Mass Effect 3: What a Ride

I’m violently opposed to spoilers. I’ve avoided watching or reading anything about Mass Effect 3 for months, as hard as it has been to resist looking. I wanted to be surprised by every plot twist and retcon in the game.

In part it’s because I wanted the intended effect of BioWare’s writers’ and actors’ efforts. I don’t want to know if someone is going to die or blow me off or betray me. Commander Shepard doesn’t cheat.

Imagine my shock at the Horizon scene with Kaidan in Mass Effect 2! Had I known what was coming it would have all but drained the impact from the confrontation. (I’m avoiding spoilers with this example. See how nice I am?)

And so I have come to each of Bioware’s installments fresh, with no expectations outside the ones I’ve built into my own mental canon for the story. You can only play it through for the first time once.

Shepard has lost a lot, before and during Mass Effect 3. I saved last night on the precipice of the big finale. The game had me near tears a couple of times and two scenes actually made me cry, something vanishingly rare in any game. The first was an awful, painful decision that turned out in the short term even worse than I’d thought.

The second time came not in what might have been my final conversation with Kaidan (I haven’t finished, yet, you know, so don’t tell me if it is), though that was heart-warmingly touching. But Garrus, more than any other character in the series, was always the other half of Commander Shepard. He was her best friend and the only person at her side the whole way. Their possible goodbye was written and acted perfectly on both sides, bittersweet and affectionate.

On this, my trial run, I did things wrong. This Shep flailed helplessly in Mass Effect 2 so half of my favorite characters were dead from the get-go. She missed out on downloadable content because she’s always first and usually I can’t bear to go back to her miserable life once I have successful characters to play. I can only imagine the awesome in store for me on my next run with a full crew to surprise me in new ways.

But right now I’m thrilled with the game. Were there things I would have written differently? Of course, and I’m sure I will (“just bury it”, for instance). Though the game gives you terrific character interaction who doesn’t want more? On the whole, however, the story packs a load of emotional punch across the spectrum.

Whatever comes in the ending tonight I can say that Mass Effect 3 has taken me for one hell of a ride. As you can tell by my masses of fan fiction, Shepard’s story hooked me deeply long ago. The left turns and plot holes were just fodder for my imagination.

The lack of direction in ME3 made stumbling through the galactic crisis all the more realistic and the consequences for choices you made literally years before brought the whole series together into a single story. The three-letter moments—“a-ha”, “omg”, and “wtf”—tied up a lot of loose ends and explained the point of some of those pointless missions.

BioWare brought out the big guns for Mass Effect 3. They capitalized on the desperate circumstances to create painful choices, sweet personal interactions, and enough humor and victory to keep you from chucking the thing out of the window in despair. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’ve finished.

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