Why I really liked the end of Mass Effect 3
The Mass Effect Trilogy heralded a new type of story telling in gaming. Bioware forged a truly personal experience, where the biggest, most defining decisions were left to the player. Few games can claim the scope, both contextually and technically, that was achieved in this awe-inspiring series of games where your mission takes you across an entire galaxy in which you discover alien races and new worlds that have their own rich histories. You do not need to have played Mass Effect 3 to be aware that it is an incredibly impressive game, neither do you need to have played it to be aware of the controversy surrounding its conclusion. The ending lead to huge uproar by players which has been taken on board by Bioware who are taking action, and all respect to them for doing so. When the problem surfaced, I had not yet finished the game and so I was extremely curious as to what Bioware had gotten so wrong. As the credits rolled I was utterly blown away, but also a little confused as to what I missed. I headed online to figure out what exactly was everybody’s concern and I personally don’t feel that the ending should have received such disdain for the reasons that were given. Personally, I was very satisfied by the ending and a little disappointed about the reception it received, and here’s why…
SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post will most certainly contain spoilers concerning fundamental events in the final moments of the game, DO NOT READ if you are yet to finish or plan to play Mass Effect ever! I’ve put some space between here and the next bit to avoid accidents…
- The Beginning of the end: I don’t believe that anybody can deny just how epic the final assault on Earth actually is. Seeing all the fleets that you have gathered throughout the game storm through the Mass Effect relay and take on the orbiting Reapers has to be one of my most favourite scenes in any video game (though I have a few). From the outset, the tension is set at fever pitch as you, Commander Shepard, bring to bear the sheer power of the entire galaxy (if you have gathered sufficient war assets) unto the Reapers. I understand this isn’t exactly the bone of contention, but I just want to establish a common ground and remind everyone there were still parts that Bioware undeniably nailed!
- The middle bit: Before venturing into No-Man’s land, you get to do one final sweep of your crew. Checking on my crew is something I did routinely after EVERY mission, and to me it never felt like a chore. I really enjoyed finding out how everyone was getting on, what my team mates thought of different events and decisions and generally to reinforce the immersion. Getting to speak to everyone who had been there (and survived) throughout ME2 and ME3 (I missed ME1) was a real pleasure, plus I got to see Miranda one last time. That part really stirred up the perfect emotions before heading into the great unknown.
- Harbinger’s attack: As you get closer and closer to your objective, you can feel the desperation growing as perimeters are broken and the Reaper’s begin to advance on your position. The panic reaches breaking point once the Harbinger arrives and your squad are left scrambling for the conduit… For a moment I thought this was where Mass Effect would end, you are killed before you can even get to the Conduit and the hopes of the entire galaxy are over. Okay, if that’s what happened I would have to agree that it could have ended better. Thankfully, that stubborn Shepard drags himself up and stumbles towards the light, a dogged determination that the Commander has come to be known for.
- The Illusive Man: I have to say that this moment made quite an impression on me. Throughout this game and the previous, I ensured that I never made a renegade decision. With the choice to play good or bad in a video game, I can’t help but choose the more righteous path. After a short dialogue, I was faced with one of the hardest decisions in the game. The Illusive man is standing above Anderson, holding a gun point-blank. The Renegade option appears. I’ve come to expect that if you don’t choose the renegade option, something bad doesn’t usually happen. He fires and levels the gun at me. The Renegade option appears again. This one moment struck at one of my key principles throughout the game (not including combat), I always went with the choice to spare someone when the choice to kill them was given. I don’t feel the Geth vs. Quarian thing really counts, though that was equally poignant. If I don’t pull the trigger, that’s it, I’ll be killed and the galaxy would be lost. I like to think I was a lot like Captain Jack Sparrow, I only used one renegade option and it was in the final defining moments of the game. I hit that left trigger (renegade button for Xbox if iI remember correctly). There was a moment silence. That moment held A LOT of significance for me. It was this point that I decided I’d join the minority and say this was a VERY good ending. And I’m not bitter that Bioware forced me into a renegade decision, doing so reminded me just how immersed I had become in this world.
- The Final Choice: I don’t have much of a problem with the idea of the catalyst being the ‘boy’. I did like the revelation about the Reapers. When you realise that the Reapers have forced an entire galaxy to galvanise and, over many, many cycles have themselves catalysed the galaxy’s evolution, the whole Reapers = Bad paradigm becomes incredibly blurry (Reading back over this previous sentence, if the indoctrination theory is true, it seems the Reapers did indeed get to me :/) . When the ‘Catalyst’ asks you to make a choice, Shepard utters the most perfectly chosen piece of dialogue: “I don’t know”. Decisions are made throughout the entire series. When one must be made, the choice is immediately passed to you. However, when you expect the telling dialogue ring in the bottom of the screen, there is instead a small pause and then Shepard says his line. He knew exactly what needed to be done throughout Mass Effect, but the ramifications are now so far-reaching, and this is reflected in his uncharacteristic indecisiveness. It reminds me of a similar in House, but I can’t remember which… And then there is the moment from which, from what I can tell, is where all the furore has arisen. There is one thing that a lot of critics are focusing on, mainly the promise made by Bioware that as this is the end of the series, the developers can afford for there to be wildly different outcomes as they won’t need to worry about tying it into another game. Once you’ve made the final choice there is what I feel is an INCREDIBLY epic cutscene. But many have noticed that each choice leads to the same cutscene, save for minor tweaks and thus all the outcomes are the same and Bioware did not fulfill their promise. In my opinion, the endings are very different. Yes the cutscenes are effectively same, and yes in all cases the Mass Effect relays are destroyed and yes (in most cases) Commander Shepard dies, but the ramifications, though not explicitly shown, are surely very different. Controlling the Reapers, merging Synthetic and organic life and destroying all synthetic life will result in very distinctly different futures. If Bioware was to explore this, they’d have another game on their hands!
- The Final Scene: Many weren’t very impressed by the small cutscene in which, a long time after the Reaper attacks, when the Normandy and its adventures is now a distant legend, a Grandfather tells his Grandson the epic tales of the great Commander Shepard and his crew and a galaxy in which you could travel between the stars and discover alien races and new worlds. This is a history that you were a part of, a golden era in which the entire galaxy could be united. The resonance of this final moment, I believe, really made the ending.
I can appreciate that many didn’t like the lack of choice in the game’s ending, or the fact that none of your choices throughout all 3 games really had any bearing at the end. I can also appreciate how it is important the Mass Effect series had a defining ending. It seems right that you can say “This is the ending of the Mass Effect Trilogy” instead of “It ended like this, this or this“. Mass Effect did a really good job of giving you plenty of choices that defined your experience and many later events throughout your journey. However, much like the series started with a defining beginning, it ended with a definitive conclusion- and a flipping good one!
Thanks for reading 🙂
UPDATE: The Extended Cut DLC is now available for download via the Xbox Live MarketPlace for Free