Thursday, 9 May 2013

Mass Effect: This is the End?


Spoilers contained in this post.

There's a small section in Mass Effect 3 where you climb to a really high point of The Citadel, a massive space station built tens of thousands of years ago and throw bottles into the air with a squad mate and try to hit them with a sniper rifle.  You barely even play this section, apart from deciding whether to let him win or not and yet, without a doubt, it's one of the most touching moments I've ever seen in a game.

Later, you and your squad are fighting your way to a beam of light that'll transport you to the end of the story.  A vehicle is tossed into the air and nearly crushes your team.  You make them leave, deciding to go on alone and you're forced to say goodbye.  In my play through I said goodbye to Liara, an alien my Shepard had been in a relationship with since the first game.  Shepard's voice cracks with emotion as she tells Liara to go, genuine, well acted emotion and for only the second time in thirty years of playing games, tears stung my eyes.

The Mass Effect series is full of moments like this, the third game in particular, especially with the Citadel DLC, is almost a succession of them.  It's one long goodbye to this brilliant trilogy and whilst I get some of the disappointment over the endings I think much of it is about having to leave Shepard and the crew of the Normandy behind forever.  Goodbyes are never easy and this cast of misfits, aliens and cyborgs get under your skin and it's hard to let them go.  There are some odd choices by the developers and although the actual end didn't leave me cold it fell short of the emotional punch they were clearly looking for.

I played the extended cut, yep, we have those in games now, having downloaded every bit of additional content and fought to get the best possible ending.  Some of what happens after you make your choice (one of four choices available) is impacted by how much of the game you've bothered to complete.  But the endings all have their own compromises, which, I'll concede I was very aware of before I got there.  I really wasn't sure what I would want to do, but I went with what I thought my Shepard would do, what she'd been fighting to do since the first game and the huge reveal on Virmire.  She destroyed the Reapers.

Mass Effect isn't just it's ending though, it's a hundred plus hours of gaming, a journey through a story where you craft your own character.  I've never played anything quite so immersive, quite so much like a book.  It's so rich in detail, so driven by the choices you make and the order you complete things that almost everyone will have had a different experience.  There's plenty of games where that's the case but none I've played have had so much weight to them or so many characters I could invest in.

The action, once you get past the dodgy gun play of the first one, is pretty satisfying and by the third game it's been tightly honed and full of outstanding set pieces.  There's one final, mad battle, the last boss fight in fact, where it feels like BioWare are throwing the lot at you, making you feel how impossible it is to win this war.

I hope BioWare, with the next game, go forward, not backwards.  Pick an ending to Mass Effect 3 as the canon ending and move this brilliant, believable universe they've created, forward with a new cast.

I will miss Shepard and the rest of the crew of the Normandy, I  certainly won't forget the first Mass Effect trilogy.  I may have come to the titles late, but I'm glad I got there in the end.  The best game I ever played had always been Final Fantasy VII, it's not anymore.