The Great Mass Effect 3 Ending Debate

Before I get going here, I just want to make sure everyone is aware that this piece will have some spoilers. You should have reckoned that from the title, but you never know, right?

Okay, for all you haters campaigning for a different ending, grab a tissue and dry it up. I would like to follow that comment with a quote from a Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want…but you just might find, you get what you need. Aw yeah.” I don’t know if that ‘Aw yeah’ is in the official lyrics or not, but it really doesn’t matter.

You might now be thinking, “Oh great, a BioWare/EA fanboy’s gonna rant.” Well, I would not be very forthcoming with the truth if I said that the Mass Effect series is not one of my favorites of all time. I have been enthralled with the series since the beginning. This might lead one to question why I say the ending is fine, even though my Shep went the way of the altruistic hero. Some might expect me to be marching around the “I hate the ending, fix it for me” camp. I’m not saying people shouldn’t complain about it or be happy with it just because I approve, nor am I saying that it’s how I would have ended the saga. To be honest, I didn’t have a major problem with it, but this is also a defense of storytelling in general.

I avoided reading anything about the game until I finished it. The various article headlines I saw about fans being upset with the ending had me concerned, but I wasn’t going to rush my game or stumble upon any spoilers. When I finally performed the swan dive and saw what folks were crying about, I was sad to see my Shepard go, but I felt it was appropriate at the same time. My other Shepards will hit up the other options in time and now that I know what they are, I’m fine with each. Personally, I was glad to have a different type of choice at the end, not just a Paragon or Renegade situation. When I heard the Child tell the Stargazer, “Tell me another story about the Shepard”, I was like, “Yeah, that was me, kid. I saved the galaxy three times over. Boo-yah!”  Okay, so I didn’t really say that, but I was thinking it.

I’ve seen people complaining “All my choices didn’t matter” and such. Were these folks expecting Shepard to be thinking, “Conrad probably wouldn’t idolize me if I took control of the Reapers.” To me, all those choices along the way build the framework of your Shepard’s personality and motivations. That should have had some bearing on what choice you made. I don’t think an ending with “Kill Reapers, go get drunk with the crew” would have been very powerful. The other common complaint is that it was too abrupt. I don’t get this either. I found the build-up and delivery adequate, myself. I liked the heart-to-heart Shepard had with old/new crew members along the way (which, to me, was a big hint it wasn’t going to end well for him). I also liked the Child and Stargazer scene and the part with the Normandy landing on some unknown planet.

Other responses to the ending state how the final choice only determines which color explosion you get. Well, if a cutscene pay-off was your only expected reward for the end of the trilogy it does. Each choice was its own end in terms of the story by how it was explained beforehand. If the finale cutscenes are all you care about, let’s look back at the previous games. The first game did not have an extravagant cutscene at all. It was just Shep with a space backdrop. Part two only varied if Shepard died and Joker had to replace his presence in the scene. I can’t say that the lack of variation really concerns me.

As for the final scenes not showing what happened with everyone after, I didn’t freak out there either. People have said they didn’t get closure for the members of their squad. Well, if you destroyed the Mass Relays, I’d say that limits their options somewhat. Otherwise, if the people you knew didn’t die in some form or fashion along the way, references were thrown in as to what the future might hold for them. A few examples are that Ashley is now a Spectre, Wrex is making up for all those years of genophage, Tali has a homeworld again, James was going into N7 and so on and so on. Perhaps the closure folks want will soon be covered in DLC (which I will reference later) or in subsequent games. If not, I’ve seen/read open-ended stories before. Infer a bit, people.

Then you have the people singing songs about plot holes. You know what, I’m sure we could come up with plot holes in the story of Humpty Dumpty if we wanted. One plot hole discussion was asking if the Catalyst controlled the Reapers, why didn’t he just open a portal to dark space and send them all through in the first game instead of Sovereign having to visit the Citadel? Well, because then the story would have been a lot shorter and we wouldn’t be playing Mass Effect 3 now, would we? Or a less sassy response might be that the Reapers were created with a purpose and they were left to carry it out on their own. I don’t know for sure. I didn’t write the story.

Perhaps it was the not-so-happy ending that some disliked. Well, not every story requires one. Take “A Song of Fire and Ice”, also known as “A Game of Thrones” on HBO for those that don’t like those silly book things. I have not finished the series yet, but three books in I can easily say it’s a neverending cycle of unhappy endings. That’s what makes it good. Even with all the hardships the characters face, it keeps you engrossed. Perhaps a more relevant example would be best? Take Shadow of the Colossus then. That game does not have what many would consider a peachy ending and it was an awesome game.

Look, all I'm saying is that we should just burst in there and punch their fat faces. Job done.

I was disturbed to see all these “fans” of the Mass Effect series whining about the ending. There’s even been a petition to change the ending. This petition raised money for charity, which is good, but seriously? I understand petitions for a sequel or to fix technical problems when companies aren’t being responsive, but to change the story? This is beyond ludicrous to me because even if it was changed and Shepard killed each and every Reaper by punching them all in their big fat faces, then stood proudly atop the Citadel, flexing heroically to the adoration of the entire galaxy, with his love interests hanging from his biceps… somebody would still whine about it.

Shepard likes punching Jar Jar's fat face too

Game companies making themselves more accessible in this day and age is both a good and bad thing. The obvious bonus to this practice is the feedback on glitches and such, but it also opens the door for senseless complaining. In this day and age of instant gratification, youngsters think that if they hop online and moan enough, they will be pacified. I would like to ask such whiners this question: when you read a book (if you do, in fact, read books) and the ending doesn’t suit you, do you immediately think to contact the author for a rewrite? The same could be said for movies. Did you send e-mails to George Lucas after Episode I demanding he redo pretty much the whole movie?

According to one article I read, BioWare is responding to the criticism by reportedly “providing solutions for those who felt the conclusion was lacking”. Why? It’s their story. They can do what they want.  I can understand companies who relish and respond to feedback, but catering to fans can be detrimental too. In the interest of gameplay elements, it can lead to wonderful improvements, but everyone has their own ideas about what might/could/should happen in a story. It’s ultimately up to the storytellers. They had a vision and they should stick to it. What BioWare plans to do exactly is, at the time of writing, yet to be determined. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka said, “Executive Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.” Given the finale, I’m not sure how they’re planning to do this. I just hope we don’t see the Fan Feedback Finale DLC coming soon.

If I don’t like the way a book/movie/game ends, even though I may be quite invested in the story, I don’t think to ask for any changes. If I despised the way it was handled, I might discuss specifics with others who are familiar and then I go about my business. Additionally, I may not read, watch or play the game again. Storytelling is an art form and, as such, I don’t think the artists should be expected to satisfy each and every consumer of said art. Like I said before, how do these cry-babies expect BioWare to change the ending to make everyone happy? Think about it – if they decided to supply a happily ever after to appease all fans, it would have undoubtedly been a little cliché. Yes, the Mass Effect 3 ending is kind of a downer, but it’s a good downer in my opinion. It’s been a fun ride, which I will indulge in multiple more times and, while it was a bit hard to swallow, it came down to a fitting end. Shepard did what he set out to do so long ago. He won.

I will now end my tirade about the bellyaching with this: How can folks be so upset about the ending? I mean, of all the amazing feats Shepard pulled off over the years, he tops it all off by meeting God… without dying!

Last five articles by Joe



  1. simonjk says:

    As much as I felt bored and let down by the ending and somewhat confused if the left or right endings actually did anything different, no I don’t think we have the right to honestly. Okay so they did promise some large game changing decisions that didn’t really happen and a major part of the ending Galaxy at War figures depended on having working save files for ME1 + 2 which DRM prevented mine working on both games and I just don’t really like MP. I honestly bought the game due to playing the other 2 and wanted to see how it ended eventhough I didn’t enjoy the shortness of 2 and felt 3 was even more slimmed down.
    “Come on you have done enough” Buffy.
    “No Love, I just want to see how it all ends” Spike.

    However I did feel that the very ending future clip did suggest that there might be one more game, but I may not be interested.

  2. mache says:

    I didn’t mind the ending either but I wish they just had like 5 quick 15 second cut scenes that show glimpses on what happens with your squad members depending on the descisions you made. For example if you chose to save the krogan, than show a cut scene of how wrex and grunt are living now on their home planet. If it had done that i would have been 100% happy with the ending(s).

  3. Rook says:

    There are a number of games I’ve played that I didn’t like the ending of and ME3 is just another on the list. After it was over, I was thinking “Is that it?”

    With the fact that the were different options, I went back to view the others and see how they ended. This is what irked me the most as it was pretty much the same cutscene again with the reapers lifting off Earth instead of collapsing and a different coloured explosion. For different choices I would have at least liked to have seen a different cutscene. It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I got the additional couple of seconds having played the MP stuff. This is however, my opinion and even though I did not like the ending, it didn’t stop me playing through again on Insanity for the achievements. :)

    With the way ME3 ended I wondered how DLC would work this time, how could the story continue. Perhaps the original idea for DLC was for the ending to be explored more but after the disdain for the ending would people want to pay to see how it would pan out (EA may have wanted it this way); did Bioware feel this would just anger fans more and that’s why the DLC will be free?

    Apart from the ending I enjoyed the game and got many hours of fun from it. Now that I’ve completed it I did not feel the need to bitch about it to BioWare, join campaigns to change the ending or file any sort of legal greivance, I simply moved onto the next game.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    I went to the National Gallery a few years back and was bitterly disappointed by Constable’s ‘The Haywain’ and the fact that the cart ended up in the river at the end. I never got to find out what happened to passenger number one, and I am therefore outraged. Constable needs to re-paint the outcome… maybe the cart could leap the water, a la Dukes of Hazzard.

    Loved this article and I completely agree with the expressed sentiments. The outcome of any work of fiction is entirely down to the storyteller… it is their creation, they are their charcters, and it is therefore their right alone to decide what happens, when, and to whom. We may not always like it – in some cases, we may truly loathe the ending of something – but it isn’t for anyone to stamp their feet and demand a rewrite. If it didn’t make sense or was against the true nature/canon of the story/characters, then I would sympathise and understand the demands for change – and to some extent they would be justified in that respect – but otherwise, no.

    Great piece, Joe.

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