Mass Effect 3: What? The End! Now?!

If you have not yet played the end of Mass Effect 3, this post may contain spoilers.

I find it very ironic that in the week that I’ve decided to dig a little deeper and lay bare my true feelings about the whole Mass Effect 3 ending issue, Bioware goes and announces the Extended Cut DLC. I had thought that I would have at least another month to blunt myself for its announcement but it seems that I was mistaken, that they managed to get their act together faster than I had anticipated they would.

This announcement has left me with a whole barrel of emotions that I’m not quite willing to deal with in light of my previous posts. In Mass Effect 3: The End I spoke about (and elaborated a little) the sense of disappointment and anger that I felt at Bioware for doing with the ending what they did. In Tears for the Soulless I spoke about my own personal love for characters and emotions in fiction and why the ending of Mass Effect 3 did the characters an injustice in not closing their stories properly. And, then a day later I had this wait for me:

As I had anticipated, it’s very clear that Bioware had no intention of ‘fixing’ the end (in my mind, taking out the starchild or proving right the Indoctrination Theory that’s been very popular with fans) but rather just expanding on what I had previously called a ‘cluster fuck’ of misshaped plot holes and the destruction of player’s decisions. In the interview with Casey D Hudson they spoke of how they intend to show players the consequences of their actions as well as add more ‘visual combat’ sequences (hopefully showing us those Elcor Heavies we all want to see…) and perhaps expand a little on what happened to the rest of your crew members after the war. The words that I didn’t hear of course were: “We were wrong.” Instead they just confessed that their previous ending left a lot up to the players’ own imagination (so much for art).

At first, I thought that I wasn’t going to bother to go through the trouble of hooking up my PS3 to my PC and downloading the 2GB ending. It’s going to sound really silly but I feel that I’m not ready yet. That in light of the two posts that I gave; I’m too raw to deal with more disappointment. I had lost a lot of my faith in Bioware and I’ve become all too aware of how their actions can affect my own emotions and shake my own calm centre (and, I’m about as calm as any red head can be on a good day). I’ve recently acquired the Mass Effect 3 OST and when I listened to the last songs on the CD I realised that I had missed quite a lot of them purely because I was crying so much by that time, that all I could see was Shepard, Anderson and the Starchild. It made me remember how deeply that ending had affected me and how absolutely crushed I had been. I’m not fond of my own emotions and facing all of that again? I didn’t think that I’m that mad.

Yet, last night I found myself almost dragging myself to my PS3 console. I dug out my Mass Effect 3 disk and with an emotion I could only name as bitter sweet agony I picked up the replay that I had abandoned and dragged my Shepard through the tedious slump of the quarian levels and the brilliantly agonising fall of Thessia. Because I knew what was going to happen in both instances, the emotions didn’t touch me directly but I remember how absolutely surprised I had been being able to forge an alliance between the quarians and the geth and how shocked I had been when I realised after Thessia that I had lost a fight. It made me realise that this is still an incredible game and that the ride Bioware had taken me on the first time was marvellous. Even the fact that the terrible ending evoked such uproar from the fans is proof that Bioware did what they wanted to do well. They got us so involved that we couldn’t let go. If this was just an ordinary story, a bad ending might’ve had you go ‘bleh’ and you carried on with your life. This didn’t. It stuck with us, all of us. And, I think in that you have to give Bioware their dues.

Grudgingly, I also have to say that for all the controversy surrounding it, you also have to give Bioware some credit in actually bothering to give us this extended ending. They didn’t need to; they had already made their millions. They spend time working on it that must’ve been scheduled out for other projects and although it would’ve been ludicrous if they tried, they’re not charging us anything despite the fact that it obviously cost them some money. It shows that they do appreciate their fans (in a very: Yes, we like you and we love to take your money but we’re still going to screw your emotions over, kind of way) and perhaps, the fact that most of us hated the ending made them think a little deeper and learn something out of all of this.

Perhaps.

Tomorrow evening, I know that I will go to the PSN network and download the Extended Cut DLC despite the fact that I know it will most probably throw me back into a depression that will take me days to dig myself out of. Tonight, I will play my game up until the moment where I can attack the Cerberus base so that I can be ready for the new added content. I’m not particularly happy about it all but I’m strangely determined to see it through. The thing is that I need closure and I need to know that I didn’t spend over 400 hours playing this game for nothing. And, although I’m head shy I find that, like some Indoctrinated Fool, I have enough faith left in Bioware to trust that they will make this right. They gave us this amazing game that up until the last few minutes had captured all of us heart, soul and mind. Yes, it makes them dangerous for people like me who get too involved but I’ve also realised that I wouldn’t change it for the world. That I will take this game for all its glory, its agony, its tragedy and its triumph.

I just really, really hope that the extended cut is worth it. I really do.

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Tears for the Soulless

When I was in school, I read a massive fantasy series which I followed over the course of a number of years. The books had a number of characters in them, a number of sub plots and different scenarios that came and went and although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had one favourite character, the character I couldn’t wait to read about. I’d skip bits, read the sections with this character in and then come back to the original time line that I had abandoned. Then, in a not unforeseen twist, this character died halfway through the series and, although I had suspected that it might come (I’ve always had a knack for feeling where a story was going to go) the blow was still a very hard one. I remember sitting in my room, crying my eyes out. My mother, who was use to dealing with a somewhat stoic teenager who never really showed any emotions, was shocked because I never cried about things that happened to me in Real Life. I was told that it’s a book but I found in that one sentence my mother missed a fundamental point. You see, even though the character didn’t have a corporal body or even a soul if you will, that character had become very real to me as the world had and the death there hit me almost as hard as a death would here.

You see, I had come to love and admire the character. I think it’s a very difficult thing to explain to someone that doesn’t really read or immerse themselves into other media but the fact is that the emotions that we feel while reading is real. I made the mistake when I was still barely a teenager to write a major character death into one of the stories that I was working with at that stage and the blow of that struck me so hard that I went mute for a week. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that it would bring up inside me, from the other characters in my heart that had witnessed that. The story might’ve been written down in the crooked drawl of someone who never really bothered to decide whether she’s right or left handed and the grammar might’ve been terrible – but the world and the emotions were very real. I learned something that day and then again the day when I saw my favourite book character die and that is not to underestimate the impact that a virtual world and reality can have in our lives. I also believe that authors shouldn’t underestimate that either in this day and age where it’s so easy for the fans to get touch with them.

I read another series a couple of years ago called ‘The Hollows’ by Kim Harrison. To me, the books were amazing but then again, I started reading them in a time that I was under and immense amount of social stress. My mother had taken gravely ill and I had to come back from England either to be there when she died or to help the family and her put back the pieces if she survived. I found the Hollows during that time and I think due to my wish to escape my real life, I leapt into that world full mind, heart and soul. I fell in love with the characters and was so impressed with the author because she did what very few other people had done well. She wrote in a sexual tension between two characters that she confessed later surprised even herself. The thing was that these characters weren’t actually the ‘main’ couple and at some point I believe that the author realised that she was going to have to do something to get rid of that or to try and resolve it. By the seventh book, the sexual tension had gone, leaving in its place a hollow between the characters that once again broke my heart and made me put down the books series. I had loved the characters too much to see them move away from what I had hoped would be an inevitable happy ending. My love for the series didn’t die but it was left hollow and bitter.

And then of course, there was Mass Effect 3 – the story which I spoke of in length in my previous post. Along with millions of other fans, I completely immersed myself in the world. I worked with the characters, walked with them saw their trials and felt the love that they portrayed so well on the screen. They became very real to me because I carried them around in my head where I had no ‘walls’ to protect me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve realised that books, video games, even television programs are actually quite dangerous to someone like me because they penetrate through a barrier that physical people can’t. I am very hesitant in my emotions in my real life and I always feel as if I stare at people over a kind of chasm. I watch them do what they do from a distance but very few things actually touch me. It’s a safety mechanism naturally. In school I was the tall, awkward red head with a book under her arm that had to suffer through more bullying than I ever would admit. If I ignored people and refused to let their emotions touch me, I would be safe. And, I’d be safe in the realm of books and games where I felt these emotions that I struggled with in my own personal life so acutely. Mass Effect 3 was like a reality check, the realisation that I’m not truly safe from my own emotions anywhere. And, perhaps that immersing myself in different world is no protection from them. Like the character’s death had touched me, the ending of Mass Effect 3 did so as well. The difference being that the character’s death in the book series was not only foreseen but it was explored, handled and dealt with in the world that created it. I went through a mourning period where I didn’t touch the books but then, when I was ready to pick them back up again, I could see how the character’s death affected everybody, how they went through their own mourning period and emotions. That all gave me a way to move forward and enjoy the books again. The problem with Mass Effect was that they didn’t close it properly. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel that it’s such a crucial point that people should take note of.

Humans are fascinating creatures as we live on hope. The hope that things will get better, that there is an ending and that there is justice. There’s a reason mythology portrays that hope is the only emotion left in Pandora’s Box. It’s what allows us to put our current circumstances aside if they are less than savoury and allows us to carry on, in the hope that tomorrow will be better. Mass Effect 3 ended that hope because all the stories, all the lives were left mid stride. And yes, they are fixing it now after fans demanded it but the writers should’ve done so from the beginning. I think something all writers, whether they do so for games, or books or television, should be aware of is the impact and perception that people have of their work. They must bare in mind that for every teenager hauled up in his bedroom with a controller, there’s one adult sitting out there, playing a game because it allows them to deal with some personal trauma. I read a story of a man whose mother played Mass Effect because she was suffering from cancer and the game took her mind away from the pain. Another woman wrote of how the game allowed her to deal and move forward after her son’s suicide. For myself, I played it after I was attacked in November of last year. I couldn’t sleep and playing the kick ass character of Commander Shepard helped me get my mind off of that man with his knife. Like the characters are a part of a story, so are those who read it or play it or watch it. And, with a world as immense as Mass Effect, it’s only natural that everybody will find something with which to associate. You owe it to people to give them that closure because they are those who cry for your characters.

Mass Effect 3: The End

I’ve been brooding on this post a while and recent post from a friend of mine made me realize that it’s time to either write this or let it go and carry on with my life. I chose the former, because words have never been known to leave me alone.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or two, you’d have noticed that quite a lot of my posts centred around a game called Mass Effect 2. Approaching the release date of Mass Effect 3, I was positively gushing about it with excitement and stalked every internet article, every internet video or gaming press conference that could give me a shred of information about a game that was rightly voted the most anticipated game of 2012. I did what I very rarely do. I ordered the game new, even deciding to go the extra mile and take the Collector’s Edition. Yes, it was expensive but it was worth it and I had saved up for months to make sure that it fits into my budget. Along with 1 million other fans, I was about as excited as they came.

I had my doubts of course, being a cynic by nature I knew that there was the possibility that I would be disappointed. In my experience with things (and life in general), being excited means that you’ll be disappointed. As an INTJ, I think it’s one of the reasons I choose not to get too involved with anything because I’m expecting to be disappointed. Dark and cynical I know, but that’s just the way things are. With Mass Effect however, it was quite different and I became about as involved in the game as I could. I had faith in Bioware because they were laying it on as thick as they could when it came to creating mass excitement. They had FemShep Friday, they had press conferences. They tweeted about every little detail, they had a fake reaper invasion over Twitter. They were playing on every shred of fan excitement and we gave our hearts to them on a golden platter, trusting that it won’t all be for nothing, trusting that they would do right not just by us but by the legend of the game franchise.

But, they didn’t and I’ve actually blogged about it twice already. On Moderate Peril, you had the article of a woman shocked to her core. I wrote that mere minutes after finishing the game and, like this comic portrayed on the internet magazine ‘The Escapist’ I was in denial. I couldn’t believe what had happened and what I had just witnessed. I couldn’t believe that it would end that way, that the series would take such a terrible turn and there was no recovery. I finished it on a Sunday and spend the next two days in a trance, feeling sick and depressed to my core. I tried to push it down and tell myself that it was just a game and that if you looked at the bigger picture, it was alright. That Bioware had sort of given me what they promised, if only not in the way I wanted it. That lead to me writing the article for Nerd Trek. I like to think of it as the ‘reasonable adult’ article. The one where I pushed my feelings aside as any decent INTJ would do and considered the game in general. Yes, it was a good game. Yes, the story up until the end was fantastic. I had laughed and cried and fumed right along with my Shepard. Surely that was worth the money that I gave to Bioware, surely that was what I paid for? I said in the article that I would play the game again, that I would be able to push the ending from my mind and remember my love for the series.

I lied. Or rather, I was wrong.

The truth is that I haven’t been able to pick Mass Effect 3 up again. Or 2 for that matter. I tried, I really did but I got about halfway through my second play through and realized that it just wasn’t going to happen. That I couldn’t end it. Again. That I didn’t even care for playing it again because I knew what waited for me, and knew the futility of what I was trying to do.

You see, after all of that anticipation and excitement and disappointment and anger, I was left with a sense of bitterness. Yes, I could look at all the good aspects of the game. I could talk about how much better Shepard moved or how the graphics had improved or how amazing the voice actresses were but, that’s all been said. That was a given. We knew that it would all be good. We knew that it would be an improvement on Mass Effect 3. What we wanted was resolution. What I wanted was a happy ending.

From Deviantart – done by hoodie-gypsy

I think that’s why I have to write just one more blog about this, why I have to say what I want to say. On the previous two accounts, I was blogging for someone else, blogging as someone else’s voice. This time, it’s me and I don’t have to pretend anymore. I don’t have to smile and just take it. This is my blog and I can say in it what I really, really want to say.

And, the truth is that I’m angry and disappointed and yes, maybe even a little bit hurt.

You see, I trusted Bioware with my feelings, I trusted Bioware with my heart wrapped up in the pocket of one Alyssa Shepard. I had become very attached to my Shepard, a woman I remained Rianna in the fan fiction that I wrote about her because it looked silly just using my own name for it. I knew her history, her loves, her wishes and her desires. I knew what she feared the most and I was pleased as pie to encounter it during the game. And, I had hope for her. She wasn’t an extension of me, though we shared a name, but she was… well. I admired her and I tried to play the game in such a way that was true to the woman I thought she was. For the most part, I could do that. On my first and only playthrough I played the hell out of the game. I came out with what I thought was all the right choices. I had a MASSIVE intergalactic army. I had made peace between races that had been at war for generations. I had all my friends intact (save for those I lost in sacrifice for the bigger goal) and Alyssa Shepard and I both wished that in the end, with all of this under my belt, we would see her children, that she would be allowed to retire to a remote part of a galaxy as it rebuild itself and be left in peace as a reward for everything that she had done. Or, that if she died, (and that I did expect as well) that she’d be allowed to do so with dignity and that her legacy would be carried forward by her friends.

Bioware denied us that but what’s more, they denied us absolution.

And Reunion Hugs
And Reunion Hugs

You see, Bioware wrote what they thought was this perfect ending and even after the fan outcry in which more than 86% said that they disliked the end, I still got the impression that they didn’t really see what they had done wrong. And in that lies the source of my anger, the seed of my deep, personal bitterness that I now hold towards the franchise. I don’t want to feel as if I’m being indulged like a child throwing a tantrum (and some of you might argue that that’s what we’re doing, I’ll admit to that) but I want to feel that they have realized that they have made a mistake. That they have owned the mistakes pointed out by fans. Yet, they don’t. And, I think that’s what makes me even angrier. During the development of Mass Effect 3 SOMEONE out there must’ve thought: Oh dear, I don’t think the fans are going to like that… I don’t think this will sit well with them… Surely, someone in Bioware must have two brain cells lined up together?! How could they not see what affect it would have? How could they not see that their ending destroys everything that the player worked to achieve? The worst part is that even though I’ve essentially done everything right, I basically get the same choices in the end that the games where Shepard really messes around with everything will get a well. The game stopped being multidirectional and instead just became one singular big cluster fuck, regardless of what you did before. And, that’s what made me angry as well. I agonized over some decisions. Sometimes I let my Shepard make decisions with me sitting behind the screne going: Fuck woman, I know that’s what you would do but honestly, I’d rather do THAT Because I don’t trust the bastard. But, this is your show so…

Now, knowing that all of the roads that lead to that wretched starchild and space magic sequence, I can’t even take the decisions serious anymore. Even with Mass Effect 2, no matter how many times you replay it, you sometimes did encounter that unknown factor. I once replayed the game (number 6 I think…), did all the major character (in my opinion) loyalty missions, upgraded everything about my ship and stormed the collector’s base only to lose for some unknown reason I didn’t foresee, Kasumi Goto – one of my squad mates. That blew my mind because Irealized that even as an old hand, I could still make mistakes. With Mass Effect 3 that’s really of no consequence. There aren’t really any consequences. There is death. And death. And death. Blue and green and red.

I think that deep down, that’s also one of the reason’s I’m really angry with Bioware because they took away that excitement that I had over replaying the game. I replayed Mass Effect 2 about 8 times. I knew some sections by heart but I still kept on doing it because I expected there to be a reward at the end. Now, with Mass Effect 3 destroying that reward, there’s no reason for me to continue doing so. And, don’t get me wrong. I miss the gameplay, I miss the characters but whenever I start up the game I’m faced with the empty bitterness that I feel and the whole idea that no matter what I do, it won’t change a thing.

Which leads me, inevitably, to the promise of the extended ending. I was never a part of the Hold the Line movement, not because I didn’t feel that Bioware had done a good job, but because I felt that they had done such a bad one that short or releasing a whole new game in which they took out the last 15minutes completely, they couldn’t really fix what they had done. And from what I gather, they’re not really planning on fixing anything because they still haven’t acknowledged that they’ve done something wrong. Oh yes, they’re extending it. But, there’s no new gameplay and voice actresses like Kimberly Brooks who plays Ashley say that she’s just adding a line here or there. It’s not really saying: Oh yes, we’re disassembling the cluster fuck we’ve created. It’s just saying: We’re adding more dialogue to that cluster fuck. And yes you bloody whiners. There will be a good word or two in it for Shepard. Maybe even a happy ending. With unicorns. Because you asked for it.

And, something we didn’t ask for but which is getting all the attention is the multiplayer section. I’m even angrier about that because it’s the only thing that really seems to matter now. I said to a friend of mine that I get the impression that even though they said multiplayer is optional, they’re trying to force us into it by saying: Well, if you want still have fun playing the game – get Multiplayer! If you want new missions that makes a difference – get Multiplayer! If you want new in game content – get Multiplayer! As for Single player, screw that, we’ve gotten as much money out of you as we can… yes, we know you’re our first and most loyal fans but screw it, you’re all broke because you spend all your money on the Collector’s Edition and then, You dumb Smucks in South Africa, you spend the rest of your money on your data bundles so that you can actually DOWNLOAD said Collector’s Edition… So that cow’s milked dry…

*cough*

Well. Yes. Needless to say, I’m not playing multiplayer. I’ll calm myself down by sharing one of my favorite scenes from the game.

I saw a slogan once where they said: Mass Effect 3 – For when Real Life just isn’t depressing enough…

That’s about how I feel. I have a stressful job. I’m not some teenager hauled up in my mother’s basement; I’m a working adult, a career woman who has an immense amount of pressure on her every day. I’m in the kind of job that forces me to suffer fools with a smile on my face. I play games now, not because of some childhood fancy that I never grew out of but because it’s the one thing that offers me complete relief from my daily life. It’s the one thing that I can truly do on my own without any input from others. I’m rewarded for my hard work with stars and happy endings and I’m invited back in with the knowledge that I am master of my own destiny. I wouldn’t bloody well play the games if they left me with the feeling that I want to slice my own wrists open with a blunt raiser.

That’s what real life and Stephen Donaldson is for.

So, looking back yes, I realize that this is all my fault. That I did this to myself by getting too involved. By hoping for too much. But, what’s so wrong about that? The internet calls the Mass Effect fans a bunch of self obsessed whiners who feel that they are entitled to something that doesn’t belong to them. Bioware uses the excuse of ‘art’ and ‘artistic integrity’ yet they refuse to acknowledge who exactly the artist was who came up with that idea. I think that they are hiding behind it quite frankly because – in all honestly, artistic integrity can’t really be used in a section of writing that has more plot holes than swiss cheese and that shows absolutely no respect towards the very characters it created. If it was art, then Bioware should’ve said so from the beginning, instead of leading us on and making us believe that we could make a difference. With the ending, they tore back something that had led us believe was ours and did with it what they wanted, destroying it before us. It was like giving a toy to a child, saying that it was his, only to take it away the moment he became too attached to it and tearing off its head.

I’m not writing this to open debate because debates can only be justified when the content of such a debate is objective and I’ll be more than willing to admit that I’m not objective here. That’s not the point. The point is to get this off of my chest. To make those who follow my blog understand why I quite suddenly stopped gushing about this game and why my inner child that had been kept alive onboard the Normandy had died. It’s a bit mellow dramatic perhaps, but it’s true. The thing is that I haven’t really played any games since ending Mass Effect 3. I’ve messed around with Sims 3, but that’s hardly worth a mention. I tried getting back into Fallout 3, one of my favourite games to date, but even that was dry and senseless. Bioware opened up the realisation that it’s all just a game. One we paid for, like hiring an escort for love.

And just playing a game seems pretty useless now.