On this date, 5 years ago, I came home from work, and, almost reluctantly, switched on the Xbox. I was a little way into my second playthrough of Mass Effect 3, and still working through the stages of grief evoked by the ending of my first playthrough, a few days earlier. Unlike Natalia Shepard, Charis would never go to London, nor would Elena, or any of the Shepards who followed. The only reason they’re not still paused at Priority: Earth is that I wiped the 360 before passing it on to my nephew. It was not until 2014, when enough time and distance had passed, that I replayed Natalia from ME through to ME3, and saw the Extended Cut ending for the first time.
For the record, I never campaigned to have the ending changed; my feedback was that tying the single-player ending into participation of a multiplayer component that I had neither time nor interest in playing was unfair.
Which is not to say that I don’t think the ending of ME3 was utter nonsense. It was. It still is. It smacks of 11th-hour “We don’t know how to end this”. Whatever. I didn’t like the ending of the Wheel of Time series either. At least Shepard’s story was kept to a trilogy.
What still rankles a little is the media coverage about entitled players complaining about how a game ended. In part because a lot of the people reporting in that way appeared not to have played ME3, or any game with an actual story for that matter. But also because the comparisons were often to other media. No, people don’t tend campaign for changes to a finished product when that product is a book or film. But I’ve never watched a film or read a book that spent the first 2/3rds assuring me that my choices about how the story proceeds matter, before punishing me for not reading the spin-off story by making all my favourite characters die (If you’re thinking this analogy doesn’t work, well, that’s kind of my point). So I get the anger and disappointment. At a rough estimate, by the time ME3 came out, I’d put in 880 hours across 2 games and multiple Shepards. When you’ve invested that much into a story there’s an emotional attachment – especially with the kind of stories BioWare excels at – and it’s hard to just let it go when things go so badly wrong.
In light of all this, you may be wondering why I would pre-order Mass Effect: Andromeda. Why not wait until reviews are out before spending money on a potential disappointment?
Firstly, the developers had a largely clean slate, by moving out to Andromeda, to do something new with Mass Effect, and I’m intrigued to see what stories they’ll tell.
Next, I have a lot of goodwill toward the folks at BioWare – my experience is that they actively strive to improve with each game, so I’m willing to take a chance on them.
But mostly, because I liked ME3. Up until Priority: Earth, it was exactly the game I had hoped for: the mission to cure the Genophage, the fight through the Citadel, the devastation on Thessia – these moments stay in my mind because ME3 was fun, and emotionally engaging.
Yes, I have a few concerns about Andromeda (more on that another day), but I also want to be back in the Mass Effect universe as soon as I can. Don’t you?