Mass Effect 3


Some of you might know that I’ve been *ehem* neglecting the editing of my novel in order to do a play-through of a game called Mass Effect 3, developed by Bioware (now a division of Electronic Arts).  I’ve been a huge fan of their games since they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  I don’t play a lot of video games, but when I do many times they’re role-playing titles by Bioware.

I love the idea that gamers can make decisions that can compound and actually affect the storyline (and, in this case, even carry over into other games).  Bioware thus far has done an incredible job of exploring the possibilities of this feature in their games, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception.

I’m not really here to do a game review, though.  I just want to point out some of the highlights of my gaming experience with Bioware’s latest title and reflect on some things I can take away from it as a writer.

Mass Effect 3 Is Not Afraid To Explore Dark, Gritty Themes

There were missions in this game that really made me cringe and wonder thoughts like, “How can anyone do that to another human being?”  It took me to places I’d, quite frankly, rather not go (were they real) and affected me on a surprisingly emotional level.  The game portrays humanity not only at its best but also at its absolute worst, particularly when things go terribly awry with certain technological advancements.  It shows a possible future that is staggeringly bleak and forces you to engage it head-on.

There were many a time during the game where things got so depressing that I truly questioned our hero(ine) Commander Shepard’s ability to unite a galaxy and defeat an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.  The foes are mighty and the stakes are insanely high.

No picnics here.

Mass Effect Asks The Tough Questions

Should humans develop artificial intelligence?  Do A.I. have the right to life?  Just what are organics (humans, alien races) really capable of?  What is the purpose of organic life?  How far should we take genetic engineering–or any scientific process, for that matter?  What is the next step in human evolution?

These are just some of the many questions that this game poses to players (very similar to Battlestar Galactica, actually) and asks them to make tough decisions about.

Mass Effect Makes You Care About What Happens To Characters

No small feat.

When I cry three times during one game (I’m not even kidding)…then I think the writers and creators have done something right.

Throughout all the games in the Mass Effect series players are given the option to cultivate relationships (both platonic and romantic) with other characters, and those can continue to grow over time.  In a story about galactic war, it goes without saying that some of the characters players grow to love (or hate) will end up dying–and I, for one, felt it.  The main ones, even some minor characters, all had their own personal stories and reasons for fighting, stories they’re willing to share if only the player takes the time to get to know them.  This made the playing experience all the more personal.

Also, I’m Still Trying To Suss Out What The (apparently controversial) Ending(s) Means

I get the feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be on the surface… The “ending” (the one I chose, at least) felt very haunting and eerie to me and leaves a lot to the imagination (see here *spoiler alert*), making me suspect there’s more to come.  Whether in DLC (downloadable content) and/or another game, who knows?  Either way, I plan to stick around and find out.

Anyway, What I Took Away As A Speculative Fiction Writer

  1. Be brave in taking players (readers) to places they haven’t gone–not just philosophically or as far as using one’s imagination goes but also emotionally.  It may start in a foreign world/environment with exotic lifeforms but it really happens though characters who ultimately, alien or not, must feel human.  (See #3.)
  2. Ask the “what ifs” and try to provide some answers.  “How would a galaxy full of various alien races fare against a superior sentient machine race hellbent on annihilating and/or repurposing all advanced organic life?”  The Mass Effect series is the answer to that question.
  3. Develop distinct characters who have their own personal motivations.  If people can relate to their plights, then chances are they’ll actually care and the story will have more meaning.
  4. Endings are tough to pull off well; consider them carefully.

And…yeah, I think that about sums it up!

Anyone Else Playing This Game?

If so, what do you think about it?  Or, if you aren’t, have you ever played a game from which you were able to take away some writing lessons or goals to be inspired by?


17 thoughts on “Mass Effect 3

  1. Nice to hear your take on Mass Effect 3. I admire the storytelling and control Bioware did. Mostly 🙂

    I think the character writing is where Bioware really shines.

    I think you should do a spoiler-y post talking about what you think your ending and the endings in general mean. There’s clearly a lot of territory there to mine, which is a good sign to me.

    I do think that if you are at your ending, you need to make definitive statements. There needs to be some closure, not more questions at the end. But then, I suck at endings myself.


    • I agree about endings. For me that’s the hard part is just figuring out what you mean to say, or looking back on your story and assessing what it’s saying as written. (I’m sure you know that sometimes the two won’t necessarily match up the first time around.)

      And the ending to ME3 was…strange. That’s all I can say. It didn’t even feel real to me. Then I started reading other people’s opinions about it and I felt like Bioware was really messing with my mind.

      What ending did you choose? I had no idea what was going on or where the other two “choices” were located, so I just walked into the light…lol. (Whoops.) I stared at the screen afterwards for a while like, “Synthesis? What does this even MEAN?!?!” Everything just felt so wrong…

      If there is more to the ending, I just hope they don’t make us pay for it ’cause that wouldn’t be right. The game should already be complete, ya know? I mean I bought the Collector’s Edition, for crying out loud… (Which I’ve never done for any other game before.)


  2. 1) I think I’m going to create a “storytelling lessons” page on my blog. I’ve posted about what I’ve learned from movies, you’re writing about games, and Jo Eberhardt is writing about RPGs ( It would be good to have links to all of them in the same place.

    2) I also vote for a “spoiler-y” post about the endings(s). You’ve piqued my curiosity, and I’m not going to play the game, so I’d be very interested.


  3. Not playing Mass Effect Anything – I lack the necessary hardware and the necessary gaming time – but I wish I was, if it’s half as good as I hear.

    I haven’t played in several weeks, but I’m currently playing Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. My list of games I wish I had the time and expensive gaming systems to play includes:

    *All 3 Halo games (I’ve played multiplayer with some friends on their systems, but I want to get the story)
    *Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
    *Ico and Shadow of the Colossus
    *Mass Effect series
    *Final Fantasies XII and XIII (I actually own XII but I just haven’t had time to play it yet); I should also someday hit up FF VII, which of course is a classic.
    *Kingdom Hearts II – I loved the first KH, but it left the story unresolved
    *Zelda games, of course, which I’m working through
    *Some old classics that I never quite got around to
    *and many others I’m forgetting


    • I have friends that are crazy about Zelda, FF and KH; I’ve never played them, though!

      Yes, and gaming can get quite expensive. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before somewhere, there’s a game series I’ve been wanting to play (Uncharted); however, it’s exclusively on PS3 and there’s no way I can afford to invest in one of those right now. So I watched people’s walkthroughs on YouTube instead, heh. Next best thing. 😉

      Yet, that, too, can take up a bit of time. The games these days are so cinematic, though, that’s it’s really almost like watching a movie.


      • Zelda and FF, in particular, are truly wonderful games. The Zelda games tend to be a little friendlier to younger players. They combine some of the best aspects of Adventure games, Action games, and RPGs. The FF games are generally easy to try out, because even though there are some 13+ games in the series (not counting the various spin-offs), most of those games are independent of each other: they have their own worlds, their own characters, and their own stories. You don’t need to play one FF game to appreciate another. But they have certain consistent stylistic aspects, and some common threads.

        KH is best, really, if you’re already a fan of both the FF games and Disney (which I am). It’s all about the cameos of various Disney and FF characters. Of course, it has its own original story that’s quite good once you’ve been acclimated to the strange world of Disney and FF combined.


      • Also, one of the things I like best about video games these days is that they combine some of the best strengths of both watching a movie and reading a book along with an interactive element that both those media lack. It makes the video game an excellent medium, IMO, for storytelling.


        • This is true! They’re even playing with interactive comics now. (Mass Effect made one for folks on Play Station to catch up on what happened in the first game and make important decisions, as it was only available on Xbox at the time. They did one for both a male and female version of the main character, too, lol. I know now they weren’t the first, but at the time it was the first time I’d seen something like this.)

          I like that stories from one medium are bleeding into various others. I’ve always wanted to try something like this with my story, but I’d only just begun. I made this PowerPoint presentation (still have it) with images and sound effects… Tried to make it dramatic and somewhat interactive with fade-ins/outs and cued sounds.

          Maybe I’ll release it one day, in all of its “first attempt” cringe-worthiness, lol. Just for kicks.


          • Telling stories across multiple media is something that has always interested, although I don’t have the necessary skills to pull it off on my own. It’s an approach that ultimately requires collaboration.

            When I was a rather young lad and working on my first first book, one of my side-projects was a video game manual for an imaginary video game version of the book. I was going to include elements in the video game that wouldn’t appear in the book, and vice versa, to have the two compliment each other.


  4. Wish I had more time to play games…

    I did try reading books written buy authors who obviously played a lot of video games, as it read like a play-by-play of a video game. Didn’t make for very good reading and I quit after 25% of the way through.


    • To be honest, I’m surprised that people are so vehemently outraged. Sure, there should have been a better denouement already included in the game (the existing one was pretty much useless), but to get so angry about it…not really necessary.


  5. The first thing that really annoyed me was that I played through every mission/side quest and got most (but admittedly not all) of the war assets from the various worlds using the planet scanner (this also got tedious at times but was nowhere as bad as the scanning in ME2). The way I understand the galactic readiness rating (GRT) is as follows: it is basically a multiplier that takes your raw military strength and is used to produce an effective military strength (EMS). If you spend more time in the multiplayer (which I did not) you can, in principle, spend less time on side quests and vice-versa. Good idea, I thought, as it gives players some leeway on how to proceed.


    • Yeah, the scanning did get old…especially with the Reapers coming after you the whole time, lol.

      And yes, it seems like playing multi-player gives you a kind of bonus to your EMS. I think you need an EMS of at least 5000(?) to unlock the one ending where they show someone (assumingly Shepard) alive and breathing in the rubble on Earth.

      I need to go back and check my EMS ’cause I gathered all but one of the assets and had a galactic readiness of around 69 percent, last I remembered, heh. I just chose the wrong ending…so it didn’t really matter by then. -__-


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