It’s been a month since Mass Effect 3 came out. Enough has been said about the ending without me having to add to the noise. So why am I writing this? Two reasons.
One: I’m a little tired of telling people why I think the ending sucks. The next email I get asking me about it gets a link to this post in reply.
Two: I cannot help but feel that in spite of the ruckus created over this, the community (as a whole) has not really done a very good job of explaining why the conclusion to such a beloved franchise was garbage. Some game journalists have acted very high and mighty about the issue, dismissing the whole thing as gamers acting as “crybabies”. This of course, is bullshit. If it was just a matter of people complaining about nothing, Ray Muzyka (Co-founder of Bioware) would not have to say any of this. There is a legitimate problem here. And it deserves to be discussed.
If it isn’t obvious by now, this post has major spoilers about the Mass Effect series. Consider yourselves warned.
Before I get start however, let me state this for the record: My issues with the ending have nothing to do with the fact that there is no “Happily ever after”. As I mentioned in my review, I was never expecting one. It would have been nice to have one but I can respect the writer’s decision to tell a bleak story. Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get into it.
1) The ending felt pointless and devoid of closure. At the beginning of the game, I was convinced that the catalyst was Shepard him/herself. In my head, the climax would involve Shepard “merging” with the machine somehow. So it’s safe to say that I was expecting some sort of “ultimate sacrifice” scenario. To be fair, one of the endings is sort of like this but it still felt very futile. Why? Because it totally pisses over all the themes that were at the heart of the series. Equality, peace with synthetics, free will, the meaning of “intelligence” and everything else. This is further elaborated in point 2.
2) Regardless of whatever the player did, the eventual outcome is the same. Compare this to the ending, or rather possible endings of ME2, which in my book was one of the most spectacular ways to end a game. The suicide run felt like mission impossible from the get go, but the choices you made throughout the game, even during the mission itself and the rapport you had with every individual team member dictated how fulfilling the end would be. There was a lot of variation there. Even if the final result was the destruction of the collector base, it could play out in many different ways. A few team members could die, all of them could die, the Normandy’s crew might not have survived and yes, even Shepard could go bye bye. In ME3, the only variation is the color of explosion you get to see in the end. The mass relays always explode and the Normandy crash lands on some tropical paradise.
3) Complete negation of player choice. This is a big one. The previous games did a good job of rewarding players for doing side quests in different ways. Even the things you said to your squad mates made a difference. In other words, player choice mattered. It’s the only reason why I felt like the hours spent with the ridiculous scanning mini game in ME2 were not a waste. Here though, it is hard for the player to not feel betrayed. The series has always rewarded players for putting in the time to get all the odds in their favor, which simply did not happen here.
4) Bioware’s marketing promised things that were not delivered. The developers made a huge deal about how ME3 would be keeping track of over a 1000 variables found in save games so that the players journey would feel personal. For the most part, they delivered on this. This is why the series is such an accomplishment. But a lot was also said about how the ending would reflect the same. Casey Hudson, the games lead designer, said the following before the games release “This story arc is coming to an end with this game. That means the endings can be a lot more different.” Well, they weren’t.
5) The ending contradicts itself. Let’s look at the plan here: The “machine god star child catalyst” thing is an evolved AI of some sort. OK. It decides that organic life is inherently flawed and will eventually create a situation where it goes to war with its creations, ie, synthetics. Fine. This war will lead to the complete destruction of the organics. Basically, organics lose. Every time. Hmmm, pushing it a bit but OK. This cycle is inevitable and has repeated countless times. Alright. So the solution is simple. Kill all intelligent organic life every 50000 years. Wait, what? Also, the “Arrival” DLC for ME2 established that the destruction of a mass relay results in an explosion of super nova proportions. It effectively destroys the star system it is located in. Considering that Shepard is forced to destroy every relay in the galaxy at the end, it makes him the biggest mass murderer in the history of ever. Even the Reaper’s would be proud. In other words; WTF?!
6) Some events make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Let’s make this simple. Right before Shepard miraculously beams up to the citadel, there’s a big mother of an explosion. Its so bad, its takes badass Shepard and fucks him/her up like so:
It also kills everything around him. But when the loony ending/s play out and the Normandy crashes, this dude walks out:
He was two feet behind me before I got beamed up.
That’s just one example. I could also ask how Joker managed to get him off the ground in the first place. Or why he was running away like a sissy when he’s been doing the exact opposite throughout the series. Or a dozen other nonsensical events. The whole thing just felt rushed and incomplete.
So there. In my opinion, the writers were trying to end on a note that encourages debate and discourse long after the game is finished. Sort of like the final scene in Inception where the viewer is left with the image of the spinning top. It’s a brilliant piece of film making and succeeded in what it was trying to do. A worthy goal for any game as well. Only problem is, instead of the spinning top we ended up getting something like the end to the Matrix trilogy ,i.e., a conclusion that made no sense and came across as a desperate attempt to be “deep”.
Again, as I stressed in my review, the end does not change the fact that ME3 is still a fantastic game. The series as a whole is a triumph of storytelling using the medium of games. It will be very interesting to see how Bioware responds to this. Whether they like it or not, the actions they take may end up dictating more that how the series ends. It could very well change how video-game writers everywhere conclude their tales.