Warning: potential over-analysis of a video game follows. Plus if you haven’t played Mass Effect you’ll be completely confused.
The Mass Effect series has been my favorite gaming trilogy as of late and so it was no question that I was going to start playing its final installment on release day. I dove into it with the same completionist attitude I had with the previous installments.
I love the back and forth with Liara during the Shadow Broker DLC in ME2. “Remember when you could just slap omni gel on things?” That reference to ME1 made me smile. Seeing characters pop up here and there, or not, also made me feel. I had hoped to see Emily Wong or Kal’Reegar again, but alas they perished off screen. But the penultimate ending to the trilogy is just… bad. No matter what happens you lose and everyone is simply fucked. In fact, you might as well have actually helped the Reapers succeed. Maybe Saren’s way was the right way in the beginning and we’ve actually been the villain.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time doing every single side mission, quest and scan, no matter how minor. Some of my decisions sucked – I was shocked when I overheard the refugees mention that Kelly had been coldly executed during the Cerberus raid on the Citadel – and some made all my previous actions feel like a payoff. I put a lot of work towards trying to have the best possible outcome in then end, because that’s just how I roll.
Mordin’s death to put right what was once wrong in curing the genophage was both sad and rewarding. In my game there was no other option as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t betray my friend Wrex, a friend who would follow me to hell, just to make some shady back room deal with the Salarians. Had it been his brother because I foolishly killed (or was forced to kill) Wrex way back in the beginning on Virmire then yeah, I wouldn’t have felt bad lying about curing the genophage, and I would have been disappointed to have Mordin die for that. For me, watching Mordin put things right while singing “scientist Salarian” to himself just about brought a tear to my eye.
Being able to bring peace between the Quarians and the Geth was one of those good moments. Will the peace last? Maybe. Legion “dies” sort of, but we’re shown a machine that became alive and ultimately chose to give up its life for the greater good. Again depending on choices made along the way one may feel differently about Legion’s fate, or even killed him in what effectively would be the genocide of the geth. Either choice had its consequences, but provided I could I saved them both (and I did) to ensure both sides would be there to fight the Reapers for the best possible outcome.
Seeing and speaking to Thane in his final days in the hospital was cool, as were all my encounters with those I’d saved (my entire crew survived in ME2). But when Thane showed up to fight Kai Lang? Epic. The choices I made resulted in Thane showing up to kick some ass. He ultimately dies from a combination of his wounds and terminal illness, but like Mordin it was a good end. The other minor missions were nice to see Miranda, Jacob, and Jack again.
And then the final push comes. My squad and I fight valiantly alongside literally the rest of the galaxy (Geth plus Quarian fleets together) that I worked hard to bring to bear in full force. Full of inconsistencies, plot holes, and straight up WTF. No matter what, everyone dies and the Reapers fulfill their annihilation whether through their hand or mine.
- I bought the Quarians to Earth. I was able to create peace between them and the Geth, but no matter: with the mass relay network destroyed, they will never see Rannoch again, even though earlier the way for them to return home was paved through peace with the Geth, because it’s way the hell on the opposite side of the galaxy after I convinced them to come to Earth to fight the Reapers. And since they can’t eat anything on Earth they’re just going to starve to death as a best case scenario. More likely though is infighting as resources grow scares, or die trying to go home to Rannoch because the journey is too long and too far.
- I brought the Geth to Earth. As machines they don’t need things like food and would survive the long trip without mass relays – at least until they run out of fuel, lose power, and shut down. This also assumes that the newfound peace doesn’t collapse under the strain of the Quarian’s aforementioned bleak situation.
- I brought the Grogan to Earth. Wrex, the leader with a vision for a new future for his people that others will rally behind, is certainly there. But like everyone else that was duped into bringing everything they had to Earth for a final push they’re now just as stuck without the mass relays. Those left back on Tuchanka will probably just revert to the old ways and kill themselves off. Mordin’s sacrifice, while profoundly powerful at the time, ultimately meant nothing.
- I brought the Turians to Earth. Like the Quarians there’s nothing for them to eat, and unlike the quarians they probably didn’t bring any greenhouse ships with them. So now that the fighting is over whoever is left is probably going to grapple with the Quarians for something to eat once the reality of the situation sinks in.
- I brought the Salarians to Earth. I also brought races like the Volus and the Elcor. None of them are going home, either. Even if everyone wanted to sit around and be happy on Earth, the planet is in absolute ruin, to be bombarded with wreckage falling from orbit, and there’s simply too many of everyone combined for the planet to support at its best. With everyone in close quarters without a unifying cause faced with strained resources from whatever remains is the perfect recipe for old conflicts to rise again and attrition through infighting to finish off the survivors.
- Everyone on the Citadel is simply killed when it self-destructs. So much for all of the refugees plus its former regular population. In fact, the choice to let more refugees on board might as well be an assist to the Reapers because it simply increase the body count. The most likely end for them was that everyone is asphyxiated or vented into space.
And then there’s the Normandy. Why would Joker suddenly run from the fight? How did he know the mass relay was about to self destruct and manage to make it there before the Citadel did its thing? How did anyone in my squad even get back on board when they were supposedly all down on Earth fighting? Liara was with me during the run to the beam with ol’ Harby firing lasers of doom at everyone, and somehow she is suddenly back on the Normandy running away to crash land on some unknown jungle planet? None of this ending sequence is even remotely believable.
Of course, all of this assumes that everyone wasn’t simply vaporized by the destruction of each mass relay as was shown when the Alpha Relay was destroyed and released a supernova in its wake. This would mean that every system with a mass relay plus everyone on the Citatel were simply annihilated and the only thing left are far-flung colonies in the ass end of the galaxy. In which case, well, everyone and everything still dies.
The sad thing is that I loved the games but knowing how much futility there is in the end makes playing to better the universe simply no longer makes sense. You may as well run around the galaxy softening it up for the Reapers to finish off because that’s what happens regardless.