I have been deeply invested in the Mass Effect series since its inception in 2007, to the point that I’ve played both of the first two titles multiple times to extract every ounce of enjoyment I could from the adventures of Commander Shepard and his ragtag team of aliens. I’ve joined forces with them and helped fight off rogue Spectres, the collector invasion, and the imminent Reaper threat for the past five years of my adult life.
To put that into perspective, it took me just as long to get my first college degree (though it took considerably less funding from my own wallet and the government’s, even if you do include all of the DLC I’ve purchased).
Unfortunately, as I’ve played Mass Effect 3 for the past three weeks, going from planet to planet evading reapers, gathering up alien fleets (and tiny toys, because my Shepard is a collector of such things), seducing various women, and trying not to punch reporters, I’ve found my interest severely waning. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, either. It wasn’t the gameplay (though the questing system is a bit repetitive, it is bearable), it wasn’t the combat, and it can’t quite possibly be the ending because I haven’t beaten it yet.
It wasn’t until last night that I hit a certain point in the game and it all clicked. Shepard was talking to someone who has been fairly pivotal to the plot over this game and the previous entry, on a planet that seems like a major staging-ground, and was saying things that I found incredibly unlike my Shepard. I’ve always played him as a good guy; an undeniable boy scout who tries to save everyone and only gets angry and vengeful at his most crazed (like when my entire team is going to die, or when I have to confront someone who has truly gone insane). That’s when I realized why I’m slowly becoming disinterested in a title I’ve been salivating over for the past year:
I just don’t care about Commander Shepard anymore.
Although, that is a bit misleading. I still care about my Commander Shepard — the character I’ve created and molded out of my own decisions and actions for the past five years. The people I’ve saved, the ones I’ve sacrificed, and the consequences I’ve faced over the original two titles were repercussions I felt my Shepard had to face for the betterment of the galaxy. Some of those decisions have been hard (dealing with Saren in the first title), and others were fairly easy (who would allow the Krogan to die? They’re awesome!).
However, throughout this title I’ve felt a severe disconnect with Mass Effect 3's Shepard. I don’t find his decisions and actions are as major as they have been in the rest of the series. As I’ve gone collecting heat transfers for The Citadel in one of the many side-quests that seem completely out-of-place for the galaxy’s greatest hero (but who is also way too nice and concerned about getting the best ending to not help), I just find that the major points have been overshadowed by severe monotony and minutiae that seem more determined to extend the life of the game than to allow me to interact and grow with my Shepard — even though this will be one of the last times I see him.
My Commander Shepard has instead become The People’s Shepard. He’s now a character that, while shouldering the burdens of loss and the weight of his mission, has lost the ability to not only have the personality I've given him, but really have much of a personality at all except for “We have to do this, no matter the cost.” He’s become a husk that no longer seems filled with my own ideals of what a galactic hero would be, just what the galaxy (or BioWare), ultimately expects him to become: someone who pleases everyone all the time.
Part of that, of course, is my fault. I could play Shepard as someone only worried about stopping the Reapers, but if I do, both my Shepard and I are ultimately punished for it by getting an ending not fit for the "good guy.”
And that’s a damn shame. While millions of people are dying around the galaxy, the last thing my Shepard would ultimately care about is whether or not the citizens of The Citadel are living at a brisk 74 degrees, but if I want to see him become the true hero he can be, I’ll have to scour the galaxy for their damned heat transfers.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and find information on a dead cockroach that is vital to a Batarian research project on why sugary chewing gum loses its flavor so quickly. The galaxy needs me!