Wednesday, 25 April 2012

MASS EFFECT 3

In Summary (read-me for those yet to play):

It feels like this game is a pared down hybrid of it's predecessors; all extraneous features lopped off to make room for multiplayer mode to be sutured cleanly into place. The result is an even less bona fide RPG, however, the tweaks to the fighting mechanics that make ME3's co-op mode so very viable also raise the single player experience as far above ME2 as it was, in turn, beyond ME1.

ME3's rich inheritance of narrative, established in ME1, and vivid characters, developed in ME2, allows the single player game to easily get away with lacking the ingenuity of either of it's parents. This is a BIG GAME by most standards, yielding over 30 hours for one play through (excluding multiplayer). Story progression is smooth, more organic than ME2's shopping list of missions, but simultaneously more constrained and shorter (by raw single player mission count). Matters are somewhat more impersonal in their larger scope: your attentions are drawn outwards and upwards, vying for the loyalty of entire civilisations instead of squad mates. Gratifyingly though, romance options also extend beyond your personal involvement.

There are hilarious lines (though less frequent than in it's predecessor) and some brilliant moments, especially during the mid game section. However, in addition to the aforementioned cut corners, the game's concluding mission(s) did start to feel like a triumph of project management crushing creativity that would have further delayed the release date. Setting the specifics of the ending controversy aside, I still can not help but feel that a opportunity for monumental greatness was casually shrugged aside at the last minute. Thus, rather than earnestly shouting it's praises, I am now hesitant to recommend that any new comers play this series.

If you are the type who is intending to replay the previous game(s) first, aiming to cover every side quest and/or spend a couple of hours thinking about/reading up on the game afterwards, then the ending will probably be somewhat of an issue. For those just wanting something to fill 30 hours of spare time, or are more interested in multiplayer action, the 'controversy' will just be a bunch of gibber-jabber.

Contents:
  • Summary
  • Contents
  • Quick opinions:
    • Liked
    • Ambivalent
    • Disliked
  • Extended Critique
    • EMS
    • Superior Gameplay
    • Multiplayer
    • Diversity
    • Difficulty
    • Graphical Quibbles
    • Money
  • Discussion of Concepts Raised
    • Ethics
    • AI Treatment
    • Religion
    • Racism
    • Feminism
  • My Predictions Reviewed
  • To The End
    • Overview
    • The Ending that I Loved
    • Major Flaws and Nit Picking
    • Clarification
  • Indoctrination Theory
    • Supporting Evidence
    • Implications of Indoctrination
  • My Ending(s)
    • London Game Play
    • Final Explanation
    • Perspective
Quick Opinions:


Liked:
  • - ME3 is still a proper space opera story in the format of a popular game. This should not be forgotten! (As games, or even films go, it still also has great dialogue: "Emergency induction straw!".)
  • - Combat is slicker: commando roll/dive are great, distinct *heavy* melee attack, biotic charge animation is zippier, more weapons versus significant cool down reduction trade-off is interesting. Full list in next section.
  • - Playing the 'Vanguard' character class for the first time: getting entirely away from the ubiquitous hide and head-shot routine.
  • - Prettiness. Especially when pausing mid-explosion with an awesome space vista behind you across multiple monitors.
My screenshot from single player.
  • - Music: better than ever; perfect during the Ending (despite it's other flaws).
  • - No *totally* ridiculous boss fights (thinking of the ME2 human reaper thing).
  • - Not always getting to eat your cake; having to loose (a) likeable friend(s) to get the best overall outcome in (a) situation(s).
  • - Some genuinely difficult, well balanced, major ethical decisions to be made.
  • - Major themes, introduced previously, are thoroughly dealt with (and perhaps solved).
  • - AI issues feature even more heavily: EDI in crew/squad and Legion/geth in main plot, showing great humour and humanity respectively.
  • - Achievements do not pop up during single-player, maintaining immersion.
  • - Main characters no long confined to quarters. They turn up in various locations on the Normandy and Citadel. The impromptu gatherings and banter give the game that extra realism.
  • - Mark Meer seems to have stepped up his game for ME3, voicing a BroShep more convincing than his first 2 performances (as far as I've listened). I still prefer the more critically acclaimed performance of Jennifer Hale though. I wonder if this is a bias due to the female voice, in general, being more pleasing to a predominantly male reviewership?? Female's opinion on Meer anyone?
  • - Demolishing enemies as a raucous, raging Krogan in multiplayer (after Resurgence patch and random character unlock). A brilliant way to let off steam.
From video of Krogan Vanguad play: http://youtu.be/vL4zl_JZ9SQ
Ambivalent:
  • - No mini games at all. Ditches much of the character of the first (two) games, but I do not miss the flagrant padding and break of flow they induced. Planing scanning is now more a heavily nerfed button click than mini-game.
  • - Limited selection of weapons, like ME1. No heavy weapons fun; apparently the Geth stole all your rocket launchers and flame throwers and the Aliance just don't trust you with a Cain no more. Ammo for them was always a pain in ME2, and I can see how their inclusion in ME3 would have messed up the recharge/weight mechanism.
  • - AI squad-mate path finding problem still kludged by teleporting them in behind you if they get left behind. This was disconcerting but handy for a my Shepard leading the charge, though manually positioning them would just as awkward as before for back seat drivers relying on deep cover.
Disliked:
  • - Crude 'Effective Military Strength' (EMS) progress bar forms the core of the game.
  • - Single player difficulty started off erratic, then consistently tailed off.
  • - Insta-kill banshees! The bane of a Vanguard's existence.
  • - The Eden Prime mission, the bulk of the "From Ashes" Prothean DLC (~£6), repeatedly hard crashed in the middle, right after 3 minutes of unskipable cut-scene. I had to restart with a different squad mate, then worrying about it crashing again spoiled the whole thing. A known bug, so far 1 month unfixed.
    FemShep breaks through the 4th Wall.
  • - Dragon Age branded armour, with ideal stats for my Vanguard, made Shepard look anachronistic and tacky. Helmet is entirely opaque, so I could not see her face or hear her speak clearly during dialogue scenes. After first completion. discovered there is an option (in the 'narrative' menu) to make helmets vanish during dialogue sections. The extra discontinuities are a distracting step backwards though. Went back to real Shepard outfit. Similarly, I'm not keen on the Battlefield 3 soldier skin in multiplayer.
  • - Origin. Being forced to use EA's buggy DRM software that's masquerading as a Steam alternative. Often fails to recognise my DLC, baulking multiplayer. Origin interface hotkeys only occasionally work. Etcetera.
  • - The ending(s).
  • - No vehicles. Unless you count a couple of opportunities to hop into an 'Atlas' mech-suit. I'm not going to moan about those, as I have done in relation to the Matrix Revolutions (and Avatar); they worked fine in context and weren't overused, though obviously not as cool as the model in District 9.
An Atlas that can be piloted (my screenshot).
Extended Critique {Spoilers}:


EMS:

The 'Minimum' mark is particularly vexing. The unavoidable core missions, done as badly as possible, would easily take you beyond this point, so it's effectively a target for utilising the game as little as possible.

This game feature also indicates that no extra efforts will ultimately be acknowledged (in the ending) once the green segment of your bar fills the available space. Fine, but again it's trivially easy to fill the bar: EITHER complete 95% of single player pretty well OR do the bare minimum but double it's 'effectiveness' by messing about in multiplayer for a few hours. No extra content or acknowledgement is available for the averagely dedicated player who has played the whole game. It is not like this avoids penalising those without internet, who can not play on-line; you HAVE to have a working connection and Origin installed to even launch the single player.

This is one of many changes indicative of Mass Effect shifting away from it's RPG roots, towards casual action shooter play. Presumably it's more popular (and profitable).

Superior Gameplay:


Compared to ME2, there are a surprisingly large number of minor improvements that make a big overall difference. Certainly going back to ME2 now is even more frustrating than going back from ME2 to ME1. I think these improvements were touches deemed necessary to make the multiplayer viable, but they benefit the single player too.

Combat:
  • Biotic explosions: combos that do bonus damage to targets, somewhat like Magicka. Nice.
  • Ammo clips don't just fill your currently selected weapon.
  • Shepard doesn't get staggered (stunned standing up) by regular troops or for quite such an agonisingly long time time if so.
  • Biotic charge feels quicker, targets were almost always in reachable locations, and no specific range limitations for charge. Don't get stuck the wrong side of cover after a charge quite so often either.
  • Turning camera angle when paused is always full speed (or locked out during rolls).
  • Medigel not locked out by cooldowns, but downed team mate proximity required.
In Cover:
  • Aiming visibility is more reliable (less often blocked by the view of a wall).
  • Do not get hit/damaged/stunned from annoying angles (i.e. from the other side of cover).
  • Can grab weak enemies over the top of low cover: cool.
  • Leaving cover direction indication arrows are handy.
Movement:
  • Tumbles/rolls/dodges very useful (and fun) for side to side movement, escaping and/or leaving cover.
  • Turn rate faster when running (less mouse movement needed).
  • Running is noe more significantly faster compared to walking.
  • Do not get out of breath. Realism does not always make for good gameplay.
Menus:
  • Generally slicker interface, not so many extra sub menus on separate pages.
  • Like ME1, weapon selection screen again shows bar graph of gun characteristics (capacity, fire rate, weight, etc). Chart has indicator lines for comparison with the currently selected model if looking at an  the alternative gun. 
  • Seems less easy to accidentally select a conversation option when just trying to skip dialogue, though still just using space bar for everything.
Single Player:
  • Seem to have been more carefully sculpted; do not just get all the enemies on a level poor in through a door way simultaneously now.
  • Do not like that Shepard seems to have a gun super-glued to her raised hands at all times when in a combat section.
My Screenshot - Multiplayer action (data upload sub-mission).

Multiplayer:

I do not mean to give the impression that I am entirely against ME's increased emphasis on action; I  very much like the improvements to fighting and the multiplayer game is a smart move that's very enjoyable. It could have been incorporated into this single player franchise with a little more finesse though:
  • Using the multiplayer as a fully functioning pre-release demo was a pragmatic marketing strategy triumph over artistic integrity. One can argue that it doesn't spoil the single player experience if you chose to avoid it (as I did).
  • Have the multiplayer maps unlocked by playing them in the campaign. They could each have cropped up earlier, to placate the impatient. There could even have been a game settings switch to bypass this unlock process.
  • Feature the multiplayer maps more strongly in single player. Taking about two minutes each they felt horrendously rushed. Add more waves in, simple.
These small changes would have yielded a more integrated result. As it is, the product isn't too schismatic, but it feels a little like Bioware took a free-to play, Left 4 Dead type, online, co-op and distilled the story element out to form a separate companion game.

As for the online experience itself:
  • A single game, of 10 waves, takes about 15 minutes. Good for some quick fun.
  • There is no team text chat capability, only audio push to talk audio. Consequently, it is rare to find anyone that will talks back to you. This could be due to ignorance of Tab key use, lack of microphone or just general shyness. I am guessing most traditional RPG types are used to having an entire universe to themselves, so may be shy or resentful of the intrusion of others.
  • For play with existing friends, one has to invite through the Origin client in-game interface (which will refuse to go away via keyboard shortcut). The client does not then reserve a place for the invited friend, so you have to set the game type to private until they load and connect, then switch to public to fill the remaining slots with randoms.
  • Buggy: 
    • The game sometimes fails to detect my free multiplayer DLC (a game patch by any other name), hence will spend a 30 seconds loading up then refuse play on incompatibility grounds. Irritating.
    • I have had the game fully crash out a couple of times now, mid mission for no apparent reason. It has locked up and disconnected me (without crashing) a couple of times too, right after starting a map.
    • Had on occasion where a section of the map had been deformed with bizarre, static artefacts.
    • Lag effects are the biggest regular problem. They are worst when playing with people on another contents, but can be significantly off-putting all the time, especially during close combat.
  • Gameplay can get a bit samey, but then you can change character and/or difficulty which makes a big difference to tactics.
  • You have to grind out a lot of matches to be guaranteed to unlock the equipment you most want, and even longer to upgrade it to a decent level (because it is randomised).
Diversity:
Via: destructiod.com

I was surprised by the number of people playing as 'Soldier', both in my experience in online play and in the statistics for single player ME2 class choice (more than all others combined). It seems like the most boring choice to me: shunning the options of invisibility, magical explosive combos or short range teleport bitch-slaps for nice familiar guns, grenades and quite possibly extra guns. Good old memetic selection shining through; boyish fixation on the most real world appropriate weapons? I suppose it makes sense to stick with something familiar when making a game start choice you may be stuck with for 30 hours. Soldier do get 'adrenaline rush' for Max Payne/Matrix-esq time dilation too I suppose.

Hopefully multiplayer has helped gamers to explore the different classes more. It looks deliberately geared towards encouraging diversification, with weapons characters and colouration's unlocked at random. From this angle, multiplayer preceding campaign mode makes more sense.

Successful 4 player forays tend to involve a reasonable team balance and Bioware has done a good job creating a range of character types with significantly different skills. Not quite as specialised as a WoW raiding party or a decent League of Legends team, but then Mass Effect has a non-fantasy setting, with corresponding limitations.

While head-shot precision FPS mad-skills are always helpful, they are significantly less important for some class types, e.g.: the target homing nature of biotic attacks, and the rough and ready melee combat of vanguards, allow competitive enjoyment for those (like me) who have found PvP shooters like Battlefield 3 impossibly frustrating.

Difficulty:


Vanguards, with the high risk, high reward style, that their abilities encourage, are great for hoovering up a lion's share of kills on 'bronze' (easy). However, turn those enemy health bars up to 'silver' and this class is forced onto a niche diet of weaker pray. Perhaps they can be used to defend the flanks of your ranged team mates against the odds that break through to your cover position. But while Vanguards may come unstuck (in may hands anyway) adepts become a stronger choice now they are given the chance to chain a sequence of abilities on targets for bonus damage combination explosions.

The instant kill attacks, most common from Banshees (in my experience) are very frustrating, particularly in multiplayer above bronze difficulty. For other classes they make sense: you should be scared enough by the biggest enemies to run away. But their grabs seem random, so when you only have a shotgun and melee attacks, death is inevitable. This is especially true when internet lag effects cause you to be magically dragged back 10 meters to an evil witch you just saw yourself successfully hit and run from. If they could only grab you when your shields were down or something, that would make an acceptable level of sense.
My Halo lookalike human vanguard being disemboweled in multiplayer.
Going back to single player: on 'normal', when diligently picking up all upgrades, most combat became quite trivial once the challenging Tuchanka finale was behind me. Switching up to 'hardcore' difficulty just caused my Shepard to randomly drop dead against regular mooks and made the hit-point bars on big enemies tediously slow to deplete. This type of difficulty forces you into traditional, cover based shooting, or twiddling one's thumbs if you only have a regular shotgun. I would have liked harder settings to mean more enemies, but instead it just totally broke the flow of fun I was having as Vanguard, forcing me to steamroller a spattering of regular bad guys.

Graphical Quibbles:

+ It took me a substantial amount of fiddling and Googling to get ME3 working with my AMD Radeon 'eyefinity' mode (a single extra wide display spread across multiple monitors):

Eyefinity drivers are problematic in their own right, unless you have a set of matching monitors with the same resolution, aspect ratio and orientation. My two old 17", 4:3 side monitors may fit just about right next to my nice, new 24", 16:10 when they're turned portrait, but eyefinity will have none of that: It forces all monitors in the group to the same resolution and orientation, locking in the aspect ratio of the majority, even if your centre screen is the odd one out. So, after failing miserably to get SoftTH (3rd party drivers/workaround) working instead, I was left with 1280x1024 on a 1920x1200 screen. The loss of visual crispness was not toooo troubling and after a while I stopped noticing Shep's middle age spread, from the horizontal stretching. If anything this probably made the character models look more real-world realistic.

These niggling compromises still beat trying to play action sections with a stupidly blinkered field of view (something I complained about in my ME2 review). I think I may now be horribly spoiled by the multi-monitor experience, which is a nuisance because each PC game requires different settings/files to be fiddled with if they will even work at all. After almost a decade of multi-monitor PC gaming, it seems that it is still almost as niche as ever. Perhaps this is changing now HD screens are just £100 a pop and PC graphics hardware has been so underutilised by all the console designed games that to make use of it you now *need* extra monitors or stereoscopic 3D that doubles the frame rate requirements.

I also had to set ME3's display mode to 'Windowed borderless', rather than fullscreen, a feat only barely possible when navigating the in game menus while stuck on a the far taller standard resolution that my main screen *should* have displayed in. I can not remember if I also had to manually enter my eyefinity resolution into the game's settings file first too...

+ To be fair, the eyefinity problems are not really ME3's fault (though the game is even less compatible with Nvidia's 'surround' solution). What I can pin on Bioware is ME3's stubborn predilection for 1080p and 16:9 aspect ratio; a mediocre specification that hardware manufactures have also conspired to limit themselves to over the last few years. ME3 repeatedly cuts between 3 visible display sizes with my setup: fighting in full eyefinity, menus screens on centre only and dialogue/cut-scenes mostly stuck on centre only but randomly jumping between full resolution and letterbox mode (16:9). Given that almost all the visuals are custom rendered in real time, I presume the black bars are primarily to be blamed on the game being simultaneously developed for XBox, with TVs exclusively HD aspect these days. If you are part of the HD herd you won't notice any of this, and with 3xHD even Eyefinity will probably just work fine first time. I think EA should state (in the 'minimum system requirements' section) that 16:9 screens are recommended if they are going to cater for them preferentially.
My full eyefinity resolution capture: squad menu (Back to just 6 characters, minus the Virmir survivor but including DLC.)
Another cut-scene distraction was Bioware's insistence on Shepard waggling as many different gun types as possible. Having only ever equipping a shotgun, rifles and pistols were conjured up on a regular basis. It makes me wonder if the load/recharge trade-off mechanic (that now stops you carrying every type of gun) was a last minute change, only implemented after the motion capture for the story was already 'in the can'. More likely Bioware just painted themselves into a corner and compromised.
Hey, what happened to Garrus's riffles?... And how did my shotgun turn into a pistol?!
I think a niggle like this is actually a fairly major flaw for a story heavy RPG; if half the player's attention is spent anticipating glaring continuity errors, suspension of disbelief is going to suffer horribly, taking immersion and enjoyment along with it. Despite all the other massive problems with end of the game, Bioware does take the trouble there to show how Shepard picks up the spefic Carnifex featured thereafter. Shame they didn't take time to figure out something better for other occasions.

Money and DLC:

I was somewhat gutted that within roughly a fortnight of release (and my purchase), the price of the DVD version dropped to almost half it's original value (£28 down to £17 on Amazon). This was especially irritating as I had been holding off playing it the whole time, waiting until I had my new triple monitor setup in place.     I presume the drop was largely due to the ending controversy, since  the price recovered slightly after the traducement of 'clarification' DLC and there's no market competition from second hand PC discs, since the serial code *has* to be registered to an email address (via an Origin account) in order to play.

1200 for the price of 800...
Had I been patient enough to catch the lower price, I would have felt less gouged when buying the 'day one' DLC  "From Ashes". It is £7 through Origin for the 800 Bioware points, or £6.19 direct with the possibility to grab 1200 points for £6.19 if one navigates their ME2 DLC shop skilfully. (Make like you are going to buy a specific ME2 DLC pack, then click the "Add Bioware Points" link at the top of the page instead, presuming you don't actually want that one). I guess this weird pricing scheme is another attempt at psychologically manipulating more money out of customers; it help me self justify the purchase, despite the only benefit being an extra 400 points I can't spend on anything useful (for now).

One can spend BioWare points on Multiplayer equipment, though 240BW points (over £2) seems a hell of a lot for one random collection of unlocks. Guess it is just intended as a spare points sink, so that successive DLC will effectively cost more. I am curious to know how many Bioware points are actually flushed down this drain; I imagine it's far less profitable than other free to play games (like theSettlersOnline, for example, which has extorted £15 from me). For a start, it is quite awkward to add extra fake plastic BioWare dollars.

Having used Steam sales as my primary means for acquiring new games for some time now, I consider £7 is about right for a full game of reasonable production value. This amount just for 'extra' content that could just as easily been included in ME3 in the first place, seems like a terrible rip-off: EA seem to be trying to test how far BioWare's loyal customer base can be stretched. The worst part of it is that the DLC is aggressively pitched within the game itself. The main menu has a scrolling banner advertising the Prothean download. Then to cap it off Liara drops a clanger of a line early on: oh what I'd give to have an ACTUAL Prothean to consult! (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). It's on a par with brainwashing your children that they are going to die unless their parents buy them an extra toy for their existing collection.

If "From Ashes" had been folded into the game by default, the Eden prime mission would have been quite an exciting surprise: Ooo, a real life 'Enkindler'!; what's he going to be able to tell us?! But knowing exactly what you are about to get before hand, and knowing that it is optional content, it should be clear that he is not going to have any game changing (i.e breaking) consequence. Sure enough, Javik is just a soldier bent on vengeance, no knowledge of cutting edge science or anything helpful. This would have made sense and been fair enough either way, but included as standard (or as a mysterious free DLC) it would have provided a nice little emotional roller coaster.

Javic's squad abilities, though unique, are pretty regular too. I've already mentioned that his recruitment mission is appallingly buggy too, having to avoid taking Edi or Garrus if you want to avoid a full on game crash half way through (opening the video rooms in reverse order may also help). So the only real bonus you get, for the price of a whole game, are the admittedly well written tirades of vitriol you are rewarded with for pestering him aboard ship and/or taking him on missions. Do not buy this if you are the type to play in 'action mode'.

Oddly enough, installing the DLC dispensed with an irritating 2 second screen freeze during the main menu unfolding animation. Though it now pops up a message about checking DLC instead, as if you can't be trusted not to have fiddled with it between game loads, you undeserving wretch!...

Apparently not. http://memegenerator.net/ 
In addition to adding an 11% additional profit margin to BioWare points, the standard ME3 edition is still £5 more expensive in the Origin shop than on Amazon (a 3rd party retailer who have the additional expense of handling a physical item, ironically), despite both knocking £10 of RRP. Origin's 'Digital Deluxe' version of the N7 Collector's Edition box is £2 cheaper (at £55), but it only includes a few picture files and some pointless in game tat. I believe the day-one DLC comes 'free' with it, but is never mentioned anywhere in the terrible product description. For that kind of money I would expect a real life N7 hoodie, not just a virtual one!

Seems like another example of big business swallowing all the cost savings of digital distribution then having the cheek to add further price premiums (as has been the way with (e)book publishers). Given that EA have monopolised digital sales of ME3 by forcing dependence on the the Origin client (unlike 1 & 2 which were available on Steam), I wonder how long it will be until they stop selling physical copies too? Also, having already won an award for worst company of the year, how long it will be until this approach drastically fails them?

Having not gotten around to replaying ME2 before ME3's release, I didn't check for the most recent interim DLC, so didn't play "Lair of the Shadow broker" or "Arrival" (800 and 560 BW points respectively). Each of these are referenced in ME3, though it seems like their consequences are limited to a single line in each case. On the other hand, it sounds like the last ME2 DLC, with its' no win situation(s), might well have done a better job at establishing how insurmountable a task beating the Reapers really is.

Discussion of Concepts Raised {BIG HAIRY SPOILERS}:

+ The moral grey area surrounding the Krogan genophage continues through ME3, and presents the most agonising choice to be made. One could argue that the game's narrative makes it too abundantly clear that saving the Krogran is the 'right' thing to do. But the first time you are made to decide, when your confession will get interrupted, the matter is much more difficult call: the Krogan are known to be a species uplifted specifically because of their aggressive nature and Wrex is really not helping matters by joking about genocidal revenge (he is joking, right?)...

Then we see the glimpses of the lost splendour of Tuchanka and hear (from a soft voice) how it was lost in nuclear holocaust (that could so easily have been the fate of human civilisation too); there is only one clear option now, even discounting personal attachments.

(Of course, if you killed Wrex in ME1 you are now stuck with his less restrained brother as top dog. Maybe Eve, a "stabilising force", died along the way too. Now your Sheppard need not have a face covered in scars to decide that an unchecked Krogan army is rather too risky long term. A paragon player can even talk their way out of shooting Mordin in the back in this circumstance.)

Regardless of how trivial the difficulty of the choice is, ultimately, I think players have been lead through a very good example of the dangers of stereotyping. Justifying the oblivion of an entire race of people by using an over-simplified, immutable, caricature is what made the Nazis 'evil', AND ME3 HAD YOU THINKING OF DOING PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THING, ADMIT IT! Amazing writing. The Tuchanka section is easily the peak of the game.
A chance for redemption? Mordin and Eve. (My screenshot.)


+ The non-cliché treatment of AI continues in ME3, playing an even weightier role than I expected. The Geth even get cast in the light of extremely forgiving victims of genocide. The 'right' choice is presumably to side with them; protecting the defenceless against reckless Quarian aggression. This despite the game mostly failing to demonstrate any Geth culture, or essential traits of diversity or creativity. Though no (main-stream) fiction ever has managed this, to my knowledge (thinking of the soulless machine city in the Matrix, etc). Edi perhaps goes a long way to brindging this imagination gap, with the personal introspection, jokes and hoking up with your old buddy Jeff. Then again, the 'right' thing to do here might somewhat hypothetical for those wholly pre-occupied with getting (back) into one particular Quarian's hermetically sealed space-panties.

Of course, the hope born of heartening co-operation between embittered enemies is entirely negated if you take the ending of the game seriously at face value: 'synthetics' will ALWAYS destroy 'organics'. So that's that then. Either destroy your new found AI allies, who you spent a quarter of the game saving/recruiting, or entirely clense diversity from the galaxy by melding all life together.
Building some very short lived bridges. (My Screenshot.)
+ There is practically no religion in ME3. Well, there would have been some praying in my run through if I had not accidentally blanked Thane in the Hospital. I don't remember Ashley making any Christianity references this time either, though I did decide she would be better utilised anywhere else in the galaxy but my ship. On Thesia the divine Asari goddess get debunked (by Javik): just Protheans after all. The learned Liara is surprisingly denialist here, unlike a random Hanar, on the Citadel, that was well chuffed to meet Prothey the Enkindler.


+ There are no Asain (human) characters still, but of the new crew members there is a Latino squaddie and a (romancable) Gay black guy. Two contrasting examples of masculinity deliberately juxtaposed in the shuttle bay? I guess that's progress. That the Reapers position their Citadel elevator over London, instead of near the global centre of greatest populace, e.g Beijing or even Tokyo, is probably just as much a reflection of Mass Effect's Earth of 2186 being suspiciously like Earth 2012 with bells on, as it is implicit, target audience related racism.


+ In terms of feminism, your new 'secretary' woman is no longer a random floozy (apparently you can still hook up with that throwback if you want). 'Specialist Traynor' is far more sophisticated in emotional detail and plays for keeps. I think they did a good job writing in Ms Traynor as a plausible equal: her assertive intellect complementing Shepard's military command prowess. Oddly, perhaps realistically, my Femshep never officially broke off the rekindled Garrus romance before getting together with her, leaving me slightly flustered to find him and Tali canoodling later on (oh Garrus, you old dog!).
http://athamaarit.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d4uboaz
Overall, there does seem to be a plethora of females in military, political and scientific roles throughout the game. Even a genuinely female alien (not just Asari hermaphrodites). On balance, this probably just about compensates for the return of the blatant-arse-camera when talking to Miranda and a sexy bad-ass make over for Ashley, who's promotions seem to have come with a free boob job and lip augmentation. This does leave Ash looking a little too bimbo-ish, but then I palmed her off on the EMS bar as soon as possible anyway and I don't think she's all the popular with most people.

Captain Katherine Janeway vs Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil Afterlife)
The default Femshep model has also been sexed up: futuristic rejuvenation therapies have taken her outward appearance back to the point she could be Jack's tweenage sister. On first reflection this could be construed as regressively ageist, abolishing the experienced decision maker, Captain Janeway type, role model in favour of an implausible school girl supermodel action hero. And it's not like they pimped BroShep (who is still rocking it like an action man doll).

But thinking longer, there is sense to the change: it seems more likely that re-juvinile femshep will appeal to players who are new to the franchise, perhaps only playing now because of the greater emphasis on action. Maybe they are wilfully oblivious to the previous storyline or just younger and more likely to identify with a younger character, be they male or female themselves. Anyone importing a Shep will get appearance continuity and likely have a more experienced looking commander. Anyway, who says one can't look young and fabulous while saving the universe?!

Big, brave James Vega, beaten up by a girl. My screenshot.
Build wise, Fem Shep still looks rather feeble physically, particularly when she has an awkwardly choreographed, bare-knuckle sparing session with the Hulk sized James (and beats him). Would it have been too brave for this super tough female protagonist to have above average upper body strength? Particularly as she punched out each and every type of enemy combatant during my run through as Vanguard. How come she has the same body model as the desk jockey scientists, etcetera. There's not even any techno-babble excuse, like having cybernetic augmentations for strength/durability. Having said that, BroShep is relatively weedy looking compared to James.

In terms of equal opportunities, there was apparently only one set of motion capture done and used for both Shepards, so while build like a girl, FemShep walks like an alpha male. There is the unintented consequence of some unladylike poses when seated and dressed in a skirt, but overall this is kind of cool. Naturally, there are only one set of replies from all the characters to whom the Shepards speak, so within the Mass Effect universe there is at least perfect sexual equality for galaxy saving N7 commanders.

Review of My Past Predictions for ME3 {SPOILERS}:
From ME1&2 review: http://lewyland.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/mass-effect-1-2-full-brain-dump.html

- Yes (ish), Rachni queen makes an appearance in ME3. However, saving her in ME1 was irrelevant because you will get a Rachni mission regardless. If the original queen died, then the identical queen you meet is supposedly a fake one made by the reapers. Either way, the Rachni add negligible war assets. I suspect they were only included at all to introduce the Ravagers (Rachni-based reaper spawns); the multiplayer minions were more crucial in ME3's development than the hanging plot threads. This mission lets you catch up with Runt too, so two pesky loose ends delt with in one fell swoop.

- No, saving the Geth Heretics was irrelevant. ME3 required a diversity of things to shoot, so a bunch of Geth are back under Reaper control again regardless of what previously happened.

- Yes, Wrex does unite the Krogan. They are then addable as a large, feel-good war asset.  :o)

- Yes, Tali does become a Quarian admiral, but in terms of the war asset mechanism, it's the whole Quarian fleet or nothing.

- No, Cerberus is entirely set against you for the whole game, handing them the reaper bass is irrelevant for plot. Again, the need for baddies to shoot was the overriding consideration. The Illusive man is never 100% against you though, in theory.

- Yes, the council (and Earth's government) fail to lift a finger (without you doing all the hard work for them). Also, YES, a traitor is indeed exposed. Shame they didn't make more of the unlikely situation: the obstructive Salarian councillor accusing your helpful Earth chum Udina of treachery. (No, Garrus played no role in this, only Thane, if you're lucky enough to spot him loitering in the hospital at the right moment.)

- No, the shimmering Prothean sphere relic(s) has (have) zero bearing on ME3. Something described in ME2 as "A landmark find for humanity!" was apparently as useful, in practice, as a paper weight in the age of the truly paperless office; it was presumably misplaced between games after they impounded the SR2. It's find may have been the culmination of a series of ME2 missions (Project Firewalker), but I should have realised that as DLC content they were to have no important input on the core story of the sequel. Yes, Liara WAS indeed released back to your crew following shadowbroker, which had far more significant bearing on ME3 (even if that was a single line in a conversation with T'Soni about loosing an old friend).
Just as in 'Sphere' (1998) [left], ultimately the shimmering artifact in ME2 [right] comes to nothing.
"...it reflects everything but us." like the SR2 drive core [centre].

- No, the derelict reaper was irrelevant; no other surviving old ones around. The massive weapon that critically damaged that reaper could have been the Prothean's version of the crucible, except Javik seems to say that it was never fired in their cycle (even without the catalyst) due to indoctrinated Prothean traitors. But then he's DLC, so maybe what he says is irrelevant...

- Yes, boss fights. Thankfully they are mostly less retarded than facing Skeletron Prime at the end of ME2.

- Yes, you ultimately end up at the controls of a giant (Halo scale) super-weapon that can destroy all Reapers.

Dholen was destabilised by dark energy.
- No, Haestrom's prematurely dying sun was irrelevant. It's ominously increased output appeared related to dark energy, but the source remains unknown: the Quarian admiralty board apparently never put Tali's information to use, despite having gathered it at "such a terrible cost" during her recruitment mission. There WAS, however, the decimated remains of a Dyson Sphere / Matrioshka brain that the Geth had started building (cool and interesting).

- So overall, I think I did fairly well there (about 50%). My main failure was not anticipating the multiplayer element, and that it (presumably) diverted much effort from tying up loose ends. Financial pressures (inc. from EA games) may have factored strongly into strategic compromises.

Also, in my "Memes of Mass Effect" section I speculated on whether an ME type game might allow choice between FPS or RTS or RPG mechanisms to complete the story. ME3 actually has 3 different game modes. An interesting advent, perhaps, but obviously there's no RTS mode and the RPG mode simply turns the combat difficulty right down: no extra inventory management or conversation options and you still have to kill the same number of spawns as an 'Insanty' run.


The Troublesome ENDING! {Epic SPOILERS!}:

To be fair, on my first play through of ME3 I actually enjoyed ME3's ending for the most part. "Ending" defined as the whole London mission, and "End" being the iffy conversation with the 'catalyst' star child thing plus cinematic of choice. I didn't find any face palmingly bad moments: nothing like the surreal experience of the final boss fight in ME2 that was so out of place that it could have been lifted straight from a the end of a bad arcade shooter. But then my expectations were rock bottom, squarely warned by the cacophony of media controversy (and a good friend who beat me to the punch line).

Tying things up neatly at the end of a trilogy is always tricky, and I knew from the beginning that Mass Effect had painted itself into the same corner as 'The Matrix' did with the axiom of existential threat from transendant machines. The problem being that there is no sane reason for anything so massively more intelligent and powerful to go out of their way to give lesser beings a hard time. These demi-gods have no need for our resources, are indeed quite comfortable existing in the cold of deep space. Alastair Reynold's 'Revelation Space' novel(s) resolved the cyclical galactic extinction setup with a similar justification: his 'Wolves' were simply suppressing life to prevent far worst interstellar war over probable disagreements about how to manage the collision between galaxies. Relatively small scale evil now to prevent a worst evil.

Knowing that there would have to be an arbitrary excuse coming up, I was well equipped to deal with this type of ending. In fact, I quite liked the sequence of events leading up to, if not including, the 3 choice end. Par for course. Given the popularity of the franchise, I imagine that most players (not specifically space opera fans) it might have felt odd. But the main complaints seem to pertain to the many breaches of narrative causality, total ambiguity as to the fate of most of your beloved squad mates (not to mention the rest of sentient life), and the breaking of explicit promises that there would not just be a chose-your-cut-scene type ending (like Deus Ex Human Revolution).


It's always easier to criticise, I do think it is important to remember how much ME3 did right. One might even argue that the wonderful mid-game conclusions to Wrex/Mordin's and Tali/Legion's sections were the real endings. Tuchanka was clearly the zenith of the game, neatly wrapping up a host of divergent possibilities in a very satisfying way. For me, the Rannoch conclusion (though still very good) felt ever so slightly rougher around the edges. The game then continued to loose shine with the London mission having the feel of last minute homework done overnight by a smart student who, luckily, just about gets away with it: B+, could try harder.

Perhaps Bioware's failure here was (partly) fear of bad fan reaction to various possibilities. Evidence this "deleted scene" where Liara and Garrus get a taste of death laser too (top comment: "THANK GOD they removed this!..."). Bioware are well known for catering to demand; ME3 is a poster child for customer feedback led product refinement in the games industry.

Hello, old friend; RIP. (My Screenshot.)
Spoilt brats moaning about a sad ending, is how the press first characterised this whole hoo-ha. ME3 bends over backwards to let the player say goodbye to EVERYONE plus the sodding Mako (MIA since ME1) half way through the last mission. This mercy causes a whole load of issues in itself. Far from an abrupt ending, yet fans still complain about a lack of closure! Are they at fault, or did Bioware actually fumble the ball? I am acutely aware that I did not form most of my complaints until after searching out existing opinions. But then I was troubled enough to go looking in the first place and what I read often resonated with my personal experience. The specifics I am thinking of are listed further down.

Whether the product of unrealistic (possibly even dishonest) hype, or naivety, I do not think it fair to say the end is only bad due to unrealistic expectations. I can certainly sympathise that a movie or book must be edited harshly to keep it suficiently succinct and avoid dragging or feeling stilted. But ME3's end has the feel of a movie adaptation that has glossed over a crucial scene so thinly that only those familiar with the original work will have a chance at understanding what happened.

At best the last conversation is deliberately vague and ambiguous, so as to prime customers for DLC that might clarify matters (an opinion held by Forbe's magazine's tame Games blogger). At worst the writers just couldn't quite make things fit, so, under pressure from EA and already 3 months overdue, they 'artfully' used vagaries to mask true holes in resolution.

This video essay "Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage" does a good job of explaining Mass Effect and how it's ending went so badly wrong. He goes from Socrates to Spock, using an almost hypnotic cadence and cool background tunes; worth the 40 minutes if you have surrived reading is far.

+ The Ending that I Loved:

- The galactic alliance armada jumping into the Sol system gave me shivers and moistened my eyes a little: seeing the combined might of every last ship my friends and allies could muster, ready to give their all for one last ditch attempt at salvation... It's almost got me going again. They could have taken a little bit longer to clearly show the presence of each of my main assets though: a clip of each distinct fleet followed by some crew on bridge to clarify the species. There was clearly a degree of personalisation, but it was half-arsed. Milking that moment for all it's worth would have been fine with me.
We're back and we brought some friends! (My composite of two screen shots.)
- The ultimate pyrrhic victory style ending.
Events head jarringly south, leaving everything hanging precariously on the last, dying soul, battered and broken. Very Iain M Banks (Consider phlebas, Matter, etcetera). In fact, if anything, I was a little disappointed that more of my best buddies weren't forced to sacrifice themselves. The unworldly, dream like conversation with ghost boy was very 'Contact' (1997) in it's ambience. For good measure, beauty was supplied by a panoramic space battle in low Earth orbit. Proper sci-fi stuff.

- The music was great compared to ME2, which was a little natty at times. It carried the emotion of the final moments so well that I almost didn't notice rationality beating a hasty retreat. I really grooved to the exit credit music; there was definite feel good factor.

Get in there! Oh yeah!
- The clip of the crucible coming on to dock with the citadel as it spread it's limbs was hilariously   euphemistic! Even more overblown, if slightly less literal, than the 'Shroud' tower splurging the Krogan infertility cure into the stratosphere.


+ Major Flaws and Nit Picking:

- How and why does my entire crew (plus the Turian Primarch!) land on Earth's surface when only 50% of the shuttles were expected to survive (and less than expected actually made it)?! I know the writers needed to give the crazy fans the closure of final goodbyes with everyone at an emotionally appropriate time but they could have at least shown the remainder of my squad assisting in the final assault. Clearly Bioware lacked the time to implement a two squad approach, as with ME2, but a hand full of extra cut scene clips could have remedied the situation: show them each leading some other wing of ground forces, after taking the trouble to play shuttle roulette. As it was it felt like the five I excluded from my team were left sulking by the map table.
Oh, oh, oh, PICK ME!... No, pick me!.... Awwwww..... (My Screenshot.)
- The reaper 'anti air gun' that Shepard has to destroy (before the bulk of the hammer shuttles can land) looks suspiciously like a regular Reaper destroyer, yet we take it down with a single shot from a M-920 Cain hand held gun! What? Why could we not have tried using this earlier against the Reaper on Tuchanka, or Rannoch? Ok, so perhaps we only discovered it's 'weak spot' at that point, which would be fair enough, but why not do the same again against the destroyer guarding the light beam?

Oi! Watch my missiles! (My Screenshot.)
- The last fight, to defend (and then launch) Thanix missiles, is the most ridiculous if you think about it at all. You have to dodge the Reaper's death beam, yet it assiduously avoids hitting the comically oversized missiles, parked right in the middle of the street! One quick laser burst on those  would be the perfect way to wipe Shepard out, regardless of how smugly confidently it may be about jamming their guidance systems.

Furthermore, those missiles are almost big enough to be conventional nuclear tipped ICBMs, i.e. ridiculously bulky for the job. I've read somehwere, in some codex or other, that the Mass Effect universe has sun orbiting, antimatter factories that make starship fuel. Using said antimatter in a warhead would allow for a roughly 1kg (e.g. shoulder luanched) projectile more powerful than any real life nuke. But then such things would break most of the trilogy's plot (not to mention the combat). They already had to take the Cain off us for (most of) ME3 as it was...

- The endless hoards of enemies in this last fight provide a better final challenge than ME2, but it seems pretty silly that their threat evaporates the second you reach the missile launch button (even if you are the last squad member standing, totally surrounded and 1 second from death. Terrible continuity there. Could this type of glitch have been avoided with sufficient extra development time? Am I expecting way too much, that a  40 hour PC game have better continuity than your average Hollywood block buster?

- Where did my two selected squad mates (and the guy with the theatrical English accent) disappear to at the start of the final run down that hill? They've followed me into suicide missions before, why would Garrus turn turtle now? He didn't get laser because he turns up looking just fine in some of the ending cinematic, so he must have done a runner, the git! He must also have taken a shuttle up to Normandy before Joker decided to turn tail too, legging it back through the sol relay while the battle for Earth was still raging.
The flight of cowardly Vikarian. (My Composite.)
- Following on from the above point, there was no hint in my chosen end video as to what might have happened to most of my crew. An example being my love interest, Sam Traynor, who only showed up in the destroy ending [EDIT: further evidence this is the 'correct' ending; indoctrination theory]. Some characters don't show up in any of the endings, do we presume that if Joker's alive, they are too?

- How was TIM (The Illusive Man) supposed to be controlling Shepard at the end?; we had recently been led through a series of video clip revelations, in his space base, to remind us that he refused to have any kind of control chip installed during project lazarus. More to the point, why does Anderson start doing an impression of a Tin Man in serious need of oiling? Presumably it's some new power the reapers have furnished him with. But if they can assume direct control of anybody, why have they not used this trick on Shepard before?! Also, why would TIM die from a single pistol shot to the lower abdomen when he seems to be as heavily augmented as Saren was?

- All the best engineers and scientist in the galaxy working together failed to realise that the thing they were building would dock perfectly with the Citadel. It had articulated clamping arms miles long for Blasto's sake. More to the point, how did past civilisations design the Crucible to work with the Catalyst when no one has ever discovered his existence before?

-  How did the Reapers move the gargantuan Citadel between systems, then have it hover above Earth (looked too low for geosynchronous orbit)? Did the Citadel move under it's own power? What are the capabilities of this Catalyst/Citadel anyway? Could he really not have opened the Citadel mass relay himself in ME1 (for the Reapers to return from dark space)?

- The post credits data pad message was a real poke in the eye. I had pretty much enjoyed the ending up to this point, but why could they not just finish things off cleanly? There will be more DLC to buy, so we're going to take you back and pretend you didn't mess things up by completing the last two missions...

- I was fine with the big reveal of the catalyst kid, in principle (the details and implications of his little speech are another matter), but for many players may have felt like the end of '2001: A Space Odyssey' was spliced onto Star Wars. The most direct movie parallel would be the scene in 'The Matrix: Reloaded' where Neo meets the Architect: a mysterious new character, all in white, who turns the plot on it's head and then offers the protagonist a choice of doors.
KnowYourMeme.com (probably)
It made sense that an ethereal entity would manifest in a meaningful form, and ME3 had definitely laboured the point that Shepard was shaken up about that particular kid dying at the beginning (with all those nightmares). It is fine to introduce a new main antagonist at the end of the last chapter too, a familiar sci-fi meme, as long as this last minute inversion fits with the rest of the story when you look back at it.

The problem for me was there were too many inconsistencies. For example, he talks vaguely about "Chaos" and some inevitable incompatibility between synthetics and organics, but the player has probably already demonstrated this to be wrong by getting the Quorians and Geth back together. If he had expanded on this a little it could have made a lot of sense: artificial life need not be malicious to wipe out all organic life, it can ultimately be an eons long edging out of available living space. Witness the Gath's construction of a 'Dyson bubble' (mostly destroyed by the Quorians), it is an entirely peaceful process, but at the limit it would absorb all light from the star, and probably require most of the system's spare mass to build. Such structures would eventually be built in every star system so (like most animal species on modern Earth) organics species are left with nowhere to stand. Most of the individual sentient organics may well be happy with the situation at any given point, perhaps most upload themselves into these massive virtual environments which might seem like heaven compared to  physical reality with all its dreadful limitations. Reapers are then (as the boy claims) militant ecologists, sustaining an environment for lesser species to flourish in by preventing the emergence of an entirely dominant type; nuking cities to save the seals.

This is not explained, and there are a whole load more questions raised by the last conversation. Not least of which being: how the hell are you going to alter every sentient being alive in the galaxy to to have the same, new-fangled, synthetic DNA? How is that going to work for beings shaped like apes at the same time as those made of metal? What about none sentient organic life? What about really clever microwave ovens? Does this make you God? Or have I been hooked up to the Matrix this whole time?!...

+ The 'Clarified' Ending:

With articles on most major news sites, and games reviewers talking endlessly about it for weeks, Mass Effect fans managed to kick up enough fuss for Bioware to make an official acknowledgement. The promised free "Extended Cut" DLC is probably the minimum they could have come up with to placate the virtual mob and they are clearly not intending to un-write anything. The scope of Bioware's actions will probably be dictated by business management, based on economic considerations, rather than the creative team, for artistic reasons, so we may never know if what we end up with was really Hudson and Co's full intent, or merely what they had time for under the circumstances.

Either way, the social epiphenomena that was wisked up is pretty interesting. Not even the most eagerly anticipated movies (gone wrong) have generated a social uprising aimed at changing them. And the activists appear to have succeeded, at least in part. Just as Star Wars has served well as a source of cultural reference (for succinct metaphores that are easily understood, etc), I think Mass Effect will have a lasting impact on mainstream popular culture. One would assume that, being a (shooting based) game, these references would far less accessible than the works of George Lucas, but then games sales are outstripping video, so maybe not.


fightingferret on deviantart 
The Mass Effect series already had a dedicated fan base, creating untold myriad related pieces of art and culture (e.g. an entire index of DeviantArt subgroups). The ending controversy kicked this creativity in the direction of YouTube rants, epic blog posts (ahem) and highly amusing visual memes (Marauder Shields & fuckyeah-masseffect on tumblr). The bad, dissonant ending, will have sparked more creativity than a easily acceptable one.  I hope the controversy has helped to spread some of the cool (real world relevant) ideas in the series; inspiring society to think more constructively (and specifically) about the future.
See hyperboleandahalf then this YouTube vid.
Anyway, following on from (and in addition to) the flaws mentioned my previous section, I think there are two distinct flavours of clarification that I the new epilogue videos could/should provide:

Personal:
  • Give some reason why your crew abandoned you and the sol system. Example: They received warning/orders from Hacket to flee/chase down important enemy forces.
  • What happened to your two squad mates (on the hill)?
  • What happened to the rest of your crew?
  • Is Shepard fully dead in each case?
Technical:
  •  Demonstrate there is time for your crew to board Normandy and reach the charon relay.
  •  Explain that the mass relays will be destroyed in such a way that they do/do-not destroy everything in their star systems. 
  • Are all galactic races now stranded/isolated?
  • Confirm that the destruction of the mass relays is the only way to ensure that the control signal reaches the whole galaxy.
  • If Reapers are each nations of harvested individuals, does that mean Shepard committed multiple appalling acts of genocide? (Were there souls contained withing that are now lost forver?)

What If It Was All Just A Dream?! (Indoctrination Theory):

memegenerator
One entirely plausible explaination for the ending is that everything that happens after Shepard is blasted with the Reaper death beam is a dream/simulation of some kind: a Reaper is attempting to indoctrinate Sheppard, to work with them in some capacity. Only the destroy-all-synthetics option counts as a failed recuitment attemp, hence the snippet of sheappard taking a breath of life in the rubble of London is a return to base reality. [Even more unlikely, a mysterious 3rd (anti-reaper) power is checking that Shepard will stay true before restoring him/her to life.]

+ Supporting evidence (summarised):
  • - Shepard has come into repeated contact with Reapers over the course of the series, more than any other individual (who has continued to oppose them).
  • - Recurring nightmares of the same specific dead child could be the precursor to waking hallucinations.
  • - One of the nightmares aboard Normandy appeared to be a daydream that Shepard wakes from upright and fully clothed, staring at a data pad, just before Liara walks in.
  • - No one else appeared to notice the boy that died during the invasion of Earth: he could have been an halucination/suggestion induced by the proximity to so many reapers.
  • - The encounter with the child in the air duct always felt deliberately weird to me, but perhaps I blinked during the establishing shot of Shepard watching him play outside and so just  failed to connect with him.
  • - The final, slow motion steps down the hill (and in the Citadel) are entirely reminisant of your 'nightmares' - agonisingly slow, like a bad dream.
  • - The symptoms Shepard appears to manifest during the talk with The Illusive Man also fit the codex description of indoctrination ("...the victim may suffer headaches and hallucinations..." etc).
  • - Shepard blacks out repeatedly: when blasted, ascending the lightbeam and finally trying to reach the control panel; a typical film technique for casting doubt on the state of conciousness.
  • - Nothing quite makes complete sense (after being blasted) but Shepard take it all for granted as if dreaming:
    • - Aderson reaching the control pannel first (after 'following' up).
    • - Regular rush hour traffic is clearly visible on the Citadel arms during the conversation with TIM, as if the inhabitants are oblivious the whole time.
    • - The Illusive Man (TIM) goes down from a single gun shot to the lower body (renegade option), despite being heavily augmented with reaper tech.
    • - Shepard bleeding out from a stomach wound (like Anderson's) despite supposedly only being shot in the shoulder earlier (by Mr Shields).
    • - After passing out from blood loss, Shepard stands back up again for a casual chat.
    • - Standing out in space at the interface between citadel and crucible (catalyst conversation).
    • - The myriad implications of the 3 choices that go unchallenged, etcetera...
  • - None of the elements featured in the twist ending are novel in themselves, each can be traced back to Shepard's previous experiences (ergo, her subconscious expectations).
  • - In fact, there is an eerie resemblance to events right at the start of the game when the Alliance meeting gets blasted by a reaper: 
    • Shepard briefly knocked unconsious. 
    • Everyone dies except for Anderson, whom Shepard follows. 
    • Shepard picks up a pistol only. 
    • Shepard finds a child at the end of a conduit.
    • So events are fragments of shatered memory, induced either by a knock to the head, or by Reaper indoctrination.
  • - Of the 3 ultimate options:
    •   - Control was the explicit choice of TIM (the Illusive man), indocrintated and implanted.
    • - Synthesis (i.e. fusion) was the fate of Saren Arterius in  ME1, having been indoctrinated and implanted his last speach goes thus: "The relationship is symbiotic. Organic and machine intertwined, a union of flesh and steel. The strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither... The evolution of all organic life."
    • - Destruction (of the Reapers) was the goal of your final mission, at any cost! This is the only option where Shepard is depicted alive afterwards: in the rubble of London.
  • - Because Synthesis only appears for higher EMS scores, one is lead to assume that is the best ending. However, less obvious is the better destroy ending: with high enough EMS to avoid misfire vaporisation, you get the Shepard lives clip at the end; the real ultimate ending.


+ Implications of Indoctrination:

If the director's cut DLC seems to support this theory, then ME3 did not actually have an ending. That's a pretty shocking thing to do artistically (and business wise): like releasing Fight Club with the last 10 minutes missing! Question is, what would be their follow up after that?:
Memegenerator or Bioware Forum
  • - Will further DLC follow chronologically after the end of ME3? Forbe's Paul Tasi seems to believe was the plan all along (leaving the endings so similar to allow easy development). Did they intend to charge extra for those last 10 minutes? Has the outrage now put a halt to that?
  • - Could there even be an entire ME4 game set after ME3? It could have Shepard (if you chose right), or, if that looks like it would draw too much heat (given ME3 was promised as a concluding part), Shepard could become a Seran/TIM type antagonist. 
  • The fight against the Reapers continues (and the star child never existed)?
On the other hand it would mean ME3 was an utterly amazing piece of video game story telling. An 'unreliable narrator' mechanic so perfectly subtle that barely anyone figured it out (credit to this piece). But were Bioware intending that no one knew? Has the popularity of the indoctrination meme stolen their thunder to the extent they can no longer do what they originally intended? If they do go with indoctrination they will be accused of pandering; rewriting under pressure from fans. Perhaps something like this was a vague possibly they had though about, but intended to leave the ending deliberately ambiguous. People could believe what they wanted and thus satisfy as many as possible, or at least it leaves open a few different options for if Bioware decide to go for a full sequel.

My Retake of Mass Effect 3:

+ London (game play):

100% Participation - Get all your potential squad member involved in the final mission, so their dangerous trip to Earth's surface has some kind of purpose. Duplicating the 2 squad mechanic from ME2 would have been brilliant, but adding a couple of extra cut-scene clips to show the extras helping out would have been sufficient. A very minor alteration that might well have been done given a little more development time.

Added Failure - Add an official death ending before even reaching the transport beam. Instead of the hackneyed 'Minimum' market (that I hate), have Shepard unavoidably overwhelmed if the EMS is too low. Cue ending cinematic of your remaining friends being overrun by reapers, the last dreadnoughts exploding and Liara's time capsules sitting in the ground ready for the next cycle. This would make far more sense than the Catalyst/Citadel backfiring. This ending would still be near impossible to get accidentally, but those disappointed with it could then simply take the time to acquire more assets or do multiplayer before replying the end. Not a big inconvenience and Shepard can already die at end of ME2, despite imports to ME3 being a certainty.

More Bitter Sweets - Loose squad mates along the way of the last mission. Charging the beam will  not feel quite so abruptly harsh if you have already been forced to make sacrifices. Outright killing a member, or leaving them behind to be seen evacuating in a later cinematic would be two possible ways to provide closure on their fates. Requiring (above) maximum EMS to save all squad mates would have been a good way to make re-playing the game, and promoting some multiplayer teams, more worthwhile. Either:
  • Force (one of) your two squad mates to be left behind injured (not dead). They could be covering your escape against overwhelming force, pinned down on a turret gun, holding off the Reaper swarms. This could have been incorporated as an extension of the protect-the-missiles section (though that was silly in itself).
PikiGeek - "Controversy Errupts..."
  • Require specific war assets to avoid loosing a (random) squad mate at each of several specific points. This mechanic was suggested in a redacted forum post by someone who may, or may not, have been one of the Bioware team: "...a wave of rachni ravagers come around a corner only to be met by a wall of krogan roaring a battle cry..."  As it is (nigh) impossible to recruit all main fleets simultaneously (damn Salarians), at least one friend would be left behind or killed. 
I was absolutely fine with only a badly injured Shepard (and Anderson) reaching the beam: it adds extra poignancy to the desperation of events. But to make it worth the apparent risk of taking along your favourite crew members, they could each get a couple of extra farewell lines when you are forced to leave them. Perhaps a short conversation during the last wagon ride (if that is still deemed necessary).

+ Final Explanation:

Some reviewers feel the only way to fix the ending is to 'retcon' the Catalyst child out of existence. But I think he would have been far less controversial if his half-arsed explanations had made some sense. For a start, if they are ultimately friendly to organics, presumably Reaper ships are preserving the essence of species; are they storing the souls of individuals too?; might the boy introduce Shepard to someone she thought had been husked/reaped, who has actually been uploaded and is fine with that. (Of course, any evidence like this could be interpreted as a trick.)

- Tweaked:
As I've explained, towards the end of the nitpicking subsection, killing organic life to preserve the presence of organic life can make sense. This presumes technological lifeforms will inevitably displace all natural organic habitats with massive artificially computing platforms that block out all sun light and consumes all planetary resources (if they don't just go all Skynet on them first).

The problem is there would have to be a reason the Catalyst thinks that true organic life is worth preserving given it's highly inefficient use of galactic resources (all galactic life in Mass Effect could probably be simulated just as fruitfully, and probably more happily, in the Dyson Bubble around a single star).

Simulated biology might be slightly inaccurate, somewhat like TIM not wanting to add a control chip to Shepard, just in case it ruined the original article. Or maybe it turns out sentient organic life con not be simulated (though uploaded Aliens have already been reported in game via Cerberus News). Conversely, the whole Milky Way might designated as a verification check, just to confirm that simulated life/evolution is indeed accurate.

- Mass Effects:
Dark Energy is manipulated in all of the main technologies featured in the Mass Effect universe: guns, biotic powers, materials manufacturing, shuttles and starship cores for FTL travel and mass relays. The single departure point from which all the fictional science stems, keeping it fairly 'hard' sci-fi, maintaining causality. The series is named after this fictional technique of manipulating the weight of matter: Mass Effect.


Dark Energy was sounding ominous in ME2, being at the core of Tali's recruitment mission (causing the star Dholen to age prematurely) and then mentioned again by Gianna Parasini at the end of a side mission on Illium. 'Arrival' DLC apparently features it heavily too, but I've not played that and DLC does not seem to be considered cannon by Bioware. I think they were building it up for possible use as a central ending theme, but the synthetic angle ended up sounding better to them.

Dark Energy is known (in real life) to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate towards a 'heat death' as all matter is spread increasingly further apart. What if this phenomena had been caused artificially (in this fiction)?; space faring civilisation had spread to most of the universe, heavily utilising advanced mass effect technology on a cosmological scale, to  such an extent that the dark energy emissions started to drastically warp the fabric of space. To avoid tearing the universe apart, a grand scheme of prohibition is devised in the hope that expansion can be stabilised and perhaps reversed.

In this paradigm, the Reapers are the intergalactic force tasked with preventing the widespread use of mass effect fields. It turns out that sentient life always uses mass effect technology, without fail. The direct correlation means that to suppress dark energy, life must be weeded out.
The SR1, slowly destroying the universe? From http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Relay
Because the Reapers themselves use powerful mass effect cores, their use must be limited as much as possible, hence they lie dormant for 50k years at a time. The mass relays shortcut a more long-winded (and damaging) exploration of space by new species. They may even be heavily shielded to minimise dark energy emissions.

As with contemporary cosmology, there might have been a split in opinion over which fate of the universe is ultimately better (aiming for a Dysonian or Tipplerian Omega Singularity). Reapers trying to prevent expansion, while another, more mysterious force is trying to create it. These unseen entities could have been subtly helping Shepard the whole time...

- Religious Reapers
Of course, the old machines could just be deranged or senile: genocidal religious crusaders, so convinced of the godliness of organic life, they repeatedly reap it to prevent the creation of synthetics (as above). But what if organic evolution, in base reality, is essential for a purpose; they are searching for the influence of God, or at least some mythical predecessors that transcended the physical universe before Reapers even existed.

They have gone on about Humans being unusually genetically diverse. They also have some of the strongest biotic individuals, despite contact with element zero for less than a century, have risen to towards galactic dominance at a staggering rate and Shepard herself has undergone a whole string of vanishingly unlikely successes. What if this God-like force is subtly pulling the strings, guiding human evolution and events through patient tweaking of reality on a quantum level, like Maxwell's demon, causing increasingly improbable (but never impossible) events.

The influence of God seems to be most focused in Shepard, hence the Reapers would be willing to allow her to decide the destiny of the galaxy, believing her the avatar of God(s).

+ Perspective

The abysmal failure of ME3's ending should always be taken in the context of a very good game series. In fact, it is only so remarkable because Bioware got relatively close to perfection (before fluffing it up). It is somewhat like the 'uncanny valley' phenomena where human empathy with a robot increases the closer it gets to looking human, right up until the point where it's creepily similar because it's only slightly wrong. Perhaps Mass Effect landed in the narrative causality valley.

Also, however Bioware change or add to Mass Effect, it still stimulated a huge amount of creative response: thinking, conversations, artworks and memes of greatly varying appeal. Would a nice, uncontroversial end have been nearly so stimulating?!

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