This story begins several months ago during my last summer break. Rachael and I had just gotten home from a brief vacation to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The same day we arrived back from our trip, our house was struck by lightning, frying our modem and our air conditioner. The modem was replaced easily enough, and the AC got fixed within a day or two, so I thought everything was fine. If the only casualty of our entertainment center was a modem that could be replaced for thirty bucks, then I was willing to call it a minor inconvenience.
It was not until New Year’s Eve that I discovered the modem was not the only casualty.
See, we have both an Xbox 360 and a Playstation 3 in our house. The Xbox has been part of our entertainment center since pretty much the start of my and Rachael’s marriage, and the PS3 was added about a year after that. This was way back in 2008, so the Xbox had an edge over the PS3 in terms of game library (to be honest, I originally wanted a PS3 because Metal Gear Solid 4 was an exclusive for that console, but otherwise I was unimpressed with it at the time). As the years have gone by, I’ve become more attached to my PS3 than the Xbox (I’m not a big fan of first person shooters, so many of the exclusives for the Xbox in recent years just don’t appeal to me) and so I’ve leaned more towards playing games on the PS3 when the game hasn’t been an Xbox exclusive. The one exception to that was Mass Effect, because the first game in the series was an Xbox exclusive when it was first released.
I really like Mass Effect.
I like it so much that when our first Xbox died of a Red Ring of Death (in the very last month of its store warranty–score!) and I was forced to part with the hard drive containing all my save data in order to get a free exchange (the store needed all the parts of the dead console in order to make the switch), I resolved to replay the first game making mostly the same decisions I had on my first playthrough in order to have proper save data for Mass Effect 2 when it came out. I made this decision even though the mechanics of Mass Effect are pretty flawed in certain ways, and the Mako side missions are pretty much everything I hate about game filler (repetitive, uninteresting, light on tangible in-game rewards) because I was that invested in the story of the series.
So when Mass Effect 2 came out, and I heard it wasn’t going to be an Xbox exclusive, I was cool with that, but I couldn’t imagine switching platforms after I’d gone through all the work of ensuring I had continuity between the two games.
So I stuck with the Xbox for Mass Effect 2.
When Mass Effect 3 came out, there was a ton of fan outrage over the game’s ending because it apparently failed to wrap up a lot of loose ends for various subplots, and the variations on the ending were pretty much irrelevant to any decisions the player had made throughout the entire series (you know, the series that promised that your decisions made in the first game would matter to the end?). I decided to wait on getting Mass Effect 3, and then something really cool happened. Bioware, the series’ developer, released a free patch to expand the ending and offer more closure. I was excited about that, and when I finally did get my copy of Mass Effect 3 this Christmas, I was looking forward to getting to play the game with the decent ending in place.
Remember that incident with the lightning I mentioned?
So come December 31, when I’ve finished up with Final Fantasy XIII-2, I decide it’s time to start Mass Effect 3. I boot up the Xbox to find that for some reason, it’s not outputting through the HDMI port. I fiddle with it for about half an hour before concluding that our Xbox can no longer display in HD. That’s annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. I get the composite cables set up, and boot up the console, and to my chagrin I find that the Xbox doesn’t recognize that it’s connected to our network.
The console doesn’t have internet access.
Rapidly, I consider the implications of this new console disability. No internet means no downloading the improved ending, no accessing the multiplayer component of the game (a feature I wasn’t really that keen on in the first place, but given it has an effect on what endings are available, it concerns me), no installing the expanded ending on my hard drive through another Xbox (Microsoft’s DRM policy requires an internet connection to confirm that the account using a piece of downloaded content actually owns the license to that content). I am thoroughly stuck with the game’s original ending choices, and because I’ve been adamant in avoiding game spoilers before I actually play it myself, I have no idea just how the ending experience will be affected by these limitations, other than knowing it will be disappointing.
Stupid lightning strike.
Now, there was a good deal of personal wailing and gnashing of teeth as I came to grips with the reality of my situation, which I fully understand is rather petty and small-minded in the grand scheme of the universe. It’s a video game. I already knew the ending would be disappointing, so I had adjusted my expectations accordingly. Then I threw myself into playing the game and just getting through it as quickly as possible (I figured it’d be better to treat it like ripping off a bandage).
What I did not count on was for the story in Mass Effect 3 to be so freakishly good.
I’m serious, every act in the game right up until the end was totally satisfying in the way it played out. The character drama was pitch perfect, the consequences felt real, the decisions were challenging to make. I couldn’t be happier with this game.