Fans of the popular game franchise Mass Effect will undoubtedly be familiar with the game’s infamous ending and the controversy surrounding it, especially with its dedicated fan base. However, the question is: was it truly a terrible ending or was it simply over-exaggerated outrage that this series, and games these days often bear the brunt of?
A warning – this post does contain spoilers (and a whole lot of them). If you haven’t played the game, then you should probably not read this post until after.
So if you are unaware of the almost unanimous outrage regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3 (ME3) please let us give you a brief outline as to why the games ending was criticised to such an extent. The Mass Effect series has always bragged about having moral decisions that actually have an impact on the in-game world, with choices from each game carrying over into the next one, affecting the shape of the galaxy and story.
To the most part they have delivered. However, many feel that the three endings did not reflect the countless choices that had been made throughout the series. Though players are told about the drastic and varied consequences of each choice, they nonetheless feel almost exactly the same, with virtually identical ending cinematics. It becomes apparent that the galaxy’s readiness rating – a stat laboriously boosted through hours of both the single-player and multiplayer gameplay and the iOS games Mass Effect: Infiltrator and Mass Effect 3: Datapad – changes nothing but the number of choices available, increasing that number from one to three. Many actions within the game, such as whether or not you prevent war between the geth and quarians, or cure the genophage seem to have no effect on the ending other than this rating.
In a game that greatly prides itself on choice, this left many players feeling like the endings were something of a cop out.
The endings also had a number of plot holes, and created more questions than answers. Two major instances found in the “original cut” of the the game are the unexplained departure of the Normandy from the final battle; and the crew members who accompanied Commander Shepard in the final push against the Reapers suddenly emerging from the Normandy without an explanation as to how they arrived on the ship or why they would have left the battle. Where the developers tried to leave the player with the hope of a new day, they left only confusion, uncertainty and a lack of closure.
Another issue raised by the fanbase was Bioware’s total disregard with the lore of Mass Effect. Regardless of the player’s choice (which has been largely the selling point of the series), all endings eventually lead to the apparent destruction of the Mass Relays. As those invested fans who played the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2 know all too well, the destruction of a Mass Relay leads to a supernova explosion – which lead to an entire space region being wiped out. So with all the Mass Relays exploding throughout the galaxy, one would assume that the galaxy would cease to exist, thus implying the destruction of the galaxy was inevitable. Moreover, the destruction of the Mass Relays further also implies that thousands of Commander Shepard’s alien allies are stranded on Earth. This creates huge problems as many alien races are unable to adapt to the Earth’s ravaged environment. For example, two of the major races at the battle, quarians nor turians, cannot eat human food.
The Mass Effect series has strived to present itself as a game based on the player’s morality. However, the ending had challenged these presumptions. Players who aligned themselves as being ‘Paragon’ – making good decisions and being helpful – were faced with an important decision: whether to take the ‘Renegade’ prompt, or to remain idly still. Naturally, those ‘Paragon’ Shepards would ignore the prompt for morality sake; and instead of continuing the game, they were greeted with a gunshot from the Illusive Man and the “Game Over” sign.
Therefore, in order to progress, the players would have to disregard their personality and their moral alignment that has been built over the trilogy.
The outrage from fans led to a campaign to – as the name suggested – “Retake Mass Effect” in order to force BioWare to make a better ending. One fan, Spike Murphy, even went as far to bring this matter to the Federal Trade Commission, the US equivalent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. In his complaint, he says that “after reading through the list of promises about the ending of the game they made in their advertising campaign and PR interviews, it was clear that the product we got did not live up to any of those claims.” Murphy also complained, like others, to the Better Business Bureau. That organisation came out and supported disgruntled fans – however, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority rejected similar complaints.
Soon after, Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, wrote a blog post saying that while he was proud of the team behind the game, it was “incredibly painful” for him to see core fans coming out and saying that the endings were not up to their expectations. “Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics – but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility,” he wrote.
“On one hand, some of our loyal fans are passionately expressing their displeasure about how their game concluded; we care about this feedback, and we’re planning to directly address it. However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s. Net, I’m proud of the team, but we can and must always strive to do better.”
“Some of the criticism that has been delivered in the heat of passion by our most ardent fans, even if founded on valid principles, such as seeking more clarity to questions or looking for more closure, for example – has unfortunately become destructive rather than constructive.”
In June, BioWare released the Extended Cut DLC, featuring new cinematic sequences to expand on the original ending.
The well-needed DLC closed many previously opened plot holes, such as the fate of Shephard’s companions during the Conduit run and brought closure for those squadmates. Additionally, the DLC expanded on the bland endings by including some variations, such as the amount of damage the Crucible suffered; and included an additional ending. This ending highlights the ramifications if the player ignores the three presented decisions; and allowed the Reapers to continue their ‘harvest’, causing the cycle to continue for future generations. Regardless of the player’s decision, a short monologue highlights the effects of Reaper’s fate for the galaxy, whether the galaxy can be restored or whether the war-stricken regions are beyond repair.
Furthermore, it added some much needed depth to the endings, discussing the impacts that certain actions had in the aftermath of the war. Whether the player chose to cure the genophage bioweapon for example, was reflected in the closing cinematic. The bioweapon caused most krogan pregnancies to end in stillbirth, and so curing the genophage would allow the krogan to once again become an incredibly powerful player on the galactic stage. However, how they used that power was also affected, if Wrex didn’t survive the events in the original Mass Effect, then his brother, Wrev would lead the krogan in Mass Effect 2. The two brothers have very different goals and ideals, and this is reflected in both how they lead and the role the krogan will play. If the player is able to keep Eve, then the sage-like krogan shaman, alive throughout the entire game, will have a major impact upon the support each leader can rally.
This kind of deep role playing, where actions from the first two games can carry over and drastically change the landscape of the third, was what separated the Mass Effect series. However while it is entirely present in the main game, it was only in the Extended Cut DLC that it was properly explored, and the impacts seen. The trademark depth was always in Mass Effect 3, but it didn’t feel like it was there, only after the extended cut could it really be seen.
Additionally, the DLC explores the life of Shepard’s past companions post-war – allowing players to have some closure with those beloved characters. Originally, the ending did not explain the fate of these characters, only that they participated in the reclaiming of Earth. The DLC gives many little snippets of their lives after the war and how the player’s decisions affected their lives. For instance, Mass Effect 2’s Jack has various epilogue scenes depending on the player’s past decisions. If Jack was romantically involved with a male Shepard in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 and if the player chose to destroy the Reapers with high EMS, post-war she will be shown observing the stars, longing for Shepard. Whereas, depending on the player’s decision on a previous mission, Jack will be either mourning the death of her students or continuing mentoring her students.
BioWare should be commended that they at least listened to their fans concerns about the ending and its attempt to fix it. It did its job – it reduced fan criticism of the ending, and clarified the story’s end. Many fans who were so angered and joined the Retake Mass Effect movement left soon after, as most had accepted that it had to end that way. Of course, not everyone is pleased with that Extended Edition DLC. There are some who still linger on in hope that there will be an alternative ending.
But hey, there’s always fan fiction to satisfy those needs.