I finished Mass Effect 3 last night. I think the whole controversy is a bit past its expiration date, but since I told a few friends I would blog about it, I feel committed to follow through. So why not add one more voice to the cacophony? In case the title didn’t set off your spoiler alarms, and you’ve somehow avoided all the talk so far, let this serve as your final warning. Thar be spoilars!
(As a side note, I’d be happy to talk about this. But if you reply, please do it here or on my Facebook page. Tweet replies will only spoil it for people who see them.)
First, I should review which ending I went for. I had more than a full army, and my Paragon rating was high enough to convince the Illusive Man he was indoctrinated. He turned his gun on himself. When presented the choice with the Catalyst, I went for Synthesis, since it aligned with the way I’ve been playing Shepard. He wouldn’t feel right about using the Reapers, or wiping out a sentient race, but he would recognize self-sacrifice as necessary. All in all, I felt like it was a satisfying conclusion with an interesting final set of stakes.
Now, I liked the ending pretty well. You might not have. It was a bit boilerplate sci-fi, but I think it touched on the themes of the series with a sense of finality. I’m not trying to convince anyone to like it, but I will address a few of the common complaints and why they didn’t bother me. So let’s get right to that.
Complaint: The endings are all the same
I’ve watched each of the endings via YouTube, and to be honest, I couldn’t disagree more. I can only assume that people are confusing the similarity in presentation with similarity in consequences. The endings are all aesthetically very similar and cut between similar scenes. Some of this is because the same things would be happening (Shepard remembering his crew, soldiers on the ground of earth), and sure, some was probably a time or work saving effort on the part of BioWare. But in terms of plot, the actual choice you’re presented with results in three extremely diverse implications for the universe.
I carefully considered my choice, despite knowing that this is the last game and there is roughly a 0.0% chance that it will impact anything in any future games. I was invested in the story, and so it mattered to me. BioWare knew that we wouldn’t personally feel the consequences in the next game, so they made the stakes larger than ever before. You are literally determining the fate of all life in the universe forever.
Complaint: Your choices up to this point don’t matter
I would agree to some extent that the major driving factor in the ending of this game — your War Readiness — isn’t as refined as the more mysterious system in Mass Effect 2. A status bar was a little too clean, too mathematical, too much “video game” logic. If it comes down to it, I probably preferred the complex flow chart of ME2, and it would have been nice to see a similar impact with my war choices; making strategic decisions of which armies to send and when, etc. But as far as I can tell, people are complaining more about the Catalyst choice onward, so my personal minor issues with the way they dealt with the armies is moot on that front.
As for choices regarding characters, that’s always mattered. Those have mattered throughout the entire series. It matters during and all throughout the game itself. Listen to the latest “Games, Dammit” podcast for a long conversation on the many permutations of the game’s plot, which are at least as complex and branching as ME2’s flowchart, if not more so. The ending, though, is a different matter. Whether or not Tali is alive doesn’t make a difference in whether you destroy an entire type of life. Why should it? Those choices were removed from the rest of the game to set them apart. They don’t just impact your crew, they impact the galaxy.
Complaint: The ending is too short
I suppose that depends on when you start measuring. I considered “the ending” pretty much everything starting from the ill-fated charge towards the Citadel beam, and that was probably about 20 minutes. I considered the ending mission sequence to start when I attacked the Cerberus base, and from that point, it was about 3 hours. It all seemed to come to a conclusion pretty naturally, so I didn’t feel like the story suddenly cut off.
Complaint: Plot holes
One friend asked me why the crew was on the Normandy, and why it was warping. I hadn’t even considered this as a plot hole, because the answer seemed obvious as I was watching it. We know Shepard and Anderson got aboard the Citadel, and Coats told everyone else to pull back. (It could have been made clearer that your two companions weren’t running alongside you, to be fair.) At that point, the only logical thing for the Normandy crew to do is head back into space to be near the Citadel to retrieve Shepard. Once the proverbial crap started hitting the fan, and not knowing what exactly was going on, Joker opted to get the hell out of there. It’s not explicitly spelled out, but does it really have to be? People may be referring to other plot holes that I haven’t considered, and if so I’d like to hear them.
Complaint: It doesn’t matter how I’ve been playing Shepard
I suppose if your Paragon rating isn’t high enough, you have to use a Renegade action to shoot the Illusive Man. But mine was, so I talked him out of it. If yours wasn’t, I can only assume you didn’t do enough Paragon actions to get your rating high enough for that option, which would mean it does very much matter how you’ve been playing. And this is without having taken Paragon actions every single time.
Complaint: BioWare promised 16 endings
I’ve had trouble digging up a place that BioWare claimed this, since any search revolving around “Mass Effect 3 endings” results in this controversy. But a friend claimed they had and I’m assuming he’s right. If so, this is one complaint I think is more-or-less valid, since it implies more variation than we actually saw. Still, I felt the three “main” endings were a solid final choice, as I said above.
Complaint: It’s sad
Yes. Yes it is. I suppose this didn’t bother me because I went into the game assuming everyone I cared about would die. That’s how these epic final chapters tend to work. The fact that anyone survived was more of a shock to me. If anything, I’d say it wasn’t sad enough, because the ending didn’t hit me with the more subtle emotional punch of Mordin or Thane’s deaths.
Complaint: Lack of closure
It’s hard to have more closure than “dead,” and I actually liked seeing the Normandy crew crash on their jungle planet. They’re all together, and they’ll survive together. But then, I tend to like a little bit of imagined continuation in my endings. Conclusions that wrap up everything in a bow bore the crap out of me.
Complaint: The epilogue was stupid
I like the idea behind the epilogue much more than the execution. The notion that civilization moves on, having taken a giant step backwards, is a nice bit of thematic relevance to the whole thing. The voice acting and writing were both pretty poor, though. I suppose that just didn’t bother me enough to overshadow the experience as a whole.
Any other complaints I missed? I’m still trying to wrap my head around the hate for the ending, mainly because some of it just seems so extreme and hyperbolic. I’ll have more thoughts on that in a moment.
My Own Cons and Pros:
Cons: Like I said before, I would’ve rather had more say in the military decisions, like a strategy RPG augmented on top of it. I think having the Catalyst appear as the child was a bit hokey. (I didn’t mind the dream sequences themselves, but at the end it was a cheese enema.)
Pros: I liked the final choice, the stakes of the last battle, the way they dealt with Illusive Man. I also thought the post-credits sequence was a clever way to set up DLC, even with the terrible voice acting. We all know it’s coming, so as far as devices to set the stage, it’s a creative solution. They’ve created a system in which Shepard’s stories don’t necessarily need to fit neatly within the timeline. He’s a “legend” now, which gives them more freedom to stretch out and try fun things with the DLC.
Now, some people think the DLC will “fix” the ending. I doubt it. So far, BioWare’s statements on the DLC seem like they’re setting out to do what the ending already implied: tell other Shepard stories. Maybe that will appease the angry fans, maybe it won’t. Frankly, I hope BioWare doesn’t cave to the demands. I would lose a lot of respect for them as storytellers.
This brings me to a more serious point. If you disliked the ending, more power to you. If you somehow think that disliking the last 10 minutes of a game erases the 100+ hours of fun you had with that series, I think you’re a little nuts, but that’s your prerogative. But going to the FTC? Demanding refunds from Amazon after finishing the entire game? Campaigning BioWare to change it? Those steps are all going beyond the point I’d call reasonable.
This might sound tough, but BioWare doesn’t owe you anything. When an author pens a story, and you purchase it, you are doing so with the inherent calculated risk that you might dislike it. Beyond all the talk of owing the fans satisfaction, the complaints boil down to one simple notion: “I was looking forward to this, and then I didn’t like it.” Guess what? That happens. It has happened to everyone dozens of times before, and it will happen to everyone dozens of times again. This medium is not more pliable simply because it is interactive. The artistry in games is making a guided experience, and mistaking that controlled degree of flexibility for true authorship is dangerous. It undermines the artistry of the medium itself. It risks making authors beholden to us as consumers, rather than to their own creative impulses. In short, it makes video games more “product” than “creation.”
One friend of a friend thought I was too harsh to use the word “entitled.” I use it because it fits. The word means you are owed something by right. You have no right to an ending that you like. You paid money for a story, you experienced that story. Transaction complete. If you dislike the story, let BioWare know. Maybe they’ll learn a lesson and take into account for the next time. But demanding that a creator alter their creation is just a step too far, and I can’t imagine anyone who respects the medium actually wanting that.
And that’s my take on the ending, the controversy, and so on. (If you’re curious about how I felt about the game as a whole, it was very nearly the perfect experience I wanted out of a Mass Effect game.) Like I said, I’m open to talking about any of this. Just try to stay civil — I won’t reply if you’re not — and keep your spoilers out of Twitter where unsuspecting friends might see.
Speaking of artistry, my feature on the Smithsonian went up today. I’m pretty pleased with how that one turned out, since I got to flex my art critique muscles a bit. It’s been years since I’ve done that formally.
- I haven’t played a SimCity in a long time, but this video looked hot.
- Dragon Age 2 is another BioWare game that gets more hate than it deserves, but I can’t say I blame them for canceling an expansion. Too far gone, too much bad press. It would be a losing proposition at this point.
- Yes, Ken Levine. Yes. Fill BioShock Infinite with dialogue, and let us drink from it.
- It would probably be overlooked by most of the audience, but I thought this story about free apps’ battery life was one of the more interesting things to run today. The actual findings seem obvious, but the degree of difference it makes is pretty shocking.