Angry Metal Guy Speaks: On Mass Effect 3 and Artistic Integrity

The following post CONTAINS SPOILERS. Be aware of this before reading further. TL;DR version: I agree with the thrust of the critique from upset fans but it’s stupid and inappropriate to demand changes to the story because you didn’t like the ending and Bioware shouldn’t cave. Bioware, however, does seem to be moving away from what made them great in the first place and that’s a bummer.

I’m going to wander away from my usual topics of discussion—that is heavy metal—to discuss the uproar that has occurred over the ending to the epic game from Bioware: Mass Effect 3. As my Facebook followers are probably aware, I’m a fan of video games. More specifically, I pre-order Bioware’s stuff and have since Knights of the Old Republic kickstarted my love of the Baldurs Gate saga (and style) into the new era of gaming. I have played Dragon Age and the first two Mass Effect games with joy, and while I was disappointed with the more FPS-oriented/less-RPG oriented nature of Mass Effect 2, I felt like it was still a fantastic game with one of the best characters ever written for video games (Mordin). I am, in short, a Bioware fanboy. So let me say that I regret wanting to weigh in on this issue at all. But I think it’s worth taking a bit of time to do.

Let me say that the reason I bring up all the fanboy stuff is because I was tremendously disappointed by Dragon Age 2 and I am now also mildly disappointed by Mass Effect 3. But what these two games have in common represents a thread of where I believe the company is going and why these protests are happening in the first place. What DA2 did was to change the style of Dragon Age dramatically, so I can say that I was pretty miffed from the getgo with that. Suddenly my elves had WoW ears and the Qunari looked like giant white monsters, not just giants with purple eyes (thanks to ad hoc updates!). But while this made me annoyed, what really bothered me was the fact that ultimately no matter what choices I made in DA2 they were totally irrelevant. The best example of this is the end battle: in the end of DA2 you fight both the head of the Mages AND the head of the Templars. No matter what. I had sided with the mages and yet somehow, for no good reason, the elf who was leading them turned into a giant evil demon due to blood magic? This made no sense in the context of the story: in fact, it even confirmed for me that all mages are pieces of shit who use blood magic or consort with demons and that the Templars are pretty much right. But more specifically: what did it matter? I’d worked to protect the mages for the whole game and they betrayed me so that I could get a second boss fight. I left the game furious that I had played 30 hours of an RPG (yeah, 30 hours ’cause it’s super short, even with the padding) and that my choices were utterly irrelevant to the story arc.

Mass Effect 3 suffers from a similar problem—but in a sense it’s almost worse. The way that Bioware chose to write the ending of the saga made all of the choices that I had made up to the big, final choice entirely irrelevant. The point of an RPG is that you play a character in order to define the future of that character and of those around you. It makes your actions matter and the story arc personal, instead of just being a guy with a gun who uses twitch controls to get from point A to point B—at which point you get a cut scene to further an excuse for you to move from point B to point C shooting more guys. With an RPG, the choices you make are supposed affect the outcomes. Now, obviously, Mass Effect is not a pure RPG—this was made clear when they elected to have an icon instead of an individually made character as the protagonist. But even then you were given some choice, and those choices were supposed to affect gameplay. NerdrageThis was all well and good. But after 3 games (the first two of which I played multiple times and am working my way through again right now) and probably 300+ hours of gameplay, I saw every single choice I’d ever made become completely irrelevant. Sure, the story arc was good and I enjoyed myself but: why did it matter whether or not I saved the Geth? Man, I worked out a peace to a war that had been 300 years in the making! And for what? So that the relays could all be destroyed? I chose to cure the Genophage! But of course it’s irrelevant, since a huge portion of the Krogan male population is now stuck by Earth (I think). But you get the point: as with Dragon Age 2, my choices were ultimately irrelevant. It’s true that the final choice gives you more control over the end than what you got in DA2 (which was without a doubt the worst Bioware game ever), but if you just take from my very first game: 120+ hours of gameplay boiled down to 15 minutes at the end of the game?

But here’s the crux of the issue: Bioware has the artistic liberty to do what they want. The idea that somehow my disliking the endings of their last two games is going to be fixed by the fact that they put out DLC doesn’t change the culture change in the company that led to these two games lacking the quintessential thing that we all thought Bioware was about. I fully support Bioware’s right to ignore the nerdrage. They released the product they wanted to release. If they’d not wanted to release it, they would’ve released something else: the company is not lacking for money or production time. Think about Morbid Angel’s last album, for example. It fucking blew big, unclean donkey dick. But would you ever have actually thought it was appropriate to ask them to change it? We all accept that Morbid Angel has every right to produce as many shitty records as they want. If you met James Hetfield (Metallica for the chance non-metalhead reading this) would you express to him how shitty you think his band has been since 1991? If you met the guys from Iron Maiden would you tell them that they should go back and totally re-record the Blaze Bayley records with Bruce because they weren’t as good? I guess some of you would… but you’re dickheads. All of these examples share something in common: producers of art must be ready to be criticized, but it is not your place to tell them what to do with their art.

Instead, we vote for or against that art with our wallets. If Bioware continues making games that are ostensibly RPGs but that leave you no real choices or show you affect your surroundings in the end: stop buying their games. Stop pre-ordering the expensive-ass versions of them and paying for DLC. Because if their bottom line doesn’t reflect the dissatisfaction, this will continue. Whether or not they make some DLC to wipe your nerdrage tears off your bitchy little cheeks.

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