Why Mass Effect 3 Had an Awesome Ending

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Matt Barton's picture

Mass Effect 3Mass Effect 3(Spoilers ahead). Let me start off by saying I only finished Mass Effect 3 last night, having read no reviews or anything before or during gameplay. Afterward, I posted about it on Facebook, and in the comments became aware of the so-called "universal outrage" over the way the game ended. After some quick reading about Why Mass Effect 3's Ending Was So Terrible, I became enraged about the outrage. This all culminated in the following ejaculation: GROW UP, GAMERS. Every friggin' game can't end with the Ewok cuddle patrol dancing and chanting "You sure are special, kid!".

Just to sum up for folks who aren't interested in experiencing the "moment" for themselves, the main character (Shepherd) ends the game with a very tough decision.

(Begin Spoiler)You have to be thicker than a Rachni omelet not to see this coming, because the game has hammered you repeatedly (and I do mean repeatedly!) with the theme of how tough it is being a leader, because you are often forced to make very difficult and painful choices--choices in which nobody is really going to like ANY of the outcomes. Shepherd's first choice is either to destroy ALL synthetic life forms, including the friendly Geths and damning the galaxy to another cycle--in which they will inevitably create another race of too-powerful robotic beings (the choice represented by the "old soldier" Anderson). The second choice is to try to take control of the synthetics himself, but that will destroy everything he is, or some such. I didn't take that choice, so I'm not sure what happens (though I am sure curious about what it's like, and will definitely try it next time I play through the game). At any rate, I infer that it has something to do with absolute power corrupting absolutely--the choice represented by The Illusive Man. The third choice, if you can call it that, is just to let yourself be shot by The Illusive Man and get a game over (the wussiest choice imaginable). In any case, you'll lose your friends you took with you, which isn't exactly pleasant stumbling over your girlfriend's body to reach the end. (End Spoiler).

The moral of this story is that quite often a leader must make a difficult decision and live with the consequences. You might regret it, wish you could've done something else, but what's done is done. Agonizing over it--or claiming the benefit of clarity, hindsight, and information that you didn't possess at the time--will ultimately destroy you, sometimes far more effectively than any actual enemy.

First off, Bioware did a brave and really inevitable thing here. It's not the first game to have a real downer for an ending (The Black Mirror comes to my mind; utterly forgettable otherwise), but they are still much rarer than movies with tragic endings. The problem is that we're too used to thinking of games as pure entertainment--the equivalent of Hollywood "feel good" movies. We want to play them in a sort of half-cognizant adrenaline rush and then see some big friggin' explosions at the end and everybody walks away thinking all is Pollyanna (until the next one). It's like being stuck in Schwarzenegger mode. The last thing any gamer wants to do is walk away from a game feeling disturbed, confused, perhaps even anxious or guilty about what he or she has done...

Yet that's exactly what needs to happen more if we ever want gaming to leave adolescence and enter the wonderful world of puberty. Games like Mass Effect 3 are the hairs sprouting from the armpits (and quite possibly other regions on further down). I'm reminded of the time I watched the movies Where the Red Fern Grows and Ol' Yeller. No kid is going to watch those and not say, "Mama, that movie SUCKED! Come on, the dog should've lived! That's not fair! MAMA!!! MAMA!!! WAHHHhhhhh, let's start an online petition to change the ending, wahhh!!!" Well, unless your Mama was a pansy, at that point she said something like, "Well, that's life, it ain't fair and bad things happen, you big baby. Now suck it up and go fetch my spittoon."

I mean, the fact that I can remember (vividly) the endings to those two movies after all these years (and only watching them once) says something about the memorability. People like me who really felt a punch to the gut after Mass Effect 3 will probably remember it, too, many years down the road when the topic of "sad games" comes up. I'm being optimistic here, of course, that BioWare won't succumb to the ridiculous petition or water everything down with the foreboding DLC.

Aristotle had it right in his work on tragedy...I won't get all academic all you (that's more Plato, har har), but the idea is that a game like Mass Effect 3 can have a cathartic effect on you, "purging the emotions" of fear and pity. It's nice when that catharsis can come from a work of fiction rather than real-life; I don't care how much you hate bad endings in films or games, they're infinitely preferable to losing a loved one in real life. Yet there's something to be said for these experiences making us more human.

Everybody knows I'm a big advocate of Greatness in Gaming. What I mean by that is going beyond the hopelessly stupid and servile imperative to "rake it in" with "stupid, mind-free entertainment." It's to the sad point where we're playing games made by committees who listen to "market analysts," which sound suspiciously to me like the censors of our twisted consumerist culture. Oh my God--don't encourage these people to THINK! Don't encourage them to FEEL anything but boredom punctuated by dopamine-induced giddiness--otherwise, they might start to QUESTION. Perhaps they might even...resist indoctrination...zomg!

Games that deliver anything but cheap, mindless thrills aren't, and have never been, fashionable. Our poor ol' arrested developers have been stuck because of a common misconception that gamers can't handle anything else. And I'll be damned if we're not proving them right--I mean, I wasn't kidding about the petition to change the ending. Son, fetch me mah switch...

Now I'm not claiming that Mass Effect 3's ending will really change anybody's views on the universe, but it should at least give them pause. I was especially reminded of what being a soldier is really all about--being willing to die on command. From what I know of military history, this has sometimes meant sergeants actually shooting their own men in cold blood if they're too cowardly or stubborn to let the enemy do that for them (see The Big Red One with Mark Hamil). That's a brutal side of "the service" that doesn't get much coverage and sure as hell won't be mentioned by a recruiter. Granted, we're not quite there in Mass Effect 3, but you do see leaders whose lives have been devastated by making tough choices that got their men killed, and having to live--quite literally haunted--with their decisions.

So, in short, my advice to anyone moaning and wailing about Mass Effect 3's unfashionably "bad" ending is to suck it up, you big baby. This is good for gaming and it's good for YOU, so shut up and and let yourself be bothered. As to whether Mass Effect 3 can be considered art, I'll leave you with a thought from Jean Cocteau: "Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time."

Edit: This was written before I understood the problems many of you have had with the ending; namely, the lack of choices at the end and inconsistencies in Shepherd's character. I still hold that sad endings are fine, but there are some legitimate issues fans are having with this one. Before wasting time with irrelevant hate mail, just listen to this podcast.


Ehtiar (not verified)
That Mass Effect Ending

Okay, I have to interject this that I loved playing the game. The nature of choice and consequences and they way it all wove together from the previous two games were excellent.

I can also say I have no objection to grim-dark endings and the hammer blow of sacrifice and suffering the consequences to save friends/the universe as it were.

My problem with the way ME3 ended was that it pretty much invalidated every choice and consequence you'd made leading up to that point. And it gave no actual sense of closure. Bioware have repeated many times that your choices will effect the ending, and that they wanted to make ME3 about the personal relationships with your squad/crew for the final game. What you ended up with, is a three button choice only potentially affected by the number of War Assets you gathered (not any choices you made in the game) and pretty much the only difference in the three endings shown is a color change and about 5 seconds of cutscene.

Trying to take a certain devil's advocate postion, considering that you can hear the "fall back" order just after the big beam/explosion from Harbringer before you can get into the tranport beam I can partially understand why Joker might be flying the Normandy away... But there's a big honking strangeness to the fact that every single squad member has made it from the middle of London back to the Normandy then managed to fly out of the System without even checking on Shepard.

You'd spent the game having an effect on the galaxy. Changing peoples views, encouraging personal growth. Hell, it's possible that you've helped EDI feel "alive" and got the Geth to evolve. And that's all cut short with no real ryhme or reason. None of it has meaning to the ending.

If they'd just done something akin to what they have done with previous games (ala Jade Empire) where they give you a short sequence of fallout from your choices in regards to the various species/planets/companions. Even after you died following the whole "Star Child" experience (okay, AI, Energy Alien, there's a whole slew of people trying to decide exactly which way it was, personally I'm trending to the AI side), having some sense of what your choices left on that sort of personal note would have been some closure.

Whether you control, destroy, or do that weird synthesis, the only thing you know is that the Mass Relays are destroyed. Sure every race with Eezo still has minimal FTL abilities.. but only about 12ly/day (if I recall the Codex entry correctly)... And the Normandy is crashlanded on some strange planet. But there's no sense of what that actually means to the Universe at large and the companions you've had. It's just a big, fuzzy question mark.

Throw in that it immediately leads to a "follow Shepards further adventures in future DLC!" type message that then reloads the game right before the attack on the Illusive Man's base... Yeah. It goes off the rails. The journey is excellent, but that final 10 minutes just faceplants.

Anonymous (not verified)
I really liked the end. Real

I really liked the end. Real life never goes according to our dreams, a game that ends without performing the particular desire of the player, but still shows an appropriate result for the massive event, congratulations! The vast majority of the public on the consoles is composed of children or teenagers with their aspirations for the profile of hero or villain, are different stages in life, but with an exaggerated attachment to desires, both become crybabies when a desire is not realized, even that platonically.

Jordane (not verified)
Nice trolling here... How can

Nice trolling here...

How can you even think about being taken seriously when you use things like:

"Mama, that movie SUCKED! Come on, the dog should've lived! That's not fair! MAMA!!! MAMA!!! WAHHHhhhhh, let's start an online petition to change the ending, wahhh!!!"


GROW UP, GAMERS. Every friggin' game can't end with the Ewok cuddle patrol dancing and chanting "You sure are special, kid!".

It clearly shows that you absolutely did not understand what people are complaining about:

1) The ending completely ignore every single choices you made before, in the course of 3 games
2) The concept of the "space kid" is extremely cheap, comes out of the blue, and the dialog you have with him doesn't make any sense, especially in the mass effect universe
3) There is absolutely no proper closure to anything

Most people are not asking for an happy ending with flowers and smile, but for a proper and logical ending, that actually makes sense in the context of the ME universe, that actually reflects what people were expecting when they bought the game.

Yes this is an highly subjective subject, but only up to a point, the ending here is so out of place, that it is like buying a Rock CD and getting Jazz in it.
You also can't simply say that people should accept it and deal with it, that's not how consumers relationship works, sure Bioware can choose to say "Fuck off", but all those people can also choose not to buy anymore bioware games, is it something EA and Bioware are looking forward? I doubt it. You can't say to your consumers, fuck off, we make the product we want, unless you want to lose them, and that's probably not good for business.

We are not talking about a minority here too, there is that weird myth that if any community complain, they are the minority, this is not the case here, when more than 40000 people says they didn't like the ending, on the bioware forum (where you need to have bought the game to be able to post), less than ONE week after the game was released, that's far from being a minority.

Right now, the people that are raging and trolling, acting like a...holes, are actually the one defending the ending, they insults, use strong words, try to do some pseudo-parody like you do with your Ewok example, but are completely besides the point of what's the real issue is, and why people are actually upset.

Basically, you have 0 credibility, especially the way you arguments your (uneducated) points.

Anonymous (not verified)
They have the worst reviews!

They have the worst reviews! For them, modern games are followed for fanatics kids, perverts, brainless people and other excesses.
Try look for it on itunes (audio) the level drops even more if he hate the title.

Jonathan Myers (not verified)

Thanks for writing this. It saves me the same task. You hit pretty much every point I was going to, even the chiding remarks. I may revisit this on my blog in a couple of months of letting the experience settle in me. There is a lot of important work in the ME series. I really believe it is a masterwork. There have been good works in the past, but nothing quite like this.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Yeah, I saw the whining about

Yeah, I saw the whining about "none of the stuff I did in the game even mattered!" Well, you can cry about how unfair it is that your dog has rabies and has to be put down on all you want--"But I took such good care of Ol' Yeller!" Sure you did. But that ultimately has no effect on the rabies situation.

I'm sure a lot of gamers would have loved to have the option to simply destroy the "evil" guys and save everyone. That's what you expect. The frustration here is that you can play the game "perfectly" and still get the same bad ending. I think Bioware is TRYING to teach us something about the inevitability that BAD things will happen no matter what YOU do or how well you do them.

Again, nobody is HAPPY that Ol' Yeller has to be put down (at least no one but a sicko). But accepting that it's necessary and that you have to move on--never really getting over it--is just part of becoming an adult.

Ehtiar (not verified)
Yes, bad things happen. But

Yes, bad things happen. But the key point to most people, is that for the entire run up the gaming populace were told that their choices would matter in how ME3 ended.

Hell, quote from Casey Hudson - "It's not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C"

Or to go with Dr. Ray Muzyka - “Pretty much everything that people want to see wrapped up, or to be given answers, will be.”

I don't object to endings that are dark. Hell, I quite enjoyed Deus Ex: HR's endings, which is pretty much the same style of endings that ME3 has. The key difference being that the endings fit within the framework of the story, they actually gave forms of closure, and they made sense of what had gone before.

The journey you take playing the game depends on your choices, and the consequences are there all up to a point. Then, it just takes a faceplant. You get a mystical deus ex hand wave and told to choose A, B, or C. Oh, and there are no real answers or sense of closure to the story.

The things they told us the game was about, don't happen in that final 10 minutes. It's a trilogy, it's a beautiful piece of crafted work (although one with some flaws), but it ends with no real sense of closure.

I'm going to replay ME3 a few more times because playing it is fun and I want to explore some of the consequences of choices before the endings. But the endings are just painful and unsatisfying. That is my opinion, and the joys of the internet are that I can give it, and have discussions about it. I'll avoid being a rabid fanboy/troll and throwing angst over the place, but I expect to be able to politely talk about it with folks who both agree and disagree. And yes, there is some "whining" going on across the field, but it's just as annoying to have every discussion about the ME endings to be referred to as "whining" and "gamers that need to grow up" as it is to deal with the "omg the ending sucked!" folks who don't articulate why in any sensible manner.

Joined: 01/01/2011
Completely Agree

I am with you 100% on this, and the DX:HR argument is one of the best comparisons. In that game, you don't have any choices that really affect the story. There are minor ones here and there, but the majority of your choices are about the mechanics of handling each situation (Stealthy and ghost-like, or guns ablaze one-man-army). In the end, the greatest factor affecting the final narration was your kill count and brutality. This fits with the game, though. For one thing, as a prequel, you already know human augmentation continues, since DX and DX:IW both exist. To that end, the A, B, or C choices make sense (Though you do at least get the screw everything choice as well, so even that game had more options).

Personally, I want closure. I want Bioware to deliver on the promise they specifically made that the game would not end in such a contrived fashion, and I want them to close up the damn plotholes. I acknowledge this is their franchise and they can do whatever they want with it, but as a consumer that has paid hundreds of dollars over the years for ME related games and merchandise, I also have the right to voice my opinion on the ending, and I came away quite disappointed.

Tolknaz (not verified)
Well said. I especially agree

Well said. I especially agree with the part about Deus Ex: HR.

Congratulations on spectacularly missing the point.

Anonymous (not verified)
Trolling Saruman

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