Rather than getting swept up in the controversy and cupcake-baking of the most devoted and vocal Mass Effect 3 fans, allow us to offer a level-headed, calm explanation for why a much better ending to Mass Effect 3 is something that is desperately needed. A new (extended) ending is coming, but the need for it is still being debated, online and elsewhere.
Don’t expect personal attacks or outrage, since there are few corners of the Mass Effect universe that I have not plunged into and examined head-first. Having played through Mass Effect more than half a dozen times, read every novel in the series – except that one – to gather the most out of Drew Karpyshyn’s fiction, and powered through every batch of DLC for Mass Effect 2, my hopes for ME3 were justifiably high. Having spent well over 300 hours with Commander Shepard places me in the camp of those demanding the most from the end of the trilogy. And most disappointed.
BioWare began by delivering what felt, at the moment, like a slap in the face – and still does – when thousands of fans sat down with their copies after midnight on launch day to find that: “Whoops, we’re not supporting the ability to import your Shepard’s face. Make a new one.” The mind-boggling error should have sent a clear message that satisfying the most devoted of Mass Effect fans wasn’t the team’s top priority wherever possible. But instead of being heartbreaking and disappointing, the majority of the game’s campaign delivered on the highest of promises.
It’s important to explain that the exact plotting of events that the ending revolves around is not the issue. Facing the player with a bittersweet climax was the developer’s intent, and while many wished for a happy ending for Commander Shepard, an ultimate sacrifice is not a problem in itself. The issue is with the way that ending was relayed to the player, and just how many incredibly obvious questions were never addressed. Instead of saying “here’s how what you did changed the universe,” the writers of the game simply said “we’re done showing you how you impacted events.”
In my playthrough, distrust of all Reaper technology led Commander Shepard to decide that the universe would only be safer if they were destroyed. A large explosion ensued, turning the invading forces into hulking scrap heaps, and destroying the network of Mass Relays. This is where the game, as has been claimed elsewhere, falls apart.
In my particular playthrough, the characters I had selected to accompany Shepard into the final assault on the Reapers were magically transported from Earth – presumably dead – to stepping off the Normandy stranded on an unnamed Jungle planet. Before anyone attempts to defend the possible variables at play, the fact remains: two deceased characters came back to life, because a scripted cut-scene was completely detached from the player decisions that led to it. Considering the fact that said cut-scene was the final image of a three-game series, this blunderous error is simply unforgivable.
Then the questions begin to arise. It seemed the decision to wipe out the Reapers, as the hologram-child explained, also meant wiping out Shepard and the similarly sentient Geth. Were they actually eradicated? Was EDI? Where did that impact begin and end? Did the decision to wipe out The Geth helping the Quarians rebuild a new civilization destroy those chances? Would the Quarians be able to survive without help?
Then it became clear that a vast array of alien militaries were now in orbit around Earth, with no way of returning home. How could this twist of fate change the future of these civilizations? How could Rannoch be formed without what seemed to be a majority of the remaining Quarian ships? Are these aliens doomed to starvation and death? These questions may be interesting to ponder, but the player’s attention is never drawn to them by the storytellers themselves. Mass Effect 3‘s only concern is showing the exact results of Shepard’s defense of Earth, in the broadest and vaguest of terms. The fans needed an ending, and the story ended – or rather, stopped being told.