Experienced Points: The Story Doesn’t Matter

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 30, 2012

Filed under: Column 128 comments

In talking about the recent Mass Effect 3 ending controversy, Daithi Farley asked:

The weirdest thing about this debacle is the almost complete disparity between game journalists and fans. I mean you'd think it vary from site to site but it all seems so oddly consistent. Does any one know why this is?

My article this week is my answer.


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128 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Story Doesn’t Matter

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    However,you can look at the ending of mass effect 3 from an objective side,and it still fails.Bioware did say that they are making endings that would vary according to your choices,and that it wont be just a simple button push,and then samey cutscenes.But endings to me3 are exactly that.

    1. Gamer says:

      I wasn’t even as mad about that as I was at the fact that it was filled with plot holes.

    2. Shamus says:

      I agree with you there, and I think a mention of the ending would have been really good to see in a review. Like Angry Joe, it should be mentioned, even if it doesn’t impact the score.

      However, I had no idea all the endings were functionally the same until I started comparing notes with other people. That’s a lot harder to do pre-launch. Even if I’d thought to save just before the last push and pressed a different ending button, I couldn’t know that my war assets were basically worthless (!!?!?!) or that having more or less assets wouldn’t lead to a different ending.

      1. Mathias says:

        I’m not even mad at anyone (probably because I haven’t played the game, since the 360 version looks terrible and I’d rather catch scurvy than install Origin on my computer), I’m just kind of sad that it ended on such a sour note. People had such high hopes for that ending, and in the end of it, none of them, no matter what kind of ending they expected, were let down. In some ways I just can’t help but feel apathetic, though. BioWare really hasn’t been at the top of its game since Dragon Age when it comes to telling, if not necessarily an interesting story, at least a well-told one. When you talk about stories in BioWare games you’re usually talking sidequests and characters rather than main storylines, but at least they were always coherent and easy to follow so you wouldn’t lose track between all the sidequests and talking to companions. Perhaps that’s the reason why people hated Dragon Age 2 so much; it basically has no coherent plot until the second half of Act 2, and before that it’s a bunch of side stories that have nothing to do with each other, each of which inspires equal amounts of apathy if you’re not invested in them. Oh, and all of the companions bar Varric have the emotional depth of a teaspoon.

      2. TGN says:

        This issue with the war assets is particularly important considering that most reviewers probably didn’t max out their scores. With the rush to get the reviews out in time I would imagine that most reviewers skipped a bunch of sidequests, had characters die who could have been saved, and went to the final mission with way fewer assets than were needed.

        In that situation, even if the reviewer was disappointed with the ending they would probably suspect that they were just seeing the bad ending. Anyone who commented on it (and especially anyone who lowered the score) would be running the risk of getting several hundred comments complaining that they hadn’t played the game properly and threatening to boycott the site.

    3. zob says:

      I tried to find one aspect of ending that can be classified as good. I can only come up with final animation was fluid.
      It’s stolen(homaged), it’s logically flawed, it conflicts with previous lore, pacing was off, buggy, feels rushed, lazy.

      Here is the thing I am not exaggerating here. I know it sound like raging but it’s not. It really is that bad.

      1. MatthewH says:

        I provide one good thing.

        They tried to hit a lot of big questions.

        They botched it badly, but on second review, I think I can see some interesting things they were trying to do. I’m still piecing bits of it together. I don’t think this was a wise choice -I don’t think the game supports what they were trying to do -and I’m not positive you want to introduce and then punt on big questions in the last 15 minutes of your game. But that’s what they tried to do. And better that than pure banality.

  2. Gamer says:

    That part I did understand. What I didn’t understand was why so many game reviewers/critics referred to their readers as “whiny” and “entitled” well after the fact?

    I respect that you disagree, but name calling is uncalled for. (That goes to the pro-ending change group as well.)

    1. Dude says:

      Because game reviewers are whiny, entitled snobs who’ll do anything to get free review copies of their games.


  3. Jonathan says:

    Wait, an RPG that’s only 30 hours long? Wow, what a rip-off.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      But it’s a shooter!

      1. krellen says:

        Yeah, a 30 hour shooter is pretty impressive.

      2. Mathias says:

        Well, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was what, 35 hours? And that game has even less potential for different builds than ME3 since you can practically get all of the augments anyway, and there are no divergent classes.

        That being said, there are only so many ways you can reinvent “hide behind wall, shoot dudes”.

        And of course there’s the holoblade, which makes no sense. How do you stab someone with a hologram?

        1. Arex says:

          That is explained, FWIW: the blade’s an invisible, arbitrarily thin and sharp mass effect field, the hologram’s there so that you know the size and shape when you’re stabbing people with it.

          They used a similar explanation in the third game for Tech Armor– basically, the glowy holograms are a separate “do not touch” warning for friendlies so they don’t brush against you and cause the explosive armor overload– which as far as I can tell had no such explanation in the second game. (Corrections welcome.)

          In both cases the explanation likely came after the design (which presumably came down to “this would look cool”). But doing the work to make things fit without, e.g., making solid holograms as a separate, never-seen technology is one of the things I like about Mass Effect. (One which stands in contrast to the bolted-on nature of so much of the ending.)

          1. Mathias says:

            So they actually address this, wonderful.

            And yeah, BioWare games have always had pretty good lore, usually it’s only in the main story thread department that they fall a little flat, but at least they’re well-told, even if they’re all fairly basic (the BioWare Cliché Storm trope exists for a reason).

          2. The Rocketeer says:

            That’s not what it is, either; it is invisible, but it’s not a hologram. The fabricator in your omnitool fashions up a monomolecular carbon blade- essentially a diamond dagger so thin it’s transparent, but sharp enough to pierce anything. That one blow shatters the blade, though, and the blade has to be fabricated on demand each time rather than stored somehow.

            But yes, the projected hologram of the blade is just so you can see where it is.

            1. Destrustor says:

              Man, those broken atom-wide shards scattered across the battlefield would be such a total bitch to clean up! When I drop a glass on the floor at home I still get splinters lodged in my feet weeks later, despite a thorough vacuuming. Can you imagine the inconvenience if those shards could slice straight through your boots AND were invisible? It’d be a new version of minefields.
              Or since they’d be so thin, they could easily be carried by air currents. And then people would breathe razors. Ouch.

      3. Master Jedi says:

        And it’s a story-based game. I don’t want to play for like 60+ hours to see how the story ends. Although for ME3 I guess prolonging the inevitable horrible ending would have been better.

        1. ehlijen says:

          That depends. Is it a 60 hour+ story? Then yeah, I want to be that long rather than being cut into pieces to fit a 30 hour game.

          If it’s a 30 hours story with 30 hours of filler combat (argh, the deep roads!), then sure, no thanks.

          1. JPH says:

            I’ve never heard of a 60+ hour story. How absurdly complex would that have to be?

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              War and peace:The game.

            2. Indy says:

              I believe you have just described LOST.

              1. ACman says:

                Or X-Files. Or Battlestar Galactica.

                And look how they ended up.

            3. ehlijen says:

              Whether or not it’s been done doesn’t matter.

              The point was that games should be allowed to be that long if the length is justified.

            4. GiantRaven says:

              Breaking Bad could potentially be seen as a 60+ hour story once it’s final season wraps up. It stands at 50+ 45 minute episodes right now so it must be nearing that 60 hour milestone, and it doesn’t deal with overly separate storylines for each season.

              1. JPH says:

                Sorry, should have clarified: I’ve never heard of a game with a 60+ hour story.

                And man, if a game had a story with the quality and length of Breaking Bad, that would be incredible.

                1. some random dood says:

                  “Game with 60+ hours story” Not sure what your criteria are for that, but Baldur’s Gate series comes to mind. Admittedly, a lot of it is just combat, but you still get a lot of characters and story over the whole playthrough, with a pretty breath-taking choice at the end.

                  1. Jonathan says:

                    I was gonna say that.

                2. GiantRaven says:

                  I’m figuratively drooling at the idea of that.

  4. Jokerman says:

    Its sad really because right up un till that dash to the beam i was thinking this might just be Biowares best work yet, i loved the whole game – the feel of it, even just mucking about at the citadel talking to my companions. To me the ending does not change the fact the game is amazing but it does knock the story down a bunch. I disagree that it needs closure though great works of fiction do not end with closure and they are received really well it just needed you make sense logically and not leaving me staring blankly at the screen wondering what i had just watched.

    1. Gamer says:

      I think a lot of people think this way. That’s the tragedy of the ending. It completely overshadows everything else (and that was mostly good) about the game.

      1. Arex says:

        I spent a while afterwards obsessing over the ending, and it did (and does) reduce my enthusiasm for a replay when I think about it. But I decided to make a conscious effort to start thinking about the (many) parts of the game I liked instead.

        It helped that a lot of people I know were behind me. So I couldn’t talk about the ending with them, but could talk about Tuchanka and the Citadel coup and Rannoch and Cerberus as they reached those points in the narrative. That really helped my focus. (Especially at a time when the net as a whole could really talk about nothing else ME3-related but the ending.)

        Yes, I essentially have to make up an ending in my head that I like better, to avoid a sense that a lot of those things turn out to be pointless. But that’s doable, and I intend to just tell myself my made-up ending is what happened when contemplating future playthroughs.

        Given the nature of the official ending, it seems unlikely that there’ll be any Bioware games set in the near future of the timeline to contradict me. I’ll worry about reconciling my personal ending with some hypothetical sequel (likely far enough down the timestream that Shepard’s a mythical figure, as in the coda) when I see it.

        I do wish that their ending had allowed for more stories in the Mass Effect universe as was, which I really liked. But three– well, 2.98– really good games in that world isn’t bad.

    2. Brandon says:

      I can agree with this. Actually, quite honestly, I felt that the exact point the ending became stupid was when Shepard seems to “die” and is lifted by a floating platform into Citadel heaven and meets the Crucible. Up until that point, everything seemed to lead reasonably to a “battered and bruised but not broken protagonist pulls through to save the galaxy with his/her last breath” kind of ending that would have probably gone over a lot better with the audience, despite how cliche it might be.

      Edit: Part of this post is meant to be blanked with spoiler tags, but I apparently don’t know what those are.

    3. ehlijen says:

      My main problem was that bioware just didn’t seem to know how to say what they meant to say. Did the exploding relays destroy the star systems or not? Either ending could have worked, if only the player knew which one bioware intended.
      If yes, what does it matter if the reapers get destroyed or leave earth, and how does shepard survive after crashing to earth (surviving yet another atmospheric reentry?).
      If no, why not? What the heck was Arrival if you’re going to contradict it no without even a handwavy explanation?

      Evena ‘shepard dies and never finds out what happens’ could have worked better than ‘herp derp, we make you watch confusing pretty pictures’.

      1. Hitch says:

        I think all those confusing pictures made perfect sense in the writer’s head. he knew what he was getting at and it seemed obvious to him. The rest of us are just left thinking, “That don’t make no kinda sense. And changing the color doesn’t make it not make sense in any significantly different way.”

        On a slightly different note, I have a hard time with the “broken promises” complaints. I can’t help but dismiss those in the manner of a sarcastic Willy Wonka image macro, “A video game didn’t live up to the pre-release advertising hype? Imagine my surprise.”

        1. lurkey says:

          It made perfect sense in my head for a while, too – in the holokid’s explanation org-synth conflict was, like, an incurable but controlled disease of the galaxy and Reapers every 50K year were like sort of antibiotics that would kill most of germs and leave when level of disease is no longer critical. But since I went into ME3 straight from Pathologic, where controlling your disease level via antibiotics and other stuff was part of the gameplay, I think I was somewhat indoctrinated. :-) And in the end, if you cured genophage, the galaxy eventually will be overrun by Krogan, which makes for one very interesting galaxy so the ending’s not that bad at all.

          And yep, it would be better for everyone if people stopped buying into hype.

        2. Jarenth says:

          See, I never really bought this defense. It sounds like saying that people have no right to complain about broken promises, because that sort of thing happens all the time.

          I mean, yeah, it does happen all the time. Does that mean we’re obligated to just sit there and take it? I, for one, would like it if my video game news could actually be taken at face value a little bit more often.

          1. Sumanai says:

            I wonder if the same logic is being used in areas with high death rates. I can imagine someone going to a funeral just to say “Why are you sad? People are dying constantly and you don’t see me unhappy!”

          2. burningdragoon says:

            I agree that broken “promises” shouldn’t be acceptable but hyping is pretty much the point of marketing. I think complaining about it is fine. In reference to the “no A,B,C endings” statement, silly memes and and the cupcake protests are exactly the kind of reaction to it that I think people should have. It’s when something being overhyped is a cornerstone of a movement to have the endings changed is when it starts getting into “shouldn’t have believed in the hype” territory.

            1. Sumanai says:

              In TVtropes the Fandumb page is, or was, for the longest time just about fans being unable to accept anything new as good are acceptable. The general feel was that fans who are complaining about a new product are just glamouring for the “good old days” and that they don’t have valid complaints.

              This wouldn’t mean anything, if it was in a vacuum, but there’s a very strong “if you’re fan of the old stuff, your opinion on the quality of the new stuff is seriously compromised” in general. How many people complaining about the Michael Bay’s Transformers film got dismissed as “fans raging about nothing”, even if they were calm and reasonable?

              There’s also a strong motion around that fans are “too demanding” in general that gets applied to nearly everywhere. So it feels likely that some would decide to base their arguments on measurable metrics (what they said versus what was delivered) rather than something that is subjective (how good it is).

        3. ehlijen says:

          Sadly, I think you’re right. But when a writer doesn’t realise he’s writing rainbow coloured nonsense, he might need more help than he got in this case.

          They didn’t break a promise, they just tried and failed. Better luck next time , bioware, and remember what you (should have) learned from this mistake, but forgive me if I’ll stay skeptical for a while.

          1. Michael says:

            Except this time it wasn’t even a writer. It was Hudson, the project director who is, quite obviously, not at all a writer.

            Now I want that Wonka Emote with “The Director wanted to write your ending from scratch?”/”Imagine my surprise.” or something similar.

            1. ehlijen says:

              Technically by writing the ending he became a writer, but yeah, that explains a bit.

      2. LintMan says:

        All those lingering questions like the ones you point out are a big part of why the ending is so bad. This video really explains well why that matters so much:

        That part starts about 22 minutes in. He’s also got some other really good points though that I haven’t seen discussed or explained as well anywhere else, so it’s worth watching the whole thing. It’s kinda long, but really goes by quickly.

        1. some random dood says:

          Good link. (Though I am biased – any time someone uses some of Captain Picard’s speeches to make a point instantly gains nerd-points from me.) Again, a well-structured and thoughtful presentation of why the ending has problems from a story-telling perspective rather than (just) fan-rage.

  5. Airsoft says:

    I think the biggest difference is that journalists assume that bioware was happy with the ending. I’m not sure they were.

    1. Gamer says:

      I suspect that EA came down with either a budget or a deadline that influenced the way this turned out. That would explain how sudden and plot-hole filled it is in its current state. I can’t be sure, but I have my suspicions.

      1. Mathias says:

        Coming to Xbox Live soon: Mass Effect 3 DLC: The Actual Ending. Only 1200 Microsoft Points.

        1. Gamer says:

          That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

          If they had any spread of dignity, they would make it free DLC. But, I’m not sure EA would allow that.

          1. Brandon says:

            The funny thing about this is that it sounds like a lot of people actually would be happy with paying for a DLC to fix the ending, just to have an ending that they are happy with.

            … The precedent this would set actually horrifies me.

            1. burningdragoon says:

              Mass Effect 3 is a bigger (in terms of noteworthyness), but I can think of at least 2 other games that have already pulled that stunt already. The 2008 Prince of Persia game ended on a big cliffhanger that made the entire game seem pointless (sounds familiar) and a expansion/ending was sold as DLC. Also more recently, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is doing the same.

              1. SougoXIII says:

                About FFXIII-2, there wouldn’t be a DLC ending since the ones coming up will only clarify certain plot points of the game and not actually end the story.

                FXIII-2’s ending was clearly a cliff hanger to set up XIII-3. Not sure that’s any better but…

              2. Gamer says:

                Yes. XIII-2 is doing the exact same thing (literally says “To Be Continued”). I’m not buying that either.

                1. SougoXIII says:

                  What’s hilarious about that is that not one really expect a FXIII-2 in the first place. (Including the developers themselves if you consider all the retcons and new plot elements being introduced.)

                2. Ringwraith says:

                  Although, as I understand, it seems the current DLC plans seem to be more side-stories which occur during the game’s events.
                  So it seems it’s setting up for a sequel instead.

                  In fact, there are many games that have done that, Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria basically ends with ‘to be continued’ with ‘Another adventures awaits on Lenneth’s wings'(ish).
                  We’re still waiting.

                  1. Gamer says:

                    I played both Valkyrie Profile and Silmeria. How did I forget that!?

              3. Michael says:

                Isn’t the Final Fantasy thing the Halo 2 ending precedent? We’ve been dealing with games not giving us any ending, just kinda stopping without warning for, what? 8 years now?

                Aside from Fallout 3, I can’t think of any other cases where a bad ending was retconed by a DLC release, but I’m probably forgetting something.

            2. Jeff R. says:

              Didn’t Broken Steel already set that precedent?

              (And if that ending was packaged with another 10 hours of gameplay at that price, would that really be a particularly bad DLC?)

      2. MatthewH says:

        I’m nearing the end of my second playthrough -taking notes for my own criticism of the game. And starting around Thessia my notes start talking about glitches, cut corners, and other signs that the ending was rushed, not much edited, et cetera. In fact, starting at Thessia is the first time anything Starchild (Murray) or Mass Relay Network or Crucible (other than it’s existence) related is mentioned other than by Javik. So I suspect everything post Thessia was concocted to end the story on time and under budget.

        So I believe it.

        On the other hand, my second playthrough has revealed a lot of other really good stuff. Some really bad stuff, too. But lot’s of good stuff.

        1. Tohron says:

          Not quite. I read the leaked scripts (which were 4-6 months before release), and the basic gist of the ending (you can either destroy, control, or join (synthesis?) the Reapers, along with the gist of Thessia (go to pick up the Asari artifact, Javik is kidnapped by Kai Leng while Thessia falls to the Reapers) was planned beforehand. I think Bioware was struggling to find a justification for all that and were unwilling to change the basic plan, so we got what we got.

          1. MatthewH says:

            So it’s another victim of Set-Piece-Itis and Arc Welding. Joy.

  6. Astor says:

    Well, I lost hope with the majority of game journos many years back. It’s not just that I oftentimes disagreed with what they said and scored, but I eventually got fed up with the awful grammar too.

    1. nerdpride says:

      I agree! I can’t rely on anyone at the Escapist to tell me when I might like a game or not and I haven’t tried anyone else in a long time. I don’t have anything against the reviewers, they’re just not useful to me; they nitpick about all the wrong things IMHO.

      Was anyone else a little nervous (until now, maybe) that they tended not to criticize Bioware stuff there?

      1. swimon1 says:

        I think the extra credits people were spot on about the problem with game reviews, “there’s no critique only review”. Game reviewers don’t really explain why something is good or bad they just bring up a few things they liked and a few they didn’t with no real insight or analysis. Part of the problem is undoubtedly that gaming is a young medium and there is so much that is unexplored and there’s a lot of different names for similar things which creates a lot of confusion. This will of course get better as our understanding of the medium progresses but what worries me is that there isn’t really any difference between reviewer and fan. Very rarely do I get the feeling that a reviewer understands gaming better than the average fan.

        Part of a critic’s job is to heighten the conversation surrounding a work. A good critic can never make you agree with them but by having a clear understanding of how the medium works they can explain why they liked/disliked certain parts. This helps everyone else get a better appreciation for the things done well and help us focus our displeasure with the bad parts. A good critic also helps the creators by offering an insightful outside perspective on why some things did/n’t work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a classic game review (meaning one where you look at a game as a whole, not just one part) that has ever elevated any discussion about that game, it’s just “I liked shooting bosses, that was cool”.

        Also half-related: Dan from extra credits wrote a very interesting forum post/article about the ending of mass effect. I find his take on it all really interesting and I think he has a point about it providing the wrong sort of closure, it brings some closure to the themes and story as a whole but what we want to know is what happened to the characters. It makes me think that part of the problem might be that the ending was planned for ME1. ME1 was far less character driven after all so an ending where the fate of the characters were left vague might have worked.

  7. MatthewH says:

    I don’t know quite how to handle it, but there’s something here about the difference between criticism and consumer reporting -even though both fall under the heading “game reviews.” Food, art, movie, and literary critics do both -but of course experiencing an art gallery, a meal, or a movie doesn’t take 30 hours. A book does -but review copies of books go out much earlier.

    In any case, I would think the reviews should be the starting point for the discussion. When Mark Twain reviewed the Leatherstocking Tales I don’t think he was offering advice, but it is nonetheless a great read (though I like Last of the Mohecans and I think Twain is blowing his complaints way out of proportion -then again, it is Twain!).

  8. rrgg says:

    Bah, who needs a story in their games anyways? I usually just end up pretending events in the story were completely different so that it doesn’t ruin my enjoyment.

  9. Eric says:

    Disclosure: I’m not a “professional” journalist (although you could say it’s my profession at the moment), so I’m not really bound by the same sorts of deadlines and whatnot that others can be.

    I reviewed Mass Effect 3. EA were actually pretty good about it – I got a free copy on Origin (no DLC though), and they were timely and friendly. I have nothing bad to say about my own experience with them. However, given that I have seen “review guides” and pre-evaluations of reviewers (such as Battlefield 3’s “are you a Call of Duty fan?” questionnaire), I also have to wonder if the site I work for is just too small to get embroiled in such matters.

    More generally, I have some thoughts on the “review situation” around the game.

    I think, number one, is that many reviewers think most games are pretty decent. “Am I having fun?” is the dominant question, and if the answer is yes then the game is good. They’re not out to trash games, they’re out to give them a fair shake. If they had fun 90% of the time, but the remaining 10% was abysmal, does that mean you brutalize the game? Probably not: you say “overall, it was quite good.” I see this all the time: unless a game has really, really glaring flaws with gameplay or story, people generally don’t complain (or factor it into their scores). I see bad design everywhere, even in the best games, and you can quickly descend into nihilism if you start to take all those little problems just a little too seriously.

    Second, journalists have widely varying tastes and association with games. I have followed Mass Effect for a long time, but that doesn’t mean another has. If that person had fun but didn’t notice the plot holes because he/she didn’t play the first game, does that mean he/she is unqualified? Of course not, it’s just a different take on the game – although I’d argue journalists should give background on their familiarity with a franchise in their review. It’s also worth noting that reviewer preferences vary – some want games to hit X and Y marks, others just try to appreciate the game for what it is. I tend to fall into the latter category although I will also point out when I see a missed gameplay or story opportunity.

    Third, journalists don’t always finish games. This depends on the game, the length, the deadline etc., but it’s a lot more common than you’d expect. If you have to play a 20-30 hour game in 2 days and write up on it, you might simply have to make a best guess. I tend not to trust reviews that have no details on the story or ending because that’s often a sure-fire hint that the journalist didn’t actually finish the game, and in many cases I’ve seen complaints that are actually invalidated by later parts of the game. “Oops.”

    Fourth, review style and tone. Depending on the site you’re writing for, you might have 1 page, 2 pages, or 6 pages to fill. Trying to cram anything other than basic impressions into even 2-3 pages can be difficult for many games. I always try my best to give a breakdown of a game’s mechanical successes and failures, narrative and thematic qualities, as well as go over things like graphics options, DRM, usability issues, and so on. Many reviewers simply cannot do this because if you do, you end up with an average article length of 5-6 pages, and that isn’t suitable for most general audiences.

    Fifth, I hate to say it, but varying standards. Games journalism is not a very prestigious field. There are some great, and smart people in it, but to be honest, there are also a lot of people who have very little critical capacity or understanding of game design. You can spot these reviews a mile away – usually they are posted on sites like IGN and Gamespy – because they typically have no in-depth discussion about the game, only “it looks good, it’s fun, sounds good,” etc. To be completely blunt: many game reviewers are not good at what they do. The only requirement to be a critic, most of the time, is “will work for a slave wage (or nothing)” and “can write on a high-school level.” That does not breed good standards for a field.

    Oh, and last, reviewers are often (though not always) placed under strict guidelines for what they can talk about on a game. A famous example was Konami asking reviewers to not talk about Metal Gear Solid 4’s cutscenes, story, characters, and other things – of course, many fans were later upset when their game turned out to be a 10-hour movie. And while I think it is exaggerated, there is definite pressure on reviewers to give high scores to games in order to keep the content coming, as well as advertising dollars (even if it isn’t stated anywhere officially). Seeing Eurogamer plastered with Modern Warfare 3 ads while giving a DLC map pack a 9/10 score? Sorry, but with all due respect, I cannot believe that such a review is unbiased. Mass Effect 3 was also subject to this on a number of sites (such as The Escapist), so I’m sure this was a very real concern for some.

    I will say that I am thankful I’m not bound by many of the restraints other journalists are. I am free to give whatever opinion I want, either glowing or brutal, and I am perfectly happy to do so. For what it’s worth, I think my review of Mass Effect 3 was fair to the game’s strengths and weaknesses, but I wouldn’t discount someone else’s review just because the ending was not a major issue for him/her.

    The takeaway is: find web sites that deliver what you think are informative, articulate, and honest reviews. There are plenty of them out there. Also pay attention to a wide variety of fan communities, both the positive and critical (say, RPGWatch vs. RPG Codex), because you will pick up many important details that way. Never limit yourself to a narrow set of opinions, and above all else, always do your best to form your own.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Thanks for your insight from the other side of the screen!

    2. rrgg says:

      “Oh, and last, reviewers are often (though not always) placed under strict guidelines for what they can talk about on a game. A famous example was Konami asking reviewers to not talk about Metal Gear Solid 4″²s cutscenes, story, characters, and other things ““ of course, many fans were later upset when their game turned out to be a 10-hour movie.”

      Really? Was it just that they wanted to avoid spoilers or did they really want to cover up something that might be a weak part of their game?

      1. Eric says:

        I don’t know what the specific reason was, although spoilers is a good bet. I’m just saying that in some cases, reviews (usually early/”exclusive” ones) don’t cover important aspects of the game – even if the intentions are good, it compromises the integrity of the article. Granted, this isn’t extremely common, but it does happen from time to time.

        1. Sumanai says:

          I’ve heard the list contained “no mention of install times or installs themselves”, so I’m not certain it’s just to avoid spoilers.

    3. Michael says:

      Erik, no offense to you intended with this, but there are two other elements that should probably be brought up.

      On your comment of Video Game Journalism not being “prestigious”, It would probably be fair to say that Game Journalism is not a “professional” field. Most Game Journalists, even on major sites aren’t Journalists by training. There’s a lot of them that are professionally trained, but it is in other fields. Now, in individual cases this isn’t a bad thing per say. Nothing about Shamus’ background makes him bad pundit, for instance.

      The problem is, in this industry (and for that matter some other niche entertainment industries such as Comics), there is no gold standard for professionalism. Most game journalists are fans first, and not at all professional journalists.

      We need look no further than the review restrictions you’ve outlined to see that in action. No film studio would even dream of telling film critics “you cannot write about X in your reviews”, that would become the story and they’d be torn apart for it. But in games journalism, possibly because most games journalists are not trained as journalists, possibly because of the way game publishers have evolved, or possibly because of the sites’ cyclical dependance on publisher ad revenue; game news sites often end up being little more than a mouthpiece for press releases, with little actual journalism going on outside of op-ed stuff like what Shamus does.

      The second is self selection. When a game like ME3 comes in for review, usually it will be: a single reviewer, a single review copy. Which means that the editor will choose who will be reviewing that. If the editor themselves is a fan, they’re getting first pick.

      When you correlate that with the risk of them being fans first, and critics a distant second, the potential of a biased review skyrockets. Again, this isn’t an attack on anyone per say, but the risk is there, particularly when the resulting review ends up sounding more like a love letter to the developers than an actual analysis of the game in question.

      If it sounded like an attack on you, Erik, (or for that matter, Shamus), my apologies. I have some serious apprehensions for games journalism, and as we’re trying to get the industry some legitimacy, the state of the journalism we have isn’t helping us, in spite of (both of) your best efforts.

      The most glaring example was the contrast between Kotaku, Destructoid, and The Escapist’s response to the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, and Forbes’ coverage. While most of the games journalist outlets were busy trashing the fans who were upset, Forbes was actually busy trashing the arguments coming from the industry journalists, as bunk.

      Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be an attack on anyone in particular, but a highlight that games journalism has some serious problems that need to be addressed.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Someone made a point on a website, might have been Forbes, that no matter what the reason, reviewers have failed in their jobs in regards to Mass Effect 3. Reviews are meant to service consumers, and most consumers hated the ending while few reviews mentioned it. It’s not important what the reason is, there’s clearly a problem with the current system.

        Of course when solving the problem the reason does become important. But there seems to be a rather strong motion along gaming sites that it’s no biggie and there’s no need to change. How can anyone find a reviewer that suits them, if all of them are making the same mistakes (too tight schedules for instance)?

        The Forbes articles were interesting, because I’ve gone through a marketing course and all of their stuff about PR rings true to me. What makes me sad is that I ran into a piece elsewhere that took a sideswipe at Forbes for “pandering to gamers by telling them what they want to hear” and saying “how dare these outsiders come and tell video game companies how to run their stuff”. Never mind that Forbes is a business and finance magazine.

        1. Gamer says:

          And another thing, how sad is it that Forbes, a business magazine, has become the go to source of unbiased reporting in this case?

          1. Sumanai says:

            That’s not sad. Well, not as sad as the fact that a business magazine is in a way taking the side of the consumers. Of course it’s all for the purpose of ultimately helping the company, but still.

            1. Sumanai says:

              What I meant to say was: It’s not as sad as a business magazine being blamed for pandering to consumers, despite the fact that the magazine is directed at company executives and so on.

      2. Gamer says:

        I think The Escapist has been much better with this than other sites though. I don’t think they’re defending Bioware at all. They’re all at different forms of rage.

        I do have to admit that in general, the game journalists have been far too lenient on EA/Bioware in terms of this. I doubt that ending would’ve been a deal-breaker for me, but I’m sure the same cannot be said for others.

    4. Soylent Dave says:


      It’s been a fact of professional game journalism for a very long time now that it’s funded primarily – often solely – by advertising, and the majority of that advertising comes from game developers.

      As consumers, we can’t pretend that this doesn’t have an impact on review sites and magazines, many of which literally cannot afford to piss off giants like EA (and risk losing the bulk of their advertising revenue); it doesn’t even have to be overtly threatened by the company for it to be a real issue.

      The rush to be the first to publish is also a major issue – if you only get your review copy (which isn’t quite the finished game anyway) a few days before your publish date, then you simply don’t have time to play the whole thing through, analyse it thoroughly and write your article. Not if you’re trying to beat all the other websites or magazines to the punch.

      As it always has been, it’s this:

      find web sites that deliver what you think are informative, articulate, and honest reviews

      because they’re all just personal opinions anyway.

      And ignore review scores – in a world where 7/10 is ‘poor’ and every major release gets 9/10 they’re utterly meaningless (except perhaps as stickers for the game box!)

      Full Disclosure: I used to freelance a bit for IGN. Not current reviews, though.

      1. Michael says:

        Honestly, the “they’re all just opinions” argument irks me a bit. If one is a professional, it’s entirely possible to present an impartial breakdown on a piece of media. IE: Who will like it, who won’t, does it do anything interesting and new, does it do anything badly?

        You can call it an opinion, but there is room for reviews that go beyond “I liked/disliked this game, therefore it’s good/bad”.

        Anyway, in nitpicking, I think you meant “funded by game publishers” not developers. As the developers are being held hostage by the publishers as much or more than the news sites are.

  10. Brandon says:

    It’s interesting because this pattern seems to happen a lot in videogames. Absolutely excellent game, lots of polish and characterization and the storyline is great, then at a certain point you can just tell where the crunch time kicked in and then the ending is really bad.

    Deus Ex comes to mind, now that the Lets Play is concluded.

    Also, what about Fallout 3? I might also mention that they actually DID retcon the ending of Fallout 3 because of how bad it was.

    The more I think about it, the more examples of games with bad/rushed endings I can think of. What are some that others feel deserve a mention?

    1. Irridium says:

      Well, there’s Neverwinter Nights 2 which is basically the example for a bad ending. You may also know it as “rocks fall, everyone dies”.

      They also ret-conned that in the game’s expansion. The expansion itself was also pretty amazing.

      And there’s Kotor 2. The ending (well, the whole game, to be frank) was rushed because Lucasarts cut off a few months of dev time to get the game out by Christmas.

      1. Michael says:

        As I recall, there as also some element where Bioware wouldn’t allow Obsidian any access to the first game prior to release. The original game was still in development when Obsidian was going into pre-production, or something, and Bioware refused to release plot information to them, so everything had to go through LucasArts and was getting lost?

        I’m honestly not sure of the veracity of that story though.

      2. some random dood says:

        You mean the Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion “Mask of the Betrayer”? Great game. Until you get to the end. (At least, if you play the “light side” route.) Hmm, hopefully I guess right about how “spoiler” tags work – if not sorry! Spoiler follows:

        The story is a very personal one about recovering your stolen soul. In the course of the quest you find out that those who do not follow a deity are known as the faithless, and their souls are placed into a wall as punishment until the souls finally dissipate into nothingness. If you decide that is a cruel and unjust fate, a large part of the game has you saying that you will challenge this – effectively challenging the whole order of the way the universe works, along with the gods themselves. And then the climactic battle and victory! The deity presently in charge of the wall then says something along the lines of “Well done – you can have your soul back now. And please go away, as making any more of a fuss over this will get your ass kicked.” Your response? “Oh, OK.” That’s it. No choice to try anyway, no chance to rail against the injustice. And what’s even worse? You abandon the army that is fighting to tear down the wall to free the trapped souls. The army that helped you get your soul back.

        I really enjoyed KOTOR 2. I really enjoyed Mask of the Betrayer – Obsidian really know how to write interesting characters (not necessarily characters you like, but interesting characters with lives and motivations oftheir own). However, they do not seem to be able to finish a story. Great journey, terrible destination.

        @Shamus Young
        In the html helper bits at the bottom of your page, could you please add some text to indicate what to use to hide spoilers?

        1. Gamer says:

          The strike tags hide spoilers.

          1. some random dood says:

            @Gamer – Thanks. Unfortunately I guessed wrong (I tried “spoiler” in angle brackets). And oh dear, now that I read the text in the description for tags, it is clearly mentioned. Bah – reading and comprehension is over-rated anyway. Pass me that trepanning saw, time for some “self-improvement”.

            1. some random dood says:

              Thinking about how come I read the blurb about the rags, and somehow completely missing what “strike” did, I think it is due to my brain making assumptions that prevented the text from actually penetrating the pulpy mass that jokingly calls itself my thought centre. Looking again, I realise I just assumed “strike” meant strike-through (text with a line through it) to go along with the other text formatting features for bold and italics, so the text explaining that it was for spoilers did not sink in.
              So back to suggestion – maybe can make the text within the tags be formatted to show how the result would look? E.g. (using square brackets in place of angles – and I really hope this works out this time!)
              You can enclose spoilers in [strike] tags like so:
              [strike]Darth Vader is Luke’s father![/strike]

              You can make things italics like this:
              Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your [i]father[/i]?

              You can make things bold like this:
              I’m [b]very[/b] glad Darth Vader isn’t my father.

              You can make links like this:
              I’m reading about [a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader”]Darth Vader[/a] on Wikipedia!

        2. Michael says:

          I could have sworn it was possible to actually win that fight against whomever at the end of MotB. Easily the most difficult combat in the entire franchise, but possible.

        3. lurkey says:

          I think he meant original campaign. “Rocks fall, everyone dies” is from there. As for MotB, I’d disagree. Its endings – all of them – make sense and are plausible. E.g., you can cure disease and go on your merry way, or you can become a Cthulhu and go on your bloody carnage way, you can also egoistically drop the disease so someone else gets it later and ihere we go again, or you can lock it within yourself and remain there forever, preventing its escape. The only ending amiss is the Bruce Willis ending, where you destroy the shit out of the Wall of Atheists, bring cold hard justice onto the world and end as ye olde Mary Sue thy Saviour of all World(s) – and that’s I guess because WOTC would’ve gone livid if someone took liberties like that with their IP.
          In short, Obsidian couldn’t touch the Wall and within this limitation they did fine; also, KOTOR2’s ending was cut off, not pulled out of arse; add perfectly serviceable endings to Alpha Protocol and New Vegas and I don’t think it’s fair to say they aren’t able to finish a story.

    2. MintSkittle says:

      I think this pattern of decent games with bad endings is partly due to time/money constraints, but also partly because (IMO) the majority of players don’t finish games. If only a small portion of your player base is going to see the ending, why put the same effort into it as the beginning?

      1. Michael says:

        Chris guessed that it was ~25% in one of the Spoiler Warning episode. IIRC it’s something like 5-10%, but I’m not certain. The steam games I’m looking at achievements for right now suggest ~40%, which blows my mind a bit.

      2. Sumanai says:

        From what I’ve heard that’s the excuse. The real reason is that since you need to get the player’s attention soon and hold it as long as possible the beginning or middle parts are polished first. Since so much focus is elsewhere, no-one gives a good hard look at the ending before it’s too late.

        There’s also the fact that endings can be tricky. But I doubt they’re that tricky, considering how many games have endings beyond bad.

    3. jdaubenb says:

      Half Life springs to mind. Xen was the prototypical bad last level for a while with good reason.

      I’d go so far as to say that Half Life also set the standard for this practice. Before Half Life Shooters were relatively disjointed collections of levels, but Valve started the whole set piece trend that plagues gaming to this day.

      1. Michael says:

        I’m not sure if Half-Life started the major set piece trend, (I remember some pretty impressive ones in Dark Forces 2, for instance), but it did do the set pieces very well.

        I’m not sure if it’s the Valve play-testing everything to death model or if it was just really savvy design, but that set piece flow was… I hesitate to say “perfected”, in HL1.

    4. Michael says:

      As I recall, with Fallout 3, the primary outcry wasn’t that the ending was bad, it was that the ending took the player’s sandbox away. Broken Steel expanded the story, but the biggest change was being turned loose on the wasteland when you were done.

      Honestly, while Spoiler Warning tore it apart, my recollection was the story in Fallout 3 was just kinda… there. It wasn’t really good, it wasn’t particularly bad, it was just a flavor on the wall that drew a line for you to follow on a guided tour of the wasteland.

      The problem was, that line ended with the player being deep sixed, and understandably, any guided tour that ends in death is a poor one.

      Broken Steel just added some more toys to play with and a few new areas to tour, along with being turned loose when the tour was over. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but I certainly didn’t replay Fallout 3 for the story, though I shouldn’t speak for everyone there.

      1. Gamer says:

        I think only the old Fallout fans played Fallout 3 for the story. Even then, that was only the first time, after they had been disappointed.

        I wasn’t as mad since I had no experience with prior Fallout games and expected “Oblivion with guns”.

        1. Michael says:

          Guilty as charged. I can’t remember if Fallout was my first RPG, but it was one of the ones that got me into the genre. Fallout 3 was kinda… well…

  11. Alex says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

    The only people who were indoctrinated are the people giving good reviews to this s&$#.

  12. X2Eliah says:

    A pretty great article, Shamus. Clear, concise, neutral and logical.. one of your best, I’d say.

    Annd.. Also, it pretty much says all the reasons why I don’t bother with reading or watching reviews for a few years now. If, at least, the journos would be honest and openly said “look, I played through the first 6 hours, so I’ll give my review impressions on that” instead of pretending to have played the game through…

  13. Daithi Farley says:

    thank you for your reponse Mr. Young

  14. Noble Bear says:

    I had a few responses for this but there were all histrionic.

    Suffice to say, I feel increasingly disparaged since I am also one of those that if I play games for the story. No one cares and it’s unfair to make them (as if I could). So now what? What should my response be as a player?

    1. Ira says:

      One imagines the proper response is to not care about games.

    2. Syal says:

      Find a programmer and make better games.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Yes, someone can’t find stories they like because most reviewers aren’t helpful to him, so he should start writing. That makes sense.

        1. Syal says:

          Writing a better story is the alternative to not having a good story. You have power over exactly one person’s actions in your life, so if you don’t do it yourself you’re stuck with what other people give you.

          1. Sumanai says:

            Writing a good story is not the same thing as reading one. In fact, it’s not at all the same action.

            I’d like to have more room in my home. Maybe I should just build a house?

            1. Syal says:

              Wood costs money. Words are free.

              But yes. You can either build another room, move somewhere bigger or build one yourself. And if you want everyone to have more room in their houses, which seems to have been the original point, you need to learn how to build them.

              1. Sumanai says:

                Your perspective on this is alien and I don’t see how it’s supposed to make sense.

                1. Destrustor says:

                  I think the message here can be summed up by the old saying “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
                  I can’t say that it can or should be applied to the writing of a story, but it’s not exactly nonsense.
                  Everyone has varying tastes and standards, and no one but you knows your preferences as perfectly as yourself. Therefore the only way to find a story done in the exact, clear-cut way you precisely want it, is to either do it yourself, hope to get extremely lucky, or just accept that you’ll never see it done.

                  1. Syal says:

                    Yes. That’s what I meant to say before my brain melted.

                  2. Sumanai says:

                    I missed the part where Noble Bear asked for a custom story fit to his tastes.

                    And the generic stance of “if you want it done right, do it yourself” as un-sympathetic and insulting to the person it’s directed at.

                    “I don’t have enough room in my house.”
                    “Get or build a bigger one.”
                    With what money/materials/help? Why do you think I’m so stupid I can’t see such an obvious solution? How is it so difficult to think that maybe the situation is a bit more complex than it appears at a first glance and that being presumptuous and haughty isn’t necessarily the best course of action?

                    And it’s not that different from writing. Not everyone can write well or produce something they like themselves. And writing does have a cost. Time and effort, if nothing else.

                    Besides, Noble Bear seemed to be commenting on Shamus’ article where it’s mentioned that reviewers don’t pay attention to the story. Lamenting that where he is supposed to go to find out if a game has a story he might be interested in. Not that there are no such games.

  15. mdqp says:

    I think I am part of a minority, here, but I must say that I don’t share the view of most people about ME3, because I think that the game itself isn’t that great (and I think that about ME2, too). The fights are a slight improvement over ME2, sure, but it also has its share of problems:

    I played 95% of the game using ONLY the sniper rifle, and I never run out of ammo, which makes the switch from infinite ammo to the current system (since ME2) even more ridiculous… In fact, this system makes the game way easier, since the only difficulty it should add is resolved by the game itself, that gives you tons of ammo.

    The renegade/paragon system was never this great tool in the player’s hands, but in ME3 the times where it really holds any usefulness is just a handful of situations.

    I won’t mention choices and consequences from the previous games or the minor quests you can get by eavesdropping, because, seriously, that’s so bad on so many levels it makes me cringe whenever I think about it.

    One last thing: is it just me, or the fights were not only easier, but all kind of same-thing, same-thing? They seemed to always follow a pattern, without any twist (for example, in ME2 you had one planet with the sun that would fry you, the one location with the red spice, the geth ship where you could hit the console and had to avoid certain areas of the floor… In ME3 I felt it was always the same, even the cover positioning, that wasn’t that great in ME2, either).

    Now, about the story (and dialogues and characters):

    Wasn’t anyone, bothered by the fact that the reaper’s menace wasn’t accepted until the fact? The complete denial really had to last until the attack? It’s not like it would have changed anything, but it would have made the higher-ups not completely, unbelievably, stupid (this isn’t a real point, more of a rant about something that pissed me off within SECONDS from the beginning of the game). Incompetence should have limits, has the dismissal you keep receiving from the Council, that makes no sense, once you have been proven right once again.

    The overall game is about war, so some war rhetoric is to be expected, welcome, even. But I felt they overdid this, and they sacrificed the “personal dimension” that was a part of the both ME1 and ME2, to go about (bad) space politics and conspiracies. All the characters felt underdeveloped in ME3 to me, and ultimately really not interesting, even those from the previous installments (that were the vast majority). In a nutshell, the scope of the game felt “wrong”, compared to what the previous experience was, almost as if everyone turned into “average joe”, when I started looking from too far away.

    Not too many words about Cerberus, as their plans are supposedly originated from Reaper’s control, so they are bound to be bad (though one would like to know what kind of resources a fraction of humanity could put together, as they seem to have access to whatever they want… And the asian-guy-whose-name-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-remember, that was probably the worst character ever).

    The crucible plot is ridiculous, introduced, in a ridiculous way (Liara has to spend most of her dialogues to justify its existance and its timely appearance, which reeks of bad plot device), explained in an unbelievable fashion (built a little on each cycle… One has to wonder why the Reapers don’t attack 100 years or 200 years early, they aren’t strong enough, problem solved, even by the point of view of the twisted logic of the ending), and… God child home(but by this point I refuse to take the ending at face value, so it didn’t happen).

    Maybe I sound cynical, but why don’t the aliens work with each other and leave Earth to itself? It seems to be the plan, according to the Council, if I remember correctly, but then we see them work separately, giving you a chance to make them indebted to you, so that you can form the big ass alliance. No one seem to believe in the crucible that much, too, if I remember correctly.

    London+Citadel= Nonsense (seriously, I can’t figure this one out… The in-game explanation is too stupid).

    The Reapers have become a joke, moving with no tactics or plans (“overwhelming power” isn’t a tactic), they keep spouting nonsense, and (if we take the ending at face value) puppets for something that fails logic big time). You would expect Reapers to close access to the Mass Relays, or something similar, at least. They leave the enemy free to do whatever they want (also, they gather knowledge about the races they then process, so they should know about the Crucible, or am I wrong? Doesn’t anyone find it weird to put everything in a plan they don’t understand at all?).

    I could go on for hours, but I think I was clear enough where I stand about this game (for the record, I didn’t like ME2 plot, either, but the character development was something different entirely).

    1. Michael says:

      Space Ninja was… I think… “Nightwing” I think? I seriously started laughing psychotically when he first appeared in the game.

      Honestly, that no one believed Shepard in the second game is kinda a valid point though, or at least the basis for one: Mass Effect 3 wasn’t the third act of a trilogy. Bare with me for a second.

      Mass Effect is the first act in a Trilogy.

      Mass Effect 2 is not the second act. It’s more of a supliment to the first game, an overlong expansion pack that never advances the story. Which makes…

      Mass Effect 3 the second act. The enemy has been identified in the first, and the protagonists are looking for ways to defeat the enemies and then… well, it just kinda ends in a trainwreck of unconnected plot threads.

      EDIT: sorry, forgot this part…

      The only way Mass Effect 2 works is if it occurs in parallel to the first game. IE, this is one of the things Shepard does while trying to track down Saren. The background for ME2 screams “nothing has changed”, and then we get kicked into motion for ME3? It doesn’t really make sense.

      If Shepard was putting a team together to go shut down the collectors while investigating Saren, then it all kinda fits together (sans-Cerberus), but as something Shepard does to kill time waiting for the Reapres to drop by? It doesn’t really work as act 2 in a trilogy.

      1. mdqp says:

        That’s the feeling ME2 gives, but it was actually sold as the second chapter of a trilogy. Now, I don’t want to start to talk too much about ME2 in a thread about the reactions on the ending of ME3, but seriously the beginning of ME2 is so stupid your IQ drops a few points whenever you hear about it: Shepard literally dies and afterward is resurrected?!? Why!?! That’s not symbolism, that’s just stupid! Even if you wanted to go with some sort of parallel on Jesus (that’s seriously the only reason I can come up with for using real death instead of a coma, or some weird alien disease… Except that they would have worked, too, without being as retarded), they could have been a little more… Subtle? If there isn’t any symbolism in it, then it’s just pathetic. It’s hard to imagine another plot device so obvious.

        1. lurkey says:

          Eh, you are not a minority here. Majority of people here seems to be of “Fun game, but kind of really stupid” mindset. There were some very dedicated defensive units who’d wank with passion after every ME2’s Spoiler Warning episode, but they’re suspiciously absent in ME3 debate.

          Stupid story aside – I, too, found it much easier than ME2. Since I don’t do shooters, ME2 often frustrated me even on casual; in ME3 with max 18 FPS, unresponsive mouse, cup of tea and active input from the cat casual was a total joke. I wonder how story mode goes – do enemies shoot themselves perhaps?

          1. Shamus says:

            The thing about ME2 is that it didn’t feel like a BioWare game to me in tone, theme, and pacing. This wasn’t Jade Empire or KOTOR or even Mass Effect. It was darker, grittier, more macho, and more explicitly about the conflict itself than about using conflict to bring about some desired outcome. It felt like a movie franchise that had been handed off to a different team.

            BioWare built up a lot of trust over the years, and I think a lot of people assumed all of this was a set-up for some later payoff. This stuff would make sense… eventually. The third game would be some kind of payoff, just like KOTOR delivered a payoff in the third act that justified your hand-wavy Jedi training, your massive power, and the visions you were having. I think it was easier to believe that BioWare was just doing that than to believe that they had morphed into Epic Games overnight.

            1. Michael says:

              A movie handed off to a different team, or the sequel to a movie where the team was kept on a tight leash, and went on to become a smash hit, so the creative team was let off the leash for the second and all the impractical and poorly considered ideas came tumbling forth because they were “cool”?

              Either way, you’re right about one thing, the entire Mass Effect franchise did manage to set up a feeling that “this will pay off later” for basically everything we did. From the first couple quests in the citadel embassies to the destruction of the collector base, nearly every thing felt like it was leading up towards some major payoff.

              And of course then we got Red Explosion, Green Explosion, Blue Explosion or I Should Go. The payoffs in 3 turned into a negligible bump on our EMS instead of the story payoff we were expecting.

              Ironically, thinking back to the first game, I don’t think it was Bioware’s reputation that sold this, all of these random little details were telegraphed with a “this will be important later”.

              EDIT: Why do I keep running afoul of the moderation filter? :(

            2. mdqp says:

              That was my reasoning. I mean, after playing ME2, I simply thought it was filler, because they realized that having meaningful choices come into play for 2 consecutive games (ME2 & ME3) was going to be too hard, if they had to take into account what happened before. So they had you take a vacation from the main story, a big side quest that left you where you started when it was off. A huge disappointment, but something I could live with (and, as I said, most of the characters had a good story to tell, even if they were classic architypes… The plot still makes me cry, though). But this! This is horrible! I was alredy feeling bad after I saw the DA2 demo (I didn’t buy it, and I am grateful for this), but hope for a decent ME3 was hard to crush. And then it all happened, and now I am left in pain in a corner, after being beaten up by the abusive, drunken plot.

        2. Michael says:

          Yeah, sorry. I know ME2 was marketed as the “dark second act”, but, from an actual structural standpoint it wasn’t the second act of a trilogy, just a random collection of sidequests.

          1. mdqp says:

            Don’t worry, I understood your point (which is true, by the way), I was just observing that it wasn’t what anyone was expecting. ME2 might as well have been a stand alone expansion for ME1. It’s not a sequel only because it’s positioned afterward in the timeline, but I guess there is no point in arguing this now that everything is over.

  16. Raygereio says:

    There are a lot of things wrong with game reviewing.
    One of the problems is that reviewers talk about games and nothing else and intermingle heavily with the culture of gaming and the industry. You don’t see good movie or book critics involve themselves in silly drama.

    That and game journalists seem to be desperate for validation – that they haven’t wasted their lives reviewing videogames (hence the silly “games are art!” debate and the ridiculous “BioWare can’t change the ending. It would ruing their artistic integrity!”-shtick).

    1. Menegil says:

      Very much so. I do not understand it.

      I believe Jim Sterling put it best in his Taking Games Seriously video. Videogames are already taken seriously by those people that matter. Why strive to prove ourselves as grown up to the world, when we have nothing to prove to them?

      It speaks of the medium’s infancy that such validation is sought after. Only when we are willing to stand up for ourselves and our taste in games as an adult and valid method of perceiving the world and our place in it will we see it be respected. Not by shoehorning hysterical arguments into controversies.

  17. Even says:

    The only review I’ve read about it mentioned the ending.. and liked it. Exception that proves the rule?

    1. Sumanai says:

      That really bothers me. I understand being indifferent or having a mildly positive look on it simply because I’ve had times when I’ve been so happy that a game has ended to care that the ending is bad. But to actually think that it’s so good it’s worth mentioning?

      Where is that review? I think I should look up who wrote it and make a mental note to never trust their reviews.

  18. paercebal says:

    Some texts I’ve read from online game critics were far from understanding (to put it middly) toward the mass effect disappointed fans.

    My analysis of this gap between game critics and game fans is that game critics are simply outraged to have missed what was unearthed by game fans. Or, more precisely:

    Game critics are just outraged to have been discovered having missed what was unearthed by mere game fans.

    Like Shamus wrote: They have little time to review a game, so they can’t possibly see everything, or even understand everything. And this is Ok, as long as game critics don’t claim all-powerful omniscience on everything gamey (which, implicitly, they do…).

    And the fan’s outrage just did underline the fact game critics are not as relevant as they want themselves to be.

    So in the end, they had a simple choice: Either deepen their analysis, and admit they were wrong (gasp!!!), possibly alienating the game studios that pay their bills (double-gasp!!!).

    Or (more probably) stick to their version despite the contradiction of deeper articles written by people who really understand that stuff.

    Few people have the courage to admit they’ve been wrong.

    This is why the comments about a game from a generic game critic are not to be trusted anymore. At all.

    1. Shep says:

      So, it’s not that they have a different opinion to you, or different ideas of what’s important in a game. It’s all actually a conspiracy to try and hide the fact that all game critics are incompetent. Perfect.

  19. This pretty much reenforces what I was saying awhile back. Narrative is an aesthetic aspect of the presentation of a game, not a vital aspect of its identity. When that changes, they will no longer be videoGAMES.

  20. uniqueuser says:

    I guess when you’re “playing” a game that’s little more than an interactive movie, the ending is the only payoff you can hope to get.

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