My Thoughts On The Ending(s) To Mass Effect 3

March 20, 2012 § 9 Comments

No, this is not a rant. There will be rant-ing, but it is not a rant per se. I will try to avoid spoilers, but if you don’t want to hear anything about it, you’d best take a walk on and come back tomorrow. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Slight edit: in one of the possible endings, Shepherd can be presumed to have survived.

For those of you not familiar with what I’m talking about, there is quite the internet controversy regarding the endings to the Mass Effect franchise, the third of which was recently released. It sold rather well, with estimates (as sales figures this early are often based on units shipped as opposed to units sold, which will take a little time to figure out) of around 2 million. That’s a pretty penny and a pretty good number for what Bioware, the company involved, wanted to be a knock-out. It also garnered pretty good critical reception, with the Metacritic score (for the Xbox, the platform with by far the most sales) being a solid 94.

I'm rich! Rich and critically-acclaimed! Take that Brad Pitt!

Here’s a little note about Metacritic. What it does is aggregate the results across a number of critics to come up with an average score, with the intent of representing a variety of reviews in one number. If you get a consistently high review, then congrats, because that means that you rated high across a number of people, in this case, 55. However, there’s a fan rating, too, where you can offer your own review and score. The normal assumption would be around 90, as Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect scored 94 and 91, respectively.

The fan score? 4.9 out of 10.0 based on 1850 ratings. The fans, they are not so happy.

This hurts you, Bioware

It actually gets worse for the other platforms, scoring a terrifying 3.7 with 2256 ratings for the PC version. Now, these don’t mean a hell of a lot because it’s negative feedback. Someone who’s pissed off is more likely to complain and vote down compared to someone who’s happy and feels less pressure to defend something they like.

However, this also means that almost 5,000 people were pissed off about something, pissed off enough to go out an savage a game that is, otherwise, critically acclaimed. What’s the big deal then?

The ending.

Ah yes, "good endings". We have dismissed that claim.

To sum it up quickly, the Mass Effect franchise was built on choice. Each game had many options to choose from and different ways to play so that people who played the same game could have radically different experiences. Choices you made and characters you interacted with mattered, so much so that you could carry on your save file from one game to another and there would be consequences for those choices at a later date. One of the biggest involves a character named Wrex. You have the option of killing him in the first game, and according to the pre-release demo, he is a playable character inMass Effect 3. Pretty significant, neh?

The thrust of the fan argument, however, is that the game is stellar until the last ten minutes when it turns to shit. The ending is either ham-fisted, stupid, a lie, not worthy of Bioware, or just plain bad.

Here’s Richard Cobbett of Rock Paper Shotgun breaking down the ending for you. If you want a detailed, line-by-line examination of the ending, read this. I’ll wait.

A small note about my experiences: I did not play the game, because that is not what I want to talk about. I watched movies of the three endings, and played the prior two games. There are apparently good and bad things about the story leading up to that, but I’m not interested in those. If you have issues, take them up with me in the comments.

Her ass was a major plot point of ME2, I swear it so

I really want to talk about three things: just why I think the ending is bad, my take on the fan reaction, and what Bioware should do about it.

The ending, in the opinion of this storyteller, is plain bad. It would take several thousand words to explain exactly why, but I’ll chop it down to two points: one is from the article I linked on RPS, and the other is that it negates the prior two games. Oh, and for the record? There’s a tonne of stuff that happens at the ending that makes no sense. First and foremost, what was the Normandy up to, because I can’t find any reason for it to be leaving the solar system, nor a plausible way for it to scoot all the way over to Charon before the boom happens. We’ll not forgive Bioware for those, but we’ll just accept that they screwed up and move on.

Cobbett takes issue with the “synthetic vs. organic” fight that dominates precisely 5 minutes of the series, the only problem being that it’s the last five minutes of the series. That’s a huge problem. I saw Karl Schroeder speak about the neuroscience of fiction at the Toronto 2010 SpecFic Colloquium, and he basically argued that the brain is wired to remember the first encounter with something and the last encounter, prioritizing the last encounter and putting the emphasis on ending well.

In this case, the game hinges on something that it never hinged on before. It was always about stopping the implacable evil force, not balancing organics and synthetics. That’s a bad thing to bring up in the last five minutes, and also takes place within a bad ending that negates the purposes and processes of the previous games.

Mass Effect 3 ended on a “choose your button I mean future” choice. The choices are even color-coded with the Paragon and Renegade options (good and bad/compassionate and pragmatic) so you won’t mistake one for the other. It’s mind-boggling. A game that was built on choice and always having a third option that gives you…no choice (there is a third option, Synthesis, but it makes no sense and is stupid. I mean that objectively). 

Yeah...I'm just going to sneak out the back door here, thanks

Now Deus Ex: Human Revolution also ended with a “press button receive ending” ending, but they did it well. First, each ending is completely different from each other and has different impacts on the universe. Second, there’s a fourth option that says “I don’t make that choice.” You can support technology, oppose it, synthesize it, or just say “screw it, this is just plain wrong from top to bottom”. Not only do you get to make that choice, but the ramifications of those choices are explored in a little cut-scene (that’s different every time).

Regardless of which ending you choose for ME3, the cut-scene and ramifications are the same. The relays explode, the Reapers are removed as a threat, and Shepherd dies. These three are non-negotiable. The only differences are whether the Reapers were controlled by Shepherd or destroyed (the synthesis ending somehow gives every being in the galaxy new DNA. lol wut indeed), and, even better, whether Earth is destroyed or not.

Now THIS is some Day One DLC I'd invest in

Your choice is boiled down to “destroy” or “control” (and whether to save Earth or not, but you don’t get foreknowledge of that beforehand), andeverything elseis meaningless. That’s a legitimate ending…if we were writing a book. If this was a book, then I would tell everyone to shut up and stop whining because it’s dumb, but it’s the writer’s choice.

This is not the writer’s choice (it is, but I’ll qualify that later). The franchise was built on player choice having consequences. In this case, the most important choice in the series, those consequences are not explored. That’s my main beef: they ended the game poorly (but I’ll accept that’s subjective) and made your choices irrelevant. I don’t care Shepherd died, I don’t care that Cobbett disagrees and says that there is sufficient closure. There isn’t, because with your dying act you fundamentally change the galaxy forever…and don’t even get a hint of what that means. As well, you don’t know what happens to your friends and enemies and those you worked with for the past two games. Considering that Garrus has been with my Shepherd since I could put his smarmy ass in my party, I want to know that. That’s what I mean about the “purpose” being negated. Those characters, and the relationships I cultivated with them (which was one of the main points of ME2) simply don’t matter at the ending.

And the whole “you saved the galaxy only to blow up Earth” is just spitting in the eye of the player. If they had told you that that would happen, then that’s suddenly an amazing choice! Do you become the pure Renegade, sacrificing everything, even Earth, to save the galaxy? Or are you just duped into making a bad choice because the writers fell asleep at the wheel?

Now, for the fan reaction. It’s bananas. Not only are they clamoring for the writer’s heads all over the internet, they are raising money for a new ending. $72,000, at this time of writing. That’s, and excuse my German, ficken insane. That’s completely unacceptable for two reasons.

The first is that that is ficken insane.

The second is that you don’t get to do that. The player did not write that ending, nor did they animate it, program it, or physically make it, just like any other damn media. The author, or in this case lead narrative designer, owes the player nothing, just like the player owes the lead narrative design nothing. If you don’t like the story, then by all means complain, criticize, and if it’s warranted, let the fact that Bioware made this bad ending frame further purchase decisions.

But please, do not say that you, in any way, deserve anything from Bioware. To its credit, the drive doesn’t actually say that. They want more endings and more information about what happens after. However, good-luck doing that without significantly changing everything.

If I was Bioware, I'd totally release a DLC that was just Shepherd dancing

It’s unfortunate, but the consumer/audience doesn’t get to dictate what they receive unless they commission something. We had great expectations which explain the great feelings of disappointment, but that doesn’t justify the drive to change it. The ending sucks and is a let down, but all you can do is call it on it, demand better in future, and look at anything Mac Walters does in future with a great deal of suspicion., or else every creative product you don’t subjectively like is up for change. I am not that cynical, nor would I ever, as an artist, change something just because you didn’t like it. Not for money. If all we have is our pride, then we’ll go hungry on it, because that would just be disgusting.

Finally, what I think Bioware should do about this. The answer? Nothing. If they don’t change the ending, then they’ve pissed off a lot of people, but that’s all. They certainly didn’t fail to deliver on the game mechanics (what I’ve heard from friends who played the game), nor did they fail on the presentation. It was only the ending that sucked, and though that’s unfortunate, it’s not the end of the world.

If they do bend and release DLC they weren’t planning to, then it’s bad either way. If it’s free for the consumer, then that’s Bioware throwing good money after bad. You won’t win back the people who feel absolutely betrayed, and you still risk not placating the people who are on the fence, so don’t try. And if they make the player pay, then the player loses out forever. That would say it’s ok for a company to fudge something and the say “whoops, that’s not what we actually meant to do”, and then charge you for the privilege of playing it again.

That’s not ok, and Day 1 DLC is bad enough. The consumer doesn’t have as much power as they should in the video game world: let’s not give up anymore than we have to.

Or else we end up with more of this

In conclusion, I’m going to mention three more things. First, I don’t think fans are entitled for wanting a new ending for a game they love. Hell, it speaks wonders for what Mass Effect actually was that people want more of it at all! I don’t think it’s a good idea, but it’s a reasonable response. They paid a lot of money and invested a lot of time and effort into the game and did not feel they got their effort’s worth. As a favorite webcomic artist said,

Basically, my disapointment [sic] with the game is equal of how much I invested on it. I guess if you just jumped on it on ME3 and didn’t import your save you had a blast. The less you cared about Mass Effect, [the] more you enjoyed it.

And the comic, from, for respect

That’s a “let-down” under anyone’s definition.

Second, here’s a wonderful counter-point to most of what I said. It’s from Penny Arcade,and while I don’t agree with what he says, he backs up what he says and does it reasonably. This isn’t frothing-at-the-mouth rage or frothing-at-the-mouth fanboyism. It’s reasoned and articulate, like all of PA, and offers a good counter-point to most of what I’ve said.

Third, there are a tonne of floating questions about the responsibility of game journalism, DLC, game marketing and more, and they are intimately related to the Mass Effect problem. I’m not going to touch those, but we should keep in mind that they are real concerns.

I think I’ll still play the game, because I fell in love with the series and the setting. My Shepherd developed into a character beyond the story and quite beyond my expectations. I didn’t think he was going to become more than just the meatbag as he was presented…but he did. Bioware did something amazing there, and although I’m disappointed in the ending, I can’t take that away from them. I’ll definitely look at what they make next, and hope for the best.

Or, I’ll just play Baldur’s Gate Enhanced,and never feel sad again.

The skull means "satisfaction"

John is outta here


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§ 9 Responses to My Thoughts On The Ending(s) To Mass Effect 3

  • Nova says:

    You’re not allowed an opinion until you’ve actually played it.

    • Calamanas says:

      I suppose I’ll retract all my opinions on World War 2, Imperial Germany, and the Middle East then, too?

      I saw the endings, and I commented on them.

      • Nova says:

        Great comeback. Those are entirely the same thing. Now who is being hysterical?

        And no you only saw the junk version of the endings because you repeatedly say Shepard dies. She doesn’t if you get a high enough effective military strength. Which is another reason people are angry with the ending.

      • Calamanas says:

        Hysterical? Me? Only if my ex is involved.

        I watched three endings that were 90% the same and commented on them. If it’s possible to get a good ending only if you 100% the game, then that’s just another strike against them.

  • Nova says:

    (With the understanding that everything you’ve said is more or less what my opinion was, which you know since we had a long discussion about this…)

    My problem with that counter-point review is that, as he said, I consider his point of view to be full of shit. Yes the Catalyst is a massive ass pull so the Deus Ex rip off ending was pretty obvious from the word go and yes anyone complaining that the ending is sad is clearly a moron. The problem is the space kid waking on in the form of a kid I never gave a shit about, who has been haunting me only because the dream sequences he keep showing up in are so FUCKING ANNOYING and proceeding to spout the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard in fiction. The fact he neuters the Reapers, who I always considered a stupid enemy, and then handwaves their existence is beyond my ability as a human being to understand. Not the explanation he gives, that’s painfully simple and stupid considering Sovereign spent an entire game telling me how vast and unknowable his purpose is, no what I can’t understand is how any writer who can string two sentences together could possibly be stupid enough to think ANYONE would be happy with this ending. Which is also why I can’t take anyone who says the ending is “satisfying, and worthy of the series” seriously.

    I get that you see yourself as a writer and have to empathise with the Mass Effect writers on at least a professional level but if anyone in the history of mankind has ever deserved to be fired it’s them.

    And you touch on the FemShep beauty pageant which is an entire other bugbear of mine which I won’t even get into.

  • Avatar says:

    Hm, I think at the very least fans do deserve to demand the ending that we were flat-out PROMISED.
    You know, when the producer said that all of the choices you made throughout the series would be taken into account and would culminate in a unique ending for your character?
    Or when the lead writer said they would never even consider leaving us with a bland static A/B/C ending?
    Yeah, I think fans have a very legitimate reason to be pissed when they were lied to and betrayed.
    BioWare absolutely failed to deliver a worthy ending to the series, and there should be no question of their obligation to rectify it. Mass Effect is not a film, it is not a novel, it is not a linear shooter, it is a choice-based interactive role-playing game. That’s what it should end as.

    • Calamanas says:

      I admit my worries about the possible changes to the ending come more from a marketing and publishing standpoint (do they charge for it as DLC or not?), but I think everyone can agree that what was published was utter garbage. They should be so lucky that they work in a medium where they can change their ending so easily.

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