If you have taken any time to troll the internet for news about games, you’re almost certainly aware of the current problems that Bioware is having with the endings for Mass Effect 3. I finally gave in and decided to take a look at what the hubbub was about so that I could make a relatively informed article on my thoughts and potential solutions to this problem.
In case you haven’t played the game yet, here’s how it ends. I’m going to mention SPOILER ALERT, but there’s no way we could discuss the endings without first knowing what the endings are:
Shepard gets pwned and ends up on the Citadel where he finds some sort of AI child hologram. The kid tells Shepard that all synthetic life (A.I., robots, etc.) eventually rises up and fight against their creators (organics). In order to prevent this from occurring, and ultimately resulting in the death of all organic life, the kid created the Reapers in order to systematically annihilate all organic life. Cue logic train derailment.
However, that (and many other gaping plot holes) aside, Shepard is given three choices to fixing the Reaper problem. Here are the three choices (with their results):
Supposedly the “best” ending. Shepard chooses to fuse all organic and synthetic life, making everyone into cyborgs. Shepard dies. The Mass Effect relays (which are the only source of intergalactic space travel) are destroyed. The Normandy crash lands on an unknown paradise world. Cue green explosion.
Shepard chooses to take control of the Reapers. In the process, he dies. The Mass Effect relays are destroyed. The Normandy crash lands on an unknown paradise world. Cue blue explosion.
Shepard chooses to destroy the Citadel and thus destroy the Reapers. In the process, he dies. The Mass Effect relays are destroyed. The Normandy crash lands on an unknown paradise world. Cue red explosion.
Before anyone starts to go into a furious rage and Hulk-smashes their keyboards in an attempt to argue either for or against these endings, just take a deep breath. These options are the only options the player has, with a few minor tweaks depending on certain decisions.
Let’s be honest, these endings aren’t great. In fact, they’re downright terrible. I didn’t go into as much detail as I should have, but that’s mostly because the trail of logic completely disappears into a rabbit hole of unanswered questions and untied ends. Who created the kid? Why does he want to kill organic life instead of synthetic life? Why make the reapers out of the previously destroyed organic life?
Also, Shepard calls the kid out briefly by saying that in creating a sort of “predestination” scenario, the kid has destroyed all hope. The kid counters by saying that people, especially humanity, clearly do have hope or Shepard wouldn’t be there. Shepard should reply with “that’s not what I meant, jackass”, which would inevitably spiral into a lengthy swear-riddled monologue about the differences between “hope” and “false-hope”. Unfortunately, he didn’t.
Nobody even bothered to explain why there were only three choices. Why not just let the war play out? If Shepard gathered enough war assets and the Reapers were destroyed, wouldn’t that be an ending as well? Screw the Reapers, screw the god-child, screw the idea of synthetics fighting their creators. Shepard has always been the badass who could do the impossible. If anyone could find a way to destroy the Reapers in all-out warfare, Shepard would be that person.
And, as people have previously mentioned already, what happens to the galaxy now that the Mass Relays are destroyed? Interstellar space travel comes to a grinding halt overnight. All of the armies that were fighting around Earth end up getting stuck there permanently. Even if the races of the galaxy could create new Mass Relays (like the Protheons did), what would everyone do in the meantime? Sit around and twiddle their thumbs?
There are no Paragon or Renegade options here. You’re kind of the savior of the galaxy, but not really. Your choice, no matter which one you make, will subject the entire galaxy to hundreds if not thousands of years of hardship and turmoil that could quite possibly lead to the utter extinction of entire species. This is especially likely for humans, seeing as how Earth was turned into a smoldering hunk of dead rock.
All of the endings are disappointing. There’s nothing that rewards the hundreds of hours of work that gamers (including myself) have put into this series. There’s no conclusion that explains what happens to the characters. It’s not even really a conclusion. The end is more of a faux cliffhanger that, instead of making the player want more, leaves the player frustrated and unhappy.
It’s the end of the game series, why does it have to be so open-ended? Can’t we just get some serious conclusions? Something that makes it feel like “Good, this is done. It was awesome. Looking forward to the next big thing.”
Now let me defend these endings:
I don’t see these endings as ruining the game nor the series in any way. I can understand that making serious choices and painstakingly scrutinizing even the most minor of decisions for their overall affect on the rest of the series makes these end results extremely disappointing, but it certainly doesn’t diminish how awesome Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were. I replayed Mass Effect 2 after I knew that ME3’s endings were awful and I still enjoyed it. In fact, I tried harder to make sure that everyone lived just so that I could make sure they were all in ME3. Seriously, who cares how the series ends? It’s over now. The series is more about the interactions that you get to have with your characters during the course of the games and less about the ultimate conclusion.
Also, take a look at the way that ME1 and ME2 ended. In case you haven’t played them, let’s review:
ME1: Shepard fights Saren and Sovereign, chooses to have one squadmate die, and saves the Citadel. The Council either lives or dies, but in the end Shepard lives and humanity gains power.
ME2: Shepard fights the Collectors and kills them all. He either destroys the Collector base or gives it to Cerberus. In almost every scenario, squadmates and/or crew members die.
Take a good hard look at the options you have in those games. They really aren’t many. The only reason these choices seem more awesome or epic or whatever is because they will have greater consequences in ME3. You’re making a decision based on the unknown, but the decisions are relatively fixed.
The choices that you make throughout ME1 and ME2 are mostly designed to be played out in the sequel (ME2 for ME1, ME3 for ME2) and in the ultimate conclusion. Forget the ending, the entirety of ME3 is an epilogue for the decisions that you made. Did you save the geth from themselves? Well then you can get them to make peace with the Quarians. That’s a conclusion right there.
And is anyone really that surprised that Shepard dies? He’s a legend. The fact that he dies in the prime of his awesomeness only serves to make him a better character. It allows whoever’s left to speculate about how awesome Shepard was and what he could’ve done to help humanity even further. ME2 showed how much humanity and the galaxy loved Shepard even after he died. They made memorials to you and crap. Conrad Verner goes nuts because his idol is dead. People needed a hero to look up to and then you DIED.
ME3’s epilogue would play out exactly like that. You are the savior of the galaxy. If you lived, you’d only get wrapped up in the quagmire of suckage that would be the post-Reaper epilogue. The fact that you died preserves your awesomeness perfectly. You reached the pinnacle and went out with a gloriously colorful explosion.
No matter which side of the fence you’re on, there is no way that anyone can deny that Mass Effect was a great series. There will probably be more DLC and probably be a few mini-games or spinoffs, but the series in all of its epic glory is over. You can try to get new endings to solve some of the current problems so that the choices that you made over the hours of gameplay can be justified, but doesn’t it ring a bit hollow now? The choices are done, the fight is over, the war is won. Go home, sit down, take a deep breath, find another series to try, and take a leap of faith.