There’s been a lot of hoopla about the ending to Mass Effect 3. People have been quite vocal about not liking it for various reasons. I’ve talked about it spoiler free on For The Lore, so be sure to the episode if you want to hear the reasoning without spoilers. That said be warned, if you haven’t beaten the game or looked up the various endings, this post will contain spoilers.
The end of Shepard’s tale
That’s probably the most important thing to remember about the game, no matter what. Years ago, when ME2 was released, we learned that it would in fact be a trilogy. That Shepard, the lovable space bad-ass we’ve come to love and identify with in many ways was only going to get a stint in the three games, and that would be the end of his story. After that the universe would persist making room for other heroes, other stories, and other Therein lies a major problem, and honestly the first great hurdle to ending the trilogy.
As long as Shepard is alive, people will want to know more about his story, what happened after the big bang? Did he have kids? etc etc. There’s countless fan fic out there supporting this. So how do you end Shepard’s story but keep the universe alive and interesting enough to encourage people to want to care about other characters in the universe. It’s not an easy one to pull off that’s for sure. The trick is that the bottom line, the most effective way to keep people from asking about a character or lamenting not being able to play that character is to kill that character off. He’s not going out like a punk either, Shepard is breaking the cycle of power, life and death for an entire universe. That’s about as awesome as you can possibly hope for, going out while spitting in the eye of the universe.
Now, to be fair they could have done this a number of ways, but in the end they let Shepard go out as an act of sacrifice, he went out of the universe just as bad-ass as he wen’t through it. At the same time, you might have noticed that the various races have spread their peoples across the universe. Races mingling with other races, some that previous hated each other quite vehemently. So, you blow up the mass relays. You force them to have to work together to get back in contact with the other pockets of the galaxy. These are the universal ideas carried over throughout.
So now lets look at the three endings, annihilation, control and synthesis. First off, all of these endings are classic sci-fi endings. Looking back on the case of the reapers, they are essentially the Borg. They go through all the same steps of taking organic life and blending it with synthetics to create new life. So, we’re essentially dealing with a threat we’ve seen dealt with before in classic sci-fi and how do you beat them? You either have to destroy every single one of them including anything that might evolve into them, you take control of them and make them do our bidding or fly into the sun, or you blend all synthetic and organic life so that their prime directive to assimilate is no longer valid.
Honestly, there are subtle difference between the endings, but they all have their own implications. In the first one you destroy all synthetic life, this means EDI’s body, Legion and countless other synthetics are murdered along with the Reapers. But, the threat is gone at least for now. You still run the risk of new synthetic life being created later and starting the whole cycle over again. So, by destroying the Reapers, you’re only really addressing the immediate threat, and not the long term potential threat.
In taking control of them, Shepard essentially ascends to the central hive mind of the Reapers. They can now be told to do anything, like go away. There’s another problem with this though, how do we know Shepard will always be in control? Will the Reapers consume the consciousness of our hero only to start the cycle over again? Again, the immediate threat is neutralized, but you still have that potential threat on the long term.
Synthesis is the only true way of ensuring that what happened with the Reapers can’t possibly happen again. It’s the only solution that thinks long term. By blending organic and synthetic lifeforms into a single and new DNA type, you are keeping the universe safe from the threat of Reapers long term because you’ve just eliminated the potential for their prime directive to be re-ignited.
Again, subtle differences between the endings. No matter which you pick though it becomes clear that the characters left standing will be spending their time rebuilding the universe, re-establishing ties with other races and trying to rebuild the network and infrastructure that’s been destroyed to save life and free will in the universe.
What really is the issue?
Like I said, from a classic sci-fi standpoint I find the endings fine, in fact the entire game is an ending. Tying up loose ends from previous games and creating new avenues for the universe to exist. I think the real big issue is the fact that players have grown so accustomed to controlling the outcome of the game, of shaping the destiny of their Shepard that there’s a bit of a system shock involved here. Some of us have spend hundreds of hours in this universe with our Shepard, shaping conversations and exploring all the nuances of the story from every angle we can. I think the big problem, the one that I think starts the whole thing on fire, is that to accomplish the very specific goals for the universe that Bioware has in mind (i.e. continuing the I.P.) they had to wrestle a certain degree of control away from players.
Now, it wasn’t elegant, but it had to be done to accomplish that one, very specific goal. I think this is where the vast majority of the problem with the ending comes from. I base this on the fact that people keep bringing up comments like “the illusion of choice” and that “all the endings were the same”. I get that, and they aren’t wrong, but you have to weigh the question here. How do you balance it so that you can have completely open and varied endings like in the other games, but still wrangle it to accomplish the tasks they had to do. To recap.
- End Shepard’s story in a way where people won’t immediately be clamoring for more Shepard game-time.
- End in such a way that the universe is still capable of moving forward.
Honestly, I don’t see a good way they could have done it without wrestling away some choice from the player and forcing them into a narrow path. After all, isn’t that what the Reapers have been doing to Shepard since the very beginning? After that, then players look at the endings and see the similarities and it sort of snowballs from there.
For other folks it’s simply because they couldn’t have their fairy tale ending. When I say fair tale ending I don’t mean simply the happily ever after, but every ass kicking variant from there to timbuktu. The one where Shepard rides into the sun on his space motorcycle with love choice accompanying them. Sadly, we all knew that Shepard’s ending was going to be bittersweet at best since the very beginning. I mean, he’s already been dead before right? Sort of shatters the thought process there at that point.
I challenge you
Here’s the part where I challenge you out there who claim the endings are pure shite to put up or shut up. You bitch about being jipped, you complain about the endings being terrible. Well, write an ending. Put your money where your mouth is. Write and ending that closes Shepard’s story out in a way you won’t want to go back and play him in another game and still keep the universe in tact so that you can introduce new characters and new stories? Keep in mind that the entirety of the third game is an epilogue, it is an ending in and of itself every step of the way. You have to continually keep the entire game in your mind when you try to figure out where to call it good. When you have an answer for that I’d love to hear it, I really would.
I ask because gaming companies shouldn’t be apologizing for endings that people didn’t get or being harassed on personal levels, or having charities used as leverage, to try to get the ending’s changed. Hell, back in my day if you got to see the ending you were lucky, and even then it was usually just a screen that looked like this
That’s my two cents on the ME3 ending. Oh, and Mordin Solus is a fucking bad ass.