Before you start reading, I first want to say that there will be spoilers present here. If you haven’t completed Mass Effect 3 and don’t wish to risk being spoiled, please stop reading now. That said, I have made the effort to not give detailed spoilers, so even if you for some reason feel the urge to read, know that a play-by-play of the ending will not be found.
I am what some may consider a diehard Mass Effect fan. I’ve completed the first game three times, the second game six times, and just recently finished the third game of the trilogy. I, like many Mass Effect fans, have fallen in love with the universe, the characters, the history. I’ve read the comics, bought the books, and paid for every piece of downloadable content available. And I, like all others, was excited for the ending of what has become one of the greatest science fiction epics ever designed.
BioWare had a huge undertaking before them: they had to try to satisfy every Mass Effect fan by giving every Shepard a conclusive ending. I repeat myself: they had to give every Shepard an ending. There’s as many Shepard’s out there as there are players. Every player has designed their own galactic hero (or villain) according to their liking. It’s a miracle BioWare didn’t run screaming from the franchise years ago for that fact alone. The task of concluding the stories of a million heroes is nigh impossible.
So they did what they had to: they designed one ending (at least as of now). Sure, there can be some slight variation between playthroughs, largely depending on the “final choice,” but overall the ending will be virtually identical for everyone. That’s a hard blow to take considering the series prides itself on allowing players to have so much control over the flow of the story. But, at the same time, it is smartest move BioWare could have made.
It should be clear to everyone that the Mass Effect universe isn’t dead with the end of the main trilogy. Games will continue to come out – spinoffs are likely to continue (they’ve already begun on iPhone, for instance), and future DLC is a sure thing – and there has already been confirmation of a new comic series coming soon. The universe isn’t dead yet.
But how, I ask, could the universe have continued if everyone didn’t experience the same ending to the main series? How could future games, books, etc., make any references to the main story if there were numerous endings to reference? Would they have to just pick one, at the cost of leaving out thousands of gamers who got different endings? How would they bring any newcomers into the franchise if future products relied entirely on having experienced the last?
Now, some people may have been okay with ME3 being the true final game, final chapter of the Mass Effect universe. And I, admittedly, would belong to that camp. I would have been fine with ME3 being the end-all. But there’s no denying that there are thousands out there who want the universe to continue. BioWare was wise to keep their options open – or perhaps even more, they were thoughtful to have done so; thoughtful to those who aren’t ready for the universe to be done.
But let’s ignore the business side of their decision for a moment and address the actual ending itself. I have a question that I want you, the reader, to think about deeply: has BioWare ever given us a bad story?
Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, Jade Empire… Mass Effect 1 & 2? Did any of these have a bad story, or did BioWare ever do a lackluster job in presenting it to us?
It’d be hard to find any gamer who thinks BioWare is synonymous with bad story-telling, so why do so many think they suddenly started now? Is the ending to Mass Effect 3 really that bad, or is it a matter of many of us not seeing the bigger picture?
The present ending is ambiguous, that’s for sure, and it’s definitely open for interpretation – but are either of these qualities bad? Why are so many people acting like it is a necessity for the story to be given to us bluntly – a “here’s what happened before, what’s happening now, and what will happen in the future” type of story is hardly worthy of the title “epic” (and I use that as a narrative term, not as the irritating colloquial term).
The ambiguity and openness of the final act is what makes me, as a self-proclaimed diehard Mass Effect fan, love the ending. Does it bother me that my choices had little effect on the actual events of the ending? Not at all. I just experienced a 100 hour trilogy where the effects of my choices were evident – and the fact that BioWare decided to fashion this ending for us was not only bold, but highly respectable. It is, after all, their work of art, and after having control of the painter for so long, I am more than happy to let the painter take control for the final moments.
Why? Because the fact of the matter is – if I may sound philosophically cliche for a moment: life isn’t always about choices. Why should Shepard’s life be any different? The war was arguably futile from the beginning, so the equal futility of the ending wasn’t exactly unexpected. And not having a major choice over the ending contributes to the impact of it; the reality that all of our life choices are not immune from being negated by a greater force – death, the Reapers.
If you take the ending at face value: yeah, it sucks. Which is why you shouldn’t take it at face value. I ask again: has BioWare ever given us a bad story? Wouldn’t it be plausible that the ending is deeper than we think?
This isn’t an argument of “wait for DLC to explain it,” which we already know is happening – this is an argument of “take the time to consider the ending we’re already given.” And people have already started to do just that. Just take a look at the video below, an extremely well-done explanation of one of the more prominent interpretations coming out of the Mass Effect community, particularly on BioWare’s forum:
Note: this video definitely has full-on spoilers.
I’m not here to argue for the validity of the Indoctrination Theory (although I will say it is very intriguing, and I wouldn’t hold it above BioWare to think up of something like that), but I am going to say that those of you saying the ending sucks because of plotholes, or because of the aforementioned ambiguity, need to start considering other possibilities. Maybe you just aren’t giving BioWare enough credit (which is inexcusable – they just made you become engrossed in their creation; they’ve already proven they are more than capable of creating a deeper-than-it-appears story).
BioWare knows what it’s doing. BioWare’s Mass Effect universe has been a success to a degree that few science fiction endeavors achieve – that sort of thing doesn’t happen with idiots or liars at the helm. These are narrative geniuses.
The ending is perfect. It’s just going to take some of us longer to realize it. And I think, eventually, we all will.