Way of the Totem

ME3 and why the ending is fine as is

by on Mar.21, 2012, under Uncategorized

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.

15 comments for this entry:
  1. Brad Edmondson

    Been talking with Amir on Facebook about the endings and he brought up your article so figure I’ll throw in my thoughts on it. Right off the bat, the people that are demanding lollipops and rainbows for an ending can kiss off, that’s not my issue with it. My issue with it is it goes against the themes running throughout the series and the endings just don’t make any goddamn sense.

    A main theme of the game is the unification of these different races despite their differences in the face of adversity, and, in the case of the ‘green’ ending it basically tells us the only way to keep the peace is to make everyone the same by combining their DNA and making them part synthetic. Never mind the fact that ‘space magic’ is making everything part synthetic, that’s dumb as hell but I don’t think I need to point that out. It’s the fact that the endings completely gloss over the fact that they’ve been showing you that synthetics and organics can co-exist for the rest of the three games then they change their mind with the ending. You can’t even argue with the obnoxious little ghost kid. In this game they even take the time for you to teach EDI to be more human, give you a chance to broker peace between the Geth and the Quarians, then say ‘but there’s no way people can ever co-exist with machines.”

    Oh and the ghost kid. Now that’s an awful idea. You get to the end of the game and basically introduce god who gives you 3 choices as to how the game ends. That’s just complete horseshit writing, it’s lazy and all of a sudden we’re introduced to this all powerful character at the last possible minute. Nothing in the game even hints at any of this. It’s the Architect from the Matrix, it’s just bad writing.

    Also, Joker running away from the explosion. Great. Go Joker go. But how is he running away, with the people that were just getting blown up with you on the ground? Why wasn’t he fighting along with everyone else? It just doesn’t make sense.

    The whole thing just feels horribly poorly written, like they paid the janitor to write the ending while they went out to lunch. Really, they could have just had Shepard hit the button, the reapers all blow up, and we get a cut scene showing either a victory celebration with the people who made it, or a mass funeral for those who didn’t and I’d have been a lot better with that.

  2. Brad Edmondson

    This was posted up by one of the Bioware writers then deleted within about an hour.

    “I have nothing to do with the ending beyond a) having argued successfully a long time ago that we needed a chance to say goodbye to our squad, b) having argued successfully that Cortez shouldn’t automatically die in that shuttle crash, and c) having written Tali’s goodbye bit, as well as a couple of the holo-goodbyes for people I wrote (Mordin, Kasumi, Jack, etc).
    No other writer did, either, except for our lead. This was entirely the work of our lead and Casey himself, sitting in a room and going through draft after draft.
    And honestly, it kind of shows.
    Every other mission in the game had to be held up to the rest of the writing team, and the writing team then picked it apart and made suggestions and pointed out the parts that made no sense. This mission? Casey and our lead deciding that they didn’t need to be peer-reviewe.d
    And again, it shows.
    If you’d asked me the themes of Mass Effect 3, I’d break them down as: Galactic Alliances Friends Organics versus Synthetics
    In my personal opinion, the first two got a perfunctory nod. We did get a goodbye to our friends, but it was in a scene that was divorced from the gameplay — a deliberate “nothing happens here” area with one turret thrown in for no reason I really understand, except possibly to obfuscate the “nothing happens here”-ness. The best missions in our game are the ones in which the gameplay and the narrative reinforce each other. The end of the Genophage campaign exemplifies that for me — every line of dialog is showing you both sides of the krogan, be they horrible brutes or proud warriors; the art shows both their bombed-out wasteland and the beautiful world they once had and could have again; the combat shows the terror of the Reapers as well as a blatant reminder of the rachni, which threatened the galaxy and had to be stopped by the krogan last time. Every line of code in that mission is on target with the overall message.
    The endgame doesn’t have that. I wanted to see banshees attacking you, and then have asari gunships zoom in and blow them away. I wanted to see a wave of rachni ravagers come around a corner only to be met by a wall of krogan roaring a battle cry. Here’s the horror the Reapers inflicted upon each race, and here’s the army that you, Commander Shepard, made out of every race in the galaxy to fight them.
    I personally thought that the Illusive Man conversation was about twice as long as it needed to be — something that I’ve been told in my peer reviews of my missions and made edits on, but again, this is a conversation no writer but the lead ever saw until it was already recorded. I did love Anderson’s goodbye.
    For me, Anderson’s goodbye is where it ended. The stuff with the Catalyst just… You have to understand. Casey is really smart and really analytical. And the problem is that when he’s not checked, he will assume that other people are like him, and will really appreciate an almost completely unemotional intellectual ending. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.
    And then, just to be a dick… what was SUPPOSED to happen was that, say you picked “Destroy the Reapers”. When you did that, the system was SUPPOSED to look at your score, and then you’d show a cutscene of Earth that was either:
    a) Very high score: Earth obviously damaged, but woo victory b) Medium score: Earth takes a bunch of damage from the Crucible activation. Like dropping a bomb on an already war-ravaged city. Uh, well, maybe not LIKE that as much as, uh, THAT. c) Low score: Earth is a cinderblock, all life on it completely wiped out
    I have NO IDEA why these different cutscenes aren’t in there. As far as I know, they were never cut. Maybe they were cut for budget reasons at the last minute. I don’t know. But holy crap, yeah, I can see how incredibly disappointing it’d be to hear of all the different ending possibilities and have it break down to “which color is stuff glowing?” Or maybe they ARE in, but they’re too subtle to really see obvious differences, and again, that’s… yeah.
    Okay, that’s a lot to have written for something that’s gonna go away in an hour.
    I still teared up at the ending myself, but really, I was tearing up for the quick flashbacks to old friends and the death of Anderson. I wasn’t tearing up over making a choice that, as it turned out, didn’t have enough cutscene differentiation on it.
    And to be clear, I don’t even really wish Shepard had gotten a ride-off-into-sunset ending. I was honestly okay with Shepard sacrificing himself. I just expected it to be for something with more obvious differentiation, and a stronger tie to the core themes — all three of them.”

  3. Lodur

    A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/ruRA7KJZ #masseffect #me3

  4. Janaelle

    Fine. Even though I am not a fiction writer, a game writer, or a writer of anything but my opinion, I’ll take a shot at this because I think they could have given us something that reflected our paths throughout the game like they promised. I’m not making a special cut scene for people who got 5k+ military strength. This is because I am lazy and I’m not getting paid for this shit.

    So let’s get into this: Anderson is dead and Shepard is dying. Everyone Shepard loves, has ever known, everything that has ever mattered to him is about to be destroyed because Hackett needs him to do something. The Crucible isn’t working. No one knew what it was supposed to do in the first place, so what the hell is he supposed to do?

    Crawling forward, he tries anyways. With the last of his strength he crawls towards the console, but he just can’t make it. No matter how much he wants to, he just can’t get there.

    This is where I end the game if you didn’t get the minimum Military Strength. You died, game over, Reapers win. A cut scene plays of a two fingered hand dusting off a strange hologram. They pick it up – Liara’s time capsule starts telling Shepard’s life story fighting the Reapers as the credits roll.

    If you have met the minimum Military Strength, the platform rises. It takes Shepard up, to a small room above the control room. Light shines brightly and the unconscious man manages to wake as he hears Hackett still shouting for him to do something. Looking around he sees a chair, similar to Joker’s, cables and wires leading from it to the walls. There’s nothing else to do – he sits.

    As he leans back in the chair, there’s a flash: every major choice he made, his love interest, Earth as he left it to the Reapers flashes before his eyes. Manacles lock his legs and wrists, but he doesn’t notice; the visions continue: who he saved, who he killed, the races he brought to the final battle all flash before his eyes. The machine reads his memories, scans his knowledge of this cycle, or these people, of those who are fighting to survive. The missing piece to the crucible, the thing needed to kill all the Reapers and not humanity, is Shepard. He is needed to guide the weapon, to control what is destroyed and what is left to survive. The mass relays will deliver his wrath to every reaper in space and it will save everyone he wants to save.

    Was Shepard a xenophobic renegade? Did he hate aliens and wish for control of the galaxy similar to that of the Protheans? Then the Crucible wipes out all life but that of humanity. Spaceships full of dead Quarians, Assari, Turians, float above Earth. One crashes into another while the Reapers are torn asunder. Humanity has won. They are the masters of the galaxy and all will bow to their might. A cut scene plays: Human ships fly through starry skies, new races of aliens work in factories, quarries, they labor while humanity flourishes. Children laugh, parents smile, but something is watching.

    Maybe Shepard was a paragon of virtue, wanting nothing more than Humans and Aliens to work together, understand each other, build a better galaxy without petty war. Then the Crucible kills only the Reapers, their massive bodies ripped to pieces by a burst of light that goes from the Citadel, to the Mass Relay, and from there to every galaxy in the system. A cut scene plays: The citizens of every race you saved cheer as Reapers die on their home planets. A new citadel is built, floating in the Serpent Nebula and you watch as it is dedicated to Galactic peace while the races you saved cheer and celebrate. A Salarean and an Turean are seen bickering. The fighting that has plagued the races hasn’t started yet, but it will soon. Peace is fleeting.

    A flash as we return to the present, the last bit of energy shooting through the Mass Relay as it slowly stops spinning. Shepard remains in his chair, staring at the wall as the restraints on the chair retreat back inside it. Cheering can be heard over the radio as Joker shouts, “You did it! We did it!” A pause, “Shepard? Shepard, answer me!” Hackett chimes in; voices clamor for their hero, but Shepard won’t answer. He died shaping the Galaxy, destroying the Reapers, completing the mission that no one else could have accomplished. He’s a hero; the hero.

    A cut scene plays: Everyone Shepard saved in ME1, ME2, and ME3 is seen at the Memorial held in Shepard’s honor. They talk about him, his accomplishments, his perceived failings. Dignitaries speak, they tell of how his deeds affected the people they represent, of how they will remember him. Who is there and who speaks depends on who lived, who wasn’t saved, which ending played. Maybe EDI speaks about how Shepard shaped who she is, allowed her to love. Or maybe EDI doesn’t speak because you never helped her be more than a machine. Perhaps Ashley talks about how you busted her balls, but you got the job done and never let anything stand in your way and the Galaxy should learn from your example. Then maybe she tells about how you were her best friend, her lover, and how she doesn’t know how we’ll get along without you. Perhaps she doesn’t at all because she died way back in ME1 and Kaiden speaks in her stead.
    It ends as Joker is helped to the coffin by EDI and he places a picture in the cook of Shepard’s arm. Three photos – the surviving crew from ME1, ME2, and your love interest from ME3 all smile and stand around Shepard, their Captain.

    He’s gone, they remain. And yet is it really over? What built the Reapers? The Geth spoke of something that sent them. Is it still out there and will it return to finish what it started? How will we survive without our hero to save us? The Mass Effect world lives, it thrives, and someone will have to save it again.

    And that is the best I could do.

  5. Amir Hamzah

    A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/ruRA7KJZ #masseffect #me3

  6. Renee

    RT @LodurZJ A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/wrROAZct #masseffect #me3

  7. Roxsey

    A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/ruRA7KJZ #masseffect #me3

  8. Marshall Pierce

    RT @TopsyRT: ME3 and why the ending is fine as is http://t.co/kHRCt0kf

  9. Vince N

    RT @LodurZJ A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/m8QgerpV #masseffect #me3

  10. Lodur

    New at WayoftheTotem ME3 and why the ending is fine as is: There’s been a lot of hoopla about the ending to Mass… http://t.co/k31iRa4M

  11. Brian Hough

    New at WayoftheTotem ME3 and why the ending is fine as is: There’s been a lot of hoopla about the ending to Mass… http://t.co/k31iRa4M

  12. Mark Hanson

    New at WayoftheTotem ME3 and why the ending is fine as is: There’s been a lot of hoopla about the ending to Mass… http://t.co/k31iRa4M

  13. Grand Old Podcast

    New at WayoftheTotem ME3 and why the ending is fine as is: There’s been a lot of hoopla about the ending to Mass… http://t.co/k31iRa4M

  14. juha-matti johansson

    RT @LodurZJ A short, for me at least, thought on why the ending for ME3 was fine http://t.co/m8QgerpV #masseffect #me3

  15. Janaelle

    ME3 Jan's Way http://t.co/OiPvyvPy – My response to Lodur's blog "ME3 and why the ending is fine as is" http://t.co/s70mpZYV

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