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Joystiq Top 10 of 2012: Mass Effect 3


Just two years ago, Joystiq awarded the top spot in its Game of the Year list to Mass Effect 2. In borrowing from our description of that game, we could equally incite "the rather whimsical notion that a fictional world has some sort of permanence" when talking about Mass Effect 3. The gravity of every decision in the series is intended to elicit a feeling of dire consequence. Did you lose your favorite squad member in the second game? Factors like that are expected to play a role in the final chapter of your adventure.

For some, this third game began to fall apart at the seams for that very reason: we've come to expect that as the most important human in the galaxy, our decisions will leave a permanent imprint on the universe. Commander Shepard is expected to be the seemingly unstoppable hero that defies the odds and ultimately comes out the victor. That's hardly a fault of players, as those who have stuck around since the beginning should remember a rugged Shepard strutting out from the debris at the Citadel with a confident smirk at the end of the first game.

Gallery: Mass Effect 3 (1/4/12) | 8 Photos

The Mass Effect series is a space epic, not unlike the cherished Star Wars films, that draw on simple story archetypes to tell the story of Commander Shepard. Shepard is human, which means he's imperfect, stubborn, and believes he can change the world. Mass Effect is as much about greed, a struggle for power, the battle between man and machine, and the fault of humanity as it is about saving the galaxy. Looking at an admittedly strained real-world parallel in global warming, Mass Effect 3 closes the trilogy with its own sort of inconvenient truth: Humans often cause our own troubles, and turn a blind eye to its effects until it's damn near too late.

That stage was set in the first game, when the council refused Shepard's allegations that Saren went rogue. Truly, the villain of every game in this series changed, and grew less believable to the game's characters as it wore on. Fighting your way to Saren in the first game revealed that the puppet strings led higher, to Saren's "ship," Sovereign. Of course, Sovereign was only one Reaper of many on a mission to wipe out the galaxy. And it would be too convenient for the Reapers to be nothing more than evil, merciless, sentient supercomputers, right? By this point in Mass Effect 3, Shepard believed nearly anything he/she heard (which led to the rise of a popular "indoctrination theory" when discussing this game).

Joystiq Top 10 of 2012 Mass Effect 3
That brings us to the five minutes that, sadly, ruined the series for many fans: the ending of Mass Effect 3. [Spoiler alert!] We are forced to wonder if there is nothing more human than stubbornly believing that you (as Shepard) will certainly be the puppet master at the end of it all, and whether your actions really are the most important of all that came before you. Rather, the still-mysterious Catalyst donning a child-like avatar brutally reminds us here that Shepard and all of humanity is part of a cycle, a cog in the machine. That Shepard is human. That his/her actions will have a measurable, but not infinitely felt impact on the greater picture of the universe.

Choice is often a fallacy. The game, while riddled with epic moments and storyline pay-offs throughout, led players on a path in which we wanted so badly to save the universe and get our Return of the Jedi-like happy ending. However, Mass Effect 3 really wasn't designed to make us happy, it was designed to make us care the entire time about what our actions meant to those around us. It dug deeply at the pockmarks of well-worn story tropes, forcing the point that mankind can and will lead themselves astray, as seen with the Illusive Man. The "man versus machine" tale woven through the series, whether in the attempt to control Reaper and Geth technology or the ethical issues contained within, boiled over in Mass Effect 3. That's where players had the final "decision" staring them down, and none of the options were satisfactory. The question we're pressed with is whether any of them should have pleased us, given the themes being presented here.

Joystiq Top 10 of 2012 Mass Effect 3
The obvious issue with the game comes from BioWare's fumbling of the Extended Cut DLC at some points, which attempted to fill a few plot holes for those that were baffled by some of the more confusing story points. The slideshow in the game's new ending even unceremoniously revealed the face of a Quarian, though we're not sure why. To some, the Extended Cut DLC was a welcome addition, but it should be mentioned due to the unprecedented impact it had on our initial experience with Mass Effect 3. The revised ending exists, left some upset and others happy, and we're all forced to live with it. It's fitting, too, as that scenario vaguely sounds like something pulled straight from the game.

That certainly could play a role in why Mass Effect 3 isn't the best game of 2012, but it still deserves to be in the conversation, and is worthy of its spot on our list this year. Closing such an important trilogy is a monumental task that even Commander Shepard would have troubles with, and the game executed well on themes that BioWare installed from the outset in 2007. Mass Effect 3 didn't turn out to be the game everyone expected at the very end, but still managed to string players through the final moments of one of gaming's finer tales.

The multiplayer was pretty fun, too.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far:
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