Mass Effect 3 and the ending debacle
Who's saying what
Last week, I let my Mass Effect 3 review slip out, and it was, if you recall, overwhelmingly positive. No game series has achieved as much, be it with story, or character development, or action or even scope, as the Mass Effect series has done. And possibly the greatest element of Mass Effect, and the core of what Bioware has become great at, is choice. Choices and the consequences of said choices are the spinal column of the big, lumbering, wonderful beast that is the Mass Effect trilogy. Everything you do can, and will, yield results down the line.
That is, until the end of Mass Effect 3. As you may have heard, the internet has somewhat exploded with justifiable, and pleasingly coherent, articulate, organised and copious dissent over how Bioware have wrapped up this truly staggering space opera. Alarm bells went off throughout Mass Effect 3 when several vital characters were killed off in spite of all your choices, and in spite of your overwhelming abilities. I can deal with these fatalities, however, as they (by and large) fit with the motivations of the characters in question.
But the end of Mass Effect 3 either is a triple-pronged bird-flip to loyal fans, or the most brilliant, open-ended, artful conclusion to a game I've ever seen. It goes without saying that BY GOD THERE ARE SPOILERS ALL UP IN THIS HIZZOUSE.
Shepard, Anderson, two teammates and an Alliance troop movement charge the teleport beam, in order to reach the Citadel, open it up and activate the Crucible. However a Reaper starts razing the clearing you and your guys are bolting up, and when a beam gets close, Shepard blacks out and wakes up, bleeding, in what feels like a trippy dream sequence. He (or she) then ends up on the Citadel, encounters a ghostly version of the kid he couldn't save at the start of the game, and is given one of three unbelievably vague and largely tragic endings.
Fans are pissed because, as I said, Mass Effect is all about choice and consequence, and being given three unnervingly similar cut-scenes which entirely fail to address a single facet of the individual Shepard's journey is either insulting, or not an ending at all. Fans have formed and rallied behind the #retakemasseffect movement, a movement with thousands upon thousands of vocal supporters, and who are donating to the charity Child's Play all the while.
The Bioware forums are on fire with thousands of pages worth of dense theorycrafting regarding the ambiguous nature of the ending, namely the idea that everything from the pass-out is Shepard battling indoctrination and being tested; three endings are provided, one letting you to control the Reapers, one letting you force a new stage of evolution upon organics and non-organics, and one, highlighted as being evil by the star baby thing, letting you destroy all reapers and, apparently, all non-organics. All three apparently destroy or disable the Mass Relays, and all three leave the Normandy stranded on a lush planet with your crew intact. There are many, many musical cues, visual cues and narrative hints that help back this idea up. This theory is further bolstered by the fact that if you have a high enough preparation rating and choose the 'bad' destruction option, you see Shepard wake up in rubble, hinting that he succeeded in dishing out a huge fuck you to the Reapers indoctrination attempt, and then woke up in the rubble where he fell in the streets of London.
And after my second play-through of the final act, I agree with this more and more. And to add credence to these theories, the official Mass Effect 3 twitter account has dished out the following words, vague though they may be:
Also, the Mass Effect Datapad app (an excellent addition to the Mass Effect universe) has characters sending you emails as you progress through the plot. And quite a few players using this app have recieved the following email from Kaidan AFTER the game has finished:
User 1: "I still want to believe you guys are sneaky trolls and have something going on you don't tell us yet. Can I get a cryptic reply?"
@masseffect: "The sun, it shines. www.youtube.com/watch"
User 2: "You are either a massive sadist or a beacon of hope."
@masseffect: "Can't it be both?"
User 3: "I kinda feel lost after that ending...not what I expected and left me feeling everything done was for nothing."
@masseffect: "We know it's a lot to take in! But hang in there. Your decisions matter."
User 4: "Are you holding something back, that could quell the large amount of frustration from the community, a tiny hint would be enough."
@masseffect: "Mike Gamble already said on his twitter, if the fans knew what was in store, the reaction would be different."
User 5: "I loved 98% of ME3..but something has to be up w/ ending..too much talent at BW for that business. Keep my saves?"
@masseffect: "We're keeping our saves, that's for sure."
User 6: "Fans are people too. Playing with their minds isn't that nice as it may look like to people from Bioware."
@masseffect: "We're not playing with anyone's minds, we are answering what questions we can and recording what feedback we receive."
User 7: "Its not that the ending was taken in the wrong direction its that it makes NO SENSE. Ashley was on the Normandy? she [was] with me."
@masseffect: "Probably a good thing to be cautious of."
User 8: "Do y'all have any ETA when more news will be released? Dying for news on a new ending/DLC."
@masseffect: "No ETA yet, but you will be updated via Facebook and Twitter when the news is available :)."
And some more:
User 1 -Well, i think i'll stop naggin you and trying to get you to talk about the indoctrination theory. :( Good game though!
Merizan - I want people to make up their own minds right now, then when more people have played we'll talk :)
User 2 - then I want to SEE that he was lying. I want to get up and finish the fight with Commander Shepard. Then retire.
Merizan - augh. want. to. discuss! Staying spoiler free for now :P
User 3 - But should've confronted the kid instead. Shep went meekly into the night.
Merizan - are you sure he went meekly into the night?
Whether they do a follow-up DLC revealing the truth of the ending, or verify this theory-crafting once the game has had a full global release, or even whether they tell us to shut the hell up, we deserve closure. Yes, it's their story. But by giving us thousands of choices throughout and shaping it in response to our whims, they've made it our story, too. And the vast, vocal majority of us aren't happy. As it stands, the ending is abysmal and poorly written, an ill-fitting end to the series, or it's a tantalizing whiff of impending genius. Either way, other games have fixed or altered endings (Broken Steel for Fallout 3, for one), and if any series deserved such treatment, it's this one. The next month should be an interesting one for Bioware.
Either way, my assessment of the game stands: it's excellent. But if the ending really is as childishly cut and dry as everyone initially thought and Bioware do nothing to address it, it'll be a colossal waste of an opportunity on their part, and it'll very likely retroactively ruin the previous titles for many fans. And all over something that could be so easily remedied.
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