I feel somewhat self-conscious about being the “before I can tell you this story, I have to tell you that one” guy but, before I can tell you this story, I have to tell you that one.
In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, there’s a scene in which Alfred reminisces about reading a detective story (“The Purloined Letter”) to Master Bruce:
Master Bruce asked –no, DEMANDED…“the killer was CAUGHT. And PUNISHED.”
Alfred assured him that the villain had met justice.
Bruce slept like a boy.
Okay. We’re going to talk about Mass Effect 3 and we’re going to talk about endings. Like, major spoilers. Not only major spoilers but we’re going to have to set things up so that people who have never played any of the Mass Effect games know what happened in those and why the ending to Mass Effect 3 is causing a hue and cry. More than that, a hue and cry where the players are demanding a new ending entirely.
Let me repeat that because that’s the dynamic that drives this essay: There is a very, very large chunk of players of a particular video game who have started a movement to change the ending of the game.
Just let that sink in.
Anyway, this essay will contain spoilers. Worse than that, it will contain spoilers to the point where people who haven’t played the games will be able to keep up (thus spoiling to the point where one who may have been inclined to play the game eventually may feel like they no longer have to). We’re also going to get a little more serious than we usually do (and while I don’t necessarily feel that I need to apologize for that, I do want to warn the readers hoping for something fluffy). If you’re still here even after all that, I’ll see you after the jump.
The first Mass Effect game was groundbreaking. It’s a wholehearted recommendation on my part. After I beat it, I started it again without getting up to pee. I played through it again. Then I played through it again as a “renegade” rather than a “paragon”. Then, after that, I felt bad about playing as a renegade and played through again as a paragon (like the first two times) in order to feel like I left the universe in the state I wanted to leave it in. (This is germane to the story insofar as I am miles away from being a beautiful and unique snowflake in this.)
Now, the first Mass Effect did a handful of things. It allowed you “moral choices”, as in you were given several really different ways to solve problems… for example, you were told to foil the plans of the Big Bad. One of which involved stopping his right hand’s science experiments. When you get to the lab, and find out what the experiment is, you find that his right hand was bringing The Rachni back to life (The Rachni, you understand, were a galactic race of spiders that were wiped out a few centuries before in a war that did a lot (a lot a lot) of harm to everybody on all sides in the way that wars can and do.) At the end of the encounter, you have a conversation with The Rachni Queen and are given a choice… do you trust her when she says that she just wants to live somewhere abandoned in peace with her children and let her run to somewhere that no one knows where it is? Do you kill the only Rachni Queen left in existence and wipe out the race of the Rachni a second time?
This is a tough decision to make. Later on in the game, you’re stuck with a no-win situation that involves two of your crew having to stay behind to activate a spectacularly explosive device… and you get to pick which one you are able to save at the last minute. Mass Effect 2 was similar insofar as there were a large number of optional missions that, if you didn’t complete them, would result in the eventual death of one (or more) of your crewmates. On top of that, during the final mission itself, you had to pick people to do certain missions. You wanted the strongest biotics to throw up forcefields, the strongest engineers to be hacking computers, the stealthiest to escort hostages back to safety. If you slipped up when assigning roles, you were going to end up killing a squadmate.
I bring that up because: the first time I played the mission, I killed one of my squadmates by not understanding his strengths. I went back and played through again in order to save everybody on my team. (Again: this is germane to the point insofar as I am miles away from being a beautiful and unique snowflake in this.)
Another thing that Mass Effect 2 introduced was the concept of the Paragon/Renegade interrupt. Basically, if you had enough “karma points”, you didn’t have to follow the conversation tree as planned. You could press your karma button (the appropriate one, of course) and take things to an entirely different place. (We’ll come back to this.)
This brings us to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Seriously. MAJOR SPOILERS.
(Important note: One of the themes that ran through all three mass effects are the tensions between biological creatures and synthetic intelligences. They can’t co-exist, it seems.)
Now, at the almost very end of the game, there’s this great scene where you beat the bad guy and sit down next to Anderson (your mentor) while he’s bleeding out. You’re looking out the window at the war against the Reapers as it is being won. Lots of little lines about how you’re both proud to have accomplished everything you’ve accomplished (and Anderson has a great line to the effect of “it feels like it’s been years since I’ve just sat down…”) and you’re thinking about everything that’s happened to you and you look at your hand as you take it from one of your wounds and the blood is a deep red and, yeah, you’re preparing to watch yourself die in the cutscene and, hey. You’ve just saved the galaxy. Thanks, Shepard.
But… no. You get up and you go up an elevator… where you talk to a new character (“The Star Child”) that is being introduced in the last chapter. The new character that is introduced in the last chapter points to a magic box and you pick one of the buttons. The Star Child explains to you that he is in charge of the Reapers because biological creatures always keep advancing until they create artificial intelligence, one of the two freaks out about it, and then they go to war. This has happened multiple times and, in each cycle, the Reapers come back, wipe out all of the species that have advanced past stone age technologies, then they go away until there’s tension between artificial and biological life again. This has happened multiple times before but now! Now you can change things! There’s three options before you: Control, Synthesis, and Destroy (jokingly refered to as “control/alt/delete”).
The control ending would have you take over all of the synthetic life in the galaxy… Essentially, you’d turn them from Artificial Intelligences into slaves. This kills you, for the record. The Destroy option would destroy everything involved with Reaper Tech… including the citadel. This does *NOT* kill you. The final option is “synthesis” which, apparently, melds/fuses biological and synthetic life together. It makes all life in the universe an amalgam. This also kills you.
And that’s it. That’s the choices before you. You are *NOT* given a Paragon/Renegade option. You are told that you are speaking to the main boss behind the Reapers and the main boss behind the Reapers tells you to pick an option: enslavement, physical violation, or murder. You then go on to pick one of these options (and see cut scenes accordingly).
Roll credits. Then there’s a scene where an old man and a young child are talking and the child asks if that story was true… the old man says it was but it happened long, long ago. The kid then asks for another story about The Shepard.
And then there’s a screen telling you to keep an eye out for Downloadable Content.
Now. There was a large group of people who were *INFURIATED* by this ending.
Before we move on, though, there is a caveat we ought to make: There are, in fact, fans who would complain about anything. Anything at all. If they showed Shepard going into a restaurant and ordering a burger, there’d be a bunch of people screaming about how *THEIR* Shepard is a vegetarian. If they showed Shepard ordering a shake, there would be people who complained that *THEIR* Shepard likes *STRAWBERRY* shakes and not *CHOCOLATE* shakes. There are people who complain about there not being the right shade of teal for their vision of their armor. People complain. Bioware responded to the huge group of people who complained by pointing out such things as how proud they are of their artistic vision, how they put out a great game, how there are 75 perfect or nigh-perfect reviews out there, so on and so forth.
I am pretty sure that this was a miscalculation on their part, however. Mostly because quite a few people are raising quite a few good points about the ending.
First and foremost: NEVER INTRODUCE A CHARACTER IN THE LAST CHAPTER OF A BOOK THAT SOLVES EVERYTHING. I mean, come on. Aristotle complained about this. People have been complaining about deus ex machina endings in a story for as long as we have had written language.
For another, many people asked “why should I just believe The Star Child?” Perhaps the writers were going for a Neo talking to The Architect vibe but, honestly, why in the heck would you take the word of the admitted big boss as good? Many folks wanted the Paragon Interrupt to say “I have the Geth working with Quarians, I have Krogan, Salarians, and Rachni fighting side-by-side-by-side, you say that the cycle always ends with Synthetic and Biological life not being able to work together… I have *PROOF* that it can and that it does! I choose a fourth option!” Many folks wanted the Renegade Interrupt to have Shepard touch her earpiece and put in a call to Admiral Hackett saying “Admiral Hackett? I am in the lair of the force behind the Reapers. Please direct all available weaponry on my location. It’s been an honor, sir.” These options were not there.
As such, people are stuck with three options that, quite honestly, are exceptionally distasteful and morally problematic to a degree that is quite unpleasant. As troublesome as the Rachni decision was in the first game, there seems to be solid ground for either decision. You could easily say that you didn’t feel like you could make the call to remake the Rachni extinct… or that you didn’t feel like you could make the call to risk the galaxy again on the word of a creature that almost destroyed the galaxy last time. Each one is tough… but you could argue it.
On top of that, the Mass Effect Gates that allow Faster-Than-Light travel are destroyed no matter which ending you choose… and, in Mass Effect 2, there was DLC that explained that when a Mass Effect Gate blows up, it blows up in such a way that destroys much of the system in which it resides (for example, you killed 300,000 Batarians when you blew up the Mass Effect gate in the DLC). There is a Mass Effect Gate in Sol’s system.
When it comes to listening to The Star Child (who, funnily enough, has since acquired the nickname “Star-Jar”), the artists had hoped for a choice that was a rorschach test of sorts… instead, well, there’s a thread on the Bioware Boards that tells it better than I could:
Does anyone else have the same problem I’m having? Even beyond the other problems with the ending, I just do not want to do anything the Catalyst offers me. As a result, I never choose and just turn the game off.
I prefer to let the choice remain unmade, because no matter what I do I end up having to betray something about my Shepard or the people in the galaxy. I don’t want to do that, at all.
I allowed the Geth sentience, so I simply won’t destroy them, period.
I killed the Illusive Man because I did not believe in controlling the Reapers, and I still don’t. It’s an option that came out of left field anyway, and the only reason that console seems to be there is because there is a plot character that wants to do it. How convenient. Why should controlling them be an option at all? Why couldn’t TIM just have been delusional? It makes no sense.
I’m not gonna commit to synthesis either. In its essence synthesis attempts to speak to transhuman themes, but as it stands its just forced rape of the galaxy. Why would Shepard work to defeat the Reapers the entire series only to end up making the people she fought to protect part of the Reapers’ species, as that appears to be why the Reapers suddenly lose interest and leave Earth.
I never choose an ending because no matter what I choose it’s horrible. None of the endings have any redeeming factors. I always play up to the end of Rannoch because up until that point the game still makes sense. Sort of. Beyond that I prefer to just leave it up to the imagination.
Shepard gathered the fleets and kicked Reaper ass.
There are a *LOT* of people who agree with this poster.
Well, Bioware has done some minor backpedalling since they found out that, erm, maybe people aren’t just complaining about Shepard-is-really-a-vegetarian level complaints. On twitter, they’ve had to explain that, yes, the Mass Effect gates *DID* blow up but it wasn’t the kind of explosion that we saw in Mass Effect 2 that destroyed a system. It was just a non-system-level explosion. Oh, and all of the various races that have different digestive chirality are not, in fact, going to starve to death because they’re trapped on a planet that is incompatible. Oh, and there is still FTL travel, it’s just that everybody used the Mass Effect gates because they were cheap and easy. Oh, and the Citadel blowing up didn’t kill all of the billions on the Citadel. It’s like the Mass Effect gates. See it as the Citadel being repurposed… and, as such, Bioware has agreed that they will be releasing “Clarification DLC” for the ending. Basically, everything that they’ve had to explain via twitter (because, for some reason, they forgot to put it in the game) will *NOW* be part of the official ending.
There are a lot of people who remain infuriated by this. Clarified crap is still crap, they point out. They don’t agree that they’d just listen to Star-Jar. They don’t agree that they’d agree to destroy the various Mass Effect gates. They look at the ending and they say “I turn off the game before I go up on the elevator.”
The general consensus remains: “This Sucks. Change it.”
Now, if people are turning off the game instead of watching the ending, I have to say that there is a major problem here that “clarification” will not resolve.
The argument about “artistic integrity” is one that I find personally interesting because, and I’m going to talk about this again, my face didn’t import from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3. Right off the bat, I want to ask “why didn’t you have enough artistic integrity to ensure that I could play with my own face?” (There are also a handful of issues in the game where perceptive folks have found photoshopped stock photographs being used instead of original art… which also is interesting for similar reasons.)
Bioware, of course, has every right to say “This is the story we want to tell!”
It seems to me that the customers have every right to say “This is not the story we want to be told.”
Which brings us to the question of to what extent does the audience have the footing to demand of Bioware that the game’s ending be changed?