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All Good Things… Ending Mass Effect

NOTE: There are some inferred “spoilers” throughout this post, but they are largely non-specific. The comments section is likely to be loaded with heavy spoilers. If you have to know nothing about how this series concludes, skip this post. If you just don’t want to know specific outcomes and events, you should be fine, but avoid the comments section. Any obviously spoilery text in the main post has to be highlighted to be read.

The one thing that’s stuck out to me most about the ending of Mass Effect 3 isn’t even about the game itself, but how it’s brought out the absolute ugliest in a whole lot of people – both those who hated it and those who didn’t. This feeling’s been compounded in the last 24 hours since Bioware revealed they might be changing the game’s resolution in some form or fashion. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve closed Twitter so as to not have to read a flood of the same bile-tastic comments over and over again. March 21st, and the media pundit Twitter snark-fest that ensued, enters the record as one of those days.

I finished Mass Effect last Friday. The first three words that came to mind: That was fucked. At the time I wasn’t even sure if it was in a good or bad way. These things aren’t entirely clear sometimes and certainly what I saw in those final minutes was so unexpected as to require some reflection before dreaming up anything resembling a well-formed opinion. I’ll go back ’round to that, in a minute. First, a few words about the tempest in a teacup surrounding how Bioware chose to wrap this up…

Do I think it’s kind of silly that people need to be motivated by a video game’s lackluster conclusion in order to find charity money in their pockets? Yeah, I do. I’m all for Child’s Play racking up tens of thousands of dollars, but if you want to give, then give. Don’t make it about Mass Effect’s ending. Or do, I guess. What do I care? Filing FTC complaints and whatnot is so ridiculous it requires no further comment. Bad endings have been a part of story telling since the dawn of time. Go ahead and feel let down. Get mad even. Then, move on to the next thing – you were going to anyway.

At the same time, the level of derision I see aimed at this crowd, forcefully pumped into my consciousness from places like Twitter, may irritate me even more. Mostly I’m talking about people who consider themselves professional critics. The comments I’ve seen from a few individuals have gone beyond expression of contrary opinions and instead cross the line into outright contempt and hostility mixed with a healthy dose of holier than thou cynicism. One thing I’ve noticed about this business is there are critics in it who have no reservation whatsoever about using a legion of angry gamers as a cudgel to savage a developer when agendas align, but a heartbeat later will act like they’re above such mob mentality when said mob trucks on by them without their “leadership” to guide it. Such is the nature of people, I suppose.

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I’m not sure if it’s shame or futility I feel at adding my own contribution to the barrels chock full of useless diatribes about Mass Effect 3 and The Epic Ending Debacle of 2012. It’s probably both, but I’ve never shied from a quixotic jousting of a windmill or two, so why start now? Let’s talk about how this trilogy in the Mass Effect canon reached its conclusion…

The short version is this: The ending is bad. Bioware swung hard for the fences with having the “big” idea and they whiffed in equal proportion. This does not mean I’m about to lobby the FTC. Like I said above, bad endings are a part of storytelling. Bioware didn’t set out to implement an ending that wholly misunderstands what made the effort of getting their worthwhile in the first place. I actually rather admire how it runs full speed into a brick wall of stunning illogic. Wile E. Coyote would be proud. Whatever the result, it’s obvious they tried. They even hit on some interesting ideas in terms of the Reapers and what they represent. They managed to make The Crucible MacGuffin palatable, which I would not have expected after the first few hours of play. And along the way they gave several memorable characters some worthwhile send-offs.

So, why doesn’t this ending work? Is it because it supplants individuals for a view of the big picture so expanded that it tells you almost nothing about what’s happened to anybody or any group you might actually care about? Is it because the options at your disposal aren’t satisfying? Is it because there’s really no option or outcome you can point to and say it feels like a universal declaration of victory?

Form your own answer about that. I think it doesn’t work because it has nothing at all to do with everything you’ve been doing for three games, least of all Mass Effect 3. The bulk of Mass 3 is a game that is about accumulation of assets. Sometimes those assets are in the form of a ship or artifact. Sometimes in the form of an army. Sometimes it’s a squad or individual. They’re all weighted for an overall effect. The problem is that the number, relative to the end game options it unlocks (or locks away), is entirely arbitrary. If it’s under threshold X then you have these two choices. If it’s over said threshold you have these three, but then this thing happens. If it reaches the next threshold you’re back down to two options, but then this other thing also happens. It’s not, in any way, a coherent cause and effect. That is bad writing, bad planning, bad everything.

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To illustrate this point I have to enter some spoiler territory. Highlight the text to see it…

The options at your disposal -control the Reapers, destroy the Reapers, synthesis of man and machine- don’t have anything to do with your War Assets in a logical way. The War Assets are just a number to slot you into which combination of these items are at your disposal. If you failed to assemble many galactic fleets it’s not going to affect whether or not the Crucible reaches Earth. Failing to round up an adequate ground force doesn’t mean Shepard won’t make it to the Reaper transport beam back to the Citadel or that he’ll be in a different kind of shape when he gets there. No matter what you do throughout the game you will get the same rush through the climax that everyone else got. For a game that is all about coalition-building, for the strength of the coalition not to actually affect the final battle sequence at all is dodgy at best. By the time Shepard is busy making his choice on behalf of galactic civilization, how big your fleet is or how strong your ground forces are should make no difference whatsoever. Look at this way: If you don’t broker peace between the Quarians and Geth, maybe you fall short of the war assets needed to choose synthesis. But then what does brokering peace between Quarians and Geth have to do with synthesis? Oh, right. Nothing.

Compare this to the ending for Mass Effect 2, which, boss fight aside, I regard as one of the better final few hours of any game I’ve ever played. Everything about how that game closes out, from the moment you enter the Omega Relay, is about the decisions you made throughout the game. If you don’t outfit the Normandy properly, you take more damage and risk more of your crew. If you haven’t ensured everyone’s loyalty they are unlikely to survive any mission to which you assign them. Even the ones that are loyal to you are at risk if you make poor decisions about how to utilize them. Mass Effect 2’s final act is a culmination of everything you do in that game.

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The problem with Mass Effect 3’s ending isn’t whether I like the tone of it or whether I think it’s too happy or too miserable or too vague or too devoid of digital tits. The problem with it is that the first 99% of what you do in the game is in no meaningful or logical way connected to the final minutes. As disappointing as that is, it’s also freeing in a way. When I sit down to replay the game with my Renegade Shepard, which I am sure to do, I am not going to obsess over War Assets and Galactic Readiness and how all that will determine my ending. The ending, no matter what I do, is awful, but the experience of getting there is still meaningful. I still…

…changed the course of Jack’s future. I still broke Ashley’s heart. I still helped Tali return home and find peace. No, I don’t know what becomes of her when the end comes. I don’t know if Garrus goes on to be a leader to his people or if he’s stranded on Earth. I don’t know if Miranda grieved for my death. Or am I even dead? Perhaps I’m like Kirk describes Dekker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture – missing…

…These are all things I’d like to know in some way, even if it were a bunch of text epilogues like in Origins. (I know many people hated those. I was fine with them.) But even though I think the game’s ending fails on so many levels it’s hard to know which one to focus on for the purposes of criticism, what it does not do is invalidate the journey and I think that’s where a lot of fanbase ire misses the forest for the trees.

Theirs is an understandable reaction, however. They feel let down. Betrayed. And they want to go somewhere with all that anger. Some of them are doing it in more productive ways (Child’s Play drives) than others (forum ranting and FTC threats). But that’s always the result when you have an enormous group of people reacting to something they’re passionate about. I’m less understanding of people who seem unable to let them have, and come to terms with, their anger. It will ebb and they’ll move on. Leave them to their grief about the game’s culmination, melodramatic or inappropriate as it may come out in places, and simply stick to owning your own ideas. The mud slinging is embarrassing to everyone involved and, with yesterday’s announcment, officially has come to overshadow what’s most important about Mass Effect 3:

It’s a damn good game, no matter how it ends.

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

29 thoughts to “All Good Things… Ending Mass Effect”

  1. I don’t know if it’s a good game though … technically speaking there isn’t show stopping problems (besides the last 15mins). I’ve come around to feel as the PA guys do about this game, (only in regards), that the end starts the second you start it (the beginning of ME3). The whole game is “the end” so to speak. In which case, it succeeds quite well.

    And I love/hate coming back to the marketing of this game, but what we got certainly wasn’t what most people we’re expecting. Even more so from ME1 to ME2 to ME3. I actually expected Shepard to die (at the end) in ME2 from the marketing material but not ME3. This game isn’t really ME3 to me & the ending was a complete blind slide on top of that. Damn there is some great moments (Mordin & Thane, tear jerking & proud moments at the same time), but the poorly executed moments, “overshadow” even the ending. And I really want to drop an army surplus list of reasons why, but I understand people haven’t finished yet. It’s definitely hard skirting around major story arcs. Like the indoctrination theory as a possible explanation (not a spoiler, but to bullet point it would).

    Interesting to see people’s reactions to this crisis who haven’t finished the game yet. The asshats (besides myself on a drunken tirade here one morning) are really the exception rather than the rule. Most people on BSN, Facebook, Twitter are not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. For the most part there is incredibly smart & sophisticated people calling out EA & Bioware on there shit.

    This could be the most important moment for the company. It’s not a loss in my mind of any artistic integrity ideology, but the opposite. The disconnect between Publisher, Developer, Marketing & Consumer is beyond rationalization anymore. The most important lessons many times are forged by the most painful ones. Bioware is getting a light fluffy right now. It’s like the movie Money Ball. Everything might change after this. The (video) game will change. For the better.

    1. I agree with the idea that the whole thing is the ending and I’m actually rather okay with that. More to the point, some poor story beats aside, I do think it’s got some of the best gameplay (from a shooter/RPG perspective) of the three games. Mass 2 will always be my favorite, but there’s no question there are pieces I’d miss going back to either of the first two games. Combine that with some great character moments and there’s only so much I can begrudge it. A week out from finishing it and I’m largely satisfied with the overall experience. If I had to go thumbs up/down with it, I’d honestly give it an unreserved thumbs-up (even though I still *hate* the galaxy at war multiplayer mechanic with the white hot passion of 1,000 suns).

      You note the misrepresentative marketing of the thing – Bioware’s marketing, for years, has not been indicative of the game they were actually making. They tried to sell us on the idea Origins was RPG and a bit rock and roll. That game was not rock and roll. At this point I don’t look at any promotional/marketing stuff they do as having anything to do with the reality of what they’re making.

      I also agree that a lot of the unhappy people are not particularly outrageous about their dissatisfaction. They don’t like it. They say so, but the hysterics come from a much more vocal minority and it’s a shame they all get painted with the same brush.

      1. I actually really dislike the “all of ME3 is the ending” thing. It completely ignores the way that stories are built (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramatic_structure). The central conflict of the Mass Effect series is the Reaper threat. That conflict is not resolved until the final seconds of Mass Effect 3. The resolution of the conflict is the climax and the falling action — given that the conflict with the Reapers is in doubt until the moment Shepard meets the Star Child, I would argue that the final choice is technically the climax.

        To my mind, the problem with ME3’s ending is that it stops too early. It’s unsatisfying because it ends on the climax and neglects the denouement — as you pointed out, a Fallout or DA:O style rundown of what happens to characters and places would serve just fine and would have deflected a lot of the criticism. There are situations where you can end a story with a climax, but the final game in a three-game epic isn’t one of them. It would be a little like ending Return of the Jedi with the Endor team blowing up the shield generator. Technically, that resolves most of the conflict (the Empire is pretty much going down at that point), but if the movie stopped right there, you’d be apoplectic.

        Thus, from a formal perspective, to say that ME3 is all ending is essentially to say that ME3 is all denouement. That’s pretty clearly not the case, and I think it gives Bioware a bit too much credit. The game is really good, but they borked their storytelling right at the end.

        1. Except that as the last game in a trilogy, ME3 is the ending of the story. The whole game is about tying up loose ends, finishing character’s individual story arcs, and beating the big bad. If that’s not an ending, I don’t know what is.

          And Return of the Jedi is a poor example for a story with a denouement. The climax isn’t the shield generator blowing up, its the Death Star blowing up. After that you get a few minutes of people celebrating (which in ME3, would be analogous to the *SPOILERS* EDI and Joker bit at the very end *END SPOILERS*). What do the characters do afterwards? What happens with the rest of the Empire? We don’t find out (the Expanded Universe obviously answers these questions, but that’s outside the movie).

          The problem with doing a “what comes next?” with big stories like these is where do you stop? A year later? Five? Fifty? Sometimes its just better to end the story you’re trying to tell and leave the rest open to the imagination.

          1. I disagree.

            The destruction of the Mass Relays is to much of a massive change (right at the end) to the universe.

            It would be like if at the end of Return of the Jedi the ability to jump to hyperspace was destroyed across the entire galaxy simultaneously and Luke’s ship crashed on an unidentified planet with no sign of settlements… is he stranded there forever?

            We really have no idea if the crew of the Normandy is stranded on some remote planet in some remote system forever really… the Relays intact its no sweat you assume they will be rescued.. Relays destroyed you have no real indication… With the Normandy in the middle of a Mass Relay jump means they could be anywhere… in a populated system with rescue nearby? or a remote system with no settlements close enough to make a rescue?

            You can infer whichever direction you want. But its kind of ironic that Bioware grabs total control of the story away from the player for the ending, and then demands that the player draw their own conclusions (with basically no information).

            I am not saying they shouldn’t have gotten rid of the Relays. But if you are, AND you are going to crash the Normandy… well of course people are going to want to know WTF is going on…

  2. SPOILERS
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    I wonder, does Synthesis only present itself as an option if you unite the Geth and Quarians? Is it possible to reach the fleet strength you need without both? Or maybe that was just the original intent that got lost in the expedience of aggregate ratings and multiplayer multiplyers. You could see a thematic connection in that case…

    In any case, that particular point didn’t bother me, and I really admire what they did with the ending. From the beginning I was pretty much at peace with the fact the fleet strength was going to necessarily be a somewhat arbitrary abstraction. The biggest disappointment for me was not getting a good sense of the forces I did bring in the actual fight. Shame they blew the CG budget on that trailer they premiered during the Walking Dead. I also think the writing was writing a lot of checks the 360 and PS3 couldn’t cash. It would have been cool to have Geth Primes and Asari and Krogans in the thick of things around you on Earth, but this is a game where they didn’t have enough memory on the consoles to let you holster a weapon, let alone show every alien race and every enemy type running around in the same level.

    But the charge on the Beam was cool. Your final moments with Anderson are cool. Maybe it was a bit of an overreaction to the complaints about the boss fight at the end of ME2, but I like the idea that ultimately everything is stripped away and you’re left alone as Shepard to bring the war to an end with one last conversation; one last choice. While the ending cinematic may only be superficially different, the path you choose has a profoundly different effect on the universe. I love the way they subvert expectations by illustrating the “Red” choice with Anderson and the “Blue” choice with the Illusive Man. I don’t cotton to the indoctrination theory, instead I think we’re just being shown that Anderson would do the wrong thing, if for the right reasons. Ultimately his priority is to save Earth, damn the Geth, EDI, the Quarians and all the aliens who would die in orbit. Meanwhile, the Illusive Man actually has the right idea, even if his motivations are suspect and his ability to succeed compromised.

    The third choice is even crazier, because while it seems like the greatest good for the most people, it also involves an effectively “benevolent” indoctrination of the entire galaxy, biological or synthetic. Again, the indoctrination theorists would point out this was Saren’s plan and he’s a bad guy, but one of the least talked about themes that has carried through the entire series is the idea that everyone is doing what they think is best and often times that can be interpreted as an act of evil. Anderson trying to destroy the Reapers could be seen as genocide, or as salvation. The Illusive Man is either power hungry, or desperate exalt humanity. Saren is a murderous madman, or maybe the only one who knows the true path to peace. This is no different than Mordin’s role in the Genophage or Legion’s role in wiping out the Quarians or any number of ethical quandaries Shepard has been forced into, rarely with a clear-cut righteous path. Even the ghost child’s plan to save civilization from itself was a misguided attempt to serve the greatest good, even though the cost is terrible.

    In fact, given all that has come before it’s only appropriate that no matter what choice you make, there will be far reaching and irreversible consequences, of which turning the means of oppression, the Mass Relays, against their builders is the only constant and most obvious result. In every scenario the war has already wrought enormous devastation, and the loss of the relay network will irrevocably alter the course of the galaxy. Many will be stuck far from home, but unless you destroyed the Reapers and most of the advanced technology with them, the galaxy will adapt. FTL travel still exists. Trade will continue withing clusters of neighboring stars. Migrant fleets can be built. No one will starve.

    Given the scale of the change, wondering about the individual fates of the members of your crew seem almost petty. Most of the places and institutions we’re familiar with have been destroyed or are unreachable. There’s no easy “Animal House” summaries to give in this brave new galaxy. An attempt to do so would just cheapen Shepard’s sacrifice. Knowing that they seem to have survived the crash and live long enough to tell the Shepard’s story is all the satisfaction I require.
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    END SPOILERS

    1. The Quarian/Geth thing is a number on the War Assets board. I just used it as an example in the sense that if you don’t unite them you get a presumably lower war asset number which could (like any other number in that list) be the difference between getting ending X iteration 2 or ending X iteration 3, etc. which just doesn’t make much sense. The more I think on it, the more I think I’d be okay with the ending if how the final battle leading up to your trek through the Citadel played out differently based on everything you accumulated (or failed to accumulate). How cool would it be if you didn’t acquire enough fleets for the crucible to be destroyed before you even get anywhere on Earth or if you couldn’t reach the Reaper beam because your ground forces were too weak?

      1. Hey Todd,

        Totally agreed on the principal of that final point here. I’m actually okay from a metagame perspective with the point levels affecting the ending cutscene (destroy earth vs not destroy earth) given that it makes as much sense as completing loyalty missions in ME2 ensured that Miranda or Grunt, etc. didn’t get killed by a falling piece of debris in the Reaper base

        However, I do think Bioware could have done a better job in the end scenes in at least giving the player the illusion of consequence based on your war assets (at least the big choices), and I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t.

        Even some precanned footage of some Geth Primes battling it out on earth vs. the reapers or the Quarian fleet blowing up a reaper or the Krogans riding in on dinosaurs (side note: best fetch mission objective EVER) to save your presumably-left-behind-team.

        Alternatively, they could have shown your old/new teammates not dying/dying thanks in part to your Galactic Readiness score in the final moments… something along those lines.

        I think those kinds of things would have done a lot to assuage fans that their efforts in scanning every planet and making sure every damn person got along in the Galactic Alliance or whatever was worth it.

        If bioware were to actually “clarify” the ending, I would be happy if they added some of this as opposed to jiggering with the Final Choice.

        And for the record, agreed with Brad on the last choice. I thought it was interesting to strip Shepherd down to a mythological figure with really only one last decision to make in front of him.

  3. Very interesting. See, this is what I was talking about yesterday when I said that I had no issues with the broad strokes of the ending, but there may be problems with the actual execution that I haven’t seen because I haven’t played it yet. You’re right about the differences between the end of ME3 and ME2. It can still ultimately come down to a single choice in the very end (ex. save the Collector base or destroy it) but if the decisions you made throughout the game don’t have any meaningful and sensible impact on how the final part plays out at all, that is kind of shitty. So, okay, execution could have been a lot better perhaps. I still don’t have any issue with a big “What now?” ending or the fact that there isn’t an obviously happy ending. What you say about it being very freeing is also interesting. I do appreciate how the fact that the very end isn’t really going to be affected by the choices you make through the game lets you just make whatever choices feel natural to you and your Sheppard. In fact, I actually like to play the first two games using something similar to this method.

    See, I hate binary morality systems. I think they’re bullshit. I also hate it when certain conversation options/actions are locked because I didn’t pick enough previous options that were designated with whatever morality the current one is, regardless of what the actual situation entails. Bioware clearly thinks that this action is not becoming of me if my Renegade level isn’t yea high. How do they know that? Aren’t I supposed to be the one playing this character? My character is mostly good, and I’m intensely loyal to my crew, but in certain situations I will go medieval on your ass if I think the situation warrants it or you’re just that kind of person where this is the only way to deal with you. This is wish-fulfillment fantasy. I especially hate it when such a system is tied to actual gameplay advances and you basically have to go down all one path in order to get the best upgrades. It basically slots you into picking Paragon or Renegade at the beginning and sticking with it. How many people here did two playthroughs: one focused on each alignment, possibly male one time and female the other for a little variety? Raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    So what did I do? Easy, I hacked my saved game to max out both my Paragon and Renegade scores. Now every option is open to me, and I can make choices solely based on what I think my character would do in a given situation without having to worry about whether Bioware thinks I should be able to make that choice, or worrying about what upgrade options I’m screwing myself out of. I never played these games for the combat system anyway. They were always on casual difficulty, and I’ll be playing ME3 on Story Mode and doing the same thing when I finally get to it.

    1. I agree, the system railroads you unless you want a ‘bad’ ending. It has roots in the Dark side/Light side choices from KoTR and even allignment from D&D but whereas the KoTR makes sense in canon and D&D doesn’t matter, unless you are playing a class that requires alignment like a Paladin, Mass Effect’s system just seems like a way to make people replay the games. The whole thing just feels artificial and I wish Bioware would realise that.

      1. How is changing from ME2’s N^2 ending varieties down to 3-or-so endings is a ploy to encourage replay.

  4. a) Not a big of the fan of the white text for spoilers. Those parts made it impossible to read on my phone while busing to work. Besides, isn’t Bill’s warning at the top (and the title) enough of a spoiler warning?

    b) The war assets thing ticked me off as well. It would make much more sense if lacking assets prevented you from getting to the beam, or prevented the Crucible from even making it to the Citadel. Or even just show it being damaged if the fleet is too weak (which would actually provide a reason why it loses some functionality).

    c) However, I still thought that the ending was only a little disappointing. There had been foreshadowing throughout the game that the Crucible was going to solve the Reaper problem in a weird way. Characters kept saying “its our best shot, but we’ve got no clue what it will actually do.” While I wasn’t exactly expecting a child-god to walk out and have a chat with Shepard (a great play on the real meaning of deus ex machina), I figured that something strange was in the works. Even without the foreshadowing, a lot of RPGs get pretty crazy at the end (see any Final Fantasy or Xeno-game) so a curveball could be expected. Plus, they had to explain a race of crazy synthetic death machines somehow.

    Furthermore, I really enjoyed the ending moments of Joker and EDI as a new kind of Adam and Eve on an unexplored garden world (another nice linguistic play). While it was short, it made it clear that this was a new era of the galaxy, and that what was going to happen next was going to be entirely different than what came before. That said, it would have been nice to have some specifics via a set of Origin style text boxes.

    1. I could have liked those bits but the way it was executed ruined it for me. The writing of the God Child was clunky (and I think it would have been better if it was a character we knew instead of a dead kid the writers wanted us to feel for) and the way to get Joker and EDI to that point was confusing in terms of logistics (why was Joker going through a Relay?), it just felt to me like a plot outline that somehow got made instead of the script.

  5. 1. I think you are spot on about the folks that use the Internet as a weapon to obliterate what they want but are now outraged by the behavior. For example, Penny Arcade used the power of the Internet to absolutely destroy Paul Christoforo (who appears to be a total douche, but they absolutely crushed him) and now Kuchera is just so embittered by how this ME3 thing is going down It’s the Internet… this happens.

    2. I think your complaints about the ending, to differing degrees, match mine almost to a T. To me “Is it because it supplants individuals for a view of the big picture so expanded that it tells you almost nothing about what’s happened to anybody or any group you might actually care about?” was the biggest hole for me. But that’s just me, but I could have swallowed a lot more silliness if they had just sorta expanded on what the hell this meant for every person I had worked for. The entire ending walk around where you are saying goodbye to your crew members carrys the very blatant theme of “You can do this, you’re our only hope, don’t let us down” and then the endings happened (I picked Synthesis) and I was like… “Okaaaay…. did I let them down there? It kinda feels like I let them down…. but I am not sure.. are they stranded on some planet forever?” and that stuck in my craw the most.

    3. I hope your peers don’t come down on you to hard for being critical of an ending that appears, to the Game Journalism community anyway, as to be almost untouchable now… I would hate to see you blacklisted 😉

      1. Bill has fired me for much less, this is true. I’ve already been fired once today for failing to send him a basket of fruits and muffins this morning.

        Honestly, with #3, I don’t think anyone who knows me in this business will have an issue and anyone who doesn’t won’t read this write-up anyway (and part of the reason the behavior stands out to me this time is because I have great respect for a couple of individuals who’ve been the most vocal). Beyond that, I doubt a comment of some shmoe who does this largely for the fun of it is going to ruffle the feathers of anyone who actually makes their bones at it. Not to mention we all go to the zoo over something at some point – witness JtS 114 and The Great Binky/Brakke Combustion.

  6. Tood, great write up. I think your point about the majority of game critics carrying water for Bioware is spot on, and I am curious to hear why you think that is? I’ve formed my own opinion: reviewers are pissed because the fan backlash is in complete defiance of their 10/10, five star, GOTY 2012 reviews. Of the reviews I’ve read by paid professionals on sites, few mention the issues with the ending other than a cheap “some may have issues with it”. This fan rage hurricane has blown away their flimsy shack of “journalistic integrity” completely, and there they sit with their pants down.

    My second thought is that this is no one’s fault but Bioware’s. They created this beast, a living Choose your Own Adventure & Sexy Alien Companion world, and are seemingly dumbfounded now when people are pissed at being denied closure with that world. This leads to the inexorable conclusion that ending was clearly rushed and they planned all along to fix it with DLC. It will take a while, but a year or two from now this saga will re-ignite when some staffer that got laid off tells everyone what really happened.

  7. Spoilers

    I just really wanted to be able to play through my second time ignoring galactic readiness to such an extent that I got to see the Reapers tear the fleet and Crucible to shreds at the last second, which ironically would have probably required a longer ending cut scene. There should always be an option for a satisfying failure ending in a make your own adventure setting.

    Actually when you get told that the Crucible is the product of so very many cycles that is straight where my mind went.

  8. I haven’t played the game yet but will soon so take my opinion for what it’s worth. I have watched the various endings on youtube so maybe I don’t get the whole context but it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. Some of the vetriol coming out reminds me of the Tea Party movement when it first got started. A little bit scarey and whole lot whacky. If we, as gamers, put this much effort into changing EULA and DRM issues, we could affect real change in the idustry we love. It’s just an ending to a game, come on!

  9. I like your article. I also thought the end of ME2 was awesome. Though a part of me wants to replay the whole game just to see different endings, I don’t think that’s altogether a good thing for the game experience as a whole.

    I resent needing numerous play-throughs to feel like I didn’t miss part of the game. In that sense, the ending is more of a symptom of the rest of the game structure.

  10. Great article, Todd! I’m completely with you on most points. Especially: “I think it doesn’t work because it has nothing at all to do with everything you’ve been doing for three games, least of all Mass Effect 3. The bulk of Mass 3 is a game that is about accumulation of assets….The problem is that the number, relative to the end game options it unlocks (or locks away), is entirely arbitrary.”

    Think you summed it up nicely there. Also, I liked the text epilogues in DA:O and would have been fine with them here.

    Among my friends who have completed me3 I’ve heard several of them complain that the lackluster ending has removed any desire they might have to replay the game. I don’t really get that. Even though the ending left me disappointed and confused the rest of the game was very enjoyable. Knowing how it ends does lend a somewhat hollow and ironic tone to some of the inspirational speeches(of which there are many. many many), but not enough to be a game-killer.

    Like many I didn’t care for the ending, though the backlash has been disproportional and out of control. I don’t harbor any illusions that bioware owes me or anyone else anything which makes that whole announcement yesterday seem…odd. I get that they’re trying to be accommodating, and I hope it doesn’t end up blowing up in their faces even more-so. Hmmm. We shall see.

    SPOILERY STUFF.
    The two things that I really disliked about the ending were
    1) the whole EMS/galacitc readiness thing. Todd did a darn good job of dissecting this already, so, moving on…
    2) At least in my playthrough the quarian/geth and edi/joker plots were a really interesting examination of AIs learning to think and feel more like humans to bridge the gap and prevent further issues like the geth rebellion. I felt my Shepard did a good job pushing that agenda along and was sort of annoyed that the endgame basically told me that synthetics and organics would never get along (barring weird deus ex machina genetic rewriting synthesis). It felt like they derailed their own plot point a bit. Now I know that the geth/quarian thing can end, uh, badly, but it can also end really well and the ending fails to take that into account. Obviously this wasn’t the only thing I didn’t like, but it stuck out.

      1. Yeah, I saw that article and I think it’s been debunked, but it’s easy to see why it gathered so much momentum. As you said, very easy to believe.

        Also I tired, but couldn’t find any points I actually disagreed on, so shame on me.

  11. Completely echos my sentiments, from the ending itself, to the kerfuffle its stirred up. I have my misgivings that I haven’t really properly ventilated yet, so forgive me if this gets wordy and somewhat incoherent (as I’m not confident in the flow of my thoughts (I rarely am)) I apologize in advance (yay self depreciation). Feel free to ignore me. ^o^

    First, let me start off by saying that any and all articles on this subject are appreciated, whether or not they have been done to death in the past weeks, and whether or not they are pro- or anti- (or somewhere in the middle) ending. Open discourse on this game and both its victories and misgivings is always worth it, IMO. This game gets people talking, whether you liked it or not, whether you continued to or stopped liking it at the end, its a great achievement that’s worthy of the attention, no matter how far down the line. It was a great article, and I thank you for disclosing your thoughts.

    War Assets, and the whole theme of uniting (and brokering peace between) the various races of the galaxy was a major part of the game that I felt got completely thrown out the window come the showdown on Earth. I expected something akin to ME2’s ending, but on a much larger scale, with Commander Shepard actually taking, you know, command of the fleet he/she’s amassed, much like choosing specialists in the Collector Base. Your choices, plus the previous events in the game and the overall strength of the fleet, would all culminate in a unique experience toward the end goal of activating the Crucible, whatever the hell it actually did. The game did a good job of robbing the player of the sense that all the deaths and sacrifice and shaky (at best) alliances between disparate races meant something. Even the main villains of the series, the Reapers themselves, and Harbinger especially, got Gypped of any meaningful confrontation and/or Last Stand. Hell, did he even get any lines?

    I was with the game, despite, all the way up until the elevator lifted Shep into the “Heart” (I suppose) of the Citadel. I don’t subscribe to Indoctrination, so the whole Last Run toward the beam was a lot more epic in my eyes. Shep gets up out of SHEER WILLPOWER and is running on nothing but Adrenaline and drive. The ending conversation with Anderson was one of, if not the, best in the series, and probably video games as we currently know them. Everything from the goodbyes/encouragement of your comrades (within the party or not) up to that point does nothing but hype player emotion to an almost boiling point. Other people have eloquently pointed out the pitfalls and plot holes of the ending with the Catalyst-child… thing, and subsequent “epilogue”, so I don’t really need to reiterate them here, but by the time I picked my ending and the credits rolled, my emotion had really nowhere to go. A lot of the outcries (I guess I can’t think of a better word) claim that the ending itself lacks catharsis for the built emotion to that point, and then left people hanging with a message of future DLC tacked on.

    I myself wasn’t angry. I wasn’t devastated. I was just disappointed, and confused. And it appeared that a lot of people felt the same way. Some took that emotion to their extremes, whether it was to collect for charity (which I thought was weird and demeaned the spirit of the charity to begin with, despite its generosity) or to file with the FTC and BBB, which is about as entitled as it gets, and makes those with valid criticisms of the ending look bad. And its not as if the stalwart defenders of Bioware, including the company itself, were gracious either. Even Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade started to come off as a bit elitist, not to mention Ben Kuchera’s article on the subject, among many in professional game’s journalism, making it seem as if it should be beyond the criticism, and sometimes so far as to question whether we were actually fans of the game/company, taking many of the complaints either out of context, or ridiculously exaggerating them.

    I have never believed that the game, and series itself, is not worth it. Certainly there are those out there that will claim the last stretch ruined the entire series for them FOREVER, and I can understand to an extent, though don’t necessarily agree. Despite the outlash and criticisms and general ugliness on both sides of the fence, its rather telling how much emotion this series, and this particular entry as a whole, managed to instill. They cared about these characters and they cared about this cleverly crafted world enough to think (I believe rightfully so) that they deserve better. The game and series crafted to this point, though not without it flaws, was spectacular, and the journey was worth the price of admission alone. The characters even on the side, were well written and the situations will always hold weight on their own. The gameplay, despite some peoples grievances, showed a marked evolution as a shooter/RPG mix that I would love to see further fleshed out (which is why I like the multiplayer in and of itself, though also not without its flaws).

    Bioware just dropped the ball, big time, and they got called out for it. I’m not clamoring that they change the ending to suit me, and would be just fine despite its lack of luster (as you say, there have been bad endings before), but I would be interested to see if they decide to take a second shot, and what that shot would be.

    If I may be allowed a little embitterment, I think the whole ending itself would work better as is (though still completely disappointing) if you took out the Catalyst AI and the whole senseless Reaper motivation. The Relays can still blow up to take out the Reapers (in order to power the Crucible) and whatever happens after that can still be left up in the air, and Shep can still die, having used up all his spare energy and life clinging to activate the damn McGuffin. My big “beef” is with the AI itself coming out of virtually no where in order to resolve a situation that already had a sort of solution. At the very least, leave him until after the Crucible itself fails (not not doing anything, but failing to have an effect) and Shep is desperate to make the Reaper problem go away. In fact, make the desperation a lot more apparent. I don’t know. Just rambling.

    Also, a side not before I go. I seem to see a lot of people exclaim that they have yet to actually play the game (assuring everyone that they plan/are about too), yet still seem willing to say they found nothing wrong/don’t get the hubbub after seeing the endings via a different medium (most commonly Youtube). I just want to state that these people confuse me and leave it at that, because expounding could be misconstrued as contempt, when its just merely weird.

    LOL, long rant is long. ^o^ Sorry.

    1. Great comment, IcePick! I never did mention how good I thought the material with Anderson was. Thoroughly enjoyed that. Thanks for the effort you put into writing all that!

  12. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and all.
    But think about if you added some great images or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this website could undeniably be one of the best in its field. Good blog!

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