Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Dear Bioware

**Spoiler Warning for Mass Effect 3**

Through no fault of my own I was late to the party. I was given a pre-ordered Collector's Edition of ME3 for my birthday, three days after the European release, and I couldn't play it until last Wednesday because there was no internet in my new house until then.

I was so happy when it laboriously installed. Took four hours. I was nearly vibrating with tension at the end of it. So close! So close to the end and being Shepard again. But I got there, and I played it until I was too tired to shoot straight.

I kept on having to do things which impacted on my gaming time, like leave the house, and it annoyed me, because half of me was always with Shepard in her desperate struggle for survival and victory. The game swept me up and carried me along. I laughed, and I cried, quite a lot, but I never expected it to be easy, I was happy to do the crying that Shepard could not allow herself to do. She wasn't me; my Shepard has been herself since I first played her.

She got together with Kaiden again, but properly this time, starting a relationship rather than snatching one desperate night of desire before the end; and I thought, at last she has something to live for beyond the end. Maybe she won't have to die to see this through. Although I knew the odds were not in her favour, I thought surely, after everything she's done, after so much good karma built up - surely she'll make it through. Maybe the recovery will be brutal. Maybe all these fragile alliances and trusts she's built up will fall. But she has someone to live for now.

She didn't even get to say goodbye to him, or to any of the others, these people who love her.

None of them came for her at the end. She died lost and alone, not even able to save everything she was fighting for - nothing was left untouched, no beacon of hope.

My heart is in tatters. I am ragged and burned. I'm not sure if I can play any other Shepard - and I have several, on two different platforms - to the end, because I know what awaits them, and me, and I cannot do that to them and myself. It's going to take me a long time to play the earlier games again even, because I am too raw with grief to want to see them again. She was so alone, and no-one loved her enough to try to save her, even though she had saved them all so many times. {Edit: alright, it took me four days to start playing ME2 again, and I'll happily play ME3 again. I'll just never finish it again. Ever.}

Obsessive love of the character aside, and I'm sure everyone will be relieved to hear that right now, I have other problems with the ending too. The deus ex machina - or machina ex deus? Hard to be sure, in this case - was clumsy and abrupt. There was little foreshadowing, and that was only seen towards the end, from the Prothean VI. It was unnecessary. Deus ex machina is sloppy and clich├ęd, as an ending, and I expected more. As well, it was far too much mystic claptrap. Uninspired choice there; even the Ancient Greeks were tired of it.

After ME2, where all your guys are with you and fight for you at the end, going back to not seeing anyone else doing anything in the last fight was a step backwards. And the bit at the very end, the Normandy crashing and people leaving? Why the fuck were they on it in the first place? They were fighting on Earth. For Earth. Why are they suddenly jumping through a mass relay?

The choices felt a lot like the ending of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, almost entirely: nothing else that you had done in the game mattered at the end; only these three arbitrary choices were presented, all of which mean death, if we're honest; a suspiciously well-informed construct is telling you to make them with no care for the human (and alien) cost; and you have that same sense of being cheated.

I have spent upwards of 300 hours of my life playing these games. I have spent a fair chunk of money on them, thanks to the super-helpful DLC strategy milking it from me. I kind of expected better. Certainly I feel that both Shepard and I deserve better.

I appreciate that the trilogy needed to end, properly and forever, and this certainly did that. But I am curious about the decision to make it so terribly final. This is a character we have been encouraged in every possible way to empathise with, personalise, and throw our energy and - dare I say it - love at. To end all of that in such a way is... not nice. Even bloody KotOR2 ended more cheerfully, and that was a game which suffered from a lot of the same problems as ME3.

Not all heroes need to die. We live in a terrible world. Things go wrong all the time. People die needlessly and tragically. As a species, we want to believe that this doesn't happen all the time; that some people do get their just rewards in this life. If we can't believe that, then we lose hope for ourselves. I am quite sure that my Shepard would happily sacrifice herself for everyone; but I don't want her to have to, because I want her to be happy. It doesn't all have to be rainbows and kittens, but at least that beach with Garrus, that drink with Jack, and being able to lie back and rest in the arms of (insert love interest here; I adore Kaidan, but ymmv), at least for a little while.

Aside from that, and if you're still reading this, nameless Bioware type, I adored the games, all of them. The gameplay was superb. Even the Mako was great. I have never played a game more, nor enjoyed it more. That, of course, is one of the reasons why I am so dissatisfied now. You did your job so well that I am compelled to write this (I did not care enough about Deus Ex to write to Square Enix, for example; Adam was great, but he was no Shepard, to hold a place in my heart), and I imagine it's the same for all of us who are complaining.

My Shepard didn't have to make arbitrary choices. She nearly killed herself getting to the panel, and she made it there, and hit the button, and slumped back down beside Anderson to die. The Reapers and all their monsters evaporated away, like that charming graphic you showed me of humanity's last, best hope dying to save everyone sentient.

She is called by Hackett, who keeps her awake until they can find out where she is. Maybe the Keepers help to open the doors, free of their long enslavement. Maybe they just use big guns. And then, slipping in and out of conciousness, holding onto life by the skin of her teeth, she is rescued by the man who loves her, finally getting a chance to be the hero.

Her horrendous injuries take months to heal, whilst the galaxy falteringly starts to rebuild. There are problems. Setbacks. The krogan nearly trigger a war, but Wrex reins them in in a supreme effort of will, and Primarch Victus holds the Dalatrass to a stand-off. Shepard is offered, and accepts, the human Councillor's position until elections can be held; but she does not stand for election, although the work she has done helps to hold the peace for decades, even centuries to come. She never returns to active service; her injuries were too severe.

She and Kaidan keep homes on Mindoir and Earth, and travel between them, The Council keep his Spectre duties light. They have children. Their first daughter is named Ashley. In their old age, they are visiting a small world when it is hit by pirates, and both are critically wounded; but biotics need no weapons to fight, and they defeat the pirates, and save the small population. They are found entwined in each others arms. The galaxy mourns.