I didn’t want to tell my coworkers that the reason I was falling asleep everywhere earlier this week was because I had been up all night playing Mass Effect: Citadel.
Not up all night playing video games – that happens all the time. No one thinks anything of it anymore. Playing Mass Effect, though, that’s different. I didn’t want to say anything because they just wouldn’t understand.
I didn’t plan on getting Citadel. When I finished the game, I moped a bit and was eventually distracted. I wouldn’t say I was really done with Mass Effect but I was done with other people’s (including Bioware’s) Mass Effect. “Best seats in the house” is when headcannon takes over the rest just fades away.
I was finally, you know, “getting over it”. I wasn’t avoiding Mass Effect DLC to make a foolish nerdrage stand. At this point I’m mostly sad for Bioware because they came so close to making something perfect only to miss the bullseye at the worst possible time.
Rather I was avoiding DLC because I didn’t want to pick at my post-Mass Effect scab.
How I broke
One day I typed “mass effect citadel” into a search field on Youtube. I swear I only watched a video for a second!
The first time.
The second video I watched a little longer. The third video I watched big chunks of.
Eventually I figured I might as well act before I spoil everything for myself. I ripped that scab right off and downloaded Citadel. And now I bleed all over this blog post.
Dear person who’s never played Mass Effect
Some time back a guy “friend” was sitting in my living room and had the balls (or outright stupidity) to say “people were just mad at the Mass Effect ending was because it wasn’t happy“.
Hence the quotation marks around friend.
Over the years I’ve learned some restraint. So he didn’t find himself skyrocketed from my balcony. But I never forgave the ignorance (he has never played Mass Effect, nor has ever even read anything about the game), the callousness (he knows how emotionally involved I am in the Mass Effect story) and the lack of understanding in that comment.
Yes, I’m that pissed off over a comment about a video game. Oh, and it gets better. I can rant for a long, long time.
I’m not going to hide that the lack of the possibility of a traditional happy ending does come up in conversation at times (there’s even a mod!), but it’s so much more complex than that. And going straight to “u mad at no happy ending bro” is an insult to any disappointed fan of the series.
You know, the default ending isn’t even really sad.
The original ending went kind of like: you fight boring mobs, you fight boring mobs, you fight boring mobs, there’s some conversation, there’s some weird conversation, then some explosions set to music, then the end. And you’re sitting there thinking “Okay… Soooo… Did I win?“
The Extended Cut was a little better. You can see that you did win (unless you refuse, in which case you help people 50 000 years from now win), but you’re still in the dark about what winning means. And all the puzzle pieces you spent hours and hours finding and trying to fit together: clues about the Reapers, about Cerberus, about the Illusive Man, about other galaxy mysteries. You never get a snapshot of the finished puzzle. Actually, you never even get a finished puzzle. You sit there watching the credits with stray puzzle pieces in your hands, a blank stare on your face and a sick feeling in your stomach, saddened over never learning where these pieces go.
Next, on Life and Death
Shepard living and dying comes up a lot. Trolls (I figure) post “people are just mad that Shepard dies“. Destroy players call out “My Shep didn’t die!“
In my heart, neither is really true. Ok, so you see your Shepard disintegrating and end up with a plaque on your ship. That’s not what death is. Maybe it’s part of what death is, but it’s not all death is. Death is the people who love you grieving and moving on without you. Death is someone else picking up your torch and continuing where you left off. That never happens, so, to me, it never felt like death.
As for living. Living! You get, what, a gasp and no plaque on your wall? That’s not living! Living is carrying on with the injuries that don’t heal, it’s rebuilding, it’s having a place in the world. A gasp and no plaque is nothing of that.
As far as I can tell, in the game, Shepard doesn’t really live or die. The official story ends before that.
Of course, you can look at it from another angle (and this is one of the few not too bad things about the ending). Mass Effect forces you, the player, to build a certain relationship with your Shepard. Some people play Shepard as badass versions of themselves, some play Shepards in honour of real life people who’ve touched them, some people just want to blow shit up.
Me, I played Shepard as my imaginary BFF. Mass Effect came to me at a time in my life where I had been forced into a situation that I wasn’t prepared or qualified (and, well, willing) to handle. Not of galaxy-saving-in-face-of-hopeless-odds proportions, but still. I found a lot of comfort and (imaginary) complicity in shooting things, shopping for weapons (and miniature ships) and mouthing off to idiots with Shepard as we coped with what life handed us.
Had I played Shepard as myself in a science fiction world, she (I? we?) would have died. When the game is over you leave the world. The world is still there but you’re not because the game is over and you’ve moved onto another game, another pretend life. But Shepard was my imaginary friend and imaginary friends live with you a long time.
Magic Space Kid’s Legacy
After a year, the icky feeling that stuck to me wasn’t about crew reunions, wasn’t about unfinished stories, wasn’t about Shepards stuck in limbo (but know that I can get myself worked up over those things if I try hard enough!). What makes me block out the real Bioware ending, as a story and world lover who lets her imagination run wild, is, no matter what you do, Mass Effect’s official post-ending legacy sucks.
What resonated with me about the Mass Effect world was how plausible it all was. I could totally picture the galaxy like that 150 years from now. But then, a couple hundred hours into playing around in this fairly realistic science fiction world, everything gets all new agey weird.
And after all is said and done, you’re left with 4 options to work with:
1)This cycle ends so any kind of post-game imagining has to be about the world 50 000 years from now, which we know very little about and thus don’t care.
2)You end up with an entire galaxy (universe?) of cyborgs, which is really not fun to build personal stories with.
3)You end up with a world that has a Reaper-god Shepard, which is also not fun to work with.
4)The tons of hours you spent doing diplomatic (and match making!) crap go to waste when you kill half the people you spent huge chucks of the game coercing.
Srsly. What the heck am I supposed to do with that?
So. My kind-yet-feisty Shepard (for whom death really doesn’t fit) is badly injured, never recovers and is forced into a Council position she hates. Her and Garrus pursue their bizarre cross-species relationship and adopt cute little krogan orphans. Garrus is a surprisingly good stay-at-home dad. Kaidan gets the Normandy, mostly as a Spectre vessel. Everyone else goes on with their usual occupations. My own characters are weaved in, but that’s personal so you’ll never find out.
I played Citadel as if it was happening after the ending.
At first I felt a little guilty and justified myself by saying that I spent 15$ on this DLC and can play it in any mindset I want.
As the DLC goes on, though, it almost feels like that’s how you’re supposed to play. If you replace every “we’re at war” with “we were at war“, it actually works really, really well. Some of the scenes – Vega’s N7 tattoo, Garrus’ ballroom dancing recital, fundraising for Salarian space cancer research – make a lot more sense if you think of them as happening after the war.
So yeah, it’s after the war, we’ve moved all the gross bodies out of the Citadel, we’re going around the Galaxy rebuilding and getting rid of whatever the Reapers left behind, the Normandy needs a tune up and Anderson (who survived being shot, because, really, I’m not too sure he got shot in the first place) is all “I’m not leaving Earth, go hang out at my place in the Citadel“.
The timeline is after Shepard has recovered enough to help in the Galactic Clean Up Effort and before her being dumped against her will into Udina’s dirty Council chair.
And then… It felt like when I was a kid. On the last day of the school year, we were given candy, we played games and teachers slacked off in enforcing the rules. Citadel was like that last day of school. The “rules” didn’t matter, it was just celebrating, reminiscing and gorging myself with sweet, sweet candy.
I’d followed the blurbs from different Bioware employees who were involved in creating and marketing Mass Effect on the Bioware Blog. (You should check it out! Tends to be forcefully positive because of, you know, PR and stuff, but still very interesting.) Playing Citadel was like experiencing those blurbs. I kept imagining the writers sitting around a table tossing around their favorite jokes and game references and just laughing and laughing. I felt connected to the game like I always do, but I also felt connected to everyone who’d loved Mass Effect over the years.
By the way, the references to Multiplayer throughout the Strip were brilliant. I spent so much time listening to the pair discussing bad pugs! It was the first time I felt like Multiplayer was actually part of the story and not just a ploy to keep people playing the game longer.
Critique of Citadel?
Um. My first reaction to Shepard’s new apartment was “Wow, that’s a lot of wasted space.” Tiny house fan knee jerk reaction, sorry. I would have liked a bit more customization available too (which is hilarious because normally I don’t care about customizing anything - I’ve never even transmogged in WoW! Mass Effect is just special.), but I could understand how there’s no point in adding tons of extra items that’ll only be seen for a few hours.
I love how the plot dragged me through the archives. Perfect idea for a final DLC! I would have liked more lore, though, and lore that I didn’t already know about. I would have loved to stumble across some ancient, ancient story. But I’m splititng hairs here. I loved the archives. I’d even pay for a DLC that consists of nothing but archival exploration. (In case you were wondering, the character that I’ve always related most to is Liara. She’s like the video game me, only with a gentler voice and fancy biotic powers.)
And Legion. Why no Legion? Mordin and Thane got a nod (I cried like a baby during Mordin’s!), but Legion… It’s like he never even existed. (Ashley didn’t get anything either, but since she’s mentioned a lot during ME3, I was fine with it.) I even checked all the arcade scores for “Infiltrait0rN7″ and nothing.
And now I’m hooked on the Arena
When I heard the combat simulation, I thought “Why would I want that when there’s plenty of actual combat to go around?“
Then I tried it.
It’s all the fun of Multiplayer without the stress of playing with strangers. I enjoyed all the mini games in Citadel (again, hilarious because I normally just ignore mini games) but the Arena, in all its simplicity, was so much fun.
When I reached the end, I let the tears flow at Shepard’s “The best” line and thanked the game and its creators for giving me such a good run.
Then I hit “load” and ran back to the Arena.