There’s been a ridiculous amount of discussion about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Endings are important, but this thing has been blown out of all proportion. It’s ten minutes in a thirty hour game. It’s not a particularly good or satisfying ending, but it doesn’t undermine the rest of the experience. To provide some counterbalance, I’m going to focus today on two sequences from the middle of the game that have not yet been analyzed to shreds. Both of them were intended to be dramatic and affecting, and one of them worked tremendously well, but the other almost completely missed the mark. Today, we discuss the one that didn’t work. Tomorrow, we’ll cover the one that did.
Midway through the game, Shepard gets called to the Citadel to hear concerns that Councillor Udina, the highest ranking human politician, has been brainwashed by the enemy. Shepard arrives to find the Citadel under attack, and fights her way first through ordinary enemy troops, and then past a mysterious assassin that just screams “read my backstory in the tie-in novel” to reach Udina and the other councillors. Shepard, convinced that Udina plans to kill the other councillors, gets into a tense standoff with a friend and former crew-mate who has been tasked with protecting Udina. Here’s a version of the standoff that essentially coincides with what happened in my game:
So what’s the problem? It’s that this sequence, more than any other in the game, felt like it drove a wedge between what my Shepard was doing and what I wanted her to do. There’s no proper combat with the assassin, since the game needs to let him get away so he can be saved for a later boss fight. Instead, we get a conversation where I want my Shepard to stop talking and start taking action, but the game won’t let me. Then there’s the standoff over Udina. The game hadn’t done a good job of convincing me that Udina had turned, but Shepard comes straight out with that accusation. And to make matters worse, she and her squad have their weapons drawn, further escalating the situation. I did not want that at all. My Shepard was on good terms with Kaiden, and was a good diplomat generally, so barging into the situation and immediately precipitating a crisis just didn’t feel right. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk Kaiden away from protecting Udina, but it would have been much easier if we hadn’t been forced into a situation where we were pointing guns at each other in the first place. The games in the franchise are normally so good at making me feel like I’m in sync with my character. Either what I want my character to do is presented to me as an option, or it just happens automatically. This should be a big moment in the game, but because Shepard wasn’t behaving the way I wanted her to, I tuned out. Piloting Shepard typically feels like a collaboration between myself and the game, even if my contribution is mostly just pro forma – a head-nod or a box-check here and there. But this time, it felt like the game was running ahead without bothering to consult me at all.