One Last look at Mass Effect 3.

Machine Man 1992

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As the year winds to a close (and if the Mayans were right the world, too), I think it'll be a good exercise to look back at the one of the biggest stories ever in the history of video games: The Mass Effect 3 Debacle.

I have my own issues with Mass Effect 3, besides the craptacular endings and the internet fights it created. I thought the plot was simple and uninspired (even by Bioware standards), The Crucible was a blatant Deus Ex Machina to the overarching plot, Cerberus went from "Space Illuminati" to The Empire from Star Wars with little to no explanation, TIM is completely bonkers to detriment of the plot, Liara is shilled relentlessly, other characters either prove to be completely useless, annoying, or just plain creepy (here's looking at you EDI). Gameplay feels gutted and half-finished, with a distinct lack of polish. One button does not need to control running, rolling, taking cover, leaving cover, vaulting over cover, and activating a thing. There's little of the gameplay variation from the last games; no hacking minigames, no giant vehicle rampages, and sidequests that are the very definition of tacked on. Fights are very unimpressive and boring, and the Atlas stealing gameplay element is utterly superfluous. And lest I forget the galaxy at war bullshit that required I play multiplayer to see the best ending, effectively damaging the singleplayer with the multiplayer.

The fan reaction to the endings was something have never seen before, and probably will never see again. There are so many different accounts and spins on the story, I could write a book on it. It seems the most common thread was that, since Bioware has been good about listening to it's fans that its claims to hold in high regard, it wouldn't be too unreasonable to ask Bioware not end their story on the possible collapse and extinction of all galactic society. And yet they were mysteriously silent during those opening shots. When it came time to address the people, Bioware released a rather calculated and very PR speak laden response, injecting the "artistic integrity" buzzword into the discussion. Fans got louder and more organized, forming Retake Mass Effect, to provide a unified front to the cause. But of course, with every movement comes inevitable detractors; IGN and Kotaku came down firmly on the side of Bioware in the name of "artistic integrity", and felt the best way to establish themselves as morally in the right, was to call everyone who even slightly agreed with the goal of Retake "whiny" "entitled" "babies" and that by being "whiny" and "entitled" they were "damaging the medium" and making harder for "games to be taken seriously".

Of course, anyone who called out IGN and Kotaku for using ad hominem and slippery slope fallacies as silencing tactics, especially in light of their quite obvious conflicts of interest (see: the boatload of ads for the game that plastered every available inch of their webpages), were unceremoniously lumped in with the whiners. The reviews for the game seemed to imply that the big journalist sites never even finished the game, as they contained no mention of the ending, and if they did, was a noncommittal "Some people may not like it" or "it's not for everyone". Even our illustrious Bob Chipman got in the act, with not one, not two, but THREE whole episodes (Crass Effect, After Mass, and Mutants and Masses for The Big Picture), of him reaffirming every negative trait and stereotype he has. Little to no research or even playing the entire game, it's no wonder the backlash he received is second only to Heavens to Metroid.

Long story short, Bioware hedged their bets; there's no way they could back out and actually change the endings after the shit that went down, so they settled for making the same shit ending longer, with the Extended Cut, which bumped the quality of the endings from abysmal to merely "meh".

This was a fight that would have been interesting to watch, if the game and the backlash hadn't killed my will to involve myself into anything Mass Effect related. But I'm more interested in hearing your take on it, Escapists. What did you think of this whole fiasco? If you could go back and change something, what would it be? Were Bioware right to compromise and just extend the endings, or are they scum who don't really care about their fans? Did EA have anything to do with it? Do you have your own problems with the game? I want to know.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This thread is not about attacking anyone's views on the ending. If you liked the endings, then power to you, man. You're getting something out of it that I didn't. But DO NOT start throwing around "entitled" or "whiny"; I've had enough of that bullshit during the actual event, we don't need more of the same. This is supposed to be a semi-civilized discussion. Also, it's taken as a given that the endings as they were, were full of plot holes and circular logic-- we don't need to be reminded of that.
 

crazyrabbits

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Machine Man 1992 said:
The fan reaction to the endings was something have never seen before, and probably will never see again. There are so many different accounts and spins on the story, I could write a book on it.
I agree. Back in the early days of the backlash, I said on another board that this was the biggest gaming debacle I'd witnessed since Daikatana, and some fanboys jumped on me for the comment. It's 9 months later, and the movement is still nearly as strong as it was at the beginning.

I mean, Daikatana got a lot of shit pre-release due to the advertisements and hype, and the final product was merely trash with little hope of succeeding. The backlash for ME3 started even before the game's original release date, with the leaks of the script and game code, coupled with the other then-recent controversies Bioware weathered. It went to a level I never thought possible - I was reading articles in Forbes and The New Yorker chewing out Bioware for its horrible treatment of the fanbase and their franchise.

The EC seemed to mollify a segment of the fanbase, but if the sales numbers for their recent DLC (and compilation) releases are any indication, they've lost a giant chunk of their hardcore fans. One user I know of on another forum (HoldTheLine) is a consumer analyst for a U.S. company, and mentioned something to the effect that the "Mass Effect" brand has lost somewhere north of 35% of its consumer confidence (and has resulted in the Bioware forums being a virtual ghost town). The age range for the games now skews much, much younger than it did a year ago. If I'm to understand that EA was going for the "CoD" market, they miscalculated.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the ME3 debacle is going to be a case study in marketing/PR classes years from now. I'm not even going to touch the day-one DLC/anime/artistic integrity controversies.
 

Akarezik

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You know, I thought I had moved on from the whole debacle, but then my latest issue of GameInformer named ME3 their GOTY, and all those old wounds I thought had healed bubbled back to the surface, with all the feelings and emotions that accompanied them:

The disappointment after my first full clear, when I couldn't (or didn't) want to believe what I had just seen;

The desperate, futile hope that it was all some meta-game thing that would leave us all speechless when they unveiled the "true" ending;

The indignation and rage I felt when critics and reviewers I thought were above biases (silly me) all fell down firmly on EAware's side;

The odd sense of vindication when news article from outside the gaming press started popping up grilling said reviewers for their actions;

And finally, a sense of apathy and pity for Bioware when I came to terms with the fact that only a retcon in ME4, if there ever is one set after ME3, could at least partially change the horrifying mess that they now had to work with, into something manageable.

You asked me what I think about the whole deal, and I'll tell you: It was an eye-opener for me. I now ALWAYS wait a few days for the hype to wear off from a game before considering a purchase, I take paid reviews with a HUGE dose of salt now, and my apathy for Mass Effect has partially bled over into my gaming habits, but in a much more positive way that would take far too much time to explain. Bottom line, I'm a much happier, wiser person than before because of it, but like a scar you get from a near-fatal injury, I'll never forget the pain it caused me when it happened.
 

Karoshi

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I tried to convince myself that game was OK, that ending was bearable and that it wasn't that bad. Only several weeks or almost months later, I looked at it and admitted "Yes, ME3 was shit." It was a relief to speak the truth, but still hurt.

There hasn't been a single game which I have looked forward to as much as to ME3. I could have built a shrine to it, I was 100% convinced that it would completely blow my mind and be much better than ME2. And then? I'm not completely sure what went wrong. Perhaps it's the lack of choice, of new characters and new plot lines. Perhaps it's the execution.

In my opinion, the ending was't bad in the traditional sense. As far as story-telling goes, it was somewhat unplausible but still jusftifiable. Biggest problem is, it made me distrust the whole universe, as if I suddenly saw that it was made out of tissue paper. One snort and it will break. Suddenly, I didn't care.

I don't even care how EA or Bioware handled things. Not much they could have done for me. I just wish they would do better next time, but I don't believe them anymore.
 

Joccaren

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Well, for one I'm pretty sure the Mayan's never said the world was going to end, someone just noticed that their calender did and forgot how you use calenders, but OT: It was the biggest shitstorm I've ever seen, and even now I still occasionally get into discussions. About mid year at the gaming conventions around here it was the game you did not mention, and now its just a case of "You played ME3?", "Yeah", "The endings were shit weren't they?", "Yup".
Bioware did the best they could, but they had backed themselves into too much of a corner and really couldn't recover. I lost interest in Mass Effect as a whole, and only now am starting to feel like playing the original again. The third will never re-appear on my harddrive, and 2 has about a 50/50 chance at this point.
And yes, EA did have something to do with this, directly or indirectly. As their publishers I'd actually be kind of worried if they had nothing to do with it TBH.
 

Kopikatsu

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I'm extremely disappointed that the Indoctrination theory wasn't what they went with. I mean...Bioware actually went and set everything up so perfectly...

 

Eclectic Dreck

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Kopikatsu said:
I'm extremely disappointed that the Indoctrination theory wasn't what they went with. I mean...Bioware actually went and set everything up so perfectly...
That theory relies on various details that are easily dismissed; the only way that argument got any traction on such scant evidence is because people wanted a deeper ending than they got. I've made my own feelings clear on the subject of the ending elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the indoctrination theory isn't even remotely consistent with everything else in the game.

That said, the reaction to the end still gets me. Unprecedented levels of disgust, argument, wailing and gnashing of teeth following an end to a story that objectively isn't actually that bad. Where was that response to things like Halo 3? Or Gears of War? Or Assassin's Creed 3? Or any of dozens of other games that have stories that are at least as big a cop out ad what you see in Mass Effect? These were all mega-popular titles with enormous fan bases. There was something special about Mass Effect.

My own theory is simply this. With the whole "Choice Matters" focus of the series you buy greater personal investment in the story. This alone makes you more likely to reject an ending you don't like in a rather extreme way. Couple that with a recent history of poor decisions by Bioware including making the latest WoW clone, producing a sequel that discarded much of what made people like the original (Dragon Age 2), making divisive mechanical changes to a beloved game (Mass Effect 2) and you have a group prone to arguing over the latest thing Bioware did. Finally, you have the fact that while the ending is objectively not bad (by that I mean it is narratively consistent and at least somewhat thematically consistent - in other words, it is functional and does not explicitly violate either narrative or character traits of NPCs), there is plenty to dislike. Given a body of people predisposed to attachment of the outcome, conditioned to argue at length and and ending in which one can readily find something to criticize, you have conditions sufficient that the debate is widespread and intense enough that it begins to inform the opinions of people forcing the discussion ever more in the negative direction.

On these very boards you can see this trend play out - initially there were posts of "WTF" with agreement or disagreement and lengthy pro and con arguments. Now, 8 months or so later, it is taken as a simple fact that the ending was not only bad, it was so bad as to be an affront to fiction everywhere! Gone forever is the useful debate regarding how it ended up that way, the pros and cons of what happened, all of which were discussions with real merit in favor of simple statements about how terrible the game was.

It is my opinion that most don't end up with such a hyperbolic notion that the last .1% of a thing they loved was so bad that it retroactively ruined their enjoyment of the previous 99.9% without a lot of external influence. Still, I'd like to see an actual study done on the subject. It has all the elements necessary right there all helpfully recorded in millions of posts on publicly accessible forums.
 

Goofguy

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Let's not forget the apparent monopoly Hudson and Walters were running on the ending. Did they really lockout all the other writes in favour of what they deemed to be the best ending to the series?

If anything, their power trip should have bore more scrutiny.
 

Eclectic Dreck

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beef_razor said:
True, but it was still better than the original. And if a conclusion born of angry fan denial was better than what the developers came up with then something is wrong.
I disagree. The indoctrination ending isn't better. The most obvious reason is this is supported by flimsy evidence that can easily be dismissed. Any piece of evidence used to support the theory simply has an alternate explanation that, in most cases, is more plausible. The less obvious reason is that the indoctrination theory is neither narratively nor thematically consistent. The game is based upon the notion that choice matters - to rely upon an ending where your character is robbed of choice not only undermines that theme, it is quite literally the story equivalent of telling players to go fuck themselves. Beyond that, the indoctrination theory undermines everything you've done as a player in the third game by making you a pawn of the Reapers. Finally, there is the fundamental problem that there is no mechanism for long distance indoctrination presented anywhere else in the fiction and Shepard simply did not spend the lengthy amount of time around a Reaper or notable reaper artifacts to justify his indoctrination.

Simply put, if Reapers were so easily capable of force indoctrinating a group, they would not rely so heavily upon force of arms to achieve their ends. Combine that with the myriad other problems with the theory and you'll find that this explanation, if more satisfying intellectually is actually a worse ending simply because it is inconsistent.
 

Shocksplicer

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Machine Man 1992 said:
Even our illustrious Bob Chipman got in the act, with not one, not two, but THREE whole episodes (Crass Effect, After Mass, and Mutants and Masses for The Big Picture), of him reaffirming every negative trait and stereotype he has. Little to no research or even playing the entire game, it's no wonder the backlash he received is second only to Heavens to Metroid.
Careful, I once got a warning for saying what I really think of Bob Chipman, so make sure you're careful what you say about him. ;)

OT: Well, the ending debacle was big enough that, despite the fact that I got the game on release day, I still haven't gotten around to finishing it. (The fact that I was admitted to hospital the day after and stayed there for a week, meaning that I knew all about the shitty ending long before I started the game may have contributed...)
 

Milanezi

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Rain indignation on me, but I loved the ending, I did the fusion thing, by the way.
What I did NOT like was the way they were delivered, like "here, it ends like that, fuck whatever you chose along the way", it didn't matter to me because I enjoyed the endings, but I can relate to SOME people who complained, they had their control over the story stolen from them, and EVEN THOUGH, let's be sincere, unless it's open ended you would get an scripted ending, they could at least have brought the factors that would build the endings from DURING the gameplay, instead of just having the three endings based on ONE SINGLE final act...
 
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Machine Man 1992 said:
Of course, anyone who called out IGN and Kotaku for using ad hominem and slippery slope fallacies as silencing tactics, especially in light of their quite obvious conflicts of interest (see: the boatload of ads for the game that plastered every available inch of their webpages), were unceremoniously lumped in with the whiners. The reviews for the game seemed to imply that the big journalist sites never even finished the game, as they contained no mention of the ending, and if they did, was a noncommittal "Some people may not like it" or "it's not for everyone".
If there was anything good about the whole thing, it was that it outed all the shills and the pseudo-intellectuals in gaming-journalism segment and their contempt for paying costumers and their rights.

And I know, that some day I am going to read something along the lines of "Well, Halo 6 sure had a weird ending, and I guess it not everyone might like it. But, hey! At least it was no Mass Effect 3, amirite guys?!" And it will be written by one of those hacks.

(here's looking at you EDI)
Yeah, what was up with that? It was like someone on the designer team had a fetish for feminine robots, and then just assumed that everybody else in the world had one too.

Kopikatsu said:
Finally, you have the fact that while the ending is objectively not bad
No, it was objectively quite terrible. Introducing a new central question and an unannounced antagonist in the last 10 minutes of a 100+ hour work is a cardinal sin when it comes to storytelling. Not mention the awkward shift in genre and tone.

As I saw the rolling credits of Mass Effect 1 and 2 rolling over my screen, and listened to the swelling, triumphant music, I know I sure as hell didn't think: "Gee, you know what would be a really great ending for this? Walking painfully slowly around while discussing the nature of existence with the leader of my enemy, before submitting to his twisted logic and coming up with an answer to the question of singularity!"
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Machine Man 1992 said:
I have my own issues with Mass Effect 3, besides the craptacular endings and the internet fights it created. I thought the plot was simple and uninspired (even by Bioware standards), The Crucible was a blatant Deus Ex Machina to the overarching plot, Cerberus went from "Space Illuminati" to The Empire from Star Wars with little to no explanation, TIM is completely bonkers to detriment of the plot, Liara is shilled relentlessly, other characters either prove to be completely useless, annoying, or just plain creepy (here's looking at you EDI). Gameplay feels gutted and half-finished, with a distinct lack of polish. One button does not need to control running, rolling, taking cover, leaving cover, vaulting over cover, and activating a thing. There's little of the gameplay variation from the last games; no hacking minigames, no giant vehicle rampages, and sidequests that are the very definition of tacked on. Fights are very unimpressive and boring, and the Atlas stealing gameplay element is utterly superfluous. And lest I forget the galaxy at war bullshit that required I play multiplayer to see the best ending, effectively damaging the singleplayer with the multiplayer.
This petty much sums up my problems with Mass Effect 3. Once I got to the ending I simply didn't care enough to have a strong opinion either way, because Mass Effect 3 had been feeling like a step back from Mass Effect 2 all along (and I personally think ME2 was a step in the wrong direction compared to Mass Effect design-wise). The set pieces were kind of cool, the many variables in the various situations (such as the Geth/Quarian scenario) and how it tied back to previous games were really nice but overall it was a game which didn't really seem as if it could decide whatever it wanted to get even closer to being a shooter or wanted to be more of an RPG or "create your own adventure". The end result was a game that gave me many of the things I wanted in ME2 (more equipment options, more abilities and more choices when leveling up etc.) but also didn't feel like it really had an essence.

I think I just felt ME3 was soulless. Both ME and ME2 had a certain spirit, this feeling that they were games crafted with love and that the developers really wanted to show me this cool universe and everything in it. ME3 felt more like a game that continually shrugged at me and mumbled something like "yeah, this is kind of cool I guess, now come on we've got an ending to catch and another of your save game flags to trigger".
 

Shoggoth2588

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I only just purchased, played and beat Mass Effect 3 so I'm still not ready to (and likely won't) admit to the game or the endings being shit. There are far broader targets when it comes to bad gameplay, bad plot, bad characters, bad motivations, strange motivation, etc. I only just beat the thing yesterday and still seemed to have achieved the best possible ending (all without multiplayer! although according to the fanfic I got the one-notch-down ending from best)

Mass Effect was my favorite 360 game. It was my justification for getting the 360 in a time when it seemed like the PS3 was getting Final Fantasy XIII and...whatever else I don't remember from those days. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the characters, the plot, the gameplay...it was like KotOR only instead of lightsabers, it had well-paced combat. Then ME2 introduced a greater focus on action and is my current least-favorite of the trilogy (until ME4).

I greatly enjoyed Mass Effect 3. I thought it had the best character moments and set-pieces in the series so far. I concede though when I say I hate the end-game presentation. Choose one of these three things (or shoot me). I have yet to be dissuaded from believing the indoctrination theory as well and plan on always taking the 'kill all reapers' red cupcake in all future playthroughs. Indoctrination Theory just makes sense to me...

and it shows Shepard unambiguously taking a breath, indicating that he is still alive. Ghost boy said I'd die!! Take THAT childlike fever-dream vision bastard!! I don't care that Anderson and The Illusive Man died off screen if it validates the Indoctrination theory...then again it doesn't explain why other crew members aren't exhibiting similar symptoms...

I liked weapon modding but couldn't figure out how to upgrade weapons past level 5. I miss the and driving around on planets and moons in the Mako. I understand why the guns need to have ammunition instead of heat-levels though, still prefer the ME1 method of overheating instead of HS-clips. I liked how some levels forced some characters into your party so I could see if I liked EDI or Vega instead of my usual method of grabbing Garrus and Liara (or Varric). The big thing now is waiting to hear if Bioware are going to Wii-Release ME1 and ME2 since they're both on disc, on the PS3. It would be nice to have a true Shepard spanning from 1 to 3.

Also! Blasto. Want that movie to be real please!!
 

BloatedGuppy

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Eclectic Dreck said:
Finally, you have the fact that while the ending is objectively not bad (by that I mean it is narratively consistent and at least somewhat thematically consistent - in other words, it is functional and does not explicitly violate either narrative or character traits of NPCs), there is plenty to dislike.
I disagree. My major issue with the pre-extended cut endings was that they WERE "objectively bad", at least in part because of both narrative and thematic inconsistencies and most particularly because of bizarre behavior on the part of prominent NPCs. Bioware appeared to agree, because much of that was addressed in the extended cut. A lot of it was fairly plonky and at least one segment actually broke the mood and pacing of one of the better sections of the game (the charge for the beam) and turned it into something faintly ridiculous, but at least we were given to understand how people got where they were and why they were doing what they were doing. Which, you know...is a good thing to understand. In a piece of fiction.

Eclectic Dreck said:
It is my opinion that most don't end up with such a hyperbolic notion that the last .1% of a thing they loved was so bad that it retroactively ruined their enjoyment of the previous 99.9% without a lot of external influence. Still, I'd like to see an actual study done on the subject. It has all the elements necessary right there all helpfully recorded in millions of posts on publicly accessible forums.
And I find this to be a problematic rewriting of history as well. I don't even like 99.9% of my favorite game of all time, and I most certainly do not find 99.9% of Mass Effect to be above complaint. Most certainly I do not find 99.9% of the third game to be flawless, which is an absurd statement...much has been written here and elsewhere about myriad flaws that had nothing to do with the ending. It was a workmanlike but somewhat troubled effort that can most charitably be described as "uneven", marrying moments of near-brilliance with occasional rubbish. Even the well loved first and second chapters are not without issues.

But this isn't a question of determining whether or not ME was 75% or 99% strong before it fell at the finish line and died. There is no more essential element to a story than an ending. End it badly, and you HAVE compromised the work as an entire. If at the end of LOTR Frodo woke up in the Shire and it had all been a dream, you'd not be hearing much about those books as classics. Probably the most common charge leveled against the ending presented to us in ME3 is that it turned the entire saga into a shaggy dog story. I don't know if that's entirely true or fair...if you reach, you can find traces of some of the themes they turned to in the 11th hour in some of the DLC and some of the happenings in ME3...but it certainly wasn't narratively or thematically consistent. If it was "functional", it was functional only insomuch as something ended. With a great, wet splutter and a puff of fumes.

I think it's fairly evident that someone...whose name may or may not rhyme with Macy Pudson...had been watching a lot of Moon and Solaris, and decided he didn't really WANT to finish making Star Wars for a new generation, he wanted to Arthur C Clarke that ***** up with some technological singularity and transhumanism. Make him some art! But it's rather like shoehorning the end of the Decalogue onto Die Hard. Rather than a natural conclusion, we're left with a strange atonal lurch. All themes of galactic unity in the face of overwhelming odds, writing the wrongs/healing the wounds of the past, mending fences between disparate people, etc are tossed aside while you chat with a glowing kid (who is also the primary antagonist) about which bizarro ending you want. At least one of which involves the exact horrifying bio-mechanical fusion you've spent the better part of 3 games trying to avert. It is a misread of colossal proportions when it comes to audience expectations.