Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or just don’t care about the best video game series ever, you’re probably well aware of the complaints about Mass Effect 3′s ending. Not just complaints, but a swell of geek rage that might actually force Bioware to change the ending of the game. That would be wild. Games are an interactive medium, but in a lot of ways their narratives work like a movie or a book. Why haven’t we petitioned Suzanne Collins to change the ending of her Hunger Games trilogy? Or petitioned Syfy to change the ending of Battlestar Galactica? Granted, it’s a lot easier to program DLC and parse it out to the masses (perhaps for a few dollars?) than to rewrite and republish a book, but if Bioware caves it will be the first time a game company has ever changed an already released plot because of the fans. So let’s think it through.
Here There Be Spoilers
So basically at the end of ME 3, regardless of whatever choices you made, all the mass effect are going to explode, the Normandy is going to get stranded, a big ol’ energy wave is going to move over the galaxy, and Shepard is going to die. From that angle it it sure feels like there aren’t a lot of options.
Destruction of the Mass Relays
That was a wild choice. A franchise destroying choice, really. Mass Effect isn’t Mass Effect without the relays. And without that means of travel, each solar system becomes a little island unto itself. Humans and the other races have faster-than-light travel, but it still takes months or years to get anywhere. That’s the reason the Reapers built the mass relays. They wanted to get to the next planet that they were going to eat in a timely manner. People have accused EA of rushing production of ME 3 and pushing for a giant money grab. While it may be true that the product was rushed, it’s a shortsighted payday.
This consequence basically ends the Mass Effect universe. That means no sequels, table-top RPG’s, novels, etc. You could produce that stuff, but without any of the characters or settings we loved in the game, it’s not likely to work.The Star Wars franchise has made huge money off its expanded universe of novels, games, card games, toys, comics and whatever else George Lucas wanted to merchandize. Now consider the franchise if they had killed off all the Jedi forever. It wouldn’t have worked. From that perspective this was a really ballsy choice that made no concessions for monetary gain.
Oh, and remember in Mass Effect 2 when destroying a mass relay blows up an entire solar system and kills everyone? So if all the mass relays blow up, then basically all those solar systems are gone. Is this like in Star Wars when the Death Star probably killed everyone on Endor? Guess we’ll ignore it.
The Normandy Is Stranded
Yeah, this one is kind of a bummer. Plot holes aside, the Normandy finds itself traveling between relays when Shepard flips the “destroy everything cool” switch. Barring some miraculous events, even if the crew doesn’t die off on the planet, their kids or grand kids probably will.
They have a spaceship, but without fuel to power the thing it’s going to be a very expensive rock. And as we remember from Mass Effect 2, ship fuel is only near the mass relays. It seems better than dying, but a lot of players are upset that they didn’t get closure. Without a trite “happily ever after” cutscene the masses will continue to rage.
And let’s not forget that everyone at the fleet near Earth is also stranded. Turians, Quarians, Salarians, and anyone else that survived your ending of choice. A lot of people have pointed out that Earth is a wreck, cut off from supplies because the relays are gone, and its swarming with aliens that can’t eat our food. That probably isn’t a good recipe.
The Problem Isn’t Mass Effect 3
The ending of ME 3 follows naturally from it’s plot points in the previous games. It took two fleets to destroy Sovereign in the first game and that was a single reaper. Seriously, Shepard only killed (and really he helped a lot of other people kill) a single reaper in the span of two games. They’re that tough! The reason both games worked out okay (unless the whole team died in ME 2) was because the Reapers had been delayed. In the first game you stopped them from arriving. In the second you stopped them from creating a new Reaper. With hundreds of them running around causing mayhem, it’s not like anyone was going to have the resources to actually fight them.
I think the real problem is with the end of ME 2. That’s when the Reapers started making their journey out of dark space. At the end of ME 1, I was under the impression that they were trapped out there. That was the point. If we had known then that the Reapers could just come to our galaxy the old-fashioned way I probably wouldn’t have been as impressed.
And once they got here it cut the choices down to nil. How do you stop an invincible enemy that can be everywhere? Kryptonite. That’s what you use when your opponent is unstoppable. There is no plausible way to take the resources at Shepard’s disposal and turn them into a conventional war against the Reapers because they would lose. Once the Reapers arrived this was the only choice. So our real complaint is with ME 2.
What You’re Really Upset About
I guess I just don’t get it. The Mass Effect series has been lauded for its portrayal of realistic characters and a gritty struggle against a neigh unstoppable force. Gritty realism is part of the reason we love modern space operas. It’s not like a happy ending was ever on the table. The players wanted a game that packaged all of their choices into a neat series of endings they could be happy with, but that’s never been Mass Effect’s MO. Through all of ME 2 into ME 3 you have been dealing with the consequences of previous choices. Like real life, it doesn’t all come at the conclusion. It comes piecemeal when you aren’t always expecting it.
You’ve been seeing the consequences of choices throughout the game and you get to make some huge choices at the end. You get to choose to wipe out the Reapers or control them. You get to choose to wipe out all synthetic life or change everyone into a cyborg. These aren’t small consequences. And this ending isn’t all that different from ME 1. In the first game you basically had two choices at the end: either let the council live or die. You were still going to beat Saren. You were still going to beat Sovereign. And you would still get to pick which human would be on the council.
The game ended like most big trilogies. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at Return of the Jedi or Return of the King. The key difference is that we didn’t get a happy ending. I believe that the problem with the Mass Effect franchise is that it too aptly reflects how choice works. Sometimes, especially against overwhelming odds, you make all the right choices and you still lose. It happens.
Mass Effect 3 has some technical flaws, like the glitchy character jumps in chat or the fact that some of your crew are showed in two places at the same time. It’s even got some weird plot holes (why was the Normandy running from the fight?), but I’m of the mind that Mass Effect told its story too well. It created realistic characters we cared about. It emulated the consequences of our choices, even when our choices couldn’t always change what was going to happen. And it concluded a massive franchise without ejecting our suspension of disbelief.
At least until Bioware launches new DLC with endings that are way better. Then I will stand corrected.
If you think I’m full of crap, this guy agrees with you.