I like Mass Effect 3. I liked it back at launch when the ending controversy was still boiling and I like it now. It probably helps that the multiplayer kept me relatively insulated from any disappointment at the time. Of course, I was – and still am – of the opinion that a less satisfactory ending doesn’t ruin hours upon hours of great missions, interactions and set pieces.
However, it’s easy to understand the disappointment of so many fans, even after all these years. Mass Effect started out as an epic saga, one that was always careening towards an all-out war with the Reapers. It’s not simply that players expected a happy ending or one that was cut-and-dry. But some kind of definite resolution, at the very least, felt a given. Instead, Mass Effect 3‘s ending provided more questions than answers, further compounded by the late introduction of the Catalyst. The endings themselves didn’t feel like they offered much choice either – rather, they felt like different sets of deaths for the Shepard we knew and love.
The death of the Reapers, organic and synthetic life being synthesized or controlling the Reapers – the results of these outcomes felt lacking. The fate of the Mass Relays and the Normandy SR-2’s crew were simply not fleshed out enough, forget about the fate of the entire galaxy. The post-credits scene with the Stargazer telling the story of “the Shepard” felt like the only real fallout from events and it was too far into the future to really matter.
BioWare took steps to address these issues with the Extended Cut endings and even provided an option to outright refuse the Catalyst. Each ending provided a proper epilogue of sorts and some details were fleshed out. The developer even released the Leviathan DLC, providing details on the origins of Catalyst and the Reapers. All of this was fine but these came after the original ending as opposed to being naturally integrated from the beginning.
All these years later, Mass Effect 3‘s ending still raises questions but for new reasons. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out this May and collects all three games together into one package. All of their DLC is also included, aside from Pinnacle Station (lost due to corrupted backups) and the third game’s multiplayer (which would have to be rebuilt from scratch). There’s also the announcement of a new Mass Effect, one that sees a familiar Asari locating an N7 visor amidst the wreckage of what may be a Reaper. What is this frigid planet? Is this Liara? If that’s Shepard’s visor, then could they potentially be alive?
It’s going to be a while before we get the answers to any of these questions. There isn’t even any guarantee that Shepard will return at all. But this teaser succeeded in at least providing hope for the franchise’s future. Or letting fans know that it has a future at all after the failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
With Mass Effect: Legendary Edition signaling a new beginning, both for long-time fans and newcomers, one has to ask: Should the ending of Mass Effect 3 be changed? More accurately, should BioWare make one of the endings canon, making it the one “true” ending heading into the future?
On the one hand, it’s a way to get rid of a controversy that’s dogged the series for years and years. If “Destroy” is classified as the true ending, it immediately provides a foundation for the future. Instead of having to contend with the different possibilities and how they could have influenced further events, there’s a clean slate to begin the next Mass Effect with. So issues like Shepard’s disappearance – and hopefully, subsequent discovery – can allow for a new story to be told.
An antagonistic force is also necessary but having the Reapers take that role again would just be an attempt to recreate the original trilogy’s success (see Star Wars: The Force Awakens). With the “Destroy” ending being canon, the Reapers are effectively out of the picture but the impact of their actions remains and results in a changed universe going forward. It allows for beloved characters like Liara, Garrus, Wrex, Joker and so on to grow even further.
Then again, one could argue that a “remaster” should simply maintain the original intent and direction of the trilogy without changing anything. It’s not looking to be a “remake” but the original games with improved gameplay and graphics. Having certain DLC or multiplayer cut due to technical reasons, or adding quality of improvements, is one thing but willfully removing it is a different matter altogether. Besides, one can also argue that certifying one ending as “canon” is just a clumsy means of rectifying the ending controversy to begin with, not unlike the Extended Cut’s epilogues.
While I would have loved for BioWare to further expand on Mass Effect 3’s different endings in the Legendary Edition, providing more exposition on the fates of the Normandy crew, Shepard and various other factions, I can recognize that as beyond the scope of a remaster. However, having the “Destroy” ending being canon won’t diminish the original trilogy’s vision and goals any more than Final Fantasy 7 Remake did for its original game. Or Resident Evil 2 in 2019 did for the 1998 original.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is separate entity that affords for these kinds of changes – the original games still exist and their mistakes and possibilities can still be debated on. Even if EA decides to remove them from sale and claim the Legendary Edition as the only games – which would be worse, changed ending or not – the original trilogy’s existence won’t be forgotten.
Of course, it’s a matter of opinion. Some may take issue at the fact that certain shots of Miranda in Mass Effect 2 were edited for the Legendary Edition. Others may dislike the fact that Mass Effect 1 is more akin to a remake with changes to its combat, boss fights, environmental details and transportation rather than a 1:1 remaster. Still others may not care for either of these changes and focus on the core of the story and its gameplay. But there’s no denying that all of these changes are part of a conscious effort to separate the Legendary Edition from the original games. And I’d wager that the full extent of the changes is even greater.
The original trilogy for Mass Effect had its time and sharing that with the rest of the world with improvements and enhancements is great. The Legendary Edition won’t suddenly make the past irrelevant. While it could very well exist as the definitive means to experience the original trilogy, it could also set up the future.
When all is said and done, it may not do that and BioWare may simply stick to the original’s endings as much as possible. Even if the “Destroy” ending becomes canon and is expanded upon, there’s no guarantee that it will be an improvement. But as the Extended Cut proved, it’s not simply enough to go back and fix past mistakes. Instead, it’s better to acknowledge the past and let it remain while ensuring the next Mass Effect has something to build off of and begins the series’ revival in earnest.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.