Ah, yes, the ending to the Shepard trilogy living up to its original potential, we have dismissed those claims.
Before I begin the article proper, I wish to preface this work with a message to any games journalists, or really anyone, who have and continue to dismiss those critical of Mass Effect 3 (its ending in particular) as “moaners” or “complainers.” This article is not for you, then, and you may dismiss yourself out the airlock. If you are a journalist determined to side with the interests of a corporation instead of the people who support the industry (in this case, gamers), this article is also not for you, and I question the integrity of how you pursue your chosen profession. If, however, you are one of the rare individuals who has been neutral on this topic since 2012, or if you are experiencing Mass Effect for the first time through playing the Legendary Edition, then I hope this critique can help you understand what the ruckus was and is about, and why Bioware’s epic blunder should not by any means be casually dismissed, nor forgotten.
The problems, dear reader, are not contained merely to Mass Effect 3‘s ending, and to be fair, some of the baggage passed on to the third game is due to some questionable and even flatout boneheaded creative and writing choices made in Mass Effect 2. Make no mistake however, game three is bad from jump, in ways uniquely divorced from its prequels.
The sort of face I am likely to make when someone tells me “Mass Effect 3 was good until the ending.” (Thanks AVGN/James Rolfe for providing such an abundance of perfectly expressed frustration to reference)
The Earth prologue level in Mass Effect 3 was also the first half of the game’s demo, made available before launch. Yeah, getting a sample of a game to see if you like it before plunking down the cash, that’s a consumer-friendly practice that’s nearly extinct, but I digress. As one of the most hardcore, diehard Mass Effect fans on the planet, the demo should have had me awaiting the full game with feverish glee. Instead, I dreaded it, hoping in vain that what I had played would not be representative of the final product. But, oh, it was, and it was only scarcely made slightly less cringe-inducing by importing one of my characters who survived the first two games. The graphics had lost their retro sci-fi aesthetic and only looked as plastic as ever, emphasizing the worst visual aspects of running on the Unreal Engine. The dialogue tree had been butchered into irrelevance, with my character running largely on autopilot and being forced to speak some of the most painfully boneheaded and nonsensical dialogue I’ve seen in an officially published work of fiction. The characters, both new and returning, were behaving in ways I can only describe as stupid, logically inconsistent, ignorant of the series history and lore, and a slap in the face to what had been painstakingly built up in the previous two games. The gameplay, while in some ways smoother and more refined, had clearly been hijacked of any pretense of keeping the first game’s strategic and RPG components alive. Now we had imbalanced movement speeds with laughably unrealistic animations to go with, Call of Duty red bloody screen of death and cinematic slowdown anytime Shepard loses shields (even if their health is full, the game decides to blind you, deafen what you can hear, and force Shepard to be married to cover), and a total washout of biotic and tech powers having different utilities. Now with these new biotic and tech explosions and how absurdly easy they are to create and exploit, all powers are boiled down to whether they are primers or detonators for explosions. Forget about whether it makes any remote sense even within the fictional physics established in the universe, just have explosions everywhere, even if the explosions are from flash frozen cryogenic particles. Squadmates were now more strategically useless than ever, only having the practical purpose of tagging along to give Shepard a larger pool of powers to trigger and making combos even more laughably easy.
Sadly, we’re not done with just the beginning of the experience. Adding severe insult to the aforementioned problems are the baffling, stunning choices made to game design under the pretense of easing in franchise newcomers. Uh… hello? This is the final entry in the Shepard trilogy. There was no guarantee there would be more Mass Effect after this. Why are you catering to newcomers in the final part of a planned trilogy? It makes no sense, but, here we are, in what was supposed to be an action-RPG, with the game giving you the options to turn off the dialogue wheel, and allow the game to play itself. When combined with autoleveling and quickstarting as a Soldier without giving a toss about Shepard’s background or preservice history, and you really might as well be playing Gears of War. Though not aimed at new players specifically, the added additions of Kinect/voice command compatibility was something else that diluted the development focus on this game, rather than honed it. Being able to use ladders was also used as a selling point! Sorry, Donkey Kong beat you to that by several decades, Bioware. That really is the most enduring part of the Mass Effect trilogy’s development legacy: instead of fixing what might have needed some love in the previous game, just throw it out altogether and focus on action and instant gratification, or add features that are good for marketing and press buzzwords but don’t really add anything substantial to the experience.
The lumbering, painful mess that is Mass Effect 3’s story manages to gain some momentum and builds up a sense that maybe it can salvage something useful from its awful start, by the time the player reaches Sur’Kesh and kicks off the Tuchanka story arc. Here finally, the player can feel like the game is reflecting their choices up to this point, as the mission has nicely different flavors and context based on whether Urdnot Wrex and Mordin Solus (as well as to a lesser extent, Captain Kirrahe) are alive up to this point, and whether or not the player saved Maelon’s genophage cure research in Mass Effect 2. This is soured, unfortunately and but of course, by being forced to fight Derperus, er, I mean, Cerberus, whose disposable, mostly unshielded, and dimwitted shock troops fill in neatly for Imperial Stormtroopers. We’re supposed to believe that in the 6 months between this game and Arrival (giving us somewhere between 9-12 months between the beginnings of games 2 and 3), Cerberus went from a pro-human splinter group made up mostly of scientists and information agents that operated in remote, small cells, and behind the scenes inside front corporations, to a galactic force with its own huge army, navy, and with enough resources to simultaneously mount offensives on Citadel race homeworlds, Alliance colonies, the Citadel itself, and Omega, not to mention holding bases through the Attican Traverse and the Terminus Systems. Yeah, fucking, right. Every bit of interesting, gray area morals and nuance that the Illusive Man and Cerberus had established in the games and extended lore up to that point, was completely abandoned and/or destroyed in Mass Effect 3, all so Shepard could have a humanoid antagonist to fight. Harbinger was silenced and supplanted as the primary threat to our hero and their cause, retroactively destroying their importance as established in Mass Effect 2.
The Tuchanka arc is able to partially push back against this as one of the highlights of the entire game, and is one of the few parts of the story that can play out somewhat differently, with potentially massively diverging consequences for the galaxy at large. However, the enjoyment and richness of the Tuchanka arc’s most powerful moments are payoff for what was setup so well in the first two games, and quite frankly I think you would have had to actively sabotage the writing here for it be abysmally lacking. The writing and setup that came before was so strong and impactful, that all one had to do in Mass Effect 3 was stay the course long enough for the story arc to (mostly) stick the landing. The hard work had already been done and the emotional investment had already been earned.
But then. Oh gods. We get the forced battle against Cerberus at the Citadel, and the game eradicates what goodwill it had managed to win back.
The English language lacks the depth and detail to properly describe the inept, vapid stupidity and illogic that takes hold of the script and the characters during the Citadel battle, to say nothing of the wrenching disgust in my gut every time I’ve slogged through it. I’ve read fan fiction, even cringe worthy fan fiction, that did not insult the characters involved and the player/reader to this extent.
The Citadel, an enormous space station with millions of inhabitants, protected by C-Sec, a police and security force comprised of over 200,000 individuals from multiple species, and protected by a fleet composed of warships from 4 different member races, and whose denizens and protectors knew this was a time of war and were on the highest alert, was brought to its knees and nearly couped by Cerberus. Faces are palmed all across the world.
Oh, that’s bad enough, but then in comes Bioware’s space fantasy ninja insert: Kai Leng. I already knew of Kai Leng from the Mass Effect novels, and I figured that if and when he was brought into the mainline games, he could potentially make a decent (albeit smallscale) foil for Shepard, or perhaps even a grudging ally. Instead, we got an utterly hollow character with no detail beyond “ooh, they’re evil” and “they think killing is fun.” Kai Leng’s partial victory (victory in that, in almost all scenarios I know of, while they fail to assassinate a Councilor, they still end up killing a friend or comrade of Shepard’s) is only because of the thickest plot armor I’ve ever seen, and because Shepard and all of their allies are forced to make the stupidest decisions possible, or are cornered by the script into ineptitude via inaction. It was bafflingly painful to watch all of this unfold at face value, but insult was added to the injury as the player’s agency over the character that they were supposed to be allowed to mold deteriorated exponentially, and that the story that was marketed and sold to us as “this is your story,” was wrested away from the player and even from the overarching plot’s very foundations.
Mass Effect 3 gets one last partial redemption when the Citadel debacle ends, and the Rannoch arc begins. This arc is not as strong as the Tuchanka one, given that it pays less respect to what Shepard might have accomplished in Mass Effect 2. Even if you handed over damning evidence that damages the quarian push to make war with the geth, and convinced the quarian Admiralty Board to stand down, the quarians… go to war anyway. At the worst. Possible. Time. In. History. There is no way that the Migrant Fleet would not be at least on a fringe level aware that the Reapers had invaded, yet, with that knowledge, they launch a devastating war that threatens them with extinction, and bolsters the Reaper strength in the galaxy by forcing the geth to ally with them for survival.
Are you seeing the pattern yet? In Mass Effect 3, characters, races, and factions consistently make only the stupidest choices possible, choices they are forced down because Bioware, for a variety of reasons, needed the story to stay on a relatively linear path and did not want to allow player experiences, the worlds they went to or the missions available to them, to diverge beyond slight tints of Paragon or Renegade flavors. I refer you back to my previous criticism of Bioware creating an option to autopilot the dialogue. This is one of the trickle down results. Because the game had to be able to play itself, the story had to remain predictable and follow a set path. Even the most incredibly powerful choices that become available to Shepard, such as potentially being forced to decide which entire race lives or dies, as in choosing between the geth and quarians on Rannoch, ultimately do not change the story structure, the outcome of the game, whether or not it is possible to win, what the galaxy will really look like after the war is won, or whether the Crucible can even be finished.
Oh no. The Crucible. More like Operation Asspull. This is what happens when you don’t plan out your story far enough in advance and have to make up something at the last minute to resolve its main conflict. The only slight hint at the Crucible was in Mass Effect 2’s Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, wherein Liara had a throwaway line about the previous Broker possibly having missed something else the Protheans may have left behind to help against the Reapers. While it makes sense that the previous Broker, having not been doing anything to actively oppose the Reapers, might have missed something that Liara would not, it does not excuse the lazy, desperate throwaway piece of the story that is the Crucible.
Again, because the characters are only allowed to be utterly stupid, there was no preparation for the Reaper invasion between Mass Effect 1 and 3. Aside of course from the development of weapons like the Thanix cannon, which, we only ever see the Normandy use. Everyone in the story, even the revered Admiral Hackett, just throws up their hands and resigns to the idea that it is impossible to defeat the Reapers through conventional warfare… even though conventional weapons destroyed Sovereign, and a mass accelerator (the same kind of weapon commonly employed by sparefaring races by Shepard’s time) was developed 37 million years prior, one with enough power to kill a Sovereign-class Reaper. But no, instead everyone hedges their bets on an unknown superweapon that they don’t even know how to operate, nor do they know what it will actually do once deployed. In a few months, we’re to believe that this thing is ready, yet not a single engineer or scientist working on this massive microphone realized that its arms, when deployed, were a perfect match for the circumference on the Citadel Presidium. They also still don’t even know how to get the thing to work or what it will do precisely once the whole thing is built, other than it being able to unleash enormous amounts of energy. Great. Just have to hope the plot will deliver you the very thing that will allow you to harness that energy against only the Reapers, instead of, you know, maybe trying to figure that out yourselves. It’s not like trillions of lives are on the line. Tell me, what purpose is there in building a gun that you don’t know how to fire, nor who it will harm once you can make it fire? It’s the ultimate hackneyed gamble that only works because the writers force it to, against all logic and coherence.
The story really falls apart once the Thessia mission is reached. My personal dissonance with this game really went into overdrive here, from my very first playthrough. Even the gameplay and combat setpieces, which were generally at least competent up to this point, start to tread water on Thessia. There’s another boring turret section, then a slog of a shooting gallery across a linear and predictable battlefield, while surrounded by voiceovers and glimpses of Reaper destruction that try way too hard to make us care. We talk to the Illusive Man, and get to watch and listen in stupefying awe as his character is unraveled and destroyed with each passing line. Then we get to “fight” Kai Leng (note that the objective on Shepard’s HUD specifically says “fight” Kai Leng, not “defeat” or “kill” him, the writers didn’t even want you to pretend that you would be allowed to win), he wins because plot armor, then Shepard, regardless of what version of them you forged, gets super upset and traumatized over Thessia’s downfall, and goes on a tirade against Cerberus in a cutscene almost completely devoid of player input.
That was the point where I felt gross in my gut and wanted to stop playing, but the first time I was experiencing this, I still had a glimmer of faith that Bioware could pull this thing back together just enough to give us a decent endgame. After all, I thought, Mass Effect 2 had an absolutely inane, blundering, nonsensical opening, but managed to end on a hell of a banger.
The Horizon mission is such a dull, boring grind that I don’t warrant it much analysis, aside from the “big reveal” that Cerberus is using the Sanctuary facility to indoctrinate humans into their army. Well no shite, we already knew they were implanting their soldiers with what looked like Reaper technology, and that supply of troops had to be coming from somewhere. It still defies all logic and possible suspension of disbelief that Cerberus, even if they learned how to control indoctrination on a small scale, would have the resources to equip and field all of these converts, and have the ships necessary to ferry them all around the galaxy, somehow without being traced, and yet hold by force such crucial installations as Omega. In a few months they go from small splinter group that has to operate behind the scenes, to a galactic superpower. Okay, so I can buy that the Illusive Man is studying indoctrination. It is one of the Reapers’ greatest weapons, and it makes sense to see if there is a way to block it, or at least disrupt the Reapers’ hold of someone once they are converted. I can buy that the Illusive Man might have been willing to let some humans die, such as those on the derelict Reaper in Mass Effect 2, if it meant figuring out how to stop that from happening to humanity en masse. But instead of stopping at deciphering how to coopt the Reaper control signal over their troops, TIM decides to use this knowledge… to create an army? An army that actively works against the Alliance and its allies, who are the ones building the Crucible, which… is the only means by which TIM could conceivably control the Reapers?
I hope you are following along as to how utterly, astonishingly stupid Bioware forced even the smartest characters in their universe to be, in order to tell the only story they seemed to think they were capable of telling.
I am going to seemingly gloss over the attack on the Cerberus headquarters, and the Priority: Earth missions, because they are just more mindless slogging through waves of mindless troops with no variety, no deviation, and profoundly uninteresting level design. Priority: Earth in particular feels super hollow and incomplete, like an alpha build on a Call of Duty level. There is nothing about it that feels even remotely like Mass Effect. The whole Retake Earth marketing angle only pays off because the plot forces it to. Anderson’s resistance forces on Earth only end up mattering because the Reapers arbitrarily moved the Citadel to the Sol System. By rights, Earth should not have mattered in the galactic war, and the very notion of retaking Earth having any priority over an ultimate victory over the Reapers was asinine. Yet Shepard became the Bioware marketing mouthpiece multiple times throughout the game, with there being mention that the fleet being amassed was meant to retake Earth, rather than being explicitly to deliver the Crucible to the Catalyst.
So there is the massive fleet battle above Earth. What should have been the most satisfying payoff in the whole franchise, and possibly across all of gaming and science fiction, instead plays out in one of two hohum ways based on your EMS going into the battle. Didn’t save the Destiny Ascension in Mass Effect 1? Eh, don’t worry, it’s replaced by an almost identical asari ship in the cutscene. EMS high enough? You get to see an Alliance ship dodge a Reaper blast, and one Reaper gets its arms blown off. Funny how that was achieved through conventional firepower, eh? And… that’s about all the impact you get to see from your actions in the battle proper. It doesn’t matter who you recruited and allied with, the ultimate battle for galactic civilization in Mass Effect plays out according to the same script every time.
This same lack of divergence and variety extends to the ground battle leading to the magic space beam connecting London to the Citadel. You see the same troops, same weapons, the exact same scenes take place no matter what. Bioware even forgot to score some of the scenes in Priority: Earth, making the whole thing feel even more like an unfinished demo.
What precious little cohesion the game had left by this point completely disintegrates during the final assault on the beam. Harbinger finally shows up for the first time in the entire game, says nothing, then somehow hits Shepard with a blast of its main slag ray without killing them? Then flies off. Yep. Great payoff. If you have the Extended Cut DLC installed, which you will by default if playing the Legendary Edition, this scene is made even more brain dead by having the Normandy magically appear onto the battlefield to extract Shepard’s two squadmates, while Harbinger just sits and watches like a kind chap. For those not in the know or who never experienced the original version of the ending, the Extended Cut created as many problems as it solved.
From here, what the hell can I say? It’s the lousiest endgame in storytelling history. To cite but one example, GCN’s “Everything Wrong With Mass Effect 3” video goes into exhaustive detail as to why every single aspect of the Citadel: Return segment is a slap in the face, and I recommend watching it. However, I will give the best summarization I can without turning this section into an impenetrable wall of text.
Here we see the ultimate assassination of TIM as a character, and the final conversation with him is just a weak rinse/repeat of Shepard’s last dialogue with Saren. The tiny dignity of Anderson’s last words to Shepard is trampled upon when Shepard is taken on the magic space elevator, stands outside in a vacuum without protection, and has a conversation with. That. Fucking. Kid.
Ah yes, the child. The only child in all of Mass Effect, and who is only ever seen by Shepard, ostensibly in person during the prologue, and in several dreams that Shepard has throughout the story, dreams that look remarkably how the rachni Queen described indoctrination. Of course, Bioware has denied that the Indoctrination Theory is real, and that what Shepard experiences during the ending is not them succumbing to indoctrination. There was a point where I wanted the Theory to be true, but eventually I conceded that the ending was just going to have to exist on its own shitty terms. What cannot be denied is that Bioware did leave in many overt and deliberate hints that the Reapers were trying to break into Shepard’s mind and control them. Instead of omitting this material entirely or following it through, they left in the breadcrumbs but opted to exclude any payoff. It’s not like the child, the dreams, the hints of the Reapers toying with Shepard could have been added as a developer whim. The game was rushed out under an excruciatingly tight deadline, and everything included had to be greenlit by Casey Hudson, and/or Mac Walters, and doubtless other executives at Bioware and EA. The stuff had to be rendered, recorded, playtested, and implemented. What we were ultimately presented, was a halfbaked implementation of a scrapped idea.
The ending was being made up on the fly up until the last possible minute. Sure, Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for Mass Effect 1, stated that this was an unfair attitude to have toward Bioware, and that the ending we were given was not so drastically different from what he would have written. But, sorry Drew, there are facts to contend with. Drew’s dark energy plot was already written, recorded, and implemented into Mass Effect 2. You see, consistency and Mass Effect do not get along. Martin Sheen’s final voiceover recordings for the Illusive Man were delayed until November 2011, a scant few months before the game was to go gold and then to be shipped in March 2012. This is what our time, money, and emotional investment in the five years between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 3 was worth to Bioware, EA, and what we were rewarded with: an unplanned, made up as it went trilogy of barely connected games, none of which played alike, and which had no foundation laid as to how to resolve itself other than a vague idea of choosing to either destroy the Reapers or allow them to continue the harvest. The ending we were given was a crapshoot, best one person could come up with in a day scenario, that ripped off Deus Ex while also implementing a literary deus ex machina, and was a colossal slap in the face to the lore and to everything the series had stood for up until that point.
Look, folks, I get it. There is a degree of subjectivity to be contended with here. There are some who, amazingly, hate this game and particularly its ending even more than I. There are of course those who are also “meh” about it, and those for whom the ending was either at least satisfactory or even good. I am not here to dictate how you should feel about a given piece of creative work, as even what is considered a critically acclaimed masterpiece can strike someone the wrong way, and even what is by consensus considered to be a dumpster fire can conceivably offer some kind of value to someone. Of course there are also some people who get off on being contrarians, and during the height of the “Retake Mass Effect 3” campaign launched by fans, which demanded a better ending from Bioware, I saw plenty of vitriol cast toward those who were critical of the ending. Such individuals were maligned as entitled, spoiled, butthurt, childish, among other detractions, and were effectively accused of coming into the final entry of Shepard’s saga with either too lofty, or massively incorrect expectations.
As is alluded to in a video by Spacedock defending the ending (which I will link to below), there are some players who went into this whole thing under the pretense that it could be possibly to have a happy, fairy tale ending to the Reaper War. I concede that this would have been an unrealistic expectation, but to dismiss it entirely out of hand is, I feel, at best mean-spirited. After all, a theme that resonated throughout the first two games was that with sufficient effort, it was possible to triumph against impossible odds. One common thread that did manage to survive from the first game to the second was the notion that we (as in humanity, represented by Shepard as our tip of the spear) had a chance to succeed where so many others had failed, that we could take the sliver of hope the protheans left behind and run with it. But everything we stood for and accomplished is tossed away in a final choice between three flavors of cupcakes, two flavors which spell out futures for the galaxy so horrifyingly immoral that it practically defies explanation.
I get it. Most of us get it and did from jump. This was a war story. Sacrifices were going to be made. Losses would be suffered. Goodbyes would have to be said. I’d have been astonished if any story containing a conflict of this magnitude did not have those things. But just because Shepard makes the ultimate sacrifice at the end, doesn’t make the ending good or narratively cohesive with what built up to it. If Shepard had reached the end of the game and had to stick their hand in a toaster to destroy the Reapers, at risk of certain electrocution, you could technically argue that they made the ultimate sacrifice, but then could you hardly blame anyone for finding that outcome patently absurd?
The ending as we see it in the game is hardly much less absurd than my toaster postulation. At the absolute final moments in the whole trilogy, the starchild emerges from nowhere, claiming to embody all of the Reapers, and being the grandmaster of their existence and the cycle of harvesting. The Citadel is its home and it effectively controls the Reapers. Great. Way to piss on the established lore and amazing dialogue between Shepard and Sovereign in Mass Effect 1, still one of my favorite pieces of antagonist dialogue ever:
“Reaper. A label created by the protheans to give voice to their destruction. In the end, what they chose to call us, is irrelevant. They did not create the Citadel. They did not forge the Mass Relays. They merely found them, the legacy of my kind. We are each a nation, free of all weakness. My kind transcends your very understanding. Organic life is a genetic mutation, an accident. Your lives are measured in years, and decades. You wither, and die. You exist, because we allow it, and you will end, because we demand it.”
Shall we also be expected to forget that the entire Battle of the Citadel had to take place because the Keepers refused to respond to Sovereign’s signal to open the Citadel Relay and begin the invasion? Saren used the Conduit to bypass the Citadel defenses and give Sovereign a clear shot at seizing control of the station. If the starbrat was there this whole time and really had all of that power and authority over the cycle, that entire battle would not have needed to take place. There would have been no way that the prothean scientists on Ilos could have circumvented the next harvest, if this collective intelligence resided in the Citadel all along. There would have been no need for Sovereign to dock with the Citadel Tower to force the relay to dark space open.
Do you see yet how the ending of Mass Effect 3 absolutely annihilates the events of its prequels, rendering them irrelevant? This is the crux of the baffling logical fallacy that is the trilogy. What the writers of each game state to be true about the universe cannot be all true. They directly contradict each other. Everything we had fallen in love with across the first two games was systematically destroyed or overridden. It’s the most insulting piece of media I have ever consumed.
“…because we have the ability to build the endings out in a way that we don’t have to worry about eventually tying them back together somewhere. This story arc is coming to an end with this game. That means the endings can be a lot more different. At this point we’re taking into account so many decisions that you’ve made as a player and reflecting a lot of that stuff. It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C.
It’s more like there are some really obvious things that are different and then lots and lots of smaller things, lots of things about who lives and who dies, civilizations that rose and fell, all the way down to individual characters. That becomes the state of where you left your galaxy. The endings have a lot more sophistication and variety in them.“
Broken promises 101.
Hey, I don’t hate Casey Hudson. In fact, if the opportunity presented itself, I’d be happy to sit down, grab a coffee, and have an honest, earnest chat with the man about his games and the industry. I’d like to think that he’s a good guy who got backed up into a seemingly impossible creative corner, and made what he thought were the best decisions possible with the given constraints. Maybe EA is the ultimate source of meddling and behind the most befuddling decisions made with regard to Mass Effect 3’s final form. But if that is the case, it is still the fault of the Bioware executives, because that means they sold their company to a corporation that refused to allow them to fulfill their original vision. It is Bioware’s fault that Mass Effect never lived up to its original, promised potential, and never will.
The Legendary Edition of Mass Effect is in many ways the best version you can experience of this franchise. Mass Effect 1 in particular got a lot of love and its tweaked gameplay, improved visuals, and technical fixes really breathe new life into the old girl. In fact, it is so improved that it makes its sequels look even more dated than they already were. I find it rather arrogant that Mac Walters and company looked at ME2 and ME3 for the remaster and decided they were already good enough and didn’t need improving, besides the visual upgrades and bug fixes. Mass Effect 2 in particular now stands out more than ever with its janky animations (Shepard still walks around outside of combat with a weird limp), an ugly, nigh-on useless HUD (really, still no radar except when pulling up the weapon/power wheels?), still having cooldowns on ammo powers, and lots of other weirdness that could have greatly benefited from quality of life improvements.
Instead, we get a censoring of Miranda’s ass. Because Bioware has gone woke.
Okay, in this instance it is perhaps better to frame the decision as an overwrite or a reshoot instead of censorship in the strictest sense. I for one always though the arse shots tended to be bit of a headscratching distraction. I understood that Miranda considered her body to be part of her perfection, another tool in her arsenal, as it were. I figure that’s what the camera angles were trying to reinforce, but it came across in a sloppy, arguably somewhat juvenile way. Whatever. It’s a tiny part of the game. But out of all the things that needed attention in the remaster, this was really a priority? Whether you liked them or not, the original camera angles were part of the, wait for it, industry buzzphrase approaching, “artistic vision.” You see, beyond the writing of text, rendering, lighting, and camera work are all part of storytelling as well. That’s why visual mediums have directors and cinematographers. If it’s okay to alter the artistic vision in order to appear more woke, ah, well, there goes the last line of defense for the Mass Effect 3 ending, that those of us who didn’t like it had to suck it up and live with it being Bioware’s “artistic vision.”
Yes, the same vision that gave us the high budget pile of rubbish fanfic called Mass Effect: Andromeda. The same vision that thought it was bringing Legendary Edition up to the standards of the Mass Effect modding community. Sure, the new unified character creator is an improvement and makes for a more seamless experience if you carry the same character across all three games. But, oh yay, new hair options that are nothing but boyish castoffs from Andromeda’s character creator, there are still NPC hairs Shepard can’t use, Shepard still can’t use ME1 armors in the second and third game, and the expanded romances that modders brought to life were still left on the shelf in the game’s code. Yeah, sorry but not sorry Bioware, I applaud the technical enhancements you made to the first Mass Effect, a game that is still one of my favorites of all time (though I do not appreciate you sneaking in the red/green/blue Catalyst lights onto the Mass Relay loading screen, I’m not blind or dumb), but when it comes to the rest of the trilogy, you did not even meet the standards set by the modding community, much less exceed them.
To paraphrase what Darth Vader once remarked about Obi-Wan Kenobi: “now their failure is complete.”
Rest in piece, my memories, experiences, and emotional investment in Mass Effect. It was a good ride, for a time, but the Legendary Edition is my last sendoff, and the best thing you have taught me is how not to write a piece of fiction, how not to tell a story, and what you should not do in return for the money, time, investment, and dedication of a fanbase.
Embedding below for Spacedock’s defense of Mass Effect 3, and GCN’s scathing critical breakdown of the entire debacle: