from Know Your Meme

c17 6f7 52a 50aAnd my personal favorite…

839Of course, much of the indignation was bullshit better represented by this one:

e38Seriously, read this and see if you get anything more than “Wah wah. I made all these decisions and things didn’t turn out exactly the way I envisioned they would.” Welcome to existence, dude.

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I’ll be the first to say that ME3’s ending left a lot to be desired, especially pre-Extended Cut. However, most of the complaints were pretty childish. Continue reading

Mass Efflections: Intensity, Subtlety, Tragedy

Masters of Intensity
The Mass Effects are the most intense games I’ve ever played. Sure, Skyrim was probably more epic. Various Calls of Duty and Battlefields are louder or have more explosions and background action.

Mass Effect takes those more traditional elements of intensity and combines them with player investment. Mass Effect establishes a massive universe, an interesting story, and a bevy of potentially great characters. The characters take a game or two to flesh out, but overall, Mass Effect makes you give a crap about what you are doing because bad decisions have negative consequences on locations or characters you care about.

That sort of investment pays dividends in missions like Feros and the Citadel, where pitched battles and climactic cutscenes (and inspirational speeches on Virmire) come together to make the player feel like they had just saved the universe themselves.

For all my criticisms of Mass Effect 2’s occasionally misplaced bombast and bravado, that suicide mission felt like a suicide mission. Dropping into a black hole. Getting ripped apart by Oculi. Fending off hoards of collectors. Walking through a blizzard of Seekers. Frantically escaping after felling a massive human Reaper. Damn, son…

Mass Effect 3 manages to top them all. The game’s designer’s noticeably increased the challenge of every difficulty level. I found myself fighting for my life more in 3 than I did in any other game in the series.

Every step feels appropriately apocalyptic. The Reapers have harvested countless civilizations before and we are given little evidence to believe Shepard can prevent this one. On Pavalan, two Reapers crack a Turian frigate in half while the hulk of another lies beneath one of the behemoths. The Geth, the galaxy’s most advanced AI, are hacked. Shepard fails to complete an objective for like the first time in his life. So on and so forth. Hell, Earth falls within the game’s tutorial mission.

Meanwhile, earnest, mournful motifs punctuate Mass Effect 3’s score, replacing the energy of Mass Effect and the bombast of Mass Effect 2.

And of course, the game’s final mission features a battle between the Reapers and an inter-galactic armada, immediately followed by a somehow even more desperate ground offensive in London.

You basically don’t breathe for the last several hours of the series.

Masters of Subtlety
Despite all that intensity, the Mass Effect series usually manages to avoid overplaying its hand. Continue reading

We Are Special

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is an everyday space kid dealing with everyday space kid problems. Then, he finds out that he is special and that only he can save the universe.

In The Matrix Trilogy, “Mr. Anderson” is just some computer programmer/hacker until he learns he is the “One.” Whoa…

In The Lord of the Rings universe, average hobbit after average hobbit is drawn out of their comfortable hobbit holes to go on some great adventure because, for whatever reason, it has to be them. No one else can be trusted.

The examples go on…

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The Mass Effect series is, in many ways, similarly the story of a reluctant hero. Or more specifically, a reluctant hero race.

Humanity finally takes to the stars, derps its way into a war it cannot win against an all-around superior foe. Humanity recovers from this early setback and seeks to assume its “rightful” place in the galaxy. If you aren’t sure what that place is, it’s the top, of course.

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We are special.

This idea is drilled into our heads by our parents from the day we are born. Then, our teachers and schools pick up the mantle from our very first folded-paper snowflake.

Of course, we’re not special. At least not in the way we think. Continue reading

Mass Efflections: Good Enemies

I’ve always believed that a story is only as good as its antagonist. Heroes are cool and all, but they serve no purpose unless they are faced with a legitimate threat. Weak bad guys kill a story’s suspense and leave us underwhelmed by the hero’s victory. Oh, you defeated The Goldfish? The supervillain who can’t remember his plan the next day? Great work.

Luke Skywalker is nothing without a wheezing juggernaut to oppose him. The Borg gave us some of the best episodes in Star Trek history until Voyager ruined them. Gul Dukat elevated Deep Space Nine beyond its peers. Battlestar Galactica might have had killer robots, but the true enemy was our own nature – slow to forgive, adapt, and change. The Wire painted our true enemy as the system itself; the very institutions we created to maintain our society.

A story is only as good as its antagonist.

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Mass Effect showed us two powerful villains before beautifully pulling the rug from underneath us. The first time we see Saren Arterius, he murders a fellow Spectre. Saren is aided and advised by Matriarch Benezia, possessor of centuries of wisdom, immense biotic power, and impractical attire. The entire first game is spent pursuing Saren and Benezia to stop them from handing the universe over to the Reapers.

By the end of the game, however, we discover that both had sympathetic reasons for their actions. Continue reading

The Narrowly Avoided Strahovski-pocalypse

If you recall my introduction, the golden rule for playthrough number two was that I would make every decision as I would in real life. I am Commander Shepard. Or not.

Originally, I considered wooing Lt. Ashley Williams. However, her space racist act quickly wore thin. A highly competent, attractive racist might be attractive, but a highly competent, attractive racist is also racist. Not happening. So, my Commander Shepard made his moves on Dr. Liara T’Soni, just like my original playthrough.

However, unlike the first time, I was going to stick with my original choice through all three games. No way I’m letting little things like being dead for two years and working for a sworn enemy to come between me and my girl. Or something…

But, as Mass Effect 2 started, I found myself drawn back to Miranda Lawson. I went into round two determined to make Commander Shepard my avatar. My assumption was that this would lead to different results than my first playthrough.

This, however, was rather foolish when one of the romance options is the brunette version of my no-longer-secret crush.

Also, I think the game is trying to tell us something…

miranda

I think that thing is “Objectification, bitches!”

In the end, things worked out. I stayed professional with Miranda. I played the Shadow Broker DLC earlier than the first time, reigniting the flame with Liara. And I kept this quick hitter from deteriorating into a creepy Yvonne Strahovski-fest or from bogging down into an exploration of sexism in video games.

Tell us something we don’t already know.

I went into my second playthrough with the expectation that things would be different. It wasn’t, mostly. I guess I did a better job playing as myself than I thought.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Even before you press a single button, it is clear that Mass Effect 3 is going to be very different from Mass Effect 2. Gone is the title screen’s stirring music. Gone is the grandiose idle menu cutscene full of action and danger.

In its place is one of the most sober pieces of music imaginable. No cutscenes. No bombast. No firefights. Just a sad song playing while a planet burns and what seem to be meteorites burn up entering a planet’s atmosphere.

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Remember when I mentioned the major shift in music from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2?

Well, Mass Effect 3 switched it up again.

Mass Effect had to establish a universe, set almost 200 years in the future, where humanity was the newcomer. We are galactic infants and the music needed to show some sense of wonder and possibility. Jack Wall and Sam Hulick succeeded in that regard with a score inspired by sci-fi electronics.

Mass Effect 2 was all about assembling a superteam of badasses, a sort of a sci-fi Expendables, in order to save humanity from new threats and old. You recruit a who’s who of galactic experts to defeat the bad guys. That calls for some Hans Zimmer. I’ve probably overused the word “bombast” in relation to Mass Effect 2’s music, but it’s either the most accurate term or the most accurate in my limited vocabulary of music descriptions. In any case, Wall & Hulick again delivered the score ME2 needed.

Mass Effect 3 is about the apocalypse. It is about the end of everything we know and love. It is about billions dead. Mourning. Hopelessness. The inevitable. Even if victory is achieved, the cost will be beyond comprehension. This requires a softer touch and almost oppressive tragedy. Clint Mansell takes over for Jack Wall and joins Hulick to create a score befitting the end of days, perhaps none more so than the gorgeous “Leaving Earth.”

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The opening of Mass Effect 3 is probably the greatest video game “scene” I’ve ever played. Continue reading

Mass Efflections: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Mass Effect 2 is a better game than Mass Effect. After all 56 hours of gameplay Mass Effect 2 had to offer, that much was clear.

Mass Effect 2 is sleeker. The graphics are better. Combat mechanics are more stable. You no longer have to tediously outfit your entire crew. The mini-games for hacking consoles and bypassing security feel more like hacking than Mass Effect’s “random series of buttons.” The storytelling is more personal, tightening the story and making it more engaging.

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Not only did Mass Effect 2 tell a better story; it told a bigger one. The Collectors, agents of the Reapers, are abducting tens of thousands of human colonists as… ummm… part of the Reapers’ plan somehow? Okay, maybe the story wasn’t as good as the storytelling, but it did feel that way.

The music was one major reason why. The synthy electronics of the Mass Effect score are gone and replaced by bombast; soaring strings, pulsing drums, plenty of brass, and thicker, meatier electronics. Think “futuristic Hans Zimmer clone.”

The game’s final mission is another reason. Continue reading