Archive for the ‘Mass Effect 3’ Category


I decided to replay the entire Mass Effect series rather than continue with my return to the Mojave Wasteland. I decided on a completely Renegade playthrough, but more or less abandoned that after completing Mass Effect. Being a complete and total asshole really isn’t in my nature, although I made a heroic stab at it for the sake of the story. But I racked up entirely too many Paragon points in Mass Effect and more or less turned Paragon for Mass Effect 2, although I did not pass up the opportunity to give the Illusive Man a piece of my mind at almost every opportunity. In the end I blew up the Collector Base and then moved in to Mass Effect 3.

As much as it galls me to admit that the Illusive Man was correct, I took the Control option for the ending of Mass Effect 3. But I did it because it was the only option that fit with all of the decisions I had taken up to that point and then started a New Game Plus with the same character (male Shepard with an Infiltrator Class).

In following up on that choice, a thought dawned that perhaps my dissatisfaction with the ending of ME3 might be more related to the failure of the Hero’s Journey than to any major inconsistencies in the ME3 story itself. I’m still trying to digest that idea and will have more to say on it later, but I haven’t changed my opinion on the ending. I’m just trying to get a better handle on why I’ve been dissatisfied. The quest for clarity will bear some interesting fruit, I hope.

BioWare has finally ended the Mass Effect 3 fiasco with the last little piece of single-player Mass Effect 3, “Citadel,” being released last week. Thanks in large measure to the poor way in which BioWare (mis)handled the ending of ME3, the game has been almost completely off my radar since the end of summer. In checking my game’s stats, it hasn’t been launched since early October and the time before that was in mid-September. In the interim, BioWare released two major DLCs, Omega and Citadel that never even blipped.

I was alerted to the end of the nightmare not by BioWare or anything related to it, but by a YouTube video by CleverNoobs taking exception to Tweets by BioWare folks regarding the current state of the fanbase over the whole ME3 mess. Just goes to show how far off the radar ME3 has been, I guess. After bringing myself up to speed on both DLCs, (and not dislocating my arm while giving myself a pat on the back for calling the “Omega” DLC back in June), I am thrilled beyond measure to know that ME3 is over and done.

The game will likely get some play time during the summer because, frankly, there doesn’t appear to be anything coming this summer to get excited about. So it’s going to be hitting the game library for the most part.

As for the Mass Effect series, I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for ME4. While I hope that BioWare learned some valuable lessons from the past year, I can promise that I will not be pre-ordering  and will not be buying anything until I see what the fanbase has to say about it.

If anyone is interested in seeing what the “Citadel” DLC looks like, I’d highly recommend the video walkthrough by CaptainShepardN7. If it weren’t for a story ending that made the whole thing pointless, I’d certainly be buying and playing. It looks like a load of fun.

After thinking long and hard about my earlier comments regarding the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut, I’m going to retract and revise somewhat. I still believe that the whole RGB/Star Child debacle should have been scrapped, incinerated, its ashes mixed with a load of nuclear waste and then fired into the sun. Of course, due to solar winds and whatnot, we’d be sharing it with the rest of the universe, which might have its own set of consequences, but my opinion on those items has not changed since my initial review several months ago. And because BioWare decided to keep those elements, my view of the EC is significantly less than rosy.

But, in all fairness to the development team, let’s consider a couple of items where they deserve a massive high-five from the players.

First, they recognized that many/most fans considered the original ending to be a complete pile of shit. They listened, weighed those reactions against their vision of the story they wanted told (I’m pretty sure this is the “artistic integrity” that they stood behind) and then tried to bring the two closer together while keeping their story. I’ve said several times that it’s their story and I meant it. I’m under no obligation to like the way that it played out, but the time and effort that went into producing and releasing the Extended Cut is prima facie evidence that they sincerely care about the way the players perceive the game. Not many game companies would consider that, much less do it. To that extent, my opinion of BioWare is significantly higher because of the Extended Cut.

Second, the Extended Cut does deliver on the promised clarity and closure. Whether Shepard physically lives, virtually lives, dies or whatever is irrelevant. I was not expecting Shepard to be around in any potential ME4, anyway. And while I still have issues with the Star Child’s logic, the expanded dialogue does succeed in clarifying many issues leading up to the final choice. I still do not agree with the effects of those choices (and I now believe Synthesis to be the suckiest of the three – maybe it’s the glowing green eyes), but the canon reasons why those choices are what they are makes more sense than it did in the original.

Third, the extended cut scenes (OK, slideshows) with their voice-overs let you see how your earlier decisions play out in the larger universe. I am still less than thrilled that the Destroy ending also takes out the Geth and EDI, so I’m pretty much left with “the Illusive Man was right, after all,” which galls me no end. But seeing the mass relays being rebuilt, the Krogan family, the memorial service as Shepard’s name is added to the wall, and all the rest, does a very good job of dispelling the doom and gloom of the original ending.

Because of these, my initial conclusion of the EC being “only a bit” better than the original is doing a disservice to the team that went out of its way to make it in the first place. Let’s chalk that up to persisting dissatisfaction with the Star Child/RGB ending while giving appropriate kudos for the effort of trying to make it more palatable.

The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 was released on June 26. As expected, it provides some clarification and a bit more closure than the original ending, but it’s still pretty much “pick your favorite color”. I still see several gaping plot holes that it failed to address and the ending cinematics are more reminiscent of the “Fallout 3” and “Fallout: New Vegas” slide shows than what I would have expected from Mass Effect. So, taken as a whole, all I can say with any degree of honesty it that the ending is somewhat improved.

As an example in the area of plot holes, BioWare tried to fix one by showing that your miraculously teleporting squadmates were actually picked up by the Normandy in response to Shepard’s call to evacuate a wounded member. But in filling that hole, they had to teleport the Normandy itself. Well, maybe not teleport, but if you consider the amount of time it took for Harbinger to break off from the fight and arrive at the transport beam and then compare that to the amount of time it takes the Normandy to break off from the fight and get to the beam, it might as well be a teleport. They also fail to explain how Harbinger can be aware of these teeny-tiny little people on the ground (because it’s shooting at them), yet overlook a frigate making a pickup right in front of it. Perhaps there is such a thing as “space magic” after all. At least Joker isn’t looking back over his shoulder during the escape sequence.

Voice-overs from Hacket (Destruction), Shepard (Control), and EDI (Synthesis) serve to explain the post-ending Mass Effect universe through a series of slides (which mostly get reused in each ending). I suspect that this was done to alleviate concerns that the destruction of the Mass Relay system effectively ended galactic civilization. However, the rosy future painted by each of the endings stands in stark contrast to my expectation of a return to factious infighting once the threat of the common enemy was removed (OK, rosy future mostly works in the Synthesis ending), but it’s their story, so I’ll just let it go at saying that it stretches my suspension of disbelief. The word “blivet” comes to mind, but that’s a bit harsh. Maybe “mini-blivet”?

On the whole, the ending is a bit (only a bit) more palatable than the original. We players are now faced with a different issue. Since this is the only fix we can reasonably expect, do we play the game or not? Taken in this light, I’m back to the conclusion of my original review: the game itself is very good. My heartburn was and is with the ending. To that extent, do you play a good game whose ending is less than stellar or do you let the ending color the whole experience of the game? I tend to go with the former in the hope that BioWare will learn from this fiasco and not repeat it in the future.

It’s impossible to tell a story in which you expect the player to invest themselves in a character and then also expect that everyone will be thrilled and overjoyed with the ending of that story. It’s not going to happen. But it is possible to tell a story where the vast majority can accept the ending with little fuss. This is what I expect BioWare to take away from the ME3 experience. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. In the interim, I suspect we can look forward to at least a couple of paid DLCs. My money is on Aria retaking Omega now that the Illusive Man is out of the picture. It might be worth it in light of the more palatable ending, but we shall see the future when it gets here. In the meantime, don’t let the ending get in the way of enjoying the ride. It’s still a very good game.

In a press release Thursday, BioWare announced a free (until April 12, 2014) DLC for Mass Effect 3, entitled “Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut”, due sometime this summer. Casey Hudson, ME3’s Executive Producer, promised “to provide the fans who want more closure with even more context and clarity to the ending of the game, in a way that will feel more personalized for each player.” All of this will be provided through additional cinematics and epilogue scenes. The BioWare panel at PAX East fielded a few questions in this area without straying too far from the official line. One fan was kind enough to upload their camcorder video of the panel discussion to YouTube, although in five pieces and not including the Q&A session at the end. Remember, these folks are not addressing the DLC beyond what was in the press release, so the lack of the final 10 minutes or so isn’t crucial. Most of the relevant stuff about the DLC happens in the first 10 minutes or so.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5

Another fan was kind enough to upload the full hour, again at YouTube, but the audio is pretty poor. It’s audible, but you’ll need to really crank up the sound and/or use headphones to hear it clearly and even that is iffy.

After all of the finger-pointing, name-calling, hand-wringing and assorted post-release hoopla over ME3’s ending, I’m not sure whether I’m in the “Oh, noes!” or “whatever” camp, but I’m certainly not ecstatic over the announcement. Add to this a series of threads on BioWare’s forums to the effect of “Do you feel sorry for (insert group or name here)?” and it gets even murkier.

Perhaps a bit of recap might help. I stand by my original assertion that ME3 is an outstanding game, provided one ignores the last few minutes. There are a few things that I found to be a bit less than satisfying, but it works well on many levels from the start until about 5 or 10 minutes from the end. To that extent, and with the understanding that I’m excluding the last few minutes from that assessment, I have almost no heartburn with what BioWare released. It’s only those last few minutes where I’m taking exception.

I’m not even up in arms over the Day-One DLC nonsense. For those who might not know what that’s all about, the “From Ashes” DLC was released concurrently with the game (for about $10). It introduced a Prothean squad member, Javik, and a mission to recruit him. All of Javik’s in-game assets were apparently on the original game disc, so players essentially paid $10 for a mediocre mission pack that simply unlocked what they already had. Bad marketing and suggestive of a very poor view of the customers, but not the most egregious of things that a gaming company could do. Just very indicative of a “let’s see how many different ways we can get players to part with their money” mentality. Considering that the entire economy is aimed at separating customers from their money, it’s not even unusual. It’s just tacky.

As far as the game itself and from a story-telling standpoint, there were only a handful of possible conclusions to the Reaper story arc. Shepard was either going to be successful in destroying the Reapers or not. “Not” might include some other means of removing the threat, but my initial guess would have been that “not” would be synonymous with “failure”, so I would have predicted that the successful ending would have been the destruction of the Reapers. All three of the endings effectively remove the Reaper threat. Whether that removal is permanent or temporary (according to story canon) depends on your final choice in the game.

Since this was to be the final game of a trilogy chronicling Shepard’s adventures, then Shepard was either going to survive or not (survival of squad members was probably going to depend on how you played the game). While a happy ending might have been nice, Shepard needed to be definitively and finally removed from the ME universe. Some heroic final sacrifice was not only within the realm of possibility, but almost certainly required. In fact, had the game gone to credits right after that final scene with Anderson and we simply assumed that the Crucible worked its magic and Shepard peacefully bled out, I probably would have been somewhat happy with it. I don’t like my characters dying, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen in order to make the story work.

As an alternative ending, I would have found some dark humor in Shepard being appointed humanity’s council member to replace Udina and could almost hear Claudia Christian’s voice in the background: "I feel like an old war horse, trotted out after a parade so all the kids can point at it" (my first Shepard to complete all three games was female). Or perhaps something along the lines of “Ulysses” would have done the job (Ashley’s not the only one who reads Tennyson). Any of those would have worked with Buzz Aldrin’s post-credits scene and we would have had a satisfactory ending, or at least mostly so.

But where were the wildly different endings? On both play-throughs, I ended up with three “pick your favorite color” endings. Since I did my best to acquire every war asset that I could during both play-throughs, I’m assuming that all other possible endings are “worse” than the three that I got. I’ve seen video of one ending where the Destruction option was the only one available. In that video, London (and presumably the rest of Earth) is incinerated and Shepard is blown to bits, so I’m pretty sure that I saw the “best” endings. OK, “ending” since the cinematics are almost identical.

BioWare is adamant that this Extended Cut DLC will not add any new endings to the game, so it would seem that we’re pretty much stuck with RGB as canon. The question is whether that can be improved or clarified through the addition of cinematics and epilogue scenes. My initial inclination is to think “not”. As one poster on the BioWare forums so colorfully noted, a turd is still a turd, no matter how much sugar you put on it.

So, if we’re stuck with RGB, then what can be done to provide clarity and insight? How about dropping that whole Star Child thing? Aside from a bit of exposition and presenting the color choices, it served no useful purpose and was probably the biggest “WTF?” moment in the game. A BioWare forum poster managed to dig up an obscure Codex entry from ME1 which might overcome the charge of deus ex machina commonly leveled at it. But it’s an awfully flimsy thread for tying up this monster.

How about we do something about that final Normandy scene with Joker trying to outrun the shockwave (or whatever that glowy thing behind him is) and then crash-landing on some jungle planet where the squad members who were with Shepard just a few minutes early somehow manage to safely disembark. That bit never made a lick of sense on multiple levels. First, if the Normandy has FTL capability, how is it unable to outrun an explosion which, in normal space, cannot go faster than light? Second, how did the crew members who were with Shepard just a few minutes earlier in London manage to get on board? Third, why was Joker running away at all? I don’t remember anyone sending him a “Get the ship out of there” order. All in all, it was pretty cheesy.

Since we have been told “no new endings”, I suppose that those two ideas are out of the picture.

Some of the more vocal fans on the forums are still ranging between dismay and outrage over the whole mess. I’m taking the more philosophical approach to it. BioWare says that they have listened to the fans. Since they would have had to be hiding under a rock or something to not know what the fans were upset about and why, I’ll take them at their word on that. BioWare has decided that they will not change the existing endings. I’m not thrilled, but that’s the decision, I don’t see them changing it and what will be, will be. So with those two points settled, what else is left but to wait and see what comes out in the DLC.

I’m trying to be optimistic about it. These are the folks that cranked out 2.99 really solid games (yeah, I’m still not giving them an ounce of goodwill for the ending). Not just solid games, but games that have developed an enviable fan base. The players love the characters, love the universe and (again, excluding the last few minutes of ME3) love the games. They have proven themselves willing to buy sequels, DLCs, souvenirs and trinkets, you name it. I don’t believe that their feelings about the ending will cause that to change. After all, you don’t passionately fight for something that you don’t care about. In the end, I think the vast majority will simply come to accept the ending. After all, it is what it is and either we learn to like it or go find another game.

As I posted a couple of days ago, I decided to take a break from Mass Effect 3 and go back to something that I hadn’t played in quite a while: Fallout 3. FO3 was released by Bethesda Softworks back in October-ish 2008 (memory could be playing tricks on me, but somewhere around that time). The main quest line involved a rather heroic effort to take care of the problem of irradiated water in the DC Wasteland. Since it’s a 3-year-old game, I don’t have a problem spoiling the ending. If playing as a good guy on the released version game, you die at the end.

This set me to thinking about Shepard and the Mass Effect 3 ending and I had to seriously ask myself whether it was Shepard dying that was giving me such heartburn at the end. After some fairly serious soul-searching, I concluded that it was not. In every game of FO3 that I played (and my playing time was easily pushing 1000 hours by the time the “Broken Steel” DLC was released), I never sent another character into the control room to finish the job that I started. Yep, I died – tragically, heroically and frequently and didn’t have a major problem with it.

Just to check that my recollection was accurate, I popped over to Metacritic to glance through the a chunk of the 1300 or so player reviews of the game (it averages 7.8 – professional reviewers averaged 9.1). The comments are very telling. There are only a few gripes about the ending of the game. Granted, I ignored favorable reviews and could easily have overlooked comments like mine on ME3 (“great game, ending sucks”), but even among the unfavorable reviews, there were very few comments about the ending. A big chunk of them were along the lines of “I can’t believe that this game gets so many 10/10 ratings, so I’m giving it a 0”. Another batch took issue with the treatment of the Fallout universe in comparison to FO1 and FO2. And there were the usual complaints about the UI, scripting, inability to complete quests, graphic monotony, and the like. But surprisingly, even though the PC probably dies at the end, not too many gripes about it.

On the Bethesda forums, the complaints were of a similar nature. Although I recall (and this is admittedly faulty memory talking) some very vocal disappointment with the PC dying, the main thrust of the complaints were that [A] if the PC avoided dying, you got painted as the bad guy in the final analysis and [B] if you avoided dying, you could not play beyond the end of the main quest. This was rectified by the “Broken Steel” DLC (3rd DLC and released 6 or 8 months after the initial game release), which basically said “just kidding; you didn’t really die” and let you continue playing after completing the main quest.

So where did Mass Effect 3 drop the ball where Fallout 3 did not? I think it all comes back to the story and the ending of that story. In Fallout 3, your choices in the game have consequences. You generally do not find out about those consequences until the final credits roll, but the final slide-show with Ron Perlman’s voice-over pretty much tells you what happens with each and every major character and companion you dealt with (Fallout: New Vegas did pretty much the same thing – I can’t speak to FO1 and FO2 since I haven’t played them) and how your choices affected them. Mass Effect 3 does not do this. You get to talk to each of your companions one last time before the final push to the Citadel and you’ve got a good idea of what they hope will happen, but nothing after you “push the button”.

Second, in Fallout 3’s ending, there were no major surprises. While it was possible to play an ultra-good guy and send someone else into the control room, or to play an ultra-bad guy and take the hit yourself, your final decision affected only your character. Compare that to ME3 (or even the Deus Ex games) where you decide for everyone. Great, if you’re one of those “king of the universe” kind of characters. Not so hot if you’re one of the “consensus and cooperation” types.

Third, in Fallout 3, all of your choices were known before you ever got to the end. Aside from Eden’s genocidal option, no one showed up at the end to add new information to the mix. No one popped in at the last minute to tell you that everything you thought you knew was wrong. So even if you chose to sacrifice yourself, all of the cards were on the table before you ever got to that decision. This is not the case with Mass Effect 3.

The short version of a summation would have to be that Fallout 3 did everything a story should have done. In playing through it again, there are plenty of spots where stuff doesn’t come off nearly as good today as it did 3 years ago. It’s even to the point where I installed a couple of mods for different radio stations simply because Three Dog was getting on my nerves. But taken as a whole, the story worked pretty well from start to finish; a bit cheesy in places, but it worked. I wish I could say the same for ME3. Perhaps I will be able to say that at some point in the future, perhaps not. But I can definitely say that in the here-and-now it doesn’t work.

In an open letter to the Mass Effect 3 community, posted on BioWare’s blog earlier today, Dr. Muzyka offered an apparent olive branch to members of the Mass Effect community who are upset about the ending of the game. Whether this is an actual or a perceived branch is debatable. Just so that my personal biases are clear from the outset, I admit to cynicism regarding the contents of any corporate communication intended for public consumption and hearty skepticism for the rest. For the present, though, it says what it says and its true meaning will become clear in time.

(*Ahem* – tap, tap – is this thing on? OK, we’re good)

As co-founder and GM of BioWare, I’m very proud of the ME3 team; I personally believe Mass Effect 3 is the best work we’ve yet created. So, it’s incredibly painful to receive feedback from our core fans that the game’s endings were not up to their expectations. Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics – but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility.

I’m among those critics who lauded the game itself (you can read my review a bit farther down the page). It really is an awesome game and I was very impressed with some of the improvements from previous games. I was less thrilled with other “improvements”, but accept them in the same way that I accepted Skyrim’s reworking of some of the older Elder Scrolls mechanics. I might not like it, but when looked at in light of overall developer intent, there is at least a modicum of sense to it.

I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds, and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism. At the same time, I also believe in and support the artistic choices made by the development team.  The team and I have been thinking hard about how to best address the comments on ME3’s endings from players, while still maintaining the artistic integrity of the game.

I mostly agree. Games are an art and good games border on genius. The amount of time and effort required to visually present an engaging digital story (and Mass Effect has been a VERY engaging story) rivals and potentially exceeds the amount of time and effort required to produce a fully cinematic story, minus the union headaches, diva stars, and catering bills. Pixels and bits pretty much do as they’re told without much complaint or comment. And, indeed, the necessary level of audience engagement with that story far exceeds that required or expected of movies, where the audience need only be passive observers. Gamers must actively engage with the story in order to drive it forward, and this is especially true of RPGs. No active engagement, no game because “who cares?”.

At the same time, the question of artistic integrity is vitally relevant. No one in their right mind would dream of asking, much less demanding, that Shakespeare change the ending to “Hamlet”, even though it is among the most tragic in literature. Its ending works within the context of the play. But what happens when the ending not only does not work, but does not work in a piece that requires active engagement with the characters rather than passive observation? What happens when a developer, at the very end of a trilogy of excellent games, violates Chekov’s rule (that would be Anton, not Pavel): if you’re going to pull a gun out of a desk in Act III, you make sure that it goes into the desk in Act I. I think Aristotle made a similar observation (minus the gun, of course) in the Poetics, but am too lazy to go verify at this late hour. Perhaps my memory on that point is accurate, perhaps not.

Hamlet’s end, though tragic, came as no great surprise to its audience. Laertes and Claudius discuss their plans and methodology in great detail on multiple occasions so the audience knows what is coming. While the audience might pull for Hamlet to foil or avoid their plans, his failure to do so is not unexpected, but merely sad. Heroically sad, perhaps, but sad nonetheless. The same cannot be said for Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 3 concludes a trilogy with so much player control and ownership of the story that it was hard for us to predict the range of emotions players would feel when they finished playing through it.  The journey you undertake in Mass Effect provokes an intense range of highly personal emotions in the player; even so, the passionate reaction of some of our most loyal players to the current endings in Mass Effect 3 is something that has genuinely surprised us. This is an issue we care about deeply, and we will respond to it in a fair and timely way. We’re already working hard to do that.

As I said in an earlier post, I have no problem with throwing myself on my sword if it fits with the rest of the story. I might rant and rail about the unfairness of it all, but if I played the game the way the developers intended, then I should get the conclusion I have been led to believe was coming and a conclusion in keeping with the way I played.

There is an old saying that you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. If I knowingly did that, then I should get what I deserve. But when the developers repeatedly tell me that the Crucible is the only hope against the Reapers, that they cannot be defeated by conventional means, that I need the galaxy working together so that it can do its job, and I do exactly that, then I also have a reasonable expectation that this will turn out to be true and in the way that I have been led to believe.

I should not be told at the last minute, after all of my forces have been recruited, assembled, brought to bear and committed, that everything I thought I knew was wrong. That might be almost acceptable in some comic space opera kind of villain rant just before he gets run through by someone I had previously believed to be dead. But that is not the kind of game that Mass Effect has been, so is it any surprise to find that I am upset by the last minute change up? I’ve run into that sort of writing before. The difference is that it showed up in a cheap paperback and could be tossed at a cost of a handful of dollars and an hour or less of my time. I do not expect this from a $70 game after 30-odd hours of my time.

To that end, since the game launched, the team has been poring over everything they can find about reactions to the game – industry press, forums, Facebook, and Twitter, just to name a few. The Mass Effect team, like other teams across the BioWare Label within EA, consists of passionate people who work hard for the love of creating experiences that excite and delight our fans.  I’m honored to work with them because they have the courage and strength to respond to constructive feedback.

Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April.  We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received.  This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.

If we’re back to the artistic integrity issue, and if the team absolutely must have its due on that point, then I’m in favor of something like the “Indoctrination Theory” being declared canon. It lets the team retain credit and integrity for what has already been produced with a “ha, ha, fooled you” as a springboard to a more acceptable ending. I think I’d be outraged to be charged good money for such a resolution, but it would be infinitely better than what we’ve got now.

I recognize and accept that Shepard’s story needs to end with ME3. I knew that going in. Do I demand that my Shepard get “bunnies and rainbows”? No, although a well-earned retirement wouldn’t be a bad thing. Under some rather bizarre circumstances, I could even see Shepard taking the human seat on the council. Considering Shepard’s views on the usefulness of politicians as a source of high-quality fertilizer, there might also be a lot of dead alien councilors in that future, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility or believability. But this whole, “in order to keep you from being destroyed by synthetics, we’re going to use synthetics to destroy you” line of reasoning is absurd to the point of farcical. And let’s not even get into the whole synthesis thing. If that was such a viable option, why does it only show up in the last five minutes of the game? We’re back to the problem of Chekov’s gun.

The reaction to the release of Mass Effect 3 has been unprecedented. On one hand, some of our loyal fans are passionately expressing their displeasure about how their game concluded; we care about this feedback, and we’re planning to directly address it. However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s. Net, I’m proud of the team, but we can and must always strive to do better.

Is it so hard to believe that a great game can have a lousy ending? Give the team all of the credit that they are due. Have pride in them. They made an awesome game. It’s engaging, it’s fun to play, it’s funny, it has many poignant moments, it’s bittersweet, it’s great – except for those last few minutes. It’s not unbelievable that a team can play a great game and fumble it away in the last few seconds. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. Unlike football, though, a fumbled video game ending can be fixed. The only questions are whether it will be fixed and how any such fix will be distributed.

Some of the criticism that has been delivered in the heat of passion by our most ardent fans, even if founded on valid principles, such as seeking more clarity to questions or looking for more closure, for example – has unfortunately become destructive rather than constructive. We listen and will respond to constructive criticism, but much as we will not tolerate individual attacks on our team members, we will not support or respond to destructive commentary.

If you are a Mass Effect fan and have input for the team – we respect your opinion and want to hear it. We’re committed to address your constructive feedback as best we can. In return, I’d ask that you help us do that by supporting what I truly believe is the best game BioWare has yet crafted. I urge you to do your own research: play the game, finish it and tell us what you think. Tell your friends if you feel it’s a good game as a whole. Trust that we are doing our damndest, as always, to address your feedback.  As artists, we care about our fans deeply and we appreciate your support.

Thank you for your feedback – we are listening.

Ray

I appreciate that you are listening and considering what I (and other fans) have to say. I feel that I have always been clear that the game is awesome and that my displeasure lies with the ending. If I have failed in that regard, then mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I have no specific ending in mind. The series has always been about choices, actions and consequences. The only expectation that I have ever had in that regard is that the ending match the choices I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken over the course of the three games. The current ending does not.

I’d love to be able to purchase and play additional content. But with the ending as it is, what’s the point? Life as we know it in the Mass Effect universe is over. It doesn’t matter what kind of new weapons I can uncover, it doesn’t matter how many more forces I can recruit, it doesn’t matter if there is some previously unknown cache of ancient technology waiting to be discovered, it doesn’t matter if there is a set of Horse Armor big enough for the Normandy. Assuming that the ending means precisely what it shows, the only solution to the Reapers is the collapse and destruction of civilization as we have come to know it in the Mass Effect universe. I have been fighting against exactly that ending for three games now and to have it forced on me in spite of every choice I’ve made over three games is just galling to the point of insult.

The only thing I’m asking is that the development team provide an ending that makes sense in light of everything that I’ve done up to this point. As things currently stand, it does not. I’m not sure that clarification of the current ending would be satisfactory, either. There is altogether too much that just appears out of the blue for any amount of exposition to be able to explain it all away in any manner that wouldn’t come off as contrived and an insult to my intelligence.

In an oversimplified offshoot of Werner Heisenberg’s work, I believe I have found some relief from the ending of Mass Effect 3, at least on the PC – console gamers are on their own for this one.

For the non-nerds out there, the Uncertainty Principle essentially says that out of two attributes ascribed to a particle (position and velocity, for example), the more precisely you measure one, the more uncertain the other becomes. In simpler terms (necessary for my simplistic brain), you can either know where a particle is or you can know how fast it is moving, but you cannot precisely know both at the same time. Until the moment of measurement, the particle exists merely as a probability wave function. In short, it theoretically exists everywhere at the same time. Measurement causes the wavefunction to collapse to a single value.

Somewhat tied to that idea was a thought experiment proposed by Edwin Shroedinger in the mid-1930s. Given a sealed container containing a cat, a Geiger counter-activated mechanism, a vial of poison gas and a quantity of radioactive material with a 50-50 probability of an atom decaying in one hour’s time, if the Geiger counter detects the decay of an atom, the mechanism breaks the vial and the cat dies. If it does not decay, then the mechanism does not activate and the cat lives. But until an outside observer checks at the end of the hour, the cat is both alive and not-alive. In Heisenberg’s terms, the lack of an observer prevents the collapse of the probability wavefunction.

So how might all of this apply to Mass Effect 3’s ending? The answer lies in the autosave feature. Just at the point where Shepard must choose one of three paths, the game autosaves (I don’t know why, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth). Until Shepard commits to one of those paths, all choices are equally probable, so all outcomes potentially exist simultaneously. That’s ALL outcomes – the three provided by BioWare, plus any others you might imagine. Upon committing to one choice, though, the probability of the others existing effectively drop to zero and they cease to exist while the chosen path achieves certainty and becomes the “reality”, if there is such a thing in a video game.

Where the autosave fits in with the whole picture is a simple copy-paste operation. At the moment when the three paths open, quit the game. Copy that autosave somewhere. It will not count as completing the game (no NewGamePlus save, sorry), but at that point, any outcome you can imagine is as probable as any other outcome. Unless you’re bound and determined to pick up more achievements or gain levels or something with that particular Shepard, nothing requires you to collapse the wavefunction. So whatever outcome you want is the outcome you can have since they are all equally probable at that point in time.

Yeah, it’s philosophical pablum dressed up in scientific garb, but it’s better than what actually shows up on the screen since you haven’t bought in to BioWare’s version of reality. For my part, I’ve dutifully copied off my autosave, Mass Effect 3 sits idle on my hard drive, and I am not participating in any of the multiplayer stuff. In my head, at least, Shepard and Garrus sit on a beach somewhere with glasses of something topped by colorful paper parasols. Occasionally, the thought of testing a seashell in honor or Mordin Solus crops up, but the future of the galaxy is now someone else’s problem.

Sometime Thursday, the BioWare folks made a stickied post on their forums, as follows (the poster is Chris Priestly):

“On the Mass Effect 3 endings. Yes, we are listening.”

We appreciate everyone’s feedback about Mass Effect 3 and want you to know that we are listening. Active discussions about the ending are more than welcome here, and the team will be reviewing it for feedback and responding when we can. Please note, we want to give people time to experience the game so while we can’t get into specifics right now, we will be able to address some of your questions once more people have had time to complete the game. In the meantime, we’d like to ask that you keep the non-spoiler areas of our forums and our social media channels spoiler free.

We understand there is a lot of debate on the Mass Effect 3 ending and we will be more than happy to engage in healthy discussions once more people get to experience the game. We are listening to all of your feedback.

In the meantime, let’s give appreciation to Commander Shepard. Whether you loved the ME3 ending or didn’t or you just have a lot of questions, he/she has given many of us some of the best adventures we have had while playing games. What was your favorite moment?

The post (http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/9992961) and all of its 186 pages of replies (at the time I wrote this – the page count seems to increase by the minute) would seem to indicate that both sides are listening to each other, at least.

Whether this is also indicative of an internal shit storm or something else is up for debate and I’m not even going to venture a guess. I hope that it means that someone, somewhere stopped to ask why the fans were so upset and (hopefully) wants to do something about it.

I think I have a reasonable grasp of the developers’ end of things. With no particular emphasis on priority, they would almost have to be:

  • Tie up as many of the character story lines as possible. For all of your surviving teammates from ME1 and ME2, you have the opportunity to speak with them one last time before launching into the final assault. Those who did not survive occupy a space on the Wall of Honor on the Crew Deck of the Normandy. You may also speak with any or all of your current team members. Each of them tries to wrap up and give some sort of closure to their story lines, win, lose or draw.
  • Wrap up Shepard’s story, itself. BioWare made no bones about the fact that Mass Effect 3 would be the last game of a trilogy. There are apparently plans for a movie in the works, not to mention the graphic and regular novels filling in a lot of the backstory, so the possibility of a Mass Effect 4 should not be completely discounted. It just won’t involve Shepard if it ever does materialize. Mass Effect is one of the flagship items in BioWare’s IP portfolio, so I don’t see them abandoning it. But leaving Shepard behind would be reasonable.
  • Present a canon conclusion of some sort. The overarching issue throughout all three games has been the return of the Reapers. Saren and the Collectors were just smaller aspects of the larger problem. Saren was an immediate problem; the Collectors were an immediate problem; the Reapers were not immediate, although they were imminent.

The endings presented did satisfy all technical requirements (including those that I didn’t think of). All secondary characters’ stories were resolved, Shepard’s story was resolved and the Reaper problem was resolved. In the resolution of Shepard’s story, the writers and developers also pretty much precluded any fan outcry to include Shepard in any future game as canonically, Shepard is no more. All goals met, so I can see why BioWare would be satisfied with the way they brought it all together.

On the whole, I don’t think I would have had much of a problem with the destruction of the Reapers as a worthwhile conclusion if it did not also entail the extinction of all other synthetic life. Much of the story line related to the Geth revolved around the question of whether they were living beings or simply tools. In pursuing the issue as it was presented to me, I took the position that they were living beings and proceeded under that premise. Up until the conclusion, that position worked well. But it galled me no end to be told that everything that I thought I knew on the issue was wrong and that “we know best”.

I had (and have) major issues with the control option for much the same reason. To be told at the last minute that the problem is not the Reapers, but the very nature of synthetic life itself (and by extrapolation that the Illusive Man had the right idea) just runs contrary to everything that I had been working toward over the course of three games.

While the synthesis option had theoretical merit, the requisite destruction of the mass relay system made it a poor option in my mind. I’m sure it was the preferred option in the developers’ minds or else they wouldn’t have presented it, but the creation of a universal DNA just seemed so over-the-top as to be implausible. Yeah, OK, Joker and Edie are finally compatible. There’s the bunnies and rainbows.

So how should it have ended? Tough question. Did the Reapers need to be destroyed? Probably not. Their programming was the problem, not their existence. That leads back to the control option, I suppose. But that which can be reprogrammed can be re-reprogrammed, so is control actually a solution or merely a delay in an inevitable Reaper return? The StarChild did axiomatically state that synthetic life will eventually destroy organic life if left to its own devices.

I suppose that the best option which BioWare could give would have to be game-related. If I have played a good game, if I have made good choices, if I have prepared properly, then why can’t I have the end to which I have been working over the course of three games? I’m not thrilled about throwing myself onto my sword as a final solution. But if I failed to do any of the critical groundwork prior to that point, and sacrificing myself is the only logical way to make it work, then that’s just the price I have to pay for my actions or lack thereof. But to simply be told in the final few minutes of the game that there was no winning option (by the standards presented over the course of three games), is just wrong.

I’d like to make it clear from the outset that the ending of Mass Effect 3 sucks. It sucks big, green, slimy, donkey dicks. Hoover, Eureka, Oreck and Dyson are in a bidding war to license the IP rights for how much it sucks. They’ll make a killing. The entire adult film industry could stand in line and take lessons on sucking and still not come close to reaching the level of “sucks” achieved in the final 10 minutes of Mass Effect 3. My disappointment with the endings is so profound that “sucks” is paying it a major compliment. There are no words in the English language that can adequately express how much the ending sucks. It sucks so bad that the word, “sucks” will be completely replaced by “Mass Effect 3 ending”. You will no longer suck on a straw; you will “Mass Effect 3 ending on a straw”. That’s the kind of sucking where your head threatens to implode before the milkshake is halfway up the straw. IT IS EVEN WORSE THAN THAT!!! And if I wasn’t clear before, the ending really sucks. Big time.

OK. With that little caveat out of the way, Mass Effect 3 is an awesome game, but the only way that I can possibly say that is by mentally editing out the last 10 minutes or so. Leaving those last few minutes out of the equation, then Mass Effect 3 is a solid 8.5 out of 10. I might even go for a 9.0 were it not for a few minor gameplay problems. But if I include those last few minutes, then it’s maybe a 6.5, at best, since the ending completely overshadows the rest of the game. Good for one or two plays and then onto the shelf it goes.

  • Gameplay: except for the side-quest retrieval missions (fairly standard fare in almost any RPG), the developers took almost everything that I didn’t like about ME1 and ME2 and ditched them. There is still quite a bit of running back and forth, but the long elevator rides are gone. The searching for resources is gone. The inventory system is gone. Frankly, almost everything that I didn’t like about the previous two games is gone. The cover system got revamped and is everything that it should have been in the first two games. Popping in and out of cover is simple and effective. Keeping yourself out of harm’s way isn’t terribly difficult, although the better AI and pretty effective use of “cover buster” enemies means that any piece of cover is only a temporary respite at best. Commanding your team mates works pretty much as it did in ME2 and they’re pretty effective, too. Enemies still do some dumb things, but there is a good mix of enemies and a better AI that makes you take a more strategic approach to combat. I like it. A lot.
  • The combat system got a major overhaul. There are still a few points that could use some polishing, but it works smoothly and I actually looked forward to combat missions for almost the entire game. There were a couple of points where my desire for a few extra experience points caused me to grab medi-gel that I should have left alone until after the fighting was over, but overall, I really like the way combat played out. I am also very satisfied with my ability to use any weapon I want. On my first run-through I pretty much stuck with an Assault Rifle with either an SMG or handgun as backup, but knowing that I could swap out with a shotgun or Sniper Rifle for any mission made it my choice rather than the developers and I really appreciated that.
  • I am not thrilled with the changes to the NavPoint system, though. It’s far too easy to overlook quest-related items. I’m thinking specifically about a pair of dogtags in an early mission where, on a second play-through and knowing what I was looking for and where to look, it still took me three our four minutes of running back and forth across the same area before they finally showed up. Overlooked items cannot be retrieved later because you can only land on a planet once. This is something that generally works well, but it has issues. Being the natural cynic that I am, my initial suspicion is that this was done as a way to boost sales of the official game guide, but it’s something that still needs work.
  • Back on the topic of retrieval missions, you’ll need to do a lot of hunting and searching to retrieve War Assets before launching your final assault on the Reapers. The War Room contains a console that will show you the current state of Galactic Readiness (it starts at 50%). I have little to no interest in pursuing the multiplayer aspects of the game, but completing missions in that arena is supposed to raise the readiness level, better increasing your ease in successfully reaching the final objective. Much the same effect can be achieved by simply completing all of the single-player side missions with the idea that a lot of assets at 50% readiness is pretty close to equal to a few assets at 100% readiness. I can’t blame BioWare for wanting to get players into the multiplayer aspect of the game. It’s a business decision, it’s something they’re expecting to make money off of and a lot of players enjoy that sort of thing. I’m just not one of them.
  • I tested my theory on how to deal with all of those fetch-and-carry side quests and it has worked pretty well thus far. Every time that I complete a ground mission, I visit every system I can access to pick up items and War Assets. Once the Reapers show up or once I’d acquired 100% of the items in a system, I go off and do another ground mission and repeat. From a story standpoint it’s an inelegant solution, but it’s the only one I’ve been able to come up with that works well. I’ve managed to collect almost everything in the way of War Assets, but am a little concerned about items related to side-quests. All of the systems are showing 100% of items acquired, but I have this nagging worry that something got placed in a system I have already visited that will get overlooked because the map is showing 100%. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but it could also be a problem in the making. And, yes, I’m squandering huge sums of money on fuel. Fortunately my Shepard had a ton of credits from the outset. This might be a problem for anyone who is starting from zero, though, so I’m docking a bit from my rating for those folks.
  • Just as a handy hint on dealing with the issue of these assets, spend a lot of time flying around a system. Fly through asteroid belts and investigate the empty space between planets. When you’re near something, you’ll hear the same sound you hear when you’re within orbital range of a planet. The item is undoubtedly a fuel cache, but those are the hardest to find. Once you’ve located it, ping it, then ping all of the planets. The Reapers will show up and chase you out of the system, but the markers will remain. So go do a ground mission somewhere, then come back and collect the assets. Kludgy, but it works.
  • Graphics: a few minor clipping issues aside, the graphics are pretty standard Mass Effect stuff. The character animations, facial expressions, and the like have been cleaned up to the point where the finer texture details can really shine, but this is clearly a Mass Effect game. Everything is still blocky and still looks like a bunch of warehouses and crates. They’re pretty warehouses and crates, but still… It’s much cleaner than ME1, but little to no improvement over ME2 except in the area of character textures. If you’re expecting dazzling graphic quality, you’re going to be somewhat disappointed. On the flip side of that, though, you won’t need the latest and greatest graphics powerhouse to run it. My GeForce 9800s proved more than capable of the demands with nary a drop in framerate. On the downside of all of that, the game feels a quite a bit more closed than ME1 did, although it’s not terribly different from the feel of ME2. It’s pretty much a 3rd person corridor shooter. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but it doesn’t interfere significantly with the game, and is generally attractive and eye-catching. A few oddities do crop up now and then, though. I remember one cutscene where a C-Sec cruiser just appeared in the background, hovered around for a few seconds and then disappeared. There is nothing major and the issue of getting stuck on top of boxes has been resolved, so I don’t have any huge complaints in the graphics department.
  • Sound: I cannot pay high enough compliments to the sound of the game. The voicing is absolutely superb. The music fits well and did not distract from gameplay in the slightest. I did turn the music volume down to about 50% so that it wouldn’t interfere with dialogue, but it worked extremely well at that level. The only sound-related complaint that I have revolves around dialogue. For some strange reason (this might be a hardware issue on my end, so I’m not laying this at the developers’ doorstep), some dialogue fired late, so it got cut off in some places. Since I had subtitles turned on, I don’t think I missed much, but it’s something that BioWare might want to take a look at. And I’ve already mentioned the problem of multiple dialogues running at the same time. I think BioWare could have moved those trigger points a bit farther apart to deal with that issue. Fortunately, those side conversations will generally loop for as long as you’re in the area. But it’s annoying to see a journal entry notice pop up when you didn’t clearly hear what caused it in the first place.
  • Story: This is a tough one. Everything works pretty well, up until the ending. There are a few odd plot holes here and there, but the story lines of all of the major characters (and some of the minor ones) from the previous games all get tied up with neat little bows. You’ll like some of them, you’ll hate others, some are happy endings, some are not. Your previous decisions play out pretty well as they relate to these story lines, so it’s very much in keeping with the Mass Effect approach. It’s just the ending that really grates. And there is only one ending – everything else is just variations on that theme. This is also an area where it’s very difficult to separate stuff before the ending from the ending itself.
  • Replayability: This is also a tough one. In light of the ending, I don’t see a whole lot of replay value in the single-player campaign unless you just want to experiment with different classes or combinations of team members. Knowing that no matter what you do, no matter who you help, no matter how much care and effort you put into it, it’s pretty much “game over, everybody dies” at the end and it really removes any real incentive to go play through the entire campaign again. If BioWare were to do something about the ending, then I’d certainly change my tune on that issue. But as it stands now, it’s good for one or perhaps two run-throughs and that’s it. The final payoff just isn’t there when you consider the series as a whole and it’s barely there as a stand-alone game.

As I said from the outset, the game is awesome if you can mentally set aside the last few minutes. If Casey Hudson’s goal was to get people talking, then he succeeded. He said he wanted a memorable ending, and he got one, but I’m not so certain that people took away the kind of memory and experience that he’d hoped. I’m not holding my breath on BioWare doing anything to fix that ending, grassroots outrage notwithstanding. If you can stand the disappointment of the ending, though, this is a game that is well worth the time spent playing it.