If there’s anything that drives home how Mass Effect 3 is playing flagrant bullshit for profundity, it would have to be…
At the end of each of the major chapters in the game there’s a long dream sequence. Shepard chases Some Kid That Died – a nameless character we have no connection to – through a forest that has no context or meaning except to be “spooky” in the most generic way possible. There’s no gameplay, no dialog, the plot doesn’t move forward, nothing is foreshadowed, and no information is conveyed.
While I think “playable dream sequence” is a terrible idea in the context of Mass Effect, this could have been greatly improved with some basic changes:
- Put the dream on the Normandy. (Or the Citadel, or some other familiar location.) It might actually be slightly unnerving to see the Normandy slightly off, the layout re-arranged, and totally devoid of people. The forest is silly and boring. We’ve never seen a forest in the game. It has no meaning or depth for Shepard, who either grew up in space or a big city.
- Each dream should reveal something new. The dreams are all basically identical. Shepard chases the little kid around, and at the end the kid stands there motionless while he’s consumed by fireOkay, the third time the dream shows Shepard AND the kid consumed by fire. That’s not really a “payoff”.. If nothing else, the dreams should tell some kind of one-minute story. The first time, the story gets cut off just as it gets going. The second time, it gets cut off just before the audience sees some big reveal at the end. The third would be the full dream, which would complete some thematic idea or give Shepard something to think about when he wakes upSomething more profound than “it really sucked when that kid died”..
- Put characters in the dream. The writer is trying to build up the Star Child. It might help if Shepard’s lost friends showed up in these dreams. Perhaps they could die trying to save the kid? Sure, that’s sophomoric, but at least it’s something. These sequences have the opposite of the intended effect. The kid shows up and interrupts your game. You then have to chase the kid around while moving at agonizingly slow speeds. There is no gameplay, no decisions to be made, no dialog, no story progression, no characterization, and no greater meaning. By the end you’re not feeling angst about the loss of this one child, you’re pissed off the little shit keeps showing up and wasting your time.
Once again, the writer is clumsily grasping at old tropes without understanding what those tropes are for and how they’re used. A dream is supposed to be where the writer turns the protagonist inside-out and we get to see into their heart and mind. It could also be a chance to do a little character-building by letting us see into their past. But this isn’t a nightmare for Commander Shepard. This is a nightmare for Bella Swan.
The Citadel has been moved to Earth. The story never hinted that it could do that, and in fact it makes no damn sense. What did it look like with something that massive taking a ride on the relay? Did it? Why would the Reapers move it?
The Prothean VI claimed it was moved to Earth so that it would be in “Reaper controlled space”, which kind of overlooks the fact that anywhere the Reapers show up automatically becomes Reaper controlled space, and they have every reason in the galaxy to want to capture the Citadel first.
According to the first game, capturing the Citadel allows them to shut down the mass relay network, which would basically halt all fleet movements and communication. Which would have foiled Shepard’s plan before he ever left Earth. Again, these are ideas that are part of the struggle against the Reapers. Retconning stuff isn’t ideal, but sometimes you need to. But retconning things that are central to the story and doing so without comment is incredibly destructive to our connection to the world. It makes it feel like anything can happen at any time without reason.
The writer thinks “unexpected” means “plot twist”. But plot twists are interesting if you foreshadow them so they can be understood in retrospect. Or if you spend some time exploring their ramifications. Or if they resolve a longstanding mystery. This is just the writer nakedly contorting the universe to suit their purposes.
In any case, Shepard summons the fleet to Earth for…
The Final Battle
We need to dock the Crucible with the Citadel, but the arms of the station are closed. Last time someone needed to access the arms of the station, they used the Conduit. In fact, that was the turning point of the plot of the first game, and was the answer to the long-standing mystery of “what is the conduit?” that had been established in the first act.
I’m not saying it’s a plot hole that we can’t use the Conduit againThe fact that the Citadel has moved provides a pretty good reason why the conduit wouldn’t help this time., I’m saying that the writer could have offered some sort of acknowledgement of this in dialog. It was a solution to this problem before, so it ought to come up in conversation now, if only to explain why it won’t work this time. Show us that Shepard is proactive and looking for alternatives.
So how can we board the Citadel? Well, maybe we could use the magic door that let a Cerberus army into the station, or the other magic door that let Kai Leng escape? I kid. That was hours ago. Who could remember back that far?
The Citadel is over LondonAt least it’s not New York or LA. and the Reapers are gathering up bodies and throwing them into this beam of pure energy that leads up to the Citadel. The story seems to suggest this is how they’re going to harvest humans. It’s a dumb idea and it’s pointless to take it apart, so I’m going to let this point go without making a fuss or nitpRENEGADE INTERRUPT!!
This is how the Reapers plan to harvest humanity? Even if people VOLUNTARILY marched to the beam en masse, it would take bloody ages like this. Most of the city would die of hunger or thirst while standing in line for the beam. Not to mention that nothing is capable of processing such volume on the other side.
Let’s imagine humanity decided they wanted to be harvested by the Reapers. So everyone converges on the beam. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, people jog into the beam at the rate of 2 a second. It would take 81 days just to shove the measly 14 million people of the London metropolitan area though this single chokepoint.
And all of this ignores the fact that there’s nothing on the other end of the beam that indicates the Reapers could possibly process people this fast. In Mass Effect 1 Vigil said that harvesting took centuries, but I sort of assumed that was because the galaxy was huge, not because the Reapers just had really shitty tools. These machine gods harvest civilizations, and yet when its time for the reaping they’re like a guy who shows up to cut the grass at St. Andrews with an eyebrow trimmer.
No, this isn’t a plot hole. It’s just yet another example of how random ideas are being thoughtlessly thrown together. There’s lots of room to make excuses to explain this. The point is that nobody cares. This scenario is just here for shock value, and not a reveal of the nature and purpose of the Reapers. Why do they harvest? How do they choose who gets harvested? Why this beam? Are they making another baby Reaper somewhere? Who cares? Shoot the bad guys!
At any rate, at this point in the story nobody has any way of knowing what the beam does. Maybe it liquefies you? Maybe it drops you into a machine that liquefies you? Maybe it drops you into a prison cell for later liquefaction? Maybe it instantly husk-ifies you? Or maybe it will drop you off in one of the wards and you’ll have to wander around the “Manhattan size x 5” station on foot, looking for a control panel that you don’t even know exists yet.
But Admiral Hackett apparently got a copy of the script, so he knows that if we can reach the beam on foot, then we’ll be transported up to the Citadel and appear right beside the controls that can open the arms of the station. Nobody asks what would happen if you flew a shuttle into the beam. Or perhaps just flew a ship through the beam way up in space, far from the battle. Everyone seems so intent on doing things the hard way.
But whatever. If the rest of this stuff worked, little details like this would be filed under the category of “Why don’t the Eagles take Frodo to Mt. Doom?” level nitpicks. It’s generally harmless and the only reason I notice is because the rest of the setup is such an illogical disaster. I’m overthinking it because the game is making me think too hard about it. This is the point in the story where all of the pieces should suddenly snap together, and instead it’s a big shapeless pile of tropes and half-baked ideas that don’t have anything new to say.
Whenever we talk about the ending, people are always so quick to point out how good it was to get one last goodbye with all of our friends. And yes, that bit is nice. But I don’t think this is actually a point in favor of the ending. It’s not like these little character moments are a byproduct of the ending. It’s not like all these gaps in continuity and breaks in immersion were done in service of making these character moments possible. We could have put these conversations into literally any sort of ending scenario and they would have worked equally well.
The ending isn’t good because of these goodbyes, the goodbyes are good in spite of the ending.
It’s been a long journey. 48 entries and about 115,000 words, but here we are. The messy, controversial, confusing ending to the Mass Effect trilogy.
Shepard leads his team towards the beam and gets blasted by a Reaper eye-laser. He stands up again, barely alive. His armor is melted. He’s wounded, he can’t use his powers, and all he has is a pistol with infinite bullets. The gameplay is essentially over at this point. The rest of the game is all about walking forward and watching as predetermined events play out. You don’t get to make any meaningful decisions for the next twenty minutes or soNo, choosing ineffectual responses in the upcoming argument with TIM does not count as a meaningful choice..
After the initial controversy, BioWare released the Extended Cut ending. Some people were mollified, others were ambivalent, others were even more outraged because the supposed fix didn’t fix any of their problems, and some people didn’t care because the original ending had severed their connection to the franchise and they didn’t care to return.
I think the Extended Cut was a massive improvement. It’s still hopelessly broken in half a dozen ways, but at least we can all agree on what the writer was trying to say. We no longer have huge codex-fueled arguments regarding basic questions like, “What happened to the Normandy?” and “Did Shepard blow up the galaxy?” We can at least agree on what we’re being shown, even if we don’t like it.
For the record, this write-up is going to focus on the Extended Cut. This series is negative enough without delving into the original ending.
Shepard steps into the beam and is transported to a blood-soaked hallway of the Citadel. Bodies are everywhere. Anderson is up here, too. Somehow. Shepard talks to him on the radio that somehow still works except in a few minutes when it doesn’tThe radio goes quiet when TIM is talking, because the writer hates being interrupted..
Shepard goes down a linear corridor to meet Anderson, who had no way of reaching this space without meeting Shepard. While you’re still pondering that little continuity puzzle, The Illusive Man walks in behind Shepard, even though there was no way he could do that unless you’d passed him in the corridor, which you didn’t. The writer has been gradually losing their grip on continuity and causality as we approach the endgame, and now the whole thing is coming apart.
And so now it’s time for one last conversational merry-go-round with TIM. He’s here to convince you that he’s going to control the Reapers. I don’t know why he’s bothering. I mean, if he’s got a plan then why doesn’t he just go and Do It Already and stop wasting his time arguing with Shepard? He doesn’t ask you to do anything. Like, try to imagine how the conversation would go if he somehow persuaded Shepard:
Shepard would say, “Okay, you win. Let’s control the Reapers. What should I do first?”
And then what would TIM say? He doesn’t actually have a goal here. If he wanted access to the control panel, then that would be something for the two of you to fight over, just like Shepard and Saren raced each other to the Conduit and then fought over the control panel to open the station. TIM doesn’t know about the Star Child. He doesn’t know about the ending-o-tron. Does he know – or think that he knows – what the Crucible will do? How is he planning on achieving his goal of controlling the Reapers?
The writer noticed that confrontations in this series involve red and blue color-coded dialogs, so they put that in. But the renegade and paragon dialogs are supposed to be how we resolve things between people with different or opposing goals. But TIM doesn’t have a discernible goal except to oppose Shepard.
He keeps saying stuff like, “Think of the possibilities, Shepard!” But he never actually articulates what any of those possibilities are.
I dunno, Timmy. Do any of the possibilities include a world where you’re not turning colonists into husks? What are you after? Power? Technology? Long life? Human Supremacy? What’s your vision? If you’re going to chew up five entire minutes of screen time could you at least spend one of those minutes saying something you haven’t said in our last three conversations?
The conversation is meaningless because TIM doesn’t actually have a point of view. We can’t argue about anything because he’s just a generic crazyperson who wants to kill everything. Nothing TIM did ever made any sense. He killed all those people to “study indoctrination”, but he didn’t need any of that knowledge here. He told the Reapers about the Crucible, even though that increased the odds that the Crucible would be destroyed and he needs it for his plan to work. And you can’t point this out to him. He’s nuts. Or indoctrinated. Or some other excuse that relieves the writer from the burdensome job of characterization and motivation.
Which… fine. The writer wanted their bad guy to play with. That’s selfish and obnoxious, but it’s not the worst thing about TIM. It’s these long, meandering conversations that really make the character a chore. The writer traps you in these long dialogs with him where he makes the same points again and again, and Shepard can either be a growling idiot or a sanctimonious idiot.
When you try to argue with TIM, Shepard always does so by talking about how “evil” Reaper Tech™ is. A much better line of debate would be to confront him specifically about his horrific deeds and their poor or negligible return on investment.
In TIM’s defense, he does seem to have mastered some kind of indoctrination. It doesn’t work anything like indoctrination as portrayed in the earlier games and it isn’t at all clear how it could possibly help him control the Reapers. But he does mind-control Shepard into shooting Anderson. So I guess he did get something. Sort of.
Shepard fights back, and through dialog or renegade interrupts, TIM dies. Shepard opens the arms of the Citadel and has a last moment with Anderson which, I grudgingly admit, is pretty nice.
 Okay, the third time the dream shows Shepard AND the kid consumed by fire. That’s not really a “payoff”.
 Something more profound than “it really sucked when that kid died”.
 The fact that the Citadel has moved provides a pretty good reason why the conduit wouldn’t help this time.
 At least it’s not New York or LA.
 No, choosing ineffectual responses in the upcoming argument with TIM does not count as a meaningful choice.
 The radio goes quiet when TIM is talking, because the writer hates being interrupted.
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