Hoo-boy, what a trip it’s been ladies and gentlemen.
I remember when I first caught a glimpse of Mass Effect, remember it quite clearly actually; we were having a LAN party in a friend’s basement, all of us taking a break from the usual Halo 3 deathmatching, when I see a friend boot up Mass Effect for a bit, loading his profile and piloting his battered Mako through a harsh Noveria blizzard. My curiosity piqued, I went into the local EB Games and snagged a copy for cheap.
And from that point on my life changed.
For many months, maybe even a year or two, I emotionally and physically invested myself into the masterfully-woven tale of Commander Shepard and his/her fight against the imminent Reaper threat, clocking in hours and hours and hours of playtime.
When written plainly on paper, the plot of the Mass Effect series may sound quite mundane in comparison to other science fiction works, but what truly made the series ground-breaking was its intimate relationship with the player: it quickly became clear that this wasn’t Shepard’s story, but the gamer’s story, crafted to each person’s own individual taste.
And this revelation truly illustrated the genius of Bioware.
Unlike other games where you, the player, control the protagonist through a series of scripted events, in Mass Effect you have a direct effect on how you experience the game. Sometimes the game will stop and look to you to make a very painful and difficult choice, often resulting in sacrifice, leaving you wonder afterwards whether or not you made the right call. From these difficult choices you could be chastised or praised, wrongly or rightly so.
Some choices were quite mundane and did not affect the overarching plot, such as choosing to defend a Quarian accused of stealing or letting an officer wrongfully chew her out. But even these small choices helped open up the world around the player, showing them that they are, in fact, part of a larger realm and that the people they interact with are not mere set-dressing.
And then we, the fans, bear witness to the end of a remarkable series…and angrily cry out against the gaming conglomerate we put so much of our trust in (ironic, isn’t it?)
The players were not satisfied with Mass Effect 3’s ending, which, despite every decision and sacrifice given to saving the universe from the Reapers, Shepard was shoehorned into three linear endings, regardless of how you got there.
Personally, I did not like the endings at all because it didn’t feel like a Mass Effect ending at all. It felt like Bioware had lost their enthusiasm and decided to take a safe way out. I didn’t feel truly rewarded for all my hard work, making sure the galaxy was ready for war and looking after the needs of the people, fighting for my comrades and savoring the time I had with my romantic interest.
And of course, that’s a polite reaction.
There was heavy backlash from the fans, sending hundreds of threats and angry messages to Bioware, demanding that they “fix Mass Effect”.
Can you believe that?
A video game receiving so much negative feedback that a multi-million dollar company actually had to go back and change the game?
But, because Bioware cares for the fans and wishes to uphold a higher quality in their games, they went back and retconned the ending to Mass Effect 3.
That’s right folks: Mass Effect 3 was retconned.
For those of you who do not know of the term, it basically means entire story elements in the game were changed.
Of course, Bioware stated that they would be releasing the free DLC as a means of “further explaining the events that took place at the end of the game, giving more insight into Shepard’s life and the consequences of his/her decisions” (this is paraphrasing of course, maybe I’m sounding too optimistic)
But what I’m driving at is that Bioware claimed the DLC would EXPLAIN their ending. But instead, they changed entire elements in the ending…which doesn’t make sense as an explanation.
If all the DLC elements were part of the original story, then they would’ve been in the original ending that came on disc; the moments leading up to the Citadel beam is completely different, the mass relay reactions were changed entirely, and the fate of the Normandy would’ve been different.
There are simply too many differences between the DLC ending and the original ending to justify the changes as “simply an explanation”. They are just that: changes.
So, are they at least good changes?
Yes and no.
The changes that are made are certainly improvements. The run up to the Citadel beam makes way more sense now, and is actually a lot more exciting.
The endings are fleshed-out a bit more, revealing the aftermath of Shepard’s ultimate decision, which is better than simply getting a vague cutscene followed by a man telling a whimsical tale about Shepard.
There is a definite boost in the volume of emotion at the end, especially from your romantic interest (which, for me, is a major part of Mass Effect’s story); it gave the characters in the game’s final moments more depth than a wet cardboard box, that’s for sure.
But is it enough to justify Bioware’s finale?
I’m sorry Bioware, but it’s not really good enough.
The whole plot-hole thing with Anderson still is not explained, the Illusive Man bit is still a forced-Renegade QTE, and the “additional dialogue” with the Star Child is utter bullshit; you ask about its creators only to get that classic “too much to explain, you cannot possibly understand”. Oh wow, thanks Bioware for that riveting dialogue addition.
And you’re still forced to pick from one of the three endings…oh wait, there is actually an additional ending now.
Fans had screamed that they should have had the option to refuse all three options…and now you can. I won’t say what happens…but…let’s just say it’s pretty much Bioware giving fans a fat middle finger. Granted, it makes sense, and the ending actually feels like a true Mass Effect-style ending.
However, there is one element that ALMOST redeems the game’s ending, yet at the same time it makes it so much worse.
The Romantic Interest
[[SPOILER SECTION HERE]]
asdf As you’re running up to the Citadel beam, a Mako tank explodes, and your romantic interest (for me, it was Garrus [I was FemShep, fuck off]) is injured quite badly. Because the area was cleared, Shepard calls in the Normandy to pick Garrus up. A scene takes place where Shepard walks up to Garrus and says:
“No matter what happens, you know I love you. I always will”
Garrus is speechless, and quietly responds “I…love you too” and is forced to watch Shepard walk to her (apparent) doom.
It’s quite an emotional scene, and a great addition to the game’s ending. It made Shepard’s plight that much more urgent. But it also makes the overall ending that much more tragic.
Let’s get down to brass tax people.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to 100% guarantee Shepard’s survival. Of course, with the Destroy ending it is implied that Shepard is still alive, but the ending clips reveal that Shepard was likely never found; Garrus motions to put up her nameplate, but decides against it, believing you’re still alive.
Kinda silly, as my gaming-connoisseur friend pointed out, since they rebuilt Earth and the Citadel even. You figure SOMEONE would have found her body. And if she went into hiding, that doesn’t make any sense; Shepard has no motive or reason to go into hiding, not when Garrus is worried sick back home and there is no longer a galactic threat. Maybe she was tired of all the work and needed a vacation?
I don’t know, but it does make the ending more unbearable, knowing that I can never reunite with Garrus after that emotional scene on the Normandy.
[[END SPOILER SECTION]]
So even after the DLC additions and retconning (which is pretty much a 1gb cutscene) I still came away from Mass Effect 3 feeling very unsatisfied and quite sad. Despite all my hard work, I still couldn’t get Shepard to the ending I wanted.
Of course I realized that this is quite childish and selfish of me; some things happen beyond your control, you can’t always get what you want afterall.
From a storytelling point of view, a perfect ending would actually seem quite cheap and hokey for a grand sci-fi epic such as Mass Effect. But the thing is, this isn’t a movie. This is a role-playing game. This is MY story.
And maybe that’s why there was so much backlash for the original ending: a lot of players felt that their story was hijacked and forced to end in a way they didn’t want. When put like that, it makes the gamers appear to be big babies who didn’t get that shiny new toy they wanted.
But that doesn’t make them wrong.
We’ve pulled Shepard through hell over the three games and accomplished so much for the galaxy. We had to fight political clout and overwhelming physical odds. It seems so pathetic to have a complete lack of control over the outcome of your story.
That’s when I realized that Mass Effect 3 is a truly and utterly unfixable game.
I don’t mean that with the same vehemence as the angry fans. What I mean is that I don’t think there is a way to properly end the Mass Effect series.
With a game that beautifully-weaves storytelling with moral role-playing, how could you possibly end it all? Strictly arguing for plot, the ending of Mass Effect 3 makes sense (in a way), and a perfect ending would be quite dull. Sacrifice and conflict is always more interesting than normality. But on the other hand, this is the player’s story; with the intricate role-playing elements, what grabs them is not so much the plot, but bearing witness to the consequences of your decisions. The player becomes the protagonist of the story, rather than the player merely controlling a protagonist.
It’s a difficult see-saw to balance, and I truly believe there isn’t a way to end Mass Effect 3 that could make everybody happy. Granted, with every video game not everyone is happy with the plot. But whatever Bioware decides to do to “fix” Mass Effect, there will always be a large group crying “it isn’t good enough”. There’s really nothing they can do at this point.
I’ve wondered what the perfect Mass Effect ending would be. For me, it would be reuniting with Garrus and help rebuild the galaxy, every race united and living in harmony (until the Krogan blow up a planet or something). But of course, other people wouldn’t want that ending. How many different endings would be necessary to please everyone?
The first two Mass Effect games were adequate because we were expecting more to come. Since it is the final game in the series, a lot of pressure and expectation was naturally put into the finale.
I think it’s kind of a compliment to Bioware that we’ve emotionally-invested so much into them; we’ve come to care for video game characters and fictional stories to the point where we cry bloody-vengeance against an entertainment company to give us a better story.
Certainly the DLC fixes a few things and improves the ending, but is it really better?
My final thoughts on Mass Effect 3 are as follows:
Although the additional scenes make good changes to the ending and give it more sense and reason, it isn’t enough to emotionally validate the choices I had to make and the hardships I had to endure as Commander Shepard, who had to fight through three games to save a galaxy so diverse that uniting every species to fight a sentient threat is an astounding feat in and of itself.
You’ve had a fantastic run Bioware, but really there isn’t anymore you can do.
There’s nothing more anyone can do.