This goes without warning but SPOILERS!
So there’s this big controversy over Mass Effect 3’s endings. The Bioware forums even have this pole http://social.bioware.com/633606/polls/ where nearly 40,000 people have voted for a brighter ending (as of this writing.) Some people are even saying that the endings ruined the entire trilogy for them. Personally, I love the concept behind the conclusion, but I don’t think the execution was the greatest. But first, it should be pointed out why a happy ending is a bad idea for this franchise.
Why a happy ending is a bad idea:
Happy endings have become a massive cliché in gaming. Go ahead, list one single blockbuster game this generation other than Mass Effect 3 that doesn’t have a happy ending. Simulations and middle chapters don’t count. Movies and TV shows have sad and bittersweet endings all the time, so why can’t a good video game have one? I salute Bioware for daring to break this mold.
In Mass Effect’s case, the entire trilogy’s story is surrounded by themes of darkness and hopelessness against a full-scale reaper invasion. Why? It should be impossible to beat all the reapers with conventional means. Sovereign rammed through a dreadnaught with no signs of damage whatsoever in Mass Effect 1 and took out a third of the Alliance fleet – there are thousands of reapers (not all are on earth for the finale.) They’ve been wiping out galactic civilizations for countless millennia and have become exceedingly efficient at it. The Protheans were far more advanced than any current race in the galaxy and yet they didn’t stand a chance. Their only true victory was delaying the invasion for the next cycle.
Throughout this game, each council race’s home world falls to the reapers as if they were an army of rhinos attacking house cats. With the right tactics the cats might take out one or two, but the cats are going to lose this fight. Even the Asari home world, full of natural biotics, fell in one day to the reaper invasion – while everyone else was simultaneously under attack. By the time you reach Earth for the climax, over 90% of the human military forces there are dead and the cities are in ruins. One side quest suggests that the Elcor have lost too many for their race to survive – against six reapers at the most. The Krogan face the same fate if you don’t cure them of the Genophage. There is no way you can have a happy ending after that without doing a disservice to the rest of the game.
Take Gears of War 3 for example. It has a decent post-apocalyptic plot where the imultion parasite is eating away at Sera from the inside out. What is the solution? A single tower that emits a massive energy burst that kills all the imultion and locusts on the planet. There are no ill effects to humans who aren’t badly infected yet. Way too convenient for its own good considering how dark the rest of the trilogy is. It doesn’t help that this weapon was only introduced minutes before you see it, or that the imultion is revealed as a parasite slightly before that. Then again, Gears was always more about gameplay than story.
The crucible causing a similar effect with on a galactic scale would be absurd. Even if it was some anti-reaper laser, it wouldn’t be the ultimate weapon as the army of reapers could simply surround the thing and destroy it. The only way it could destroy all the reapers is if it used the power of the mass relays to help it – overloading the relays and the citadel as a result.
Without some sort of sacrifice, defeating the reapers would be too easy and unmoving for a franchise that has a sense of realism and complexity in the way the universe works. Shepard sacrificing him/herself to save everyone is poetic in nature. A bittersweet ending could be interpreted with a deeper meaning as well. As much as we can make choices in our lives, we will eventually die – most likely in a way we don’t want to. Ignoring religious debates and global warming, this planet will inevitably come to an end with the death of our star.
Bioware said a long time ago that Mass Effect 3 is the end of Shepard’s story. What better way to end than to show his/her sacrifice for the sake of the galaxy? Sure, it might have been nice to have a happy ending where you could talk to your squad mates again. Then again, isn’t that what the break before the final charge was for? You can talk to all your surviving squad mates from all three games. That scene alone suggested that you might not see them again.
Why the ending isn’t a rip-off:
These next few paragraphs will be a little off topic, but it’s necessary to explain the point.
Anyone who has legitimately studied creative writing knows that there are only three basic plots in existence.
1. There’s the conflict plot which is simply described as subject vs. subject.
2. There’s the journey plot, where the subject heads toward a destination.
3. There’s the romance plot, where the subject falls in love with the other subject.
The conflict can be violent or trivial. It can be man vs. machine, man vs. disease, a cat vs. a wall – it can be any subject vs. any other subject whether singular or plural. The journey can be heading toward a physical destination, trying to reach enlightenment, trying to get rich, trying to return somewhere or to someone, or even trying to get away from somewhere or someone. The romance plot doesn’t have to be a love story; it can also be about friends or a passion in life. Any of these can have a happy ending, a sad ending, or even an open ending.
Every work of fiction ever created is an alteration and/or combination those. After thousands of years of literature, every basic variation has been used. There are no fully original plots or endings anymore – there hasn’t been for a very long time. The only originality is in the presentation. Star Wars feels original, yet it references lots of classic sci-fi films from the 30’s-60’s. Indiana Jones references plenty of adventure serials from the early years of film. Harry Potter borrows heavily from Lord of the Rings (the horcruxes work similarly to the one ring.) Uncharted and Tomb Raider are both Indiana Jones in modern times. Heck, Uncharted 3 hits on every single note that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did – I’ve never seen anyone else call it out.
So what if Mass Effect 3 has a similar ending to Deus Ex? Is the rest of the game like Deus Ex? I wouldn’t know since haven’t played it. The reapers destroying galactic civilization are also similar to the robots in The Matrix and the sentinels in X-Men. Nobody’s complained about those even though we’ve known the reapers are coming since ME1. ME3 also has a very similar theme to Return of the King – nations setting aside their differences to unite against overwhelming forces. I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.
If the entire game was like Deus Ex, then you could call it a rip-off. From what I’ve read however, the endings are different between Deus and ME. What separates different stories isn’t the plot concept, but the execution.
Why the catalyst as a kid makes sense:
This one’s easy. The reapers have the technology to indoctrinate people – to enter people’s minds and control them. Don’t you think they’d have the technology to read people’s minds as well? Shepard keeps dreaming about the kid that he/she saw die at the start of the game and it serves as one of his/her biggest motivations. The catalyst reads that and presents itself in the form of that kid. It’s the same way that Legion made the Geth collective familiar to Shepard by giving him/her a virtual gun. It also minimizes any variations that Bioware has to write into the ending, as the game has almost too many variations already.
Some people suggested that it was even a virtual world that Shepard entered after losing consciousness, yet your final choice can still kill your body. While this isn’t official, it’s a neat idea that doesn’t change the end result.
Why the choices you’ve made still matter:
One common complaint is that the ending renders all of your choices pointless and meaningless. That’s simply not true; it just doesn’t show you what they mean. The vague ending lets you decide for yourself - more on that later.
If you don’t have enough galactic readiness, your fleet is torn apart by the reapers and you’ve lost the battle for Earth no matter what you choose. If you cured the Genophage, most of the Krogan – and all of their females - are still on their home world to rebuild their species. Since you’ve ended the reaper threat, they have a future. If you saved the Quarians, most remain on their home world ready to rebuild their society – they’ll rebuild faster if you united them with the Geth. Since you’ve saved the galaxy from the reaper threat, these races have a future. Your choices through the trilogy still affects which characters and races live or die.
Some people argue that the destruction of the Mass Relays will kill the Quarians and the Turians that are stranded near earth – it doesn’t. More on that soon.
Why the destruction of the mass relays is a good thing:
One major, yet slightly hidden theme throughout this trilogy was about the dangers of having access to technology your culture isn’t ready for yet. The Krogan were brought off their world into the greater galaxy to fight the Rachni, and shortly after they began the Krogan rebellion. Their culture was not ready for galactic exploration or expansion and they nearly overwhelmed the council races. The Yahg Shadow Broker was kidnapped from a pre space flight race and when he took over, he abused his power by making shadowy deals with the collectors and reapers. Most of the Geth didn’t want the power the reapers offered them because they felt they weren’t ready for it.
The Mass Relays are similar to this. Whether it was the reapers or the Protheans, someone left behind blueprints on where the nearest mass relay was located and how to use it, so that when the nearby species discovers these ruins, they have access to technology their culture is not ready for yet. Not only that, but the reapers use the mass relays, and the citadel, to guide society’s development along their desired paths. By removing the mass relays from the picture, nobody can travel throughout the galaxy until their society is ready for it. The Reapers monitored these mass relays after the end of each cycle – as soon as one of them is used, they start monitoring the galaxy in preparation for their invasion.
Why the destruction of the Mass Relays won’t destroy galactic civilization or doom anyone to death:
Sure, existing races won’t be able to see each other in person for a while, but different races won’t lose contact with each other. You use quantum entanglement communication a lot in Mass Effect 3; with humans on earth, the Alliance fleet, the council, the Illusive Man and the Quarians at times. I’m sure the different home worlds still have ways to communicate to the others, which could help everyone stay in touch and even share data on repairing the mass relays. With all this available, and the Prothean VI that’s been giving the Asari technical revelations every 100 years, galaxy-wide travel could be possible within a Salarian’s lifetime.
Most of the major races throughout the galaxy are smart enough to gather the relay wreckages, analyze them, and rebuild them. The Quarians and/or Geth will likely accomplish first considering how impressive their tech and repair skills are. The Asari will rebuild theirs quickly too. The earth relay might even be completed the quickest considering they have allies from nearly every race around (if earth survives.) The Krogan have time to rebuild their civilization before they attempt to rebuild their mass relay. In any case, once these races are smart enough to rebuild these mass relays or find a suitable replacement, they are ready to use them. Everyone also have enough time to recover as a race before they meet the others again in person.
Even if the mass relays aren’t repaired, galaxy-wide travel is still possible. It will take years, sure, but the Migrant Fleet has been travelling system by system for centuries, mining planets for minerals and fuel as they go. Better yet, they can use the power cores from all the destroyed reapers as a power source – I’m sure more reapers were destroyed than just the one you blew up with the missiles on Earth. If you destroyed the reapers, there will easily be enough cores to power every ship still hovering around Earth. When the reapers are destroyed they simply shut down – no dramatic explosion.
I read some comments that suggest that the Quarians and the Turians stranded near Earth will die off because of their vastly different dietary needs. Not true if the Quarians survived, because each of their liveships has their own ecosystem inside that can grow the food they need, and the Turians eat similar food. There will be enough since most of the Quarian civilization is back on Rannoch and can eat the natural food there. They are resourceful enough to think of bringing their liveships into the system and resting them around an unoccupied planet or moon for safety – just in case. Everyone other race eats pretty much the same kind of food as far as we know, so they’ll all be fine. The reapers focus on heavily populated areas and there will still be plenty of farmland left untouched.
Even if the Quarians didn’t survive, the Turians would have enough resources to last at least a year. With all the scientists in the area they could find a way to make Turian food on one of the Sol moons by the time they run out.
Although it should be said that taking over the reapers shouldn’t have destroyed the mass relays like the other two solutions do. All that’s needed would be a distinct radio signal that informs the reapers they have a new boss – the relays also function as instant communication towers as the first game explained. At least it didn’t also destroy the citadel like the other two endings did.
Some people have argued that the mass relay explosions will destroy star systems – they won’t. The alpha relay in “The Arrival” went supernova because an asteroid crashed into it. Here, the relays spend much of their energy emitting these signals, then collapse. Unless you have a low galactic readiness rating, these signals won’t harm anyone on earth. If the citadel, the biggest mass relay in the galaxy (as revealed in Mass Effect 1,) won’t kill people when it signals from Earth’s orbit, than the other mass relays won’t kill people either.
As for the mass relays killing people if your rating isn’t high enough – yeah that was kind of weak. It would have worked better if Earth was already lost.
This could have been explained better in the end, but anyone who’s actually paid attention through all three games should have realized these points.
Why Joker trying to escape the explosion makes sense (yet doesn’t):
This one took a lot of thinking because at first glance, this makes no sense. Last you heard from the Normandy, it was helping guide missiles into a reaper that was in your way. It wasn’t necessarily in the immediate area to control the missiles, but it had to be near enough for a clear signal at least.
The more I thought about it though, the more this actually does make sense. Joker is flying the Normandy away from the explosion because he doesn’t know exactly what the explosion is doing. As far as he knows, this will tear apart his beloved Normandy SR-2 and kill him with it. A pilot with his skills and EDI helping him control the ship would have the reaction time to jump into FTL speeds before the explosion reached him. Oh, and before you say EDI wasn’t on the ship because she was in your squad, right when she introduces her new body she says she’s still inside the ship’s computer.
Some commenters have argued that he’s using a mass relay to escape – no he's not! The mass relays offer instantaneous travel from one to another. He’s traveling at FTL speed, probably in whatever direction he was flying at the time to escape the explosion as quickly as possible.
What doesn’t make sense is how the Normandy survived a crash at FTL speeds, and as such I agree that this part should be changed if Bioware does make any changes to the ending. The fact that squad members can randomly teleport onto the ship if they were just in your squad doesn’t help. For those who argue that the Normandy should have crashed onto Earth, I won’t argue against that. The fact that they landed on a fertile world unharmed by the reapers is better from an artistic point of view.
Why the reaper’s partial origin and motivation makes sense, and how it was foreshadowed:
The reaper motivation of harvesting advanced civilization to preserve all life makes sense. They say that without this, organic civilization will eventually create a synthetic race too advanced and powerful to ever defeat in a war. These synthetics will then proceed to not only destroy their creators in self-preservation, but will wipe out all organic life as a precaution. This is another theme consistent throughout the trilogy.
While the Geth mythology changed over the course of the trilogy, in the first game the heretics were trying to help the reapers eliminate organic life. Of course, the reapers would stop the Geth from destroying all organic life and disable them once they were finished. There were also several side-quests about rogue Vis killing their creators – one on earth’s moon. In the second game, there’s a series of side-quests about a rogue VI in a factory that’s creating hostile mechs. These mechs kill everything in sight, including their masters. This even crashed a large cargo ship onto a remote planet. If you didn’t shut down the factory, I’m sure these mechs would have killed plenty more.
Mass Effect 2 also reveals that the Geth only attacked Quarians after they were attacked. As soon as the Quarians left, the Geth stayed on Rannoch in peace (save for the heretics.) The Geth are ok with the idea of peace, but every time they encountered the Quarian since, the Quarians attacked them. If you wouldn’t have intervened with the Quarian/Geth war in Mass Effect 3, it’s possible that the Geth wouldn’t stop at killing all the Quarians in self-preservation even without the reapers. They would have had enough, and would want to make sure nobody else would try to wipe them out.
One comment I read suggested that the Reapers should simply show up and eliminate synthetic life every 50,000 years. The problem with that is that organic civilization will still advance over those years. They will still experiment with AI that will become more powerful than if the reapers stopped the organics from doing so. They might eventually create synthetics too powerful for the reapers to stop, and these synthetics will kill all organic life. By harvesting organic life every 50,000 years, they prevent this from happening, and they can rest for 50,000 years.
Javik, the Prothean squad mate in Mass Effect 3, mentioned at one point that they were fighting a galaxy-wide war with synthetics when the reapers arrived. He called it the Metacon War.
However the Reapers don’t simply wipe out organic life, they harvest advanced civilization and turn them into more reapers while leaving primitive races alone. Their motivation/origin was hinted at in the earlier games. As Sovereign said in Mass Effect 1,
“We are each a nation - independent.”
Mass Effect 2 further hinted at this with the birth of the human reaper, and it was finally confirmed at the end of Mass Effect 3. My guess is they usually used indoctrinated servants in the collector base for this. Sure their methods are extreme, but it makes sense. I’m also sure that, since each reaper used to be an advance civilization, they take no pleasure in what they do.
“We are your salvation through destruction,” Harbinger said in Mass Effect 2.
Sure, you could argue that you prove this organic/synthetic war wrong in Mass Effect 3 if you unite the Quarians and Geth. Then again when you reach the crucible, the catalyst says that his solution won’t work anymore and has to be changed. Again, while this could have been explained better, anyone whose paid attention throughout the series should be able to connect the dots.
You don’t learn exactly how the reapers began, but that's not important.
The different endings are not the same (but looked too similar):
The three choices you have let you either control the reapers, destroy the reapers or cause synergy (everyone becomes a combination of organic and synthetic tissue.) Some people are arguing that these are essentially the same. They’re not and I’ll tell you why.
The choice to destroy the reapers is the renegade option. Why? Because you’re committing revenge against the reapers – ignoring the fact that someone will later create a synthetic race that will overcome and destroy organic life. This will either re-start the reapers or wipe out all organic life. As such, this is a temporary solution at best. Heck, you could argue that in destroying the reapers, you are wiping out all the races they’ve harvested in the past. Every time you kill a reaper, you commit genocide. If you have a galactic readiness rating of at least 4,000 and you “saved” Captain Anderson or you have a galactic readiness of at least 5,000, Shepard survives this ending.
The choice to control the reapers is the paragon option. Why? Now you control the reapers rather than some arrogant AI. While you might have the same overall purpose, you can try to use a much more civil approach and perhaps use better judgement. While the cycle will still exist, it’s being led by someone who fully understands how painful the old ways were and will try to make the harvesting process easier for everyone. That is a good thing. This ending destroys Shepard’s body, but his/her essence lives on in controlling the reapers.
The synthesis choice is perhaps the best option. Why? It renders the reapers without a purpose. If all beings have both organic and inorganic material in them, why bother creating synthetic beings? Sure this is the most far-fetched of the choices, but sci-fi is supposed to be far-fetched. The very idea of the mass relays is far-fetched, as is gaining biotic powers from a deadly substance known as element zero. This ending guarantees Shepard’s complete and irreversible death, but it is a complete and permanent solution.
The complaint that the three videos are just a pallet switch is wrong as well. With the “destroy” option, you see all the reapers dying, people cheering and the citadel’s destruction. With the “control” option, the reapers leave Earth, people cheer and the citadel closes. With the “synthesis” option, the reapers leave Earth, people stand around confused and the citadel’s explodes. Also, when your crewmates leave the crashed Normandy, they have wires on their skin if you picked synthesis.
There probably should have been more of a visual difference, but there are subtle differences. The explosion killing everyone on Earth if you don’t have a high enough galactic rating doesn’t make sense. Briefly seeing how Thessia, Palaven and Sur’Kesh are doing would have been a nice touch. Still, suggesting that these three endings are the same is both short sighted and insulting.
Why a vague ending is a smart idea:
Mass Effect is all about the choices you make guiding the story. Do you unite the Quarians and the Geth? Do you cure the Genophage? Do you (attempt) to exterminate the Rachni? Do you save the colony on Feros? Do you save the council? Do you destroy or keep the collector base? That’s what truly makes this franchise unique among other Third Person Shooters and even Roll Playing Shooters.
There are so many variables in this game that there is no way Bioware could have covered them all – even in text. Sure, it would have been nice to see a quick text recap to see how each of your in-game friends ends up. However, with a vague ending you can decide for yourself how they end up. In a game full of choices, having a vague ending gives you more choices than the actual game ever could.
For example, you could decide that after Shepard takes control of the reapers (losing his/her body in the process,) he/she uses the reapers to create a new body to live in. This new body is part organic, part synthetic. This body doesn’t need to breathe, thinks faster than even the Geth and can command the reapers from anywhere in the galaxy. Shepard can talk to people and try to convince them not to experiment with AI, preventing the need to invade with the reapers. He/she cam still interact with his/her friends until the day they die, or possibly even immortalize them as well.
You can decide that by destroying the reapers and living, you are eventually recovered and re-built by the Alliance like Cerberus did before.
You could even decide, as some have, that everything that happened after the reaper blast, or the Illusive Man confrontation, was a dream. In reality, the reapers again destroy galactic civilization and the cycle continues. The next race to reach the citadel is the Yahg. Right there is a fix in case you didn’t like the ending.
That’s the beauty of a vague ending; you can decide exactly how everything plays out. It encourages you to use your imagination.
Why this controversy is ridiculous:
I’m sorry if some of this comes across as harsh, but it has to be said. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
If you don’t like the ending, that’s OK. Starting threads and poles on the Bioware forums is perfectly fine – that’s what their forums are for. Contacting them on Twitter? Go ahead; Bioware is excellent at replying to tweets on their mass effect account. Posting a YouTube reaction video or an angry blog post? That’s also fine. Bombing user scores on Amazon and Metacritic? That’s stupid and immature.
Every exclusive game is bombed by raging fan boys from opposing systems with 1’s and 0’s, making user scores for video games on Metacritic completely meaningless. Bombing Mass Effect with low scores because you didn’t like one aspect of the game? That is meaningless. Bombing their scores because you disagree with the day 1 DLC? It’s the same as giving Uncharted a 0 because it’s not on the Xbox. Most people look at Metacritic for the critic scores, ignoring the stupidly low user scores because they know they’re meaningless.
Amazon scores are different however. Lots of people base their purchases on Amazon scores – even I have at times. Bombing Mass Effect with low scores on Amazon could potentially scare away customers that would actually enjoy the ending, or at least forgive it thanks to the quality of the rest of the game.
Also, while tweeting Mass Effect is fine, spamming their account with repetitive “change the ending” tweets will not help anyone.
As for Bioware changing the ending, have patience. They’ll need at least a few weeks to even come up with an announcement. Actually changing the ending, that will take months at least. Making video games takes a long time. They’ll have to bring in the voice actors - and pay them, they’ll have to bring in the animation department and sound editors. They’ll have to bug fix the ending – in addition to the bug fixes they’re already working on. EA and the owners for each system have to license the DLC before it can be released. Have patience, this is the way the world works. If you’re expecting that Bioware releases a change in the ending this week, then how do you make it through day to day life?
Like it or not, you don’t have any right to demand anything of Bioware. They own the Mass Effect franchise. They own the characters, they own the Geth - they own the ending (Microsoft owns the publishing rights to ME1, so it will never appear on the PS3.) That said, Bioware has always been good at listening to their fans. They’ve acknowledged that lots of people don’t like the ending. I’m sure they’ll come up with something. Abandoning Bioware because you didn’t like one aspect of the game is like abandoning your parents because you were grounded once. Oh, and before you say that Dragon Age 2 contributed to this, keep in mind that Dragon Age is developed by a different team than Mass Effect.
You can’t claim that most Mass Effect fans hate the ending when less than a tenth of those who bought the game have even voted in any of the polls. For every obsessed fan who hangs out in the Bioware forums to blast the ending, there are at least 10 fans who are quietly content with the game they have. For every post on twitter that complains about the ending, there’s another that praises the ending.
As for the day 1 DLC controversy, that’s just ridiculous. They announced last year that the Collector’s Edition will have an exclusive character and mission. The reason why DLC is so prevalent is because it’s our fault. Even then, this was more of a reward for loyal customers who bought the Collector’s edition. Instead of a few weapon skins or a cheaply made statue, this is content that actually matters. It’s still available for regular customers that are willing to check it out, and it’s not overpriced when compared to Call of Duty map packs.
The only thing that equals the fury of internet rage is its immaturity – rarely will you find one without examples of the other. Some customers are handling this fine; it’s the immature ones that usually stand out. But I'm getting off-topic, back to the ending.
The ending has problems:
The catalyst’s dialogue could have been written better and the conversation could have used more investigate options. On the flip side, extending it too much is a terrible idea as it will drag on (my brother thinks the ending dragged on as it was – his only complaint about the game.) There should have been more differences between the ending videos. There are differences beyond the colour of the explosion, but they’re too subtle for lots of people to notice. The flashbacks won’t show your love interest if it’s Garrus, Tali, or any of the squad member from Mass Effect 2; that should be easy to fix.
For re-playability’s sake, there should have been less time spent limping through a hallway or toward the three ending choices. There also should have been the ability to skip through the dialogue in the Illusive Man confrontation. If all your squad mates appear on the Normandy after it crashed on the planet, you have to explain how they returned to the Normandy. Also, the vague “stargazer” ending was kind of lame – only saved by the fact that Buzz Aldrin voiced it.
The message telling you to play more DLC – yeah that was a bad move.
I would be willing to check out an alternate ending if Bioware did create one. Considering how many people want a different ending, it would probably be smart of Bioware to have it freely available to anyone with an online pass, similar to the Firewalker missions in Mass Effect 2. The existing endings could have been explained better and it could have expanded on the fate of the galaxy a little more. It feels a little rushed in presentation, but the concept behind it is brilliant if you openly think about it.