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Wednesday
Mar282012

Why The Thought Of Reviewing Mass Effect 3 Gives Me A Stress Headache (With Spoilers)

I generally like to play a game to completion before I review it. Completing the game, trying out all of it's modes, giving the multiplayer a go and seeing how much replayability the game has, it all contributes to me feeling like I can make a fair, informed decision on how to judge a game based on it's merits, context and flaws. And then there's Mass Effect 3. I completed the game in about 30 hours, sinking a good 12 hours into the multiplayer after finishing it, which should, in theory, position me ideally to review it, but no. It's not quite that simple in this case.

We all know what Mass Effect is, we've all played it, and if you Some story devices I was okay with, others? Not so much...haven't then stop reading, because I'm gonna totally ruin the end of the game for you, just sayin'. The journey the majority of us have taken will have been through Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 with one Shepard, a consistent cast of characters and one continuous story, with a few players having the same experience but picking the story up in Mass Effect 2 instead. Either way you have a universe you're pretty attached to, and a family of characters you care about by the time you come into Mass Effect 3. I don't have a problem with that, I could still have reviewed the game even with about 70+ hours of character development already under my belt, in fact, in my non-existent review, I would have said that this was a good thing, and that if you loved Mass Effect 2, very specific things about Mass Effect 3 would fill your heart with joy.

To be a little more specific, the intimate moments you get into with your old friends is done better in 3 than in the other games in the series. Hanging out with Garrus on the Citadel, having Liara come up to your room with the time capsule, helping out Miranda with her daddy problems, picking out the spot for Tali's future home, to even massive story points like Moridin's self-sacrifice to cure the Genophage (a potentially hugemongous event in the Mass Effect lore), all of those moments are that much more special when you've spent such a huge amount of time with these guys. What's even more remarkable is the fact that, depending on how you did in Mass Effect 2, these characters may have already died in your universe, for example, in my game Wrex was dead, so throughout the whole last 2 games his cousin Wreav has been in charge of the clan, and for some players out there all the characters I've listed above could easily have died before the game even began, meaning none of those experiences can possibly happen to you. I think that's awesome, and it's in these possibilities that the game really shines. Who will help you against the Rachni if Grunt's dead? Who's gonna cure the Genophage if Moridin's dead? Will Kai Leng kill the councillor if Thane doesn't intervene? The answers to these questions are, to me atleast, incredibly intriguing, and made my specific game feel special.

Visiting Tali's homeworld WITH Tali was a personal highlight.The shooting in the game is as fun as it was in ME2, and just as tactical, which was alright for me as I got pretty darn good at Mass Effect 2. The main difference to combat is over encumbrance, meaning if you take more weapons then your powers have a bigger recharge, that and being able to upgrade weapons and modify them is always welcome. I wouldn't call the combat an improvement though, it's more just an ever-so-slight refinement of the system that was already in place, it was a good system though so the game doesn't lose any hypothetical points for that.

My main problem, and while not a game breaker, is definitely a review-breaker, is that the entire game is built around the notion that you have to acquire "fleets" in order to battle the Reapers. The higher your overall fleet bonus, the better you'll do in the eventual final battle against the Reapers, atleast in theory. After seeing the multiple endings and experiencing the end for myself, the most heart breaking thing is realising that that fleet value doesn't matter one tiny bit. I mean, if you're going to complete the game, chances are you'll gather as much fleet as you possibly can anyways, but even if you don't, you get almost the exact same cutscene no matter what your eventual choice was, or how good you were at the game. The differences between the red, blue or 'middle' choice endings are so minute it's actually offensive, with little more than a different colour applied to the energy blast emitted from the Crucible in the game's final moments. The Reapers are still defeated, the Mass Relays are still destroyed and Shepard still dies (except for that split second tease in 1 of the endings) no matter what your fleet value was.

At first I thought about the game's ending in a way similar Certain parts were definitely epic as fuck.to this: "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell, I absolutely loved 29 and-a-half hours of this 30 hour long game, so I think I can let the ending go and still give it a 5/5" But then it occurred to me that the last 5-10 minutes of Mass Effect 3 almost entirely negate not only almost every single mission in the game, but the lack of inclusion of any major choices from ME 1 or 2 also kinda shits all over them aswell. I gave Cerberus the Collector ship to help fight the Reapers and that came to nothing. I saved the Rachni in ME1 and all I got for a reward was a (as we've already realised) useless fleet bonus. I managed to save both the Quarians and the Geth and include them both in the battle, but neither were acknowledged in the final cutscene, even though ending a centuries old war might seem like the kind of thing you wanna touch back on briefly at the end of the trilogy. About the only thing that actually matters are the fates of your Mass Effect 1 and 2 characters, but even then they have no bearing on the actual ending cutscene to the game. I've been playing a game for 30 hours, only to be told that "Hey, any time you spent doing any activity that wasn't a priority mission, or talking to a member of your crew, was basically completely pointless. Unlucky." And so the more I thought about reviewing the game, the more it wrinkled my brain.

How can I sit here and say that most of the game's missions are really cool and fun when they're laced with an insidious layer of false achievement?
How can I condone a game mechanic whereby the entire crux of said game is to gather fleets which later turn out to be useless?
How do I review this game without spoilers?!?

I wish I knew, but there's no way my mind can make sense on the situation. I wanna tell people that haven't played a Mass Effect game that if they were to play Mass Effect 2 and 3 they would experience something great, but the critic inside me wants to scream at the top of my lungs "BUT AT THE SAME TIME FUCK THAT FUCKING BULLSHIT GAME!". I can't sit here and pretend like everything is cool and say "The missions are all really fun and most turn out to be pretty cool in the end." because that would be denying the truth. It's like that one guy on Jeremy Kyle, who sits next to his pregnant scum girlfriend like everything is fine and swears he hasn't also shagged and duffed-up her best mate, but then those lie detector results come back and it turns he's not only shagged her best mate, but her mum, sister and pet rabbit aswell. I don't wanna recommend an experience (which a non-spoilery review would have to do) when the potential for disappointment is almost 100%, but on the other hand I don;t want to spoil the game for anybody who was still interested in it. I can't straddle both sides of the fence, and I can't sit in the middle. Mass Effect 3 is at all times a 5/5 and a 1/5 but never anything inbetween, or one but not the other. It's an anomaly, and one I can't consciously put a solid final score to. I hope that's alright with everyone.

Pick a direction, any direction! ...Seriously, it barely matters.


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