Feb 27 2014
Previous entries in this series here (“Help Me Get Back Into Video Games After A Decade Off“), here (“What Ever Happened To Me Getting Back Into Video Games?“) and here (“Mass Effect 2: You Had Me At Martin Sheen“)
Well. I knew it would be good. I just didn’t know it would that good.
There’s a tipping point with good fiction. When the story is good, when the audience is really listening, there comes a point where – temporarily – it becomes the main focus of your life, instead of a diversion. The light side of this phenomenon is commitment. Being involved with the fan community, discussing it with friends, maybe even dabbling in fan fiction. The dark side is obsession.
There’s a great scene in The West Wing where Josh has a conversation with an intern who’s a Star Trek fan.
Janice Trumbull(speaking about Star Trek): I’m not obsessed. I’m just a fan, and I care.
Josh Lyman : I’m a fan. I’m a sports fan, I’m a music fan, and I’m a Star Trek fan, all of them. But here’s what I don’t do. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar. Let’s list our 10 favorite episodes. Let’s list our least favorite episodes. Let’s list our favorite galaxies. Let’s make a chart and see how often our favorite galaxies appear on our favorite episodes. What Romulan would you most like to see coupled with a Cardassian, and why? Let’s spend a weekend talking about Romulans falling in love with Cardassians and then let’s do it again. That’s not being a fan. That’s having a fetish, and I don’t have a problem with that except you can’t bring your hobbies into work. OK?
Janice: Got it.
Josh: Except on Star Trek holidays.
Janice: There’s no such thing as a Star Trek holiday.
Josh: Well, work hard around here. We’ll make one.
Putting aside the fact that some of what Josh lists hits a little too close to home considering what we do on this very site, his point is well taken.
I bring this up because after I finished Mass Effect 3 there were a few dicey moments when I felt myself going over that ledge. Not content with the story being over, I was ready to dive headfirst into the internet and grab on to whatever I found – fanfiction, commentary, videos – like a life raft. I’m glad I didn’t. Sometimes it pays to take a breath, get some perspective.
I imagine the way I approached this is atypical. I’m not sure I’d have appreciated Mass Effect more or less if I’d done it the normal way. But all I have to say is, doing it like this – not playing video games for 10 years, then playing all three back-to-back-to-back with every single DLC – was a fairly massive experience. One that I’ll remember for a long time. It was like being in the desert and then finding an oasis that also had a bar, that served endless gin and tonics, and that also had a live band which was made up exclusively of beautiful/witty women.
Point of the point: amazing, awe-inspiring game. A few hours after I finished it, I spent an hour furiously writing down my first impressions, and instead of polishing them up, I’m going to show them to you as-is, unedited:
Mass Effect 3 notes
Reapers = Deep Thought/Hactar from Hitchhiker’s Guide. Taking the presented problem and going to a place that’s at the same time logical, and also batshit crazy.
Urgency – wow did this game do it well. Every mission, never had a second to breathe. Felt like if I ducked into a room to see if there was an item, I was costing people their lives.
Thessia, and parts of the last mission, literally, actually felt beat down by war; overwhelmed.
The ending is a test. It’s not “like” the rest of the game at all, but the theme is very much in keeping with spirit of series. Really looking forward to researching internet. I’m sure I’m not the first one to point it out, but if you look at the end from the top down, it’s a red/blue dialogue choice.
Remember what EDI said – find video if possible – cut through the bullshit. When you get right down to it, the Reapers are repulsive. Control/merge options can’t be right. Doomed to repeat because organic/synthetic can never get along – um, say hello to the combined Quarian/Geth fleets that are currently pummeling your ships. Get DS9 quote from that Bashir episode with genetically enhanced people – like Miles said, you thought you could predict the future, had it all worked out what would happen in 1,000 years, but you couldn’t even predict what was going to happen in 10 minutes. When you get right down to it, Reapers are evil. Look at their words and deeds. You don’t get to just get away with that. Control = become one, basically. “Assuming direct control,” doesn’t Harbinger literally say that? And merge… you want to be part that? Isn’t that just a husk?
Shockingly, it was the fact that EDI would die that gave me pause. Her arc in ME3 was so beautiful. Long tradition of computers becoming human. Data. Heinlein, TEFL – Athena? Minerva? Battlestar – that’s the Athena one. Huh, maybe there’s a thread here with greek mythology / sentient computers? Very compelling trope.
Sat there for a few minutes. Took it all in. ME3 could be about 5 separate posts. Or 50. there are so many threads. so many things this game did right or did in a way that was so seamlessly good I didn’t realize until later that video games never do that.
Can’t think of another video game where I actually teared up. Mordin, Thane, Tali/Legion pretty much wrecked me. EDI self-realization/Grunt survival was the happy version of this.
Ending: with Citadel DLC and speaking to team before Earth/on Earth, what more of a goodbye to those characters do you really need? Would have been nice to see choices reflected – like Reapers getting killed by rachni or something – but it’s the journey, not the destination. Like the terminal message about Crucible staff being freaked out by rachni was enough for me. I don’t need to see it. Just because it’s a video game doesn’t mean you can’t leave some stuff to the imagination.
There is a specific feeling when you close the book on a beloved series. Happy, but a bit hollow. Faded. Quiet. Bittersweet is pretty close. hinting at something vast, and beautiful, and sad – like the mission title from Me1. Old, unhappy, far-off places… evocvative. You can always come back, but you can never experience it for the first time again. Only a few series have done this for me. His Dark Materials; Harry Potter. The Wire? The West Wing? The Wheel of Time? Books/video games have an advantage over TV/movies; active, passive . You read, you turn the page, you play. TV/movie, you watch.
What was going on with that dream sequence? The fact that Ghost Kid shows up at the end pings my radar. With all the shit that’s happened in Shepard’s mind – prothean beacon, cipher, being around reapers, being mind-controlled by Leviathen, going into the AI in Overlord, getting inside the Geth collective – anything else? It’s a wonder she’s not drooling in a hospital somewhere. Oh yeah, she was next to that object in Arrival for like 2 days, completely knocked out. Yeah that’s not a problem or anything. Oh! and she was rebuilt by Cerberus- yeah they SAID there’s no controlling chip, but have you MET the Illusive Man? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Can you play like Renegade-lite? Like be ruthless, but not heartless? Having played through ME1 twice, and ME2 and ME3 once I can see the other options. Like, I guess I’d kill the rachni queen (even though I’d lose War Resources… damn it, they really should make heroism NOT PAY so well if they want people to play other paths) – but screwing over Wrex with the genophage? Hell no. I’m fine not showing mercy to bad guys, but I’m not screwing over my friends. Re-read that sentence. Sounds crazy to say that about a video game and not a little wonky, but somehow, true.
Made me laugh, made me cry. Tali’s “emergency. induction. port.” Tali mimicking the Normandy’s engine noise in the Citadel DLC was worth the price, ON ITS OWN. Seriously. Ashley on the floor. Mordin/Eve banter. EDI’s humor, particularly the line about the magic being gone, and forgetting to recycle the air. Great reaction shot to that last one. Literally laughed, literally cried. Pretty strong stuff for a video game.
Everything Garrus. He’s with you all the way through. The whole trilogy. Actually he enters the same way in every game – about 2-3 hours in. Shooting guns on the Presidium (spelling? Wait, why did autocorrect not redline that? Is Presidium a real word? Well I’ll be damned). Anyway! “Do you come here often? I imagine anyone who does is most likely an alcoholic.” —–> this leads to discussion of Citadel DLC; I can totally see why some people wouldn’t like it. It borders on zany. Depending on when you do it, it can be a pretty abrupt mood shift. On advice from readers I did it RIGHT before Priority: Earth, and it took me a few minutes to get into. You have to loosen up a little. But oh my god, what a labor of love. the people who worked on that DLC loved the game just as much as us.
I guess I should clear up a few of those now. It’s been a week, and I have indeed “gotten on the internet” and widened the lens, as it were. Having finished the game, I felt comfortable seeing what other people experienced, finding out what I missed, etc.
So, in the notes above, I came pretty close to working out the Indoctrination Theory. I never quite got there on my own, at least not with that level of detail, but I did come pretty close. I had the vague hunch that the ending was going to hinge on some kind of “failsafe” the Illusive Man had planted in you in ME2, but I was generally concerned and thinking about all the various ways Shepard had had her mind screwed with. I’m not sure I completely buy the theory – although it is pretty much the only plausible way to do a direct sequel – but it’s certainly an interesting take.
My feelings on the ending can be pretty well teased out in the notes. I had the softest landing possible – I went into it knowing it was supposed to be a letdown, with the Extended Cut, having played every single story-additive DLC. So, to a person who’s playing it “fresh,” and without preconceptions, while the ending might not be the most viscerally satisfying thing ever, it’s still fitting and on-point. I’m not sure I liked it, but I did appreciate it. I don’t know exactly what the Extended Cut added, but if I’d played ME3 without Leviathan and with an ending that skimped on the Catalyst’s explanation, I could see myself being pretty angry.
Anyway. So, if it wasn’t obvious, I chose Destroy. Why? Because of what EDI said:
I wanted to stand up and cheer. I might actually have. She nailed it. The Catalyst tries to raise the stakes at the last moment, tries to get you to see the war from the larger perspective. It’s really a thinking man’s ending. Because you have to one-up that, and look at it from a larger perspective still in which the Catalyst is basically Hactar from Hitchhiker’s Guide - a supercomputer that was given a task, stated in such a way that its creators didn’t fully understand the implications of it. That’s all it is. On a tragic, galactic, huge scale, it’s just a kid who stuffed all his toys in his closet because his mom told him his room “had too much junk on the floor, you can barely walk around.”
That reference to Deep Space 9 in the notes is talking about the episode “Statistical Probabilities,” where the genetically-enhanced Dr. Bashir and a team of savants becomes convinced – through incredibly advanced mathematical analysis – that the Dominion War is un-winnable, that the only sane option is to surrender now, and to that end, they try to actively leak Federation secrets to the Dominion to expedite this. After being stopped in the nick of time, Bashir reflects that they were so convinced they were right, so assured in their calculations about what would happen 10,000 years from now, but in reality they couldn’t predict what would happen in 10 minutes. One person stopped them from leaking crippling secrets to the Dominion; one person changed the course of history. I don’t have to draw a diagram about the parallels between this and ME3, right?
In the end, I chose Destroy because the Reapers are repulsive and they shouldn’t be allowed to continue. The trick is realizing it actually is that simple.
I don’t know. That’s just what I got out of the ending. It’s a very Rorschach-blot ending. Maybe it’s not the ending we want, but I think it’s the ending that fits. A massive yet simple choice that makes you really think about your values and how you think about the big questions.
One side note before I sign off – this post is embarrassingly long already. On a personal, selfish note, I’d love to an answer to the “renegade-lite” question I posed in the notes. Since then, I’ve done more research, and some of the Renegade options are terrible. Shooting Mordin in the back? Tali jumping off a cliff? What the what… No. Unh-uh. Not going there. So – can you do a renegade playthrough where you don’t absolutely screw over your crew and still generate enough renegade points to have all dialogue options?
Anyway. Anyway, anyway, anyway. Like I said in the notes, this could be 5 posts, or 50. There are so many threads to pull at. It’s a beautiful game, and the trilogy as a whole is the best video game experience I’ve ever had, and it’s not particularly close.
I look forward to talking about this one in the comments. If one thing is clear from these posts, it’s that I have a lot to say on the subject of this terrific, superlative-inducing game…
More Unreal Posts