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Sunday, 27 July 2014

D%&$ It, Bioware, I Was Using That Heart: Mass Effect Revisited

Hello hello!

So, my turbulent and ultimately ill-fated love affair with the Mass Effect trilogy is pretty well known at this point. In case you missed all that, you can find info here, here, and here. There are


 about the first three games at all six of those links, by the way. I've written about this series a lot, and one of the reasons I love Farscape so much is that it gave me what I was hoping for from Mass Effect, but without the most tragic backstory ever written.

Well, the release of the fourth game in the franchise has been revealed at--where else?--the San Diego Comic Con. I waited with baited breath as I clicked on the link, hoping for a reveal of the future of the universe.

 Source: Cheezburger.

The next game is going to happen concurrently with the events of the last one, ME3. You know, that game. The one that ruined a company's reputation, earned EA the "Worst Company of the Year" award in 2012, and was universally hailed as a clusterphuque of earthshaking proportions. The original ending was so universally hated, they ended up revamping it with extended narration and explanations of the consequences. More on the extended endings in a minute. But all the phuquerie that resulted from that terrible, cliched, tropey, backstabbing of an ending happened because gamers felt betrayed. I was even one of them, and I shed my tears with the rest. But why? And why did I get a bad case of feels when I finally watched the extended cuts today?

What went wrong?

I'll try to keep this short because it's been discussed elsewhere. The problems with the ending boil down to five things.

First, the ending felt too simplistic compared to the complex and multilayered games that preceded it. The endings of the first two games were heavily reliant on previous actions, with Mass Effect 2's ending being the best example of that. Perhaps all the storylines they had going ended up collapsing on their own weight, but I think most of us expected some sort of large final battle where the results were determined by resources and alliances accrued and accumulated during the rest of the games. That isn't what happened. Like, at all.

Second, Shepard dies unnecessarily...or lives, if you (possibly) sacrifice all Geth and Synthetic life. I'm not restating that blog post about why hero death is a stupid and borderline unhealthy trope, but here's another link to it.

Third, the Starchild is a stupid and unnecessary brat with terrible voice acting and worse writing. The Illusive Man, a Geth, EDI herself, a Keeper (you know, those plot device bugs who were never used for anything in spite of substantial build-up in the first games?), or even, why not, the Rachni Queen, would all have been better choices. Sure, you have the little weird kid running around in Shep's head through the first half of the game, but freaky children are a stupid cliche at best, and it didn't belong in this game. Add in all the stuff about madness in the excellent DLCs for the series and you have a sinister perspective on the little brat--who, we are somehow supposed to believe, is some kind of peaceful and neutral force. You choose the McGuffin or you epic-fail. I actually love the new fourth ending, but the last time I saw an ending this hamstrung was at a sex show involving bondage and oral pleasure. At least with the "refusal" option, the stupid storytelling bit at the end makes sense.

Fourth, your team crash lands on a random planet for no particular reason. Why? Why did this happen? Why did they get sucked into a portal? Sure, the extended endings fix that up a bit, but why does this even occur?

Fifth, that stupid damn storyteller ending. I love Synthesis, and I can stand Destroy because Shepard lives, but Control always felt evil to me. And yet all three of these end with a stupid cutscene after the credits that even Buzz Aldrin's cameo couldn't save. The Starchild voice actor returns (shudder) and an old man tells him he might go to the stars...in a way that implies all knowledge of space travel has been lost. That blatantly contradicts two of the three endings, and worse, the "tell me another story about the Shepard" bit teases us with the false promise of another game about our protagonist. You know, the game they promised they'd never make. This storytelling ending actually makes sense for the Refusal ending, which was the most coherent, but the fact that they left it in the extended endings felt like a slap in the face.

This is basically how I feel about the whole thing. 

Why are we rehashing all this?

Oh, there's a reason. The new game will be set at the end of the third. Are they going to retcon the ending? How will they deal with the incredible fame of Shepard's character if your character is just some scrub? Are you going to have somehow never heard of the most famous person in the galaxy, a.k.a. Space Jesus? It's going to focus on the multiplayer side of things, sure, but this feels like a stall for time. My partner called it a money-grab, and not the real sequel, and added, "unless I'm absolutely wrong, you can completely ignore this game." Did I mention that they explicitly promised the next game would be set in the far future?

Okay, fine; how could you possibly fix it?

Just abandoning the series--which would actually be wise--probably isn't a viable option. A jump backwards in time would have solved a lot of their problems, and quite a few fans have been hoping for something set during the human-Turian First Contact War. Jumping drastically far forward into the future would also be an option.

What I'd love to happen, as much as I will weep angry tears over the impossibility of it, would be a proper exploration of the Synthesis ending. The extended version hints that a golden age was dawning, but change is scary. There's plenty of conflict you could mine from the sudden friendliness of the Reapers, the ancient technologies gifted to the unprepared galaxy, the fact that all races and species have the possible opportunity to be immortal, and the equalization forced on everyone. Diplomacy games! New wars! Playing as a Reaper! Dealing with grieving! New conflict rising as unknown or rare civilizations are encountered! Religious conflict! All the ingredients of amazing story potentials are right there, and there is no way we'll get to play with those toys.

Synthesis in a nutshell. 

The lesson in all of this is that creating a series is hard, and kind of dangerous. It's hard to please fans at the best of times, but the more complicated your world gets and the more plot devices and plotlines you pile on, the easier it is to screw them up. Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series is the only one even close to Mass Effect in terms of McGuffin implosions, and that was a mess too. The lesson is that introducing endless plot mechanics and shiny toys is a bad idea. And sometimes, you just have to pretend something didn't happen and move forward with the story instead of trying to fix an old problem that's basically unrepairable. Writing is not always fun and it's rarely "easy", but at least we can learn from the failures of others.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

1 comment:

  1. I walked away from EA after Mass Effect and I am not planning to come back. I went so far as to create my own ending just to erase the bad taste of the original. A bit too far I guess but it worked for me.


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