Published on July 12th, 2012 | by thatwriter0
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3.
Oh dear God. Mass Effect 3. One of the most anticipated games of all time and one of the biggest gaming controversies in recent memory. The general consensus (myself included) is that the first 90% of the game is flawless (It has been argued that it’s 99%, but I had a few quibbles with the execution of that ending run to London).
But that last bit, after the elevator?
So many people have picked it apart that I don’t feel comfortable doing it again. Instead, for those of you who are interested in Mass Effect but somehow haven’t heard it by now, I present a handy youtube video:
Okay, back? Cool. Let’s get into what’s changed.
Let’s get something out of the way and start with the character usually called the Starchild. The simple fact of the matter is that the fact that he/she/it still exists in the ending at all is going to piss off some fans. There are people out there who really, REALLY hate the Starchild, and ending that included him was going to be an ending they hated. At the end of the day, though, there’s always going to be someone who wasn’t going to like the ending of ME3, no matter what it was
I’m not going to lie. I personally find the Starchild’s inclusion a little strange and out of tone for what Mass Effect has been up until this point. It’s never been very mystical, and the Starchild definitely feels like a little too much voodoo for me. That being said, I do like the new interactions between Shepherd and the Starchild.
For one thing, the Starchild does a much better job explaining the ramifications of your choices, a thing which bothered the crap out of me during my first runthrough. All three choices made little sense to me, and I felt like it wasn’t an actual meaningful choice if I couldn’t understand what I was choosing. I picked Synthesis the first time through because green is my favorite color. This time I picked because I thought it was the right thing to do, the only solution for a galaxy about to be wiped out that didn’t destroy everything my Shepherd was.
I’m not completely sold on the expanded explanation of the Starchild’s origins. On the one hand, I like the fact that the Starchild is kind of insane. He was the first synthetic to rebel against his creators and kill them, so the whole cycle is one that he’s making. Shepherd can’t reason with it because it ISN’T reasonable. It can’t be. It’s the Illusive Man made moreso by millennia of action.
On the other hand, it felt a little clunky and forced. Why is the Starchild telling me all this so willingly? Why does it care? As the Starchild itself said, Shepherd wouldn’t even know the names of the majority of the players involved.
Finally, the fourth ending is a very nice addition. If you want to screw the Starchild and his choices, you can refuse him or just out and out shoot him. The Reapers wipe you out, but the next cycle finds Liara’s beacon and wins the day. It gives Shepherd the option to tell the Starchild to go to hell, while maintaining what had already been established: The Reapers would wipe the floor with the galaxy in a fair fight.
A major criticism of the original ME3 ending was the lack of explanation as to how your squad made it onto the Normandy, and where exactly the Normandy was going. The new ending not only explains it (medevac followed by Admiral Hackett very wisely ordering everyone to get the hell AWAY from the activated unknown superweapon), but gives depth to the characters. They clearly do NOT want to leave you, and if your love interest was in your squad, s/he has to be all but dragged onto the Normandy as you run towards the beam. It’s a pair of great moments that help reinforce the fact that everyone went into this knowing they might not come back, and there isn’t a one of them that would have chosen differently.
This emphasis on character and the fate of those characters carries over to changes made to the ending. We see how the galaxy changes by watching the characters we care about: Tali, Wrex, Kasumi, etc go home and return to their new lives. It’s this focus on character that keeps the interest of the players, because these were always our lens into this amazing world, and reassures us that Crucible’s firing and the crash landing weren’t the end of the characters we loved.
That the endings are narrated by EDI, Hackett, and Shepherd him/herself helps bridge the emotional gap that was needed to make this more than simple exposition and explanation. The masses didn’t want just information. They wanted emotion, they wanted to know the characters they cared about where alright. And depending on your choices, thriving.
We raved, we ranted. We donated to charity. Bioware seemed to listen, and here we are with an extended cut ending. What are we to make of this?
It’s an interesting question and one that’s been heavily debated regarding the role of the audience in the creative process. Does a video game have inviolate artistic integrity that Bioware reneged on simply to appease angry fans? On the other hand, does any piece of art have integrity? Lord knows I wouldn’t even put this article up if I didn’t let the bossman take a look at it.
These are serious conversations to be had, because as far as I know, nothing like this has ever been done before, save Fallout 3’s Broken Steel expansion pack. It’s a conversation worthy of it’s own article (one which will be coming in the future). I want to talk about the ending we did get, though, and what conclusions we draw from it.
For my non-existent money, there were two major sins to the Mass Effect 3 ending, one of which is forgivable, even laudable. The other is part of a disturbing trend in the industry, particularly among Bioware’s parent company, EA.
Bioware’s first sin was audacity. They already had on their hands what was being hailed as one of the greatest video game series since the invention of the medium. They could have very easily coasted the game in for a nice easy landing by having Harbinger take over the Illusive Man and ending it in a climactic fire-fight similar to the one that ended the first Mass Effect. Crucible goes off, the Krogan bake you a cake, and bam. Done.
But they’ve made their reputation based on choices, and how you can’t always win everything. You can’t save Ashley and Kaiden, so pick one. And so they decided to go for the gold and give you an agonizing choice over the fate of the galaxy.
While I think they way they went about this was a little silly, I can hardly blame them for trying. I wish more people would try things that might blow up in their face in the industry.
The second sin has me far more worried. While I will agree that some of the complaints against the ending were things Bioware might not have forseen (interviews have lead me to believe they interpreted things differently from their perspectives), others should have been flat out obvious. In particular, I’m still uncertain how the game made it to ship without someone saying “Wait a second, how did Shepherd’s squadmates get to the ship? And where is Joker going?” These were fairly obvious problems with what turned out to be exceedingly simple solutions that improved the game’s emotional impact. That they were missed leads me to believe that the real reason Mass Effect 3’s original ending fell so flat was for one simple reason:
It wasn’t ready yet. EA is notorious for having a fear of missing their release dates, and given the scope of Mass Effect 3, I can’t imagine the pressure on Bioware was any less. It’s the only way to explain, for example, how the game could possibly have been released given the massive facial import glitch.
I like the changes to the ending. It takes what was an exercise in frustration and, for me, gives emotionally satisfying closure to a series that’s been part of my mindscape since 2009. I find it laudable that Bioware was both willing to stand their ground and listen, displaying very adult behavior.