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!
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.
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?
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 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.
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