Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Choice, Consequence, and Mass Effect 3

I am something of a video gamer, to complement my love of tabletop gaming. And, I've just started Mass Effect 2 after a long time playing Fallout: New Vegas.

My girlfriend's flatmate, however, just finished ME3.

*SPOILERS AHOY!* I'll even put in a jump break for this one...

So, the Mass Effect series has been hailed (rightfully) as one of the most immersive and complex games of recent years. Every choice affects the final outcome of the game, even later games, finally building up to a massive War Sequence climax. The smallest choices can lead to huge outcomes - romancing certain characters, setting other ones up, betrayals, alliances, allowing dangerous species to survive only for them to become unexpected allies - your choices mean something, and you have to live with the consequences (which also span the games, and come back right up till the climax to haunt you).

Like a good tabletop game - these choices can determine the outcome of entire settings. Say you had a nest of Kobolds, hiding in nearby ruins. You could kill them all, and leave the place empty for some bigger, badder threat to move into. You could let them live, and watch as they steal resources from the local human settlements, weakening them against future assaults. You could try diplomacy, maybe set up a trade route, and watch as both the Kobolds and the settlements grow stronger. Your choices should have some lasting effect on the gameworld - wiping out towns or settlements should affect the rest of the nearby areas and populations.

But, ME3 drops the ball. After 3 whole games worth of choices leading up to the final push, after making characters who pick and choose different outcomes, different paths, different lives, you end up with three choices. Three choices that have no bearing on what you did for the rest of the game. Or the series as a whole. And there's no "good ending".

You've been fighting off the Reapers for an entire game, and you finally get to their ship. You've lost friends, brothers, lovers on this mission. And you can either;
  • Take control the Reapers yourself, sacrificing yourself so the galaxy can live without fear of the machines.
  • Destroy the Reapers, dying in the process and killing off all non-organic life (including the Geth, who have recently been discovered to be fully sentient, to only want peace and communication with other races, and provided a huge help in the war effort, and EDI, the AI you've been encouraging to find her own humanity throughout the series).
  • Make Organic and Synthetic creatures one and the same, forcing massive transhumanism onto the entire galaxy, and (seeing a pattern here?) dying in the process.
... and that's it. Genocide, forced evolution, or the risk of yourself becoming the bad guy. These are your choices, and they're all available to you, whether you were a shining example of tolerance and humanity, calling together the wide and varied races of the Galaxy to fight for a greater good than any of themselves, or you punched babies and spat racial hatred at every opportunity.

The final cutscene even play out near enough the same - you die, the rest of the crew escape (barely), and all the Mass-Relays are destroyed. In at least one of the endings, that doesn't make any sense (you control the Reavers - what' so damaging about the Mass Relays then?). They are destroyed in explosion visible from outside the galaxy. To give you an idea, stars aren't visible outside the galaxy - hence why they Milky Way looks like a big cloud. Explosions bigger than solar systems wrack the galaxy, regardless of what you choose. You die, regardless of what you choose. And, most importantly, nothing you've done matters in the slightest. Aside from that choice, it decides what colour the Mass Relays flare when they take out (presumably) half the fucking galaxy.

It's like playing a game of D&D where you have a total sandbox - where every action has a reaction, whether equal, opposite, or completely over-the-top. Each NPC is a fully realised character, with an agenda, plan, relationships, the whole shebang. And, right at the top of it all, is the Big Bad Evil Overlord, who has been manipulating the events that are unfolding before your very eyes. But, you've went out of your way to have extra plans, things he wasn't expecting - peasant militias, bizarre magical superweapons, everything you can to stop his God-like power.

And then, it turns out he's actually the Devil, and Hitler, and he's hooked his soul up to a unique Dead Man's switch that will wipe out the whole world. Your only choice is to kill him, through some twist of bullshit, and thus, you need to kill everyone to stop him from killing everyone.

Don't do it, GMs - let choices have consequences, otherwise go back to writing novels!

Rant over.


  1. there is a fourth option if none of those three appeal tat was put in with the free DLC to flesh out the endings, but I don't want to spoil what will be an even more horrible surprise if you haven't seen it yet.

  2. Don't even get me started on the DLC.

    "There's your three shitty endings - remember and buy MOAR STUFF!"

    And release-date DLC strikes me as a terrible money-grabbing venture, or the world's most annoying anti-pirating act.