Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Endings, Critics, "Journalism," and Changes to Products

So, hey, everybody. I guess I'll give a few more cents to this debate and then quietly bow out to start actually reviewing some more products deserving of intricate reviews and such. So, Mass Effect 3 is the game that finally brought people together to start complaining about certain aspects of gaming "culture" that are less than stellar. I'm not going to start with endings, like my title suggests I might, but rather, as the picture indicates above, I will start with "journalism."

Now, I put "journalism" in quotation marks here to prove a point. Partially this is expectation. And no, I'm not just going to bash critics or reviewers, but you'll have to read this carefully because I'd rather not be misconstrued. We, as gamers, as people enjoying products, as movie-goers, as whatever we want to be, expect a certain product to be a certain way. I would never expect Star Wars to be a musical or slap-stick comedy (The Star Wars Holiday Special be damned!). I'd never expect Silent Hill to start going down the road of romantic foible. Nor do I consider something like Twilight to be a product for actual thinking or breathing human beings that use their minds. Now, I insult a bit, but I insult for a reason. Each product is out there for a specific reason and we all have certain expectations for that product. I may have no interest in Twilight, but that movie or that book is not made for me, a twenty-three year old straight male who is cynical and a fan of actual horror and monster movies. It's simply not made for me. Yes, it has its audience and I'm happy, I guess, that it does, but it's not made for me. And that's okay, since I don't want to see it.

So, when a movie is made for me, let's say a horror movie, and I see movie critics bashing it left and right, then I go to see it and love it, it perplexes me. The problem here is that the critics in this case like certain types of movies, but horror movies rarely fit into their definition of good movie. Some of my favorite films of all time are horror and yet so few of them actually have decent reviews to back them up. A site like Rotten Tomatoes gives most of the movies I absolutely love, less than a 50% rating. Is that fair? Is it good that something like Ghost Ship (which I liked) or Pandorum (which I loved!) get such crappy scores when movies that I cannot stand like Dark City or Shutter Island get much better scores?

Partially, this is because of critics' personal preferences as well as my own. The problem is why are critics seen as the only voice of these opinions? Why is Rotten Tomatoes or for games, Metacritic, looked at with such awe? Why do the voices of these opinionated critics and "journalists" matter more than any other person? are they experts? Can one even be an expert on a media that is purely subjective already? If I want to write an article on a video game does that mean I have to major in video game journalism? If I want to write an in depth critique on movies, does that mean that I have to major and then get a PhD in Film Criticism or something? Why? Aren't there forms of media purely subjective anyway? Certainly there are plenty of movies I cannot stand, but those two movies that I say I don't like above have plenty of other people who love them. Does that make them better for me? Does saying that Black Swan (an awful movie in my opinion, seriously awful) received a bunch of awards make me like the movie better? ...I think you know the answer to that.

My point here isn't that game "journalists" are wrong or right, but rather that they all have an opinion. Certainly those opinions might have something to do with the picture shown above, ad revenues, getting the games for free, full access to studios, et cetera... but I doubt that's a huge thing for most of the "journalists." In all honesty, despite the derogatory picture I posted, I sincerely doubt that most of these game "journalists" even care about things like ad revenues or are told to post certain reviews. Most of these reviews rely on subjectivity and criticism, and that's the problem. A journalist cannot be subjective. A journalist is supposed to present facts as truths, objective truths, possibly extrapolating from time-to-time, but certainly not letting their feelings of a product or story get in the way of what that story or product actually is. Calling a game "journalist" a journalist gets the wrong point across. they are critics, much like movie critics, subjective opinions and everything else that comes with it. Yes, they might be correctly called game journalists if they only report facts within studios and make no extra speeches or articles about how fans of games are dumb, but when those things happen, when reviews happen, when fans are called out, those people cease being journalists at all. They become a harsh parody of one.

And that's all in our expectations. We hear the title of "game journalist" and our minds go and say, "Dude, this guy is telling me the objective truth about the game." when in fact he or she is literally only saying their own opinions. But looking at the title, we wouldn't get this... even now a lot of people have trouble seeing the inherent subjectivity involved in the world of game "journalism." I mean, for example I hate RTS games. They are just not my thing at all. They don't work well for me and in general I would rather play almost any other type of game. If somebody asked me to review an RTS, I would give it a bad review, not because it is a bad game, but because I don't particularly like that type of gaming experience. The same kind of thing can be seen with Mass Effect 3 but... it's different too. Gaming critics say that the game is brilliant, fantastic... all of these other things, but this game is the end of a trilogy... it's the last game in an RPG story that has a heavy basis in choice. So, yes, the gaming critics may go out of their way to say how the gameplay is good, how the graphics are good... blah blah blah, but they will never have the same investment that a person who plays the Mass Effect  games over and over would. Most people, certainly not all, but most certainly think that the endings were fairly poorly executed.

Now, are the endings of Mass Effect 3 poorly handled. Certainly. There is no doubt. The game in general suffers from a large lack of focus and perhaps even a rush to a deadline. Pieces of the experience of the game like multiplayer and certain characters within the narrative could have easily been cut out with no detrimental effects except possibly to sales... and that's the big problem.

So, let me tell you what I think. I think BioWare is generally being very quiet on the Mass Effect front, but I was recently reading some things from the Dragon Age write David Gaider, who I think has a lot of very good insights to the problems. I'm not going to quote directly, but suffice it to say, his quotations are easy enough to find if you look in the right places. My point is that he speaks heavily, and in my opinion more frankly, about the process required to make games and the processes required to make money with games. I like all of the Dragon Age games. Certainly there are missteps, but it's mostly a very solid series. I appreciate Mr. Gaider coming out and saying things like they are. Some of what he says certainly reflects on Mass Effect as well. The constant need to make a product that will sell, the idea of making a game that also listens to its core audience and their ideas, the process of making something enjoyable and objectively "good," and mostly trying to get things done by a deadline.

And I think the deadline is what destroyed Mass Effect 3. Despite a lot of people coming out and saying that the game is perfect, the game isn't. It objectively is worse than Mass Effect 2 even when the endings are not counted. It took steps back, making sidequests into nothing more than either fetch quests or easy multiplayer maps without story. I mean, certainly there is some story, and some of the quests are fantastic... but so much of the game feels unpolished... almost unfinished. In some ways the game feels very much like my favorite game, KotOR II, but Mass Effect 3 just has different things that are finished and unfinished as compared to that game.

KotOR II is a fundamentally amazing game that has an ending that just kind of peters away. The developers wanted to finish it, but did not have enough time, as LucasArts wanted to push it out the door for a Christmas release... and that's the problem. They had the fundamental stuff, but had to cut unfinished content out of the released product, making the ending a jumble of incoherent screens and maps with obviously unfinished enemy models, and a highly unfinished plot... but it still worked in my opinion. Even with so much cut content it worked because there was an ending and the core game was so good that a mediocre ending just would not bring it down.

Mass Effect 3 also suffers from being the last part of its trilogy rather than an almost standalone game like KotOR II is. I feel that the game was obviously rushed, multiplayer was concentrated on, and balls were dropped all around. You can see the shines of polish in different places. Rannoch stands out, but they are hidden behind so many bad parts of the game. I mean the beginning just stands out to me so much... hell, Earth in general is incredibly disappointing. BioWare has never worked well with deadlines. They're like Valve, except Valve will wait to release a game, pushing back the date because they want to release a finished and unbroken product, whereas BioWare has to release a product when the publisher wants it out. KotOR or Dragon Age II can also show this pretty easily, with KotORs endgame sequence playing completely differently than the rest of the game with infinite spawning enemies and almost no dialogue. Dragon Age II, although I like the game, just feels like it has pieces missing, especially from the third act. In earlier games this cut content could be seen on the game itself. Hell, KotOR II has been restored by modders from cut content found hidden on the discs. It's ridiculous how much content was cut out from that game, hours upon hours... and every bit of cut content actually makes the game better, solidifying it as the best game of all time for me.

My whole point is that deadlines happen. Mass Effect 3 was pushed back once already... and I doubt that they were completely ready to release such a complex product. I have to believe that they wanted other endings or have planned for an ending DLC of some sort. Anything else would make so little sense it's mindboggling.

And I know I've put my personal opinion out there, but I don't need a happy ending. I just want no plotholes. I just want things to make sense. I can take nonsense if there are reasons for nonsense like in the Silent Hill series where it is pretty readily established that everything is weird and crazy. But Mass Effect  made fundamental sense as a space opera or space fantasy... and seeing an ending that makes so little sense with the rest of the continuity makes the game subpar.

See, I can take a sad or bittersweet ending. Hell, Nier (here are Nier spoilers by the way) ends with the main character giving up his existence and any memory of his existence for the woman he loves. And that's the freaking character you play as for the entire game. About half the main cast dies off in the ending and I never once complained about that because it worked. It was all set up... and when that message came up and deleted all my saves and my character's name and everything... it felt awful, certainly... I mean all that time, all that progress... but it also felt fitting. It worked in a fundamental way that was heartrending and beautiful. Mass Effect 3 does not work. It's ending does not fit. It feels awful and does not seem believable. When I reached the ending I reloaded a save and tried another ending just to find out that almost all the endings are the same... no real added content... no afterward... nothing. Nothing to resolve the plot. Nothing to evoke a response other than "What?" And that's not a good response... it's bad writing... it's terrible.

And yes, the endings should be changed. I don't think it takes away anything from the artistry or the whatever to add an ending. Filmmakers do it all the time. Books are changed by editors or publishers... and video games should have the ability to be altered as well. I don't think it's a bad precedent to make. I think it's an excellent one. Look at the Star Wars movies and the changes within. Even if you don't agree, the changes still exist. Look at Stephen King with new editions of older novels like The Stand or The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger. He changed and added stuff to the plots of both of those novels... one of which is the beginning of an entire series of novels and a short story and graphic novels. And he changed them. Is that a bad thing? No, because he has every right to change them and fans have every right to demand changes to a product they think is bad. Look at the Silent Hill HD collection that just came out. Look at all of the problems in that pack. They have to be fixed to have a good product. Why can't endings be fixed to have a good product too? It makes no discernible sense to me and seems patently false for reviewers and critics and game-makers to come out and say that fans shouldn't matter when they are the ones doling out the money for the game.

I guess I'm an old cynic though... and I feel as if these measures and protests and everything else need to be taken when a product is subpar... when promises were made and not kept... when deadlines had to be met and content stripped from the game. It's a fundamental flaw in the process for critics and reviewers who know absolutely nothing more than game-players... hell, they have almost no differences from those who play games except that they get paid and get less invested in the game... call out those players of video games as being entitled or flawed in their logic.

I know I'm not going to get a ton of people viewing this opinion piece, but I feel that very few people are being sensical here... and that bothers me a ton. I haven't seen too many people come out and say what I've said here... and it needs to be said, it has to be spoken, whether you agree or not.

All right then, last rant I'll do for a while. Expect some actual review content next week. I'm thinking Paprika might make a good review, but I also have a few movies that I've been meaning to watch... and a video game I'm in the process of playing. So, we'll see what comes next.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BioWare, Endings, Creative Control, and a Rant

Okay, I know recently BioWare has been getting a lot of criticism about Mass Effect 3, the cookie-cutter ending and everything else. Hell, my last review was on Mass Effect 3 and where I felt BioWare went wrong in general. I know there's also a lot of hate for the Dragon Age games, especially the second, and honestly... I have no idea where all this hate is coming from.

Look, BioWare screwed up once or twice. They're trying to make their games for a wider audience. They're trying to do this and that and find their way. Now, although I like a good RPG every once in a while, the Baldur's Gate fans are a little on the insane side in my opinion. I played the first Baldur's Gate and tried the second, and I just have to say that those games have not aged well at all. So, yeah... maybe the story was awesome and moving and whatever, but you need more than just a story and some characters for a good game. And this is me saying this, the king of loving a game for story and characters.

What I think is going on are two things. The first is unrealistic expectations and the second is BioWare's changing demographic. Let me explain myself here and hopefully not appear like I'm talking down to anybody. Let's look at Skyrim for a moment. Not a BioWare game, but a single-player RPG experience. It sold incredibly well, shattered expectations, and showed the world that single-player RPGs could still not only sell well to a Western audience, but could sell REALLY well. Part of the problem for BioWare is that although the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series sell all right, they don't sell Skyrim numbers. This is for many reasons, but they're trying to change that. They want to change that. The problem is that they go for the wrong audience, alienating their old fans in the process.

Now, would I consider myself a BioWare fan? I don't know. I like most of their games, sure, and I've gotten pretty heavily invested in both of their big series, but I've seen some of the lesser things they have put out as well, Mass Effect 3 being one of those lesser products. It's a trend that I don't like, BioWare turning away from what made some of their games great in the first place, but that does not preclude their newer games from being fantastic.

BioWare has a history of really listening to their fans, including characters and gameplay scenarios to appeal to their fanbase. Come on you Garrus and Tali fans, stand up. I think sometimes they overreact or react the wrong way to criticism, for instance completely getting rid of planet exploration after Mass Effect and by Mass Effect 3 having almost no exploration at all. Yeah, that kind of sucked. But they listened about characters and about romances and about everything else.

As a man with a lot of things to do, I still love my video games, but I can't allow myself to become as heavily invested in a lot of these decisions as some people are. I don't really post on the BioWare Social Network forums unless I have a major bug in one of their games, and in general I kind of avoid that scene. Way too many emotions running high and a little too anonymous for my taste. I don't like hiding behind some crazy screen name airing my problems passionately but without any real face behind that passion. That's why I write here where people can easily find me and easily message me if that is so desired. I love feedback, and I'm sure BioWare does as well, but ranting and raving in their faces constantly just pushes everybody down into the fray.

Do I agree with most of BioWare's decisions? Yes, mostly I don't have a problem with them. Most of their games are pretty solid, especially their most recent games besides Mass Effect 3, and I'd happily buy another game from them because they're good people and make great games.

I had the chance to meet some of the developers of the Dragon Age series and spoke to them when I went to the New York Comic Convention. It was incredibly exciting and worth so much to be able to tell them how much I appreciated their products and the work they have put into an incredible series of games. I think so many creators love the feedback, whether good or bad. I know I do. I love being told by someone where I've done a great job and where I need to improve, and I take those discussions incredibly seriously, as I'm sure BioWare also does.

With the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement, I have very mixed feelings about it. While I wasn't happy about the endings to Mass Effect 3 or... uh... the game in general, I kind of had a feeling from the beginning that i would have an issue. Something about that first Earth mission was a forewarning that I should just simply not play this game. But I did. I did and I didn't like it. Did I hate it? No, but it wasn't as good as the other games in the series. That being said, it was pretty solid and although lazy in some portions, I found the game overall very engaging. The ending was rushed very obviously and was disappointing, and I really was very passionate about it in my review, but sitting on those feelings for a week or whatever it is, I have a few comments to make.

The first is that an ending DLC is a terrible idea. It's not that I don't agree with the Retake guys or that I agree with them even. It's more like I don't think it will help. I got the ending I got. Paying for DLC or receiving it for free will not wash the taste of disappointment out of my mouth. I just think it's not worth it. It's not worth the fight and it's not worth the precedence that would be set for a DLC ending to a AAA game. I don't think I could agree with that. It just doesn't feel right to me. The ending will always be there whether the cover it up or not, and I just think people should move on. BioWare messed up. They know it by now. But making them change the ending is not going to help anybody. It would basically be fanfiction at that point and that seems incredibly shallow to me.

The second thing is that I really don't like the indoctrination theory. I like the theory that BioWare was rushed and created something nonsensical because they simply didn't have enough time for an epilogue. That makes a hell of a lot more sense to me.

The third thing is that I feel very mixed. I like BioWare and their games, even if I was disappointed in their latest effort. I wish they had more time sometimes and a lot more room to breathe, but with everybody always breathing down their throats, you have to think that they're in a lions' den of trouble. I won't say I'll never be a paying customer again, because that's silly and a little ridiculous. People get way too worked up about this stuff. I should never be the one to say that people need to calm down about stories. I go and rant about stories all the time on this blog and to my friends and girlfriend and everything else. Hell, my girlfriend more often than not sighs in pain every time I start complaining about Harry Potter or Homestuck, but that's because I take those stories seriously... but even I don't dedicate my time and effort to getting the stories changed. They are what they are. Creators can easily be wrong. Hell, I'm probably wrong in some of the stuff I write too. Nobody can be perfect and oversights in story are easy when they're reinforced by people who think similarly.

That being said there is a ton of passion from the fanbase of BioWare and it must be both humbling and enlightening to BioWare to see the outpouring of people talking about this game. Hell, the complaints are certainly valid as are the praises. Criticism can work both ways and, in general, works best when spoken together rather than apart. Can I pick apart ME3 and hate on it? Sure, and I kind of did, but forgetting the good things in the game would be a disservice to the creators as well.

In general I think that BioWare just has a problem writing endings. They're not easy to write either. I mean, this is the last story of an epic tale. Not everybody in the fanbase would have been pleased regardless of the ending given. The ending just happened to be extra poorly done.

I just don't understand the hate coming out. I was passionate about the game, but I never actively hated BioWare. I was invested in the characters and the story... and then it ended. I've moved on to other games, other stories, and my own life, however bland in comparison it might be.

I guess the question I have to ask myself is am I willing to bring down the sky on BioWare and never receive a potentially awesome game again? No, I'm simply not. BioWare was never my favorite developer, but they're pretty high up there. I think they do an excellent job most of the time, and as much as a rag on DA: Origins: Awakening, I really liked that expansion despite the flaws. In general BioWare's story works, and they do listen to their fanbase, despite maybe not being able to tell the fanbase exactly what they want to hear.

I don't know. I feel like way too many people have become way too sensitive. I think I had become way too sensitive. From all I heard I expected a gem, and instead I got a normal game. Was it bad? No. Was it fantastically great KotOR II style? No. It was pretty good all around. It cut out some of the elements that made the series great, but became better in other ways. So... I don't know.

I guess I wanted to put my opinions out there. I don't think a developer should be hated for trying for mass market appeal or for screwing up their own story. What I do think they should be called out for is laziness, focusing way too much on changing a game series that was already very good, and the multiplayer being more focused on than the single-player game in a single-player series. I can't really forgive that part quite yet. I'm still kind of annoyed about that actually. And no, I'll never play multiplayer and I won't play ME3 again until the multiplayer has no real affect on the single-player game besides making it harder to get the best ending or whatever... not impossible like it is now.

All of this said, it is BioWare's game, and their decision to release an ending DLC is one that walks down a very scary path. I think the push might be a noble push, but it just doesn't sit right with me. The ending certainly sucked, but changing it will not simply change the fact that it sucked originally. It could have been an amazing game, the best game ever, but it wasn't... and I know that's hard to accept, but it's certainly the truth right now. And no amount of whining or hating or even being civil and respectful and awesome about criticism will change what was originally there and what it meant to both the fanbase and the developers.

Maybe I'm trying to be a little profound. Maybe I'm just airing out the things that bother me. I'm not essentially against new endings, I just don't think they'd have any impact on my experience. I had issues with the whole game. Changing the ending would not help me enjoy the game more than I did. Hell, it would probably just make me annoyed in all honesty.

As for other BioWare items: Dragon Age II's DLC and expansion are done for. No more will be made. I find that really quite saddening even if it does make sense. I do wish that BioWare's fanbase would calm down a bit and realize that BioWare is not perfect and that they shouldn't expect perfect games. Nobody makes perfect games. Hell, even companies who do make a perfect game often do not follow it up with other perfect games. I LOVE KotOR II, and I like a lot of Obsidian's other games, but none of the others are as perfect as I think KotOR II is. I love Valve, but I can't stand the Left 4 Dead series. And Half-Life has aged very poorly over the years. And they've made some games that are basically perfect besides with Half-Life 2 and the Portal series.

My point is that many fans of BioWare have unrealistic expectations. They expect perfection... hell, maybe even I expect perfection at this point, and when it isn't delivered they get upset. I'm not saying it isn't justified and no, I'm not talking about entitlement because that's dumb, but I guess what I am saying is that sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the games objectively. The Mass Effect series was never perfect. There were A LOT of missteps throughout. The critics of these games are wrong for giving them close to perfect scores... wrong for giving them perfect scores too. There are issues and problems and people shouldn't have been surprised to see issues and problems in ME3, but they were.

They were... and now people are upset and voicing their ideas... and it's great to see so much brainstorming and so many people coming together, but why hate on the developers who have given so much to your potential enjoyment? Yes, we all paid the money for the game. Yes, we all felt like we deserved better. I felt like I deserved better... but people screw up. Even if they can't say it, I'm sure they realized how badly they screwed up and how badly their game went over. I'm sure they're itching to defend themselves. Itching to show everybody that they did make a solid game... that they did have enough time... that they are listening and taking notes and wishing they could go back and change things or not. I've created stories myself. I understand criticisms and I understand how hard it can be to take... but I also understand how hard it is to listen to when the person criticizing is right and you, the creator, are wrong.

But BioWare is also trying to sell more units. They wanted to make a game that could appeal to anybody, new people to the series, or old returning players. They wanted to create a story and a world that would be easily accessible and not shut out the new people to come... and I understand it. I still don't like the multiplayer, but I understand why it's there. I understand why Ashley got a makeover. I understand why Vega exists. I understand why IGN's Jessica Chobit had a character in the game, why homosexual romances are included, why "boring bits" were cut out in favor of action, why the ending felt so rough, why in the end the entire game mostly felt so... safe... so full of little nothings. I understand these things. I don't begrudge BioWare about them as much as I did or as much as I certainly could.

I just wish that their next game makes me happy. I just wish that they learn from their mistakes. And I hope they understand that I'll be buying their games because I mostly do enjoy them... even if they've taken a misstep from time to time... like we all have. It's not hard to do... and yes, it was the end of the series, the end of an era, the end of these characters... but it was a ride nonetheless, maybe not the best ride, maybe the kind of ride that made you a little ill even, but a ride nonetheless, one that accomplished something positive even with all the problems.

Maybe what it accomplished was simply bringing the fans together... or creating controversy... or realizing that they can't rush other games... or realizing that they have to take a different approach from now on. But they've certainly learned something... and so have we all.

Anyway, I wish you all the luck in the world, BioWare and the fanbase. Get things patched up... and I'll be waiting for the next game regardless.

Also, I told you dudes that critics are always wrong. Don't listen to them. But I'll be talking about that soon enough once I review Silent Hill: Downpour...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

No fancy "Video Game Assessment" title this time. No, we're getting serious with this game. We're getting serious. First thing, I'm not going to throw bad names around at anybody. Second thing, I literally made these opinions up myself without any contact to the fan community until my opinions had been made. Third thing, this is an honest review of the game, not sullied by either or positive or a negative outlook before the game came out.

I did have some apprehension about the game though. I can't say that I didn't. The multiplayer component made me nervous, especially when it might have had something to do with the single-player game, but I figured that this is BioWare. How could they screw up a fantastic franchise like this? And even if they screwed it up a little, the game would still be pretty decent and I'd get my money's worth. The whole idea that the game is also seemingly made for a more "mainstream" audience also made me apprehensive, what with a mode to not have any RPG elements at all, with your character making all of his/her own decisions.

So, I went into this a tiny bit apprehensive, but I never would have expected this. I'm going to be citing a lot of things here, by the way. I don't think I can bring my point across if I can't. So, spoilers are everywhere in this review, watch out. Also, this review is a negative one, I'm sorry to say.

In my twenty years of playing video games I have only been disappointed... really disappointed... all of twice. The first was Alan Wake, which if you read my review you'll find that I couldn't stand. I mean, I bought the Xbox 360 for two video games originally: Alan Wake and Mass Effect. Oh, the irony. Mass Effect 3 is incredibly disappointing, especially compared with its earlier games. As my reviews of the two earlier games point out, there are many things wrong with the Mass Effect games, but those things that are wrong are usually in the forms of extras like sidequests, extra costumes, and a plethora of DLC. Neither of those games are perfect, but they have amazing elements to them. The first game is a tranwreck, but a gorgeous trainwreck. It has some great characters and a great main plot as well. Everything else about the game is pretty mediocre, but the universe itself is amazingly well done and intricate. The second game is more of the same, maybe a little less intricate, but you have more companion characters to make up the difference. In general, Mass Effect 2 is a really good game, and I thought it would be an excellent setup for the third game.

That being stated, let's begin from the beginning. Reapers, the main cyborg-spaceship enemies from the other games come back with a vengeance and attack Earth. This obviously cannot be good at all. But the game... I don't know. I guess I never felt the gravity of the situation. The game made it play out more like a "this is the reason you are playing this game" scenario than a realistic one. I felt it moved too quickly and had no real plot. The beginning just felt awkward. The visuals weren't as good as I thought they would be, and, in fact, seemed worse than the visuals of either Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. But okay, visuals don't make the game. That's why Deadly Premonition can be one of my favorite games. So, okay, let's not call out visuals. Instead, lets call out gameplay. Mass Effect 3 has decent gameplay, but it feels worse than Mass Effect 2's gameplay. I mean, maybe its just not as polished or something, but I had a hell of a time at points trying to be pinpoint accurate with my powers or guns... something I never had a problem with in the second game at all. I mean, the gameplay is still miles ahead of the first game, but it shouldn't have gotten worse over time.

The music and sound in general are also really well done. Although the music that stuck with me the most was the music that I remember from the first or second games. So, the original music of this game didn't really stick out to me. The voice acting is also very good, as to be expected, with only a few missteps, but I was fine with them all, so it's all good there too.

The main problem with me came from the story, the pacing, the sidequests, and, of course, the ending. But first I''ll talk more positives for a while interspersed with some criticisms for good measure.

The characters, companions and other lead characters alike, are very well done in general. I liked most of the characters and felt like their stories actually mattered to me. Tali and Garrus are certainly two of the outstanding characters that are in this game, but Liara also has an excellent arc. James Vega, a new character to the series, really shines as well, easily being one of the most enjoyable companions in the adventure, despite my apprehensions about him. And Javik, a Prothean companion that was offered in day 1 DLC (I'll get back to that later.) also shines, even though he's a gigantic jerk. The characters all fit the setting and work really well... but why weren't there more? There are some characters who were companions in the second game that could have EASILY been companions in this game. Hell, their stories are so focused on in the main plot of the game (or the big and nearly essential sidequests) that they could have easily been a companion character on the Normandy from their lines alone. Miranda really stands out in this regard, but there are others as well, like Legion, Mordin, Wrex, Zaeed, Jacob, Kasumi, Samara, Grunt, and Jack. Thane at least has an excuse for not being a companion. Dude's sick. The others on the other hand have contrived stories about how they can't be companions anymore. It was stupid and really broke my immersion from the game. All I wanted to say was, hey... hey you... I'm recruiting you and it would make so much more sense than you just standing somewhere doing nothing like Jacob and Zaeed certainly do throughout the entire second half of the game. And I'm not even saying I like all of these characters, I'm simply saying why didn't BioWare even give this as an option? It seems needlessly lazy.

And that's kind of the problem to this game: laziness. It could be the subtitle of Mass Effect 3. There is so much laziness... certainly in the writing which... goes from good to bad to decent to bad to worse. The image of Tali without her helmet on is laughable. Why does she look like a human who has some tattoos on her? Is she like a Star Trek alien or something? Are Quarians distantly related to humans somehow? It's weird. Wouldn't she be kind of pasty in that suit all of the time? Maybe unpigmented or something? She has a completely different anatomy and physiology as well. This wouldn't even be a case of convergent evolution. I'm annoyed because I liked the character, romanced her, and then found out that what she looks like is a Google image search image of some random chick. Are you serious, BioWare? Are you pulling my leg here? Is this some kind of joke on everybody who plays and enjoys your games? What?

Here's Tali
Okay, so let's just say they took the easy way out then. No laziness, just ease. I can understand that. Making up the visuals of an entire species that has always worn a suit in all of the other games might be really hard work. Hell, the fandom probably would be unhappy regardless. I mean, she could be hideous inside of there. You really have to make attractive people in video games. We want everybody to be as shallow as possible in a game series that touts being able to have gay romances and forbidden alien romances. But they all have to be attractive. Have to leave that shallowness in there. Stay classy, BioWare.

Oh, and speaking of attractiveness, let's call cheesecake right now at EDI. Yes, our old AI on the Normandy from the second game had an upgrade. Now, she's a full companion character with
...certain... uh... attributes.
I mean, seriously, BioWare? Seriously? Seriously. You... why do this? Why did she have to look like this? I mean, she a freaking AI. I understand that it was kind of neat being able to have her as a companion and she's really interesting and now Joker and her can have a romance, but seriously? She's the new Miranda, cheesecake everywhere for everybody!

But let's take a step back. This is a serious story. People are dying. War is happening everywhere. So, what do we do? Do we rush and get all the forces we can and try to save everybody? No, we screw around for the better part of half the game trying to eke out every single war asset one can find to get the "best ending." Oh, and it's not even possible to get the "best ending" in a game where you only play single player. You have to play multiplayer to be able to have the chance to get the best ending if you make the right choice between three incredibly similar choices at the very end. And all the "best ending" has to it is a few frames of Shepard breathing and alive rather than dead in all the other scenarios. I don't care about freaking bad endings or endings where the hero dies! Don't even dare accuse me of that. I loved Nier and that game has probably one of the most depressing endings to any video game ever. I loved Dragon Age: Origins and in that game your character can easily die. I loved Silent Hill 2 and usually put its "In Water" ending up as my personal canon because it is so true to the character and the story. Some of my favorite book series end with major characters' deaths: Animorphs, The Dark Tower, even The Lord of the Rings. So, don't tell me I don't like endings that are less than perfect. I LOVE horror movies for goodness sake, and most of the horror movies that I consider my favorite do not have happy endings, okay? My point is that this game does not have a fitting ending. The ending as a measured quality, is not "good," regardless of who lives and dies and whatever else happens. It is not well-written, it is not well done.

And yes, I'm up in arms about it. I played through the games, all of the games, multiple times, waiting for Mass Effect 3 to come out. And BioWare had never really let me down. I loved Dragon Age II, even though that one has its controversies as well. But I still loved it. I thought that it was supremely enjoyable. I even defended the game against people hating on it. I freaking recommended both the Dragon Age series and the Mass Effect series to multiple people, and this is what we get? An ending that has nothing really to do with our accomplishments through ninety or more hours of gameplay for a single character. An ending that is a choose what you want to do choice without anything determined from your choices before. And the choices are all basically the same anyway. The mass relays are always destroyed (and why aren't the star systems destroyed as well? It's established canon that destroying a mass relay destroyed the system too: see Mass Effect 2: Arrival DLC). The Reapers always fail somehow. The Normandy makes an inexplicable "jump?" to an unknown world with my companion characters who were with me in the final run to the light to get to the Citadel in the final mission... and are either presumably dead... or at the very least, not easily picked up by Joker who is fighting in the skies above Earth. Why in the HELL would he have made that jump? Why was he trying to outrun colors? Why did he look behind himself in the cockpit when there's no way he can see what's out there? How did he get to the Charon mass relay so quickly when he was fighting on Earth. Did he skip out on the fight? Would he have finally turned coward after all the times he was a hero in his own right throughout the first two games? And why were the endings so similar? Why give an illusion of choice when there really weren't any choices at all?

The ending was the greatest disappointment I have ever seen in a video game, and I bought the collector's edition of Alan Wake, a game I literally had a venomous reaction to. But I'd rather play Alan Wake a thousand times over than see the endings of Mass Effect 3 one more time. The story of Mass Effect has always been a space opera, like Star Wars... hell, call it space fantasy even. And it worked. The tones throughout the games were always well done and appropriate. But making the end of the series have a tone that was more 2001: A Space Odyssey than space opera... and it wasn't even that. I mean, jeez... a kid dies at the beginning, and at the end of the game the kid comes back as an AI-Force ghost to talk to Shepard and tell him that none of his choices mattered and that Shepard has to listen to this damn "Catalyst" to get rid of the Reapers.So, instead of Shepard finding another way he/she just listens and does exactly what the Catalyst says. This ghost thing. Are you serious? Ghosts in my MASS EFFECT? And the Crucible is just a big giant and annoying way of not having more Reaper fights and not owning your victory. Calling it a deus ex machina would be inconsiderate to dei ex machinis everywhere. They are all better than this. Pushing that Crucible into the story left a bad taste in my mouth from the Mars mission (about an hour or so into the game) and on.

And the problem is, yes, the ending sucks, but parts of the story are well done. The whole genophage part of the story is incredibly well done (Well, with the exception of Wrex's character, whom they butchered beyond repair. I mean, seriously, Wrex, what happened? You were a completely different character in this game.), and the Quarian versus Geth story is amazing as well, easily one of the best parts of the entire trilogy of games. There are other smaller places the game shines as well, but mostly the focus on Cerberus rather than the Reapers makes the story very limp. I wanted to take out Reapers. I wanted to fight until the last man, and I never even had that choice. I had to use the deus ex machina. I was forced to use it. Why? Why?

Speaking of Cerberus, Kai Leng is easily one of the worst character BioWare has ever written. It's a dead heat between him and Jacob (I don't want to fight because I'm boning some chick.) for the some of the worst characters I have ever seen. And I don't mean that I don't like them (I don't but that's besides the point.), I mean that they are poorly written and their stories are poorly executed. Kai Leng kills off Thane for no other reason than to show he's a tough man and then he's just a pest. I thought that he was pushed into the story to make him seem like such an awesome character when all I saw was a one-dimensional, incredibly poorly written character. His whole character made me have a strong distaste for this game all over the place.

And I'm not even getting started on the terrible qualities of this game. Strap yourselves in.

Okay, let's get started with Metacritic. I know I've said many a time that critics don't have any clue what they're talking about, but here it really shows. 94% score for the game for critics while the actual players of the game have given it a 49% rating. That is a failing mark, BioWare. For shame. A 49% is really bad. I mean, the game is mostly pretty solid, with some exceptions, but the ending just killed it for people. It's ridiculous.

Next, I'm going to mention bugs and glitches. This game is one of the buggiest and glitchiest messes I have ever played. I mean, Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is a pretty close second (also a BioWare game too. Fancy that.), but that expansion pack was still nowhere near as bug-ridden as Mass Effect 3. I couldn't import my Shepard's face and had to make a new one. This is an inconvenience, but okay... not really terrible, just kind of dumb on BioWare's part. The bugs that get to me are the gameplay ones. Sometimes when I'm behind cover, I'll go to shoot and my character will blink out of existence and go flying through the map for about five seconds only to reappear back when he was in cover. It's the weirdest glitch and I have no idea how something like that can even happen. I've had character models just disappear from the game when I'm talking to them. I'll literally be talking to the air. There are quests that you cannot complete if you don't do exactly the right order of things. One quest in particular has the issue of once you get it you can't even leave the area until you finish it, and due to the nature of quests in the game, sometimes it's hard to tell where you have to go for these quests and you'll search around a bit only to find that you can't complete that quest because you left the area or started a new quest while you were looking. It's absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes the dodge roll won't work as advertised to the point that it's sometimes impossible to dodge out of enemy's way simply because the game doesn't like that course of action or something. I have no idea, but it's incredibly annoying in tough firefights. Oh, and melee is annoying too. If you are not pixel-perfect with lining up a melee hit, you're hit will miss completely, and, in my experience, you will die. It's awful. I don't usually complain about gameplay, but why is it worse than the second game? And why is it so damn clunky? There are some nice touches and additions to gameplay, but I don't really think I ever had fun fighting the same two groups of enemies over and over again. In the first game there were many different types of enemies, from many different alien species, the Geth, and any kind of mercenary you can think of. In the second game the same held true although mechs were kind of the main enemy type in that game, but there were others. But in this game you get two factions you fight against: Cerberus and the Reaper forces (as well as like three missions against the Geth). And that's it. No fighting aliens, no fighting other factions. You fight freaking Cerberus and the freaking Reaper forces and you like it. To me it was repetitive and kind of boring in general. Some fights were better than others, but I never really enjoyed the combat... and that's weird for me. I'm usually all cool with any type of combat. I just never really got into it, I guess.

So, now that we've talked about some of the negative aspects of the actual game, especially with the nonsensical ending that completely transforms that entire tone of the games (all three games by the way, not just this one. Mass Effect 3 makes the other games worse in retrospect. That's really something there.), we're going to address a few other issues. First the epilogue to playing the game through twice or when a character is imported. The epilogue that tells that the story of Shepard is being told from an old "Stargazer" to a child. Instead of focusing on characters like the entire series has, it focused on telling us that "Well, that sure was a story, wasn't it?" If you haven't seen it, go search it on YouTube. I'll wait.

Did you see it?

Did you?

Is that good writing? Is that the grand epilogue that Mass Effect and Shepard deserves? I guess that's everybody's own decision to make. But no. The answer to both questions is no. It is the worst stinger at the end of credits or at the end of a book I've seen since the last Harry Potter  book. I mean, come on. Most games, books, movies... whatever... most stories get better towards the end. You get more invested in it. But this game just got worse. Hell, even Alan Wake was pretty decent in the ending. And that's saying something coming from me.

So, now the DLC controversy. So, it kind of happens that the DLC companion character for Mass Effect 3 (that costs 10$) is already on the disc and is really not DLC at all... just an easy way for BioWare to make money. Oh, that's really bad, isn't it? That's rough guys. Why couldn't you just do what you did with your last two games and give us the character for free. You did it with Zaeed for the second game and Sebastian for Dragon Age II if it were pre-ordered (I pre-ordered mine.). Why not do it here with Javik? Are you guys seriously that incompetent and money-hungry? I have to believe that you are. All evidence points towards it, and that's really disheartening.

I've liked BioWare since KotOR that came out nearly ten years ago now. I've been in love with the company and their products. I even loved DAII, but with this game, I've been let down. I've been brought down, and I don't understand it. What did we, the fans, do to you guys that you had to make the third game like this? Did we insult you? I certainly didn't. I've been simply telling it like it is, recommending your games even, ranting and raving about how good I think they all are. I even dressed up like the default Hawke from Dragon Age II because I liked the game so much! So, no, I'm not a hater, I'm just giving my impressions, as they are, to a bunch of anonymous readers on the internet.

Here are some other things to read if you are interested and before I get into another big issues entirely: http://kotaku.com/5892676/why-mass-effect-3s-ending-was-so-terriblehttp://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/12/how-bioware-could-find-redemption-using-mass-effect-3/2/http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/721651/gamers-petition-to-change-mass-effect-3-ending/ (read the comments on this one), http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/category/355/index (check out any of the forums, but this one really shows the controversy behind the game in full force).

Anyway, a few more things to write, and then I'm done. I don't like how BioWare could go and say that the game wouldn't be influenced by the multiplayer. I know multiplayer is an aspect of the game itself, but I don't play multplayer. I don't have the time or energy to get invested in multiplayer. I don't like it. I play a single player game. I don't have Xbox Live Gold and I don't want to spend my money on it when I DON'T ENJOY MULTIPLAYER. So, why can't I get the "best" ending (it's not the best, but this is the principle of the thing here) when I make all the right decisions and everything else and still am way off from being able to get the "best" ending? The whole ending is determined by something called "EMS" or Effective Military Strength, which is your Total Military Strength (your number of war assets) divided by  your percentage of Galactic Readiness. The problem is that Galactic Readiness can only be improved by playing multiplayer and there are not enough war assets in the actual game to be able to get the "best" ending without playing multiplayer. I've actually tested this out myself. I did EVERY SINGLE MISSION and dialogue prompt and everything else in ALL THREE GAMES. I looked up how to go about getting the best War Assets, and besides maybe fifty points, I have all of them, and I'm still way off from the goal of 4000 EMS. I'm closer to 3500. Which means that BioWare lied to the players of this game when they repeatedly said that the ending would in no way be influenced by multiplayer and the "best" ending could be gotten in game just by playing through the single player as a completionist or whatever. So, I'm pissed off because I WON'T PLAY multiplayer, but I would at least like to have the ability to get the best ending even though all the endings suck because it's the principle of it. I wasted countless hours on this series and I want to see the "best" ending play out even if it's going to make me even angrier. I deserve that as a person who spent seventy dollars on this game. Every single last player of the game deserves that.

So, in conclusion, the game feels unfinished, rushed, and lazy. The writing, although good in places, is not as good as the other games except in a few very specific areas and with a few very specific characters. The tone of the game is all over the place. For some reason my party won't walk with me on the Citadel and I don't understand that one at all when they did the other two games. I like the companions and the dialogue on the Normandy for the most part. I like what the game should have or could have been. I dislike how important plot points are either utterly forgotten (the Dark Matter plot) or ruined (the main plot itself). I hate the deus ex machina of the Crucible and the ghost-AI-boy Catalyst was easily one of the worst things I have ever seen in a video game. But the worst thing I have ever seen are the endings which are all mostly the same, involve losses in logic that are absolutely astounding, and have an epilogue that feels both out of place and does not work at all with the material. And I hate that multiplayer actually has a HUGE influence on the single player story (The main portion of Mass Effect.) to the extent that the "best" ending cannot be received unless multiplayer is played.

So, yeah, I'm never buying a Mass Effect product again. This game ruined the series. It ruined the other games in retrospect and I would have never believed that to be possible. The writing was poorly done, and even though I might still support BioWare, they are walking down a very dark path right now. I can only hope that Dragon Age III is something fantastic... but after this... I don't even know anymore.

Also, for people to call out, start with EA, then go to the director, Casey Hudson, the producer, Jesse Houston, the writers (specifically), Mac Walters and Neil Pollner. You also have to wonder how much Drew Karpyshyn leaving BioWare and not working on Mass Effect 3 was a big issue for this game. Because it didn't feel like the other games at all. It lacked heart, and... I think that was the biggest disappointment of all.

Video games should be coherent. They should have a plot that stays with the right tone the whole way through and doesn't sacrifice the story for money, not enough time, or because they want the game to attract a wider audience. I love developers like Valve who are willing to give free DLC to their games, great games that they are. I would have gladly paid for Portal 2's DLC, but I could acquire it for free, and that's good business and the mark of a good company who really is looking out for the players' best interests. We're the ones giving them our money, showing them we like their games through sales or not. And I'd be hard pressed not to like Valve's approach to video games or Obsidian's approach or Bethesda's. But EA and BioWare have been walking a very fine line for a while now with day 1 DLCs, trying to gauge money out of the people that love these games. It's ridiculous. It's unconscionable. I would gladly pay for a DLC that isn't packaged with the game, one that is really great and adds a lot to the overarching plot or characters or whatnot. I will not pay for something that has been stripped out of the game. Mass Effect 3 deserves a coherent and sensical ending for all those people who put their time and energy into loving the games and these characters. The tagline for the game was "TAKE EARTH BACK" but I never did. I never had the chance. The endings wouldn't allow me to take earth back. I understand how sometimes there cannot be happy endings. I like sad endings or bittersweet ones, but the ending here feels so utterly inappropriate to the series and for the people who cared so much about these characters and situations.

I didn't care that my Shepard couldn't possibly survive because I didn't play multiplayer. In my head he did survive and the whole ending is a bunch of bullshit. In my head my Shepard fought every last Reaper he could, and maybe he died running to that beam, running for the Citadel. Maybe he died as his love interest, Tali in his case, ran with him, both hoping for an end, both finding that they couldn't stand against the onslaught. And that would have been enough, ending it before the end, before that final excursion. It certainly wouldn't have answered anything, but it would have been beautiful regardless. Instead the heart of the game was ripped away... if it ever even existed at all. Tali inexplicably teleports to the Normandy that teleports to Charon and the rest is the rest, I suppose.

I guess the logic bothers me, the what the hell just happened. I feel kicked in the gut. I feel like I was just beat up by a schoolyard bully who then proceeded to insult every little thing about me. I've been sitting on this review for a few days, desperately hoping that I would feel better about everything, and finding that... no, I don't. If anything the time has caused me to become more irate. Why doesn't BioWare answer the people who have issues with this? Why didn't they try to make something somewhat satisfying however dark it had to be? I just wan to feel like my playthroughs of the games mattered. I want to feel like my Shepard, my awkward looking, big-lipped, fuzzy-haired, and somewhat awkward Shepard, mattered in the long run... that his decisions mattered. That the people he helped on the Citadel weren't all dead. That he didn't die for a terrible ending, listening to some ghost-AI thing that made no sense. Why didn't my Shepard speak up and say how he made peace between the Geth and the Quarians, how synthetic life could coexist with organic life as seen with EDI and Joker? That there didn't need to be some synthesis to tie into the game when all that was needed were the desire for those feelings.

Mass Effect as a series has always been progressive about its thoughts on love, AI thought, and everything else, and showing that these things mattered, that they could happen... that feelings in an AI could actually evolve over time as seen in EDI, as seen in Legion... instead of the copout that nope, they're all the same now, synthesized together and whatnot...

I guess the ending left a bad taste in my mouth. It made me think of all of the other better ways BioWare could have handled the ending. It made me think of how I would have done it, and it would have been fantastic if I had done it. I wouldn't have relied on multiplayer or getting new players to buy my product. I would have focused on the people that mattered, the players who had been buying and playing my game all along. Screw the profit. Screw the money. I would have wanted to tell the story, a brilliant story with brilliant characters... and it would have mattered. The heart and soul of the game would have been there, would have existed, and we could have all come away from the game a little better off. Maybe a little happier, maybe a little sadder, but all better for it. Instead we get this abomination of an ending that answers nothing, that does nothing different or new, that feels like fanfiction unto itself. Why? How can I accept this game on these merits? How can I make the pain of this terrible game disappear?

I can't.

Nobody can.

We're left to forever have to deal with this, this ending that BioWare gave us to one of the best sci-fi video game series of all time. We're left to feel empty, to feel like we didn't matter... that the decisions we made, the time we spent playing... none of it mattered when it comes down to a deus ex machina and a choice between three of the same decisions. And maybe BioWare doesn't understand. Maybe I'm just a hater who hates everything and can't see any goodness.

But I wanted to. I loved this series. I wanted to fall in love with it all over again, play it until I couldn't... but I can't anymore. Mass Effect 3 is a failure despite all the good it has to offer. The ending ruined the series, and it took a little happiness and hope out of the lives of many. I hope you're happy, BioWare. I hope this was all worth it to you.