So 1 year after it came out, I played through Mass Effect 3.
I'm not doing a proper review this time because Mass Effect 3 became far more well-known for its controversy than how good it actually is on its own. But, to be fair, it placed way too much pressure on itself by needing to have an ending that would satisfy a story that had carried over numerous games. Nothing new, but supposedly the ending would have been influenced by choices made in previous installments. Eh, not really.
Now to re-cap my thoughts of Mass Effect 2, my eventual conclusion was that I found it overhyped, as it has a wonderful universe and a very fun and enjoyable story, but I found Shepard rather boring as a character (and considering he/she is the character you play as, you really don't want the leading protagonist to be dull) and the gameplay was rather flawed. Mainly because the mission lists became to-do lists and missions got repetitive and boring. So while I found the game relatively fun, I felt it didn't deserve the accolades and praise and I also felt the 'events in this game are influenced by choices in the first game' statement was also oversold, as all the changes were only to character relations and nothing really that drastic and story-altering as far as the overarching story was concerned. Also, what a crappy and unsatisfying ending. What? Did they really think giving you the chance to say F U to the Illusive Man and seeing your team suit up for another day would be good enough? No way.
So when I saw the marketing material for Mass Effect 3, in the form of its trailers and its voice actors gushing over how this game will be the best game ever, I really wanted to blow up whatever PR office this came out of. I either got the impression of THIS IS EPIC or THIS IS OVERHYPED being jammed down my throat and I hated it. That's why I refused to buy it at first, thinking I could buy it cheaply later like I did ME2, but then, the controversy broke out, so I then decided to play Nathan's copy. Now my initial reaction to learning that many were disappointed by ME3's ending(s) was smugness: I was so glad people finally noticed Bioware wasn't all that. But then...I noticed people were not just disappointed, they were raging, venomously so. I really didn't understand why at first, but considering people were making jokes about the red, green or blue non-options in the most unrelated places (including sfdebris in one of his reviews) I started to understand why. So I put off playing the game, thinking I'd play it after the extended ending was released. Then reactions to the extended ending were polarising and I put it off even longer...
Then Nathan kept forgetting to give me the game for, well, reasons and I just took it as a sign to put it off longer. Okay, on to my brief thoughts of the game itself.
Key changes: the roster of team members was a lot smaller, which I liked as it meant I didn't spend ages being indecisive before a mission. I admit the drawback was less variety in their abilities. I also liked the fact that the crew members could be found at various positions around the Citadel, giving the impression that the people of the Normandy (that's the name of the ship) are independent and go to wherever they feel like during their off-time. They also change positions around the ship. I also liked that Shepard admits more frequently that the situation gets to her (my Shepard is female) and it was interesting that she had these nightmare sequences every so often. Also of note: the romance option I picked in ME2 was Garrus, which I picked because the option was handed to me and I thought: 'Why not? It'll be funny.' The romance scene pay-off in ME2 was surprisingly sincere; he reminded me of any guy who wants to do their best but unwittingly makes a fool of himself. In ME3, he was very sweet. I would always send Shepard talking to him when I felt down and his good-humoured, soothing voice would always say something to cheer me up. (I hope my real life boyfriend would be something like Garrus.) After the third time we see her nightmare, she wakes up and Garrus is in her room (nothing stalkery, she invited him in before going to sleep) and I noticed she was only wearing her underwear. My thought: no way a marine would wear lace underwear. Who made that decision and why???
Oh yeah and um, ME3's gameplay was more fun and less repetitive, that too.
Okay, the ending. So I made the conscious decision to download the extended ending before I started playing, as the general impression I got was (and Nathan told me) that the extended ending seemed more like the proper, intended ending. I certainly got that impression. Now the disappointment with the ending comes from the 'there are 3 choices' and each of the endings has a different result, but are structurally similar. At this moment I got reminded of how angry I got with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the case of Deus Ex, I was angry at where the plot had gone and not just the ending. With ME3, while it's disappointing that the ending hinged on a key choice as opposed to actions taken throughout the story, I felt everything had been resolved. We saw what the future held for the various races and we got a snapshot of what some members of the team, as well as former members, decided to do with their futures. What's also interesting is that there is a hidden 4th 'bad ending' that you can activate by shooting the Catalyst instead of picking out of the 3 choices (I'm not going to explain what the Catalyst is, I'll just refer to it as a holographic representation of the enemies' master), although a lot of people felt the 4th ending could have been done a lot better. I believe that's the case too. So overall I was satisfied with the ending I got for the fun space adventure, because for me, that's all the Mass Effect franchise is: it's not ground-breaking, it's not an example of gaming excellence, it's just a rather well-done set of games with a fascinating universe and a fun space-opera story. Then again, I speak as someone who figured out that whoever wrote the story (I imagine it's more than 1 person) didn't actually want to create a story with divergent paths and alternate outcomes, the choices and effects gimmick came in later, so the overarching story is still following the same pre-determined path.
If you want a great standalone game where varying choices dictate the ending, try Heavy Rain. ... Fine! It's a little unfair to use that game as an example since it has 4 protagonists, but when it comes to alternate stories and endings, Silent Hill games and even Shadow the Hedgehog have done this better. That's right, I'm naming Shadow the Hedgehog as a bigger success in the 'choose your ending' experiment than Mass Effect.
I'm also very glad that I made sure the extended ending was downloaded and prepped before I played. I researched the original ending after my playthrough was done and it seems to be the same set of endings but with massive chunks missing, as in, missing cut scenes before the climax, missing cut scenes after and just about no epilogue to provide closure to the various characters and races involved. The impression I get is that EA forced Bioware to ship out the game before it was ready, not the first time this has happened and not the first time EA has done this. I just hope this entire fiasco finally teaches the gaming industry to not release games until they're ready!