Mass Effect 3: (un)Being Commander Shepard

As many of you know, Mass Effect 3 was met with great praise (93 from Metacritic, 10/10 from Game Informer, 5/5 from G4, etc.), as well as uproar over the endings – or should I say ending, since many, myself included, have reduced the endings to a matter of preference for red, green, or blue. Fans reacted passionately, giving a flurry of 1 star reviews on Metacritic and on Amazon, while others got involved in the “Hold The Line” operations or participated in the Facebook movement called “Retake Mass Effect 3.” There were efforts to promote the cause by donating to Child’s Play, and there was even a brief project where fans donated $1000 to send 402 cupcakes to the Bioware office in Edmonton.

The game was released in March, and although the backlash and outrage from the fans have since died down, emotions are rekindled whenever conversations over where Mass Effect 3 went wrong come up from time to time. Many have written their own renditions to how they thought it should have ended, offered their own outlook on where the Extended Cut DLC should go, or given multiple theories as to what the last few hours of the game meant for the Mass Effect universe (my favorite being the Indoctrination Theory).

Warning: This will have spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played through the Mass Effect games. If you are unfamiliar with the Mass Effect universe, I will direct you over to tardisdoctor‘s post, which gives a general introduction in the beginning. Also, play the series!

The reason I am writing this is because someone on Reddit brought up how they felt ME3 fell short in other areas. The games felt different: Mass Effect was a game, Mass Effect 2 was a world, and Mass Effect 3 was a movie, the latter of which they cited forced emotional responses in Shepard and in the player.

Leaving Earth – imagecredits:

An example would be when Shepard was visibly distraught when he/she had to leave Earth and watch the child get blown up by the Reapers, even if that response did not match how the players thought their Shepard should react. Why would my Renegade Shepard give a squat about a random kid? The lack of dialogue options was also noted, leading to feelings of being handheld by the producers and writers throughout the game. Ultimately, some players felt that their freedom to be Commander Shepard was taken away in the last installment of the trilogy.

I’ll have to say that I’m split. I never had the chance to play Mass Effect first (though I do have it installed) but I played ME2 first and then ME3 as soon as it came out. Unlike other players, I’ve always felt somewhat distanced from Commander Shepard, but in retrospect she was always who I wanted her to be: she was a kick ass female, made decisions that matched my morality and understanding of the situation, saved who I want to save, and romanced who I wanted to romance. Garrus was going to be her boyfriend whether she liked it or not.

Kickass Shep – imagecredits:

It was also never just Commander Shepard caring about her crew, it was me caring about my crew, wanting them all to survive the suicide mission because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I let any of them die, or wanting to reunite Kolyat with Thane because I believed he deserved another chance. Although I haven’t completed my ME1 runthrough yet, I would have to choose who would survive on Virmire or decide the fate of the Council. I was Commander Shepard.

But Shepard was also Shepard. She was whoever I wanted her to be, but she always came with her own baggage. Commander Shepard wanted to defeat the Collectors, destroy the Reapers, save the galaxy, and those were goals that would never be mine to choose. Shepard always spoke, not I, and she had her own nuances in speech (and even more if Shepard was a guy). Regardless of the background you chose for her, Shepard would always have parts of her history locked away and personal. I do feel that this was something they did right (at least partially) in ME3: you really did feel Shepard’s baggage. Years of fighting the Reapers and having to convince stubborn asses finally took a toll on her, and so you couldn’t control how she’d react to the death of a random kid, the creepy dreams, or the loss of Thessia.

Beyond being a little irked at having less opportunities to pick dialogue, I was okay with them taking Shepard back. Many have noted the movie-feeling and lack of choice and control in the Vancouver tutorial sequences, and while I felt the change, it also forced me to distance myself and realize that it was Anderson with Shepard through thick and thin, not with me. Having Shepard react so strongly to the loss of Thessia (why am I mentioning this? Because I actually never cared much for Thessia, personally), buried in thought, and hesitating to talk on the coms forced me to come to terms with the feeling of helplessness that pervaded the whole situation.

After Thessia – image credits:

I also felt the burden of helplessness and stress that Shepard carried and developed across three games, regardless of whether or not I wanted her to have it. I sincerely felt sorry for Shepard, I cried, and my heart went out to her. I wanted so badly to hug her, for her to get a break and live happily ever after when everything was done with (of course, that wouldn’t happen). I was no longer just invested in my crew and the galaxy, but also in Commander Shepard as a person, who I was simply watching and guiding from time to time.

Yes, I admit: the lack of control was sometimes appalling. What first comes to mind was my inability to shoot/argue with the Catalyst rather than choose one of three options, because I honestly felt that aligned more with my idea of Shepard. Sometimes Shepard said shit I didn’t want her to say, or wasn’t able to investigate shit I wanted to investigate. In retrospect, I believe I’d be more upset if the Shepard I built from ME1 couldn’t be the same Shepard in ME3. Mass Effect is/was known for letting the player decide the game, and they did somewhat betray that (if you want your control back, do (re)play Dragon Age: Origins). I played the series because of its integration of player input, something that is so key to immersion and player investment. They messed up, but not completely. The lack of choices for the player also allowed the developers to slowly build a Shepard that was a real person, an individual. This change of pace elicited something more from me.

Today I am still mourning, not just because I, as a player, was reduced to somewhat of a bystander in the game, but because the game did not end favorably for the Commander Shepard I looked up to. I am mourning not for my Shepard, but for THE Shepard, and that emotion fuels my own love for the series and ultimately my desire for them to “fix it (the ending)” in the Extended Cut.

P.S. The pictures are small and funky, I know. All the pics I found were large width wise.. so they didn’t resize too well. Sorry :(

About writinginmy

vegan, English, UC Berkeley'14
This entry was posted in Gaming, Geek Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mass Effect 3: (un)Being Commander Shepard

  1. says:

    I like this post. Personally, what really hit home for me was this excerpt: “The games felt different: Mass Effect was a game, Mass Effect 2 was a world, and Mass Effect 3 was a movie [...]“. I thought this was beautifully put. I feel the exact same way, but this was just highly poetic.

    Also, you didn’t play ME1 first? Tsk Tsk Tsk!

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