on Nov 24, 2012
Well, it’s over. When we began this series I’d planned on mapping out a great big deconstruction of the ending and listing all of the failings in exhaustive detail. This was going to be the definitive listing of the major thematic / logical / lore / character problems at the climax of Mass Effect 3.
But in the end, my heart just isn’t in it. Smudboy has done the definitive listing of faults, and Nerdrage has the most damning. There’s no need to catalog every damn thing that went wrong, and in the end all that matters is that we lost our connection to this world that we enjoyed so much. And that problem is deeper than just “Why does Shepard’s pistol have infinite bullets in this scene?”
I’ve also decided not to grant this game the Goldun Riter A
wward. Yes, this ending was atrocious. Yes, the series lost its voice. They bungled the lore. They dumbed down the characters with tired action schlock one-liners. Plus Kai Leng. But this game also gave us the wrap-up to the Salarian / Krogan conflict. It gave us a a visually rich and character-fulfilling playdate with Garrus. There were other moments that worked, which I will not enumerate in order to avoid re-salting old wounds. The point is, they’ve still got some people at BioWare who know what they’re doing. Also, this third game is being viewed as a referendum on the series as a whole, and I’m not quite willing to throw out the Mass Effect 1 baby with the Mass Effect 3 bathwater.
In the end-credits discussion, we brought up Walking Dead, and I mentioned how that game was written without a plan. Here is an interview with the writers where they discuss that. Note that this contains serious spoilers for the game up to episode 4.
But having watched that interview again, it’s clear they had a rough plan. Or if not a plan, then a series of plot-points they wanted to hit. They also talk about using playtesting to get feedback on the story. Both of these are things BioWare neglected to do. If BioWare had just made a rough sketch of their ideas at the start, they could have avoided wasting all of Mass Effect 2 on irrelevant nonsense and then retconning over it in Mass Effect 3. If they had done a bit of playtesting, they would have discovered the extreme disparity between their intentions and the audience reaction to the ending, and a lot of this controversy could have been averted.
When we talk about the difference between “We make games to make money” vs. “we make money to make games”, this is exactly the sort of problem we’re talking about. We’re hard on Casey Hudson, but the truth is that a lot of the problems are probably more to do with business and less to do with writing. The desire at EA to turn all franchises into yearly FIFA cash cows has got to be murder on anyone trying to tell a story like this. If the Mass Effect 1 writers had to work under this pressure, with a rotating staff of contractors, with new writers coming and going, Mass Effect 1 might have turned out just as badly. Good writing takes time, especially when you’re talking about collaborative writing and worlbuilding on the scale of Mass Effect.
If there’s a Mass Effect 4, I doubt we’ll cover it, for all the same reasons we don’t do other games that are outside of our area of interest. EA decided they want another biennial Modern Warfare-type title. This is dumb and wrongheaded and shows that the people at the top of EA really have no idea what they’re doing, but we don’t need to spend another 15 hours to point that out. They’ve decided to make a play for the already-saturated bro market of big-budget spectacle shooters instead of keeping their investments diverse with the RPG market. They’ve made that particular bed, and I’m not going to rage at them when they lie down in it.
I know this has been a rough one. Thanks for sticking with it. You’ll be happy to hear that our next season is likely to be a lot more positive. I’ll announce the next game tomorrow.
Thanks for watching.