Mass Effect 3‘s ending sucks. Not because it’s “too sad” like BioWare, or EA, or the media like to accuse the fanbase of calling it, but because it is honestly, truly, genuinely terrible. These are not the complaints of whiny, entitled fans (even though those definitely exist), these are legitimate arguments and observations. The ending fails on every conceivable level known to man, and perhaps a few more undiscovered levels, if there are any to be had. It fails at simple logic; it fails thematically; it fails coherently. It is obvious the writers had no plan, paid no attention to their narrative, and poorly accounted for the demands of an overbearing publisher. Their are so many plot holes that the story is broken beyond repair as it stands. It is all around bad. There is no word in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men to describe the awfulness. And while the “Extended Cut” DLC may deaden some of the pain, Mass Effect 3 still deserves to go down as having one of the worst endings in video game history.
There really isn’t much more I can add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said (beautifully, I might add) elsewhere, but I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. This is me trying to achieve catharsis as much as it is anything else.
As terrible as the ending to Mass Effect 3 is, all it needed (short of rewriting the whole thing) was resolution–an epilogue–which is all the “Extended Cut” is. Why BioWare couldn’t have inserted this in the first place is beyond my compression, like the Reapers were suppose to be (but ultimately are not). Anyway it deals with the resolution problem, and that was definitely one of the major issues (if not the major issue), but that’s all it does. Almost every single other problem is still there. There are so many questions and plot holes it’s almost impossible to know where to begin, so I’m breaking out the Mass Effect Codex–y’know, that ENTIRE database of lore meant to support the game’s universe and story, which none of the writers bothered to check?–then I’m making a B-line for the “star child.”
I use to be in awe of Mass Effect’s codex. It was so incredibly thorough with all the technology, conventions, whatever else–you name it–that it helped to seemingly ground the ME universe into the realm of “hard science fiction” and make it completely believable. One of my favorite sections was a series of entries devoted to ships, their tactics, and space warfare. “Awesome!” I thought. “I really appreciate how well thought out this feels. Navel/space warfare isn’t like a stupid Hollywood CF at all.”
And then we came to the battle for Earth…
The battle for Earth is not just one great big Hollywood CF… it’s much worse than that.
Right before the battle we see the entire fleet Shepard has gathered heading for Earth, then engage the Reaper forces. The ships are tightly packed together like freaking sardines with no actual formation and all open fire at once.
The primary codex entry says this about space combat:
Ship mobility dominates space combat; the primary objective is to align the mass accelerator along the bow with the opposing vessel’s broadside. Battles typically play out as artillery duels fought at ranges measured in thousands of kilometers, though assault through defended mass relays often occur at “knife fight” ranges as close as a few dozen kilometers.
Most ship-to-ship engagements are skirmishes between patrol vessels of cruiser weight and below, with dreadnoughts and carriers only deployed in full-scale fleet actions. Battles in open space are short and often inconclusive, as the weaker opponent generally disengages. […]
The secondary entries expand up this, talking about how dreadnoughts are used at extreme ranges, and cruisers are used at long ranges (thousands to tens of thousands of kilometers). Medium and close ranges are reserved for smaller ships and only sparingly due to the difficulty of maneuvering, and withdrawing if need be, in such situations. “Only fighters and frigates enter CLOSE ‘knife fight’ ranges of 10 or fewer kilometers […] Neither dreadnoughts nor cruisers can use their main guns at close range; laying the bow on a moving target becomes impossible. Superheated thruster exhaust becomes a hazard.”
I mean, look at this friggin’ battle…
But wait! That’s not all folks!
Planetary assaults are complicated if the target is a habitable garden world; the attackers cannot approach the defenders straight on.
The Citadel Conventions prohibit the use of large kinetic impactors against habitable worlds. In a straight-on attack, any misses plough into the planet behind the defending fleet. If the defenders position themselves between the attackers and the planet, they can fire at will while the attacker risks hitting the planet. […]
So attacking garden worlds is a bad thing. A very bad thing. How bad? Well let’s see what Citadel Conventions say:
The Conventions regulate the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. A WMD causes environmental alteration to a world. A bomb that produces a large crater is not considered a WMD; a bomb that causes a “nuclear winter” is.
Use of WMD is forbidden on “garden” worlds like Earth, with ecospheres that can readily support a population. If a habitable world is destroyed, it will not be replaced for millions of years. […]
The Conventions graded Weapons of Mass Destruction into tiers of concern. Tier I is the greatest threat to galactic peace.
TIER I: Large kinetic impacters, such as asteroid drops or de-orbited space stations. Effectively free and available in any system (in the form of debris left over from planetary accretion), kinetic impacters are the weapons of choice for terrorists and “third galaxy” nations. […]
[…] TIER III: Large energy-burst weapons such as nuclear or antimatter warheads. […]
BUT WAIT! That’s not all folks!!
But wait! Thaaaaaaaaaaaat’s noooooooot aaallllllllllllllll!!!
[…] The modern human Kilimanjaro-class dreadnoughts mount three decks with 26 broadside accelerators apiece for a total salvo weight of 78 slugs per side, firing once every two seconds.
Look at that CF space battle–we’re bombing earth! We are effectively doing more damage to the planet we’re trying to save than the Reapers are! Take also into account the nuclear and antimatter warheads from cruisers, as well as the size of dreadnoughts (8oom-1km long) and the size of Reaper cruisers (2km long) to factor in debris falling into Earth’s atmosphere. The debris alone is practically Tier I. Earth is screwed! We’re going to cause more than nuclear winter here! We’re completely destroying the planet!
[…] Successful assaults on garden worlds hinge upon up-to-date intelligence. Attackers need to determine where the enemy’s defenses are, so they may approach from an angle that allows them to fire with no collateral damage. […]
Oh good… so why exactly did we do no reconnaissance…?
The next part of the plan is not much better. Anderson thinks it’s a good idea to use the heavily guarded mysterious beam to the Citadel. Nevermind that we don’t know whether or not it leads directly into a large processing chamber. Nevermind that we could just fly the Normandy up the open, bottom end of the Citadel–no really, never mind that last one; you know why?
Why didn’t we go back to Ilos instead? Why didn’t we skip this whole ground mess to begin with and use the Conduit on Ilos to get to the Citadel?
I haven’t even gotten to the star child or any extended content yet…