Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mulling over the Mass Effect 3 ending

As a long-time Mass Effect fan, I thought I would do the game justice before I wrote my review, so I played it in its entirety, all the way to the ending – an ending which had the fans in uproar, led to a campaign which raised thousands of dollars for good causes - and demonstrated the power of social media.

Now, after Bioware announced an updated version of the ending – one which preserves the developer’s supposed ‘artistic’ intent, while providing disappointed fans with the closure they need – I thought I’d spill my two cents on the topic onto the pages of the web, like intellectual space-saliva.

Naturally, make sure your mass-effect drives are functional, as we approach the SPOILERS.

I’m one of the camp of Mass Effect fans who ultimately was left feeling pretty hollow by the ending. Unlike the legion of pissed-off fanboys who called “bullshit” on the ‘artistic’ slant the developers claimed to be going for - I can see what they were hoping to achieve.

Ultimately, I think Bioware were trying to end the game with a moral choice, one which would leave you thinking about your actions. Unfortunately, this backfired completely, for three reasons:

  1. The gamer’s actions mean precisely... nothing. Everything you did over the three games has no impact on the ending of the game – it’s just a multiple choice question.
  2. The massive plotholes left by the ending are not addressed – more on this later.
  3. Bioware lifted the ending wholesale from the original Deus Ex – seriously, it’s practically identical!
What Bioware seemed to have forgotten was how groundbreaking the Mass Effect series is - they deliberately designed the games to run concurrently, so choices made in the first game are still having an impact of the events of the third.

It’s a very, very clever idea – and until the ending of ME3, it worked perfectly. My game was very different to those of my friends, our differing choices allowing the game’s storyline to play out a little differently for each gamer.

So, to boil that huge innovation down to an A,B or C choice – and ignore everything the gamer has done in the six-or-seven year adventure he’s been playing through – feels like a huge middle finger to the gamer. Plus, the ending makes the entirety of Mass Effect 3’s storyline feel cheap.

I went to the trouble of securing alliances between the galaxy’s warring races, I gathered a massive fleet to fight the Reapers, I was ready to fight with everything I had, my friends beside me... And it means nothing – because everyone’s ending is exactly the same. A blue, red or green explosion. That’s it. Weak.

Whether Bioware were rushed by EA or not – and rumours abound that they were – the ending was a big anticlimax, which killed the game for me. That’s without even going into the gaping plotholes the ending throws up – like why the Normandy was in jump space, instead of the battle for Earth. And where the Citadel’s AI – the ‘Star Child’, came from. And how the Illusive Man got there. And how the destruction of the Mass Effect relays would result in turning a hundred thousand star systems into atomised gas instantly. I could list all the plotholes, but that’s practically an article in itself.

Also, after such a huge, galaxy-spanning story, I generally found the ending to be unusually weak, writing-wise. Shepherd has the power to change everything, because he can? No. No, no, no. Let me give you just two better plot twists, Bioware. Two I came up with in 15 minutes of thought.
  1. The Crucible is a Reaper weapon – not a a tool to kill them – and to activate it will indoctrinate the galaxy’s inhabitants in an instant. Plus, Shepherd is an unwitting agent of the Reapers, and has been from the start – he or she is indoctrinated, and has been doing the Reapers’ bidding since Eden Prime.
  2. Moving the Citadel to Earth was a Reaper ploy to get the galaxy’s races to unite against them – it’s been done before, time and time again – and the Crucible itself won’t work anyway – unless Shepherd and EDI can hotwire it. But even then the power it needs to fire will consume and destroys Earth’s resources – and the lives of half the starfleet surrounding it. Do you fire it anyway - and pick up the pieces afterwards - or not fire it, and hope your war assets are good enough?
Two ideas that both eclipse Bioware’s weak ending, in my opinion.

In conclusion, am I saying you should you avoid Mass Effect 3 because of the ending? Hell no. It’s an amazing game, as I said in my review. But I would wait until Bioware’s new version of the ending is released. Sure, it won’t be as wide-ranging as many – myself included – would like, but if the additions offers a little more closure to a legion of fans who have been left in the cold by the Star Child and his gobbledegook plans, then it’s an improvement.


Great article. By showing how easy it is to make a better Mass Effect 3 ending, you have rekindled my rage at the shoddy storytelling Bioware employed. Not sure if I should be thanking you for that but I am. I can't stop trying to figure out how they could tell such a great story for so long only to fail at the one yard line. What happened? This needs to be a cautionary tale for developers.

Agreed. It was such a shame that the developers chose (or were forced) to make such a poor ending to such a great saga. What would you have written for an ending?