Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Massive Effect of Video Games

I've been a huge fan of the Mass Effect franchise since day one. Ever since Bioware, who I fell in love with after playing the amazing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox, announced that they were making their own original sci-fi trilogy of RPGs I was on board.

The first Mass Effect was an interesting blend of traditional western RPG and cover-based 3rd-person shooter mechanics. It had some issues, serious texture pop-in being the most prominent and let's not forget about the Mako sequences, but it was still and amazing experience thanks in no small part to the story and characters that drove the game, and the franchise, forward.

Bioware took all of the feedback from the fist game into consideration while making Mass Effect 2, and the game that resulted went far beyond anyone's expectations. They made an incalculable number of changes, tweaks, and improvements to the way the game played and they came out with what many people, including me, consider to be one of the best games of all time. There were a few people who didn't like the changes, but these were most likely the kind of sticklers who will ALWAYS claim that the first iteration of a franchise was the best, no matter how clearly wrong they are. Mass Effect 2 was amazing, simply amazing, with how it propelled the story of Shepherd and the Reapers forward while taking their unique blend of Shooter-RPG gameplay to the next level.

And then it was time for the end of this epic sci-fi saga, Mass Effect 3. Having nailed the feel of the gameplay in ME2, fewer changes were necessary for the series and the focus could be put squarely on expanding the customization option, wrapping up the various storylines, and making every moment as epic as possible. After all, this is the time when the conflict with the Reapers would come to a head and all questions would be answered.

I have finished Mass Effect 3 once with my male Paragon Shepherd and am currently running through it with my Renegade FemShep, and I feel that Bioware has delivered on most of the promises they made for the franchise. The entire game was full of some of the most epic and touching moments I've ever experienced in a video game and, unlike seemingly most of the internet, I thought that the ending was pretty good. I liked that they left the ending somewhat open so that you, the player, could wrap things up in your head however you wanted. I also thought that (*SPOILER ALERT*) the way the ending (at least the one I've seen) kind of reset the universe by destroying the Mass Relays was genius. It means that now all of the species in the galaxy have to start back at square one and rebuild on their own terms without piggy-backing on the technology of the Reapers. Remember, none of the civilizations in the ME universe would be as technologically advanced as they are if it weren't for the Reapers leaving behind various bits of technology to guide their development as a culture. And, after being devastated by the invasion, it will take centuries for these cultures to pick themselves back up again, but at least life will be allowed to flourish on it's own terms, instead of being unduly influenced by unseen synthetic overlords. (*SPOILER OVER*)

I went into a sort of internet blackout after the game was released, checking only my emails, but not Facebook,  video game websites, or anything else so that I could avoid spoilers. I was satisfied with the ending of my favorite franchise but, when I came back online, I found that the entire internet had EXPLODED into a sea of outrage over the ending of Mass Effect 3.

I dove into the fray, reading reviews and comments, just trying to get a sense for what people were so upset about. Now, I think that some of the points being made are valid; maybe the endings aren't dramatically different from one another, and I wouldn't mind getting a little more closure from some of the friends I made along the way but, as I said earlier, I think that leaving the ending a little bit open to interpretation was kind of the point; they want you to be able to wrap things up in your head the way you see fit.

I also think that some of the demands and steps that people have taken are beyond ridiculous. Some people are yelling for Bioware to patch in a new ending immediately, while others are demanding refunds to the point that has offered full refunds to people who were disappointed by the ending. Really? One jackass even filed a complaint with the FTC about the game( Seriously, if you think the government needs to step in on an issue regarding the ending of a video game than you have got to be one of the most pathetic, government-reliant sheep on the the planet. Don't you think they have bigger concerns like, I don't know, the economy.

If that wasn't egregious enough, then you have people lobbing personal attacks against people who worked on the game. The fact that you didn't like the product is one thing, but don't begin spitting vitriolic hatred at the people who worked so hard to bring it to you.

Ultimately, I think that people need to calm down; Bioware has said that they are listening to the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and will address people's concern soon( I don't know what their solution will be, but I hope that Bioware sticks to their guns and doesn't try to fundamentally change the ending and here's why: What happens if they do change the ending and then these fanatics aren't satisfied with the "new" ending? They will begin yelling and screaming even louder because now Bioware took a second crack at it and missed in their eyes. Then what choice will Bioware have but to either change it AGAIN or tell them to just deal with it and look like a bunch of jerks. It's a slippery slope that will only lead to more heartache for the fans and developers alike. If they should do anything with the endings, I think it should be to simply include some finals scenes to show where all of your party members or major characters ended up.

Playing on the indoctrination theory( would be another way to go if they do want to give fans a new ending, but I still worry that people either won't be satisfied with whatever new ending they come up with or they will start a new controversy; claiming that it was Bioware and EA's plan the whole time as a way to suck more money out of fans if they charge for it.

Bioware is in a tough spot to say the least but I for one still love Mass Effect. I think it is one of the greatest franchises and one of the biggest accomplishments in video game history. And once this has all blown over I hope that people will be able to look back and see this series as the amazing piece of media it is.