So, I’m still upset. March, 2012, I’m waiting desperately for the grand finale of my all time greatest video game series to date: Mass Effect 3. I love Mass Effect. The immersive story telling, choices that effect a galaxy, intense character interactions. This was literally the game that let you decide the fate of the galaxy based on your actions. The first game was phenomenal. The second game very actiony but took the story down to a more personal level with an epic conclusion where your character might not even survive! And then came ME3. So much anticipation. Yet, as soon as the action starts I’m already losing some of the story. Where was the trial of Shepard? Where was the Batarian/Human war? Eh that was miniscule. I dived in and enjoyed the game immensely. Right up until the final fifteen minutes of the game where suddenly the narrative took a turn for the worse. Suddenly, we get this starchild who has all the answers in the galaxy (and all those answers were asinine and ridiculous to boot), the Reapers –the ultimate baddies we’ve been gearing up to do battle with–were nothing more than pawns to the starbrat, and none of our choices we made over the course of three games mattered one iota! It was a slap in the face and I couldn’t help but stare at the screen in dismay and hatred and depression and regret. How could this have happened? I was justifiably outraged and wen to the internet looking for answers. Maybe there was a secret ending? Nope. This was the final ‘artistic’ vision of Bioware. So I gave my own two cents worth to the growing backlash to the ending of ME3 which was starting to look like Mass Effect-gate. But the developers stood behind the ending and decided to give dlc that would answer burning questions to the fans eyes, ears, minds, souls, and whatever. Only those answers didn’t really answer anything and the narrative of Mass Effect remained destroyed.
I still like Mass Effect, mind you, but something got lost in the translation of fan outrage that I think developers are still ignoring to this day. I heard a lot of ire being cast out by the development community: entitled fans, vocal minority, people who just didn’t ‘get it’. But this confuses the issue. It wasn’t entitlement that created the backlash. It was the failure of actually writing a decent story in the end. Looking back on ME3 I see now so many issues that plagued this game. Lore was ignored, characters did dumb things, the Reapers weren’t the real threat–Cerberus was (a terrorist organization in the fiction that somehow got a hold of an army that must have been cloned on a private world because damn that was a lot of them) and the Illusive Man was now completely evil and idiotic. The developers didn’t understand one crucial thing: we weren’t pissed Shepard died, we were pissed that you didn’t finish the story! It just…ended! And then we get a bunch of nonsensical scenes to wrap up the very last narrative in Shepard’s story and this iteration of Mass Effect. Nothing was explained! We’re not dummies. We can infer. But we’d much rather you just finished the story and not give us lazy cinematics! If you wrote a book and then in the end the lead character just died and everything that happened just went into limbo you’d expect the readers to stop reading that author’s books. Period.
But apparently video games have a different idea of story telling. The problem lies in how the narrative unfolds. We have a game. You play a game. And oft times the story is secondary to the gameplay which means oft times more you get really ridiculous stories with piss poor climaxes that don’t serve the narrative at all. This is what I felt about Mass Effect 3. But that game isn’t the only perpetrator of bad narrative in the end game (or even in the game itself.) Over the years gamers have been given all sorts of lunkers that fail to deliver a logical narrative that delivers the impact that we’re looking for. Assassin’s Creed III took a similar avenue in not delivering the goods by just completely ignoring the narrative’s direction and decided to just call it quits with the lead character’s story. Granted the lead character had gone stale because the writers didn’t know what to do with him. But I’ve seen this lazy execution before: Deux Ex, Final Fantasy, Xenosaga, Assassin’s Creed, a slew of RPG’s…hell the list can go on indefinitely.
Here’s a thought, perhaps the writers should have an end game in mind BEFORE they start making the game. Especially where you have a multi-game narrative spanning over so many titles. Mass Effect seems to exist purely for the choices players can make and exploring cool worlds. But with the end of that the choice angle disappeared as did world exploration. So what happened? They didn’t have a plan. They didn’t have a total story outline. Same thing with Assassin’s Creed. It got so sloppy that they didn’t know what else to do with it other than just end the story.
It seems to me game developers are only concerned with the action a game develops. But, games have come quite far in terms of narrative storytelling. So you can’t just ignore story like the old days with the Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. Those games were just about the fun. Nowadays the medium has to tell a compelling story as well. Just look at the phenomenal Last of Us. Naughty Dog game us a superb game with fun gameplay mechanics, intense scenarios, and guess what? an awesome end game! The narrative was complete! Did bad things happen? Yes! But it was an excellent experience that puts it at the top of my list of all time great games, even beating out Mass Effect in my opinion.
Story story story, guys! Lay it out first then bring it to us! And if you fail own up to it. Don’t insist we just feel ‘entitled’ because you are way out of the ballpark on that. We want the complete package. If Shepard has to die, so be it. But you’d better do it in a compelling logical fashion not give us some Star child that makes our character choose one of three pretty colors where the character then jumps into a beam and desintegrates leaving a galaxy in turmoil, our teammates abandoned, and the economy in tatters. Oh and then try to suggest no our teammates were evacuated while being fired at by a massive two kilometer tall instrument of death and somehow leaving the solar system just when all hell is breaking loose! That is illogical and unacceptable! You can write better than that!