Why The Mass Effect 3 Ending Sucked
The internet is currently being whipped into a frenzy of hate, counter-hate and counter-counter-hate over the ending of Mass Effect 3. The ending sucks! No it doesn’t! You rushed to the end! We want a better ending! You are not entitled! Noise, noise, noise, noise and more noise.
So first thing’s first. The ending is horrible. Well actually no, that’s the second thing. The first thing is there are MASSIVE SPOILERS (INCLUDING RED DEAD REDEMPTION) in this article, which is obvious but worth mentioning. Now you’ve been warned.
Back to the second thing again. The ending(s) is(/are) horrible. It was mentioned in our Mass Effect 3 review and I thought I had gone mad, as the only other reviews to mention the endings being bad were Giant Bomb and Ars Technica. One review even described the endings as ‘monumental’.
It’s too easy to make a ‘yeah, monumentally shit!’ zinger here, and I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t just a vehicle simply for making that joke and trying to get away with it but look – the endings are bad. And this is why.
The biggest problem the ending has is that there’s no real resolution. It draws the Shepard vs Reapers story to a tidy ending, with Shepard sacrificing himself to stave off the Reaper threat, regardless of what ending you choose. Yet Mass Effect was never about that alone. Its power was found in the compelling universe it created around Shepard and filled with characters you cared about.
The blossoming personality of EDI. The burning vengeance shown by Aria T’loak. The uneasy alliance between the krogan and the salarians. The devastation of the asari homeworld. The scurrying keepers, the bastard batarians, the fragile Council, everything in Mass Effect had its place and it was fascinating finding out how everything slotted together. It’s perhaps one of the few series where I’d happily sit down and digest every word in the Codex, wanting to know why everything was as it was. Why do the volus call me Earth-clan? Why are the elcor so slow and careful with their mannerisms? Everything had its place and its purpose.
You had to make some big decisions on the way to the finale and what made them big is that you cared about the decisions. The decision choosing between the geth and the quarians was handled beautifully. The geth had been your enemy since the series began but slowly, delicately, gently, BioWare peeled back the layers of the relationship between the geth and the quarians until you find out that maybe it was the quarians who were in the wrong. You question your loyalty. These things matter because you care. Picking a side is hard.
(And yes, you could circumvent the whole scenario if your reputation level is high enough, but that’s missing the point.)
The biggest crime the Mass Effect 3 endings commit is that none of them show the repurcussions of your actions beyond the resolution of the Reapers threat. What of the krogan and the salarians? What happens to EDI and Joker? What about Cerberus? Who will become the human councillor after Udina? What becomes of Javik?
It’s easy to be cynical and point towards further expansions, books, apps, comics and whatever else EA and BioWare might have lined up for life after Mass Effect 3 to answer those questions (the post-ending ‘Continue the legend of Shepard with downloadable content!’ screen certainly doesn’t help). But aside from the easy option of cynicism about what the future holds, right here and right now now, the game we’re playing has a half-hearted ending that goes against the entire ethos of Mass Effect.
Here is a universe we’ve made you care about. Now we’re not going to tell you what happens.
That, unfortunately, makes for a poor and unsatisfying ending.
Sort of tied in with the above point but it’s worth mentioning – none of the decisions you made really mattered in the long-run. Did you save the Rachni Queen? Did you cure the genophage? Who lived, who died? What decision did you make in the Collector’s base?
None of this matters. The ending rumbles along in the same manner regardless. Again, these decisions matter to you because you believe that they’ll matter to Mass Effect. In the end, those decisions don’t change a thing.
Even collecting the war assets, the entire drive for playing Mass Effect 3, is reduced to number crunching to determine whether you get the option of the third synthesis choice for the ending or not. It was fun collecting dreadnoughts, spec ops teams, research scientists and so on because you presume they matter. They don’t.
A lot of the anger is borne out of the realisation that your decisions have never mattered, and the ending is the first and only time the illusion of choice has fallen apart. It makes sense that you feel cheated out of your investment in the series – emotionally, financially, sexually (hey, we won’t judge!), etc – so the anger is understandable.
And this is before we even consider how Shepard has to play along with Spacechild’s argument that synthetics will eventually destroy organics, despite the fact that you (depending on how you played) have just brokered peace between the geth and the quarians. So they can co-exist. Yet you’re never given the option to argue this point and instead, you have to meekly play along with what Spacechild says.
The culmination of three games where you make decisions that have vast ramifications on the universe is that endings are all the same. Exactly the same. Sure, the Reapers fly off in one and collapse in the other, and the explosions are blue/orange/green depending on which path you picked, but seriously. Is that it?
Just for the sake of comparison, here are all the possible outcomes and modifiers for the ending in another game about choice, Fallout: New Vegas. That wasn’t connected to Fallout 3, so you have a self-contained, stand alone game which draws upon the decisions you make throughout to craft the relevant ending. That’s one game. The Mass Effect series spans three. And the best they can come up with is changing the colour of the explosions?
It seems bizarre that whatever you picked with regards to the Rachni, the genophage, the council and so on, that’s all it comes down to. The colour of the explosions change. That’s exactly what happens.
So that’s yet another example of why it’s a poor ending.
It doesn’t even make sense. Some have claimed plotholes with how the ending relates to the rest of the game but I haven’t even prodded at those too hard, mostly because as a personal thing, plotholes don’t bother me all that much. There are plenty of other logic inconsistencies to keep me going in the meantime though:
- When I was running towards the beam leading to the Citadel, I had EDI and James ‘Dudebro’ Vega with me. The Reaper blast hits and Shepard slowly wakes up. You hear the phrase “no-one’s made it” or something to that effect, which would suggest EDI and Vega were killed in the blast. And yet the ending shows EDI getting out of the Normandy on a jungle planet alongside Joker. How did she go from being presumed dead to somehow ending up on the Normandy, which was seen outrunning the Crucible blast before the Normandy crash-landed on a jungle planet/country?
- Anderson makes it to the Citadel and he starts talking to Shepard. He’s slightly ahead of her and ends up at the control panel first. But there’s only one path that seems to lead to the control panel, which Anderson would have to take, so Shepard would have clearly seen him making his way up there. So erm… eh?
- The Reapers wibble on about how everything is beyond your comprehension, you’ll never understand Shepard, Shepard you’re so dumb you won’t ever get it, and so on. And yet, on the Citadel, everything is explained to you in a few sentences. Reapers wipe out advanced civilizations before synthentic life wipes out organics. Oh. Erm… oh. That was really easy to explain.
And on it goes. Let’s not even get started on the Spacechild thing. Yeesh.
There have been plenty of excuses from the Mass Effect 3 Defence Force to excuse the ending, the majority of whom have – bizarrely – not completed the game. There are those who have and who are happy with the ending but regardless, the ending for Mass Effect 3 still stands as a poor ending when games have offered plenty of brilliant, strong endings throughout the years (Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Portal 2, Metal Gear Solid 3).
“Just because it’s not a happy ending doesn’t mean the ending is awful!”
It’s hard to say where this argument has sprung up from but it’s simply not true. The quality of an ending is not dictated by how happy or sad it is. Never has been, never will be. Red Dead Redemption has a staggeringly bleak ending. In fact, it arguably has two of them – once for when John Marston dies just as it seems he’s escaped his life of murder and death, the second when his son walks down the path of vengeance and follows in his footsteps. It’s one of the best endings on any game this gen and it’s not exactly an explosion of sunshine, roses and happiness.
The argument with Mass Effect 3 is that because Shepard sacrificed himself, the ending is bleak and some players feel cheated because Shepard died. That might ring true for some players but again, the happiness/sadness of an ending does not dictate its quality and in any case, if your war readiness rating is high enough, there’s a few ambiguous seconds in the ending showing Shepard moving in the rubble.
“Judge it for what it is, not what you want it to be! Stop being entitled gamers!”
Heard this one a few times, which is bizarre because judging the ending for what it is is exactly what most people are doing. And expecting a good ending isn’t the sign of an entitled gamer, otherwise god forbid anyone criticise any game ever again.
“It’s about the journey, not the destination!”
I can semi-relate to this one because Mass Effect 3 is an incredible game until those final moments. It’s wrong to tar the whole game as bad because the last few minutes are so poor but it’s also wrong to think shouting about the journey shields the ending from criticism. Games are a whole. Endings are important because they’re a part of the game (obviously) and when done well, add something extra to the game itself and make you want to play it again (Shadow of the Colossus, Portal). If the ending leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, that has to be pointed out and is a valid criticism, even if the rest of the game is brilliant.
“It’s a good ending!”
While still not a great ending, it would stand as a better ending for someone who had just come into the series with Mass Effect 3. There won’t be the same disappointment as you realise your wealth of previous decisions count for nothing. It doesn’t have to compete with the endings of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 (both far, far superior) anymore. It still has the same problems – no resolution to any storyline or conflicts outside of Shepard vs Reapers – but the impact of these flaws are lessened because there isn’t as much emotional investment built up across the span of two or three games.
“But no ending would ever have made you happy!”
This is somewhat ridiculous because it suggests that BioWare isn’t capable of coming up with a satisfactory ending to the series. That’s nonsense. Some have criticised the writing throughout the Mass Effect series but BioWare has shown it’s capable of tugging on the heart-strings when necessary and coming up with emotionally compelling drama when it counts. Mass Effect 3 itself is proof of that, until the ending trundles into view.
One of the reasons the ending was so anticipated is to see how BioWare would end things – how it would deal with the Reaper threat while resolving the storylines you’d been carving out elsewhere. BioWare had shown its skill at crafting Mass Effect, which is what made us anticipate the final ending. To suggest that there is no possible ending to the Mass Effect series that would serve as a good ending is a massive cop-out, otherwise people would have been saying this before anyone played Mass Effect 3 and not start coughing it up as a feeble defence for the ending after the fact.
“It’s better than having a congratulations screen like you got in the Eighties!”
By that comparison though, there’s no such thing as a bad ending anymore, anywhere, ever. Rogue Warrior has a good ending. Kung Fu Rider has a good ending. Medieval Moves has a good ending. Hell, every game has a good ending because look how endings used to be! LOL! Etc.
We could also apply the same argument to every other area of a game. The graphics are better than they used to be! Games are longer than they were! At least you don’t have to wait 10 minutes for a game to load!
“You can’t demand another ending”
Regardless of how many people are or aren’t demanding a new or revised ending, that doesn’t change the quality of the ending the game has. It’s a separate issue and while muddying the argument by lumping in those who aren’t happy with the ending with those who are demanding another is fun and means you can scream about ‘entitled gamers lol!’, again, it doesn’t change the quality of the ending itself. It’s a poor ending. It just is.
But hey, while we’re here and doing the changing-the-ending dance, it’s worth noting this won’t be the first time an ending will have been changed. Bethesda effectively released a new ending for Fallout 3 after that broadly suffered the same problems the Mass Effect 3 ending currently does. Here’s the thing – people can moan about entitled gamers all they want but if our medium allows problems with gameplay to be patched, why not the story? Is that not a valid criticism worthy of change as well? Is our defensive nature of not changing the story a hangover from the days of movies and TV, where the storylines can’t be altered post-release? (George Lucas being the obvious exception.) Should we not take advantage of one of the unique strengths our medium offers?
So The Ending Sucked
BioWare has maintained it had a plan for the trilogy since day one but this ending betrays that. It was bad enough that Illusive Man and the Collectors became the focal point of Mass Effect 2, which was a strange side-step away from the collective force of the Reapers that was bearing down on the galaxy, but if anything the ending of Mass Effect 3 suggests BioWare was making it up as it went along.
It’s not entitlement, it’s not whining and it’s not BIOWARE HATERZ.
It’s just a horrible ending and not one worthy of what might be the best gaming series we’ve seen this gen.