the artistry and psychology of gaming


5 Reasons Why the Mass Effect Series Sucked All-Along

5 Reasons Why the Mass Effect Series Sucked All-Along

Yesterday we read Ethan’s article on his opinion on the Mass Effect ending. I also commented at the bottom so you might wanna read my take on the ending as well. Mike also reviewed the game. Ethan and Mike both proclaim themselves to be fans of the series, but I have always found the series a disappointment. Yes, I agree that ending sucked, but I think also did the beginning and the middle. The ending was the logical conclusion of it all. I will here present to you 5 reasons that Mass Effect is ultimately a hyped up series which never deserved the praise it got. And I will also prove that how by these facts, the ending really belonged to the whole series.

#5: The Retarded Morality System

The game succeeds at many times to present a situation where a moral choice would be really hard to make. You would say it is really hard to decide whether to commit a crime and let a whole race go on sterile or cure and accept the risk of them committing more crimes in the future. But then the whole complexity goes down the toilet when the game decides to slap a label on all your decisions, it’s either a “Paragon” decision or a “Renegade” decision, which is to say it’s good or bad. Therefore the game lets you know the consequences and the implications of your decisions beforehand, and how they will affect your character.

But it gets more annoying than that. Not only the game decides to piss on any possibility of complexity by juvenile labeling, it also forces you to play one more. As you progress through the games new choices are unlocked…. if you are Paragon or Renegade enough. For example in the second game Jack and Miranda, two female characters, got into a cat fight and I couldn’t break a peace between them because my Paragon points weren’t high enough. It was only in the third game, and that only by the merit of importing save games from the two previous games, that these locked options were finally unlocked to me. The game not only labels your every action like our theology textbooks here in Iran it punishes you for being open minded and choosing different options under different circumstances.

If you believe in grey or complex morality you're EVIL.

How this relates to the ending: So, you’re complaining that you were given three simplistic choices at the end? But let me tell you, throughout the whole series you have been pushing buttons, blue and red buttons, to determine how nice or naughty you are. Bioware Santa Claus doesn’t think its ideal gamer is intelligent enough even to determine which choice is nice and which choice is naughty. It paints them blue or red.

#4: Racism

I have to confess, to me racism is a little bit different than to other people. To me racism is not merely hating a race, but simply believing in the fact that race matters. And I don’t dislike this notion because it’s naughty, I dislike it because I find it logically wrong and simplistic. Race determines some biological aspects- black people have healthier skins, Russians can put up with a lot more cold than an African, and so on. But race does not make character, attitude, or identity. Your identity is your individuality, because many factors come into play- family, social class, education, your own choices, etc, and since the character shaping process differs from each individual to individual, generalization is always wrong. It’s equally wrong to say “black people are more prone to be criminals” or to say “black people like jazz”. Yes, the first statement is wrong and evil, but in its stupidity it is equal to the second one.

The Assari are hot chicks who excel at science and combat, Salarians are fast talking people who are all mad scientists, the Krogan are mischievous war mongers who seek nothing but blood, (unless they are female, just to throw in some sexism in the mix as well), Batarians are another war monger race, the Quarians are technical people, and so on. In Mass Effect universe, the main defining factor of your life is your race, and it is rare that you have any chance of real individuality. The same applies to Shepard’s team. Tali is the technician, Garrus is the war hero, Mordin is the mad scientist, Grunt is the violent warrior, and Liara is the hot archeologist information broker. Just like all “sophisticated” movies, where all the black people are basketball players and all Asians are nerds.

Hello, I'm a Volus. I represent the Jewish stereotype of Mass Effect universe.

How this relates to the ending: It proves the simplistic mentality behind the writing of this game.

#3: Boring Gameplay

Scan this planet, talk your mouth off, shoot that thing. That is the whole gameplay of this series, and the same cycle goes on and on for hours. Granted, we all overlook it because the story is very suspenseful and you want to just go forward, but really, there isn’t much value to the gameplay. This is not always a problem, as in many great games like Heavy Rain or L. A. Noire  or greater than those two Silent Hill: Shattered Memories the style warrants it. But this game pretends to be an RPG. But at the end, there is no real exploration, the side missions are mostly boring and repetitive, there is no real sense of level up and the combat consists of “shoot the bad guys”. At best, this game is an action with RPG elements, but the action games are usually short, and the same formula gets really tiring and frustrating after some time. And the difference between different classes is only superficial.

Now lets do that 9000000000000 times more.

How this relates to the ending: Again, when the whole game is a simplistic system which is designed for lazy gamers, why not the ending?

#2: Hyperbolic Cliche Narrative

Do the enemies have to be the reapers, the strongest possible things created? Does the fate of the galaxy has to be always at stake? Do the politicians always have to be so ignorant? And facing this danger, should it always be a few guys who pull the strings? This is the plot of all trashy sci-fi from Star Wars onward. Basically, the whole universe is in danger, and one guy has to gather a bunch of badasses to fight the danger. I know that Ethan cried when Mordin died but really think about it, did he have to die? I mean, suddenly “Oh I can’t do it from here! I have to sacrifice myself!” The plot uses every opportunity to fall into sentimentalism. It uses every opportunity to present a twist, and uses every opportunity to exaggerate and use hyperbole. It is the same old story, we all have heard it a million times.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing. I love Harry Potter. It’s good escape literature. Escapism is as crucial as other kinds of literature. But it will get on your nerves when people talk about the crucial matters the plot tackles or its moral ambiguity or its complex narrative. The game deals simplistically and superficially with all its themes, and its narrative is not complex at all. The characters are really interesting, and the main strength of the game, but that goes for many escapist works, such as the aforementioned Harry Potter or the anime Bleach.

Long story short, all the thematic elements in the game are simply recycled hyperbolic writing. From cheesy romances, to really strong enemies who seem immortal at fist but then are defeated in a comically easy manner, to the forced sentimental scenes, and to the unnerving main hero whom we will discuss next.

Look at the magnificence of the Milky Way. If someone believes that something like that could be threatened or saved by any life form they are too stupid to write a worthy story.

How this relates to the ending: So you think the ending was hastily written and was improbable? So the rest of the story.

#1: Commander Mary Sue Shepard

“Oh I can’t believe I’m talking to the legendary Commander Shepard!” “I can never be as awesome as you, Shepard!” “I cry out your name when I’m having sex with my husband!” These lines are not actually from the game, but I believe ultimately half the script is in the same vain. Listen I get it. The whole idea behind RPG is to make gamers feel awesome. The main character is always a spot for gamer fantasies. But there is a limit. You don’t want the gamer to throw up at his/her own awesomeness. No war commander is worthy enough of a project as expensive and as hard as Project Lazarus. When General Patton died, they buried him. No man or woman is so unique to be reminded again and again and again that “But you’re the ONLY one who can save the galaxy and unite us and destroy my virginity”. No man or woman is so perfect that s/he can get everyone s/he likes and save the galaxy along the way. Shepard is the most annoying thing about Mass Effect series. Even the official biographies of Kim Jong Il are not as simple minded and repulsive as Shepard’s characterization.

Two things make this worse. First the official face of Shepard. Now, the savior of the galaxy looks like a jock? If you sent that guy to my ship I would send him to the first line to get killed or I would have him swipe the floor. Does that guy look like anything? Look at Admiral Hackett: this is how a real commander should look like, scarred, old, and bitter. Not like a Calvin Klein underwear model. At least you could change this face into someone old and seasoned (and I did, or I wouldn’t be even able to go on playing). But this face shows how the creators imagined their main character.

And the second infuriating thing is Shepard’s pretentious pandering towards an illusion of being a real character. There’s a reason that the main characters of Skyrim and previous games in the series have no lines or no background. They look like they have fallen out the sky, they are you, and you accept the fact that one guy is going to save the world and be the boss of all guilds. Because your character is never really a character inside the story, it’s simply you. Skyrim never forgets that it’s simply a game and not a novel, and you never forget that. But Mass Effect pretends to be a novel, and it pretends that Shepard is not you, but a real character within a fictional universe, and his status is not you but the protagonist of the story, and therefore the wisdom of Drosselmeyer stand true: “There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

The universe can wait until I trim my eyebrows.

How this relates to the ending: Well, why shouldn’t the fate of the universe be decided so simply if its whole fate relies on one Mary Sue over and over again?


To me, it’s completely alright to like Mass Effect, as I have liked it as well. But claiming it is anything serious or complicated, it’s like someone saying that  J. K. Rowling should win the Nobel Prize. The series therefore are good pieces of escapism, but not valuable works of art, and are gravely overrated by the industry.

If you disagree, please feel free to comment below.


  1. I must begin by saying that I have never, nor do I intend to play the Mass Effect series, which should come as no big surprise, since it fuses two genres I dislike. With that, I’ll have to say I both agree and disagree with your argument.

    I am behind you 100% about the whole racism thing, and assess it in much the same way that you do. I feel the same way about gender, and I become irritated by the sheep following societal norms that perpetuate these stereotypes and/or use science to back them up, much in the way that science backs up the theory of intelligent design. I don’t even feel it’s okay to stereotype by religion, which is, by definition, a group that shares the same moral philosophies.

    I am also in agreement that escapist media should not try to tackle complex issues; pick one or the other. I feel the same way about injecting comic relief (especially when it’s not funny or doesn’t fit) into a serious work. I feel that consistency in tone is far more important than trying to be a perfect writer by doing everything in your work, especially because it generally doesn’t work out very well. Hey, I prefer my protagonists to be gallant heroes; shining paragons of virtue, but I can also appreciate a flawed tragic hero if s/he is woven well into the narrative.

    On the other hand, I do think that if done properly, a blank slate protagonist can be woven into a complex narrative and work quite well. It also seemed like some of your criticisms were personal preferences. What you’ve described in a good moral choice system is not a moral choice system at all, but something far more complex. Of course, I don’t generally play the kinds of games that have such things (I’m far too much of a completionist), with the exception of a few games in the Shin Megami Tensei main series, but it seems like a moral choice system is by nature a good/bad/sometimes neutral sort of thing, and what you’ve described is more of how choices occur in real life, which, as I’ve said, is more complicated than a moral choice system.

    Aside from that, I think that Mary Sue Shepard might be an appropriate character were the game a pure escapist fantasy. It certainly is great and enriching to play a game that tackles complex moral situations and shows consequences, both good and bad, for each choice you make, but something can be good without being life enriching. I am by no means suggesting that Harry Potter should be considered comparable to the likes of Aurora Leigh, but that’s just the idea; they’re not comparable, and shouldn’t be judged as similar. In the video game world, you have your Skyrims with grayer morals than the skies above and your Final Fights with stereotypical bad guys to pile drive into the concrete.

    One final thing to note is that in either context in which the game could be viewed (complex or escapist), it should be readily evident why the ending is a dissapointment. From the standpoint of complexity, it is quite obvious, but to go through an action-packed series of games just to have it end so abruptly is anticlimatic and thus a failure on the visceral level as well.

    So, for the most part, I agree (admittedly, sight unseen) with your criticisms, but do not feel that it is such a terrible series. I am sure that it has its flaws; I’ll admit to finding flaws even within the best games I’ve ever played, but nothing is without its flaws. Escapism it may be, but can it not succeed on such a level?

    • Oh, I’m not saying it’s bad as mere escapism, I’m suggesting that it is not as great as most critics say it is.

    • To say that escapist media should not tackle complex issues, is a very ignorant statement. Science fiction has repeatedly tackled moral issues well before mainstream media has addressed them or often has gone against the grain of what was or is considered the accepted norm, or what was “right”. Frequently being well ahead of what society eventually comes to adopt and accept what is morally right. Civil rights for one. Gay rights for another. Also science fiction has also grappled with moral issues and dilemmas well ahead of what we as a society ever thought possible due to it not being technically feasible at the time it was written.

    • If you seriously think that racism is an issue with this game, please take your sheltered opinion elsewhere. I thought the series was average, but the mighty five finger slap I would deliver across your pale, malnourished, vegan face would be epic on all scales.

  2. I’ll keep it short – it’s a pile of poop.

  3. I personally do not think the series is over rated, although you make some points it would be good to realize that some of those elements were ment to be like that, Shepard is greeted like he is famous because in the story of mass effect he more or less is and it comparing it to a novel is good, I personally see it similar to a movie where you choose a couple different ending that suit your taste, the series is good because it is one of the he’s sci-fi games out right now, and mos other games don’t get funding to compete with something such as mass effect

  4. I’m just agree with your first point, and despite that mass effect series are the best games I ever played in all my life.

    And is not racism, the correct therm could be “specism” because we are talking about diferent species, not diferent races.

    This: “Cats are dificult to trust”
    “dogs are very happy creatures”

    are better examples of mass effect approach than the racist examples you used :)

  5. You give some great valid points about Mass Effect series, i like the main 5 reasons, after playing the game i feel the same way, its a mediocre game and it’s way over rated but these are the kind of shits that fool gamers into: a) buy the game;
    b) buy expensive hardware if your computer can’t handle it;
    I seriously think gamers are fooled by these scheme with “you must upgrade your PC every 3 years to play our game”, the part that they don’t tell is “we make the game optimized for expensive hardware so the fools will buy that hardware and the game and we can get more money”.

  6. your #1 reason is the reason i couldnt get into the mass effect series… Shepard seems like such a pretentious douche.. everyone tells him how great he is, but to me he seems so bland and generic.. when you imagine the only man who can save the entire world, a great decorated commander with so much experience who has done so many things that everyone knows his name ad how great he is, you dont expect to see an Abercrombie and Fitch model turn up.. kudos

  7. Yeah, I know I’m late to the dance…but I just finished forcing myself through the 100 hour vanilla nightmare that is this franchise and then stumbled upon this page and wanted to say thank you. But you forgot a few things…

    Like how mind-numbingly boring this interactive SciFi series manages to be…never have I been so indifferent to a game that sopped up so much of my time.

    And how could such a linear game be so buggy? I thought Fallout NV had me snagged on a piece of scenery or CTD a lot – but at least that game had some actual freedom of choice and movement…

    Speaking of which; one button to speak, duck, sprint, or interact? Really, what is acceptable to people…amazing.

    Anywho, it felt like being strapped to a chair and forced to watch the entire series of Roger Corman’s Battlestar Galactica on a malfunctioning DVD player…and every few moments I had to press a button to get to the next chapter.

  8. I agree.
    I have played the entire series and the only thing i feel is done well is the actual sci fi univerese it self, it´s very believable. I buy it , the races, the politics, the wars , the conflicts and all that shit and I like it. I stopped thinking wtf(!) this is not Star Wars quite fast.

    The things that ME has gotten the most praise for I feel is the worst and it all comes down to the writing. Above #5: The Retarded Morality System, #2: Hyperbolic Cliche Narrative and #1: Commander Mary Sue Shepard are very good points on that and all that makes the game unbarable and boring, it’s fucking fan fiction and i absolutely hate it. After a while you just click through the conversations as fast as you can coz you just dont care. It is NOT an RPG just coz you have obvious moral chioces or the fact that u have like 6 conversation options, wooooo who gives a fuck.

    Most of your time is spent standing around talking to your companions in different parts of the ship, getting to know them better. That or riding the fucking elevator!! WHO ENJOYS THAT!?!

    And the gameplay is not RPG either! Most of the classes have exactly the same abilities, except maybe 2 of them, the fire thing the toad guy has and singularity. And spamming like 5 “different” abilities into the air has never ever made any mediocre shooter an RPG!!!

    The characters move like they have no joints and jumping over obstacles is a fucking joke, Sheperd moves like somebodys granddad.

    With all that it’s also linear as fuck and everything outside the main story is not really worth doing anyway, coz it’s just badly executed filling material. I depleted every fucking planet in ME2 and well fuck me you need like 1% of it.

    I dont give a fuck about the ending coz the whole story sucks but no final bossfight is not easy to forgive. But at least u could be gay in the third one wooooo-hooo that makes up for everthing…… Fuck ME!

    • I totally agree. And the morality, choosing paragon for the most part had the greatest reward. Well that kinda throws out any moral dilemma out the window doesn’t it. Sadly, this is the best Sci fi traveling the stars rpg we have. I hope mass effect 4 is better.

  9. Finally I found someone who doesn’t like Mass Effect. I played the first game and it was boring as fuck. Since the first game is mediocre and dull, I skipped the second and third games. Not to mention I don’t like RPGs.


  1. Video Games: The Mass Effect Trilogy | M.A.V.B.L.O.G. by joseph mcconnell - […] series. There are tons of blogs out there about these games which you can see here, here, here, here and…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *