This review contains spoilers for Tali's mission, and extremely minor spoilers for everything else.
Let's talk about Mass Effect 3, one of the very few AAA games I played and enjoyed in the past year. This is a review in the literature sense, so don't expect a rating or fanboy gushing.
Firstly, I'm not playing to get a perfect. I'm pretty much playing through with a "whatever happens, happens" mentality. With that in mind...
One of the most irritating things about the ME franchise is that it imports your saves... but if your saves were on a different kind of machine, there's no easy way to replicate the choices you made. This wouldn't be a huge problem if canon-Shepard didn't always make precisely the opposite choice that I made in literally every situation.
For example, it's revealed that canon-Shepard killed the last Rachni queen. Really? My default personality is "unapologetically murders helpless species"? You want me to play a character that literally killed a whole sentient species while it was helplessly imprisoned? After it had been tortured for years and was talking, lucidly, about just running off and finding a planet somewhere? You want me to play someone who unabashedly murdered a torture victim and the whole sentient species they belonged to?
As personality traits go, it's hard to think of a more horrifying one.
Playing the game, I'm trying to figure out why I'm only touched by certain scenarios. The writing is pretty solid, but a lot of the things that are obviously supposed to be touching just aren't. But others are. What is it?
After a while, it became clear: I was having a really hard time empathizing with anyone that had a face. The facial animations are still so... weird and creepy. Ash and that white-hexagon-ass psychic lady especially. This was true in earlier ME games as well, but it bothered me less for some reason. The female faces are especially creepy: the men are okayish, but the women all strike me as zombies. And there are a lot of human-faced women in this game - around half the cast. The other half is filled out with all the men and the women who don't have human faces.
So I was running around the game world empathizing with the fat little environment-suit aliens and the walking tanks that say their emotions and the Turians, and along comes Tali's mission. The Quarians against the Geth, HUGE SURPRISE.
I pretty much already knew everything that was "revealed" about the Geth, because it was painfully obvious in the previous games. However, whoever animated the helpful Geth was a real master of conveying emotions without using the face.
Once again, I renewed my knowledge that the Quarians are total monsters who basically want to murder their own children. And me being all paragonny, I say "well, I'll go in and broker peace, somehow. Tali's my favorite character, so I'll try to get her people to be less horrible."
Unfortunately, the writers for ME3 made the Quarians incredibly aggressive, genocidal to a psychotic degree, and completely unwilling to listen to the two people who had literally saved their species twice already and were actively saving it again (me and Tali).
As a result, I basically said "fuck the Quarians, I'm siding with the gentle, intelligent, promising young Geth. They've been given a bad rap for defending themselves against psychopaths."
Unfortunately, the Quarians were ever more stupidly aggressive and unwilling to listen to the people who were actively resolving the situation, and in the end I had to murder an entire species in order to save the Quarians from the catastrophe they had created. For the fifth time this freaking game.
Every even vaguely intelligent NPC is like "oohhh, you should have found a way to save the Geth, you're awful!"
Here's the problem. There is no dialog option for "fuck off, you don't understand shit".
I'm sure there was a way to save both, hidden somewhere for people with a walkthrough or enough time to try every permutation of the event. That's what they are saying. Like when Eve died because I didn't, I dunno, talk to her enough or something, everyone kept harping on it. "If only Eve hadn't died!" Because Eve can live. That's what they're telling you.
But that's not the game I'm playing. In the game I'm playing, Eve died, and I can't rewind time and change that.
In these games, they give you a "paragon" option or a "renegade" option. Which is slightly better than "good" vs "evil" but still not very good at representing your character. There is no ability to tell people how you are feeling, or that they are being really horrible.
Because here's what I wanted to say to the Quarians after the mission: "you're all monsters. You forced me to murder a species in cold blood because you couldn't be assed to fucking listen to me. I've saved you from your own catastrophes at least half a dozen times, and you continue to cause them. You would all be dead if I didn't like Tali this much. Get off my fucking ship."
Hell, I didn't even want Tali on my ship after that, but I couldn't see any option to kick her off.
I sincerely doubt that the writers of ME3 intended for this to be a huge affair for the player. They don't seem to give a fuck about genocide between two species without human faces. To me, it's a big deal, and the Quarians are clearly the monsters.
So, ME3: poignant when it doesn't mean to be. Still has pop-in textures and very stiff facial animations. Pretty good, although the battles are definitely oriented towards heavy-gun Shepards.