Mass Effect 3 Citadel Review: Almost Enough. Almost.
It’s Still Kind Of Awesome
Given all of that wrongness, why am I so bullish on it? Here’s the thing: With the distance of a year I am confident enough to declare unambiguously that Mass Effect 3 ended up as artistic and intellectual gobbledegook, that they – “they” being unnamed persons in charge of how it turned out – ultimately had no idea what they were doing. Worse, it forced the conclusion that they’d even managed to lose touch with what their players were getting out of the game.
I should make it clear – (for the millionth time I anticipate some employment of the “I can’t handle unhappy endings” strawman) – that I am not arguing Mass Effect 3 should have had a singular ‘good’ ending1. But I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to storytelling and I really believe whatever ending a creator goes for must be earned. A happy ending requires significant struggle, and a bleak ending – and let’s be honest, there is no possible reading of the three endings of Mass Effect 3 that isn’t ‘bleak’ – must tell the viewer/reader/player something essential. Call it the human condition, or simply whatever point the creator is trying to make. When the story is over the consumer must feel something more than confusion.
The vanilla version of Mass Effect 3 was just a mess, and even with the Extended Cut, the last hour or so was still unrelenting bleakness, followed by unrelenting nonsense. I still cannot tell you what the point of it all was. But while playing though The Citadel, I kept thinking that this, THIS is what was sorely lacking from the end of Mass Effect 3. Not the precise mission, which fits poorly into the main game, chronologically and tonally. And not the antagonist, because evil clones are just silly. I mean the way this mission brings together every surviving person you’ve worked with and makes you really feel like you’re the leader of a crew of total f*cking badasses who’ve been through hell together and know each other’s moves so well they can predict them.
Take the party. In context, unjustifiable, but it’s worthwhile and charming precisely because it finally and firmly gives you a sense of the bond that formed between these characters, and by extension between the player and developer. I want to avoid indulging in personal fan fiction, but simply imagine if the game’s bleak outcome – or if you prefer, the “well, that was weird” permeating it – had been preceded by something like the events of The Citadel. Juxtaposed against a moment of happiness and closure, against something that finally brings together the relationships you spent three games building, the eventual outcome of the game would have really felt so much more meaningful, regardless of how nonsensical it was2.
That is precisely what I liked so much about The Citadel. Yes, the game and thus, the series, still is fundamentally wrecked by poor decisions, yes, the mission itself contains incredibly tin-eared dialogue and setting when you consider the context, and yes, we are still looking at Mass Effect being a mere brand name for future shooters and action games. But perhaps for the first time since the original Mass Effect, the people involved in making Mass Effect content really got what it means to play this thing, to spend so much time with it, and what you can do to tell a story within a video game. All is not forgiven, but it’s a fitting goodbye to a series that has occupied so much of my imagination for so many years.
Not bad, all things considered. Good riddance, but for once, also farewell.
- Perfectly captures the essence of playing through three full games with a growing family of characters
- Witty writing, frequent hilarity
- Best Mass Effect DLC since Lair of the Shadow Broker
- Absolutely huge with plenty for fans to consume
- Tonally dunderheaded
- Only exacerbates larger problems with game
- Continues removal of core RPG elements
Final Score: 85/100
1. Though I can’t understand why it’s even controversial to say that the different endings f*cking should have actually been outcomes derived from decisions players actually made throughout the three games, and that at least one unambiguously happy, humanist outcome should have been a possibility. But it is, so please feel free to explain to me why I don’t understand the series I’d been playing for five years.
2. OK, I’ll indulge. In my perfect version of Mass Effect 3, instead of the lackluster trudge through London we actually got, I imagine something like a mission of this scope. one bringing together all of your surviving squad for the final assault and culminating with a battle between the squad and false-lead antagonist that ends with what appears to be a victory. Post mission there’s a chance for the squad to gather one last time in the afterglow of what appears to be their greatest triumph, something like the party in this DLC, that is immediately followed with the reveal of the catalyst and the final, horrible choice Shep must make.