A vendetta against BioWare?

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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73 Responses

  1. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Yahn. You ever read the Amazon reviews on Robert Jordan’s books? Especially the sucky ones? Especially the “this was awful” reviews on the sucky ones? They’re too well written. Obvious plants by other publishers.

    That said, they’re often wickedly accurate and hilarious.Report

  2. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    There’s three parts to this.

    1. An actual backlash from “hardcore” gamers upset that Mass Effect has gone from an RPG w/ some shooting elements to a Shooter w/ some RPG Elements. Go to any neoGAF thread of any news about Mass Effect and you’ll find people that think Bioware is the WORST COMPANY EVAR now.

    2. Backlash from people upset at EA’s over-selling and DLCing of Mass Effect 3.

    3. Internet trolls. The same thing happened to Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 last year.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    I’m puzzled, surely a gay romance option in the game couldn’t spoil the entire experience of gameplay for everyone? There must be something gameplay related that’s misfiring surely??Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      You know, I can sort of see it. As a player, I want to find what’s in the game. That’s part of what I pay for. I play the hell out of my games until I’m satisfied I’ve drained out every dimension of the story the game has to tell. So if I can play Knights of the Old Republic as either a Jedi or a Sith, for instance, then I want to do both. Obviously, I can’t do it with the same character, but that’s why I replay my games. I want to get the whole experience. Someone (a lot of someones, in fact) went to a lot of trouble to set it up that way, so I want to see what it’s like.

      So if I ever do play Mass Effect 3, now I know I’ve got four ways to go — male and straight, male and gay, female and straight, and female and gay. And each permutation of that seems like it will open up different story options before I can feel like I’ve exhausted the storytelling potential of the game and really got it. Maybe it works out that the differences are, in the grand sceme of the game, subtle and functionally similar. But all the same, I want to see it all.

      Besides, it looks like at least some of this game is remarkably well-written. The gay sex scene in the video embedded above is strongly emotional, at least as video games go. I get the impression of a real tenderness and affection between the protagonist and the NPC he takes as his lover; the voice actors did a good job with convincing me that I was watching an intimate interlude in between some times of tremendous stress.

      At the Forbes site, Erik has a video of the alternative and aparently less controversial lesbian sex scene (less controversial, I assume, because straight men are “allowed” to be turned on by seeing lesbians fooling around, at least if they’re hot). That scene is visually more explicit, so it’s sexier in a bow-chika-bow-wow sort of way, but the writing to set up the encounter is clumsy and I don’t get a sense of any emotional connection between the protagonist and her NPC lover. Almost like it was written by a heterosexual man whose only understanding of how one woman might seduce another in a stressful situation was pornography produced for the enjoyment of heterosexual men.

      Isn’t it grand that we can even have a discussion where we deconstruct and critique the storytelling of a video game, and hold it up to exacting standards of emotional resonance and verisimlitude?Report

    • I see no other viable explanation for this other than ED Kain’s here—and in reply to his commenters @ Forbes.  No way so [very!] many informed negative reviews and ratings could pour in so quickly.  Surely it was the gay thing.  The game is clearly well-engineered: at worst it should get 2-3 stars, not 0-1.

      It’s like how the Soviets used to ding our ice skaters.

      This is an excellent piece of opinion journalism, Erik, and my compliments.  [You drove me to look this up a little, because I meself have zero interest in the topic, except as cultural phenomenon.  I’m an Intellivision man.]

      Mr. Kain identified the phenomenon, presented a reasonable explanation for it, then added his own feelings on it.  Exc piece, my compliments.  You nailed it, and I don’t see how anyone could disagree with your journalism here.Report

      • Avatar Erik Kain says:

        Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re just trying to be cute or if sarcasm is just impossible for you to avoid. It wears thin after a while. I suggest diversifying your portfolio a bit. Try on new hats.

        Anyways…If you click to my second link (in the comments) you’ll see I walk back the “gay thing” quite a distance.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Sorry we’re at loggerheads lately, Erik.  You nailed this one, bro: discerned the facts, appended your opinion, that’s opinion journalism @ its best.

          I didn’t read the walkback part you refer to, didn’t need to: I got what you conveyed in the OP 100%.  Came to praise you, not bury you.  You made a tight case.Report

          • Avatar Erik Kain says:

            If I misinterpreted you I apologize. Only, I don’t find my own original case that compelling. It’s hard to tell if you’re being genuine.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            I think he’s being sincere, man. This would be what I’d call “an olive branch.”Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Thx, Mr. Likko, for lending your good offices on this.  But more than an olive branch, genuine props for a well-made case on Erik’s part.

               

              Perhaps recent events have made me more disposed to start expressing my agreement at least as often as I express my disagreement around here, but I was genuinely moved to note that Erik made his case cold here.Report

  4. Avatar Mute says:

    The writing is very lacking compared to the first two games.

    That romance scene is also poorly written and animated, it looks like a first year 3D animation students first project .  I don’t think it has anything to do with what is going on, but how it is done.

    Also my biggest problem with the game is  It is also a very bad PC port, the field of view is locked at 75 which gives many people headaches (including myself), I cannot play for more than a few minutes at time.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I just got an XBOX so this is kind of new territory for me. Wii games were much more PG. I don’t really have a problem with the storyline as long as parents are watching access for their kids. I’m not convinced too many of them pay attention to game ratings.

    As an aside note, I was playing Medal of Honor last week and my wife was taken aback by the volume fo swearing. She isn’t used to hearing that from Wii games. It was kind of a funny moment.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    An additional question E.D. Has this pattern been replicated on other public sites that solicit user feedback? It’s possible that Metacritic is being intentionally spammed with negative responses to produce an artificially low score.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Somewhere between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Origins 2, there was a change in gaming philosophy.

    One of the things that folks loved (LOVED!!!) about Bioware was that they didn’t make entry level games. These were games for the people who wanted to chew on plot, chew on characterization, and chew on combat.

    Somewhere in there, the bees that power apparently argued that they wanted games that appealed to a broader audience. Combat was simplified. You no longer needed a calculator to figure out which accessories you should be using for your particular gameplay style, for example.

    There are a lot of folks who fell in love because of these little things that felt so rewarding. The game being made more accessible resulted in alienating the people who were there from the start… such as those who wanted to import their characters from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3.

    It feels like they only care about new fans and the old fans are an afterthought.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      DA2 did go through nearly the same thing. Certainly the more casual fans that they’re trying to bring in are much less likely to be praising the game on metacritic than the hardcore gamers that feel betrayed by the move.Report

    • Dragon Age 2 was significantly less user friendly than, say, Mass Effect 1.  I really don’t understand the backlash the title gets, at least not when most of the complaints leveled at it make no sense.  I do think that DA2 was the point at which the frog realized it was being boiled, though- there was no sudden ratcheting of the change in Bioware’s philosophy from ME1/DA:O to DA2, but that was when afew vocal peoplesat upanrealized the games had changed significantly.

      Anyway, I can understand why long-time Bioware fans might no longer like the company’s output- they’ve changed a lot since the Infinity Engine days- but I can’t see how anyone can accuse Bioware of selling their soul to EA or for money to get there.  It was an evolutionary process, and every step along the way makes sense for what the artistic heads of the company wanted to accomplish.  Every game they’ve made since their PC days has pushed them in a more user-friendly, action-based, and cinematic direction. Compare Baldur’s Gate 2 to Knights of the Old Republic, KOTOR to Jade Empire, JE to Mass Effect, and ME1 to ME2  (that makes the backlash all the more puzzling: ME2 and ME3 are easily the 2 most similar games Bioware have produced).  In my opinion, they have done so with aplomb, streamlining the experience without detracting from the games’ core philosophy or reasons for engagement.There is something special about the open world, RPG customization, and equipment options of Baldur’s Gate 2, but by the time we got around to Mass Effect, they were so many vestigial limbs, reproduced without much thought, empty husks on an otherwise healthy body.  They weren’t facilitating the core engagement paradigms of the game, so they were cut- the end result was a tighter and more parsimonious experience.  I love old Bioware, and I’m glad CDProjekt, among others, continues to produce games in that vein, but New Bioware’s produced a lot of great stuff, too, and I’m really eager to see where their evolution takes them now that the trilogy is done.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Really? Dragon Age 2 felt like “RPG with Training Wheels”. The combat, which was *AMAZING* in DA:O (you had to use tactics and everything), became a game where every fight was identical (first wave… then second wave), a game where every map felt identical, and a narrative that could as easily be argued to be disjointed as groundbreakingly non-linear.

        KOTOR and Jade Empire felt somewhat similar. Mass Effect felt like a departure from those games only insofar as you actually had to aim your rifle than pick your target and roll your d20. Mass Effect 2 felt like an improvement in many ways on Mass Effect… except, of course, for weapon customization… and armor customization… and the ability to customize the same for your squadmates… and Mass Effect 3, which I hope to play soon, sits at home waiting for the Real Shepard to show up instead of some guy who just sounds like him.

        Their evolution is interesting… but, so far, it seems that they didn’t even bother to think about the people who are coming into Mass Effect 3 from Mass Effect 2 from Mass Effect 1. Well, not long enough to write up a face importation test plan, anyway.Report

    • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

      “It feels like they only care about new fans and the old fans are an afterthought.”

      I think that’s exactly right, and I think it plays into a not-very-attractive feature of the hardcore gamer psyche.  To put it bluntly, they are some of the neediest consumers around, and will descend into a jealous rage when there is even a hint that their beloved companies do not have their attention 100% focused on them.  It reminds me of the one of the dust-ups linked to above, the post “Bioware forgot about its core audience- the straight male gamer”

      “In every previous BioWare game, I always felt that almost every companion in the game was designed for the male gamer in mind. Every female love interest was always written as a male friend type support character. In Dragon Age 2, I felt like most of the companions were designed to appeal to other groups foremost, Anders and Fenris for gays and Aveline for women given the lack of strong women in games, and that for the straight male gamer, a secondary concern…When I say BioWare neglected The Straight Male Gamer, I don’t mean that they ignored male gamers. The romance options, Isabella and Merrill, were clearly designed for the straight male gamers in mind. Unfortunately, those choices are what one would call “exotic” choices.”

      In short, anything that reeks of appealing to someone else is proof that they sold out.  This most problematically manifests itself when game companies attempt to appeal to women, people of color, queer people, or what have you, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Observe, for example, gamers flipping their collective shits when their grandparents started playing their Wiis.  Nevermind the fact that Nintendo’s first party this generation is some of the best software they’ve ever produced- that they were no longer the sole focus of attention was enough to send many gamers into the rage of a jilted lover.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        How about stuff like “you can’t import your character from 2 that you imported from 1”?

        Evidence of homophobia on my part? Perhaps opposition to women using birth control?Report

        • There are valid concerns with the game, certainly.  Not every complaint is maliciously motivated, and I have  no reason to believe that yours are.  But several of the complaints are baseless in a way that does not reflect very well on the gaming community, and the concern that they are not being catered to enough is one of them (concern over Day 1 DLC also reveals a pretty entitled mindset).Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Here’s one more very important point regarding facial importation (that I got from searching for manual fixes):

            This problem will not affect people who buy this game used. This problem will not affect people who start playing the Mass Effect series starting with Mass Effect 3.

            This is a problem that punches the people who have been on board since Mass Effect 1.Report

          • Avatar dhex says:

            jaybird: are you familiar with age of decadence? i dunno if iso rpgs of ye olden 90s style are your thing, but if so, it’ll be up your alley.

            i can understand why day 1 dlc would cheese someone off, though i don’t personally care about the practice beyond thinking it’s either the future or a terrible idea that will burn itself out. i don’t think it’s necessarily entitled.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      There are a lot of folks who fell in love because of these little things that felt so rewarding. The game being made more accessible resulted in alienating the people who were there from the start… such as those who wanted to import their characters from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3.

      It feels like they only care about new fans and the old fans are an afterthought.

      This is becoming very, very popular in game development.  Everyone seems to be regarding “the pool of any potential player out there, anywhere” as a much, much better revenue stream to mine than “the players were currently have now”.  The strategy guys are looking at, “If we do *THIS*, we may get 5 players and lose 1” as an acceptable tradeoff.

      Which seems really stupid for an industry that relies so heavily on repeat title business.  It is, after all, Mass Effect THREE.  Short-term rollover in players seems to be the rule.

      I blame Zynga.  That’s only mostly facetious.Report

      • On the other hand, the comic book industry consistently doubled down on its veteran readership at the expense of potential new readers*. That didn’t work out.

        * – Oh, sure, they do things like Start at #1 Again and the like, and would periodically do jump-on points, but at least when I was following it, everything was geared on getting its customer base to buy more, more, more rather than put out a product that would be remotely comprehensible to someone who happened to pick it up at a bookstore (or, formerly, a magazine rack).Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Comic book industry people don’t track well with brilliant businessmen.

          It’s a good point, but this isn’t exactly a completely insoluable space.  And yet any company that sells entertainment seems to go through the same exact missteps when it comes to expanding audience vs. retaining your core base.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          As an aside, they’ve found that the six or seven issue story arc later released as a TPB is a HUGE moneymaker. If you absolutely positively HAVE to read the next issue RIGHT NOW, you can subscribe to the comics. If you can wait, you can read a discrete story in one sitting.

          (Maribou told me that one of her favorite titles was cancelled despite doing very well as a monthly title… apparently the TPBs weren’t selling enough. For what that’s worth.)Report

          • No doubt. This should have been their model, after the newsstand bridge was burned and when the bookstores started cocking their brows. But even with the TPBs, you may have gotten a good story, but it’s the over-reliance on momentum makes them inaccessible

            “In this book, Captain Atom becomes Monarch again. Except for real this time instead of in the alternate future trying to be avoided.”

            “Great. I remember Captain Atom from the cartoon. Who is Monarch? What do you mean ‘again’? Alternate what?”Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Capt. Atom was once Dr. Venture’s arch enemy?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              The decision to go for a “swerve” instead of the ending that everybody knew was coming is, 9 times out of 10, the worst idea you could possibly have.

              Now, this isn’t to say that having the idea that you’re going to misdirect to this guy when some other guy was “it” (and running with this from the beginning) is a bad idea. Those can be good or bad, depending.

              When, however, you’ve been building up for a big reveal for the last major story arc and then have a change of heart? That’s bad. Don’t do that.Report

        • Avatar smarx says:

          Price increases for single issues hasn’t helped either.  Parents are less likely to buy a comic book for their kid if they’re going for $4, and that’s if they can find any kid-friendly comics.  They might as well buy an iPhone app or a gallon of gas, and get more use out of them.

          As for myself, I often look at the price to use value when I compare three single issues to a regular old book.  Three issues will run you nine to twelve dollars, where as, say, a volume of the Malazan series will run you about ten dollars.  Those three issues have to really be worth my while because I can get 10x more hours of entertainment from a paperback.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      So, if I liked DA:O, I shouldnt buy DA2???Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I wouldn’t go that far.

        I would, however, say that you should expect a completely different gaming experience (though, granted, in the same universe) and if you go in expecting more of the same of Dragon Age: Origins, you’ll be quite disappointed.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          I’ll admit, that I actually preferred the setting and storyline in DA2 over Origins, and thought their experimentation with storytelling techniques was more interesting. DAO felt like “generic fantasy world” with far, far too many real life references and allusions to medieval history to be believable for me. On the other hand, the characters in Origins were substantially better. DA2 felt more like Bioware trying to be Black Isle, with mixed results.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            One can’t argue matters of taste but I will say that I preferred the fairly straightforward story of DA:O to DA2. (For example: You’re 4 hours into Dragon Age: Origins… and you know what the overarching threat is, who the primary antagonist is, what your immediate goals are, and what your long-term goal is. In DA2? Well….)

            I very much like the universe that DA:O has given us. I liked that DA2 gave us more of it (and quite a bit of the Qunari, which is one of the most interesting races I’ve seen introduced since the Salarians).

            I just didn’t think that the story lived up to the setting.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

              “Thedas” (Shortened for THe Dragon Age Setting) in DA:O felt like “Lord of A Song of Fire and Rings of Time” with a good heaping of medieval western European history thrown in. The allegorical nations were just far too blatant. The setting in DA2 meanwhile, felt more fleshed out and original, at least to me.

              I do think they experimented and had a very hit or miss experience with how they did DA2’s storyline. I know they certainly didn’t accomplish what they necessarily wanted to, but I think some of it might be corrected in the inevitable Dragon Age 3.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      It probably happened when console sales eclipsed PC version sales by substantial margins.,Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s becoming more popular to give games (and, increasingly, anything else) low ratings as a form of protest against DRM.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I will not purchase anything that requires Origin, myself.

      If the DRM are part of the experience, then they’re fair game for part of the reviews. Though it’s fair game to ask if everyone posting negative reviews has actually bought the game or is trying to make their displeasure known that they aren’t going to buy it as protest against the DRM scheme.

       Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        i can’t even get origin to work to try the demo. i’m mildly disappointed (i liked me2 more than me1) but i’ll live.

        as per the op, i don’t think you can chalk this up solely to some kind of kneejerk homophobic ick factor in the fanbase. (or as runoff from the insane hate parade against that one bioware employee a few weeks ago)Report

  9. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I’ll add that I think it’s now been more or less demonstarted that BioWare lied, explicitly, about when certain portions of DLC were finished.

    For example, the Day One DLC that got some people up in arms (because it was reserved for pre-ordes, many of which ran out), was actually on the disc all along, despite statements from Casey Hudson and others that the Prothean stuff was worked on AFTER they had already sent the game to be physically produced.

    So there’s that.

    But more basic, I’m the camp of: it’s all the RPG nerds like myself who pay attention and have the time/energy to campaign against what they see as the corpratization/prostitution of one of this generation’s greatest IPs.

    Disclaimer: I am still playing through the game, and while enjoying it, I certainly find more things to complain about than I do to praise.  But none of this would lead me to misrepresent a game’s quality via spamming user scores.Report

  10. Avatar Erik Kain says:

    Thanks everyone. All of this is very  helpful, and some of it mirrors my latest post on the matter which I’ve been working on this morning and just published. It strikes me as the wrong response to a legitimate issue. And of course, it won’t help matters.Report

  11. Avatar Mopey Duns says:

    So, the general consensus is that the main driver behind the low scores is not rampant homophobia among nerdgamers?Report

  12. Avatar Maxwell James says:

    I haven’t played these games, but would like to offer a possibly-useful parallel.

    You might remember that when A Dance of Dragons came out, the critical reception to it was amazingly positive, especially among early reviewers. That led to a huge shitstorm when long-time fans started buying the book in droves, and many found that their reactions were, to put it mildly, nothing like those of the critics. You were one of those readers, as I recall.

    I don’t think book critics are in the pay of fantasy publishers any more than video game critics are in the pay of game developers. Nor do I think the critics were wrong, exactly, in their evaluation of Dance. But I do think there’s a growing disconnect between the critical community and consumers – and especially community of intense fans who connect with each other through the Internet. That effect may be particularly pronounced with video games because the product itself is so very much entwined with computers and the web.Report

  13. Avatar Jeff says:

    I’ve seen at least 2 criticisms wrt importing “Sheps” from ME2 to ME3.  Perhaps some of the bad ratings is due to taht, as well as all the above.Report

  14. Avatar Gorgias says:

    If you are interested in venturing into the belly of the beast, this 4chan thread on your article may help your understanding.Report

  15. Avatar Scott says:

    So folks boycotting Rush is good to show disapproval but folks publicly expressing their unhappiness with the game is bad?  Both sound like the consumers using the power of the market to express their displeasure.  I guess it is only bad when your ox is being gored, so sorry.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Part of the problem is that the gamers aren’t boycotting.

      A boycott might actually succeed.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I also think Erik generally doesn’t support corporate boycotts of most stripes, IIRC.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Well, there are two kinds of boycotts. One’s pretty straightforward, one’s questionable.

          1) is when the company is doing something wrong and you tell the company “I ain’t gonna buy your product unless you change your ways”

          2) is when someone else out there did something wrong and you tell the company that advertises on this whomever’s show that you’re going to boycott them unless they drop their ads

          This would be a one.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      The point, Scott, is that if there really are great masses of customers who disapprove a boycott is a valid response. On the other hand if it’s a handful of tools who’ve set up some boxes to spam negative reviews onto the metacritic sites that’s considerably less acceptable (and also kind of lame).Report

  16. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Okay. Civilization 5 was so broken that it is literally mathematically unfixable (yup, that’s one way to decline the job of fixing it). It gets a 6.8 on metacritic.

    Mass Effect 3 is getting less than HALF that score.

    Master of Orion 3 is so bloody boring to play — it’s a classic broken game! It gets 4.6.

    Something is seriously WRONG here.

    Now, it may just be that positive reviews tend to come in once people have actually played the damn game, and that half the college kids have retreated into their lairs to play it all in one sesssion. I dunno, I’d have to do actual work to figure that one out.Report

  17. Avatar Jake says:

    THIS IS MY OPINION, SO DON’T THROW THOSE STONES TOO HARD

    If I were asked to rate this game between 1 and 10, I would give it a 3. The dialogue was not so great, there was no exploration, half the new music was forgettable, they didn’t do a particularly well job at creating an “end of the galaxy” feel, most of the previous themes are dropped, and the ending is completely retarded, gives you no closure and disregards almost everything you worked for. (Dhnevnaf ner fgenaqrq ba Rnegu fb qba’g obgure ergnxvat gur ubzrjbeyq, gur xebtnaf ner phg bss sebz rirelbar fb qba’g jbeel nobhg n eroryyvba, qba’g rzbgvbanyyl vairfg va lbhe grnz pnhfr lbh’yy arire xabj jung unccraf gb gurz). (Note: I rot13’ed the spoilers. Please visit http://www.rot13.com/index.php to read the original message — Jaybird)

    Without taking in account the other games, I might have given it a 6 because there was plenty I enjoyed. But that’s not possible because it’s the third act of a story. It’s completely intertwined with the other games. It crashed and burned, dragging the other two with it. And it’s especially heart-breaking because most fans care about the story and characters very deeply. So maybe it got a low user score because it was judged subjectively by the users. Maybe game reviewers judge hyped games high so they don’t lose popularity. I don’t know, but I feel that 2.5 is a fair score.Report

  18. Avatar roland008 says:

    I can only speak for myself.  While I am not a proponent of the gay/lesbian scenes they didn’t detract from the game for me.  If you don’t like them then don’t play the game in such a way that you will see them.  I thought the game was brilliant up until the dumb attempt at some social commentary or whatever it was supposed to be at the end.  People put a lot of time and money into this trilogy.   I guarantee you that if you that if you told people at the begining of the series that all your choices and hard work would culminate in this ending you would have a lot less fans.   I mean, we were left with the choice of die, die or die.  Oh yeah, and what color of explosion do you want to die in.  People wanted a good ending otherwise what is the point of trying to get all the war assests, or spend hours scan planets like in ME2 just to have everyone and everything you care about go up in smoke.   Bioware obviously thought they were being clever with this ending but in reality it was just a critical mission failure.Report

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