26 March 2012

The shit I've done... (A Mass Effect 3 rant)

"... Any other soldier would've been tried, court-marshalled and discharged."

I stand there, shocked. The words ring hollowly throughout the room as I do not rise to my own defence.

Unfortunately, my only crime is purchasing Mass Effect 3.

In many ways the big furore over Mass Effect 3 is about the ending and the lack of choice and thematic inconsistency with the previous Mass Effect games. However, I feel that the writing was on the wall as soon as the opening credits rolled on the last instalment of the trilogy.

Confused at this turn of events, my mind races back over everything that's happened in ME1 and ME2. In ME1 I was a hero: I saved the citadel and the council. In ME2, acting with the authority granted to a SPECTRE, I destroyed a threat to the human race and their deep space colonies.

"Wait... what shit have I done?", I ask myself.

It carries on. I watch as Commander Shepard delivers a soliloquy to both Admiral Anderson and the Defence Council; I'm powerless and, it's not me. Not my choice. 

The soliloquy is toothless garbage.

It quickly becomes clear that Bioware has their own idea of who Commander Shepard is and how the world reacts to them that does not factor in any of the roleplaying that they themselves had granted players in the previous two games. In fact, I just happened to be keeping a log of my thoughts and feelings throughout ME3 and here's what I wrote in the spur of the moment:

"This is not my Shepard.This is not my story!

The thoughts flash through my mind every few minutes or so. The beginning of Mass Effect 3 is having an adverse effect on how I feel about the ME Universe, my character and Bioware. Things have happened. Things I had no part in and no control over; things I didn't pay to have happen...

First off, I'm locked up. There's no explanation or exposition outlining what I've done or why I'm there. They talk about the Alpha Relay Incident and how the Normandy is impounded. Anyone going to clue me in? No?

Secondly, I walk into the council and deliver a long diatribe against the defence council and there's no options. I'm not given any chance to role play. The things my Femshep is saying aren't those I'd normally choose for her... Hell, even my evil Femshep wouldn't waste her time with this crap.

With ME2 and now ME3, Bioware have broken three golden rules:

  • The first one is obvious: NEVER put main plot in DLC. 
  • The next one is fairly obvious: ALWAYS provide exposition to give context in the story if you don't show the player the events in question. 
It's basic story-telling procedure: Imagine if, in ME2, they didn't show you being revived after being killed.... and all of a sudden you're working for (sorry, "with" - though that's now not what your character states in ME3) Cerberus. You would be wondering what the hell is going on. 

  • Lastly, and least obvious, is taking away player choice in critical situations. Bioware has built their reputation on their reputation systems in their games. To play through two games which feature multiple instances where I am tasked with presenting an argument through my own choices in dialogue and then having that removed in ME3's opening sequence is just downright bizzare (or lazy).
It actually happens quite a lot in the game (at least as far as I've played) Bioware take your ability to roleplay away from you, give you limited, meaningless dialogue choices and, in the process, destroy the very role you've built up and that they had built into the franchise thus far. It's annoying to make a paragon choice turn one moment for you to then continue on the conversation in a different tone of voice.... one that is homogenised for any player and character."

I have to admit, the middle of the game is great. Superb even. It made me forget about the transgressions of the beginning and so I was lulled into a false sense of security coming up to the end of the game. Elsewhere I've argued that the ending and end themes were not well foreshadowed by events in the game. Looking back now, I see that the lack of control and complete disconnect between the character I built and the story I played were all the foreshadowing I needed.

I hated that "Arrival", the DLC that had you destroy a Mass Relay and kill countless millions of Batarians was part of the main plot. In fact, in the beginning you were meant to be on trial for those events - something I thought they'd skipped given its present incarnation. Even during playing ME3 I thought that somehow they had rigged it to take into account whether you had played it or not when I found a codex entry about some marines that had destroyed the Relay instead of Commander Shepard and their crew... But, thinking about it, if that's the case then the beginning makes no sense.

Why am I locked-up and hated? Even my old friend, Anderson, hates me. The things I've done? I've been nothing but a straight-laced hero and yet here I am. What did I do, Bioware? Why did I deserve this? 

As a SPECTRE I had extrajudicial powers to achieve my goals in any way that was effectively possible. It seems I managed to do this whilst using Cerberus in ME2 (I always denied that I was working with/for them in the possible dialogue options in ME2) AND steal their super-expensive remake and remodel of the hyper-expensive Normandy. In ME2, I'm still a SPECTRE and, in fact, even in ME3 I still have SPECTRE status so what gives? Did the Earth council hate how I showed them up by protecting the colonies they failed to do anything about? I don't know... Logically it makes no sense... Story-wise it makes no sense....

So, instead of starting off with the trial about the Relay being destroyed (why would I be being tried in a human court for killing Batarians? There's no intergalactic pressure for the incident on humankind as far as I can observe) they shifted events until after the trial, demonising me in the process. It's cheap and it's obvious that they only did it because it's easier to have everyone starting off from the same point regardless of their previous actions. It's also cheaper to have everyone end up at the same point regardless of their previous actions too... That's a shame.

However, the greatest shame about Mass Effect 3 isn't that they messed the ending up... it's that Bioware never had enough faith in their world and story-telling in the first place to let it stand on its own... It appears as though they instead judged their "work of art" by the pocketbook rather than the paintbrush.