I remember BioWare stating in interviews how the ending to Mass Effect 3 wasn’t going to be your typical ending. How there wasn’t going to be an easy resolution, or a “killswitch,” or that you wouldn’t have to choose between endings “A, B, or C.” What the heck were they thinking when they released those statements to the public? I mean, as far as I was concerned, they were promising their customers the impossible anyway, what with trying to account for all of their “choices” factoring into the end, but seriously, what the heck was going on? How did this happen? They had to realize what they were saying wasn’t true. Were they really not bothered by their own statements? Were they pressured into saying something grand? Again, what the heck happened here?
Getting back on topic, the Catalyst insists we have “more hope and choice than we think.”
We get a choice between three deus ex machina resolutions that deny all common sense and laws of physics (and meta-physics!). The concept of “hard science fiction” in the series is completely thrown out the window. We can choose to destroy the Reapers, which will wipe out all other synthetic life with it–the Geth, our friend EDI, the works. The Catalyst makes a note of how even Shepard is partly synthetic what with his cybernetic augments–now why the heck would that be brought up if it wasn’t going to imply our death, hm?
Quick question: Quarians have cybernetics to help them properly link with their suits. Will they die too? You won’t tell me? C’mon… grrr… fine.
You apparently activate “Destroy” by shooting a glass tube. How does that work? This is never explained to the player or the character of Shepard. How does destroying a tube filled with circuits fire the Ending-o-Tron?
The second option is to control the Reapers. You stick your hands into electrodes, get fried, die, and your essence is magically absorbed and uploaded to all Reapers. I don’t know how this works, but it hurts my head. How are you absorbed and dispersed into all these synthetics? If Destroy doesn’t discriminate against synthetics, does Control function the same way? Will I control the Geth, or EDI? Can I release control of them? Gah! Headache.
The third option is full-on retard: Synthesis. In Synthesis, you throw yourself from a platform into a green beam of energy, get disintegrated, and the very fabric of the universe is altered so that all organic and synthetic life fuses into one, all-new DNA. What the heck??? This is friggin’ power of God here. How does this even work? How does all matter in the universe magically become organic and mechanic? Whereas Control gives me a headache, this is like someone taking a whisk and scrambling my brains in my skull. Synthesis, by the way, is considered the “best” of the three options.
I remember reading in Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories about escapism and wish-fulfillment. These are good things, but like anything, it can be used poorly or for ill. The thing is, I look at Synthesis and I see wish-fulfillment used for ill–I see the worst it can be. Synthesis is nothing more than this. It’s a magical solve all the problems of the universe at the push of a button (well okay, Shepard throws himself into a beam, but you get the idea). It’s lazy and it cheapens everything we as the player and Shepard as the character worked so hard to accomplish. It spits in the face of the theme of strength and unity through diversity. You are imposing a lame, magical, implausible, and wish-fulfilling (the bad kind) uniformity on everyone and everything.
At any rate, in the original ending, no matter what you picked, the outcome was the same. The energy unleashed from the Crucible destroyed the Citadel and the Mass Relays, the Normandy was flying away from the battle for some reason, going… somewhere…. The energy damaged the ship so it crashed on some unknown jungle world… again, somewhere….
The most obvious difference was that the color of the energy unleashed from the Crucible was different depending on whether you picked Destroy (red), Control (blue), or Synthesis (green). In Destroy, all the Reapers fall over dead. In Control and Synthesis they simply fly away. In Control the Citadel, interestingly enough, doesn’t blow up, but it’s not clear if the Relays don’t either; it looks like they are about to, but the camera cuts away–it’s very sloppy editing.
Anyway, the destruction of the Citadel and the Relays is a huge “WTF?” because as we learned from ME2‘s “Arrival” DLC, the destruction of a Mass Relay (and the Citadel, since it’s an uber-relay) unleashes a large enough blast to destroy a solar system. With the Crucible energy jumping from Relay to Relay between systems and clusters, we can assume that we effectively wiped out all life in the galaxy in a matter of moments as opposed to the Reapers who only harvest advanced species over the course of a century or two every 50,000 years. But we never knew if this is what the writers intended, and we never saw the ramifications of destruction, control, or synthesis. And that was one of the biggest problems with the ending: the lack of any closure or understanding as to what the heck was going on.
Here’s the rest of what the DLC attempts to patch: remember that Joker and your crew were fleeing the battle for no reason. This would be a conscious decision planned ahead of time–no last minute thing, because FTL from Earth to the Charon Relay at Pluto is apparently about five hours. And in order to get to this unknown jungle world where they get stranded the Normandy would probably have already hit the relay when the Crucible blast reaches it. Was Joker suppose to be fleeing the explosion? Why? It can’t harm him, or anyone other than synthetics (if you pick Destroy; the other two don’t matter anyway), yet this harmless blast damages the ship’s engines and forces your friends to crash on said unknown world in unknown place. The disregard for time and distance makes no sense here. What was Joker doing? Your friends would never abandon you!
Well, with the DLC, it turns out Admiral Hackett gave the order for all fleets to pull back before the Crucible fired. Again, why? The blast can’t harm you! There’s no reason to pull back! Hackett said it perfectly earlier in the game: no one knows what the Crucible does, and neither did WWII scientists when they built the atomic bomb. Some thought it would ignite Earth’s atmosphere, but they detonated it anyway. Again, the Alliance and Council have dumped all their resources into this dumb Crucible thing. They were desperate and were going to use it anyway, so it’s all or nothing. If you think it will kill everyone, why are you using it? Why are you condemning everyone still on Earth while you flee? What good will it do? What’s the point? There would be no escape for anyone anyway!
So, the Normandy is now stranded somewhere for no reason and everyone is standing around all happy. One DLC later the blast doesn’t damage the ship (thank heavens) but the ships lands or crashes or something on this planet anyway. Then the ship rises and takes off. Uh… what just happened? What was the point of anything that just happened there?
If you picked Destroy, Hackett gives some supposedly inspirational speech about rebuilding. We get a montage of stills based on some decisions you made (finally) mixed with a couple cutscenes, including ships flying passed the burned out relay at Pluto, and another fleet trying to rebuild the Citadel over Earth–apparently BioWare picked up on the fact the exploding relays are hazardous to our health, so they now just kinda… fall apart… I don’t know how it works, it’s weird but whatever. Better than them blowing up I guess. What’s ridiculous is the implication that the Mass Relays can be rebuilt. These were the FTL highways of the galaxy that no one knew how they worked. They were just these massive untouchable machines that just worked. Further more, what’s the point of taking something away if you’re just going to give it right back? There’s no consequence! The point is that the destruction of the Mass Relays never should have happened in the first place. It was for nothing more than shock value which they immediately undermined by having them rebuilt.
So, a quick interjection here: since the Reapers took the Citadel, and it later exploded, I guess everyone–including the Council and Captain Bailey–on the Citadel died? So much for saving them… at least two or three times… throughout the series. I guess our choices with the Citadel didn’t really matter, huh? Since, y’know, everyone dies. What happens to the head of galactic government after this? The game never tells us.
Another fun fact: practically every inhabited planet across the galaxy is now littered with Reaper corpses. For those of you that remember from ME2, a Reaper corpse can still Indoctrinate, so everyone nearby these things is going to go insane! Or at least they should; the writers seem to completely ignore this fact. Nice job thinking this one through, BioWare.
If you chose Control, God-Shepard talks about how it now understands the concept of immortality, how there is power in controlling your enemies, and how it will protect the galaxy with an invincible army. You see the Reapers rebuilding the Mass Relays. It seems like BioWare looked over whether or not synthetics other than Reapers would be controlled. I can’t help be get this weird feeling of God-Shepard being a “benevolent” overlord, but an overlord nonetheless.
In Synthesis, everyone is simultaneously organic and synthetic. Nooo idea how this even works, but EDI gives a speech about truly being alive for the first time and how there is perfect peace, and harmony, and access to unlimited knowledge–how the Reapers are helping to rebuild and how they bring with them all knowledge and culture from before, and how everyone will transcend mortality and oh my gosh, this is so corny! It really is the uber-perfect, solve all problems of the universe, deus ex machina ending!
Finally, as I mentioned before, you can now refuse any or all the choices the star child presents to you. This is good. You can even take a pot shot at the brat. This is also good. But BioWare apparently didn’t react well to the idea of us hating their “wonderful” ending and “choices,” so in a giant “F U!” the Catalyst shuts off the Crucible and the game immediately cuts to a short insta-fail ending. We don’t even get to see everything we built go down in blazing glory–that’s it, the end. This is bad. Very bad. This is childish. Failing isn’t the bad part, what’s bad is that failure is the only outcome here. If the player worked their butt off assembling the most powerful military force in the galaxy, then we should have a shot at victory with incredible cost. Also *cough* Thanix cannons *cough* Blackstars *cough* Klendagon Weapon *cough* crap writing *cough*!
At the end of all three epilogues, we see a small memorial service on the Normandy for those who died. One of the crew (or Shepard’s love interest) puts a plaque with Shepard’s name on the wall: “Commander Shepard” it says. Really BioWare? In all your other games, you could insert the player’s choice of first name into the text, even though the NPC couldn’t actually say it. What’s so hard about doing that on this plaque?
If you picked the Destroy ending, and your military score was high enough, you get a quick shot of what is presumably Shepard’s body in rubble, and he/she suddenly inhales before it finally cuts to credits. Were the body is, it’s not clear; all the concrete suggests Earth maybe? But if that’s the case, how the heck did Shepard fall back to Earth surviving several explosions, reentry, and finally splatting back down on the ground? BioWare, you and physics don’t see eye-to-eye. It baffles me that they didn’t bother to clear up where Shepard’s body actually was in the Extended Cut.
All in all, if there’s one thing the Extended Cut does right, it at least shows us the ramifications of our choices, however dumb they may be, as opposed to before when we got nothing. But that’s all it does right. The ending is still a terrible, contrived, plot-hole-ridden mess that is broken beyond repair. I’ve devoted three posts and over 5,000 words on the subject, and I promise you I barely scratched the surface of the problem.
One thing I want to make perfectly clear: I as much as I hate the ending, as much as it deserves all the hate it can get, I never wanted BioWare to change it–not unless they really wanted to themselves because only then is it truly their own. This “Extended Cut” that they did which provides “more clarity and closure”? I’m totally okay with this.
The cost may have been high, but it (hopefully) appears that the industry has awoken to the problem of making crap endings to their games, and they’re learning that you can’t cut corners in that department. I want game universities, years from now, to make their students look back on games like Mass Effect 3 and tell them this is not how you handle your franchise. I want BioWare to be a (literal) textbook example of how not to handle a trilogy. I want business schools in the future to point to EA as a textbook case of how not to run a game company.
I want BioWare to live with their choice and its consequences–for them to go down in history as having one of the worst endings in video game history, perhaps in all storytelling. I want nothing more and nothing less than the total humiliation of BioWare because only then can this industry learn and grow. It makes me sad that it has come to this, but there’s nothing for it. This is the backlash of years of bad business decisions from developers and publishers, and even from gamers voting for and encouraging such practice with their money.
Now that all this is said and done, I am putting Mass Effect 3‘s ending behind me. It has gotten more than enough attention. There’s plenty of other stupid things in the game that deserve scorn, but it’s also important to look at what the series did right in order to properly see what it did wrong.
Right now though, I’m taking a break from Mass Effect. I’ve spent the entire bloody week on these articles–way longer than I wanted to. I want to play Skyrim‘s Dawnguard DLC, daggummit!