This post contains spoilers on the overall storyline. You have been warned.
Almost two months ago, I embarked on the journey that is Bioware’s Mass Effect franchise. My husband played Mass Effect 3 when it first came out, so I had heard of it. I even remember reading the ending just out of curiosity and not feeling particularly intrigued one way or the other. (Thank goodness my memory had mind-dumped that part!)
Despite loving Star Wars, I have always preferred fantasy based games over sci-fi ones so I didn’t think I would enjoy this at all. Aliens? Boring. But then Black Milk came out with their Mass Effect clothing line and I had to justify owning a pair of N7 leggings because #reasons.
[Editor’s Note: I had no idea about any spoilers for the three games and I am completely appreciative of my social networks for keeping everything secret until I experienced it.]
So when I finished out my contract job and became at-home/unemployed again, I sat down and took the first game for a spin.
EIGHT HOURS LATER
From the minute “Jane Shepard” was created, I devoured every second of the Mass Effect game, relishing in the beautiful depth and complexity of the characters, the familiar ability to forge relationships (and flirt my ass off), and a breathtaking story that buckled my soul into the seat of an emotional roller coaster. These are all traits I have been addicted to and expect from Bioware ever since I heard those first sweet words from Carth Onasi (swoon) in 2003. [But more on that in another post.] And to think, this was only the first game!
When a game series is good, you play through pretty quickly and have a nice feeling of accomplishment at the end. When a game series is great, it takes over – you think about it, you dream about it, you change your wallpapers, and you read everything you can about it.
My husband claims he “lost” me to the games, and that’s probably a fair assessment considering I preferred to transport myself into the body of the valiant (and totally fit version) Shepard aboard the Normandy with my crew rather than plop down on the couch and catch up on sitcoms – I didn’t have time for Modern Family when the safety of the universe was on the line! I was in deep! I needed to save Earth. I wanted to beat the shit out of the Reapers. The game brought me back to my Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) days and I won’t lie – hearing the voice of my first video game love (Raphael Sbarge voices both Carth and Kaidan) again was a sweet bonus. It was like taking everything I loved from both the KOTOR and Dragon Age franchises and combining them into a single brand that will consume my soul for eternity.
The Sequel & My Hatred of The Illusive Man
I powered my way through the first game in about 20 hours, even though I was completing a heavy number of side quests. I finished at 8 or so in the evening with a few tears in my eyes and a sense of pride. Honestly, though? I couldn’t tell you now what I did at the end of the game because I have been so traumatized by the ending of the third. I literally have no recollection of what I did at the end of the first game except make naked with Kaidan in my bunk before we got there, and then my sense of victory when the credits started rolling.
When I finished, I turned to my husband; he sighed and said, “You want to start the second one, don’t you?” And so as quick as I could justify (that man is amazing for dealing with my Mass-sanity these past two months), I popped in Mass Effect 2 and started my journey. Since I didn’t know anything about the second game, I was really happy when I started out on board with my biotic boy toy and comedy hour pilot in tow. Everything was happy, happy AND THEN LIKE ALWAYS, BIOWARE TAKES AWAY MY HAPPINESS. There I go, saving anyone and everyone except myself; I should have recognized that foreshadowing.
Mass Effect 2 was pretty decent. It reminded me of how I felt transitioning to Dragon Age 2 – the controls were different and all of a sudden I couldn’t heal myself with a medi-gel. Yikes! However, it still felt wonderfully open and I loved having detailed companion side missions. The transition mentally and emotionally for Shepard from ME1 to ME2 is quite beautiful; in fact, Shepard’s psychological journey throughout the three games is beyond beautiful and possibly the most tragic story I’ve seen. Mark Meer (the voice of male Shepard) and Jennifer Hale (the voice of female Shepard) do an outstanding job acting through these lines. I may have turned my nose up at that pretentious Bastila in KOTOR, but I am definitely 150% on board with FemShep.
It wasn’t my favorite of the three because, as lame as this seems, I didn’t have Kaidan on board with me and I really hated that I was basically a walking, half-biotic meatbag financed by a creepy guy with Halloween contacts and a smoking problem. I felt like a fake and missed being the “real” Shepard. I also found the whole “OMG YOU’RE A TRAITOR” storyline really frustrating. After building up these relationships in the first game, here I was – I had just DIED and been a slab of flesh and wires on a table of a freaking terrorist organization for two years, but hey, totally, I am not the victim here. Right. So then you FINALLY see Kaidan halfway in the game and what does he do? *Rejoice* He hugs you! Your inner fangirl screams!
But then he rips you one for breaking his heart and betraying good by joining Cerberus. And then YOU DON’T SEE HIM FOR THE REST OF THE GAME. What the actual fuck, Bioware? Now to make matters worse, because they haven’t already toyed with our emotions enough, you get this long letter from Kaidan that breaks your heart all over again and you can’t do anything about it. (FYI: That link is Raphael reading Kaidan’s letter and destroying any shred of resolve you had left. You have been warned.) You can’t respond. You can’t visit him. Nothing. You’re just supposed to go about your business for 30 hours, saving the galaxy again but abstaining from any other romances, even though a few quality ones are available (Hey, Thane!) and Bioware has stuck a framed photo of Kaidan on your desk. For you to look at. Over, and over again … Like seriously, the final scene before the big battle is Shepard staring longingly at the photo in lieu of getting it on with someone.
So this is basically emotional abuse, guys.
Now there are perks to the sequel such as really kick-ass N7 armor you can now make hot pink if it’s your desire. Your quarters have received the penthouse treatment and you now have an overly unnecessary, gigantic fish tank, for which you can buy all sorts of exotic fish (and then have die after forgetting to feed them for one mission.) There’s also some spectacular armor modifications and sets, including a throwback to the DragonAge franchise with that beautiful bloody dragon right on the front. Duh, I bought it!
I mainly ran with my old crew (Garrus and Tali), but I did enjoy the majority of the new companions. Miranda drove me crazy and was a total bitch the entire time, but I loved Mordin, Thane, (GO FIGURE) and Legion’s different perspective. The Collector storyline was pretty great and I was completely taken aback by a few twists at the end. I actually gasped outloud at the human reaper – uh, EW! It was a solid game, but I was ready to wipe away the Illusive Man – who turned out to be a giant asshole anyway – and save the universe, because despite what that pretentious Council believed, the reapers REALLY WERE a threat! And seriously, fuck the Illusive Man. That guy is a douche.
An End, Once and for All
When I finished with the second game, I needed an overnight break. I was trying to emotionally prepare myself for what I had heard was an extremely heartbreaking, therapy-inducing ending that would leave me hating the game, broken, and without closure. Joy! I was very happy to have kept all of my crew alive in the final suicide mission, but I was depressed knowing the end was on the horizon.
It was at this point that I created a personal playlist, which basically just resulted in me becoming even more emotional so on second thought, maybe not the best suggestion. For what it’s worth, if you ever want to stop being an emotional basket-case, steer clear of the “An End, Once and for All” track on the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack – you know, like I am totally not doing right now. It is definitely not on repeat and THERE ARE A LOT OF ONIONS IN THE ROOM.
Mass Effect 3 is so many things. It can’t be compared to any other game – it is truly a work of art and I can’t fathom how Mass Effect 4 will be.
I have never experienced such a profound emotional impact like I have with this game. Dragon Age was pretty close after I fubar’ed the ending, but it wasn’t on this scale – you could still be happy in that game. (Apparently somewhere in between Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 3, the people at Bioware had a really nasty breakup and decided nobody could be happy ever again.)
Between the astounding graphics, the dramatic action, the dialogue, the characters – OMG, it is a masterpiece of a game and deserves 5,000 awards. After 10 years of holding KOTOR at the top of my list, it’s taken the spot and is, without a doubt, the best game I have ever played – ever.
And you know what? Bioware gets a little credit here because not only do you get Kaidan back almost immediately (though there’s like 30% of the game where he’s half-naked in a hospital, which results in great visuals but frustration that he’s stuck in one spot), but his biotics are obviously working and have made him extra hot. This must be our penance for having to deal with Miranda’s ridiculous ass shots in the second game – SPOILER: there were a lot.
The story in Mass Effect 3 is beautiful, (it starts out ASAP with the feels) but they take no time killing off good people. In reality, it would be silly to have the universe coming to an end and everyone survive, but can’t Ashley be the only one who croaks? (Hated. Her. She totally popped one into Wrex’s skull while I was trying to talk him down. Guess who survived Virmire?) So you play the game and enjoy the beginning, because for a little while, it feels like the universe isn’t quite over. You’re in a sort of blissful state of ignorance – sort of like everyone on the Citadel. You have your ship and it’s flying Alliance flags, baby! You even have your adorable pilot back, who is now romancing up on EDI and her new AI body. Their entire storyline and dialogue is worth every penny of this game. Everything is really kind of peachy.
But then slowly, the Reapers creep closer into existence, preventing you from completing certain missions because they’re taking over the universe. It’s a huge nuisance, but I truly appreciated the realism of it all.
And then, THAT ENDING!
I’m used to tragic endings (hello, Bioware), but I have never played a game that is so gut-wrenching. The ending for Mass Effect 3 (I played the extended cut so I have no experience otherwise) was basically two hours of me crying my eyes out and feeling like the saddest, loneliest person on the planet. It was one majorly depressing “goodbye” conversation after the next, as I said my last words to each of the companions that I had grown to love.
But don’t worry, because if you aren’t feeling sad enough (I mean, the world IS almost ending so it’s not all rainbows and unicorns), Bioware has a special treat for you. Just when you think the love of your life is going to make it with you to the end, he doesn’t – no, he gets injured and you have to put his ass on the Normandy (why can’t you just fly up there on the Normandy if it’s clearly flying in to do a med evac?) And to kill you one last time before you head up the shiny blue tunnel to try and stop the Reapers, you get your heart mangled into unrecognizable pieces thanks to the final cut-scene with Kaidan, who pleads for you not to leave him again (and all of a sudden he has puppy-dog quality eyebrows that cut into your soul.)
BIOWARE, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY ME?
So you get through that, somehow, and you make it upstairs to the Citadel (holy crap, why didn’t you just stay there the whole game!) to save the planet. You’re covered in blood, beat to hell, and hobbling with this really sad, slow stature.
And then there’s Anderson, your beloved Captain who has grown to be a father figure through the games and – Jesus, of course he is going to die. And then that damn Illusive Man shows up looking like he has Reaper herpes and you want to shoot every piece of his face off. But what happens instead? He makes you shoot Anderson, because #reasons. So hey, after you’ve suffered the loss of another beloved character, let’s have you reach the end of the game, wherein you get to make one of three choices – 1) Death, 2) Death, or 3) Death.
Wait … WHAT???????
After almost 90 hours and the most ridiculous combat situations known to man, here you are at the end of everything and there is no happy ending; there is no getting out of here alive to live a life, get married, and have biotic babies. There is only misery and pain. Forget the fact that you have saved millions and been 100% paragon – you’re screwed, baby.
At this point, I basically started crying uncontrollably. Bioware has always let me have some semblance of a happy ending, but this caught me completely off-guard. When I realized I would die, leaving Kaidan again – oh man, it killed me (hah).
And so the game ended, and I am left with this huge emotional hole in my heart from the most profound game franchises I have ever experienced. But I am thankful to have played the Citadel DLC after the fact to put a few bandages on my wounded heart, so kudos for that 3-hour fan service that was beyond perfect. It may seem ridiculous to get so wrapped up in a story and fictional characters – yes, I know Kaidan isn’t a real person – but at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful thing. Experiences like these are why I am so passionate about gaming and the people involved in the industry. These talented people came together and not only got me to play through 90 hours of content, but they got me to invest real emotions into everything about it. I genuinely have a place in my heart for these characters and most of all, my Shepard. She is the embodiment of everything I aspire to be – brave, heroic, forgiving, kind, and someone worth following.
Though I am broken and find myself still shedding a few tears over my happy ending that will never come to pass, I know in my heart that this experience is one I would willingly throw myself into all over again. This is what makes gaming so amazing. This is what makes Bioware so astounding. They have twisted my heart in 100 different ways over the last decade, but I love them for every step of the journey. I am sad to leave Shepard behind, but I am looking forward to opening my heart to yet another amazing protagonist – and hopefully, another great love interest.