Anyone who has spent any time in the Mass Effect universe probably already have played ME3 and saw its ending, and if you belong to 90% of the gaming public, you hated the “Endings.” Games have had sucky endings before, but none have created such an outcry as to create an online entity known as “Retake Mass Effect 3″ to create a new/better ending. Or spawned a fan created icon such as “Marauder Shields.” Of course this response has created an equal backlash from Bioware and game journalists, referring it to an over inflated sense of “Fan Entitlement” and to give into such demands would compromise Bioware’s “Artistic Vision.” Now having only experienced the games by proxy, I might not be the best person to talk to about Mass Effect, but I have followed the fan outcry against the endings after my brother explained his experience (Which he commented as being, “It’s fine if you don’t think about it.”) and found an emerging pattern of commonly held criticisms against the ending, and even with my passing knowledge about Mass Effect and fictional writing in general, I acknowledge these to be massive problems that can not be easily solved. I will now, try to relay these criticisms in my own ordered format (from easiest to solve and rather minor, to hardiest to solve and major issues) that I will call my 5 Cs, Closure, Consequence, Continuity, Choice, and Coherence.
NOTE: This is purely an opinion piece. If you disagree, remember to remain civil and do NOT attack the person. Also I’m putting this up right now
SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series, in particular the end of ME3. Do not proceed if you haven’t beaten the games and care.
One of the first things that stick out in Mass Effect 3′s ending is a lack of closure. What happens next? Who knows. Does Wrex/Jack/Jacob/whoever isn’t a squad member in this game survive? Who knows. Does Garrus ever get to his beach and retires? Who knows. You can argue that not all endings give a massive list of where everyone is and what they are doing like say Final Fantasy IV; however, in those endings usually what they plan to do next is explained within the story. Especially if that character has a completed arc that they went through in the story. For example, in the Princess Bride, Inigo told Wesley that now that he has had his revenge, he doesn’t know what to do now, to which Wesley replied “Have you ever thought of piracy? You’d make a great Dread Pirate Roberts.” Even though we don’t see Inigo do any form of piracy, we are given closure that he has accomplished what he set out to do and we have a possible explanation on what he will do next. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t really have that, as everyone’s goal on what to do next was contingent on the Mass Relays and all current forms of transportation still being around. Tali wanted to go back to her homeworld and start rebuilding, but she can’t now, she is on some planet somewhere with a busted ship and no Mass Relays. With her original plan now down the toilet, what is in store for her? Who knows.
One of the biggest issues with the Endings is just that, the idea of EndingS. If you want to get technical there are 6 endings; however, these are not DIFFERENT endings but rather variations on a single ending. What is the purpose of giving us choice (which I will get into later) if there is no different consequences TO these choices. All the endings play out the same: Energy is released from the Crucible, and the Reapers are render a non threat (either by destruction, control, or… magic), Energy is sent to the Mass Relays which causes a chain reaction that sends said energy to every Mass Relay and they all blow up, energy is chasing the Normandy, Normandy crashes, your crew gets out… Oh, and Shepard dies. It doesn’t matter what choice you make, if the consequence is largely the same, what’s the point in making a choice? You die, Mass Relays blow up, Normandy crashes, crew survives. Speaking of that.
One of the hallmarks of a rushed ending is the existence of plot holes. And the ending of Mass Effect 3 is FULL of them. One) Mass Relays explode, we have already exploded a Mass Relay in the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2. Does anyone remember what happened? Well, I’m sure because both ME3 reminds you. The destruction of a Mass Relay releases energy equal to that of a Supernova, effectively wiping out an entire solar system. Practically all of the Mass Relays are within the solar system of a habituated planet and practically all Homeworlds have a Mass Relay within their system. So no matter what ending, did you just commit mass genocide? Also, even if the Mass Relay destruction didn’t destroy their neighboring system, there are NO MASS RELAYS, which means the only means of intergalactic travel IS GONE! Everyone is now stranded where they are, with NO MEANS of travel. What was the point in unifying the galaxy, if this was the end result? Two) The Normandy escape. Where is Joker going? Why is he anywhere OTHER than in the mists of the fight on Earth, I mean he has to be at least outside of the Sol system. So did he chicken out and flew the Normandy halfway across the Local Cluster, or worse hit the Mass Relay and headed to god knows where. Three) Why is my Squad on the Normandy? Weren’t they taking part in the final push? Did Joker swung by on the Normandy, pick everyone up, didn’t bother to look for you, and bugger off to crash-land in their Garden of Eden? Is this really what you want your crew to do? Run away leaving you to bleed to death or jump into glowing lights?
Before, I talked about how your choices don’t matter because the consequences of said choices are the same and what few differences there are negligible, now I will actually look at the choices provided; A) Destroy all synthetics, B) Control the Reapers, or C) Synthesize organics and synthetics together. These are your three opinions and depending on you Effective Military Strength (EMS) you might not ever HAVE all of these options. But let’s look at why these are bad choices.
1) Destroy. Throughout the game your goal is simple and consistent “Destroy the Reapers.” We can’t reason with them, or bargain, or convince them to back down, the only choice we have is to destroy them. So at the end of the game we do get the choice to destroy them… By also destroying all synthetic life. This is what I like to call an “Arbitrary Hard choice.” If choosing Destroy would only kill the Reapers, then pretty much everyone (at least those who are Paragon) would shoot that pipe, no question. Even if the prospect was that Shepard would kill him/herself in the process, it would be a no brainer. But Bioware has to somehow make this a “Hard Choice” by saying that ALL synthetics will be destroyed means that not only would the evil Reapers will killed, but also the allied Geth, and our close, nearly human-like, friend EDI. We don’t want them to die, but they are lumped in with the Reapers, and no Paragon player would ever want to destroy them as well. Our clearly Paragon choice has been transformed into a Renegade choice in the last few minutes since it is achieving your goal no matter the costs, not to mention that apparently Shepard will be killed because thanks to the reconstruction in ME2, he/she is partly synthetic, but so is a number of characters in Mass Effect. All Biotics have implants that allow them to control their powers, all Quarians have cybernetics to allow them to interface with their suits and boost their immune systems, are they also likely to die because of this? What about the ships? Would they be destroyed? TELL ME!
2) Control. Controlling the Reapers was the plan of the Illusive man throughout Mass Effect 3. The Illusive man has always been a very Renegade character, and so the choice to control the reapers should also be a Renegade choice. Controlling the Reapers would mean that Shepard would have immense power all to him/herself, a very Renegade thing to do, since just as Paragon is being Selfless, Renegade is being Selfish. However, with Destroy being the destruction of all synthetic life, Control would be the only way for “peace” between synthetic and organic life, thus making it more Paragon. This is also reflected in the explosions that result from the choice, Control is a Blue explosion (Paragon), and Destroy is a Red explosion (Renegade). So again, in the last few minutes a completely Renegade choice is now a Paragon choice… What kind of game swaps your character alignment choices in the last few seconds?
3) Synthesis. You merge synthetic and organic life together… How, I don’t know. Why, I’m not sure. This option is flat-out Space Magic. I mean, how can a burst of energy turn everyone into cyborgs? What do they even mean by merging synthetics and organic life? Is it like in Beast Machines where they are comprised of a new substance that is both organic and synthetic? Do synthetics now have fleshy parts, or Do organics have computer chips in their brains? What does any of this mean!? And how does “Control” and “Synthesis” destroy the Mass Relays? I can understand destroy.. somewhat, but why are the Mass Relays gone no matter what?
And here we go, the last and most important C, Coherence. All the other Cs are just small aspects of this C. Remember all of the questions I’ve asked throughout Closure, Consequence, Continuity, and Choice, well they all factor into Coherence. After we reach the Citadel, we talk to the Catalyst, who is… a holographic representation of the child we saw get kill at the beginning of the game… Why I don’t know. But this is where Coherence breaks down. Completely and totally. He explains that he created the Reapers. BAD MOVE, the Reapers never needed an explanation as to their existence. It is an interesting thing about storytelling, that if you say something existed for so immensely long, then you don’t need to say what created them. This is partially because when you have existed so long, the audience just accepts that whatever it is always has existed. And even without that, because of how long they have existed, the reason for their existence no longer really applies. Anyway, he explains his reasoning for creating the Reapers as such, Organics will create synthetics, Synthetics will kill organics, to stop this the Reapers (synthetics) will kill organics every 50,000 years. There has been SO many memes made from this moronic contrivance. But instead of Shepard saying “That’s bullshit logic” or “I united the Quarians and the Geth, your second premise is dead WRONG” Shepard just sits there and accepts it, and accepts there are ONLY THREE OPTIONS! This kid creates so many plot holes just by existing. Like, what’s the purpose of the Crucible? To give some random guy one of three options? Why didn’t the kid choose these one of these options instead of going the Reaper route? If he thought ANY of these choices was valid, why wait for GOD knows how many cycles for some random person to walk up to him? And why didn’t anyone at Bioware stop to ask these very rudimentary questions about their own ending? The ending to Mass Effect 3 doesn’t work because of a complete lack of Coherence. When the audience asks a question, the expect some sort of answer within the story, otherwise that question will stick out in their mind, and too many questions will completely ruin a story. Mass Effect 3′s ending raises far far FAR too many questions.
Fan Entitlement and Artistic Vision
So I’ve spent… OVER 2,000 WORDS!… *SIGH* talking about why the Mass Effect 3 ending sucks, but there is far more to this story than just why the ending sucks. Namely, the fan backlash. Nearly every person who played Mass Effect 3 says that the ending sucks. Despite the high scores that the game generated, the fan base is almost unanimous about the ending and this includes many reviewers like Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show, who created a “Top 10 reasons why we Hate the ME3 Ending,” Jeremy Jahns of YouTube also posted a similar video, and Youtuber MrBtongue did a deep 39 minute analysis of the Ending. People are passionate about this ending, probably more so than any other game, and even so far as to DEMAND Bioware offer them a new ending. The response to this response have been to write them off as “Fan Entitlement” and to preserve “Artistic Freedom.” The response to the response of the response has usually been an analogy to a toaster, “If you buy a toaster that doesn’t work, are you entitled to demand a refund of the toaster?” My problem with this analogy is that I don’t think it really work, since everyone agrees that up until the ending Mass Effect 3 was awesome. I think a Snake Oil salesmen analogy is a bit more accurate, making promises that ultimately fail to deliver. Fans were promised 16 different endings, where all of their choices throughout the trilogy would culminate in a meaningful way to influence the outcome. What they got was 6 endings that are just minor variations on a single template that are determined by your last choice and your EMS.
As for “Artistic Freedom”, do we even know what that is supposed to mean? The ability to do anything with your Intellectual Property? What if Capcom made a Megaman game where at the very end, after you beat all the Robot Masters again, you confront Dr. Wily only to meet an alien who says that he was controlling Dr. Wily all along and that Megaman has to become a new star to save the world, and the only way to do that is for him to be crucified which will cause a shockwave that will kill all humans including Dr. Light, and Roll and Protoman are stranded on some island somewhere? Would it be “Fan Entitlement” to request a different ending? Would it be Capcom’s “Artistic Freedom” to create a nonsensical ending to the Megaman Classic series, that completely contradicts the established canon of Megaman X through ZX? I guess, one could argue that they are free to do that, just whether fans are willing to accept it or not is whole other deal, but with that they are also free to follow the advice of their fans and scrap the ending. However, I feel that in this drive to “Protect the Artistic Freedom of Bioware” everyone is ignoring another valid form of Artistic Freedom, that of the player.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has recently started an exhibit called “The Art of Video Games” where the creator of the exhibit Chris Melissinos addresses the problem of “Who is the Artist in a Video game” by stating that the artist is a collaboration of three voices, that of the Developers, that of the Game itself, and that of the Gamer. The Developer’s voice is akin to a director, writer, or cast/crew of a film, what they wanted to say and the medium that they chose, it is this voice that Journalists and Bioware itself is trying to protect by citing “Artistic Freedom” as their license to do anything with Mass Effect. The Game’s voice is all the mechanics that go into it, how you jump, how you attack, what your goal is, how to achieve that goal, all that. HOWEVER, it is the Gamer’s voice that is often ignored or forgotten. The Gamer is free to choose how to approach any situation in the game in a number of different ways. Do you blaze in with guns blasting, or are you methodical, careful, and cautious. Do you put your points into hand-to-hand in case of a fight, or do you put them into stealth to avoid conflict or to steal stuff. Even the most simple and straight forward games like Megaman give you choice as to how to beat the game, and Mass Effect was a game series BUILT around making choices.
We where just given a Template called Commander Shepard, and we filled in the rest. We gave him/her a first name, we gave him/her a history, we gave him/her our voice when we were presented with a choice. It’s rather interesting to compare everyone’s Commander Shepard to each other, what their class was, what history they had, what their alignment was, who they fell in love with, each Shepard was unique in some way to the gamer who played them. And then you have the ending, which throws away all of the uniqueness of each Shepard, which throws away all of their traits and characteristics and pretty much lumps them all into one of three, previously unknown categories: Control, Destroy, Synthesis. In light of this previously unheard voice, and in a game series that allow the player to write a lot of their own story, it is easy to understand why so many are so emotional about a half-assed ending that explains nothing and destroys the very foundation that the series was built on.
In light of this outcry, Bioware has announced “extended cut DLC” which they will say gives “Clarification” as to the existing endings, but will not make new endings to “preserve their Artistic Freedom.” At Best, this will solve the issues of Closure and Consequence (and even possibly Continuity), but at worse will solve none of the issues and still doesn’t come close to fixing Choice and Coherence. The problem with the use of “Clarification” is something that the Joker once said in Batman: The Animated Series, “If you need to explain the punchline of a joke, then it ISN’T A JOKE!” If you need to “Clarify” your ending, then you have no ending, the “Clarification” should have existed WITH the ending.
But the real issue here isn’t how or if they fix the ending to Mass Effect. The issue is that Bioware Fuck up, pure and simple. Bioware has had a long history of making awesome games. People buy and preorder their games because they offer a standard of excellence that is hard to come by. But now we have a huge SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fuck Up) and Bioware FUBARed (Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition) Mass Effect so much that it casts doubt as to what will come next? Would this be an isolated incident or would it be the first step in the Fall of Bioware, where they will become a shell of its former self. Will Mass Effect return to the Sci-fi epic that everyone thinks it is, or will Mass Effect 5 have the crew of the Normandy head to the center of the universe to find God? Right now, only time will tell, and very careful eyes will be on this new DLC to predict whether we go up, or down from here.