Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Feeling That Punch in the Gut

It's been about three months now, just a day over I think, since I finished Mass Effect 3.

The end of the Mass Effect trilogy has completely thrown me for a loop.  Enough even to affect my writing schedule and the progress I make on creative works in general.  Yes, this is completely pathetic.  I understand that, and I admit it.  Doesn't make it any less of a reality for my overly-attached psyche.  I grew to love the Mass Effect franchise right to its very core.  I was excited and eager to see the end of Samantha's story (I'm calling her Samantha, not Shepard, it's my blog, eat it).  I was equally excited and eager to see further adventures of other characters within the wider narrative.

That, when everything is said and done, is what it all comes down to.  At least, for me.

I love Sam's story.  Her interactions with the crew of the Normandy, and all those wonderful characters who circulated in and out of the broad story spanning the trilogy, are what made those three games so powerful.  I won't bother going into the specifics, since I'm hoping anyone who might read this would understand completely.  Even now, if you're who I hope you are, you can easily think of at least a dozen touching, funny, badass, horrifying, or sad moments involving any of the characters.  So we don't need to go there; we've already arrived.  The story of Commander Shepard and her friends is what it is.

Yet, as I said, I love the setting as a whole.  The technology, cultures, even the politics of the setting fascinated me from the very first few hours of Mass Effect.  I was excited to see the stories of other people throughout the galaxy.  It's one reason the multiplayer of ME3 is so exciting to me; other heroes doing their part to fight the Reapers.  I was eager to see the exploits of soldiers throughout the galaxy go on their own adventures trying to bring things back under control after the Reaper invasion.  I wanted to see bounty hunters with their own rough-and-tumble ships chasing batarians through Alliance space.  I wanted an intricate murder mystery set entirely on the Citadel.  I wanted legends of the great Commander Shepard to inspire young heroes throughout the galaxy, sending them on their own adventures across uncharted regions of space on unexplored planets.  I wanted more!

But now, we won't get more.  Sure, according to Bioware, there will be more Mass Effect games.  They've said from the beginning that the trilogy would be the entirety of Shepard's story, but that they would make other games in the same setting.  What they didn't say was that the end of Shepard's trilogy would bring an end to the entire setting as we know it.

Soldiers now can't bring things under control, because they have no Mass Relays to go anywhere.  Bounty hunters and young would-be heroes suffer the same problem.  Mass Effect, as we know the setting, no longer exists in any form.  That, of course, assumes the destruction of each Relay didn't obliterate all life in its respective star system (as they are demonstrated to do upon death).

What I'm trying to get at, and using far too many words to do so, is that the ending of Mass Effect 3 didn't bother me for any story, choice, character, or plot reasons.  Those all exist, and are bothersome.  Yet I could have overlooked them.  They'd have angered me as much as they do, but I could have gotten past them.  The real kick in the gut as I watched the credits roll, I've come to realize, was the understanding that there is no more Mass Effect.  We can't have more.  If there are any more games set in the franchise, they'll have to either be set during the existing trilogy or, if post-Reaper Invasion, be completely unrecognizable to the Mass Effect we know.  Neither of these are satisfying.

The former option doesn't satisfy because we now know exactly how hopeless any struggle for hope really is.  It's one thing I keep hearing from other Mass Effect fans.  Some are perfectly able to replay the trilogy without a hitch but many others, myself included, are unable to do so.  My enjoyment of the moments within the games aren't diluted in any way, but I can't find any hope in them at all because I know that, in the end, Mass Effect will die completely.  It will end.  There is literally no hope.

Not to mention, of course, the problem of piling story after story onto the same frame of time.  The Star Wars franchise has seen its share of this problem.

The latter option doesn't satisfy because if we play a Mass Effect game, we want to play a fucking Mass Effect game.  I know I do, at least.  A setting where synthetic and organic life are one type of super-being sounds really interesting, but it isn't Mass Effect.  A setting in which all synthetic life has been obliterated sounds boring, and isn't Mass Effect.  A setting wherein synthetics have been mind-controlled to do....something....is ambiguous, and it isn't Mass Effect.  A galaxy without Mass Relays is not Mass Effect.  Fuck, the Relays have been one of the primary identifying images of the franchise since inception.

So there.  That's what my problem really is with the ending to Mass Effect 3, as I've come to identify it.  I suppose I owe Bioware some kind of gratitude, in a strange way.  I've been developing my own settings, of course, with the intent of ending the setting itself in a final and unalterable way.  This, I feel, is no longer something I can do.  When I first thought of it, I thought it sounded like a really fascinating idea.  I imagined it would stimulate dialogue about possibilities, shock and delight people who thought it wouldn't really happen, and shake my readers out of complacency in an interesting way because normally the heroes always save the day.  I can't do that now.  I've felt what they would feel.

I want to think that the Bioware team thought, as the built ME3, much as I did about my setting.  I really hope they've seen what I now see.  Ending a beloved franchise doesn't spark debate, shockingly delight, or shake from complacency.  It just damages any enjoyment of the franchise because...well, fuck, it's all already over, isn't it?

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