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Visceral. A reaction based on deep inward feelings rather than intellect. For as long as I worked for Official PlayStation Magazine that word was banned, unless under exceptional circumstances, to stop lazy writers from using it as a pseudy alternative to saying,
"Exciting!" The ending of Mass Effect 3 is visceral in the true sense, because in those shattering final hours I felt absolutely repelled by the game. Once l knew I was locked into its final strait, I put the pad down and didn't touch it again for two days.
Not because the game isn't brilliant - barring the churning fetch quests, it absolutely is - but because I genuinely felt physically sick at the thought of it all coming to a close. Three games, over five years, into which I must have sunk around 130 hours of my life - tooling around the galaxy, romancing aliens, settling disputes ranging from squabbles to genocide, generally kicking all kinds of interstellar ass - and now the end was in sight. It meant no more Normandy. It meant no more rapping with crewmates about their neuroses. It meant no more living in space.
Obviously it'd be overstating it to say I was going to miss my intergalactic gang because they're so amazingly written. They're certainly better than most game characters, but still relatively simplistic in their motivations. ("Grrr, I'm angry about this!" "Wah, I'm sad about that!") But the reason they resonate so much is because these aren't just ciphers you've watched on-screen for a few hours. These are people - well, humanoids - you've interacted with over the course of years, steering their destinies, experiencing incredible moments together. By the end even the act of choosing which two to take on a mission has become a deeply personal choice. And what made my imminent loss so palpably sickening.
In his review for Official PlayStation Magazine, Phil Iwaniuk talked about a "white-hot emotional connection between player, cast and setting that Mass Effect 3 somehow conjures". (And, oh God, Clint Mansell's music really is brilliant/devastating.) Over on PC Gamer, Tom Francis described how the game left him "feeling incredibly sad", going on to explain that "Shepard is the best game character I've ever played. She's been an ongoing improv collaboration between me and Bioware to build a hero that works for their plot, but suits my tastes."
In the interests of its bottom line, EA wants you to think that it doesn't matter if you've played the previous two games. It does. A huge amount of that emotional payload is delivered in the way returning cast members are woven into the plot for cameos, key supporting roles, and of course heartbreaking exits. As Alex Donaldson pointed out on VG247, the decision to preserve your character's choices within a transferable save file was little short of genius on Bioware's part. So much of what makes the Mass Effect series good stems from it.
It's quite a thing to arrive at the end of an arc like this and think, "this is what everything I've done has led to. It will define how I remember this experience." No spoilers here, because I'm not a monster, but when I finally manned up - or indeed womanned up because, like Tom Francis, I'm FemShep 4EVA - I was happy with my ending. In an emotionally drained sort of way. It was bleak, it was at best a partial success, but it felt like the perfect summation of the moral grey areas I'd spent years navigating between the stars.
Others clearly didn't feel quite the same.