Massively Ineffectual

Shepard in N7 armor

Mass Effect 3 is finally here. The effects are pretty much as predicted; an attendant shower of hype and commensurate drops in productivity. The juggernaut is thundering through, and there's little or nothing to be done but let it roll by.

What has been effective (possibly even SUPEREFFECTIVE) was the user rating system on Metacritic. New users have created accounts just to post extremely negative scores and vote others who did same up, until anyone who reads the user reviews is greeted with a wall of red zeroes. The avalanche of down-checks dropped the user rating to 3.6 as of this writing, while the professional rating is over a nine.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Portal 2 received a similar treatment, mostly from PC users complaining that the game was a console port and others complaining about the day-one DLC. Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War both had similar problems last fall, but Metacritic found the culprits and removed the reviews that were skewing things. Metacritic is investigating the Mass Effect 3 situation, and we'll see what they do.

Any big aggregator with user input systems like this is vulnerable to this sort of abuse, and it's not even limited to games. Amazon's ratings system has been used as a club to beat people in many media, many times. And who cares? It's just anonymous user input, right? Not necessarily. In the case of Metacritic, there is another layer of complexity and some bigger issues outside this box that make the comparison a little more invidious.

Amazon isn't purporting to be an authority on the official critical reception of the item. Metacritic does. But they don't just pull in all the scores and take an average. Metacritic grades on a curve, and grades the cheerleaders higher than the geeks (I thought I got past that nonsense in high school). They're not shy about it, either.

Then the can of worms gets the whole top half torn off when you realize how many business decisions game publishing companies make based on those numbers. Everything from funding choices, royalty payments, PR decisions — you name it — is bound up in in chasing that little green box. It's so crucial that last fall Telltale was caught trying to up their own scores on the site.

Good news: As a player you aren't trapped in that quagmire. Since you're not a game dev trying to get a word in edgewise with one of the great green-belching publishing gods, you can decide how big of a bucket of salt you want to take with all of Metacritic's numbers.

And you control how the game plays at your house. When you're facing the dilemma of how to handle the additional romantic possibilities in your own playthroughs, I have a secret trick to help you. If you don't want any homosexual sex, then don't flirt with anyone in the same gender. Really. It totally works. Not only that, but if you buy into the notion that any commander who starts playing with his "privates" that way is just looking for trouble regardless, you can simply not flirt with anyone at all.

Don't worry. You will not accidentally make one wrong choice and wake up somewhere awkward. None of your potential partners in this endeavor are slinking around on the Normandy's bridge so they can try and trip you and beat you to the floor. It takes some serious attention to the steps of the mating dance to get that short, lame-o cutscene, and there's no guarantee of success with any of them.

There are similar tactics you can use for the other issues I've seen raised. If you don't want to participate in what you see as a cash grab with that DLC, then don't buy it. The game plays just fine without it. If you're feeling particularly pithy, instead of an ephemeral entry in a dubious anonymous forum that will be washed away by their rose-colored scoring system, you could try a sternly worded note to EA as to why you voted with your feet and didn't buy it. If you don't like the fact that your actions in multiplayer affect your single-player game, don't play multiplayer until you've finished it. Some people might even consider that a sort of ExtraHard mode and give you a little e-cred. Or heck, just play the game in Story mode and avoid the whole issue if you want.

==== Warning: the next few paragraphs make a lot of vague assertions about the ending that may or may not count as spoilers. ====

The various endings of the game have the opposite effect. I've earned two of them, and now that I know the score, I'm not sure I'm going to go after the third. I spoke to a friend of my son's on St. Patty's Day, and we discussed his feelings. He's frustrated and angry. Not to the point of reporting it to the FCC or joining a class action lawsuit, but genuinely upset. I see it as two separate problems.

First off, it makes all three games seem pointless. You've made thousands of choices to shape your character and their story through all three games, but you end up at the same spot whether you're a jackbooted thug or a knight-in-shining-armor. Then you make what they try to build up to be a great final choice, and all roads lead to the same place. They even use a lot of the same footage, which doesn't help this impression.

Second, none of the choices feel like you actually won. This, I think, is the real key. The game was about saving the universe, but no matter what you choose in the end you're left staring at a shattered galaxy. Whether your Shepard lived or died didn't matter in the face of the rest of it.

The genre set certain expectations. People were expecting to bulls-eye a few womprats and drop a torpedo down the exhaust shaft. At worst, they would have faced their own Kobayashi Maru and tricked or fought their way through it. They were not expecting Seven Samurai, and they feel betrayed.

I understand where people are coming from, but I don't feel it. I thought it was kind of ballsy, myself. I see a lot of value in the fight to get there, and I'm not under any illusions that all battles can be cleanly won. I'm old; these days I'm not sure any battle can be considered "won" at all.

==== End Warning ====

The whole thing confuses me. With one hand they gave us more choices, and everyone complained. For people who seem so attached to the notion of having the freedom to choose and taking control of our own actions, we sure seem scared of having to make those choices. Then they take it all away and make things simple, and we complain some more. And in both cases, the means of complaint don't send a clear message to the powers that be.

I've read rumors that they're thinking about going back and changing things somehow, but I don't know how that would make any difference at this point. They made their choices, and they're going to have to figure out where to go from here.

Comments

RolandofGilead:

You see, Daneel Olivaw (spoilers!) appearing at the 11th hour and taking charge of everything just made me face palm so hard that I knocked myself clean out. That was completely out of nowhere.

Duoae:

I can't help it if you find mechanical ineffable gods and zombies normal. Also, please don't come to my town, especially if you find your sanity slowly slipping away.

wordsmythe:

I've always found Shepard to be somewhat tragic in that he finds it difficult to get people to believe him or to trust in what he says. This was a central conflict in ME1 and its ramifications and similar events continue until well up into ME3. She's like a buff Space Cassandra with guns.

She knows all this is coming, and what does her king do? Stick her in jail to watch and wait while doom inevitably overtakes them all.

RolandofGilead wrote:

More about the illusion of choice from ME2, ergo ME3 not so shocking, in Miranda's loyalty mission

Spoiler:

her old friend gets killed regardless of whether you stop Miranda from killing him or not

I would argue that while it might not impact the overall plot of the series, in terms of the characters involved that is a meaningful choice either way that scenario plays out. Since I enjoy Mass Effect for the character stories as much, if not more than I do the grander Reaper threat plot, what Miranda does in that moment is important to me.

LarryC wrote:

I've always found Shepard to be somewhat tragic in that he finds it difficult to get people to believe him or to trust in what he says.

I've come to think that the Citadel has some kind of 'nothing to see here' indoctrination thing going on but it's probably just wild speculation on my part.

LarryC wrote:

I've always found Shepard to be somewhat tragic in that he finds it difficult to get people to believe him or to trust in what he says. This was a central conflict in ME1 and its ramifications and similar events continue until well up into ME3. She's like a buff Space Cassandra with guns.

She knows all this is coming, and what does her king do? Stick her in jail to watch and wait while doom inevitably overtakes them all.

RolandofGilead wrote:
kyrieee wrote:

The problem is not what is tries to convey, it's that it doesn't convey anything. I don't need an uplifting ending, but I want the ending to make me feel something. They don't show you the price of your 'victory'. You relate to the world and the story through the characters, but the ending doesn't involve any characters, at least in any significant capacity.

That seems valid to me.

Now we're getting somewhere!

LarryC wrote:

I've always found Shepard to be somewhat tragic in that he finds it difficult to get people to believe him or to trust in what he says. This was a central conflict in ME1 and its ramifications and similar events continue until well up into ME3. She's like a buff Space Cassandra with guns.

That it something they could've ran with, but they didn't. You're right that it does get brought up, but it's inconsequential to how the story unfolds because the galaxy wouldn't have stood a chance, even if prepared. During the last 10 minutes of the game I didn't find myself thinking "if only they'd listened".

Having read your point just makes it worse. Another missed opportunity.

kyrieee:

Well, the thing is, I've never really been of the mindset that results matter. That just gets you into all sorts of trouble and existential crises. There's a LOT of stuff that we do that ultimately don't matter. Ask James Vega. Resolving that and making peace with it is a central part of that character's story arc, and provides a glimpse as to how Shepard is dealing with all this.

LarryC wrote:

Duoae:

I can't help it if you find mechanical ineffable gods and zombies normal. Also, please don't come to my town, especially if you find your sanity slowly slipping away.

They are knowable. You understand a zombie, you understand it's motivation. Okay, you maybe don't understand the Reaper's motivations but you understand their intent and the consequences of their intent. You can relate to that experience. It's mundane.

For the weird or the nonsensical you can't do that. You don't understand what the obelisks in 2001 want or stand for or mean. You have no way to relating to that experience and it's only after the fact has happened that you understand what the consequences of their intent was - you cannot foresee it.

Don't come to your town? I suppose i'd best get away from your window then.... I *was* going to save you from those howling birdmonsters that are about to break into your head and infest your brain but never mind. At least my tinfoil hat protects me from their scheming!
Muahaah!

I've been enjoying the conversation around the ME3 ending. One point I'm curious about in RolandofGilead's post: you say that

"What's really amazing is how little our view of the universe/our knowledge of physics has changed, with the exception of not knowing that 'variable' stars are pulsars, I'd be hard-pressed to think of someone coming up with something radically different today."

I was wondering whether you are familiar with recent discoveries about the accelerating expansion of the universe, dark matter, and dark energy? I think they qualify as radical departures from previous understandings of the universe--way more significant than pulsars or quasars. What do you think?

I also completely agree with Hast's posts in this thread, for what it's worth. Great trilogy, but the ending devalued the experience immensely. I know that complaints about gameplay, bugs, frame rates, textures are de rigeur in all gaming comment boards. Why are people freaking out about "entitlement" and "authorship" when invested fans complain about story?

momgamer: Sounds like we're technically on the same side of the yes/no binary that gets set up sometimes, in that we're both disappointed in the end. Completely different reasons though. I thought the downer emotional tone was not just fine, but excellent. Nor did I find the game lacking in choice: most things are set in stone by the last couple hours, yes, but ME3 is full of mini-endings to different plot threads all along the way, each of which branch spectacularly. They don't all come together at the end, but the overall story is still widely divergent.

I'm disappointed because the ending didn't fit thematically for me on a more intellectual level, or even just make logical sense. I've ranted about that plenty in the spoiler thread, though, so I won't duplicate here. And I think others have already chimed in regarding places where I do take issue.

heavyfeul wrote:

I most of the ire is that the game just is not as good as Mass Effect 2. It is simple disappointment over a mediocre game that had high user expectations and a ton of media hype. This game is the Return of the Jedi in the series.

I wouldn't even make that comparison. Unlike RotJ, I would say ME3 is, for much of its length, the best of the three.

Just not during the last ten minutes. :/

ClockworkHouse wrote:

There's a strong analog here between the end of Mass Effect 3 and the end of last year's Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

As I posted in the spoiler thread, I actually wouldn't make that analogy, myself. Though that's because of the nature of my personal issues with the ME3 ending.

In brief: I thought the HR endings were fine in concept, just weak in execution. With the ME3 ending, I think the problems go back to concept, though execution may be an issue too. As Duoae says, HR's endings were cheap (or at least cheaply done) but they did fit.

Within my personal experience, I would say BSG's ending is the closest comparison. There too, I can't tell you how I would have wanted it to end, I just know that illogical character actions and cringe-worthy final reveals were not it, and seemed way below the standard set by the previous amounts of amazingly consistent awesome.