Avast, ye mateys! Thar be SPOILERS ahead!
Mass Effect 3 is a great game. Or so I keep telling myself.
Why wouldn't it be great? It's improved the combat system again. Equippable weapon upgrades returned, but without the inventory nightmare of Mass Effect. The AI was intelligent and challenging; I'd just breezed through the last two on Veteran and this one, on Normal, was at least an order of magnitude more difficult.
I enjoyed the game, really I did. Right?
There was so much good to it. It starts off a lot darker than the other two. Don't get me wrong, none of them have been happy games. But this time the beginning is impressively powerful simply in how quickly everything goes to hell. You start fighting for Earth almost immediately, being overrun by abominations created by the Reapers. Not to mention that cheap shot of a scene, when you're watching the kid get rescued, only for his shuttle to get blown to smithereens as it tries to escape.
Then in the first mission you find out that Cerberus, the people you spent the entirety of Mass Effect 2 helping, have gone off the deep end and are now abominations of their own. And again what a cheap shot, having you reconnect with Ashley (or Kaiden if you kept him alive instead), only to "kill" her at the end of the first mission. Of course, she wasn't killed, but I actually thought the developers did her in. Toying with us: uncool, but it worked to pull me straight into the game.
Again, I liked it. So why do I feel like I have to convince myself of that?
I mean the entire game you come across someone new fighting off the Reapers (and normally losing). Yet you spend the majority of your own time bringing people and species together. You come across each and every one of your old teammates from the first two games and help them out. Those who survive the meeting will join you directly or help you indirectly. Even if they die though, each one does so honorably and without regret (unless you've been Renegading it up, tsk tsk tsk).
Mass Effect 3 manages to effectively tie up each storyline and give an ending to each character's subplot across the three games; that's a lot more than you normally get from a standard JRPG, whose subplots often meander to a random and unimportant end.
Working your way through, you finally cure the Krogan and bring peace between them, the Turians, and the Salarians. And hell, if you play your cards right, you not only stop the war between the Quarians and Geth, but even unite them with a common goal. You can even give the Quarians their homeworld back after spending 300 years in exile. Sure the galaxy's being destroyed, but for once in these games things seem to be going your way! You're bringing all the races of the galaxy together to fight as a united whole! This is a word I try not to use, but this time it fits: Mass Effect 3 is simply epic.
[caption id="attachment_1046" align="alignnone" width="560" caption="Legion! NOOOOOOO!"][/caption]
So seriously, what's not to like? Oh yeah... that's right...
Remember how I mentioned that Mass Effect's biggest trick to being immersive was that you weren't just playing as Shepard, but rather Shepard was an extension of yourself? And Mass Effect 2 continued it by having clear ramifications for the choices you made in Mass Effect? That's something Mass Effect 3 tended to stumble over.
Remember choosing between Anderson and Udina for who'd serve on the Council? Doesn't matter, Mass Effect 3 has Udina on the Council. To be fair, Mass Effect 2 more-or-less ignores the possible-destruction of the Council in Mass Effect; however even then at least your Anderson/Udina choice stuck.
And remember saving the Rachni Queen? Well too bad, no matter your decision you'll still have to fight your way her again as she's been enslaved by the Reapers. The difference: in one case she's real and will help you when you save her; in the other case she's a fake Queen that'll turn on you. Of course, you could just kill her either way. Not a real big payoff for that choice, is there?
Oh yeah, and the Geth Heretics? Did you rewrite them in Mass Effect 2? Too bad, the Quarians and Geth go to war anyways, and the Geth accept the Reapers help.
Seriously, is there any major difference from any choice you made in the previous games? The majority of decisions only affected how many "points" you get to put toward the endgame. Everything comes down to a number, and it feels like game-changers were little more than a number to add up. Karma's a bitch, especially when she doesn't seem to exist.
The worst offender of this was the ending of the game. Not even the choices you made in the current game seemed to matter. It came down to a single decision between 2, possibly 3, choices. Now, I wasn't surprised Shepard would die; it was pretty obvious from the beginning. But having everything you did come down to this one choice? That's just lame.
Another reason not to like it? The dialogue of the ending was a huge problem; it was clunky and did an awful job of explaining what was happening.
For instance, Mass Effect 2: Arrival taught us that destroying a Mass Relay wipes the star system that contains it. In fact, that's exactly why Shepard was imprisoned in the beginning: his decision to destroy the Mass Relay had killed 300,000 Batarians. And then the "Catalyst" tells you that each choice has the added bonus of destroying all the Mass Relays? I took that to mean the galaxy's screwed no matter what I do; Earth and all the other major systems will be wiped out in the explosion. Apparently, that's not what it meant. But wait, in that case why was the Normandy running away from the blast? It's mind boggling.
Worse than that, think of how screwed all the fleets around Earth are. When it dawned on me that my character destroyed the Mass Relays, thus cutting off a huge portion of the Quarians from the homeworld they just reclaimed, I was damned near heartbroken. That is not a happy ending in any sense of the word.
On that note: there'll supposedly be a free "Extended Cut" DLC to explain this better. Now I don't follow the crowd with their "rewrite the ending" gusto, as you can't just change the ending to make fans happy; that's one of the worst ideas out there. However, I also don't see how this extension will help. I see it doing one of two things; it will either add confusion to an already insane ending, or it will oversimplify the ending and prove that it is just as stupid as the audience has assumed. Neither of these will improve the situation. It's like nervously explaining a bad joke; they should just move on and act like it never happened, we'd all be better off.
Unfortunately, I'm not nearly done. I was also disappointed at the number of missed opportunities that felt foreshadowed. The Keepers could've easily have been important again; hell, there's that one that keeps getting in your way at the docking bay. The writers completely dropped all the dark matter foreshadowing in Mass Effect 2. There's the matter of Shepard's dreams which could've had a lot more done with them. And even a bit of foreshadowing about how dead Shepard actually was between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. All of these could've really easily been taken advantage of, but none were. Instead, we were given a random ending. I had seen nothing in any of the games leading to that point which fell in line with the Catalyst's nature or reasoning. As such, since they ignored their own foreshadowing, they left it with an ending that felt completely out of place and painfully absurd. Sure, that's an easy way to have a twist, but it'll also immediately alienate those following the story.
[caption id="attachment_1056" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="The writers told me I had to let you win. But I'll make sure you don't like it!"][/caption]
And to top it off, here's a quandary for you: the entire point of Mass Effect is to prevent Sovereign from activating the Citadel as a Mass Relay from dark space. So, if the Catalyst controls the Reapers, and it was in the Citadel the entire time, why couldn't it have just activated the Mass Relay when Sovereign attacked the Citadel?
It's insane to think there was this super-intelligent older-than-dirt AI living in the Citadel and yet it somehow didn't win? This is almost a subversion of the Gambit Roulette, as the apparent trilogy Bigger Bad implies it's so intelligent to be damn near omniscient, and yet it can't stop a single human. If it's really done this for millions (perhaps billions) of years, why does it let Shepard stop it? Everything that happened should've been playing directly into the Catalyst's hands (so-to-speak), and yet it seemed to have no control over anything. At the very least, it's decision to simply give up when Shepard reaches it makes zero sense. Can we say "boss fight"?
Speaking of which, and this is more of a non-storyline gripe, but where was the freaking final boss fight? Why didn't the Catalyst fight me? It should've at least tried to stop me, right? Hell, I took down a Reaper earlier, but I don't even get to do that again? We all know Harbinger deserves it! Even Mass Effect 2 had the shitty Human Reaper fight. Did they just forget about it? And no, shooting the Illusive Man after 15 painstaking minutes of TRYING TO WALK 5 FEET is not a "boss fight". Though I will admit it was nice to make Martin Sheen shut up.
So this was an epic game that fell apart amazingly at the end. Up to that point, I was loving the game. It had everything. Sure, it didn't play nice with the decisions I'd previously made, but I didn't care, I was saving the universe!
And then came the end, after which I only had one thought:
...it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
But I'll still tell myself it was an awesome game as maybe, with the right amount of willpower, I can forget everything else and simply remember the following: I honestly enjoyed the game.