Musings At the End of a Long Ride
So. I think I understand why people were upset about the ending. But benefiting from the extended cut and a general disinvestment with the Reaper side of the plot in general, I didn’t find it overly grating. After reading spoilers I’m confused as hell as to why Leviathan isn’t part of the main game, quality aside as I haven’t played it and don’t intend to.
I chose the left-hand path. It made the most sense. It felt like the choice I had the most right to make, and while it was a great personal sacrifice, it felt fulfilling. I can see why people would have been let down by the non-extended cut version where basically everything goes to shit in what is functionally the same way no matter what you choose. Being prepared for the final fight felt like it mattered, and after a perusal of the wiki to see how the other two endings would have panned out and how EMS factored into it … I think that feeling was accurate.
I think this Kotaku article put one thing I felt really well.
The larger problem for the ending, though, is that it leans on the series’ least interesting theme, and even then disregards everything that the games have conveyed on the subject.
I’m not sure I agree that the organic/synthetic thing is the least interesting theme in the series, but it’s not in my top two either. The article goes on to say:
After all, the genuine synthetic intelligences present throughout the series have generally not been inimical to organic life. The robotic Geth, although initially presented as aggressive foes, are later shown to have been the victims of preemptive attacks by the Quarians. Even the ones that joined the Reapers in the first game did so out of a desire for self-advancement, not out of intrinsic malice towards organics. The other true AI the series presents is EDI, whose voluntary aid repeatedly proves crucial in helping Shepard’s missions succeed, and who might even be in love with Joker. Though the game undercuts itself by almost always placing synthetic lifeforms on the business end of Shepard’s gun, in dialog and plot the synthetics are neutral, or even allies.
This expresses one of my major disconnects with the second game. After coming to an understanding of who and what they Geth were … they continued to show up as enemies even with Legion in tow, long after the Omega relay jump and the events on-board the Geth satellite thereafter. This sort of inconsistency could have been smoothed over with explanation, commentary, or some efforts to emotionally disinvest me from the Geth. As it was, I felt my new investment in them was being betrayed because the context of their presence had changed and I was expected to behave the same way as before. One thing I appreciated so much about the absolute insanity of The Citadel (DLC) is that it was unabashed. It had moments of poignancy and moments of joking. Some of both fell flat, but I don’t think it ever goofed becasue it took itself too seriously or misunderstood elements of pacing. When things were inconsistent in the DLC, it was because the game very decisively set consistency aside.
While it relied on some tired “lampshade but keep on trucking” humor, it had many more isntances of genuine self-subversion and parody. Perhaps I’m reading it completely wrong, but the use of paragon/renegade interrupts for a menial slog of a task when hanging out with James Vega in the apartment was both both cute and elegant; you could stop just by taking too long and missing the prompt, and you still would have gotten the joke. But if you keep going to the end … the payoff isn’t some big hilarious joke. Just … the normal response you’d expect following the in-fiction activity. Which in turn both makes the scene feel more authentic and has a little layer of meta-commentary about the Paragon/Renegade system embedded in it. That kind of slick, dual-purpose design was found throughout. The Citadel DLC and it made me quite happy.
It was refreshing to know that the dev team understands why their games keep going haywire at the end, and that they can make fun of their mistakes without compromising their pride for their successes.. It’s disappointing that they weren’t able to commute that into tightening up the endings to Mass Effect 1 and 3, sorting out the thematic and tonal heart of Mass Effect 3, smoothing gaps between gameplay and fiction in Mass Effect 2, and avoiding their most grevious plot contrivances (really, not a shred of self-awareness about using the SAME space-thing as two different space mac-guffins in two different games in the trilogy?).
All in all, it’s been a good ride. The best. By rights I should have cried in a few places I didn’t … but there was just something missing. And that’s enough to make me disappointed even as I heartily commend the team for a damn spectacular trilogy, and keep Martin Shepard and company close to my heart.
I was going to end there, but I realized I have an excellent excuse now to shoehorn one of the best parts of The Citadel LDC meaningfully into the shoe I cobbled in the preceeding paragraphs: