Warning: This post contains spoilers for the entire Mass Effect series
Mass Effect 3’s ending has caused a bit of a stir on the internet. Go to any Mass Effect 3 message board and you will see that it is flooded with “The ending sucks” posts. Is this just a common reaction to a popular franchise, the same way that Final Fantasy XIII-2’s message board was flooded with hate? No, the situation here is very different. There is a bit of a rift between Mass Effect 1 fans and Mass Effect 2 fans, but in general, everyone was looking forward to this game, and up until the time where people started beating the game, there was nothing but praise. Compare this to XIII-2, which was slaughtered by abuse long before the game was ever released. No, the problem with the ending isn’t a rabid fanbase; it is simply that Bioware succeeded brilliantly in making a universe which everyone cared about, but failed to provide an ending that anyone in their right mind would think is decent.
|Even the Cannibals are pissed off and they are always in party mode.|
The Mass Effect series has always been about choices. Sure most of these choices are artificial, but that doesn’t mean that these choices weren’t the foundational principle that the series was based on. Mass Effect 1 was strongly about the divide between Paragon and Renegade choices. Save or kill a potentially dangerous species like the Rachni is a very common kind of choice you get to make in Mass Effect 1. The Paragon and Renegade choices continued throughout the series and made many choices very difficult, as most of the time, neither was particularly good or evil. It is important to remember that the series has always given the player the tools to create the ending that they wanted. Mass Effect 1’s ending boiled down to a last minute choice to save the Council or rush Sovereign, but other choices such as whether to save Kaiden or Ashely had ripple-out effects. About 60-70% of Mass Effect 2 was spent in companion missions. Why? Because, at its core, Mass Effect 2 was about trying to survive the suicide mission, and Bioware made it so that your choices throughout the game would decide who lived and who died, and it was possible to make it through the entire even without a single casualty.
|Too bad there wasn’t a choice to kill both of these characters in Mass Effect 1|
So, fans of the series went into Mass Effect 3 with that mentality. With enough work and some hard choices, you can get an ending which you will be happy with. To make matters worse, Mass Effect 3 never attempted to convince you otherwise. You can end the genophage and bring the Geth and Quarians together in peace. Sure the game ups the ante, and several game characters sacrifice themselves, but their sacrifice is always for a happy resolution to the problem, and it seems like it was mostly Bioware giving Mass Effect 2 characters something to do. Also, Reapers were shown from the first game to not be invincible. It was commented by EDI how strange it was for a Thresher Maw to be able to take down a Reaper, as it is an abnormality for a less advanced species to be able to stop a more advanced species. This was heavy handed foreshadowing of future events, events that didn’t require a last minute deus ex machina to solve the galaxy’s problems.
|I can’t find a picture of the vent boy Catalyst bastard, so here’s a picture of Legion. Remember the good times.|
Also keep in mind that most actions you do in this game and the previous games form a tally as part of your war assets. Playing through the game, collecting war assets, the player is led to believe that if he or she collects enough than they can save the galaxy from the Reapers. Of course, we know now that war assets make almost no difference whatsoever, and collecting them, while still giving you that warm RPG number crunching feeling, is a waste of time. Why did Bioware make this switch. It went from your actions throughout the game making a difference on the ending, to nothing you did mattering in the slightest. As mentioned above, the Reapers aren’t invincible, and you’re building a fleet the whole game. I know that the catalyst is important, but the fleet is what you spend most of you time on. It would be like if none of the companion quests had any effect on the game in Mass Effect 2. Would anyone have been happy with that? People do this work so that their actions will be rewarded, the same way it was in Mass Effect 2.
|How about everyone dies in Mass Effect 2, and you couldn’t do anything to stop it.|
What we get with Mass Effect 3 are 16 endings which are all almost completely identical in form. As these endings are all nearly identical, there is no need to worry about the war assets condition, not that, that condition makes any sense whatsoever. I mean, the Catalyst is simply a deus ex machina that comes in at the end to save the day. The amount of Krogans you have on your side shouldn’t make any difference here (I can see Catalyst war assets making a difference at least). Wouldn’t it have been so much better if the Illusive Man had just helped out at the end of Mass Effect 2 and you didn’t have to worry with any of that “squad building” nonsense. Of course it wouldn’t. If that happened, it would undermine everything you did in that game. In a game series so obsessed with choices and consequences, it is absurd that none of them mattered in the end.
|Go Renegade or Paragon, it won’t matter in the end.|
That is of course not addressing all of the inherent problems with the endings. As many have pointed out, Joker running away doesn’t make sense, nor does your squad being aboard the Normandy when it crashes make any sense. The destruction of the Mass Relays, however, is the biggest problem, and not just because it should have destroyed entire systems. You see, internet, even ignoring the previous games of the series, Shepard can do some incredible things in Mass Effect 3, but none of that matters. Why does it matter if you brought peace to the Geth and Quarians and allow the Quarians to finally return to Rannoch? Without Mass Relays, they will never see their home planet again, and their entire fleet was with you during the battle for Earth. Why did it matter if you saved Wrex and brought stability to the Krogans, Tuchanka is now isolated and Wrex’s idealistic approach to leadership will never be carried out. The ending sabotages every single thing you do, not only in this game, but in every other game in the series. Everything has been pointless. Sure, you save organic life this cycle, but does any player actually care about that? No, they care about the people they have grown to love, all of whom get royally screwed in the end for no justifiable reason.
|I hope you enjoy never seeing your planet again!|
Then there is the mechanism by which all of these endings are possible. It is the whole “give the player three arbitrary choices” ending device. The same crap that was seen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It wasn’t good in that game, but it is especially bad in a choice heavy game, which is the end of an epic trilogy. These choices seem to be very different: destroy, control, merge. However, as this is the last game in the series, there are no consequences to these choices, and a nearly identical ending cutscene plays no matter what choice you pick. Even if the choices were interesting, the device is extremely poor, and lazy. There is literally nothing lazier than simply letting the player pick some arbitrary choices at the end with no context or reason, especially from a trilogy with such a well crafted story such as the Mass Effect series.
|If the choices were go to clown college, eat a hamburger, or kill the Reapers, the ending would have still been the same.|
Now let’s look at the justifications to this travesty. Firstly there is the obvious entitlement argument. Basically, Bioware doesn’t owe fans anything. This is the ending that they wanted, and everyone who argues against this is an entitled brat. This is seriously faulty logic. Of course Bioware can end the game however they want, but that doesn’t mean that the ending they picked was any good. Do gamers deserve a good ending? Of course they do, you idiot! That would be like asking if gamers deserve decent gameplay or a coherent story, or a game not riddled with bugs. People aren’t supporting Bioware out of the goodness of their hearts, they are buying the product Bioware is selling. People would be equally upset if they had bought a car to only find out later that they didn’t have access to the gas tank. Keep in mind that no review I read at least made mention of a shockingly bad ending. Basically, you have a lot of people who bought Return of the Jedi only to find out that they had bought Old Yeller, if Old Yeller allowed the viewer to choose three endings to the movie, all of which resulted in the DOG DYING!
|Sure we didn’t want to dance around with Ewoks, but we sure as hell didn’t want the end of Galactic Civilization|
The only credible defence for the endings to the game that I have encountered is that the theme of the game is sacrifice and you should have expected that saving the galaxy would come at a cost. This is still absurd, but at least I see where these people are coming from. The argument I have against this is threefold. Firstly, this doesn’t excuse how poorly the ending was executed, as, even if you enjoyed the content of the ending, the execution was terrible. Secondly, there was plenty sacrificed in this game: Mordin, Thane, Legion, Palavan, Thessia, Earth, the whole damn race of Batarians. This game wasn’t leading up to some final sacrifice, there had been many sacrifices along the way. Thirdly, I don’t think that the endings are supposed to be indicative of any kind of sacrifice. As my Shepard said to the Illusive Man at the end “You’ve Sacrificed too much”. To me this was a great, triumphant moment. Instead, we are almost immediately offered random choices to seal the fate of the galaxy. There is no poignant sacrifice like the choice to save the Quarians or Geth.
|Nobody cares about you Batarian-Jim|
Then there is the fan theory. You can tell how disillusioned a fanbase is when they come up with insane theories like this. The theory is basically that Shepard never made it on the Citadel and all of it is in his/her mind, and sometimes that (s)he is somewhat indoctrinated in the end. This is generally based on the reoccurrence of the vent-boy, the convenient confrontation with the Illusive Man, and the weird black distortion surrounding this encounter. Sure the theory makes sense in some regards, but let’s not pretend this isn’t some insane theory made up by a desperate fanbase. Firstly it doesn’t support the Normandy escape/crash scene or the Stargazers. Secondly, I don’t think Bioware is that clever, and if they were I think they would have waved it in our faces a bit more. Fan theories are nothing new; here are two Cracked articles on this subject: 1, 2. This isn’t even new to gaming. There is a popular fan theory around Final Fantasy VIII, which resulted from the much criticized second act of that game. The theory goes that Squall died when Edea impaled him on ice and the rest of the game is simply his dying mind. This was used to explain the insanity of Esthar, the infamous orphanage reveal, and the other craziness which happened in the second act. It’s a similarly good theory, and has been far better presented than I am giving it credit here (Same with the Mass Effect 3 theory), but let’s not have any illusions about these things. They are simply fan theories, and nothing more, thought up by an deeply unsatisfied fanbase.
|I still love you Squall, and don’t worry I believe you when you say your entire school can hover.|
So what is Bioware going to do? We have to face facts. The most likely reaction from Bioware is to stand by their ending and apologize for nothing. If they do something, it will likely just be an apology or explanation on why they left the ending as it was. Many fans hold out for a DLC ending, but I want to remind them how damn rare this is. I couldn’t believe that Bethesda actually extended their ending of Fallout 3 with Broken Steel. I thought that was unprecedented, and fans here expect a total rewrite. If it happens, I will be first in line to buy that DLC, but it is very unlikely. These are the same people that saw no problem in making only about three dungeons for the entire game of Dragon Age 2.
|Bioware thought that this was a good idea. Not a good sign for repentance here.|
I have been playing video games for twenty years, and I have never in my life been as disappointed with an ending as I was with Mass Effect 3. Sure there have been worse endings, but this isn’t just some crappy fighter, or racing game. The Mass Effect series is a series that focused on story, choice and consequences. It isn’t one game, Mass Effect 3 caps off the entire trilogy. Deus Ex: Human Revolution had bad endings, but it was only one game, it wasn’t very decision based, and it wasn’t tying up loose ends for an entire series. Instead of choice and consequence, we get 16 variations of the same ending, which is presented to us in a ham-handed fashion no matter what we do. Instead of making the player feel like he or she has done something great throughout the entire series, the ending robs every action the player made of significance.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer