A lot of the Mass Effect 3 reviews are focusing on the bleakness of Bioware's story, and quite a few are shocked at the game's darkness in regard to the choices they made. Some guy called Tom Francis over at whatever the heck PC Gamer is, has figured out exactly why it's even darker than expected, and it's a bit of a dodgy trick that BioWare have pulled if true. No, it's not new-news as such, but it is worth reiterating strongly now the game's out in some territories. I'll go into details after the jump, as I'm aware some people view even the words Mass Effect 3 as some sort of spoiler. As long as no-one spoils the ending of Se7en in the comments: I've had it on pause for on my VHS for about 16 years. I keep intending to return, but it's just so tense!
Right, I'll assume you're here because you're cool with me talking about the mechanics of this. I'm the best person to talk about it as I don't know anything about the story, so there's nothing about it in here. Really, I can only name Shepard and that's it. I don't even know if that's the correct spelling of her name, frankly.
It turns out it's all about playing multiplayer and gaining War Assets. As you play the single-player, when you help people you accrue war assets. Despite completing all the quests he could find, PCG's man still suffered an overwhelmingly bleak, dark finish to his game. Why?
That’s because I’d never played the multiplayer. It’s a co-op mode where you and up to three other players have to survive waves of AI enemies and complete objectives. If you succeed, you get an increase to your Readiness rating – a percentage by which your single player War Assets are multiplied by. These are specific to each sector of the galaxy, so if you have a lot of War Assets in the Terminus Systems, you’ll gain more by playing on a multiplayer map set in the Terminus Systems.
Please, read the rest of Tom's post before you comment here - obviously we don't want to nick all his comments, but he has much more to say on how he played and why he was surprised by the outcome. This being Mass Effect, a certain bleakness is inevitable regardless, but apparently there's bleak and there's bleak. Now it's a particularly cruel trick because it allegedly ignores your choices to some degree: you either need to be a crazy completionist in single-player, which entails completing all the grindy scanning minigames, which are apparently as dull as this photo of a rock, or jump extensively into the multiplayer, a part of the game that traditionally people would play after completing the main. Why do this? Why make people play the game in such a way? Can you guess what part of Mass Effect is apparently suffused with helpful microtransactions that you can opt for instead of gradually unlocking everything?
Another option still is to buy $7 iPhone game Mass Effect: Infiltrator, which offers an additional way of increasing war readiness in the main game.
Admittedly, this does mean there are multiple ways to achieve maximum war readiness, which may appeal to some - but it's a long way distant from the old ways of doing your best to do the right thing throughout the quests (or the worst thing, if that's your style).