The internet is currently flooded with varying levels of dissatisfaction at the closure (or lack thereof) to one of the greatest epics in the medium of video games: Mass Effect. While I've popped into a few threads here and there just to say, "I'm cool with it," I've had some difficulty figuring out how exactly to articulate the reasons why. That is, until I came across a link to the following article: "Mass Effect 3 Ending-Hatred: 5 Reasons The Fans Are Right". Since the article seems to be a fairly thorough compilation of the more prevalent complaints, I wanted to take some time to address them one by one.
If I fail to address your specific complaints about the ending feel free to post them here and I will share my thoughts. For ease of reading I am going to use the male pronoun in reference to Shepard but don't worry, I started my femShep play-through about an hour after wrapping up with manShep.
In all honesty, I think this simply comes down to a matter of resources. Yes, if they took more time with the game, they probably could have created the hundred+ cut-scenes that would have been necessary to show the exact repercussions of every key choice within the context of each of the three end decisions. Is that what Mass Effect 3 deserved? Maybe. Is it something we should expect? I don't know.
I think there's something to be said for the thrill of not knowing exactly what happens next. After all, we view the universe through the eyes of Shepard who meets his ultimate fate regardless of the ending we choose (although it's unclear how much of his awareness he retains when he Assumes Direct Control). Shepard makes his exit from existence with his eyes blinded to the future. Isn't it fitting that we should follow suit?
4. Confusing and Under-Developed
How did Anderson and the Illusive Man get there?
Right before Shepard finds him, Anderson makes a comment about how the entire structure is transforming around him. It stands to reason that the pathway he took to the platform morphed itself away. TIM could have easily arrived the same way.
<Insert picture of Xzibit here> something something Synthetics something something
A lot of people seem to be taking the Catalyst's explanation of the reason for the cycle in a very reductive manner. "It wants to stop synthetics from killing organics by having synthetics repeatedly kill organics? That makes no sense!" But if you listen to its logic, it actually makes perfect sense.
It is the nature of organic life to to create synthetic life in the pursuit of science. This is inevitable. It is the nature of synthetic life to eventually seek the eradication of organic life as it is inferior. This is inevitable. If these two theories are true, then the eventual elimination of all organic life is inevitable. Luckily, whether or not we agree with the Catalyst doesn't matter. These are the opinions it has formed and therefore it has acted accordingly by creating an enduring cycle that ensures the continual, nonspecific existence of organic life.
In regards to ghost kid, the AI is obviously super advanced if it was able to create the Citadel, Mass Relays, Reapers, and engineer this 50,000 year cycle. It makes sense that it would be able to dig into Shepard's brain (full of synthetics) and manifest itself in a sympathetically and emotionally resonant form.
3. Lore Errors, Plot Holes
The Mass Relays are destroyed, why did they not kill everyone like in Arrival?
I think that this is a problem of limited perspective. Yes, when Shepard crashed the asteroid into the Mass Relay at the end of Arrival, it triggered a massive explosion that eliminated everything in the system. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with what happens to the Mass Relays at the end of ME3.
The Mass Relays are the creation of the Catalyst, and therefore it stands to reason that the Catalyst would have an understanding of its technology that far exceeds, by magnitudes upon magnitudes, anything that organic life has gleaned since the last reset. Even with our modern, mundane technology, there are plenty of things that make a big boom if you hit it hard enough with a rock despite being able to serve a significantly less lethal purpose.
Inferred Holocaust, isn't everyone is trapped on Earth without enough supplies?
"Without the mass relays no one who came to help Earth is going to be able to get home." This conclusion seems logical enough. "Everyone will die of hunger." This seems like a bit more of a stretch. In order to believe this, we have to believe that the billions of aliens throughout the galaxy obtain a majority of their sustenance from goods shipped from their home-planet and have no means of generating food on their own. We already know this not to be true, as the Quarian Liveships are able to provide for the entire migrant fleet.
As mapped out as the galaxy seems to be, it seems unlikely that the various races would be unable to located a planet close enough to start colonizing before they ran out of supplies. This may actually be impossible, but as far as I can tell nothing in the ME lore speaks definitively either way. Of course, there is also the possibility that some of them managed to escape because...
What's up with the Normandy at the end?
The Normandy, along with almost every other ship in the ME universe, has an FTL drive. Now, based on the speed at which the red/blue/green energy washes across London during one of the final cut-scenes, I think it's safe to say that it was moving at a speed of several hundred or thousand miles per hour. Hardly the 186,282 miles per second that light travels at and an FTL makes you faster still. Even if the energy gradually accelerates beyond the speed of light, that still gives every ship with an alert pilot a significant head start. Maybe hitting the Mass Relay kicks it into overdrive which explains why it caught up to the Normandy mid jump, but there seems to be no credible argument as to why Joker and the crew couldn't have made it to the Relay first.
Which brings up what seems to be one of the bigger sticking points for most people, how did the crew get back aboard the Normandy? Whelp, in order for the crew NOT to make it back aboard the Normandy we have to assume a few things. Your squad members that accompanied you on the run to the Conduit were taken out by Harbinger. The Normandy was too busy fighting in space so there wasn't enough time to pick up everyone before the Crucible kicked in. But there are other assumptions that can be made just as easily.
Your squad members following you to the Conduit were taken out by a Harbinger blast at some point, likely early in the run, but were not hit directly. It's clear that there's a lot of concussive force in the general area meaning a near miss could have resulted in a 20-foot tumble leaving whomever too groggy and too far behind to catch up to the rest of Hammer team. At this point it would appear that the push to the Conduit has been an utter failure, after all they wouldn't immediately be aware that Shepard and Anderson made it through, leaving them with absolutely no reason to stay on the surface. And what do Normandy crew members do best when they're stranded and in deep? They radio Joker for extraction.
And isn't that what Joker and the Normandy have done best throughout the series: operate independently from whomever they're fighting alongside and pull the crew through impossible situations? The Normandy is future fast and stealthy. Do you really think Joker would leave EDI and everyone else to die on the ground if there was a sliver of a chance he could save them? That's not the Joker I know. Then it makes perfect sense that once the Crucible pops and the weird energy comes out, he would want to get everyone away from it as quickly as possible since they would have no way to know what the energy actually is. And again, with his super piloting skills and one of the best FTL drives around, if there was any ship that could make it to Charon before the energy wave it's the Normandy.
2. Key Philosophical Themes Are Discarded
Tolerance and Unity
Now, this one seems a bit odd as it comes entirely from the perspective of a Paragon Shepard. After all, my Renegade femShep has a mean streak of space-racism and is really distrustful of synthetics. Hell, she told Legion to blow up all the heretics when she had the chance. Her consistent theme of INtolerance fits right into the Red ending where all synthetic life is destroyed.
But let's think about the Blue ending. The Reapers are a very advanced form of AI yet they seem incapable of true independent thought. After all, the true nature of synthetics is to eradicate ALL organic life rather than perpetuate some cycle. The only possible reason the Reapers have not evolved to this point must be because of shackles placed upon them by the Catalyst. So if you believe that synthetic and organic life can co-exist peacefully yet do not want to homogenize the galaxy into organic-synthetic hybrids, you have to remove the Reapers from the equation. By integrating with the Reapers, this is exactly what Shepard accomplishes. The cycle ends and the races of the galaxy are left alone in the hopes that they will learn to get along.
Synthetics vs. Organics
This entire argument seems to hinged off the fact that Legion and EDI disprove the theory that left to their own devices, synthetics will without fail ultimately seek the end of organics. First off, this is an extremely narrow view to take as relationships and opinions inevitably change over time. Just because Legion manages to convince the Geth and EDI seems to be super into organics (if you know what I mean) that doesn't mean that the peace will last. After all, the cycle is set to 50,000 years. Who knows what another 50,000 could yield.
And all of this doesn't matter because this entire organic vs. synthetic ultimate fate of ultimate destiny is nothing more than the Catalyst's personal belief. Just because it is a super duper awesome advanced AI doesn't mean that it's always going to be right 100% of the time. Maybe the Catalyst is wrong and given the right circumstances, we can all be friends. That's the problem with beliefs, they're incredibly hard to change no matter how intelligent you are.
Sure, all three options at the end of ME3 suck in their own way. But sometimes there are sucky decisions to be made (Sophie's Choice anyone?), and sometimes your epic story turns out to be a tragedy. I've seen some arguments for a Shepard that says "fuck you Catalyst, we're going to do this on our own," and to me that seems like the most un-Shepard decision possible. After all, no matter how he is played, Commander Shepard is not an idiot. He knows full well that even with the combined might of all the races, there is no chance of beating the Reapers in an all-out war. Refusing to take the Catalyst's offer is an effective death sentence for every space-faring organic race out there. As idealist as he may be, when he is backed fully into a corner, he is willing to start doing the cruel calculus of war and execute on whatever is necessary to save as many people as he can in the best way he can. And the Blue ending is perfect for the idealist Shepard since he doesn't have to commit genocide and he doesn't have to alter the very fabric of life against everyone's will. He simply stops the killing.
1. Player Choice Is Completely Discarded
Complaints that the endings are too similar are short-sighted. They come from players thinking about the ending at a mechanical level based on the specific images they are shown at the end of the game. If you take a moment to consider the potential consequences of each of the three decisions you realize how drastically different each situation is. Sure the Normandy crashes on the same planet no matter what which I am okay with since it seems a bit ridiculous to expect Joker to flee in a significantly different way simply because the color of the scary energy coming out of the Crucible is green instead of blue. People are faulting the storytelling and ignoring the actual story.
In the Blue ending the Reapers are gone but everyone else is very much alive. While the landscape of the galaxy has been drastically changed, no specific judgment has been levied against anyone. They are all free to pursue their lives in a way they see fit, according to their established values. Shepard trusts the galaxy to figure it out for themselves and hopes that organic and synthetic can truly coexist.
In the Red ending Shepard sends a clear message by blowing up the Reapers and the Geth (and presumably EDI). Synthetic life is bad and does bad things. This will create a prejudice that will echo throughout the galaxy. Should AI ever be developed again in this reality, the outcome should seem obvious. Catalyst's predictions are likely to come true.
In the Green ending the galaxy is on the verge of a utopia. Everyone is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, meaning there is no more reason to fight. No war. No discrimination. Shepard wants to turn the galaxy into a giant bonfire with all the races in a drum circle singing Kumbaya. Of course it's probably too saccharin to be true since living things always seem to be able to find reasons to kill one another.
Wow, I can't believe how much I just wrote (especially consider the last time I slept was for three hours, 22 hours ago) but it feels good to finally get all these thoughts out there. Don't get me wrong. I agree that the ending scenes seem like they were rushed and everything post-Conduit is a bit of a convoluted mess. But even if the rough edges defy the overall polish that the trilogy has consistently delivered, I firmly believe that these endings bring the saga of Commander Shepard to a satisfactory close.
Of course maybe it was all a dream (INDOCTRINATION LOLOL) but hey that could be cool too maybe...? Anyways, thanks to all the people that have stuck with all of my ramblings. I look forward to your comments.
I am super tired and have done almost no proofreading, so, troll away I guess?