The six month anniversary of Mass Effect 3’s release is rapidly coming upon us and I wanted to write something to celebrate what I feel is both that particular game’s and the series’ finest achievement. For all the complaints regarding the finale for the series, there can be no denying that the game had a tremendous emotional impact on those who played it. People would not have been upset or happy with the ending if they didn’t care about the universe or the characters Bioware created. The mere fact that any portion of a game was so wildly debated and examined so thoroughly should be considered a step forward for a medium which is still in its infancy.
This is going to be a celebration of the moments which defined what I consider to be one of gaming’s most complete experiences. I’m going to save my critiques and comments on the actual end to a column to be posted closer to the six month anniversary.
First, I want to divulge just a bit of personal background. At the time I began playing Mass Effect’s conclusion, I was an emotional wreck due to things in real life. I’m much better now of course (no, I’m not, but at least I’m honest, right ?) but at the time the idea of saying goodbye to any of these characters filled me with a sense of dread. I had avoided any forums like the plague, and did not read anything about the game until after I had completed it. So I went into the game completely unaware of what was going to happen.
I’m going to start with something which did not have any impact on me – the opening. Of the opening of each of the three games, I felt like this was the weakest. This may make me a bad person, but I felt nothing for the kid who I had just met and wouldn’t listen to my super-awesome-always-right Commander Shepard. It’s become a a videogame trope to kill off either a child or woman the player has just met to try and invoke a cheap emotional reaction early into a game. Why did I just type a paragraph about not feeling anything in a column devoted to talking about what I felt ? Read the article on the ending when it’s up, this portion will be import later and probably on the quiz.
While it was good to meet up again with Liara, the first real standout to me was getting Garrus back into the the fold. Garrus (in my opinion) is one of the best written “buddy” characters to ever appear in gaming. The speeches he gives to pick up Shepard or to advise him are exceptionally well done and show Shepard speaking to Garrus as an equal more than he does any other character. Convincing the Admiral to leave while his world is burning was a better way to display how desperate the battle against the Reapers was than offing a character we had seen for 10 seconds on Earth.
Skipping ahead to Tuchanka, while the Reaper versus Thresher Maw battle was neat, the first incredibly memorable scene for me happened here: Mordin’s sacrifice. It was telegraphed to a certain extent, with the way Mordin clearly felt guilt with his role in the development of the genophage but still had an emotional impact on nearly everyone who played ME2 and 3. Mordin’s decisin to willingly sacrifice himself for the good of an entire race was well done, and I remember being incredibly saddened as the elevator brought him towards his fate.
Moving on to lovely Rannoch, I had managed to defeat a Reaper and prepared to end the long Geth – Quarian war with the help of the returning Legion and Tali. Legion sacrifices himself in an attempt to allow the Geth to decide their own future, free of the Reapers, and free of war. Legion’s loss was painful, but nothing compared to what would happen next. As Legion sent the upload, this version of Shepard was unable to pass the speech checks to stop the Quarians from attacking. I was certain things would still work until until the very end. I watched as the Geth slaughtered the Quarian race. This was… disheartening, but made much worse when in despair, Tali killed herself. Tali was one of my favourite characters in the first two games, and I was devastated by her death. I played on for about 2.5 hours, but could not stand it anymore: I broke one of my ME rules and went back to a much older save to try and undo her death. The game felt oddly empty to me with her gone, so I had to go back and fix things. This is one of the few times a game has effected me enough emotionally to make me replay multiple hours worth of gaming.
This is the point where in the main quest, you are forced to return to the Citadel. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to include all Citadel moments here. Thane’s funeral was an exceptionally sad moment, particularly if your Shepard was close to him. Having his son return and aid in reading the prayer for Thane (though actually for Shepard) was well thought out. Oh, and shooting Ambassador Udina was absolute bliss. My only regret was that Shepard didn’t have the option of shooting him in the knee and prolonging the whole experience.
While we’re on the Citadel, I’ll bring up what is maybe my favourite moment in all of the Mass Effect games – the bottle shooting scene with Garrus. The conversation between the two characters perfectly summed up their relationship. The option of whether or not to let Garrus win was a good choice on behalf of the writers. I should note that in nearly all of my playthroughs, I could not bring myself to not let the big lug win. This was a perfect moment for the series and when I replay it, it still brings a tear to my eye.
Journeying to the formally lovely Thessia, I was floored by the excellent work by the artists to show ancient cities being torn apart by the Reaper invasion. The destruction here was another excellent way to show the player just how high the stakes were. Bringing Javik along also resulted in some interesting backstory regarding the Protheans. Overall, the entire mission did well to fill this player with a sense of dread.
Now before I jump ahead to the endgame, I just wanted to point out some of the sound design. That droning horn used for the Reapers was brilliantly done. Its use (particularly in the dream sequences) immediately made the hair on my neck stand up. The music was exceptionally well done as well, but that one sound is really something I took away from the game.
I could go on and on about how well I feel the goodbyes with each of the main characters were done (except for James. That guy seriously needed to be thrown out an airlock by Shepard. He stands as the weakest character of the entire trilogy and even his relationship with Normandy’s shuttle pilot can’t redeem him…) but I think most players will have experienced roughly the same feelings there as I did. The one scene that stood out for me was the corpse-riddled halls within the Citadel as Shepard hobbled his way through them. It haunted me a bit to think that the corpses were potentially people I talked to on the Citadel through each of the three games. Though I’m sure Conrad Verner survived somehow. I was also happy that there was no attempt at a giant boss battle to end the series. To me, the essence of Mass Effect was substance and storytelling over style and boss fights.
This started as an attempt by me to write a paragraph or two on some of my favourite emotional moments of Mass Effect 3. The fact it blew up into nearly two full pages tells me that the game did an excellent job of pulling the player in to the universe and characters that spanned the three games in the series. If anyone actually reads this, or gets this far, I’d love to know what some of their emotional reactions or favourite moments from this game were.