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Gamecritics After Dark Episode 2: The Mass Effect Show

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On the latest episode of After Dark, we take on Mass Effect 3 and the now-infamous ending, share our reflections on the Mass Effect franchise, and have a spirited discussion about sexual relations. Featuring Richard Naik and Brad Gallaway, special guest Michael Cunningham on loan from RPGamer.com, plus a special appearance from Tim "Brett Favre" Spaeth.

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): BioWare  
Series: Mass Effect  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Shooting  
Articles: Podcasts  

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ghbold Gibson

Very interesting very informative keep up the good work. Also will Tim be joining the podcast on a semi-regular basis with out the responsibility of being host because I would be glad to continue to hear Tim's opinions and even though he's not the host anymore he still is a staple of the podcast in my mind.

Great Stuff, as usual guys!

This is exactly what I wanted to hear after beating ME3--some of my favorite game dudes talking about some of my favorite games.

SPOILERS:

For the record, my favorite Mass Effect moment was in ME1, the Salarian Commander's "Hold the Line" speech, where he talks about how before the Salarians were accepted as equals despite their limited combative abilities, they still had to be warriors. It was at that point that I realized how invested the game was in its own lore, and that investment carried through.

synthesis

Spoiler Alert!

Since you're talking about the ending choices, let me add my thoughts to that.

As I've stated before, I thought the ending sucked. But the very first thing about it that I spontaneously disliked was the appearance of the starchild/catalyst. The character's existence alone was ridiculous. Following that came the things he spake, and they weren't any better.

In fact, let me add a quick aside before I get to the choices: Brad said something about long exposition on part of the villain being a bad trope and how he was fine with leaving the reapers' motives open and not answering the big questions. Well, that would have been fine, except that's not what happened. There was exposition on part of the catalyst, albeit short. Yet it was just enough to completely debunk the mystery about the allegedly incomprehensible (for organic minds, that is) motives of the reapers. The only thing more stupid than that was the actual explanation, which had nothing to do with what the games had been about - to me, at least, the whole organics vs. synthetics conflict had been but a minor part of the universe, only exemplified by the geth/quarian conflict which in fact had been resolved during the course of the game.

So when the catalyst proceeded to present the three choices, I was already thoroughly annoyed and only half listening. Then, when the conversation was over, I was similarly confused that that was it - no more dialogue choices, no questioning whatsoever. Took me a moment to realize I had to manually walk over and activate one of the ending switches, so to speak. I wasn't quite into the game anymore at that point.

Still, I thought about that last decision. I only thought about control or destroy, though. Not because I was lacking the synthesis option, but because that one was immediately out of the question. For all I knew, it could mean that all life would rearrange itself to one giant amorphous lump, or it could mean absolutely nothing except that everyone got green cyborg eyes for no reason (which is what happened, obviously). But what it meant either way, given the information I got from the catalyst, was that I would be destroying all diversity of life and enforcing a certain state of being onto whatever lifeform(s) would remain. This, from what the catalyst had said, was immediately and abundantly clear to me and I did not have to think another second about it. That choice was just ethically wrong.

Which is why I'm surprised by a fairly large number of people who thought systhesis was a good (or even the best) idea. After all, you're not the first ones I've heard this from. No one in their right mind, I thought, could chose that option if they were to take it seriously.

The premise of the synthesis option struck me as something an intolerant lunatic with a god complex would do. Not acceptable in the least. Having watched that ending on youtube, I actually find it kind of sickening to see Shepard jumping into the beam being portrayed as some kind of messiah.

You talked about this briefly, but I'd love to hear some more thoughts on the prospect of the synthesis ending (before you knew what would happen, that is). What exactly, to you, made this option appealing?

So happy

So happy Tim was present for this episode.

Great stuff

Fantastic to see individual games getting this in-depth treatment, and it's always interesting to hear the different perspectives; thanks folks.

Flo
That's quite interesting, because for me the ethical choice was the synthesis option. Obviously the choice was made in the heat of the moment, but the way I looked at it was: the 'destroy' option was performing genocide on at least two sentient synthetic races, with the game implying that they'd rise again in any case. The 'control' option was the option favoured by the illusive man, who'd been corrupted to some extent and over which there was a lot of doubt as to the end result. This was the 'playing god' option, for me. I chose the 'I'd like to buy the world a coke' option - it seemed to offer the best way forward for the most races. I liked the evolution angle too.

I'm not saying any of this was carried off with a huge amount of success, but I liked that they attempted to give me 'big' choices with some ambiguity at the end of the game.

Can't wait to see what's next for the After Dark team. Richard needs to play Dark Souls for it to have a chance of getting on the guest list - then get Sinan Kubba (original review) on and have Brad as the dissenting voice. :-)

Retcons are cool?

*I don't think there are any spoilers below but I'm writing about the ending here, so be forewarned anyway.*

Hi all, thanks for the discussion. I left this show rather puzzled about two things. First, thank you to all involved. I found this discussion to be entertaining, civil and definitely worthwhile.

I would've liked some more details on exactly what the guest wanted to see added to the ending to flesh it out. He seemed to have some difficulty articulating that -- perhaps for fear of sounding corny, I don't know.

Also, I find Brad Galloway's brushing off of the way the ending tramples established Mass Effect lore rather puzzling. BioWare got gamers to invest 5 years and at least a hundred hours into learning and understanding that lore, so that we see everything in the game through the prism of that understanding. Now, knowing that, and having played the game himself, Mr Galloway finds it strange and/or unreasonable that we balk at seeing it all torn down right as the entire adventure reaches its conclusion? This is difficult to process, especially given Brad Galloway's status as a writer and apparent appreciation of story and plot development in games and elsewhere.

Sure seems like an odd stance but I guess what's most puzzling is that it's not too different from what I see in many, perhaps even a majority, of the critics who have commented on ME3's ending -- they acknowledge many flaws but just don't seem troubled much by them. Why is that the case? It's one thing to think fans are going too far by wanting rewrites and sending cupcakes. It's another to acknowledge the end really should've been better and then turn around and say "So what? It's a great game anyway and I don't see what they're so upset about". What are the reasons for this disconnect between fans and critics?

Fans vs critics

Anon: the clue is in the names: 'critics' are probably a little more detached than 'fans'. We wouldn't want critics to actually be fans, otherwise we'd be getting a bunch of 9/10 reviews etc. That would be silly.

Critics

Pedro wrote:

Anon: the clue is in the names: 'critics' are probably a little more detached than 'fans'. We wouldn't want critics to actually be fans, otherwise we'd be getting a bunch of 9/10 reviews etc. That would be silly.

I suppose, Pedro. However, if that is the explantiona, in this case that detachment has led to far more effusive praise for the game and a very conscious glossing over of the problems with the ending. I would argue that if we're going to even entertain the notion of games as art, endings of trilogies that have enormous logical problems and strip away series lore should be concerns for critics. If they still like the game, fine, but seeing these flaws and wondering why anyone else thinks they're a big deal is troubling, to me at least.

-- Haki Crisden

synthesis II

(spoilers, obviously)

Pedro:

To clarify, I don't think the synthesis option is even ethically debatable because there is no way to predict the outcome, given the very vague explanation by the catalyst. With destroy and control, you have a pretty good idea about the cost and reward and you can make whatever justification based on that information. With synthesis, it's a gamble on the premise that life as we know it will cease to to exist and be replaced by some form of merged synthetic/oprganic life, which we know nothing about.

It's like forcing meat, wine and tomatoes to happily coexist as sauce bolognese ever after because having different kinds of food is bad. According to starchild, that is. Also, we're led to believe that tomatoes, meat and wine would be just a-okay with that.

And now I'm hungry.

Soap opera

Haki: I realise that the two halves of my comment don't really fit together - I couldn't resist the admittedly weak and contradictory 'joke' about critics being fans at the end. I think that for a lot of people, the more important story was the big soap opera about your relationships with the other characters, and those stories were wound up satisfactorily during the course of the last game. Maybe that was the real story for a lot of folks and the framing story was just a generic save the universe plot to provide momentum and an eventual conclusion to the saga. I don't think a lot of people scrutinised it with the laser-like intensity of the fans.

Flo: fair enough, the actual mechanics if what would happen may not have been explained, but even if they were, they'd just be a bunch of sci-fi bumpf anyway. Reapers..AIs...VIs...sentient fusion...yadda... At that point it was the sentiment that counted, for me anyway.

Anyway, I'm not even that interested in the debate! Just came on to explain my synthesis' motivation.

mr.pants wrote: Also will

mr.pants wrote:

Also will Tim be joining the podcast on a semi-regular basis with out the responsibility of being host because I would be glad to continue to hear Tim's opinions and even though he's not the host anymore he still is a staple of the podcast in my mind.

Thanks! If the crew will have me, I'd love to come back as a guest from time-to-time. Mass Effect 3 is one of those games I just HAD to talk about; doing the show was quite cathartic.

Awesome I look forward to

Awesome I look forward to hearing from you again in the future.

The whole indoctrination thing

As above, possible spoilers so Read At Own Risk (RAOR! I wish this spelled "roar".)

I know this won't be news to anybody but, where there's ambiguity in something - be it a book, pop song, movie, whatever - the audience has an opportunity to interpret it as they see fit. Different people can get all sorts of different messages from the same piece of art, depending on their personal circumstances, and they might not be the ones the artist intended. I don't think this makes them any less legitimate.

I wonder if this is especially true of games - they're an interactive medium to start with. Part of the joy of Mass Effect, after all, is that Shepherd's story really feels like it belongs to the player. I think we often get tied up in what the creator of the story/song/whatever intended - while that's obviously important, the audience's engagement with the product is, I believe, equally so. When an artist is finished with their work, they have to surrender it to their audience. Then the audience gets to decide what it means to them (I don't think this excuses artists not having a clear idea of their own though - that's just lazy, dawg).

Given that, I think there's ample evidence in the game to support the indoctrination idea (which is well canvassed elsewhere). Sure there are inconsistencies too, but I think this holds true for whatever interpretation you choose, as well as various other bits and pieces of the game, which my very willing suspension of disbelief happily glosses over (How do you fight in those pants, Miranda?).

If it was the intended ending, gee it's clever. Essentially the Reapers trick not only Shepherd but the player as well. I love that idea, and I'd like to hang on to it regardless of what the developers think. Given that, I can't understand the vitriol that's been poured on this interpretation; why choose not to engage with an interpretation that's actually pretty awesome, and instead say (as youtube comments on the video I watched indicated): "No! The ending is lame, and I will not believe otherwise!"? As people keep saying, this is make believe. And if you can make believe an ending that's awesome, even if it's not precisely what the creators intended, then why not do so?

ending

I know this is a late comment, but I only just completed Mass Effect 3 two days ago, and pretty soon after I listened to this podcast, which has inspired me to post my thoughts on the ending and how it tied in with my experience of the game.

First of all I thought it was a fantastic game despite some flaws, its a game I completed in 5 days,at 36 hours. This is something I never do anymore, usaully my gaming sessions at like 2hours apiece, but this game grabbed in a way that has not been the case for a while, and thats probably because I was deeply emotionally invested in it.

Of course playing it just a bit later than everyone else I was aware of the controversy of the ending, so I think in some ways this helped me, I expected not to hate it as much as others whilst also being aware of it mean't I wasnt going to be too disappointed when I experienced in. And you know, I didn't think it was all that bad. Yes it was pick a choice. Yes it was sudden. Yes it was slightly poorly written and felt rushed. I agree with all these, but I liked how puzzled I felt, it made the decision so infuriating and hard to gauge, which really added to the drama. As I ran to my choice I was filled with fear in discomfort and I had none of my squad mates there to help me.
But then the choice I made actually had a resonance with how I had played Shepard. From the very beginning I had played him almost exclusively renogade as I always enjoy playing dark side in games. By the time I had gotten up to the genophage mission my Shepard had the scars to prove just how far gone he was. And then I did the awful thing of shooting Mordin in the back as he tried to reach the top of the tower, the last thing he saw as he died been the redemption he was seeking and not being able to reach it.
This actually made me feel awful and I haven't felt guilty like this since I killed my squad mates in Knights of the Old Republic. Now the thinking with this was that my Shepard was mainly distrusting of alien races, and especially of the Krogans. My Shepard probably saw too much of his brutal nature in this species.
However, after this my character mellowed alot. When I got to the Geth mission I surprised myself when I decided to spare both races, though I did it through the forcefull renegade option. I think it was Joker's and Edis relationship that softened my thoughts on AI and its possible future with organic life forms. And then it is proven that these two races can be trusted and can live in peace. My Shepard had been proven wrong and evolved as a result. So when faced with the choice at the end, the redemption he truly found with the synergy option seemed quite poetic.
Now I understand that alot of this is just me building my own arc around my character, and taking it further than the game allows. Richard had talked about doing this with the Elder Schroll games, and I think alot of people do this with Mass Effect. So the ending was always going to be tricky, both satisfying the games arc and the more personal experience to each player. Despite its flaws it couldve been a whole lot worse, and there was so much goodwill I had gathered from the game and the rest of the series that I was able to overcome my problems with the ending by fitting my personal experience around it. Frankly I was much more disgusted by the latest Deus Ex ending.
Sorry about the long winded message.
Garth

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