Friday 30 March 2012

I once told a friend that nothing really ends, no-one can prove it

(BBBC Spoiler Warning: this post finally gets around to talking about the end of Mass Effect 3 but in broadly non-spoilery terms.)

Back at the start of the month I quoted David Mitchell on expectations, and to grab another piece from the same column:

“Our level of expectation is crucial to our enjoyment of food, wine, holidays, plays, films and TV shows. We flatter ourselves that we’re objective but our judgments are clouded by our hopes, by whether something was better or worse than we’d anticipated.”

Some people were particularly miffed about the end of Mass Effect 3 due to anticipation stoked by pre-release quotes from Bioware, but for me it was quite the reverse. The rumblings of discontent started with leaks, the storm broke with the US release, so even before the game was available in the UK the “Retake Mass Effect” initiative had kicked off and it was impossible to avoid the fact that a lot of people were Really Jolly Cross. Expectations duly set, as I started the final mission I was waiting for the game to format my hard drive while the screen flashed “HAW HAW THE REAPERS HAVE DELETED ALL YOUR DATA PUNY HUMAN”, or to cause the PC to eject the game disc with crushing force into my crotch. All through the mission I was anticipating some devastating blow; as we lined up for a final push, I was thinking “hmm, about to go ‘over the top’, a hint of Blackadder Goes Forth?”, and as everyone was cut down and the screen briefly faded to black I thought for a moment they really might have done it. Now that would’ve been brave.

The actual ending, though, was… all right. I’ve read a lot of cogent pieces articulating numerous problems with the ending(s), and some equally cogent counterarguments around certain aspects, a more nuanced and worthwhile debate than a blanket demand for a “better” ending when everyone has a slightly different idea of what “better” would mean. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone come out and praise it as the perfect conclusion to the series, it’s undoubtedly flawed, but it didn’t spoil the whole game for me, possibly in part because I was expecting it to be terrible thanks to the campaigns. Overall, though, Mass Effect 3 was a fantastic three-coarse meal, even if the dessert wasn’t quite up to scratch. Or if taking each course of the meal as a separate instalment of the series, most of the dessert was excellent (the high point of the meal, in fact), but the custard was a bit lumpy. OK, tell you what, if each of the three Mass Effect games is a separate three course meal, with Story, Combat and Progression represented by a different course, and Bioware are the chef, EA the waiter and the internet is the restaurant, then the mariachi band going around the tables (representing the 1981 NatWest Trophy winning Derbyshire cricket team) are playing the wrong song.

That analogy got away from me slightly, so I’ll borrow some words from author-type-person Joe Abercrombie instead:

“[The ending] was confusing, maguffin heavy, not really set up in this game let alone the earlier ones. As is so often the case, the villain’s plot, so mysterious and thrilling when unknown, seemed rather silly and baffling when explained. Plus heavy exposition from a glowing child is really, really never a good idea. On the other hand, I was so impressed with the sheer scale, bombast, and technical achievement of the action leading up to it I didn’t care.”

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