Lets face it, if you know gaming at all from the last decade, you’ve at least heard of the Mass Effect trilogy. I personally used to be a huge fan, until the end of three. This post isn’t really going to cover why I was a fan. It’s going to go over what snowballed into me not being able to touch the series again, and why I cringe every time ME4 is brought up. This is going to be my personal opinions. You all may have very different opinions on the matter. I for one would love to hear from and talk with some of the people they supposedly interviewed who said the stuff I despised was just the bestest evar and that they should keep doing it. If nothing else, it would prove to me that such people exist. Also, in case it isn’t obvious, the catalyst for me writing this is someone sharing yet another thing about what we’re supposed to be looking towards with Four.
Mass Effect: Ah, the original. I had over eighteen playthroughs by the time the second game came out. At the time, it was the best game I had ever touched. I was enthralled, and practically begged to get the second as soon as it was released (at least three playthroughs were from the month leading up to the release itself as I tried to tame my impatience). It, however, was not without its faults. For me, the biggest one was the mind-numbing slog of the Mako missions. You could blast through the missions themselves fairly easily and enjoy yourself. However, to get all the stuff and experience for getting the stuff you had to trek over some of the most asinine maps I’ve ever seen in a vehicle clearly not designed to handle most of the terrain. I am a completionist. I must stuff all the stuff. The collection part of the Mako missions was not optional. Once ME2 came out, I was unable to go back to ME primarily because of this. It’s not the only thing that irked me, but it’s what killed my love of the first game and why I tend to scoff at those who whine about how unimaginative 2’s maps are. AT LEAST YOU CAN NAVIGATE THE FUCKERS. Yeah… Don’t tell me I can’t do something, especially if the alternative is going to cost me another hour driving around the idiotic landscape to get to the thing I’m literally within eyesight of. Fuck off. Fuck you. Give me my goddam experience and resources you sadistic motherfucker. No. I have gotten the Mako stuck on its back. The vehicle that was designed so that it should be impossible to get stuck on its back. You can’t call me impatient when it’s been hours of grinding for no good reason.
Couple that with how nitpicky details became important towards the end, and this cycle easily becomes more of a hassle than it’s worth. Do you know how many points can be gained or lost based on stupid shit you did or did not do, or did or did not buy in one? Do you? It’s been a while since I calculated it, but it’s too damn much for someone like me who disliked the mandatory online play in Three. At least they fixed the resource collection in Two.
Admittedly, it’s not the only thing. The companions were just barely above being one-dimensional. Oh, look. There’s the sciency one that’s socially awkward. And over there’s the “Boohoo, my backstory shows how much pain I’ve been through so the game devs felt better about putting in a whiny fucktard” guy. And hey! Racist religious chick who you’re supposed to bond with because she loves her sisters. Congrats, you’ve met your romantic options. Next, we have the techy person who likes tech, the angry disenfranchised brute, and the resentful disenfranchised ex-cop. That’s the rest of your team. At least all the non-human ones get character development in the later games. It’s no wonder Joker was one of the most-liked characters.
A lot of the interactions with the human companions felt forced outside of the on-ship conversations (and even sometimes in them). This, for me, was highlighted by Virmire. Whoever you leave with the bomb ends up being a royal dumbass of epic proportions. There is literally no reason for them to activate the bomb when they did. You have six companions. Two are with you. One is with the bomb. One is with the team. That leaves two available to play support on either end until you mop up and meet them. There should have been an option to say “Hold on, I’m sending the other two to cover Dumbass A while I take these two to take fire off Dumbass B. We’ll sweep around and flank them when we’re done.” Quick, dirty, and a great chance for more experience doing something that wasn’t trekking over the jagged wastelands of yet another planet to get the collectible hidden in the barely passable crag of Mount ICantGiveACrapAnymore.
Granted, I was so peeved with them both that actually ended up looking forward to leaving one of them to get blown to bits, but that’s neither here nor there.
Mass Effect 2: The biggest gripe I’ve heard about Two is its shift from RPG elements and exploration to a more trigger-happy and idiot-proof experience. I’m not arguing with that observation. I will, however, argue that this isn’t the thing that ruined the series and marked it as all downhill. It made for a faster-paced game that fit with the rising stakes and grittier scenarios. You don’t have time to meander over the entire planet. There’s a mission to complete, dammit. Grab what you can on your way and collect the rest from orbit. The stuff you collected actually had a purpose other than ticking a completion box. GOOD.
“Oh, but the suicide mission can cost you so many team members!” Um, only if you’re trying really really hard to lose team members, or are just thoroughly incompetent.
“But there’s fewer weapons and armor options for everyone!” Yes, but there’s also a lot less stupid shit you’d need to keep track of for you to need all those different armor types. And let’s face it, you went for the Spectre Gear weapons as soon as you had enough money to grab them and sold the rest.
“But the Mako was the best part of” NO. STOP. Just, no. The Hammerhead worked just fine, thank you. That was more than enough vehicular involvement for me.
“But all the romance options for Shepherd just felt so forced!” Um, yes. Welcome to the franchise. Shepherd is the awkward person in all of us who doesn’t really know how to deal with approaching someone we like. However, since HERO(INE), attempt equals success because who could say no to the savior of the galaxy (gag). Except Mordin. Because Mordin is awesome enough to get away with it.
Out of the three, I have the fewest qualms about Two. There was a lot of good (and much-needed) character development in Two for (almost) all involved that was ultimately expanded on in Three. The pacing felt more in line with a high-stakes mission of galactic importance. This was the game of getting stuff done and putting things in motion for later. Nitpicky stuff made a difference in tangible ways that made sense (unlike the ones from ME where there was literally one that hinged on you having the right license from some fairly unimpressive manufacturer).
Honestly, my biggest gripe with Two is that you have to have a character to import from ME to have those stupid nit-picky things for Three. If you like the multiplayer in Three, you don’t need it. If you dislike it, it’s a pain in the ass that can mess things up later depending on what you’re going for. If Two was a stand-alone game or the first in the series, I’d be okay with that.
Mass Effect 3: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…
From the opening cutscene on, the game makes you question the developers. If you didn’t have a specific DLC in two, Shepherd being stuck on earth with the ship confiscated makes little to no sense. Shepherd’s crew abandoning them feels contrived. And don’t get me started with the interactions with whichever Dumbass you let live on Virmire. “But they made them sooo much sexier!” Yeah, because that is clearly the hallmark of a good soldier. Right.
The beginning of the end, for me, started with what the developers would turn into a central feature of the game: that stupid fucking kid, and Shepherd’s fixation on him.
Could they have made it about Shepherd’s failures in general? Nooooooo, of course not. That would have made the game suck less.
Don’t get me wrong, it started off well enough. Having that in the first part of the game made sense. Even the dream nonsense could have been saved with some minor tweaks. Hell, the whole game could have been taken from a series-killer to satisfactory with the minor adjustment of making it about failure in general instead of THAT STUPID FUCKING KID.
Picture this: First dream, starts out the same. Kid runs away, Shepherd tries to catch kid. Except at some point, the kid turns into the person who died at Virmire. Shepherd is trying to get to the person, but just before they get there, the person turns to look at them and an explosion engulfs them, knocking Shepherd back and out of the dream. Each successive dream is someone else who dies through Three. At the end, instead of it being the kid in yet another ham-fisted attempt to shove the imagery down your throat, the entity morphs into each of the people who mattered to Shepherd who were lost, ending with The Illusive Man, who gives you your final choice. Even if nothing else in the game were changed, that little alteration takes it from focusing on the kid to focusing on failures and how Shepherd deals with them.
That, of course, isn’t the only thing that could be changed for the better, but it would be a great start. They have mostly addressed the concerns I had about the rest of it (like, as you may have guessed, the mandatory multiplayer).
Either way, it’s enough to make me certain I’ve no interest in returning to the franchise without some sort of overhaul that is highly unlikely to happen.