Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mass Effect 3's Best Mods

Election Day, for all my USA-based readers! Time to go out, do our civic duty, and decide which of the 2 worst human beings alive we want to fuck us all in the ass for the next 4 years. Do you prefer your lying, psychotic, tyrannical, warmongering narcissist to be Bigoted, Stupidly Aggressive, Demonstrably Incompetent Asshole flavored, or Cheating, Remorseless, Empathy-Lacking Freedom-Loathing Inhuman Monster flavored? Do you want to waste countless American lives in the Middle East, or in Russia? Do you want your freedoms revoked openly, or quietly? Let the country know!

Or you could throw away your vote (which doesn't technically have a value in the presidential election anyway, given the electoral college idiocy) voting for someone who isn't the absolute scum of the Earth. I like the Green Party, myself, but that Libertarian guy also possesses both the quality of Not Trump and the quality of Not Clinton, so he seems like a fine pick, too.

Seriously, though, do go out and vote. I don't care which self-important fucktard you prefer to be president--like I said, your vote for president technically doesn't mean anything in our system--but you can still make an actual difference today by voicing your choice of what other (actually) elected officials represent you, and what local laws and initiatives are put into effect. That stuff actually does matter, and exercising your right to decide it is important. So do vote today. Please.

Alright, that's enough of me being pissed off at politics. Let's get back to me being pissed off at RPGs!

Ah, Mass Effect 3. The conclusion to the greatest sci-fi saga since Firefly (and I would even heretically argue that ME was superior to Firefly--whoops, there go my subscribers), Mass Effect’s third installment had a daunting task. Yet despite a few flaws, Mass Effect 3 was a more than worthy finale to this grand epic...until its ending, that is. In fact, I would say that, sans ending, this is the best game in the trilogy. It has the best character depth and development, and the greatest examples of raw, powerful emotion, thrilling action and suspense, and moments to awe and inspire you. For the first 99% of the game, Mass Effect 3 is a magnificent way to finish one of the greatest RPG experiences you’ll ever have.

But that fucking ending!

If for some unfathomable reason you’ve been reading my rants since 2012 or earlier, you know that Mass Effect 3’s ending has been haunting me for over 4 years now. To have something I love so much be so thoroughly, uncaringly dirtied, cheapened, and destroyed, out of nowhere and during the moment when it should have been at its most spectacular...to watch Bioware take its finest work and use it to wipe its ass at the very last moment...it was rough.

But if there’s one thing fans know how to do, it’s make up for a company’s shortcomings. From Planescape: Torment’s Unfinished Business mod restoring cut/incorrectly inaccessible content to the game back in the early 2000s to a Fallout 4 mod that lets you take Dogmeat with you as an additional companion because what sadistic idiot decided that you had to choose between Dogmeat and the rest of the cast have you even played a Fallout game before Bethesda seriously...er, yes, anyway, my point is, fans have been correcting creators’ shortcomings for a while now, and they’ll continue to do so for a while yet. And that’s no less true for Mass Effect 3.

And so, today we will be looking at the best mods out there for Mass Effect 3, much as I did for Fallout 3. As with that rant, these are the mods that I sincerely endorse as a way to improve your Mass Effect 3 experience, additions and changes to the game that enhance it to make it a better representation of itself and Mass Effect. These aren’t just a bit of fun, like fan-created armors or improving load times or something--these are the mods that I feel make for a truer Mass Effect game.

Restored Zaeed Conversation: This mod changes the conversation you have with Zaeed in the Citadel refugee area so that you can hear all that he has to say. This one’s a minor one, to be sure, but when you get down to it, the characters are the heart of Mass Effect, and any chance to hear all that they’re meant to say is a chance to experience the series that much more in rightful totality. And hey, this was one of Robin Sachs’s last roles before his death...you’ll sadly get few more chances to hear that singular gruff tone again, so all the more reason why this is a good thing.

Ken and Gabby Recruitment Restoration Mod: Originally, Ken and Gabby, the lovable engineers from Mass Effect 2, were supposed to have their own recruitment scene in Mass Effect 3. For deadline-related reasons, it was cut, and they’re simply added to the Normandy by Shepard indicating he wants them on a terminal at the Citadel. This mod restores the original intention to have an actual scene in which Shepard meets up with Ken and Gabby, and recruits them by speaking with them. It uses the dialogue already recorded for the scenario, so it smoothly fits into the game exactly as it should, restoring another tiny but enjoyable bit of characterization to the game’s cast. Again, it’s not a big change, but with a cast that draws the player in as greatly as Mass Effect’s does, every tiny interaction and scene is something that a fan appreciates, even treasures.

Extended Final Anderson Conversation: Like the mods above, this alteration to Mass Effect 3 is simply a case of restoring a small bit of dialogue to the cast. Unlike the ones above, though, this is actually a really, really big deal. The final conversation with David Anderson in Mass Effect 3 is one of the greatest highlights of the entire series, a quiet, poignant, overwhelming scene in which Anderson, father figure of Mass Effect and almost as much a representation of its soul as Shepard himself, spends his last moments sitting with Shepard and reflecting. This scene made it to number 7 on my list of the greatest deaths in RPGs, and I cannot overstate what an important, monumental moment it is for the series, for the protagonist, for the story, for the player. This is the capstone of the first and most narratively important relationship Shepard forms in the series; hell, without the mod below, this is the very last good moment in the entire series! The fact that Bioware actually shortened this scene, took lines of dialogue out of it, leaves me flabbergasted.

Thankfully, this mod restores that content, and allows you to hear everything the unparalleled Keith David recorded for Anderson to say in this scene. It’s not perfect, admittedly: during the extra lines, Anderson just kind of stares straight ahead, frozen, as he speaks, which is slightly odd. But hey, the guy’s bleeding out and his mind’s starting to unfocus, so it’s not entirely immersion-breaking. And for the impact of these extra few lines during one of the greatest interactions in the entire trilogy, it’s a small price to pay.

The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod: And here we are, friends. This is the real reason I wanted to make this rant. Not to say that the mods above don’t make a significant positive impact on Mass Effect 3, of course. They do, and I would want anyone playing the game, whether for the first time or the thousandth, to do so with those mods installed to get the full experience. But The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod is the fandom’s real contribution to a greater, more true Mass Effect 3, and I cannot endorse it strongly enough.

The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod is basically just what it says: it gives us a happy ending to Mass Effect 3. Now, let me clarify something very important here: while I’m not especially pleased with the fact that Shepard didn’t get a particularly happy ending in ME3’s original conclusion, that was not anywhere near the real issues that made ME3’s ending so utterly horrible and destructive. I think you can conclude from my list of the greatest RPG endings of all time that I can appreciate endings other than “happy” ones.

What MEHEM does, however, is not just give us an ending to Mass Effect 3 which is happy. It gives us an ending to ME3 that is real. MEHEM provides an ending to this excellent space opera which is true to the heart and soul of the series. It cuts out the stupid space hologram kid, whose addition at the last second to deliver high-handed exposition by the truckload was thoroughly baffling to anyone who understands even the most rudimentary basics of storytelling. And by getting rid of the kid, and thus the spontaneous and thoroughly idiotic last-second subplot about organics and synthetics being irreconcilable and merging them together and all that hogwash, MEHEM simply removes everything wrong from Mass Effect 3’s ending in a single quick cut. No more contradictions to important themes of the game. No more philosophical and moral contradictions to the game’s actual events. No more violation of the right of every self-aware being in the galaxy to autonomy over their own body. No more pretentious notions better suited to other sci-fi styles being clumsily shoved in, notions which are so laughably poor and unexamined that they can actually be summed up, summed up perfectly, by a Yo Dawg meme. The immorality, the stupidity, the betrayal, the incompetence, all gone!

Of course, this mod is a lot more than just a surgical removal of narrative cancer. After all, it wouldn’t be especially satisfying if the game just went from Anderson’s final words to the credits. I mean, it would be still be better than the vile, reeking shit that Bioware gave us, but still. Well, Mr. Fob, the fellow who created and labors upon this mod, has also added an entirely new ending to the game. It is, if I am to speak frankly, pretty standard, predictable fare, as happy endings go. There’s action, there’s emotion, there’s suspense, there’s finality. But you know what? This is what the ending to Mass Effect 3 should have been. The final moments to your work are not about surprising and introducing new directions, they are about satisfying your audience by concluding your epic in a way that suits it. An ending is about closure. And this ending closes the Mass Effect series as it should be closed: with heroism, with excitement, with tenderness, with inspirational awe, with hope. This is not solely called the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod because it’s what we think of a happy ending--it’s called that because it makes YOU, the player, the audience, the fan happy. Because it provides an ending to the game which is true to what Mass Effect 3 has been leading to. True to what the series itself has been leading to. This is the ending that Mass Effect 3 was meant to have, what it led you to believe it would have with every hopeful word and inspirational bit of trust given to Shepard.

In terms of technical quality, MEHEM is surprisingly good. Mr. Fob pieces together a lot of footage from the original endings that by themselves are just fine, reuses certain lines of dialogue spoken by the characters at previous points in the series, adds a few fan-recorded lines for non-established characters, and even inserts several fan-created animated scenes when necessary. Is it quite as smooth as the game normally is? Well, no. But it’s close, at times so close you might not even realize that the space battle cutscene you just saw wasn’t made by Bioware, and considering how many different parts are being pulled together, it’s actually pretty remarkably high-quality. It’s cohesive, it looks good, and it satisfies.

It’s also well thought-out, which is certainly more than you could ever say for Bioware’s original ending trash. MEHEM, too, introduces a new character at its final moment (Captain Fob, who orders his fleet to assist the Normandy with Shepard’s extraction), but this is an example of such a device actually done right. The mod adds an email to Shepard’s computer early in the game from Captain Fob, expressing gratitude for Shepard’s actions in ME2 and pledging that if they’re ever in battle together, Fob will do his best to assist Shepard however he can, so there’s actually a tiny bit of background set up to lead to Fob’s arrival. Fob also doesn’t steal the fucking show the way the damn hologram Catalyst kid does, instead just acting as a plot device, one which represents the uncounted masses of people that Shepard has impacted through his actions. And that’s actually very good thematically, this idea that when the chips are down, at the moment in which Shepard’s strength is finally spent and he has no more to give, it is the echoes of Shepard’s heroism that will bolster him and carry him through, the people he’s helped not just personally, but simply through his exploits, that will come to return the favor. Take note, Bioware: if you’re going to throw someone into your ending that the audience has never seen before, THIS is an actually functional way to do it.

Ha! As if Bioware would ever deign to consider a fan’s advice on storytelling. Their decision to close their forums and make non-sycophantic communication with them nearly impossible shows just how much they actually value what their fan base can offer.

Anyway. All of this by itself makes MEHEM an absolute must-have for any Mass Effect fan, but there’s actually a lot more to this mod than just its titular purpose. First of all, it actually also contains an unhappy ending to the game, too, although I suspect few will see it. If you finish the game with a low enough rating for galactic readiness, you actually will see a Bad Ending, instead. I gotta hand it to Mr. Fob--not only can he put together a true Mass Effect ending, but he can put together a hell of a Bad Ending, too. I mean, that’s actually one of the best Bad Endings I’ve seen! It’s almost too bad that most people won’t even know it exists. And this, of course, makes the galactic readiness score actually mean something, whereas before it just limited which shitty ending options you’d get, so from a certain perspective, MEHEM’s also fixing a major gameplay flaw, too.

Also, The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod adds a lot of other tiny things that enhance the Mass Effect experience in ways unrelated to the ending. The mod adds a handful of emails to Shepard’s computer, delivered throughout the game, which do things like retcon Emily Wong’s off-screen, completely unnecessary and pointless death, give a subtle little implication that the original Bioware ending to the game was a Reaper trick, and expand on the game lore regarding anti-Reaper weaponry. They’re pretty neat, if I do say so myself (I use this phrase because I helped with editing them, a tiny contribution to MEHEM for which Mr. Fob generously rewarded me with my name in the mod’s credits, something which I am flattered by and proud of). MEHEM also adds audio lines of Harbinger from ME2 to the desperate run at the end of the game, at which point he’s blasting at everyone trying to make it to the Conduit. It’s a nice touch, and I’d certainly say it’s more immersive--Harbinger never missed a moment to condescendingly taunt Shepard in ME2, so it’s actually kind of weird that he’s totally silent at this part of the game. Once again, MEHEM tidies things up a bit.

Pretty much the only negative I can come up with about this mod is that it can add an alternate music track to be used for the new ending, and...well, it’s a fan-made song, and it’s not bad or anything, but it’s really just not all that right for the scene and the game, either. But this is only a theoretical downside, because when you install MEHEM, it gives you the option between using this fan-made score, or just using actual Mass Effect music, so, y’know, just pick the latter.

Anyway, that’s enough gushing from me. Bottom line is, if you’re going to play or replay Mass Effect 3, download and install The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod. It’s the only truly legitimate way to conclude Mass Effect available to us, and as far as I’m concerned, this is how Mass Effect 3 ends. This is a case where the fans have understood the art better than the creators, and this long labor of love by Mr. Fob and those who have helped him showcases just what an excellent, meaningful story Mass Effect truly is: because nothing less than a masterpiece could have a following so devoted that they would go to lengths such as this to keep its luster bright and its artistic integrity intact.

Mr. Fob, I sincerely salute you and those who have assisted you in creating The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod. Something important to me was lost 4 years ago...your effort and care has returned it.


  1. There's an old Taoist parable about a farmer whose horse was vital for his job.

    The horse ran away (immediate perception is bad), but the horse brought a "friend" so the man now has two horses to use for his job (immediate perception is good). The next day, his son was using the new horse, but since it was wild, it ended up breaking his leg (immediate perception is bad), but the king was conscripting soldiers the day afterwards and the farmer's son was exempt due to his broken leg (the story can continue like that). The message is that "you don't know what's good or bad", which would probably help people cope with the election's results on either side since the presidential candidates might bring some positive change through their actions (even if inadvertently).

    I haven't actually played around that much with mods that much since I usually play on handheld systems, but I can respect efforts like Mr. Fob's. PC mods in general seem influenced by the Death of the Author movement (which is a bit annoying since interpretations are often stretched too far), I think any fault with fans changing the canon of the series is probably nullified when the series' lead writer actually changes and makes an ending that bad, though. (Mass Effect is still on my backlog, so I can't actually comment on the rant itself).

    1. Oh, and it looks like some kind of trailer for the new Mass Effect was released yesterday but it doesn't look interesting.