Thursday, April 05, 2012

Mass Effect 3 DLC Epilogues Announced


Bioware announced today that they will be adding a new DLC extended ending to Mass Effect 3. This extending ending will add new cinematic sequences and epilogues for those looking for further closure to Shepard’s story. Any combat? No. Do we get to kill Harbinger? No. Does the Normandy crew get saved? No. Do we get to live happily ever after with our love interest? No. Do our choices matter? No. The only thing this DLC will do is explain the ending. Wow. That’s it? Good to know you were listening Bioware. If you were listening, you would know that clarification is not what we needed. We needed a real ending that fits consistently with Mass Effect and its lore. Clarification will not work, and this is why.

The Final Battle

In case you don’t know, let me give you a brief rundown. Mass Effect has been a trilogy of games that have emphasized choice, individual freedom, and player empowerment. You are Commander Shepard, and throughout the trilogy, you the player force Shepard to make difficult choices that have an impact on the story as it moves through it three chapters. Imagine it like this: Mass Effect is a movie. Bioware represents the writers and producers. They have a story in place and have already built the sets, filled out the cast, and have everything they need to execute the greatest sci-fi epic ever. They just need a director. We, the players, are the director and we get to cast the main character and shape his personality throughout the trilogy. Mass Effect 3 is where it all comes to an end. Sort of…

So here we are, at the end of the story, and therefore the end of an era. Shepard leads his massive army of thousands, maybe even millions of ships to duke it out with the Reapers, ancient immortal space machines bent on destroying all organic life in the galaxy. It’s us versus them, man versus machine and this will be the final battle of our time. If the Reapers win, the extinction of all organic life in this cycle is complete and will begin anew 50,000 years from now, but if we win, our civilization has a chance to live on and experience the very tomorrow every race before us has fought to achieve. The stakes are at the absolute highest in the history of trilogy, and the tension is so thick you can practically cut through it with a knife. So why then is the final climactic battle so… dull?

In ME1, we had one Reaper and only a handful of human ships to fend off the Reaper invasion. The climactic battle for the Citadel was one of the most epic and thrilling moments in the entire game. ME2 lowered the stakes slightly. Instead of fighting for the future of all races, we were just fighting for humanity. However, with the very real threat of dying during the climactic suicide mission, and the battleground taking place on the enemy’s home turf, ME2 end battle turned out to be even more exciting and thrilling than ME1’s. It is actually quite a phenomenal feat to achieve considering the smaller scale of the battle in comparison to ME1’s. ME3 is similarly phenomenal in the sense that it is literally the biggest battle we will ever see in a video game, with everything on the line, and yet, it somehow manages to not only be the most boring mission in ME3, but also the most boring mission in the entire trilogy. Typically, you want your last battle to be the most memorable battle in the story. ME3’s final battle was surprisingly bland, uninspired and uncreative. When a battle against thousands upon thousands of nearly invincible Reapers fighting against an army of literally every race in the galaxy is dwarfed by ME2’s climax involving only a dozen specialists against a few hundred peons, something is dreadfully wrong. Tell me how a cut scene and an epilogue can fix this, because I would really like to know.

Fans want to earn their victory. We want the satisfaction of knowing that what we did mattered. We want a final battle that showcases our hard work and effort. You did it in Mass Effect 2. If we didn't get the armor upgrade, Jack was toasted. If we sent Garrus into the vent, he got his face blasted off (one missile too many I guess). If we didn't have Mordin's loyalty, he was probably going to die. You did this throughout ME3, why did you pick the epic climactic battle to cheap out? Our only objective was get to the beam. You should have had the squadmates take an active role in the end. Perhaps you are being swarmed by husks, and the only way to make it to the beam is for someone to hold them off. If you have Garrus he volunteers and successfully holds the enemies off (if you got his loyalty in ME2). If Garrus died in ME2, Vega would step in and die fending off the horde. Have a team of asari vanguards pull our ass out of tricky situation. Have a wall of krogan charge a brute. Show us that what we did mattered! But most off all, we wanted to kick Harbinger's ass. We should have the chance to fight and kill him. An epilogue and a cutscene is no replacement for gameplay.

Pick a Color

This of course brings us to the end choices. I’m not going to go into a huge explanation as to what happens, because I’m sure you’ve already done it. Shepard seems to have overcome nearly all of the obstacles that prevent from destroying the Reapers. Suddenly, Shepard is transported to some heavenly area where he speaks with this ghostly child-looking entity telling Shepard that the Reapers were the creation of this “Star Child.” He created the Reapers to prune the galaxy of all organic life because organics will always create synthetic machines that will eventually rebel against organics. By killing all organics with his synthetics, he prevents organics from being killed by synthetics. No really. He says this.

So the Star Child’s motivations make no sense. Big deal. He’s the bad guy so he does not necessarily need to make sense. He just needs to be killed like the bad guy he is. There’s only one problem with that scenario. There is an implication that the Star Child is not necessarily the bad guy. In fact, the implication seems to be that Commander Shepard is the bad guy. The Reapers are doing their job, and this Star Child seems to performing a civil service to the galaxy as a whole. According to him, we need to be extinguished because organic life only destroys. He’s not wrong. We human beings are very destructive at times. But then again, he is also being hypocritical. Shepard probably should tell the Star Child that he is a massive hypocrite and extremely narrow minded. After all, the Geth, a synthetic race that once rebelled against their creators are presently helping Shepard and co. rid the galaxy of the Reapers. While the Star Child was accurate when he said that “The created will always rebel against their creators,” he seemed to miss the part where the created also made peace with the creators. My Shepard would tell the Star Child this and reject his reality. Does he? Nope. He listens quite intently and believes the little twerp. He doesn’t question the Star Child’s insane, circular logic. He doesn’t point out the obvious fallacies in his words. No Shepard just goes along with what this ghostly toddler says.

Finally, the Star Child presents Shepard with three color coded choices. Option blue is become a Reaper, which is so anti-Shepard it’s not even funny. In fact, this is so against the morals and ideals of Commander Shepard, regardless of whether you are a Paragon or a Renegade, that it is beyond logic to include such an option in the first place. The theory is that if Shepard becomes a Reaper, he will be able to control the other Reapers and send them away, allowing the galaxy to live on until they return once again in 50,000 years. So basically, he’s telling you to surrender. You surrender yourself and allow the Reapers to escape to return to reap again another day. Of course to become a Reaper, Shepard needs to die because it’s not art if the hero lives. Next we have the Green Option, synthesis. This basically means that Shepard can choose to create a hybrid race of synthetic/organics, preventing all future wars because we will all be the same race and therefore have no quarrel with each other. Just like how it is on Earth now. We’re all humans and we never fight each other ever. The Alliance and Cerberus, both human organizations, never fight each other right? And the geth never fought each other for any reason either right? Turians and the Unification War, Wrex against the traditionalists among the krogan, the asari and that whole pure blood dilemma… These are civil wars being fought between the same races. Obviously we just need to synthesize them into one species to put an end to all these inter-species civil wars. I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! Anyways, if you choose synthesis you must melt yourself down and spread your essence to the new synthesized race, killing you because it’s not art if the hero lives. Option Red destroys the Reapers, which seems like the right call considering the entire trilogy has been leading to that very end. However, destroying the Reapers will also destroy all synthetic life, including the recent allies, the Geth and your AI buddy, EDI. The result will also kill Shepard because he is partially synthetic due to his extensive cybernetic implants used to revive him in ME2. Now the quarians have the same level of cybernetic work done on them, but they should be fine because they aren’t Shepard. And Shepard needs to die because it’s not art if the hero lives.

Now, the obvious option is kill the Reapers. Look if you chose joining the Reaper or synthesizing all life in the galaxy, you simply weren’t paying attention to the story. Shepard’s number one goal is to kill the Reapers. Whether you are a Paragon or a Renegade, the goal is always the same. Harbinger wanted to turn you into a Reaper in ME2, so by choosing that option, you will play right into their hands. Synthesis is essentially turning the galaxy into husks. Did you fight the Cannibals during the story or ME3? That was a race of human/batarin/robot hybrids. Sounds like synthesis to me. Does that sound like a fate that you want? Me neither. Either way, your choice doesn’t really matter. Regardless of your favorite color, Shepard dies, the mass relays explode, the galaxy is stranded in a Fallout 3 scenario, and your fellow companions, including your Shepard’s love interest, are stranded on an uncharted world where they can rebuild and repopulate. Yeah that’s right. Your love interest is going to need to become a baby farm for the future. Bioware is nothing if not classy.

Everything about this just wrong. All three of these choices betray the themes of Mass Effect. The themes of Mass Effect have always been individuality, unity, altruism, sacrifice and freedom. Though all of these choices represent sacrifice, none of the other themes chose to join the party. Not that it matters what you choose, everyone dies in some way no matter what. Out of curiosity, has anyone ever seen a movie where the entire universe died? No? Huh. I wonder why that is…

It continues to get worse when you look at your three options and begin to evaluate how achieving these ends is even possible. What exactly is the purpose of destroy as an option? You think that the destroy option would be summed up by Shepard sitting down in front of the Star Child indignantly and saying, “Taste the wrath of army bitch!” Why is there a tube on the Citadel that destroys all Reapers after it gets blown up? What kind of sense does that make? Perhaps you are merely shooting a lock that opens the Citadel doors so that Hackett can take the Crucible and use it against the Reapers. That makes sense right? No it doesn’t make sense because the doors open, the Crucible fires and all mass relays are destroyed in every single ending regardless of your choice. On the topic of the Mass Relays, how the hell does killing the Reapers equate to destroying the Relays? Because they created the Relays? But if that’s true, why is it that all synthetic life is destroyed in the process? How is any of this possible? This makes no sense.

What about Control? This one actually makes the most sense, believe it or not. Being that the Citadel was built by the Reapers, as was the Collector Station, we can infer by way of inductive reasoning that the Citadel has the ability to melt down organics and transfer their essence or soul or whatever into a Reaper or Catalyst or whatever. The Collector Station could do this, so why not the Citadel? However, once the Reapers are under Shepard’s control and forced out of the system, we have one issue. Why do we need to use the Crucible? The job is done, the Reapers are defeated, and yet, the Crucible is still used, effectively destroying the Citadel (which means Shepard dies too, being that he is now the Catalyst) and the Reapers are still destroyed. Why bother adding Control as a choice at all? The Reapers are still killed by the Crucible, the Catalyst still blows up, and the galaxy is still fucked. Control literally has the exact same outcome as destroy, so why bother including it?

What about synthesis? Well the theory behind synthesis is that if Shepard is melted down and his essence is spread to all races in the galaxy, organic and synthetic alike, it will create a hybrid race that will never be at war with each other ever again. I already pointed out the fallacy in believing that just because you are one race, that means you will forever be at peace, but an even more damning question remains. How the fuck is this even possible? If the Reapers can turn people into other Reapers using the Citadel, it makes sense they could synthesize an individual using the same tech. After all, synthesis is basically the same as turning people into Husks. But could someone please explain to me how in the name of God distributing the essence of one guy can somehow turn organics into half machines? I can somewhat see how it may work to turn synthetics partially organic. You take the organic genetic code from Shepard and fuse it with a synthetic and viola, hybrid race! It’s stupid and the means of dispersing this essence to all synthetics makes less than zero sense, but I can see it as a possibility. But if I combine Shepard’s organic essence to other organics, what exactly is accomplished? How can you make a hybrid organics/synthetic being with only organic genes? You would think you are missing a key ingredient here. Of course, ME3’s ending was designed to be bittersweet, but they left out a key ingredient here as well. Bioware just can’t cook, I guess. This whole portion of the ending can in no way make sense at all, even with highly descriptive epilogues. Fail.

Closure? Too Mainstream

No matter how you slice it, Mass Effect 3 is incomplete. When you write a story there is a method that really should be followed, no matter what story you are trying to make. This is called story structure, which is a fundamental rule set of writing a complete story. It doesn’t matter if you are writing an action story or a comedy, the story structure is the same. It is up to the writer to adapt the story structure to fit the needs of the particular genre. Every story has an introduction, rising action, climax, etc. The problem with Mass Effect 3 is that it has no denouement. The denouement is the point in the story where all remaining questions are answered, all loose ends are tied up and everything comes to a full and complete close. A perfect example of a text book denouement is ironically from Bioware itself. Dragon Age Origins had a perfect denouement. During the Coronation, Alistair becomes king (or maybe he doesn’t) and every major character tells you where they are going and how the story has changed them. You as a player can decide what direction your character heads in. It wraps up every character and plot point relevant to the story. It is a near perfect denouement in video game form. Also notice that Dragon Age had both a denouement and epilogues. Why? An epilogue is not a denouement, that’s why. Mass Effect 3 has no denouement, and from the sounds of things, it won’t be adding one. It has no closure. It leaves everything wide open and makes the players feel like nothing has been accomplished. The story does not end. It simply stops. It is incomplete. No epilogue can fix this, because a text epilogue is not a part of the story. Not really.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Another issue I have is that Shepard’s goal is changed in the last minute. The entire trilogy up to this moment has not been to stop the reapers. The goal was to save the galaxy. Destroying the Reapers is merely the means of achieving that goal. However, the ending makes sure that the galaxy is destroyed no matter what. Sure the next cycle can live on without the threat of a Reaper invasion, but Shepard was never fighting for them. He was fighting for this cycle, for humans, turians, asari, drell, elcor. He wasn’t fighting for the future of organics he was fighting for the future of his civilization. He fails. The galaxy is destroyed. That is why players keep saying the felt like Shepard lost, because he did. His mission was to save this galaxy, not the next. He failed to do so. Shepard lost the war with the Reapers, he just happened to take them down with him (sometimes). Sure, an epilogue could say that the galaxy is fine and still alive, but that simply introduces retcons and plot inconsistencies with the effects of a Mass Relay explosion, which is something that has already been retconned. Are you going to retcon the Relays in each game? Is that really making things better?

Finally, the biggest sin Mass Effect 3’s ending commits is the fact that Bioware changes the rules on us in the last few minutes. When the Citadel blows up, it creates a giant singularity black hole thing that sucks the Normandy through and transports them, in all likelihood to either an alternate reality or an extremely distant galaxy, maybe even a new one created from the white hole the destruction of an entire galaxy would create. What? Sense when are black holes, alternate realities and intergalactic travel through time and space possible in Mass Effect? To this point we have only dealt with interstellar travel (interstellar meaning between stars) not intergalactic travel (between galaxies). Bioware changed the rules of the universe and how it works in the last few minutes of the game. I remember Bioware talking in their behind the scenes footage about how they spent the first year of development discussing what is possible and what is not in the ME IP. Concepts like time travel, alternate realities and intergalactic travel were abandoned early in the process. When you saw the Normandy is swallowed by the black hole, you were also witnessing the betrayal of the IP that is Mass Effect. The rules of the universe were turned upside down and altered for reasons that are as of right now, completely unknown. This cannot be changed and the damage will forever stain the franchise. This was Bioware’s biggest mistake in Mass Effect 3, one that almost certainly serves as a starting point for Mass Effect 4. Selling out your trilogy in favor of more money? Show me the artistic integrity in that.

In Conclusion...

In the final 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3, the story retroactively abolishes all of the themes of the entire trilogy, feebly attempting to rewrite its own history while simultaneously destroying what we loved about the franchise. All the good deeds Shepard has done are erased. All of the hard choices he’s made are invalidated. The entire story of Mass Effect is rendered meaningless because it turns out that the story had no meaning. How can simple cut scenes and useless epilogues fix the fact the end of Mass Effect 3 rendered the entire trilogy meaningless? How do you intend to sell DLC with this ending in place? Bioware chose to double down on their pathetic excuse for an ending, hiding behind artistic integrity. Well I’m a writer too, and in my professional opinion, Mass Effect’s 3’s ending compromises the artistic integrity of the Mass Effect story. I find the game’s ending to be an insult to the art form that is writing. Maybe I’m not a great writer. I’m young and I am still learning, but I know the fundamentals of writing. I know how a good story ends. Claiming artistic integrity for an ending that nullifies the entire story is offensive to the art of writing. Artistic integrity you say? Please. Mass Effect 3’s ending is where artistic integrity goes to die. Bioware, this extended cut ending was a bad move. Doing nothing would have been a wiser strategy. This situation will now continue to get worse. You should have listened to your fans, like you said you would. I know you're trying Bioware, but sometimes I wonder who are trying to impress. Is this Extended Cut meant for the loyal consumer base you alienated with your uninspired ending? Or is this just a PR stunt designed to make the fans look unreasonable in the eyes of the public? I guess we'll wait and see.

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