The Other Side of the Coin: Mass Effect 3′s Ending Is Not That Bad

Indoctrination theory? Awesome but unneeded.

Spoilers for Mass Effect 3 and its ending follow. Read on at your own risk.

The Other Side of the Coin is an all new bi-monthly series of editorials we have started here at GamingBolt. What’s it about? If you haven’t guessed by the name, it’s about us writing articles in which we go against the public opinion, but not just for the heck of it- while doing so, we will tell you why we actually believe what we’re arguing about, and will provide (hopefully) valid and well thought out points.

In this first TOSC (let’s call it that from now on, since writing The Other Side of the Coin each and every time will get on every one of our nerves sooner or later) article, we talk about the ending of Mass Effect 3, and why we believe that while it is not the ending we wanted it to be it, it is still a decent ending that is not half as terrible as people make it out to be.

Here we go!

Mass Effect TOSC

mass effect 3 origin

Why is it that everyone hates Mass Effect 3′s ending? Let’s break it down.

First and foremost, people say that the choices we make throughout the game- hell, throughout the trilogy- have no impact whatsoever on how the game ends. Saved the Rachnii queen? Killed the Rachnii queen? Doesn’t matter. Saved the Council? Let the Council die? Doesn’t matter. Put Anderson on the Council? Put Udina on the Council? Doesn’t matter. Saved-

You get the gist.

Bottomline is, BioWare’s claims that the way you play through the game and the trilogy will affect how your story ends, making the story your very own, unique adventure, are said to be false.

The general gaming public is also of the opinion that Mass Effect 3 really has only one ending, implying that the multiple endings of the game do not differ significantly from each other, save the colour the screen glows and the characters that appear in the epilogue scenes.

The same epilogue scenes that people feel are too brief. Everyone wanted more closure, more aftermath from the ending, and Mass Effect 3 didn’t provide enough. Basically, it is believed that Mass Effect 3 pulled a “Lost” and left us with more questions than answers. That, and the fact that the ending itself has a lot of loopholes and flawed pieces of writing, which is uncharacteristic of BioWare’s usual self, come together to frustrate the fans even more.

Another popular flaw in the ending- and probably the biggest- is that it pulls a big deus ex machina on everyone. It’s basically a huge cop out, with the Star Child, and him giving half-baked explanations for everything and basically saying “There’s no time to explain” to almost every question you ask. People find this largely frustrating, saying that BioWare took the easy way out and rushed through the ending rather than making their and the players’ work of five years pay off. And no final boss fight? No conclusive confrontation against Harbinger? That riled people up as well.

All in all, Mass Effect 3′s ending is on the same pedestal as the likes of Lost, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica and such. It’s considered to be that bad.

Mass Effect TOSC 2

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Okay, yes, the entire Star Child thing was a huge cop out. It was all too convenient, it felt rushed. Most of all, it felt like BioWare had put absolutely no thought into writing that particular section, and was trying to get out of answering the questions the series had raised over 90 hours of gameplay.

And no matter what you did, the endings were similar indeed. Synthesis? You get green explosions. Control? You get blue explosions. Destroy? Red explosions! And what’s the difference? Where do we get to see how what we did throughout the game impacting the galaxy and the various species after the Reaper war, how the Reapers affected those species themselves? Where do we get to see the widely different conclusions that BioWare promised we would see? We didn’t.

Sure, the Extended Cut added a few freeze frame aftermath “photos” as an epilogue with a monologue describing the aftermath of the war, but it felt tacky and forced, and it felt like the game was selling our choices and our own actions throughout the 30 hours short.

The writing in the ending was flawed in many places as well, mostly so in Shepard’s conversation with the Catalyst, and the fact that he/it just happened to look like the child Shepard had seen die in the explosion at the beginning of the game seemed downright weird and forced. The indoctrination theory would support this perfectly, but it’s been made pretty clear right now that the theory is just that- a theory.

And the fact that we got no boss battle felt like a slap to the face. Sure, the final onslaught of the Reaper forces in front of the conduit, with the Banshees and Marauders bearing down on you while EDI calibrated the missiles was tense and thrilling, but it was in no way a boss fight. Shepard was told specifically that Harbinger was heading his way, and we all expected a boss fight as we made our way to the conduit, but all we got was Marauder Shields. Not good enough, BioWare. Even a human Reaper Larva would have worked (even that was mentioned when Shepard was in the Citadel, talking to Anderson through the radio).

There were a few flaws in the ending as well- how the hell did Anderson survive? Shepard heard people saying on the radio that everyone in the team heading toward the conduit had died. Wasn’t it a bit too convenient that Anderson survived? And Anderson contacted Shepard as soon as he made it up to the Citadel, saying that he followed him. If he had followed him, why didn’t he help a limping, dying Shepard, or call out to him to stop and ask him to wait up?

Mass Effect TOSC 3

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While criticizing Mass Effect 3′s endgame, people blow a lot of things out of proportion. For exmaple, the choices you make in the game itself and in the entire trilogy do matter. They don’t just matter in the game’s finale, they matter in the entire game itself. Some of them don’t- the Rachnii queen, choosing which person sits on the Council, and that angered us as much as any other person. But most of the choices you make reflect throughout the game, shifting the story and adjusting it as you go along.

And what you do throughout Mass Effect 3 changes your military strength, which, obviously, shifts your EMS, or Effective Military Strength. And based on what your EMS is as you go into the conclusion, here’s what can change- Anderson can either be killed by Shepard under the Illusive Man’s control, by Illusive Man himself, or can die of his injuries. Illusive Man can either be talked down after which he kills himself, shot down while he tries killing Anderson, or killed after he shoots Anderson. Characters such as EDI, Legion and other synthetics can live or die. Shepard can live or die. The Earth can be completely destroyed despite having beaten the Reapers or still be salvageable.

The Effective Military Strength, which represents all your actions throughout the course of the game, can change a lot of things as your game ends, but the only problem is that they’re not shown with enough closure or aftermath, despite the freeze frame epilogue “images” added by the EC. The endings themselves don’t differ from each other drastically, but a lot of the variables can change depending on how you play the game.

And the loopholes in the ending were indeed present once, but after the Extended Cut, they have been fixed. The EC not only tells you how your squadmates at the time of the final push survived even though the game specifically said that everyone had died, it also gives you an emotional scene which shows Shepard saying goodbye to his friends. It’s even more heart-wrenching if one of your squadmates is your romance option.

The Extended Cut also adds an emotional memorial scene which sees the crew of the Normandy putting up Shepard’s nameplate on the wall where everyone who’s died has his or her name written down. It’s a powerful yet brief scene. It also shows you why Joker runs away from Earth rather than waiting and going back for Shepard.

The Star Child gives much better answers to Shepard thanks to the EC, which clears up plenty of lingering questions- such as the origin of the Reapers, the origin of the Star Child himself and such. They’re not perfect, and are still a little vague at times, but they’re more than we had before.

It also turns out that the Mass Relays were not destroyed. They were only damaged and can be fixed. If you chose the Control ending, you can actually see the Reapers helping the galaxy with the rebuilding process. It’s a nice touch, and we appreciate it.

The monologues provided by Shepard, Admiral Hacket or EDI at the end, depending on which ending you chose, are also very well written and certainly provide for more closure.

We see all of Mass Effect 3 as an ending, to be honest, but even if you do just take the last 15 minutes of the game into consideration, a lot of the points that people criticize are actually not that bad.

Mass Effect TOSC 4

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Mass Effect 3′s ending is not perfect. We know it. It’s not even great. It’s not even good. It’s fairly decent. It does a good enough job of wrapping up an excellent game, and an excellent series. It is not what we wanted it to be, not even close. But it also isn’t half as terrible as almost everyone says it is.

The Extended Cut makes it a much better ending than before, and the best part is that it can be downloaded for free. The loopholes have been fixed (well, most of them, anyway), and the notion that the ending doesn’t take your choices into account is false.

Mass Effect has always been about the characters and their personal stories, and while we certainly expected BioWare to wrap up the “grander” storylines too, the personal storylines of the characters we had come to love were tied off in a poignant and emotionally moving manner. From a technical standpoint, there’s no denying that Mass Effect 3′s ending has numerous, very significant flaws. But from a personal standpoint, if you have invested time in the series, you can’t help but feel a little teary at the end.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add something? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!


  • guy

    Casey Hudson lied saying we wouldn’t get a A,B,C Ending that all our Choices Mattered and would have a meaningful impact,closure,but what we got is what was stated in this article, i wanted to have more control the dialog tree was cut down alot automatic speech plus i Wanted see my assets fighting reapers, oh and you couldn’t keep track of your quests so basic and the fact if your new weres the introduction aspect of a game for them, oh the side quest unlike ME2 were dull,but i did love the game in other aspects

    • magnetite

      People only see the last 5 minutes as the ending. However, if you take the game as a whole, it can play out differently.

      There’s a lot more than A,B C or 16 different variations if you view the entire game as the ending. By not having everyone live during the suicide mission, you have potentially 12 different ways the game as a whole can play out. You won’t get to do Grunt’s, Samara’s, or Jack’s mission (or any other squadmate for that matter), if they didn’t survive the SM.

      However, people are too close minded to view the game from this angle. They only see the last 5 minutes as the ending, and probably expected a LOTR Return of the King type epilogue finale which shows you how every single choice and every single character lived happily ever after. I tell you, with a game this size, and the hundreds of different choices, you’re looking at a 10+ hour epilogue. Most people don’t want to sit through that.

      So instead of getting a 10 hour epilogue at the end, they made it so the entire game was the ending.

      They didn’t promise people war asset cinematics. Although, if people wanted spoon-fed action sequences, then this game isn’t clearly for them.

      If these so-called fans really were fans of the game, they wouldn’t call these people a bunch of liars and such. You’d stick with them and keep buying their stuff. Honestly, one bad apple isn’t going to ruin the entire game for you is it?

      PS–Starchild is Harbinger. I figured that out by actually playing the game and paying attention..

  • Logan Snider

    It seems as though certain parts of the article were intentionally embedded/laced to offer up a token of “please accept this” to the people reading it in the “hate the game camp.” This is because the author only half heartily defends the ending in self degrading language with a good example of which being shown in the second to last paragraph. The ending, to those who bash the game, is only part of the equation. It was “the last straw” which makes the game crap. Let us also not forget about: The Day 1 DLC, Jessica Chobot’s role in the game and the implication of reviewer bribes, poor multi-player which is fun but also VERY clunky in comparison to say Halo or Call of Duty, Overpriced DLC made all the more irrelevant because they come before the games ending, excessive use of auto-dialogue, Not so much your decisions being made irrelevant so much as being totally reversed by developers i.e. the Citadel Council or R. Queen, and the POORLY handled media crisis during the fan uprising. At this point the company is not facing trolls, they are facing dedicated fans turned trolls because of every little grievance which has combined together into a giant ball of grievances. People, such as myself, are not going to let this die. Not because we don’t have lives, in fact I’m about to go pay my college tuition. We are not going to let this die because Julius Caesar once had a courier whose only job was to travel through the market with him and tell him that he was “just a man.” Bioware will eventually, if not continuously told that they are, “just a man,” shrug off the comments and self-inflicted taint upon their company. They will repeat the same errors again and again, and those who defend the company will always shun the opinions of others unless they are punched in the face (not literally) and told, “you are just a man.” I AM A TROLL!!!! I admit it, and the reason why I troll is not to get a rise in anger… it is to serve a purpose as outlined about.

    • Karl

      My opinion on Bioware went down really low months after ME3 release,
      though I still maintain respect for some of Bioware’s writers and
      developers, but they have lost my respect as a fan and a customer. Now I
      am no longer excited for dlc that comes for ME3 like I did for ME2, I
      hated how they went overboard with autodialogue, taking more control
      away from the player, how your choices got crunched into a number readiness meter, story contradictions were more common than the cold and how the reason behind the Reapers was a poor one. The Dark Energy story would have been more acceptable to me than the Synthetic rebellion story.

  • Drew

    “But most of the choices you make reflect throughout the game”

    This is an often used as counter argument and it’s the one that makes me the maddest because it makes me think people who insist on defending this game are reading off a press release of what the game said it would be and forgot what actually happens in the game. No, MOST of your choices do not impact Mass Effect 3, most of your choices don’t even get imported between the games and I can prove that with hard data. Much of what does is handled just as shallowly as the Rachni and Council situation.

    ” but the only problem is that they’re not shown with enough closure or
    aftermath, despite the freeze frame epilogue “images” added by the EC.
    The endings themselves don’t differ from each other drastically, but a
    lot of the variables can change depending on how you play the game.”

    No, the problem with EMS is that it doesn’t measure how you play the games, it measures how much of the games you played (and gives more weight to playing the multiplayer for a few hours than the entire first two games will). The variables of your choices don’t affect any outcomes, the amount of choices you make unlocks outcomes superficially.

    “And the loopholes in the ending were indeed present once, but after the Extended Cut, they have been fixed.”

    It fixes some of them and adds more. I don’t want to get too into discussion about the Extended Cut because I think the efforts of what they wanted to do with it were doomed from the start. The need of an Extended Cut should in itself be a red flag that yeah, the ending was that bad.

    • Kerk

      And let’s not forget how the biggest decision of ME2 (save/destroy the Collector Base) plays out throughout the entire ME3.

  • Ex

    Kudos for going against the consensus of entitlement but refrain next time from writing ‘rushed’ or ‘forced; the ultimate shorthand for intimating something which you cannot articulate but you know there. It’s just lazy.

    • VulpesRex

      How does holding a strong belief that the ending sucks mean that there is a consensus of entitlement? Entitlement would be demanding a free fix. Yes, many of the people who originally complained had a sense of entitlement, but don’t conflate that with people who think the ending sucked (a group, I believe, that is in the majority).

      To address the end of the article talking about the Extended Cut DLC… Imagine watching a movie that is amazing for 2 1/2 hours. Then the last 5 minutes literally ruin the whole f*cking thing. Make it damn near unwatchable. Then suppose that the director releases a Director’s Cut which includes an alternate ending. The alternate ending is much better, but still doesn’t blow your mind. Unless you are possessed of an uncanny ability to compartmentalize, you cannot unwatch what you have watched. The original ending is still out there, and is still a part of your experiences.

      Bargain basement players who waited until the full game + DLC have been released will have a better experience than the people who played the original ME3 and lived through the WTF moments in the ending and had time for their negativity to percolate before getting a partial-fix. Bioware is still a great company, but as others have pointed out, they are no longer the gold standard for electronic entertainment storytelling.

      Of course, my hope is that this last ME3 DLC will prove the Indoctrination Theory correct, blow our collective minds, and allow Bioware to wrest the storytelling crown back from Telltale and others.

    • Drew

      “Of course, my hope is that this last ME3 DLC will prove the
      Indoctrination Theory correct, blow our collective minds, and allow
      Bioware to wrest the storytelling crown back”

      A.) I don’t think they ever really had it. There are other companies that have always been better story tellers, Bioware was just the only company that balanced competent writing and competent software. Bioware, especially pre-EA days, are very underrated in the game design department, while also overrated in the game writing department.

      B.) I think the ship has sailed on Indoctrination Theory. A lot of what people argued, unsuccessfully in my opinion, about what would have made it so great (“They played with our minds duuuuuuuude! We were the indoctrinated, it’s like a big meta thing and like wow man, it’s like duuuuude!”) would have required getting something out about it a heck of a lot quicker than now and certainly not as a paid DLC after two other lack luster DLCs.

  • Ex

    Kudos for going against the consensus of entitlement but refrain next time from writing ‘rushed’ or ‘forced; the ultimate shorthand for intimating something which you cannot articulate but you know there. It’s just lazy.

  • Adam

    The ball was dropped and even after being given a second chance they still failed hard. EAWare is what it is.

    • Karl

      Lets see what EA does with Dead Space 3

    • vlad78

      Personnaly I’l say a big No. I’ll see how EA wraps the remants of ME3, is there really a final twist or did they totally screw the game. Others EA games do not interest me anymore.

  • Sikozu

    Thanks for articulating this so well. I’m a long
    time Bioware fan and an almost obsessive fan of the Mass Effect universe in
    particular. I was extremely disappointed by the last 10 or 15 minutes of the
    game for all the reasons you stated. However, all of the excellent content up
    to that point mitigated any wrath I might have felt along with my
    disappointment. Bioware is a company full of talented human beings, but not
    perfect ones. Over the years they have consistently given us great games. All
    of these people, with their extreme belligerence toward Bioware, seem to have
    forgotten all that came before that last 15 minutes. People make mistakes, it’s
    not apocolyptic. This commonly vocalized desire to just throw the baby out with
    the bath water is nonsensical to me. I personally can’t wait to see what
    Bioware will bring us next; I believe they will use all of this feedback and
    make an excellent comeback.

    • Drew

      “This commonly vocalized desire to just throw the baby out with
      the bath water is nonsensical to me.”

      The bigger picture is that the ending is viewed as a culmination of all things Bioware over the last half a decade, which has been considered to be on the decline. I think you should realize that there a lot of people that don’t consider what led up to those last 15 minutes to be quite as “excellent” as some want to state as a given.

  • Dylan

    Good article, didn’t realize people were still complaining about the ending. Y’all should probably stop wasting so much of your time focused on something you feel so negative about. Ok you don’t like Mass Effect 3 ending & hate Bioware for it. Well thats cool go play something else, while we wait for Dragon Age 3. If you judge the whole trilogy based off the last 10minutes of the original ending, which Bioware didn’t have to fix, then your not a fan of Mass Effect so why are you even talking. A true fan of Mass Effect wouldn’t go from love to hate on the whole series based off 10min out of 90+ hours. I know this cause I’m a true fan of the series.

    • Drew

      “didn’t realize people were still complaining about the ending.”
      It’s the start of a new year and people are reflecting on the previous. Gamingbolt brought it up with this opine, it’s not a news report on something current happening. Unless you think “feeling the same way about it” is the same as “still complaining”, I don’t think the interest in the game is anywhere near what it was when it was new.

      “If you judge the whole trilogy based off the last 10minutes of the original ending”

      The amount of time it takes to ruin a story is not something that involves a formula that calculates in how much of the story existed. Endings are a big deal, they carry with them weight and in almost all stories, regardless of the medium, the ending is going to be relatively short to the entirety of the story. Good writers use endings to make a statement, ask a question, reiterate a point or to just blow people out of their socks. Bad writers slap together something for the sake of “Okay, I can stop writing now. Phew” or “Let’s do something out of left field for the sake of getting people talking because any publicity is good publicity.”

      That’s how I would feel if I really did think the last 10 minutes ruined it but not what I think, I think the whole third game was a misstep.

      “A true fan of Mass Effect wouldn’t go from love to hate on the whole
      series based off 10min out of 90+ hours. I know this cause I’m a true
      fan of the series. ”

      Your basis of knowing what something is, is that you’re one? How can you be sure of anything with that logic?

  • http://twitter.com/samson106 samson

    Whilst i don’t agree with how Bioware chose to cap off the Mass effect trilogy in 3 i do recognize the games brilliance. Sure the last few minutes of the games anti-climatic ending sort of nullified the whole experience, but it isn’t as bad an ending as other games we’ve seem on the market today. I think the bigger issue here is’t in the way Bioware orchestrated the ending but the fact that fans feel lied to by them into purchasing the game believing that a great branching ending was on offer (minus the plot holes). I loved the overall experience but i think if Bioware didn’t promise so much the impact of the ending wouldn’t of been so sever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.suhrer Andrew Suhrer

    I can’t stand the ending even with the EC. Until we get at the very least a victory in refusal or a reunion in destroy, I’m not going to buy any DLC or support any Bioware products. Anyone could pull a better ending out of their asses than what professional writers gave us. I thought money would out weigh artistic integrity. Everyone who hated the ending isn’t going to want to get attached to a new hero after seeing what happened to Shepard! Halo 3 did a better job of ending one story ark, while leaving it open for another. Plus boss fights are too Video Game-y? They had boss fights in both ME 1 & 2! I hope this isn’t over, but I’m not coming back with the way thing are now. I’m sure as hell not getting ME4 if I still don’t like the ending of ME3. I’ve moved on to other games and don’t see myself coming back with the way Bioware is acting. I hope they do redeem themselves, but until then I’m out.

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