The DigestVideo

Games Of March 2012: Mass Effect 3

Where does the heart of BioWare’s sci-fi series lie—conversation or annihilation?

By John Teti • March 30, 2012

Our impressions of a game can evolve if we give them time to sit. To ruminate. To digest, if you will. Hence The Digest, a series where a guest critic and I look back over the past month in games. It’s a chance discuss the finer points that strike us now the initial release frenzy has passed. We also enjoy a snack because, hey, treat yo’self.

Our guest for the debut of the show is a special one: my friend Evan Narcisse, reporter and columnist for Kotaku. We may disagree on the fun of weapon customization, but we agree on the scrumptiousness of cake.

In today’s segment our topic is the aforementioned Mass Effect 3. With the conclusion of the trilogy at hand, we talk about the series’ portrayal of humanity (mostly jerks) and technology (mostly terrible). I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. By the way, we don’t address the ending controversy—we agreed beforehand that we were sick of talking about it—but feel free to hash that out in the comments. Be sure to warn your fellow readers if you’re going to get into specifics, though.

In tomorrow’s segment, Evan and I will talk about SSX, and then we wrap it up on Wednesday with Journey.

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135 Responses to “Games Of March 2012: Mass Effect 3

  1. Kilzor says:

    Regardless, we can all agree that not having Edi as a relationship choice was a crime fit to be judged by only the likes of the Hague, amirite?

    • AuroraBoreanaz says:

      And deprive Joker of her?  No way!

    • Drunken Superman says:

      Not allowing Tali to switch teams for my FemShep is worse than any genocide.

      Traynor was a fine consolation prize though, especially after Liara got so damn boring.

      • AuroraBoreanaz says:

        Since I picked her for my love interest in ME1, stayed loyal in ME2, and played the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Liara was (is) far from boring to me.  Tali is cool, but Liara is awesome.

        • Drunken Superman says:

          I was down with her throughout the first two games as well, but I thought turning her into the Shadow Broker dulled her character.

          That’s cool though, different strokes means more alien sex for everybody.

        •  Have to agree with Drunken Superman on her role of Broker making her dull – “I work from home now..”

        • TakeTheCannolis says:

          It bugs me that the issue of genital compatibility is never brought up.

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          I’m assuming that any genital compatibility issues are handled by asari having tentacles down there. 

      • MSUSteve says:

        I was massively disappointed at the handling of Liara as a love interest throughout ME3.  I felt more emotional connection to Vega and Traynor than I did Liara through most of the game.  It seemed to me that Liara had far less dialog than the other characters, or at least far less dialog that acknowledged my Shepard’s relationship to her.  There was some very sweet moments here there, but throughout the game there wasn’t much continuity to the tone of the interactions. I kept thinking to myself, “I held back on a relationship with Tali for THIS?”

        • Drunken Superman says:

          This whole time I thought Liara’s lack of anything to say was just her giving me the silent treatment after letting Traynor “use the shower.”

        •  Yes, I also got the feeling Liara got a lot less to say. Or do. Or anything, really.

        • AuroraBoreanaz says:

          Ah, okay.  I get what you’re saying now.  I also tend to bring Liara with me on all missions, so that’s probably why I haven’t paid as much attention to her lack of conversations back on board the Normandy.

        • Eric Johnson says:

           I dunno.  I suppose the lack of dialogue is supposed to present the Shepard-Liara relationship settling into a more stable phase of their relationship past the giddy highs of new love or maybe they’re just playing it cool and nonchalant to avoid any accusations of favoritism (though I did bring her on a lot of missions, so that point seems moot).

        • The_Guilty_Party says:

          I thought Liara’s breakdown during/after the fall of the Asari worlds was pretty well done, but on the whole I agree. Liara got kind of cold and distant as part of her growth, and I didn’t like it. I continued my romance once, but I won’t again.

        • Fluka says:

          (This Disqus change/merge thing is terrifying and confusing, so lord only knows what profile this is being posted by.)

          See, I didn’t romance Liara, but she’s responsible for one of my favorite moments in the game: when she comes to Shepard’s quarters to fill in her entry in the memory shard, and asks how she’d like to be remembered by history.  Them sitting together there in the dark and contemplating their friendship and the events to come is a really lovely quiet moment (one of many in the game, really).  Don’t know how it worked as a romance, but as a friendship, it was really touching.

          Conversely, the Garrus romance was totally awesome and *frequently* acknowledged and as far as I’m concerned all other romances are non-canon.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         Treynor felt like the only worthwhile choice in 3, actually; all the previous choices seemed muted or kind of boring in comparison.
         That’s probably because she was established in this game, though, as opposed to the devs thinking (probably rightly) that the previous games would do all the heavy lifting in establishing a connection with the other characters.

    • The_Quirk says:

      Am I correct that the only gay option for Maleshep was Jaime Cortez?  He seemed so obvious that I thought it COULDN’T be.

    • dreadguacamole says:

        I kind of think the whole Edi-as-an-80’s-sexy-android-or-whatever-she-was as painful, so I may not agree with you there.

  2. That was really cool! I didn’t play the last two Mass Effect games and from what I understand, this is not a good place to start? If the game’s strong point is how invested you can get into the story, then there’s really no point in jumping in at the conclusion right?

    • John Teti says:

      It’s an interesting question, actually. If the idea of your decisions having ripple effects is appealing to you, then starting with Mass Effect will give you the full experience. Yet while I do love the first game, it does have some rough edges. Mass Effect 2 is a little more polished and will still give you plenty of tough choices that play out in the third game. So it’s not like it would be heresy to start there.

      I do think it’s worth it to start from the beginning if you have the time, though.

      • I’d say there really is no point in jumping in on the third game – EA has tried to sell it like that, but I would think new players would have no idea what the hell is going on, or why they should even care about things happening.

        The third game is crammed full of fanservice, bordering on the ridiculous (this started in the second game, btw, what with everybody you had ever met in the first game sending an e-mail to update you), and it would be hard to swallow for anyone not already invested.

        The Mass Effect series puts a lot of importance into emotional resonance of the plot and your choices as a player (whether BioWare actually succeeds in that, is worthy of a whole discussion on its own), and you’ll have very little of that if you haven’t played parts 1 and 2.

        • AuroraBoreanaz says:

          Agreed.  I also recommend starting with ME1, despite the dated graphics and animation, because it’s far more fun than relying on codex entries to fill you in on history if you start with ME3.

          If you’re like me, you get pulled in by characters and story far more than action (though this series has a TON of awesome action as well).  It’s gratifying to run into characters you’ve had dealings with before and see how they’ve changed (or not).

          Minor example, as spoiler-free as possible: A diplomat whose life I saved in ME1 contacts me regarding a decision I made in ME3 with far-reaching consequences, and basically states that if I hadn’t saved his life before, I might be dead now.  LOVE that stuff!

          I’m still playing through ME3 now, so I don’t yet have an opinion on the ending controversy.  I’ll reserve my comments on that particular issue for later.

      • The_Quirk says:

        Obviously, the plan would be to re-release all three games in one box, all polished up to present-day standards.

        • Sony does it all the time with the games they publish (Jak&Daxter, Ico/Shadow, Metal Gear Solid). It wouldn’t surprise me to see that on the next Xbox in a couple years. 

      • The_Guilty_Party says:

        I feel like starting with ME3 would be a fun game, but it wouldn’t be a great game.

        *MINOR, RELATIVELY EARLY GAME SPOILERS* Garrus’ introduction on Palaven’s moon, I don’t know. It was touching to see him show up. As in it made me want to yell ‘Garrus!’ and go give him a big hug.

        Things like that propelled ME3 to greatness, in my experience. It’s just not the same if you say ‘oh, who’s this then?’ because you’ve never heard of him before.

        • AuroraBoreanaz says:

          Agreed.  My favorite reintroduction so far was Grunt, since he nearly died soon after (but didn’t, YAY!)

        • Mike_From_Chicago says:

          … and three years later…

          After just doing a full series runthrough, Garrus is probably the most solid character throughout. The cornerstone trio of companions (Liara, Tali, and Garrus) have good moments throughout, but Garrus is consistently the best written and most delightful character. I actually had trouble getting into Mass Effect 2 and its whole “new graphics, new combat, new interface, new crew” overhaul, but recruiting Garrus solved that issue immediately.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         Sure, the first game is a bit rough, but I actually liked it more than the sequels. Or rather, I would have liked a sequel expanding and consolidating its strengths rather than the super-focused, scaled back sequels we ended up getting (which, to be clear, I love).

        • Mike_From_Chicago says:

          Greetings from the future.

          Totally agree – I think the overall quality of the games trends downward (the sequels just don’t match the original game’s sense of intrigue and wonder, and the streamlined combat is so much less satisfying) from 1 to 3, but the writers do a fine job of paying off plot points and character beats, which are really the lifeblood of the series. Flaws aside, it’s one of the best video game franchises ever made.

    • Jason Camp says:

      I played ME2 without being able to import my save from ME1, and while it was enjoyable, some of the decisions it assumed on my behalf were a little strange.

      Now, there’s an ‘interactive comic’ which you can run through before
      beginning ME2, which allows you to make the individual important choices
      from ME1, and go from there.

      Before ME3 came out, I used the comic app and re-played ME2 to make sure I would have an
      importable character, and the replay was VASTLY more enjoyable than the
      first time through, because it incorporated my personal choices.

      Only about halfway into ME3 at this point, and the fanservice is a little thick, but I’m enjoying it. We’ll see if I feel the same after the infamous bad ending…

      • SisterMaryFrancis says:

        For me, at least, the ending didn’t effect my overall impression of the game that much. Did it suck? Certainly. But that’s probably because I had more control over everything leading up to the final battle than the actual battle itself. Basically, the ending puts every choice you’ve made, no matter how unique and impactful it was to you, and tries to stuff it into 2 or 3 different endings that only change based on 1 or two factors.

        That said, the closure that you get from your allies, both old and new, before the last battle was the highlight for me and might have even canceled out the disapointment I had from the ending.

        • lookatthisguy says:

          The way I see it though, all the other plot threads were wrapped up already.  The only thing that was left was to finish the fight with the Reapers, and I’m not sure how many options people expected for that.  I mean, I guess if you did X, Y, and A in the previous games, and so the game ended with a Yahtzee match against Harbinger in São Paulo as opposed to the battle that played out, that’d be … *something*, but from a purely developmental standpoint, that’s impractical.  I think in certain cases, expectations simply grew too high.

          • SisterMaryFrancis says:

            I understand it from a development standpoint, but it’s strange that for all that you’re character has done, it comes down to Shepard going along with what (s)he’s told a bit too easily without the option of resistance, and whether you grabbed enough suckers to change a 5 second cutscene. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have picked any of the three and rolled the dice against the full force of the Reapers than going into one of the laser light shows. Just one more ending is all I wanted: the option to say “Screw you, I’ll take my chances.” Well, that or Yahtzee.

          • Mike_From_Chicago says:

            In principle, that is the ending where you hang back and let the Reapers reap – ie, the least satisfying one. The games establish pretty firmly that the Reapers can’t be stopped by conventional means, and Shepard’s death is foreshadowed heavily enough to be inevitable. I do wonder if the writers were commenting on the futility of struggle by refusing to give any dramatic closure with that ending, or if they were just being expedient. But given that the last hour of the game is just Reapers crushing all opposition, I doubt another cutscene that shows the Reapers killing Shepard and her crew would have been more satisfying.

        • lookatthisguy says:

          It definitely would have been nice to take that option, but how would it end?  Everyone would take that option instead of what’s presented, and based on the outcomes they offered, how much different could it be?  Maybe going out in a blaze of glory would have been preferential to many people, or maybe being completely defeated would have been a WTF-enough moment to really shock others, or maybe everything ends happily ever after, which ain’t how war works.  For better or worse, I figure they wanted a plot twist ending that makes you think, and makes you make one final hard decision, since that’s been the name of the game for the whole series.  Different strokes for different folks, though apparently a lot of people didn’t get the stroke they wanted.

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          I finally finished playing ME3 after putting it down for several months (I’d gotten word of the ending, plus there were other aspects of the game that I wished that they hadn’t changed from ME2–the faces, in particular), and even though I’m getting the Extended Cut Ending, I understand that the basic choices are the same, and I don’t know why there was so much complaining. If the game had forced one ending or another on the players because of whether they were Paragon or Renegade, for example, I think that there’d be even more bitching. 

        • Mike_From_Chicago says:

          The ending is based on a well-worn “video game ending” trope, and it handles that trope perfectly well exactly because of all the stuff leading up to it. I did a Liara romance through the series, and put Liara on my team for the last battle which means (SPOILERS) that in addition to the remarkable “Liara and Shepard float among the red stars” cutaway before the battle, there’s a heartbreaking “Liara and Shepard say good bye as Liara is evacuated” moment before the end game. Everything after that point is just gravy.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      I would tell you to avoid it, if not just for the fact that it’s akin to dropping in on… a later Harry Potter book, for example, with no context for the series. There are a lot of “codex” (in-game encyclopedia) entries that can elucidate the rules of the world a fair bit, but that’s not fun, is it?

      Honestly, since ME2 is the best game of the series for the average gamer to adapt to by some measure (ME3 also more closely resembles it) and ME1 is kind of slack in terms of pacing, I would tell you to just bone up on the events of ME1 and start at ME2. It’s also the game that has the most immediate and spectacular choice-consequence design in the series. Neither its predecessor nor its sequel were particularly interested in giving you as much in the way of direct consequences for your actions.

      There are choices that you can make in ME1 that are important (well, important to make, not important to the narrative, ultimately, but that’s how Bioware does things), but since ME1 never came out on PS3 due to Microsoft owning that iteration of the game, they came out with DLC for ME2 (that you have to pay for, unfortunately) that allows you to choose what you would have done had you played the first game. That’s the best starting point, I would say.

      • AuroraBoreanaz says:

        I agree that ME1 was slow, but the ending made up for it, IMHO.  I was blown away at how many choices I got to make during the final battle.

        • lookatthisguy says:

          Ditto that.  I only finally got into the series because I got the sequel for Christmas on PS3.  Borrowed the first from a cousin, and gave it its fair shot, but once things really started pulling together toward the end, then I got really got sucked into it.

      • Fluka says:

        I started with ME2 after doing a wiki/youtube readover of the events of the first.  I was occasionally confused by references to past actions, but that didn’t stop me from loving the crap out of the game and instantly being sucked in to the universe.  I wish I had known about the interactive comic ahead of time, in order to shape my character’s actions in the first game (though ultimately, I just kind of accepted them for what they were…my Shepard was apparently kind of a jerk before getting Lazarused).  I *did* go back and play the first game afterwards though.  The story is fantastic, and gave some good background, but the gameplay felt extremely frustrating after #2…  So yeah, ME1 if you have patience, but at the very least do ME2.

      • The comic is free with new copies of Mass Effect 2. 

  3. Guest says:

    Poor effort, Evan. With the cake, I mean. 

  4. azudarko says:

    I don’t know if I would agree on the technology point, Evan. If the series means to argue that the end point of technology is dehumanization, then what is the purpose of the Geth? SPOILERS: This is what made the ending so frustrating. Sad-Boy-Space-Child basically tells me to my face that synthetics and organics will never get along, and Shepherd just sort of say “okay, I guess so.” But not four hours prior, I completely proved that wrong by reuniting the Geth and Quarians. 

    • idspsispopd says:

      Yeah, not to mention the entire EDI storyline. So basically, you unite the Geth and Quarians and are helped by Legion, who selflessly sacrifices himself and many other Geth to achieve peace with the organics who tried to exterminate his, uh, species.

      And you spend a good portion of the game fighting alongside your ship’s AI, who has newly been granted free will and a body, and who, after thinking about it for a good while, chooses to help you, and also to get busy with one of your crewmates.

      And then in the last five minutes of the game, you are told that it’s some kind of immutable space law of nature that all synthetics will destroy organics, and Shepard’s just like, “Wow, OK! Guess I get to pick one of three color filters to watch my ending cinematic in!”

      I think assuming that the game has any overarching point of view on those big questions is giving it way too much credit. The ending plays like it was developed by some separate team of writers sequestered from the rest of the devs and forced to come up with an ending in 10 minutes without seeing any of the rest of the story.

      • Drunken Superman says:

        I understand this complaint, but isn’t it ultimately your decision, regardless of what The Citadel’s Blue Boy tells you?  If you agree, then blow everything up – but you can choose otherwise.

        And yes, yes, the whole different color light thing.  I think things could’ve been clearer, the final cutscene feels more tacked on than anything, because I also think the act of making that decision IS your ending. That’s when Shepard dies, and thus ends your involvement in the story.  In fact, it’d probably be better off if the game just went to black as soon as you chose, though I can’t imagine that going over any better with the fans.

        • idspsispopd says:

          Re: “isn’t it ultimately your decision?” Yeah it is, but all your decisions are still based on that weird premise, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story, and which isn’t explained or even really contested by Shepard. My complaint isn’t that you have no agency whatsoever, just that it’s poor writing/storytelling to lay everything out so quickly and with so little foreshadowing, explanation, or connection to the rest of the story.

          As far as the final cutscenes, I kind of like your idea about the story being over with Shepard being dead, but I think that sort of idea works better in theory than in practice. I’m not a writer, but I assume that narrative conventions like an epilogue showing what happened to everyone exist for a reason, namely that endings tend to be pretty unsatisfying without them.

          I think the ME series has always been more character-focused than plot-focused, and I think that’s one reason that the lack of a resolution for those characters bothered people so much.

          Personally, I could deal with that lack of resolution if I thought it was in the service of a plot wrap-up that worked in other respects, but I can’t really say that.

        • There are multiple problems with the ending.

          Guess what – SPOILERS.

          First, there’s the introduction of a completely new character – which doesn’t seem to faze Shepard at all, she never even asks “who the fuck are you!”.

          Second, there’s the circular logic – we want to avoid you being destroyed by synthetics, so we created these synthetics to destroy you. Again, Shepard just sort of stands there.

          Thirdly, as has been mentioned – if you played Shepard like I and others have done, you will have united synthetics with organics already.

          Fourthly, there’s the horrible “Choose Your Own Ending” thing, with the colours, it just feels sort of cheap.

          All that said, I can’t actually say I was surprised the ending was botched – BioWare just isn’t very good at endings. They tend to be overly simplistic and bombastic. (Which is also why the notion of the ‘indoctrination theory’ makes me laugh – waaaaaaay too subtle for BioWare.)

        • lookatthisguy says:


          But, regarding that character, he/it/whatever has clearly been around millions of years.  They say Reapers have harvested organics for thousands of cycles… be it an AI, godlike being, whatever, it’s not that hard to imagine *millions* of years of evidence solidifying a computer’s logic, if it’s even capable of changing that, or making a being so cynical that changes done by a 40-year-old in just (a) month(s) seem small in comparison, and inconsequential to the greater truth said being believes.
          And keep in mind, it’s not a circular logic, it’s a flawed logic: we finally learn that the Reapers are harvesting all these species to create more Reapers as a sort of a hive mind to preserve some level of existence for said species, as well as to allow the younger species to grow and thrive until the point this alleged “truth” crops up again.

          If anything, I’d say Bioware could have made my other observation more apparent, that the toll of the battle was wearing on Shepard, and after the first encounter on the Citadel, he was in poor, poor shape.  He’s bleeding out, has a job to finish, and sees options before him that will get it done.

          Beyond that, I can’t tell if people at large refer to the endings simply as different color palettes reductively because they’re disappointed with how the game ended, or because they aren’t even paying attention to the implications that each option offered (in which case, I wonder what story exactly they’re complaining about, because it would seem to me as if they weren’t paying as much attention, even if that ending is a little Inceptioney and I needed another playthrough to make sure I understood it the way I did).

        • Fluka says:

          (Huge spoilers, obviously)

          Isn’t there also the implication that Shepard’s actions (uniting the Geth and Quarians, etc.) *have* made some difference?  The Child says something to the effect that Shepard is the first organic to have made it this far, and that his normal solution has failed and a new one is required.  So the AI *has* acknowledged that the Reapers no longer serve their stated purpose.  
          Sure, you can still chose Destroy, and end the threat, saying “fuck you!” to the Child’s prediction that it will start again (er, at the expense of EDI and the Geth, naturally).  Or you can take your chances and Control them and hope it works out better for you than it did for the Illusive Man.  Or, at least with my ending, I got the Synthesis option, which is all about the coexistence of organic and synthetic, which seems pretty much in line with what my character had done in previous games.  So at least in one option you’re given a chance to completely break the cycle, and in the other two you can go on faith and choose to ignore the Child’s admonitions that it will continue. 

          My ending complaints have to do with having no clue what happened to my squad mates in the final run to the beam.  Were Liara and Garrus there with me?  If so, did they die?  Damn it, I saw Garrus come out of the Normady at the end.  Did they get picked up by a shuttle before the run (and why didn’t they say goodbye) or after I got burned?  2 seconds of cut scene would work, as I already got my goodbyes and emotional closure in the long walk to Anderson.  Beyond that, I was pretty satisfied with how it all worked out.

        • idspsispopd says:

          @lookatthisguy:disqus  I understand that it’s possible to conceive of a way that the endings make logical sense by filling in the gaps, but that’s normally the job of the writers (plus, there are A LOT of gaps to fill in here).

          I’m obviously not saying that all plot threads should always be tied up neatly; ambiguous endings are often great. The problem here is that most of the unresolved questions were ones that were just introduced moments before the ending, so the “mystery” created by the ending feels (to me) totally unearned and lazy.

          Regarding the color-coded endings, it’s not that people didn’t understand the implications of the three choices. In fact, I’d say it’s the opposite. The three choices have very different implications for the galaxy, but we get essentially the same cinematic for each, with no explanation whatsoever of the consequences of our actions.

        • lookatthisguy says:

          I have to agree with you @Fluka:disqus .  In the greater scheme, I don’t need everything spelled out for me literally, or microcosmic step by step, but that was also something that I was curious about.  We don’t know how much time has passed… maybe the Major ordered other teams to try to evac the casualties from the laser, and so the Normandy swooped in and picked up the characters, before the Admiral ordered a retreat?  (But even then, they’d have noticed Anderson and Shepard were missing, so why wouldn’t they stay and fight?)  It’s a stretch, a lot to ask players to divine from the narrative.  I figured they wanted to leave things open since many sci-fi stories do the same, and apparently there’s word that they’re interested in a Mass Effect MMO, so maybe that’s a leap point for them.  The fact that they wound up there isn’t a concern to me, but *how* they wound up there I definitely would like to know.

          @idspsispopd:disqus  I don’t mean to sound like a Bioware apologist to those that didn’t like the ending, I’ve just noticed that during my first playthrough, when these unexplained questions come up that people are calling plot holes, my brain just naturally figured, “Oh, well _this_ must have happened and I didn’t see it.”  Beyond that, I don’t see how they can both end the game ambiguously and show the player the extended consequences of your actions.  You either live or die by the decision you make, which they show, and the Reapers either get controlled, destroyed along with all other synthetics, or leave once everyone is fused together.  Beyond that, everything else that happens (will happen) is not a result of what Shepard does.  On a similar note, your comment about the endings makes me understand even less: either way, the events unfolding outside would play out the same, up until the point that Shepard makes his/her decision.  And once s/he makes that decision, the cinematics respond accordingly.  It just seems to me like it’s a result those high expectations again.  I dunno.

  5. jfudge says:

    Brilliant! Honestly, all the side excursions don’t make
    a lot of sense in the sweeping narrative being told, but players would not be
    happy if they weren’t there to flesh things out. I think the “guy with the
    metal detector on the beach at Normandy” is apropos.

     I do think, BTW, some people are jerks even in the most
    dire of situations.  

    • Phillip Collector says:

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s always struck me as jarring when I’m more or less asked to be an intergalactic errand boy even though I’m supposed to be busy saving the universe. Really? Nobody else in the universe can scan planets for artifacts? What a bunch of useless turds. Maybe the Reapers should’ve wiped everybody out.

      • The_Quirk says:

        And may I add how much the “new” scanning system sucked eggs?  Send out a signal, which alerts the Reapers, who chase you out of the system, then go BACK INTO the system. . . . hell, I actually enjoyed the scanning system from ME2!

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          The thing that all the people who bitched about the planet scanning minigame from ME2 never seemed to realize was that it’s so simple and mindless that it was something you could do while having a conversation; it took far less attention than, say, driving, and you could put on a phone headset and mute the sound and go through a couple of solar systems at least in the course of a decent phone call.

      • Fluka says:

        I kept scanning and finding all these Alliance vessels.  Don’t we, like, have a…list…or something, of where all these ships are?

  6. Ted Kindig says:

    This John Teti fellow has a pretty strong Dr. Spaceman vibe. I’m sold.

  7. MSUSteve says:

    Nothing scintillating here.  Just wanted to say how excited I am about the new site.  It’s great to see Evan as well.

    Also, I’ve heard others hate on the dream sequences. I thought they were fine and were at least an attempt to humanize Shepard. So much of the game has others regarding him as a superhero. I think the dreams were an attempt to show that even the great, but never promoted Commander Shepard has doubts, worries and regrets.

    • John Teti says:

      Very well put. You know, I had a similar thought after we shot this show — so rarely do you see any action movie/game/whathaveyou attempt to show the human effects of its wanton violence. So you do have to give them credit for that humanizing aspect of the dreams, which you sum up nicely.

      • AuroraBoreanaz says:

        Okay, totally unrelated question here, but regarding your avatar – were you on The Price is Right?  Or the Vegas version?  Or did you just get a photo op next to the wheel?

        (Love TPIR, it and Jeopardy! are my favorite game shows.)

        • John Teti says:

          I used to work in television, and one day when I was out in L.A., I went with a buddy of mine to CBS Television City (he worked at CBS). We frolicked on the TPIR set and backstage area for an hour or so. So that’s the actual Barker-era Big Wheel.

    • idspsispopd says:

      Agreed. You can see the attempt to humanize Shepard throughout the game, and I liked it. It does necessarily sacrifice a bit of player self-determination in the process though. It’s kind of out of place for your bystander-killing, reporter-punching Renegade Shep to get all broken up by some random kid dying.

      Also, I am sure that unskippable scenes of slow-mo running through a forest are going to get REALLY tedious on subsequent playthroughs.

      • MSUSteve says:

        The implementation wasn’t perfect, that’s for sure.  Also, if you’ve been playing a Renegade Shep, you probably did/saw worse things than a kid getting blasted by Reapers.

        I thought the better humanization of Shepard came in the wake of the Priority: Thessia mission.  In that mission Kai Leng shows up and causes Shepard to completely fail his mission, losing the Prothean VI and any chance to discover was the Catalyst is.   

        Throughout the mission Shepard is aided by many brave Assari, all of whom end up sacrificing themselves simply to get him from the landing zone to the museum while their home world is utterly devastated.  The deaths of these people ends up being for nothing as Kai Leng gets away with the VI.  As a player I was very frustrated by the game forcing me to experience this loss and making me completely powerless to stop it.  

        In the after mission events on the Normandy, Shepard expressed these same feelings of anger, frustration and sadness.  To me it was a genius marrying of the character’s and my own emotions about the same events.  This, even more than the dream sequences, resonated with me.  We had never seen Shepard experience a significant setback like this, or at least never seen him do anything but take events in stride.  Having him go through feelings of frustration and even fear and hopelessness after the fall of Thessia definitely showed that he was human after all.  That the other crew members sensed this and, in their own ways, tried to help bolster Shepard, was also fantastic.  I especially appreciated the exchange with Joker.

        • idspsispopd says:

          Absolutely. I thought Thessia was one of the best parts of the game, along with Mordin’s story.

          One of the things that had always bugged me a bit about ME2 was that it was so easy to get a perfect ending with no casualties. You basically had to deliberately do stupid things like not upgrade the Normandy in order to have people die on the supposed “suicide mission,” so it was great to have Shepard be something other than a superhuman one man army and master diplomat, at least for one part of the game.

        • BuntlineSpecial says:

          @idspsispopd:disqus : I have two ME2 saves.  One with everyone surviving, and all plotlines wrapped nicely.  The other is a banged up Vanguard who lost Mordin, sold Legion, and let Cerberus have the Collector base.  When it came time to play ME3, though, I went with the Vanguard first.  Seemed much more “real,” in that he’d already lost people, and wasn’t perfect.

        • AmaltheaElanor says:

          Aw, I like the dream sequences. :)

          But thank you for sighting this part of the game.  It was one of my favorite moments.  Given everything Shepherd has been through (I mean, she was dead for two years, for crying out loud) and how little emotional reaction we’ve seen from her, I really liked additions like this. 

          I also really like when you return from Mars with Ashley (or Kaiden) wounded and Shepherd is just kind of staring at the bed and not responding and Liara has to lean down and shove her face in Shepherd’s to get her to wake up.  I liked that it was the first indication things weren’t going to be as easy for her to handle this game.

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          @BuntlineSpecial:disqus : I did a playthrough of ME2 in which my goal was to have Shepard die at the end, and it’s surprisingly difficult. You have to skip all the ship upgrades, do only those loyalty missions that you can fail (and make sure that you make the right choices so that they do fail), and on the suicide mission choose the wrong squad members for the special roles as carefully as you do for the “everyone survives” ending so that enough squaddies get killed–you can’t have more than one surviving squaddie for Shepard to die. But I did it! Go me! 

      • MSUSteve says:

        The Mordin storyline was great and perfectly handled.  It was bittersweet and had a sense of inevitability to it.  I never expected him to survive.  Indeed, I think he felt all along that he had to pay for his role in creating the genophage.  

        Regarding ME2, I liked that it was possible to get the entire crew through the “suicide” mission.  Sure, it didn’t have the emotional resonance that Priority: Thessia did, but I don’t think it was even trying for that.  It was more of a bombastic, “HELL YEAH!” type experience and I think fit well with the overall tone of ME2.

        • AuroraBoreanaz says:

          Mordin was the only crew member who died on me in ME2.  I considered replaying the ending to have him survive too, but decided just to go with it.  His replacement was pretty cool for the brief time I knew him.

        • lookatthisguy says:

          Listening to the soundtrack for that final mission (I’m a composer, so I do these things), I have to agree.

          Especially when you consider that, for your final mission in ME3, there’s no underscore whatsoever, save a few cues that were more “game indicators” than narrative underscoring.

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus : I had trouble holding onto Mordin as well through the suicide mission, until I gave up and checked the ME wiki and found out that he should be given escort duty to the surviving Normandy crew members back to the ship–his defense is too low for just about anything else.

          And I liked another suggestion, that Jack and Tali accompany Shepard on the last mission because their defenses are pretty low as well and you can always heal them; between Jack’s Shockwave and Tali’s defense drone, they’re pretty good at keeping the Collectors off you while you’re taking out the human Reaper. 

      • Drunken Superman says:

        I want to ask – I didn’t play as a Renegade, my Shep was a Paragon, though she was usually a dick about it. Throughout the series, isn’t Renegade more of a humans above all others, Cerberus type, rather than an all-out psychopath?  

        In that context, being haunted by the death of a kid (who’s standing in for all the people on Earth that are dying or left behind, of course) still makes sense, right?

        • MSUSteve says:

          Definitely. But my understanding is that ME3 really ramps up some of the Renegade actions to truly awful proportions.  As a bleeding heart Paragon-for-life, I didn’t experience any of these, but from comments I’ve heard, some are pretty evil.

        • idspsispopd says:

          Yeah, I wouldn’t say that Renegade maps very well onto “evil” as a general matter. Most are more “ends justify the means” types of decisions.

          But there are plenty of opportunities for you to be a bit of a sociopath. For example, the renegade choice in Zaeed’s loyalty mission in ME2 is for you to let a bunch of innocent factory workers burn alive so you can help Zaeed get revenge on some guy he knew from like 20 years ago. Or in ME3, you can choose to shoot Mordin to prevent him from curing the genophage. You get the idea.

        • Fluka says:

          That’s always been the problem with playing Renegade for me.  It seems to run the gamut from “Bad ass” to “Xenophobe Daily Mail Commenter” to “Pragmatist” to “Just kind of a jerk.”  

        • idspsispopd says:

          @Fluka:disqus  Yeah, and that was kind of a problem in ME2, since the way the whole persuasion system worked, it forced you to basically pick Renegade or Paragon and stick with it through the whole game, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to unlock some pretty important dialogue options.

          One of the great things they did in ME3 was to scrap that system and replace it with one that allows you complete flexibility to be whatever combination of P/R you want.

    • I think the idea of humanising Shepard is great, but I think the execution of that idea is quite poor. The dream sequences feel hackneyed and unconvincing – the way Hollywood envisions dreaming.

      It felt like someone saying “hey, you’ve seen dream sequences like these in films and TV before, you know what we’re trying to say, now have the accompanying feelings”.

      • lookatthisguy says:

        Just imagine if, instead of three or four repetitions of the same dream sequence, you suddenly found yourself playing a mission with no explanation, or maybe a mission that seemed real but got progressively weirder, that ended a similar result.  Then you woke from THAT.  Right after the point where your character sleeps with his/her love interest, before the big final push.  THAT would have been impactful.

  8. Thom_Not_Tom says:

    Teti’s voice sounds a bit too much like John Hodgman’s and it’s weirding me out.

  9. KidvanDanzig says:

    Regarding the endings (spoilers I guess?), I’m just going to crosspost what I said in the original review, since it’s a lot of stuff and I don’t really have time to go over it all again.

    Couple of things – 

    – ME3 is bringing up a lot of clashing over the delineation between player and character. Bioware has always kind of waffled on this, saying that it is a “third person story” and that while you control Shepard she is not a player avatar, but they also talk about “your Shepard” and “your story”, and besides, the control that the player exerts over Shepard in effect does make her the player avatar, no matter the voice and backstory grafted on. Her choices are our choices. When ME3 is good, it lets Shepard get out of the way and lets the player interpret and experience the impact of his/her choices and the rapport Shepard has with other characters. When ME3 is bad, it shows Shepard reacting to things and being bothered by some white kid in Vancouver and having nightmares. 

    Leaving aside that a psychotic space racist renegade Shepard wouldn’t suddenly give a fuck about these things, even if it makes sense that within this world Shepard would be stricken by that death and haunted by it throughout the game, it throws a spanner in the works of the player / character divide. I and a lot of other people recognized the kid for what he was, a cheap narrative tool (a big flashing *FEEL EMOTION NOW* sign, specifically).

    Because Shepard exists as a player avatar in addition to a (arbitrarily sketched) independent character, showing how Shepard feels about something and giving the player no control over it is in effect telling the player what he / she should feel about it, which is a big no-no. When it works (such as the super renegade ending to the Tuchanka mission) it works well, but when it doesn’t work, it’s a disaster, and whenever that dream sequence came up it stopped the game cold in its tracks. That part of the game was abjectly terrible and mercifully short (if only I could say the same about the ending). It didn’t help that it was pretty much entirely ripped from the first Max Payne game, right down to the slo-mo running, which, pro-tip game designers, that shit is never fun for anyone. 

    – Not since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 have we gotten an ending to a game that is less internally coherent and so obviously cut up within an inch of its life. There’s one part in particular where you will go “Hey why are those guys there?” and the more you think about it the more you realize it makes absolutely no sense at all (and is pretty much physically impossible).

    Back when Lost ended there was a lot of hubbub over how that show closed out, about how they had copped out on a lot of the mysteries or straight-up ignored them, and the creators in response made a distinction between “character-driven” and “plot-driven” narratives. Lost in their view was a character-driven narrative and thus the show had to end in a way that focused on the characters and the relationships they had.The thing is that the ME series is very character-driven, at least from the fan perspective, but it seems like, especially with the ending, that Bioware considered it a plot-driven narrative. I was hoping for something more along the lines of Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal, where you have both big climactic “Let’s Do This” convos with your party and denouements afterward.There were no denouements. To get that ending and not know what happened to all the characters (the only elements that were consistently good throughout the whole series!) is such a massive bummer. And in all likelihood we’ll never know. Internet people are hoping for an epilogue DLC, as they do, but Bioware wouldn’t do that (not to mention the precedent it would set in the already testy paid content arena). 

    – What you have to realize with ME3 is that Bioware was handed a very, very rare opportunity, one that any game studio that gives a shit about story would kill to have – the opportunity to tell one story over three full-length AAA games. Game development is a rough business, getting published is difficult, and to take the long view, to plan out a series over 5 years, that never happens. 5 years in real time is 25 years in game development time.

    So in ME3 we have, for all intents and purposes, the only game of its type to ever exist – a game that continuously takes player input into account over 70+ hours of previous play. That’s longer than most TV series. It practically is a TV series, plus the magic of player input. And a bad capper to a good game is like a bad  capper to a good show. Like it or not, it leaves a black spot on the series that will persist as people continue to talk about it past its shelf life. And make no mistake, the ending was shitty, shitty, shitty, veering into hokey pulp metaphysics via a literal deus ex machina at the last moment, as if the writers couldn’t think of anything better than a DX:HR three-button choice (which, like DX:HR’s, is entirely unconcerned with any of the 70+ hours of content preceding it) followed by a series of endings differentiated almost entirely by color filter. The last 15 minutes of the game feel like they come from an entirely different series.I liked the game, I liked it a lot, but man, that ending was a shot in the gut, and not in the good way I was expecting. Hitting the dismount’s always hard, but Bioware is now one of the largest and most powerful game studios in existence and it’s baffling that they would fuck up with such gusto.”

    Adding to that after some time to think it over, I would say that the dilemma posited by the Starchild is one that’s not really supported through the series – the only two galaxy-level threats in the series are organic (The Krogan and the Rachni), while the only substantial synthetic presence (the Geth) turn out to only be aggressive, on the whole, in defense of themselves. The geth enemies in the first and third games are desperate splinter groups, the geth in the second are defending their territory. The organic/synthetic conflict is easily assumed but there’s not much to actually back it up in the content of the series. It was just an easy out for the writers.

    Also looks like I was wrong about Bioware covering their asses with DLC. My bad!

    • The_Quirk says:

      I felt that the “character-driven” end of ME3 came just before the final assault, when you’re basically saying goodbye to everyone from all three games (except the Rachni queen).  The Plot-ending doesn’t care about all that, which is why it sucks.

      • KidvanDanzig says:

        I think that’s what they were going for, but yeah, it doesn’t work terribly well. Especially given the final end of the Normandy and where that leaves the characters. It’s just weird.

    • The_Guilty_Party says:

      Huh. I thought the point with the organic/synthetic conflict and the reapers is that they know how it’s going to turn out. They did it themselves once, first, and decided ‘organic life is screwed in the long run, this is the best we can do for it once they hit the synthetic-life-creation point’.

      • KidvanDanzig says:

        It’s all pretty confusing. I mean, so starchild is… part of the race that created the reapers, apparently, and the reapers destroyed them? But the reapers are reaping every 50,000 years to… prevent other synthetics from doing what they did themselves, by doing it for them? Why do they even care? Why wipe out organic life just to do it again next cycle? What purpose does that serve? Why not just assimilate all organic life everywhere and call it a day? They’re true AIs, they’re not slaves to whatever their programming is. It’s a bit nonsensical.*

        I think they could have made it work to a much greater degree had they primed the pump a bit before the last 10 minutes of the game. There’s seeds of a good hook in there – the idea of the reapers being a growth control mechanism is compelling but not so much when it’s supposed to be deliberate, since the logic stretches when you look at it closely, especially when it’s all contained within a very short expository infodump that comes from a deus ex machina.

        There’s value in the horrific idea of the reapers not really conceiving of what they do as genocide but as “ascending” galactic races, even if the whole idea is a retcon from the unambiguous malevolence of Sovereign / Harbinger (also, it’s highly reminiscent of the insane death cult central to the plot of Dead Space). It works a lot better if it’s an out-of-control process, but starchild says the reapers were apparently made to serve this purpose.

        * Rumor is that the original ending of ME3 was going to have something to do with the dark matter-related star death that the Geth were somehow causing in the Tali mission in ME2 (a rather ominous detail that is never followed up on in ME3, lending credence to the notion that it was an important plot point that was totally jettisoned). The idea was that the use of mass effect tech was causing an inevitable buildup of dark matter that threatened to fuck up astrophysics on a fundamental level. Thus the reapers allowed galactic races to reach a certain tech threshold every 50,000 years, right before they hit the critical point, and then consumed them, hoping that with enough iterations of the cycle, someone would figure out a solution to the problem and the Reapers could fix it. It’s actually a pretty intriguing twist, given that defeating the reapers would necessitate… the collapse of reality, or something. Pretty bleak! But a more satisfying bleak than the bleak we got, with Garrus and Tali starving to death and Liara outliving everyone else.

        • The_Guilty_Party says:

          Yeah, I’m not saying they couldn’t have done some more foreshadowing (they had the same problem in DA2), and even with foreshadowing, the final ending twist was, at best, decent. (I would say that Sovereign was malevolent; by the time Harbinger was written, there was a lot more ‘harvest/ascend’ overtones going on).

          But it seemed to make some sense to me. Starchild is the AI that won, waaay back when. Presumably, like the geth, they didn’t really want to destroy their creators, it just became a matter of survival. They wanted to live more than they wanted to not kill their creators.

          They wanted to preserve organic life as best they could, which was basically preventing each cycle’s life from being wiped out by its AI once it got to that point and started fighting with its own creation, and instead harvesting it into a self-contained nation: a reaper. Maybe the geth/quarian conflict should have triggered a cycle, but the protheans screwed it up, or maybe it just takes a while to get going.

          So: not as good an ending as the rest of the completely-awesome game deserves, but mostly coherent. At least to me.

  10. Czechmate says:

    Wow John.  You totally nailed the late 70s/early 80s sportscaster vibe with that get up.  A hound’s tooth jacket?  I was expecting Jimmy the Greek to pop in somewhere and give his predictions.  

    Other than that distraction, it’s was interesting enough, but I’m looking forward more to tomorrow’s SSX discussion as that is one I can have some valid input on, whether you want it or not.  ;)

    • John Teti says:

      I want it! And “late-70s/early-80s sportscaster” is pretty much the vibe I like to go for.

      • Czechmate says:

        I used to be in game journalism and wrote for PC Gamer and Next Gen and so on (had my own column in Computer Games Magazine too), so maybe I can dig up some early 80s garb and we can talk.

        And, as a point of interest, I work in the same office building where id Software is located.  We have floors 2-5, they are 6-7.  Every now and then, I’ll see John and just sort of nod and say, “hi!” and he’ll just nod back.  He recognizes me, but doesn’t know why.  I interviewed him multiple times over the years, but it’s been too long I guess.  I won’t tell him why he knows me; it’s good to see him struggle.  He also has the personality of a sponge.

        • Raging_Bear says:

          Say, next time you see him, would you tell him Rage sucked enough to cause at least one anonymous internet commenter to rethink half his personal motif?

  11. Drunken Superman says:

    Okay, so who wants to hash out this ending business?  I finished the game after a few weeks as opposed to the very day it came out, so I’ve been late to most comment fests about it.  I know there are a million articles about it out there, but my voice is more important than all of them.

    I have some problems with it, of course.  The Normandy in the ending cinematic makes no sense at all after the events of the game.  The differences between your three choices could’ve been clearer.

    I have to wonder about those who say their choices throughout the trilogy don’t matter as much as they were led to believe they would.  Did they not play the full game?  After finishing, I was amazed at the many different story variations that were on Youtube, some huge differences based on things you did in the very first game.  Entire character storylines you’ll never see.  It’s pretty remarkable.  I also consider the ‘ending’ to be the entirety of the final Cerberus and Earth missions.  In its entirety, it’s a massive climax that I took more pleasure in than anything I’ve played in a long time.  I’m far more annoyed with the lazy photoshopped reveal of Tali and about not entirely sticking the landing in the last few minutes of cutscenes.

    Endings are important, but I wonder if they’ve always been given THIS much importance.  This whole controversy has completely overshadowed the accomplishments of the game and series as a whole, and I think it’s a shame.  To totally digress a bit and compare it to sports, it used to be that one could enjoy and admire a successful season that doesn’t end in a championship.  Now it seems that sports fans consider anything without a trophy as a colossal disappointment or waste of time.  Regular seasons mean nothing to people anymore.

    Tl; dr: ME3 is fantastic regardless of the last few minutes.

    • idspsispopd says:

      I agree to a certain point. While I was playing through it the first time, I kept thinking that it was clearly the best game in the series so far. There are a ton of great moments (Mordin’s story in particular was done flawlessly), gameplay has been improved, etc.

      But I think the reason the endings have taken up such an inordinate amount of the discussion is that they are so incongruous with the rest of the game and with the track record of the series. It’s not just a lackluster ending (IMO), it’s a completely laughable ending. It’s really hard to ignore, which I agree is a shame, since the rest of the game is fantastic.

      “I have to wonder about those who say their choices throughout the trilogy don’t matter as much as they were led to believe they would.”

      When I see this criticism, it’s usually more in relation to the ending, since the entire game is spent building up war assets that turn out to be largely irrelevant to the final outcome. Also, a lot of decisions that presumably would have major consequences in the final game just got reduced to an extra 25 war assets out of about 7000 or so. E.g., it didn’t really make any difference whether you destroyed the collector base or not, whether you spared the Rachni queen in ME1, etc.

      Some of that comes off as a bit lazy, even though it was probably necessary from the practical standpoint of having finite development resources.

    • AmaltheaElanor says:

      I actually like the ending (I know *gasp*) but I agree with what you say here about it overshadowing the rest of the discussion.  I can see being unhappy with the ending, but I just don’t agree that it makes this a terrible game.  Because regardless of the last 10 minutes, ME3 is a fantastic game, and there’s an extraordinary amount of content that trumps the best of even ME2.

      I think of a good comparison as Battlestar Galactica.  I found the climax and end of the series messy and incoherent – but, IMO, that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s overall an amazing series.  Just because I hated the “beware of robots” tagline doesn’t take away from all the wonderful characterization and moral dilemmas they had throughout so much of the series.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      I guess it’s a qualitative question. To their credit, Bioware did include quite a bit of variability in ME3, but only to a limited point. They’re not very interested in providing actual plot branching. Most of what happens in ME3 happens in all possible playthroughs, it just includes different characters. If Mordin’s dead when you start ME3, the game is functionally identical save for a newly introduced Salarian (the name for placeholder characters like him back in Baldur’s Gate day was “Biff the Understudy”). If Legion died or was never activated, you get a Legion VI, on and on. In most cases the only variability is in the spoken voice lines. Decisions and consequences don’t change.

      This is mostly an issue because it constitutes the second Bioware game to really do this, after Dragon Age 2. ME3 is leagues better than DA2 in just about every way,* but it’s still got a certain amount of plot rigidity that’s a bit worrying.

      There are only two really well-done instances of plot variance in the game that I can find, one big and one small. The larger one is on Tuchanka. If you killed Wrex in ME1, he’s replaced in ME3 by his brother Wreave, who is NOT functionally identical to Wrex, mostly because he’s a typical bloodthirsty Krogan without Wrex’s notions of honor or optimism about a peaceful future for the species. Thus when Wrex is dead, the entire context of curing the genophage changes. Without Wrex to appeal to their better nature, there’s no reason to assume the Krogan wouldn’t overrun the galaxy again after the reapers are defeated. Wreave all but promises that this will happen.

      If Wreave is in charge of the Krogan, and if Eve dies because the rogue salarian researcher’s data on the genophage was deleted, then you can convince Mordin to let you sabotage the cure. This is the only possible circumstance in which Mordin can survive the game, because it’s the only circumstance in which curing the genophage is not clearly the right thing to do. In that case, the genophage is serving its intended purpose – protecting the galaxy. So by making certain choices you make something possible that was not otherwise possible. There’s nothing else in ME3 that matches this (if that sort of thing interests you, you’d be better off just playing Alpha Protocol). 

      The smaller instance of variance has to do with Kai Leng’s assault on the Citadel (btw, Leng is a really, really shitty character with ridiculous plot armor. He sucks and is a terrible Image comics reject). There are three possible ways it can play out. If Thane lived from ME2 to ME3, and you visit him in the hospital in the first part of the game, he will show up and foil Leng’s attempt to assassinate the council, getting mortally injured in the process. If Thane is dead (or he’s alive and you never contacted him) BUT you saved the Salarian commando Kirrahe in the assault on Saren’s base in ME1, he will show up and foil the assassination before dying. If both Thane and Kirrahe are dead, then the surviving party member from ME1 (Ashley or Kaidan) foils the assassination and dies.

      In that instance, there’s quite a bit of variability in who dies but someone always has to die. It’s pretty cool (especially if you play the game just once) but it’s still, for all intents and purposes, a linear sequence.

      Really I think the game would’ve been a lot better if we simply had the option to kill Kai Leng as soon as he appeared. Guy added nothing to the game.

      *For some reason, they instituted save game importing from DA1 but never checked any flags, so you might play DA1 having murdered Leilana and Zevhran (sp?), only to see them show up in DA2 alive and well and talking about things that never happened. Bioware essentially settled on a canon storyline that cannot change between games, which kind of defeats the purpose of making it a series, but whatever.

      • dreadguacamole says:

          The lack of branching in 3 actually didn’t bother me that much, since the whole game is a pretty exhilarating rush to the ending. I imagine that would change on a second playthrough, but the payoffs to everything you did before worked for me just fine. I don’t even mind that these payoffs basically stop before the last percentile, for the same reason.
         Now, if that last percentile wasn’t so utter shit, and more importantly (for me), if the fucking multiplayer wouldn’t factor into it…
         Mass Effect 3 is a pretty great game, even when you factor in sidequests or the ending. But I’d be lying if I said that these things haven’t kind of overshadowed how great it was; that’s a huge problem with finishing on a bum note.

         And Dragon Age 2… what a weird little misfire. It reeks of a hurried, under-baked cash grab, but it then manages to have a lot of quirks and offbeat design choices that almost make it worthwhile. My personal feeling is that the writers had a lot of leeway while making it as long as they didn’t ask for too many assets (as most designers and artists being hogged by TOR and ME3). Unfortunately, the short dev cycle didn’t really allow them to cohere their ideas, do choices justice, or tie the plot and characters up in any sort of satisfying manner; in the end, it’s one of the most maddeningly half assed major release I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the major reasons I’ve lost a huge amount of respect for Bioware.

        • AuroraBoreanaz says:

          Yeah, Dragon Age 2 was really disappointing.  Going from a massive, epic story with (for my character) a huge self-sacrifice at the end to rambling around one city dealing with fucking stupid mages that (SPOILERS but who really cares) all either turn into demons or blow parts of the city up was NOT my idea of fun.

      • DwigtKSchrute says:

        Kai Leng is mostly there to give us a boss fight and somebody from Cerberus that we physically meet and who’s not simple cannon fodder.
        But he’s a poor man Bobba Fett and a generic villain with bad lines. If he had some kind of cameo in ME2 before being properly introduced, it would have been a little better but the whole character is flawed anyway.

        • KidvanDanzig says:

          He’s an EU character from the books (a few other show up in ME3 as well), but I recall the designers saying that he was sort of meant to be Shepard’s shadow equal, the “dragon” to The Illusive Man’s crime boss, but he was never actually imposing or threatening, just irritating, especially given that everything that happens to establish his badassery is in cutscenes with Shepard in full-on Cutscene Incompetence mode. 

          Like a lot of other things in the game (especially on replay) he feels crammed in. Anderson plays up how dangerous he is but his fights are generally easy and the writers love him too much to let him be killable, so they give him plot armor and have him easily escape Shepard right until the end.

      • Glen H says:

        There is at least one more plot branch: If Legion doesn’t
        make it into ME3 for whatever reason, or if Tali either dies in ME2 or doesn’t
        become an Admiral, then it becomes either impossible or very difficult to
        reconcile the Geth and Quarians.

        In my play through I used Legion as my vent-runner in ME2 and he got shot in
        the head (despite being loyal!) As a result of that (and maybe other stuff) I
        had to choose to favour either the Quarians or the Geth. I went with the Geth
        and Tali breathed in the air of Rannoch before jumping off a cliff as her
        people died above her. I was very disappointed to discover that while there is
        a get-blind-drunk option there is no take-a-flying-leap-off-the-citadel button.

      • Glen H says:

        Also as far as I know DA save imports do have checked flags. In my game Alistair left the party to become a wandering drunk and sure enough he turned up in the pub as a wandering drunk. Also I killed Zev-whatsit and he never showed up at all.

        I understand Leilana is the sole exception and she will live regardless of what the player does.

    • ihateyoucarlmonday says:

      I really enjoyed the ending, more so than I enjoyed a majority of the game (I liked it but far too much filler). I completely agree with the Tali rage.  I get it that it’s super dorky, but I thought it would have been such an awesome moment after the mission on Rannoch when she removed her mask.  I don’t buy any rationalizations for skimping on that, it was a huge missed opportunity in my opinion. 

      • Drunken Superman says:

        Yes, either reveal it on Rannoch, which works dramatically for either mission outcome, or don’t reveal it at all.  Deleting a couple fingers from a public domain picture and sloppily sticking it into your cabin only under specific circumstances is spectacularly lame.  I didn’t see it during my playthrough, so I’m just pretending it never happened.

        • The_Guilty_Party says:

           Yeah, agreed. The ending rage is undeserved, the Tali rage… I can understand where that’s coming from a lot better.

          Despite perhaps encouraging bad habits, I hope they fix that up in a DLC.

        • Fluka says:

          I don’t give a shit that she was taken from a stock photo per se.  It *is* damn well irritating that she looks like a pretty white lady with some tiny lines and color alterations here and there.  Come on, dudes, even the Asari required more effort than that.

  12. Tragus says:

    I’m very interested in this series; but any chance down the road that you possibly provide some sort of transcripts? Video is really not my thing.

    • John Teti says:

      I’ll take that into account, and we’ll see if it’s feasible. Would an audio-only podcast version be an appealing option?

      • Tragus says:

        Probably not. I understand that transcripts are really labor-intensive, I tried to transcribe a podcast once before for someone and it took way too long. I just read very quickly, and I’m willing to trade the loss of vocal context for getting done faster (and without my attention span wandering off). I just find listening to people talk without being able to talk back very slow. But at least we can interact with you here. :)

        Thanks for taking it into consideration!

  13. The_Asinus says:

    Can I just say that I hate Disqus? I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I couldn’t log in with my AV Club name, and when I tried to reset my password, it apparently didn’t send to any of my emails (and definitely not the one linked with my account on the AV Club). I’m done griping… it’s just weird and annoying.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure I made this account after they started using disqus. I could be mistaken, though. It says that the username is already taken. I know that thsi isn’t the place for this conversation… I’m just…

    • colliewest says:

      Disqus suques. I couldn’t log in at all on Google Chrome.

      On topic(ish) I just started Mass Effect 1 and am spoilerphobic so I was going to skip this article but I got sucked in by the cake. I only get to play games about 5 hours a week and I can’t stick to one thing so I’ll probably have an opinion on this whole ending thing sometime in 2017. At least by then everyone will have calmed down a bit.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      It’s not recognizing line breaks when you submit a comment, which is a big problem if you’re like me and post giant multi-part essays.

      • John Teti says:

        Hmm. Which browser are you on?

        I’m seeing your line breaks just fine on this end, so I’ll look into this.

        • KidvanDanzig says:

          I’m using a chrome variant (Rockmelt). You’re not seeing them at present because I edited them in! Fwiw, it didn’t happen on my last post (the one on politics / tech) but all my other unconscionably huge comments had multiple paragraphs collapsing into one another.

    • Raging_Bear says:

      It gave me (and, it looks like, about everyone) the same business. I’ve sent a message to their support to see if I can use the tidier, pre-merge version of my name with no underscore.

      But, eh. I don’t comment in enough places to be all that bothered, or to have any other system to compare it to. I still think editing and html tags more than make up for the occasional hiccup.

      Although I do wish they could at least cope with spaces in the username. Underscores are just so tacky.

      • The_Asinus says:

        I *have* to think that I made the “Asinus” account on Disqus, but it’s not related to any of my commonly rotated passwords. Maybe I’ll figure it out…

      • The_Guilty_Party says:

         For some reason I can be underscore-less on the avclub, but not on the official disqus account. It’s weird.

        • Raging_Bear says:

          So I sent them a pretty detailed message to the effect of “I can’t change my username in the usual way in my account settings, probably because of this, but maybe because of this. Is there anything I can do?” And I just got a reply to the effect of “Changing your name? You can do that in the profile tab of your account settings!” (which seems to refer to the full name, not the username.)

          So I guess the underscore stays. Is it wrong that getting such a massively stupid response annoys me a lot more than the original problem? Oh well.

          It appears that people who link their facebook pages can have names with spaces, but obviously, if you let people know your real name, that means they can hex you.

        • The_Guilty_Party says:

           @Raging_Bear:disqus, after the sage wisdom of Cookie Monster and Shit McFuckenstein, I’m not sure I could take people seriously if they were just called John or Rebecca.

        • Raging Bear says:

          Ok, so I feel a bit bad for calling that response stupid; apparently you can change your displayed name by entering it as the “Full Name” in the profile tab (and it can even have spaces!).

  14. Thank You John & Evan and everyone behind the scenes of the shoot. It was an honor having your debut episodes filmed in our store.

  15. Marquis Moon says:

    As much as I hate the ending and believe it ruins everything about the franchise, I’m really only posting here because my avatar looks so fucking fantastic in a circle-box rather than the usual square-box.

  16. sledgehammuh says:

    Mild spoilers follow
    I was fine with the ending, personally. Sure, it was a bit of a Deus ex Machina, and I do see valid criticism of that. I’ll let that slide though because I enjoyed the lengthy ride through three great games. People pissed off over the “unhappy” ending of it though… personally I don’t need a happy ending and it did feel all along like a sacrifice would be necessary, or even desirable from a story point of view.

    • Greg Gossett says:

      I don’t think the fact that the ending isn’t happy has much to do with everyone’s dissatisfaction. Trying to avoid spoilers here: If the phrase “work, you damn nag!” brings anything to mind, you’re familiar with another recent major release with a sad ending that enjoyed very positive critical reception.

      The big issue here (for me, at least) is the lack of meaningful consequences from your actions throughout the game and the series. A new, god-like character introduced in the final five minutes of a 100+ hour series presents you with three arbitrary choices, one of which is basically Space Magic, and it’s all the same for everyone provided you’ve picked up enough random trinkets or played five rounds of multiplayer. Contrast that with the situations on Tuchanka (as described by KidvanDanzig above) or on Rannoch, where your past decisions have a major effect on what paths are available.

      All that said, I agree with you that the series has been a great ride overall. There wouldn’t be nearly the amount or intensity of discussion about a lame ending otherwise.

  17. KidvanDanzig says:

    Now that I’m on a computer capable of playing video, I’m gonna comment on the video! Yes!

    Re: ME and outlook on human relations or w/e, I thought it was actually kind of jarring how blatant the meatheaded jingoism was in ME3. I mean it was always sort of there, but not to this extent. Several points throughout the game Shepard or Anderson is all “I DON’T PLAY POLITICS” as though the rest of the galaxy is supposed to just fall into lockstep whenever humanity asks for something. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, bros, but every other race is getting fucked up by the reapers too. It’s never really considered that asking for large contingents of fighting forces to take back earth might be an unreasonable request at that time.

    Re: ME and tech, it’s… neutral, I guess? Supposedly the original draft of ME3 took the series in a decidedly anti-tech direction but it’s already established in ME1/ME2 that the reapers basically left all this far-future tech lying around so that they could “guide” technological development of galactic races over time, essentially fattening up the livestock for slaughter (for reasons that are still unclear). It’s basically a really slow trap. I guess you could say it’s anti-tech, in that sense. 

    Really it’s hard to tackle that question without considering the ending, or rather the “green” ending. The whole final sequence introduces trans-humanist elements to the game apropos of nothing. It’s part of why the finale feels so bizarre / unearned.

    • Fluka says:

      I don’t think the transhumanism came out of nowhere.  We certainly got lots of hints of it in the previous game, what with Harbinger’s quotes about how “We are your genetic destiny” and all that.  And all the discussion of the geth consciousness, their possession of a soul, and EDI’s development as a human being.  And at the Sanctuary lab, when Shepard watches the video logs and wonders how much of her has been rebuilt with implants and whether she is just a very clever VI.  The whole series, particularly ME3, is rife with discussion of the conflict and coexistence of organic and synthetic life, the nature of consciousness and humanity in machines, etc.  Even the Krogan conflict echoes that to a certain extent, with the question of whether the computer models are correct and Krogan biology will result in another massive galactic conflict (the Krogans themselves having been raised up to their current technological state by the Salarians).  So at least thematically, Synthesis as an ending is hardly coming out of left field.

      As to whether or not it’s Space Magic…  Well damn, this is a series where I can play as a space mage who can manipulate things with her mind (plus biotic implants, eezo exposure, blah blah) and use it to throw people through the air or charge into them at near-light speed.  Most science in scifi is usually just magic with some modern physics buzz word thrown in anyway (seriously, as someone who works in a physics field close to cosmology, I have to turn my brain off when they start talking about dark energy and matter).  Consequentially, I’ve long since learned to stop requiring airtight Fake Science in my narratives.  Ending made thematic and emotional sense to me, so I was fine.  Your mileage may vary, of course.

      Oh, except for the Normandy crash landing and my squadmate from the final run getting out.  How the fuck they get back on the ship?  GAME RUINED FOREVER, BIOWARE.  

      • DwigtKSchrute says:

        It’s less transhumanism than the physical fusion that bothers me in the green ending, especially when the Normandy crashes in the jungle. The entire ME saga was about accepting the differences and celebrating diversity. 
        All evolved species had actually something in common: the voice of reason, most of the time embodied by Shepard. That’s what led to unity, even between the Geth and the Quarian. Everybody can share and learn from each other.
        Then, in the Normandy epilogue, every organic gets physically a little synthetic and every synthetic gets a little organic. Even the tree leaves have now a PCB look.

        You did achieve a more perfect union between species and races over the course of three games. And now, you make the synthesis decision that will alter forever the existence of every living being in the galaxy, including everybody you met and interacted with. It’s as if you had successfully fought all your life against racism and prejudice and magically there were no white or black people, just grey ones. Would it be worth it?

        The three choices and the AI embodied in the kid’s image were just unimaginative clichés, if you take away the final scene with the Normandy. The ending is quite disappointing (especially discovering the Reapers motivations). If you keep it, you see that the culmination of everything you had done over the course of three games was allowing Joker to fuck a robot without it being creepy anymore.

  18. Phillip Collector says:

    Everything about Mass Effect 3 was great. Sliding around on sand dunes, meeting new companions along the way and chirping back and forth, making your scarf grow, the thrill of flying through the air, and of course the emotional ending that made the whole game worth it. Oh wait…that’s Journey. Mass Effect 3? Eh…It was okay. 

  19. Captain_Internet says:

    Great discussion. Pity the last minute or so was rubbish etc etc

    The ‘sad child’ thing is well worth pointing out- it was one of the few times when Shepard’s reaction to something was wildly different from mine. If that dopey kid had listened he’d still be alive, plus OH LOOK LOTS OF OTHER PEOPLE ARE DYING TOO

  20. Jason Ulsh says:


    After finally finishing ME3, I realized that the real ending is when you’re sitting there, with Anderson.  The whole shooting match should have gone up in flames right then, lots of explosions, Reapers destroyed, all of your crewmates/acquaintances mourning your passing or just getting on with their lives, showing the consequences of your actions. THE END.

    That would have been perfectly satisfying. Instead, we get a prolonged dream sequence that made zero sense and was totally out of character for the series AND your character (no matter  what kind of character you played).  Why?

  21. GREAT new series

  22. EnderTZero says:

     John, while I really appreciate anyone who examines games with the critical eye they deserve – and I mean criticism in the “artistic interpretation” sense, as opposed to the “it sucks” sense, but really, anyone who first associates criticism solely with things that suck is a Neanderthal and apparently also a video game fan on the internet (I’m looking at you, hateful flamers of Simon Parkin and Abbie Heppe), but I digress – I question your scoffing at core RPG mechanics like resource management and customization.
    Do you seriously think the story is the only important part of Mass Effect 3, or any video game for that matter? I hope your redirection can be attributed to the strictures of a 6-minute video and your desire to focus on the story within the scope of that video, but I will be sorely disappointed in this site if the critical focus eschews gameplay the way you just did. It’d be like a film site that only talked about scripts.
    Gameplay elements are an essential part of the artistic dialogue a game forms with its players, and the idiosyncrasies and evolutions of each genre form their own commentaries on the state of video games without any help at all from those elements of the plot and character progression that exist independently from the gameplay elements. If no one on the site’s staff cares about these things, can examine these things with the eye of experience, then I will regretfully take little merit in any of the postings going live in the future.

    • John Teti says:

      So often I find that when people say, “you didn’t talk about the gameplay,” they mean, “you didn’t talk about the part of the game that I wanted to talk about” — and they implicitly define “gameplay” to fit that sentiment. (One reason I tend to avoid that word.) That seems to be the case here. We talked at length about the ripple effects that your conversation choices can have and the world that you shape by those decisions. If you think that’s not part of the “gameplay” of Mass Effect, then you’re not paying attention.

      Here’s what I said in a nutshell: I find the weapon customization features in Mass Effect to have no perceptible impact on the experience, so I think they’re boring. And I think the planet scanning is dull scutwork. The fact that you call these “core RPG mechanics” does not make them inherently fascinating to me. You’re not engaging in a dialogue here; you’re just slapping labels on stuff and declaring it important.

      Here’s what I didn’t say: “Story is the only important part of Mass Effect 3, or any video game for that matter, and no one on the site’s staff cares about these things.” Nor would I say anything like that. Frankly, I don’t worry too much into dividing the “story” of a game from its “gameplay.” Focusing on that binary makes for stunted readings and superficial insights, because once you spend all that effort putting those things into separate boxes, it gets a lot harder for them to talk to each other. That’s not a great vantage point for a critic as far as I’m concerned. I try to assess the whole work and draw out themes and tendencies that I find interesting, provocative, memorable, etc.

      Your missive about how the details of game design can “form their own commentaries on the state of video games” is a familiar one that has always struck me as sheltered and unambitious. I’m so tired of reading game criticism that uses video games as a way to talk about video games. It ends up cycling through the same conversations over and over again, caught in an Ouroboros of meaning. That’s one of the reasons I started this site. I believe that art speaks to something greater than itself. By analyzing play, we can gain insight into culture, politics, the human experience. I want to write criticism that attempts to do that. Yes, of course, assessing the state of the art form is an important part of that process. It’s not, however, the endpoint of the conversation as far as I’m concerned.

      Re: “I will regretfully take little merit in any of the postings going live in the future.” Was this a bit of self-parody?

      • EnderTZero says:

        I apologize for latching onto “gameplay” as a more specific term than it is. Gameplay mechanics is perhaps more accurate, but what I don’t want to do is to fall into a debate about semantics. You understood what I was going for, whether or not you took offense or rolled your eyes at how I said it, and that’s all I need I suppose. My concerns run less to how mechanics are used in a critical or interpretative process as a whole, and is instead more a generic concern. I don’t want to say that weapon customization makes ME3 a better or more impactful game, but the argument can be made that it does in fact make it a more solid RPG, because inventory management and teambuilding are important traditions to the genre.

         I also don’t wish to enshrine any of the moving parts of a game in the cloak of “art.” Calling something art in the first place is only ever a pretense for interpreting it in a critical framework, but usually people (not you, it seems from your post) use the term to imply that a given work is separate not only from utilitarian function but also from outside scrutiny. Art is the product of an auteur, they say, and therefore too deep and too subjective to that person’s vision for us to examine it in any useful way. That isn’t art, that’s the opposite of art. Art exists to be talked about, to reflect culture, to be compared with like objects and possible inspirations.

        That being said, what I’d like to see is not the separation of the parts of the game, boxing and labeling and such, but a more nuanced inspection of what the game does. Let’s take for example two dissimilar games: Bioshock and Pokemon. At the deepest level, both games are exactly the same: You are given a world to traverse through, obstacles to beat, and tools to beath them with. That’s the core of any game, as I’m sure you could just as well tell me, but I’d like to provide first principles for my argument, I guess. Bioshock, I would argue, is a much more self-contained experience.  Prior knowledge for the game is limited to things like “how to distinguish an enemy character” and “how one weapon compares to the others in terms of accuracy, damage output, and added utility.” These are not obtuse concepts, and are also not important to the story. But they do separate the game’s experience from that of, say, a movie. Though the mechanics in ME3 are more formalized, more faithful to generic concerns of the RPG, they function in the same way. The game doesn’t lose its emotional impact without the mechanics, but it is a less absorbing experience, at least for me. Because I like RPGs. I like building an effective team, choosing a skillset that complements my playstyle, making the protagonist personal in combat as well as in the story.

        Pokemon, on the other hand, doesn’t have a notable story as a hook. The plot and the characters aren’t much more than background, ultimately forgettable, and the game’s core is much more unabashedly centered in its mechanics. And yet it merits just as much of an emotional investment. Its impact arises from the connection a player has with the team he or she chooses (a connection that is much easier to create with something like a Nuzlocke run), from a David Jaffe-approved player-created story. Is this impossible in a story-driven game? Certainly not. Are the presence of mechanics like weapon customization essential to create connections like this? Absolutely, I think, and I think any holistic examination of a video game has to include a look at the way that it’s constructed as well as the story it tells.

        In conclusion, I’d like to point you, and anyone else who has deigned to read the book I just wrote, to a manifesto of sorts that I’ve really taken to heart: Robert Yang’s Level With Me. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already seen it John, but I want to include it as a part of where my thoughts on video games lie.

      • This is why I’m really excited about this site. Few video game critics have the capacity to discuss games on an artistic/thematic level. Building a serious critical architecture for assessing games on their artistic merits won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.