Why I Hate… The End of Mass Effect 3 (SPOILERS)

As with Rax’s fantastic article on why he loves the ending of Mass Effect 3, this piece contains spoilers for not only the end of Mass Effect 3, but also, particularly, for the end of Mass Effect 2. Please don’t continue reading if you are looking forward to discovering either for the first time in the future!

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Rax fantastically and astutely outlined why he is a big fan of arguably the most controversial ending to a game ever. But, there’s two sides to every coin; a Ying to every Yang; two edges to every sword; there cannot be Sith without the Jedi… ok I’ll stop now and get on with my point.

This article should be something more like “Why you have every right to hate…” however we have naming conventions here at newbreview.com, so the current title will suffice. The ending of Mass Effect 3 was a travesty, not because it didn’t end “correctly” or because the player’s choices throughout the game had no real impact, or even because there weren’t enough story strings tied up to satiate the masses, but because of inaccuracies within the Mass Effect universe itself, giant plot holes (notably different to queries left unanswered) and, fundamentally, an ending that was underwritten to such an extent that it has satisfied so few, and angered so many.

Firstly to the critics who have argued that Bioware proffered 16 endings for the game and we’ve only been given three. To these people I say calm down, pick your toys back up, place them neatly back in the pram, and put the dummy back in your mouth. There are many more variations to the endings of Mass Effect 3, taking it way beyond 16. For example, the different combinations of crew members that can emerge from the Normandy after it crashes take it way past 16. I’ve put a handy chart for you below so you can count them (I’ve stopped at 16, but you get the point).

Whether you see this as a different ending or not is a question of semantics. In empirical terms, there are differences between each of these outcomes and thus it counts as a different ending. Fact. Also, this is just one small part of the ending to the game, when you take into account the final choice, the number of endings increases by a factor of three.

One of the final scenes shows the Normandy racing away from an explosion, presumably that of the Mass Effect relay on the edge of the Sol solar system. The ship escapes in a beautifully tense set piece that sees the ship crash landing on a jungle-like planet and Joker, along with a random member of the crew (depending on your choices earlier in the game – see above) emerge unscathed. Truly this is a gripping cinematic and excellently executed. However it doesn’t make any sense.

Enjoy your cuddle you dirty deserter!

As Shepard is making the final decision (all three of which result in the Mass Effect relays exploding) the fighting is in full flow, and presumably the Normandy is there battling away with the rest of the fleet. There’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest Joker swooped down to grab some of your crew members from Earth, but the fact remains that the Normandy would have been in or around Earth and the Citadel as you decide whether to merge with, destroy or synthesise the reapers.

So there are two primary issues here: firstly, in order for the Normandy to escape the explosion coming from the edge of Sol, they would have had to desert the fighting. The Normandy is a great ship and reasonably fast, however it is not the fastest ship in the galaxy, so the fact that it is the only ship in this cut scene is further evidence for Joker’s desertion from battle. Presuming any remnants of the fleet remains, Joker and the crew should expect a full court martial.

There are other examples of this kind of misstep in the narrative, however painfully trawling through possible plot holes and inaccuracies will ultimately be fruitless. You’ll get no nearer to satisfaction and at some point, with any work of fiction (and some factual pieces) you have to allow the writers some scope to get on with their writing, after all it’s their work of fiction, not ours, and they can change it as they see fit. Who’s to say that the questions we have can’t be explained with extra content or a few lines of dialogue in forthcoming DLC? The fact that there are these holes does point to flaws in the narrative, however this isn’t the main reason to get upset…

In my eyes it’s clear that Bioware were going for a kind of “Lost” effect. The popular HBO series left so many questions at the end of each episode, let alone the mysteries at the end of each series, that fans in their droves went online to discuss and debate possible endings and philosophical leanings within the writing. Whilst Lost certainly did have naysayers, the almost ubiquitous outrage for Mass Effect 3 has shown that this strategy has backfired spectacularly, with only a few people noting the subtle hints to the effects of indoctrination.

Could it be that there is more going on in this scene than we first thought?

And so to indoctrination… Personally I really like the ambiguity this throws up but I cannot discuss first without explaining. Throughout the game Shepard could have been indoctrinated to ultimately agree with The Illusive Man and control / merge with the reapers. There are subtle hints (that presumably many have missed in their hast to grab their pitch forks and light their torches) in various key points that suggest this. Most notably the Prothean AI you encounter on Thessia out-rightly states “security protocol: indoctrination detected”, which you assume is because the Cerberus assassin, Kai Leng, is closeby. When you later activate the AI, after killing Leng, the AI repeats the same message. Could he really have been speaking about Shepard instead? Hmmmm…

So what is this article all about? “Tom’s quite positive about the whole ending debacle and seems to be going against the raison d’ètre of this article from the get go” I hear not many of you saying. Well no, not really. The very fact that there is such an outrage, and indeed the current mumblings of possible court action against Bioware shows that the ending of the game has been underwritten. The thin line of ambiguity that rests between “message shoved down throat” and “no questions answered at all” has clearly been missed by a country mile. Fair enough if they’re playing their cards close to their chest, aiming to ultimately resolve the story threads they’ve left dangling with upcoming DLC. However you cannot deny that there’s been a serious miscalculation in camp Bioware when it comes to considering how the game will be received. That is why I’d say you have every right to hate the ending of Mass Effect 3.

- Tom “ClacTom” Wallis

Tue, March 27 2012 » Why I Hate...

9 Responses

  1. Mightyles March 27 2012 @ 8:14 am

    Most of the plot holes that people get so upset about are easily explained. Take joker’s apparent desertion: when Shepard’s mission fails Admiral Hackett announces over the radio that the mission is aborted. That could easily be seen as the order to retreat. Joker being Joker he could easily swoop down to gather survivors and, thinking that Shepard has been vaporised, retreated.

    I think that the most obvious problem, that you have correctly identified, is the fact that we weren’t spoon-fed all the answers. While I support the idea of additional details or an epilogue, perhaps where you play as the rest of shepard’s squad, Bioware must not change the ending. The idiots must not win.

  2. braindead_hero March 27 2012 @ 8:49 am

    Mass Effect 3′s ending wasn’t too bad, I’ve seen much worse. I mean I completed Fable 3 last night, talk about shitty endings.

  3. Rax March 27 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    Firstly, Bravo! Mr Wallis, an excellent piece of work and a superb & finely balanced rebuttal of my piece.
    I agree with almost everything you say, but also agree with Mightyles specifically in the sense that, as I allude to in my earlier piece, it feels like players had a clear expectatiuon of how they wanted the experience to play out and when they didn’t get exactly what they wanted they sulked. Shame. I value the sense of suprise I experienced when I didn’t get what I expected and hold this to be an impressive & brave way for BioWare to go.
    Anyway, I’m sure every player has a slightly different take on this and it’s great to see such animated and informed debate from all corners!

  4. Rax March 27 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    LOL, Seconded Braindead_hero! So, so true! ;-)

  5. Cory March 28 2012 @ 12:00 pm

    Mightyles: sure, you can come up with plenty of explanations to fill holes in the sloppy ending. Doesn’t change the entire ending sequence (following the IM’s death)in anything else besides its current state a mess of non-sequitur, ex machina nonsense.

    The ending can and should be changed for one simple reason: broken promises. There’s the simple fact that the endings are so fundamentally similar, despite whatever you may have accomplished or done in the game. This is a direct contradiction of statements throughout the series’ life by Casey Hudson, others on the dev team, and marketing materials. Either this ending was not what Bioware really intended to create, or they were quite happy to lie all the way to the bank. The current ending, therefore, does not really deserve some cutesy shield of “artistic integrity”.

  6. Mark March 28 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    I myself have mixed feelings about the ending(s). Probably the biggest is not knowing what happened to all the other races after whichever route you choose. My next biggest thing is basically destroying the whole Mass Effect Universe as we know it.
    Both times the AI detected indoctrinated presence Kai Leng showed up. And the catalyst stated that the illusive man could not control the reapers because he was already indoctrinated but you could.
    Overall the endings are good and i understand why they would go that way… i was just hoping for more closure on all the other races and characters, also it preculudes the Mass Effect Universe progressing instead it is “reset” so to speak.

  7. Mightyles March 28 2012 @ 4:19 pm

    One of the strengths of the mass effect series is the way they fool us into thinking that our choices make a significant impact on the world. If you play the games again and make completely different choices you’ll actually find that things aren’t that different. For instance, if you killed Wrex in Me1 he is replaced by a cardboard cut out Krogan that fills Wrex’s role in the narrative. Similarly if any squadmates die in me2 they’re replaced by new characters that say and do pretty much exactly the same thing as your deceased squadmate would have.

    In this regard the endings are entirely I keeping with the spirit of Mass Effect.

  8. ghostsilo March 28 2012 @ 11:56 pm

    an idea just popped in my head, you guys know how the mass relays can destroy the entire solar system when exploded? well instead of doing the whole catalyst thing they could have lured the reapers to one of the mass relays and blew them all the f up. idk i would have liked that better than the ending they gave us

  9. ClacTom March 29 2012 @ 10:42 am

    If we think of Shepard as being indoctrinated for most of the game, the endings make more sense. Could it be that Shepard is the only one who could make the final choice because of his interaction with the beacon in the first game? That would mean that everything leading up to that, including TIM saying he couldn’t make the choice, was simply a way of leading you (Shepard) to make the choice they wanted. This is further supported by the fact that the destruction ending is the only one with the possibility of Shepard still being alive (glimpse chest breathing in rubble). Also, the Prothean AI repeats the “indoctrination detected” message after Kai Leng has been killed.

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