Reboarding the Normandy: Playing through ‘Mass Effect’ again (Part 3 of 3)
Warning: This is part three of a three part series. You can check out part one of this series here, and part two of the series here. Due to the nature of this feature, this will contain numerous spoilers for all three titles in the Mass Effect trilogy. Read on at your own risk.
You’ve read about my distaste for the first Mass Effect. You’ve watched as I shower praise upon Mass Effect 2. Now, read on to see me examine the assertions that I made about Mass Effect 3 in my review, and see if I finally come to realize that the 5 out of 5 I gave it should really be dropped down to a 2 out of 5 because the last 0.05% of the game doesn’t go as some would have liked. Join me as I take the most posthumously beaten horse and punch it until I can’t lift my arm anymore. That’s right; we’re opening up the Mass Effect 3 can o’ worms one last time!
Mass Effect 3 (2012)
When I started Mass Effect 3 again, I knew full well what I was getting into. The game, of course, has an infamous controversial ending that I fawned over in my review and the accompanying podcast, but it was necessary for me to experience it again with a new perspective and the knowledge of what the complaints were.
Let’s get one of my biggest praises out of the way: the presentation. BioWare truly did a phenomenal job with making the game look, feel, and sound excellent. The mini-cutscenes that come seamlessly throughout gameplay, such as the ones that occur during the opening attack on Earth, do wonders for BioWare’s mission to make the story a cinematic one, and there’s no denying the immersing nature of the storytelling. Even if you despise the ending, the game’s overall narrative is spectacular, and presented in elite fashion.
I never noticed how much darker Mass Effect 3 was than the first two entries until I played them back-to-back-to-back. Sure, I knew the fight was desperate and the enemies fiercer, but this title took the series to the next level. Banshees are absolutely horrifying, and the startled sense a player gets when completely pinned down with low shields as a Banshee makes its way towards you is unrivaled. One thing I did notice, though, was that when Reapers indoctrinate different species, humans really get the short end of the bargain. Turians become Marauders, Asari become Banshees, Batarians become Cannibals, and Brutes are comprised of a Turian/Krogan hybrid. Meanwhile, humans get stuck with being the zombie rip-off known as Husks. We don’t get weapons or any sense of self-preservation; instead, we throw ourselves at our enemies all willy-nilly in hopes that one of our allies will kill them before they thrust their heel through our brittle skull. We may now have Spectres, but the Reapers still give us no respect.
Speaking of a divine lack of respect, I got the same genocidal wild hare that hit me in the original Mass Effect when I wiped out the Rachni, and when the time came to implement the cure for the genophage or sabotage it, I decided that I had tolerated the Krogan for long enough. I went all out, though. Not only did I withhold information from Mordin about the sabotage, but when he found out about it, I blew him away with a single shot of my pistol (it was actually kind of sad seeing the little guy bleed out just before the Shroud facility explodes). I thought I had fooled the Krogan, but boy was I wrong! Just as I was leaving the Citadel one day, my old pal Wrex decided he was going to kill me. He had found out the Salarian Dalatrass pleaded for me to sabotage the cure, and he opened fire on me. While I hesitated to kill Wrex on Virmire in Mass Effect, I wasted no time in ending his life on the Citadel. Man, diplomacy is hard!
As I already mentioned, the game was much darker than its predecessors, but there were also some very humorous moments scattered throughout. One such moment came when a Yahg ran out during an early mission, killing Cerberus troops. You hear Shepard remark to be careful because that’s the next Shadow Broker; a nice callback to the outstanding “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC in Mass Effect 2. Also, when I went down to engineering, I noticed that BioWare had thrown in some self-deprecating humor, making fun of my biggest complaint of the first Mass Effect 1, the Mako. One of the men in engineering remarks that it handled “like a drunk rhino,” which brought a real smile to my face. The final humorous moment that comes to mind is finding Tali completely alone and drunk, just smashing Miranda for being genetically modified. In my first run-through, I encountered a wasted Ashley laying on the floor, but since she didn’t make it through the first game this time, I guess Tali had to take one for the team. It’s little things like that which make Mass Effect 3‘s story that much better, and its characters that much more real.
In my first playthrough, I didn’t get Javik until after I had finished the main story, which led to me only having limited time with the Prothean sqaudmate. Nevertheless, it was still enough time for me to get the impression that he was kind of a jerk. I wanted to give him a second chance, so I not only got him as soon as the game would let me, but I also brought him along on every mission just so we could try this friendship thing again. As I played through, Javik actually did drop some incredibly interesting insights, but he was still pretty rough on the manners. One of my favorite remarks from him came on Thessia when Shepard states that the Prothean beacon is recognizing him as Prothean. Upon hearing Shepard say that, Javik responds: “Or maybe it’s the Prothean standing right next to you…?”
I went into this playthough of the Mass Effect series knowing how things end up for Shepard in the end, so this time, I went all in with the girls. Starting out, there were four that I had my eye on: Traynor, Liara, Miranda, and, for the story, Jessica Chobot.
First, I invited Traynor up to my room for a game of “chess.” After she beat me, I tried to convince her to “play other kinds of games,” but she would have no part of it, stating that she wasn’t into men and that I was pretty much barking up the wrong tree. Off to a rough start in my conquests, no?
After telling both Liara and Miranda, who BioWare still loves showing from behind, that they were the only ones for me, I proceeded to betray both of them. I first set my sights on Miranda, my romance from Mass Effect 2. After only a little bit of convincing, Miranda was down for anything once again, and the person monitoring the Citadel security cameras got a nice show.
I then went straight from her to Jessica Chobot, whom I had made passes at in previous interviews. I invited her to my private cabin for an interview, which ended with us participating in extracurricular activities. I then immediately went down to her area of the Normandy and kicked her off my ship. The Normandy has no room for those kind of shenanigans.
I tried to complete my romantic conquest by getting back with my Mass Effect 1 romance, Liara, but she immediately blocked me by using the “f word.” That’s right, she called me a “friend.” Upon hearing that, I moved on and never spoke to her again. Come on, I’m playing as Renegade Shepard here… I don’t have time to waste with “friends.”
Just like the first Mass Effect, there was a moment where I doubted my mission to complete the trilogy would ever be accomplished. This time, it wasn’t thanks to the save functionality being antiquated, but rather a glitch that caused my mission on Gellix to freeze at random times. Finally, after several attempts, I completed the mission and never looked back. There were a few other glitches, such as when a random Turian decided to box me in on the Citadel, only to force me to restart my console, or when multiplayer began spawning invisible turrets in one of my matches, but Mass Effect 3 remains the most polished entry of the trilogy, by far.
There were actually two times in my first playthrough where I wondered if I would ever have the chance to see the story through to the end: the final battle with Kai Leng, and the last sequence where Mass Effect 3 pretty much decides it’s going to emulate an old-school arcade game and throw every enemy you ever fought during the game at you back-to-back (alright, maybe it was just every Reaper you fought back-to-back, but still). This time through, the battle with Kai Leng gave me the same amount of trouble, and I began questioning how I would ever defeat him again. Luckily, I adapted to his speed and eventually vanquished him, avenging the death of my buddy Thane. Oddly enough, I didn’t have the same trouble with the final battle as I did my first time through. I could probably attribute this to my increased preparation and stockpiling of Medi-Gels, but still, this playthrough left me wondering why I ever had such trouble with it in the first place.
I wanted to get my Galactic Readiness rating up prior to finishing the game, so I made sure to play a large amount of multiplayer before storming the Illusive Man’s base. I played until my readiness rating was at 100%, and that equated to so much multiplayer that I began hearing Lou Bega’s “Ahhhh!” from “Mambo #5″ whenever my Human Adept character did a heavy melee. It was infuriating.
It was difficult to judge the consequential nature of the ending when I had only completed the game once with one type of character. By using a completely different kind of character in this playthrough, I had hoped to see how different my ending would be. Honestly, after seeing it a second time, I stand by my convictions that it is one of the best endings I can remember. Sure, the final cutscene could’ve used a bit more influence from individual choices, and yes, I’d love to see more of what happened to my crew and squadmates, but counting the ending as the final battles along with the actual story itself, I would argue it’s difficult to complain.
The ending sequences featured some incredibly difficult moments that accurately portrayed the desperate struggle the entire galaxy was facing. It gives players the true feeling of what it’s like to be an underdog and, if you’re good enough, what it feels like to overcome those impossible odds. As for not enough choices being worked into the ending, it may surprise you to discover that I agree. I will defend BioWare in this regard, however, by stating that so many choices from previous installments showed their consequences throughout the entire game, and as such I find the ending excusable. The constant references to my decisions in the Arrival DLC, or how the Shadow Broker situation in Mass Effect 2 went down never failed to bring a smile to my face, and when you play through Mass Effect 3 a second time, you understand how intricately placed these decision points were, along with how well BioWare implemented them during the game itself. Feel free to disagree with me if you’d like (and I know you will), but that’s the beauty of it all: we can have different opinions! By the way, I got the green ending! HELL TO THE YEAH!
So, there you have it. I replayed the entire Mass Effect trilogy for your entertainment. While some of my original assertions were challenged, I found that overall, I was more thoroughly convinced of the reasons for why I love this trilogy. Sure, there are some imperfections here, or a plothole there, or even an entire game with antiquated gameplay, but BioWare truly deserves to be commended for what they accomplished. The series flowed incredibly well, and forged a path that many others are sure to follow. I really hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did, but if you found this third and final piece to be a monumental letdown, please note that I will not be releasing any DLC to amend it, nor will I be issuing any refunds.
Unfortunately, the playthrough of these three games wasn’t all fun and games. I wanted to take a moment to remember those we lost along the way:
Ashley Williams, Rachni Queen, The Entire Original Council, Saren Arterius, The Original Normandy, The Shadow Broker, Tali’s Dad, Maelon Heplorn, The Entire Collector Population, 300,000 Batarians, Eve (the Female Krogan), Mordin Solus, Donnel Udina, Future Generations of Krogan, Kai Leng, EA’s Better Business Bureau Rating, Wrex, The Reapers, The Illusive Man, 10 AA Batteries