So, I finished my full Mass Effect series play-through several days ago, but I wanted to sit on this and think about it.
I first played the trilogy in 2014, and the second game was easily my favorite. It had a huge cast of characters and I loved how everyone got a spotlight mission to dig into their past and their motivations. I thought the ending was a little… silly, if I’m honest, but that was my only quibble.
Anyway, a big part of my reason for playing through all three games again was because I wanted to play Mass Effect 2 with all of the DLC expansions. And they were… OK? They were pretty OK. I liked the Kasumi character mission, and Lair of the Shadow Broker, but the other two expansions didn’t really grab me, and adding two more crewmembers to the Normandy felt a little unnecessary considering the size of the cast.
I also wound up feeling frustrated by the simplified character customization options – both the skill trees and the gear you acquired felt like huge steps backwards from the first game.
So, it was still great… but I realized that I much preferred the first game, for all of its janky animations and spotty performance, just because it felt more like an RPG and less like a combination of a mediocre cover shooter and an RPG.
After that, I started Mass Effect 3 with some trepidation.
Mass Effect 3, it turns out, is a bit like a milkshake. A proper diner milkshake, that is, one of the ones where they bring you out a glass of milkshake and then a tumbler full of more milkshake to pour into your glass when you’re finished with the first serving. At the bottom of the glass, there is a mess of chocolate sludge that you regret drinking almost as soon as you’ve drunken it.
In this analogy, the tumbler of more milkshake is the DLC and the chocolate sludge is the ending. Endings. Look, I’m not particularly good at descriptive writing.
Leaving my literary failings aside, it turns out that it’s a pretty good milkshake. In fact, I wound up liking it more than the middle entry in the trilogy, which shocked the heck out of me. It’s still half cover shooter and half RPG, but the shooter part of it feels MUCH better than it did in both previous games, and it’s a lot more challenging on the “Normal” difficulty level than I expected.
Part of that is because your squadmates are as dumb as bricks at times, which I will acknowledge as a very valid critique of the game. But only part.
ME3 also brings back interesting skill trees and an overflowing arsenal of loot and upgrading weapons and installing mods and choosing between your favorite mods and your favorite ammo types and… look, if enjoying choosing which of a dozen subtly-different shotguns I want Tali to be packing is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
Also, while the side stories in ME2 were great, ME3 is where you finally see stuff pay off. You get to see the end of the Krogan genophage storyline, you find out where the Geth came from and maybe even get to negotiate a truce with them, you catch up with the Rachni queen and even find that Conrad Verner has been hiding a brain under that knockoff N7 helmet.
You notice I am not talking about the END end, just the satisfaction of seeing the plot threads from ME1 and ME2 finally tied off.
Then you dig into that second tumbler of milkshake and it turns out that the expansions are pretty fantastic as well. It’s a shame that they originally cost as much or more than the game proper, of course. I’m looking at them from the perspective of someone who got them for 1/3rd of their original prices. “Omega” is a little bit of a shooting gallery, but “Leviathan” and “Citadel” were so good that it’s nearly criminal that they aren’t bundled with the main game.
It’s one really good milkshake…
…and then you hit the chocolate sludge. And, yeah, it’s the last thing you’re going to remember about the milkshake, and none of the endings are particularly SATISFYING (Though I did wind up enjoying the Deus Ex-esque “Control” ending), but it’s still a 40 hour game that nails the first 39 hours before hitting a banana peel while trying to stick the landing.
So here I am, completely rethinking how I felt about these games. I’m not absolutely certain whether I prefer the first or the third, but suddenly the one I would have raved about (to anyone patient enough to listen) is sitting on the third place pedestal and wondering what happened.