I've finally put Mass Effect 3 to bed, and with that opening explained the last month's absence from the blogosphere (do people still call it that? It no longer sounds modern). I found the first game enjoyable in spite of some major design flaws, the second much improved but also too consolified for my taste (I speak as an actual console player - longtime readers will note I had the same issues with Dragon Age 2), the third... well.
I loved it, actually, with some minor reservations. The game itself is a familiar yet rejuvenated powerhouse of a cover-based shooter engine with an RPG wrapped lovingly about it, rather than the post-KOTOR RPG with a workmanlike combat engine bolted on as the original game was: the first made a virtue of being more a collection of serviceable parts bonded by a good story, whereas the third finally made itself a whole game. If ever there were an advert for devs using customer feedback to shape future instalments, it's this: the second game overreacted a bit, oversimplifying some complex bits and bobs (especially with regard to weapon and armour setup) which I happen to like to be stat-heavy, but the third instalment really hit its stride. I very much doubt the basic engine of the thing could be improved further now, at least not without the Xbox 720.
The story managed to pull off the notable feat of making the classic 'intro + four planets + outro' structure seem fresh and new, brought back some old friends who I was genuinely happy to see, made the story almost absurdly bespoke based on the actions of the past two games and - here we edge into Controversy - provided an ending that made sense and worked.
Please read that bit again. The ending made sense. The ending worked.
I was expecting a train wreck, frankly, after all the online bitching about this. I expected it to be another unnecessary cliffhanger (I'm looking at you, Halo 3), or worse, a fade-to-black in midsentence, Sopranos-style. When I got to it I chose the green 'synergy' ending, and was satisfied. I went back and reshot with the red ending, and was no less satisfied.
Let's face it, when the entire universe is about to be reamed by an ancient and implacable evil who will come back in 50,000 years and ream it all over again, there are no perfect endings. The endings presented are exactly as they should be. They make sense both artistically and thematically, and the fact that they're not as finely tuned to intra-game decisions as the 'fanz' would like is neither here nor there. The Reapers don't give two shits whether you banged Liara or Ashley. They're destroying the fucking universe, you muppet.
I hope Shepard survived in some form, but I don't know for certain... and I am fine with that. If this had been the ending of a film nobody would have batted an eyelid: it was ambiguous in the details but definite in its resolution, leaving questions to ask and discuss but leaving no doubt that the world has now irrevocably changed. There will be more Mass Effect games, certainly, but this particular story is now done.
Bioware are making an epilogue due to bitching and whining by fans who think they can write better (yet conspicuously fail to do so), which is a shame. I think the ending to The Stand sucked, but Stephen King is not obliged to make me feel better, rightly. A story is a story and it must be allowed to stand - just because you lived in that story for a while doesn't make it yours. You consumed the work of another. If you feel cheated, trade it in or write some fanfic: otherwise, have some respect for those of us who sweat and toil and employ actual talent to build the world you played in for a while.