After a hiatus, I jumped back into the Mass Effect universe a couple of weeks ago, and decided to play with all the major mods in place - and what a difference it made!
Thank you all for a much better gaming experience!
At first, I was a bit worried that I'd get bored reading all the new entries, but far from it: EGM finally turned the Reaper War(s) from a means to deliver action missions to their raison d'être.
And for the most part, you succeed in opening the horizon of this war: the provincial "save Earth campaign" transitions into a "save the galaxy"-approach; or rather, the player is given the means to do so, if this is his intention - which counteracts nicely another irritating aspect of ME3: the rigid railroading.
Yet, some .. problematic thematic priorities of the game are rather highlighted by EGM when we near the finale (all just my opinion, of course):1. Divine Grace
In the end, after the raid on the Cerberus HQ, you show that the entire galaxy (reachable by the known relays) is overrun by the Reapers, just months (?) after their arrival.
On the one hand, it is a nice dramatic tell to show us, how quickly the situation has turned desperate. But it also highlights, how ill-prepared the Council-cycle turned out to be, and how little it deserves to be the one that is going to be saved.
The Protheans, after all, managed to withstand the Reapers for centuries, they fought them cluster after cluster and system after system, even though they lost the Citadel right at the start of the invasion*.
The Council-cycle is comparatively weak, technologically underdeveloped, politically split, in denial despite evidence of an existential threat and - in light of the events in the finale - worst of all, completely ignorant when it comes to the device that's going to save them. The Protheans knew enough about the Crucible to find out what part was missing to make it work, Shepard's cycle hasn't worked out anything on its own, let's not even talk about adding to the work of earlier giants.
All in all, the victory in the end is nothing but an act of divine grace
It's not even a "Deus ex Machina"-salvation in the traditional Greek sense, because it's not earned, or not more than any other cycle earned it by way of suffering.
EGM does a good job to mitigate this impression - until the end. Then the galaxy looks worse for wear than in the original game.
I'd prefer it if there were still regions unoccupied by the Reapers - the cluster that contains the Leviathan world, for example, should be one the Reapers would likely rather tackle in full force. After all, one of them has gone down there, and, afterward, their indoctrination on battle-fields was countered and subverted in a way that should have activated some memory banks of the older guys among them.
Clusters still successfully (for now) fighting back also counteracts the quite megalomaniac idea that everything in this galaxy-wide conflict is directly connected to the actions of the Normandy crew/player.
The final galaxy map is dramatic, but it also negates your mission statement that the player is a "small but vital part of a huge war"; and, ironically, it also undermines the EGM-added effort the player put in to strengthen the resistance galaxy-wide and highlights the nature of what is about to happen in the finale: a Hollywood save.2. Railroaded
Speaking of irritating aspects of the game: the galaxy map in the end also reiterates ME3's tendency to railroad the character into following the plot slavishly by taking away all other choices.
I would have preferred it, if the end-map had allowed me to jump anywhere else - but in doing so, I'd have lost the window of opportunity and the Reapers would have won. End of game.
What's the difference? Well, the one map takes away the choice, the other one keeps it in place. And you could even make it intriguing by giving anyone who wants to fly anywhere else but toward the fleets the prospect that the Normandy might then (have) escape(d) the doom ...3. Evacuation of Thessia
I liked this mini-game a lot; your thorough description of the consequences of our choices and actions are one of the highlights of EGM.
The entry about the political situation after the evacuation was well done, but in my game, I couldn't find the entry anywhere in the Secondary Codex afterward. Bug or feature?
Story-wise, the evacuation also became a downer near the end. If I'm not mistaken (correct me if I remember wrong), we learn that the Refugee fleets were destroyed when the Reapers attacked the Citadel, whereas on Thessia we still see Asari fighting .. and celebrating after the finale.
As a player, you can't help but wonder, if those orphans and civilians would have been better off, if you had simply refused to evacuate Thessia, just like Mikhailovich suggested. Is that what you wanted to achieve?4. Questions never asked in the game
Back to some questions that bothered many players but were never (satisfactorily) adressed in-game: For example,
* Did I completely miss it or was never any explanation given why the Reapers didn't attack the Citadel right after their arrival in the galaxy? And why did they choose to wait so long before they captured their old base?
Was the solar system meant to be a trap
for the galactic forces? Oh my, Harbinger is Palpatine
.. well, that explains ..
[Note to self: Erase image from brain]
Anyway, why should the Reapers risk casualties that willingly? Why didn't they shut down the relay network instead, immediately after taking the Citadel, and why was no one worried within the allied forces that the fleets might be stranded at their staging area any minute now?
EGM has already filled quite a lot of the blanks that made the original game so threadbare. Could I interest you in thinking about adding an email or two between some of our protagonists concerning such worries?
And there is also the question about the Reapers' nature, which is, strangely enough, rarely discussed ingame but, of course, hotly debated among players. Addressing that question would be thematically sound and a nice meta-moment.
I can see Liara hypothesize about their nature in a series within her Shadow Broker database-diary, for example:
"Sovereign. When we met its hologram on Virmire, it gave us the chills. We were all in awe that day, and almost despaired. I did. Joker called Sovereign an "Elder God". I didn't get the reference but, as usual, the humans were keen to fill in the blanks about their superstitions and fictions.
No, Joker, Sovereign was not an Elder God. No god at all. Our victory proved that Sovereign was not what it claimed to be: not an otherworldy force, quite worldy in the end, in fact, and in its mistakes that led to it.
The nature of its mistakes were quite interesting; I have come to the conclusion that Sovereign was not just attempting psychological warfare when it presented itself as god-like. The Reapers do think of themselves like that, their grand plan itself is evidence of their hubris.
And yet, even though they seem to consider themselves to be gods, their actions also show awareness of their vulnerability and their limits. It appears to me, that the Reapers are as capable as organics to believe in something which they simultanously assert and deny by their actions.
Can we exploit that?"
Well, I'm not good at that. But a discussion about the Reapers' nature could be quite fitting within the context of EGM's mission parameters - imo, of course.
Basically, I'd ask you to go through with your idea right to the end: make the resistance within the galaxy more versatile and less dependent on the deus ex machina, not more.
You might even add a glimpse or two about alternative plans, independent from the allied master plan: the most reasonable actions always were hide and scatter. The Normandy might come upon an asteroid being transformed into a hiding place, or upon a small fleet of ships determined to flee the war through unused relays ... Some civilizations should have had plans to deal with another Rachni/Krogan-situation that turned more desperate .. the Salarians, at least, should have had something in mind and in situ already, don't you think?