In 2007 Bioware gave us Mass Effect, a sci-fi RPG shooter with unique gameplay elements that captivated its players and a story that won over the hearts of thousands more. Fast forward 5 years, 2 glorious games, 14 DLC’s, 4 novels, 10 comics, 1 animated film, a few mobile games and literally hundreds of hours later, and you’ll find yourself at the final chapter in what can only be described as an epic roller-coaster ride of a videogame trilogy.
This was it…
Bioware had led us through a rather emotional story that varied from player to player, that was what made it unique – my Shepard was my Shepard, your Shepard was yours – our experiences could of been completely different yet equally as satisfying and exciting. We had killed a Turian terrorist, uncovered a dark galactic secret, advanced the military ranks to Spectre, we could of cured a deadly race killing infection (or not for that matter), we were killed and revived by a shady group of pro-human para-militants, we had been through a seemingly impossible mission and seen friends die a long the way – we had been through countless battles and more and here we were, at the ending of it all… and it was complete rubbish.
Mass Effect 3‘s ending was (unfortunately) brief, confusing and under-developed. I had been through so much with my beloved Shepard and I didn’t want to believe that this was how his story would end. Simply put, I – like many other gamers – was outraged. The Illusive Man was dead, I had docked the crucible and Captain Anderson sat next to me, grievously wounded (not that I was looking any better) staring at the battle waging outside.
“We did it”, Shepard says.
“Yes… we did, it’s quite a view, you did good son… I’m proud of you” Anderson murmurs and draws his last breath.
Cue the sad music. So far so good, I could feel the emotion and I knew it was almost over. In a few more minutes the trilogy would be at a close, its various loose ends wrapped up and my unanswered questions answered. Right? Nope.
“Shepard?”, I hear over the radio.
“What do you need me to do?”, Shepard struggles to say as he stumbles up and topple over.
“Nothing is happening, the crucible isn’t firing… it’s gotta be something on your end.”
Shepard crawls over to a nearby console – there’s still more work to be done.
“I don’t see…. I’m not sure how to…”, Shepard says as he passes out, his name being called over the radio over and over – this is where things get unfortunate.
A boom is heard, a flash of light is seen and suddenly, out of nowhere, Shepard is on a lit-up platform rising up into the air as if somehow him passing out on a specific piece of floor activated the Crucible and its lift system.
A cutscene is shown of the Citadel opening up and suddenly I appear on what I can only assume is the Crucible, confronted by some astrochild spirit thing saying that he’s the catalyst. What!? What the hell is this? What was all that rubbish before about the Citadel being the catalyst? What’s that? The Citadel is part of you? Well why didn’t you make an appearance earlier and warn us?
“I need to stop the Reapers, do you know how I can do that?” Shepard asks.
“Perhaps. I control the Reapers, they are my solution to chaos”, the so-called catalyst replies
So… what you’re saying is that the solution to chaos is wiping out entire races every couple of thousand of years to let the younger ones prosper and then rinse and repeat? You made some synthetics to kill us every 50 000 years so that we wouldn’t be killed by synthetics? Bioware…?
“The fact that you are standing here, the first organic ever, proves that my solution won’t work anymore. The Crucible changed me… created new… possibilities but I can’t make them happen.”
The catalyst Starchild then goes on to LITERALLY describe the 3 possible endings and then shows three pathways that represent each one and essentially tells us to pick which one we prefer. But whatever choice you chose, the result was pretty much the same – you got to watch one of 3 near-identical, context-free scenes of the Normandy crash landing on some random planet somewhere, followed by an epilogue featuring a Grandfather and his grandson staring up at the stars after the credits roll.
“EXPERIENCE THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END OF AN EMOTIONAL STORY UNLIKE ANY OTHER, WHERE THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE COMPLETELY SHAPE YOUR EXPERIENCE AND OUTCOME.” This is what it says on Mass Effect 3‘s website under “interactive storytelling”. I call bullshit.
The experience I had at the end of Mass Effect 3 had absolutely nothing to do with any of the choices I had made over the 3 games and past 5 years, not even the moral alignment of my Shepard was taken into account or those tough decisions I made about whether or not to destroy the Collector Base or spare the Geth. No matter what, the dialogue and 3 choices are always the same and even then the only real difference between them is a slightly altered cutscene and a different colored explosion. Not once do we get to see how our past choices affected the galaxy or what happens to our crew after the war.
To add insult to injury, after the credits roll the developers show us a message that tells us, “Commander Shepard has become a legend by ending the Reaper threat. Continue that legend through further gameplay and downloadable content”. Bioware wanted us to buy DLC after that horrific ending?
The response was immediate and disastrous. Legions of gamers around the globe took to forums, message boards and social media to complain that they felt cheated. All of the decisions they had made throughout the trilogy suddenly felt hollow and inconsequential. Such was the damage that Bioware eventually relented and released a free update to the game which extended the ending with new dialogue and scenes, while adding adding additional scenes after the end of the game that served as a more fitting farewell to the various characters and races you’d met along your travels through the galaxy. While many agreed that the Extended Cut was a vast improvement, the damage had been done, with some fans saying that they’ll never trust the developer again. Meanwhile, the entire experience is likely what led Bioware to begin surveying players over what they’d like to see in the upcoming Mass Effect 4.
Mass Effect 3 is a great game, but for many – including myself – it will always be defined by how the original ending felt like a betrayal of fans’ trust.