Did you have a good Thanksgiving this year? I hope you did. I did, and it (as always) got me thinking about the things I’m thankful for in this life of mine. Me being a gamer, there are more than a few games that I’m thankful for; I’ve even wrote about a few here before. I’ve always singled out favorites; games that I could play again and again. With all the hubbub about gaming hype in the last few months though, I’ve mostly been thankful that I’m not a part of that anymore. I was, I very much was, but something snapped me out of it. That something was Mass Effect 3, and I’m so very thankful what it did.
Before anything else let me just say that I do not consider Mass Effect 3 to be a bad game, because it’s not. It just wasn’t the game I was expecting at the time. You see, before Mass Effect 3 came out, I was what you’d call a Mass Effect fanboy. I’d played through the first game several times so I’d have different characters to import into Mass Effect 2 and did the same in preparation for Mass Effect 3. I even went through both ME1 and ME2 to get my “official” Commander Shepard just right. I bought Mass Effect merch. I was on the Bioware forums discussing and speculating. I was reading Mass Effect fan stories regularly (something that makes me cringe to this very day). Suffice it to say that I loved Mass Effect, so my excitement was sky-high for the game that was supposedly going to be the culmination of the paths my Commander Shepard had chosen. That was, of course, until I played the game.
My first playthrough of Mass Effect 3 was more or less characterized by one word: “confusion”. The game was easy enough to play and the story was easy enough to follow, but that wasn’t the issue. I was looking for the impact of my decisions. There were little things here and there: Balak showing up because I’d played “Bring Down The Sky” in ME1, some npcs discussing something I’d discovered in ME2, but nothing that was all that substantial other than the absence of a squadmate if they’d died in ME2. Where were the changes? This was supposed to be the game where I’d get to see the outcome of my actions, but even the choices I was making in ME3 didn’t seem to affect the story all that much! I more or less took it in stride though and rationalized that they couldn’t have allowed too much to change based on past actions since it would have required a ton of work and that all the big differences would come at the end. Hoo boy…
Rather than beating around the bush, I’ll just come out and say it: I hated Mass Effect 3’s ending. Actually…perhaps it would be better to say that I was supremely disappointed by it. It wasn’t the plot holes, missed opportunities, out-of-character actions, forced deaths, star child, ruining of the reapers, lack of a final confrontation, or reducing Shepard’s actions to the unreality of some old man’s bedtime story that did it; though they certainly didn’t help. It was that everything, everything, got boiled down to a simple, color-coded choice. A color-coded choice that didn’t even matter! No matter what I chose, the Reapers were still defeated, it was just done with a different color of space-magic. This ending was supposed to be the culmination of everything I’d done up throughout all three games. Everything that they’d said about the game had led me to believe that all the choices I’d already made were going to define the ending. The ending itself wasn’t supposed to be a choice. It was supposed to be the result, the consequence of every major decision that I’d made. Instead it was just another empty choice, and no slideshow add-on was going to fix that. This was it.
For the Mass Effect fanboy in me, Mass Effect 3 was devastating. For the gamer in me though, it was a valuable lesson. After all the fallout and emotion of the disappointment had passed, I found myself wondering what had caused it all in the first place. The answer was hype. I’d believed the hype and, being the fanboy that I was, hyped myself up even more with my speculations and extra playthroughs and such. I’d somehow made the game out to be more than it could have been; more than any game could have been. The game was certainly disappointing, but the root of the problem was expectations that were vastly over-inflated. After that, I suppose it was safe to say that I was no longer a Mass Effect fanboy.
Now, I’ve spent this whole time dumping on the game, but I am indeed thankful for it. I may still be unable to bring myself to play it again, but the lesson I learned about getting hyped for video games has been invaluable. It’s saved me time, it’s saved me money, and it’s saved me from the disappointment that comes from making games out to be more than they actually are: fun little diversions from normal life. So in the end, I’m actually very thankful for Mass Effect 3. It may not be one of my favorites, but it is probably the one game that I’ve benefited from the most.
What games are you thankful for? Were there any that you learned something from?