Musings on Mass Effect, Part 4: ME3

Continuing on from last week’s musings on Mass Effect 2. (You can also read my thoughts on Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect: Andromeda.)

I finally completed my playthrough of Mass Effect 3 a few months ago. This was the first time I’d played ME3 since it launched in 2012. I played it at release, before the extended endings or any DLC, and just never found time to go back. I guess it’s a bit of a sign of the times, with more and more games being released, there just isn’t time to return to games you’ve already played.

It took me many months to finish this playthrough of ME3, largely due to my injury and the difficulties that came along with it, making normal things like playing video games impossible at times. But once I started playing again, I gained some momentum, and worked my way through, one mission at a time. The game has aged rather well, and just about everything feels like an improvement from ME2, so it was a truly enjoyable experience.

Once again, if you haven’t yet played ME3 and are worried about spoilers, you might want to stop here.

I decided to get as close to 100% as I could without a completion counter. I finished every side quest I came across, chatted to every crew member (except Cortez, who I somehow missed entirely until right before the end) and grabbed the Citadel DLC, which adds an apartment for Shepard to live in, and opens up a new mission (which was really cool) and unlocks numerous meetings with past and current crew members. This culminated in a party with everyone I cared to invite – which was everyone who was still alive – and was a really nice way to say goodbye to the crew. It was also great to play something completely new – while most of my memories of ME3, aside from a few key moments, were pretty hazy after 6 years, there was still a sense of familiarity to everything. Though I was still surprised when Samara, Jacob or Miranda showed up during a mission.

It was interesting seeing my past actions affecting things in the game. Most notable was probably when it came to the missions relating to the Quarians and the geth. As I mentioned in my last post, poor Legion perished at the Collector base, so my connection to the geth was through a broken copy of Legion who didn’t know me but still looked like my old friend.

Like in the previous two games, I tried to play things as renegade as I could. I still earned quite a lot of paragon points through interactions with the crew… I just couldn’t be cruel to Thane in his final moments, nor could I sentence the krogan people to death (though my actions did lead to the death of the krogan female who helped bring the cure into existence). I did destroy the geth, even though that was a painful decision.

By the time I got to the end game, I’d explored every corner of the galaxy, collecting every possible war asset I could along the way. This left me with an overwhelmingly high war readiness rating, despite not doing any of the multiplayer… although I doubt I would have found any multiplayer matches now even if I had been inclined to look for them.

Like its predecessors, ME3 was not without its tedious and awkward parts. I actually came to miss the Mako as I flew around star systems blindly scanning for anything interesting, before being forced to evade the Reaper forces that were attracted by my scanning. This is something I repeated dozens of times across the various star systems, and it was entirely boring. It made me wish I could be exploring different planets in a rover, or scanning planets for resources, or, well, anything else really. Running up and down the Citadel looking for new quests, almost all of which were boring fetch quests that involved scanning in a certain star system, also became extremely dull. There were also fairly limited conversations to have on board the Normandy – towards the end most of the crew were just greeting me as ‘Shepard’ and had nothing more to say. Characters like James, who I really liked, had little more than a few voice lines after each major mission. Heck, I took him along on the final mission, and he didn’t have a SINGLE WORD to say. I really missed the squad chatter that’s present in MEA. I felt like I was alone on many missions, and began choosing squad members based on their abilities more than anything else.

The combat in ME3 is pretty good, building on ME2’s combat system. The only thing that annoyed me to no end was the awkwardness of getting into cover. Often I’d hit the button, only to have Shepard not take cover and get shot to death, or to jump over something and get shot to death, or take cover against the wrong side of an object and get shot to death. Late game, when dealing with terrifying enemies like banshees, this became pretty stressful. Eventually I dropped the difficulty in the final levels, after making it all the way through the game on normal difficulty. Late game combat annoyed me a fair bit as most enemies are shielded or armoured and a lot of my biotic abilities had no effect on them.

Another niggle was the fact that my Shepard’s face, as a crazy renegade-except-with-her-crew, was covered in horrible scars and she had scary glowing red eyes, which no one seemed to notice. Even when my clone showed up with her perfect skin and eyes, no one asked twice when the clone took over the Normandy, despite the fact that the real Shepard looked totally different because of the HORRIBLE SCARRING. And, right at the end where Shepard’s face is covered in blood and dirt, she keeps the cyborg eyes, but all her scars disappear. Like, really? REALLY?

The standout moments in ME3, for me at least, were the character interactions (just like the other games!) After Thane passed away, I rekindled my romance with Liara, and although she was very sweet, I still missed Thane. This was only made worse every time I passed by life support and saw his empty spot, and then by the memorial service held at my apartment, and the video messages he left me…

And of course, there was the pre-Andromeda thing Bioware loves – letting you get attached to a crew of special characters, only to have you go into the final mission on your own. It really felt like a bit of a let down at the end there. And thanks to the fact that I’d completed every mission I could get my hands on, my allied forces so well prepared that no one died. I did lose Samara during the ardat yakshi mission – I let her shoot herself, leaving me feeling absolutely horrible. Thane and Mordin are unavoidable deaths, and I shot the fake Legion a rather excessive number of times, but everyone else made it out of the final mission. Except me, of course. (I read up afterwards that there is one ending where Shepard survives somehow, and I now remember getting that ending when I first played the game.)

The ending of ME3 was quite contentious when the game was released. This was because the three endings had almost identical cutscenes based on your final choice, though this didn’t really bother me because the difference was in the choice I had made. Having seen the ‘extended cut’ now, and having watched the other two options on YouTube, they are very similar as well, but the narration is very different, and of course everyone has glowy green eyes if you choose the synthesis option (I couldn’t resist it 6 years ago, and I couldn’t resist it now!), and EDI and Jeff are together and everything is beautiful.

Okay, on my first attempt at the ending, my renegade Shep DID kill everyone. Like, everyone in the galaxy. I refused the Catalyst’s options cause I thought I was being a cool renegade, and all the refusal options are in the renegade conversation position… Needless to say, this course of action leads Shepard to DO NOTHING and the Reapers win. I had no idea this was a possible outcome… Interestingly, the final cutscene shows an information vault with Liara as the VI interface, and the after-credits scene replaces the old man with someone who looks and sounds very much like an asari.

So… it’s a year later, and I’ve finally finished playing through all four Mass Effect games. And I still firmly believe that none of them are perfect. But Andromeda could never have lived up to 5+ years of nostalgia. Combine that with its many release day bugs, and a sense that maybe it was rushed and maybe there was stuff missing, and I suspect it was always going to be a bit of a gamble. What events and decisions caused it to end up in the state in which was released, we may never know. I do feel it was undeserving of most of the hate it got, and I’m certainly looking forward to giving it another run through. I’m just sad that I’ll probably never get to play in the Mass Effect galaxy again.

Total time played: ME1: 15 hours + ME2: 40 hours + ME3: 47 hours = 102 hours… that’s only a little longer than I spent playing Mass Effect: Andromeda (90 hours) on its own…

RIP Commander Shepard.

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