Sunday, March 18, 2012

The End? Really?

[WARNING: I (finally!) got through "Mass Effect 3", and MASSIVE SPOILERS abound in this post! Read ONLY if you played through the game! I mean it, if you don't want to know something you'd rather play toward, DON'T READ THIS! Okay? Cool!]

The title of this post echoes the same question a lot of "Mass Effect" fans must be asking, some with anger and disappointment, others with confusion. I must admit, I'm more disappointed than anything else. If you want to know why, read on. Let me state beforehand, though, that "Mass Effect 3" was as amazing before its ending as the previous chapters of the trilogy. Heck, amazing is a bland word for some of the coolest moments you'll see, and everything about the experience is first-rate...again, though, this is before the ending!

The last chapter of the trilogy does culminate in Shepard deciding the fate of the galaxy and saving the Earth from the Reapers, but it does so in a way a lot of fans didn't expect. I'll go through what happens when I played with my first FemShep, Mary, who I've had going for the most part as a full Paragon. (Outside of hitting the Renegade trigger to kill both Kai Leng and the Illusive Man, the first in self-defense and the second to save Admiral Anderson.) It was discovered that the long sought for Catalyst, the only thing that can harness the incredible power of the Crucible, was the Citadel itself. The Reapers steal the Citadel and take it to Earth orbit, and the great fleet Shepard was putting together must not only attack the Reapers, but find a way onto the Citadel to activate the Crucible.

The only way to the Citadel, strangely enough, was from London, where a massive teleport beam was created to lift living and dead humans to the Citadel to become Husks or worse. An incredible ground war is waged, with Shepard and her comrades on the front lines. As they close in on the transport beam, Harbinger and several more Reapers descend from the sky to stop them, sweeping the field with their energy beams. Shepard is nearly killed...her armor is blasted and damaged, and she's been hurt bad, but she still stumbles forward and reaches the transport beam, riding it up to the Citadel.

What was once a Heaven of many interstellar races joining together in mutual peace and commerce has transformed into a dimly lit, Hellish tomb. One can only imagine how many millions are dead, no matter their race, both having been there when the station was captured and those taken from Earth. I thought of the many, many refugees, Bailey, Aria, the remaining Council members and others who didn't have a snowball's chance as I pushed Mary forward. She reaches a control center, something not seen before, and she finds Anderson and the Illusive Man. The Cerberus leader explains his swacked-out motives, to take away control of the Crucible from the fleet...and use it to control the Reapers! His obsession to understand and gain as much of an advantage as he could, to use Reaper technology to augment him and his Cerberus forces, has turned him into a disfigured, Indoctrinated madman. He uses some of his power to force Shepard to shoot Anderson, but before he can kill the Admiral himself, Shepard kills the Illusive Man instead. She and Anderson barely have a moment to talk before her mentor and friend dies. Alone, with war raging in the space outside, Shepard is levitated up to another level.

Here she finds the heart of the Catalyst, and the artificial intelligence in command of it...the last remnant of whoever created the Reapers, which takes the holographic form of the boy Shepard couldn't save at the start of the game to communicate with her. (A little too surreal, if you ask me, reaching into her head like that.) The Catalyst explains that the cycle of extinction was indeed devised doesn't say, but I can only guess some a**hole...anyway, it was decided millions of years ago by whoever that organic beings were too chaotic, and artificially created the Reapers to cull the galaxy of the most advanced races at 50,000-year intervals. The fact an organic, Shepard, made it so far to confront the Catalyst for the first time shows it the plan was flawed. Shepard tries to explain to the thing that life is more precious than that, but the Catalyst isn't swayed. It does, however, give Shepard three choices of how to stop the Reapers and end the cycle of extinction forever. The choices are as follows:

First, Shepard can destroy an all-critical conduit in the Catalyst's nerve center...this would result in the Crucible firing a searing blast of energy that would reach out and across the galaxy to destroy both the Reapers and all artificially-created lifeforms, even the Geth, even EDI.

Second, Shepard can go to a station on the opposing side and give up her body and become a this way, she can have total control over the rest of the Reapers!

Third and finally, Shepard can leap into a massive fountain of energy in the Catalyst's core...she would die as a result, but her DNA when introduced to the beam would be used to fire an incredible pulse of energy from the Crucible. The energy would reach across the galaxy and transform all life into a synthesis of artificial and organic life, what the Catalyst calls the next stage in evolution. The Reapers would stop their attack, since there was no purely organic life anymore in the galaxy.

The first thing I thought was: wait, don't I have another choice? That's IT?

And I say that from the feeling that I was hoping that Shepard and her friends would have a happy ending...I didn't expect something between the profound themes of what you'd read from Arthur C. Clarke or Frank Herbert and that cop-out ending of "The Matrix Revolutions", where Neo must give up everything to destroy Smith and bring peace between machines and humans. I know some of you might say, "Happy endings are so cliche, get over it!" I say, stick it. This isn't a novel or a film, okay? This is a video game, where you play and fight the bad guys, and there should logically be some gold at the end of the rainbow. (Take the "Final Fantasy" would be mad as hell to play however many hours to an ending like that!) I know the story foreshadowed things with the last time Shepard dreamed of the boy, and she saw herself holding the boy and they were both in flames, but I thought that was as subtle as a belt to the jaw! I nonetheless hoped whatever would happen, I'd have the choice to let my FemShep Mary retire from saving the galaxy, go somewhere cozy and secluded with Liara, and have a bunch of little blue kids together. But it seemed that no matter what I did, how Paragon I was, she was fated to do what the most legendary heroes do: to give it all for their cause in one way or the other, or die for the sins of organic life, like a certain Son of God (or Neo) did. In a moment following the credits, we look at a quiet scene, and it's as if an older man just told a child the story...the child then asks to hear another story about The Shepard. If that's not something with a religious overtone, I don't know what is. It seemed that all that I did in the first two games decided how much I'd add or subtract from the fleet Shepard gets together to save Earth, and there should be more of a payoff than that.

But I don't just criticize the ending for leaving me so hollow, don't mistake me. There's a lot wrong here, in that virtually the same set of events happen across the galaxy, no matter what you decide. The Crucible and the Citadel/Catalyst are destroyed, and so are the Mass Relays that have long brought the galaxy together. (Which would leave a lot aliens stranded in Earth's solar system, unless they wanted to go back to their worlds, but even with FTL flight it would take years or even decades...not a big complication!) Also, no matter which path, the Normandy gets chased by a big energy bolt and forced to crash-land on a beautiful garden planet, where Joker, Liara (even though she and Ashley were with Shepard on Earth), and the rest of the crew are effectively stranded. In the 'synthesis ending', though, Joker and EDI are the first to exit...they look at each other fondly with bright green eyes, one of the few things I thought was really cool about any of the endings. Logic makes me ask this, though: how the HELL did Joker get a head start on that energy blast chasing them, and how did they get so far to reach an undiscovered planet with all the Mass Relays blasted to bits? Sigh, never mind.

My last criticism is one being echoed by most of the fans: after all of the things Shepard had the chance to influence, by paths Paragon or Renegade, basically none of that mattered? What did matter was one of three final, all deciding choices at the heart of a last-minute MacGuffin of a Catalyst? Whether it was out of efficiency or laziness, Bioware, that was a bad call. All of these things crashed together, and a lot of "ME" fans are of the prevailing opinion that the end of the final chapter sucked, big-time. There's already calls for everything including filing an online petition to create an add-on to change the ending of the game, which isn't out of the realm of possibility and could happen if there's enough of a demand. I know I'd love to see more options besides the ones that boil down to the same conclusion, with the same consequences. And I do want a happy ending with the love of Shepard's life, too!

Especially considering, just before the credits for the 'kill the Reapers' ending, we discover Shepard's still alive. A little more isn't too much to ask, is it, Bioware? It was just yesterday I played through the game for the first time with Mary, and I still need to see what happens with another playthrough or 'new game plus'...I also noticed there's a couple of things I couldn't do at the climax, and there is something more to see if a certain condition is met two endings in a row. (The Normandy, and a certain fish in your fishtank -- I'm not kidding -- not being destroyed at the end!) Besides, I still haven't played through as a full Renegade yet...I'm crossing my fingers that maybe there's something better to expect from the ending, whether in -- or added sometime soon -- to the game!

No comments:

Post a Comment