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HELO September 7, 2012 User blog:HELO

In the interest of sparing you the hassle of pushing through several paragraphs of my pompously long, comma-ridden sentences just to get to the beginning of the point I’m trying to make, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse of my conclusion right up front (and, in doing so, conveniently present my thesis):


In its latest Sisyphean attempt to clarify the genius intrinsic to--yet somehow indecipherable within--Mass Effect 3, BioWare has given us “Leviathan,” a DLC that, at its core, means to provide greater context and explanation for the Reapers, the Catalyst, and the it-was-always-about-organics-versus-synthetics-guys-no-seriously-why-won’t-you-believe-us ending that, you may recall, some people didn’t find terribly enjoyable.

To its credit, the DLC does introduce information that seems to make some of the batcrap nutty ending seem, well, a little less batcrap nuts. In particular, it introduces the idea that the Reaper invasions are the result of a psychotic AI trying to solve the organic/synthetic frenemies issue by killing most (but not all!) things in the galaxy every 50,000 years--and, by virtue of the mission’s accessibility from almost the very start of the game, it gives us this information early enough to put a sizeable dent in the “The glowy space kid comes out of nowhere!” complaint/argument that’s been (rather correctly) bandied about by so many people for so many months.

On top of that, “Leviathan” manages to make the discovery and delivery of this new information not only arise naturally from the plot of the mission but also seem naturally connected (in a general sense) to the central plot of the game. And then, of course, there are the actual Leviathans, which, as far as I’m concerned, are about the coolest-looking things in the ME universe since Ashley’s new haircut.

But even with these notches in its metaphorical bedpost, the DLC ultimately left me with more concerns than deep, satisfied nods.

Now, admittedly, many of those concerns can’t be helped because of the inherent problem with any additional “clarity”-containing content for ME3: it’s just a splash of paint on a crumbling dam. ME3 is broken, and, unless they release a “Total Do-over” DLC, none of these afterthought fixes will ever change that. So while I think the “Extended Cut” and “Leviathan” are both, in their own respective ways, admirable band-aids, neither can truly address the fundamental problems that caused the dam to crack in the first place.

But that’s not why I want BioWare to stop.

I want them to stop because “Leviathan” was…well, good.

Now, to clarify, when I call it “good” that does not mean I’m giving a pass to things like the glaringly hand-waved reason why a technologically advanced mind-controlling apex race needed to create a sentient supercomputer to figure out a way to prevent conflict between their mind-controlled organic thralls and the sentient computers their mind-controlled organic thralls created…or why this same technologically advanced mind-controlling apex race would need to run and hide from the sentient supercomputer’s massive killing machines when they can crash those massive killing machines with an energy pulse from their minds…or how suspiciously ending-conscious the Leviathan’s monologue was… or how suspiciously ending-aware Shepard seemed to be while listening to the Leviathan’s suspiciously ending-conscious monologue…or how the major battles in a mission that lets you dive into the depths of a tumultuous ocean planet were, once again, mostly frenetic platform-defending skirmishes because Cortez can’t get it into his head that he will never be able to land where he’s supposed to. Because I’m not giving those things a pass (and no amount of severed husk head hissing at the remains of the Loch Ness monster is going to make me!)--but that doesn’t mean those flaws outweigh the things that made the DLC work. Because they don’t.

No, like I said, the problem here is that “Leviathan” doesn’t suck--and it’s the way in which it doesn’t suck that left me shaking my head.

See, for me, the biggest problem (on the giant list of problems) with ME3 was always the premise: the Reapers invade everywhere, all at once. I don’t exactly blame BioWare for going this route, because the idea is an acceptable progression from the general ME arc and, more importantly, it sounds exciting as hell. But any “it’s the apocalypse!” storyline must, essentially, choose to develop along one of two basic paths: Run Away (escape and regroup to, eventually, launch some sort of counterattack…or look for Kobol) or Hold the Line (an immediate all-out fight to slow, stop, and then overtake the enemy). And ME3 never actually makes that choice. Instead the game tries to do both and neither all at once, unavoidably leaving us with an unfocussed and ambivalent execution of the core plot that, as a result, removes all the immediacy from the glaringly immediate threat and relies on handing us a series of contextually absurd tasks to complete (the justification for which strains even the most readily yielding capacities of our suspension of disbelief) as a means of propelling us forward: spend your time politicking (or on shore leave!) and running errands for childish VIPs in order to get every other race to abandon their equally dying homeworlds and help save Earth--because humanity is building a deus ex machina they don’t know anything about, and they won’t share ‘til everyone clears out the Reapers from Westminster Abbey.

Adding to this problem is the Crucible, which appears in the game mostly as an answer to the above-mentioned problem of convincing everyone to abandon their individual fights and come together as a galactic fleet. And, by necessity, that means the Crucible must exist (not materially, but as a concept) before Shepard tries to woo everyone to Earth. Which means that any mystery and emotional momentum and, for that matter, organic connection to the events of the story that could be derived from the discovery of this anti-Reaper doomsday device has already happened off-screen--where we can’t feel it--by the time we get involved in the plot.

Further, despite the fact that the bad guys are almost literally everywhere and that you (as Shepard) are the galactic hero who made his galactic hero reputation by fighting and defeating these particular bad guys’ previous attempts to destroy the galaxy, your focus in the game is not directly tied to stopping them. No, your focus is on finding a way to provide a means for someone else to implement his plan to stop them. So while your actions are certainly integral to the overall success of the “stop the Reapers!” agenda, you’re not the one getting the Reaper-stopping done, no matter how many times the NPCs insist it’s all you. Which is…frikkin’ lame.

Which brings me back to “Leviathan” and why its being good makes all of this so much worse.

While we can debate the success of the execution of the DLC’s core concept, the bricks and mortar of the plot are undeniably all there and all on point: the Reapers need to be stopped; something called Leviathan--which we’ve heard of before--is rumored to be able to kill Reapers; investigate the what/where/how and use it to kill the Reapers. Every part of it makes sense, appears organically, and even fits into the already-established arc of the series. It’s compelling. It’s involving. It’s…it’s…

It’s what ME3 should have been all along.

And that is what’s so unbelievably awful about it: it was all always that simple. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity. And, most importantly, in terms of the story, it solves everything: no loopholes, no deus ex machina, no Retake movement. Unstoppable bad guys attack; hero escapes to find fabled weapon that can defeat unstoppable bad guys; hero wields fabled weapon and defeats unstoppable bad guys.

It’s practically perfect.

And…it’s a goddamned DLC.

Wh--how--I…I don’t understand this. Why are you doing this to me, BioWare? Do you think you’re helping? Do you think I want to see that you had it in you to do the right thing all along and, I dunno, just didn’t feel like doing it the first time?

Is this supposed to help me heal? Because it’s not. It’s not.

Every time you give me a wonderful little reconciliatory tweak, a little more of the slowly scabbing hole in my heart gets torn away, and the wound beneath is once again allowed to weep.

Don't you see? You’re hurting me, and you’re embarrassing yourself.

So just…please. Stop trying to fix things. You’re only making this harder.

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