ME3: The Ending - A Different Perspective [Spoilers]

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.

5. Brevity

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.

Free Will

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?

15 Comments
16 Comments
Posted by StarvingGamer

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.

5. Brevity

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.

Free Will

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?

Posted by OatsaPlenty

Nice to read some more positive spin on the endings - I had no problem with the choices in principal; but it would have been nice to have a bit more of an epilogue, I thought. It was nice (if a little contrived) to be able to say "Ta ta" to all your living squad mates, past and present, before the final push - but I was left wanting to know how my other decisions through the entire series would dictate the state of play going forward.
 
My only problem with the Synthetic vs. Organic "inevitable genocide" argument made by The Child/Catalyst, is that while it may be true over a longer period, the examples we're given in the game are; 
- the Geth, who were attacked by the Quarians first and are only actively aggressive to organics when under Reaper influence (or through Reaper inspired "religion")
- the synthetic race mentioned by Javik at some point; who again, only turned aggressive to organics under Reaper influence
- and the Reapers themselves, who it turns out are only aggressive under the direct control of The Catalyst
 
As you say, EDI and Legion are just two "individuals" - but given that the Geth and Quarians were working side by side to re-build Rannoch together (in my play through anyway) - in terms of what we are presented with in the game itself, it just seems a little odd to say "this is the way IT WILL be". It just rung a little false, for me.
 
Thinking about ti though, I guess the crux of the argument could be; rather than "synthetics will always SEEK to destroy organics" that "synthetics will always WIN against organics". But then, with the Reapers constantly killing off all the brightest species in the galaxy in an unfair fight, this theory seems hard to prove one way or the other. The Geth uprising certainly could have wiped out the Quarians (if they'd played their advantage and destroyed the retreating Quarians during the exodus) but then they would not win in a straight fight against the rest of the Citadel powers, if they were deemed a threat to the galaxy at large. 
 
Personally, my favourite depiction of AI I've encountered recently was the SI, from Peter F. Hamilton's "Commonwealth Saga" - an AI that basically said "Look guys, this could end badly if I hang around, so I'm going to decamp to a planet of my own and go about my business there; bye!". It seems more reasonable that once an AI outgrows it Creators, it would have developed enough reason to think "well, these guys probably won't seek to destroy me if I'm not a threat to them, and I gain nothing from wiping them out, so why not try to make nice first of all, and see where it goes from there". 

Och, I don't know - I think it's one of those endings that will be better/worse depending what you bring to the table. reminded me of the choices at the end of

- that's just the first thing that sprang to mind though.
Edited by laserbolts

We really needed another thread on the Mass Effect 3 ending. This is worse than the GOTY stuff.

Posted by BoG

Many of the things you mentioned are not the ending's strongest points, but don't ruin it at all. For example, I was confused by everyone's presence on the Normandy, but it wasn't what really angered me. I do have some issues with the brevity argument, though. Many defenders have been saying "It's open and you fill it in yourself!" In many cases, an open and ambiguous ending can be a good thing, if not a great thing. Blade Runner comes to mind. Much of what goes on in the film is left to interpretation, and when it ends with questions in your mind, you are more intrigued. The ending of Mass Effect 3 has more of a frustrating effect. Really, that sort of ending isn't fit for such a richly developed world. Mass Effect was all about detail, and the writers made an effort to make so many things understandable. Not to mention, the entire series has been built up as something that allows you to make decisions, and then see the consequences. The ending voids some of the most important decisions that could have had some of the most interesting consequences. Finally, I know that it has been stated somewhere that there will be Mass Effect in the future. Because of this, the ending would need to be clear in someway. Anything that takes place following ME3 would add on. Of course, this ending really eliminates the possibility of a Mass Effect game taking place in the galaxy as we knew it.

Moderator
Posted by StarvingGamer

@OatsaPlenty: I think that it's more of an issue of, "as synthetic life evolves, it will always eventually seek to destroy organics." Presumably the Catalyst has been around for infinity years and who knows what kind of shit it saw in the first place that inspired it to engineer the cycle. Al we see from Legion, EDI, and the Geth is a snippet in time. But none of this matters anyway. The Catalyst's explanation could be that given enough time, organic life will eventually destroy the stars, or domesticated life will eventually go back in time and kill its momma. The Catalyst is acting on a personally held belief, not an infallible truth, and personally held beliefs can be as crazy and wrong as they want to be.

@laserbolts: You're right, there are so many threads flooding the internet that are trying to analyze the ending, as-is, through a positive lens.

@BoG: I do agree that the brevity is a bit of a let down, but when I step back and really think about the amount of work that would need to go in to fully outlining the ramifications of your decisions, it's a bit staggering. The problem is that people feel like their actions didn't matter because the ending they saw did not specifically detail the exact ramifications of those actions. So we have three basic options for how the ending may or may not reflect this:

TL;DR - The only way to truly honor player choice is to tell us nothing which is the ending we got, or tell us everything with a different custom ending crafted for every possible set of key decisions which seems like it would be way too hard to implement. The workable middle-ground, a series of cut-scenes that change slightly to include or exclude different parties, would go the farthest to invalidate player choice and therefore is a worse option.

In the ending as-is, we do not see definitive results from any of the more sweeping decisions that we have made ie Quarians vs. Geth, Krogan Genophage, etc. However, us not seeing does not void those decisions. The galaxy is still going to feel the ramifications of our actions, we just don't know what those ramifications are going to be. Perhaps the palette swap ending is what is causing this misconception, leading us to believe that regardless of our decision, everything turns out the same. The only way in which this should ring true is for the Normandy and its surviving crew. Yes, no matter what we did, Joker and co. are going to end up crashing on that same planet. But everything else is left undefined. Who knows what is going to happen if the Korgan start to multiply unchecked? Probably something very different from what will happen if they suddenly realize they were tricked and that the cure has been lost forever. The galaxy that is going to evolve in one of hundreds of different ways as a consequence of our actions, but it is a future that we are blind to alongside our avatar, Shepard.

So what is our ideal ending then? We would get to see a fully realized, customized ending based on our specific actions over the course of the games. Now here's the tricky part. For this type of ending to be completely satisfactory, one would have to be made for every possible set of key decisions the player could make. What would happen if the Krogan multiplied unchecked in a reality without Quarians? What about a reality with no Geth? What about a reality with both? What about a reality where both came to the fight but all the Geth were suddenly wiped out by the Crucible? How would each of these realities differ if the Rachni were still a presence? And if there were no Rachni at all? If we take every possible combination of key decisions then multiply it by the three drastically different final choices we could make, it should become clear that the number of endings BioWare would have to craft is staggering.

In option one we have a future that is completely open ended. Nothing is explicit leaving the results of our decisions a mystery, but intact. Option two we have specifically crafted endings for every possible post-Crucible reality, explicitly detailed and completely unique to show that every decision made has its consequence. I would argue that the amount of work required to make option two satisfactory is unreasonable. Which brings us to option three.

In order for BioWare to give us a more specific ending within a reasonable budget and workload, they would have likely decided to create a set of two-dozen or so scenes that could be modified to fit a wide variety of choices. Maybe there's a scene of Quarians and Geth working together to build a settlement that could be tweaked to show just Quarians or just Geth. Maybe there's a scene of Krogans on a new planet and either there's a bunch of baby Krogan running around or no baby Krogan running around. Maybe everyone ends up with bunch of green glowy lines or maybe they don't. The problem is that this kind of ending is exactly the kind of ending that voids our decisions. What this series of scenes would tell us is that regardless of our decisions, the broad strokes are all interchangeable. Nothing we chose to do really matters.

As far as the future of Mass Effect is concerned, I believe that this ending gives us the best options for a continuation to the franchise. Option two shows us too many possibilities of how different things could be. It would be impossible to write a coherent follow-up story that takes every possible ending into account. Option three would only invalidate player-choice even further if it were crafted with future games in mind, as then they would be even more motivated to show us that no matter what our decisions might have been, everything ends up in more or less the same place. This is what makes option one our best bet for achieving a free-flowing continuity. Player-choice is preserved by leaving everything up to the imagination and with nothing set in stone, BioWare has the wiggle-room they need to expand the universe.

Posted by Enigma777

While I do think that Bioware could have executed the endings better (aka not just a palette swap), I have no problem with them. As such, this is a great blog and more people clamoring for a new ending need to read this.

Posted by MisterSamMan

I hope in the future, Bioware just explains everything. I don't want the ending to change, but I also don't want this to be open to interpretation. I'm curious about the effects on everyone without Mass Relays. I'm interested in learning about the future of the Normandy's crew. The blog post is great, but I wish the ending didn't raise so many questions.

Posted by Vacancy009

One of the complaints I have read about the overall tone is that the game lead you to believe that you could actually "win". From game 1 to 3 that is what your fighting for and with the endings that were delivered that promise wasn't delivered on. Thinking back on all of the games though Bioware foreshadowed all of these events it was more subtle in the first 2 games but it was there.

  • The Reapers never feared Shepard. They saw him as a tactical threat that through elimination would make their job conquest easier but every conversation they weren't arrogant just very matter of fact. This is the way things are going to happen because this is always how it happens. you can't stop it.
  • The Prothean VI offered the same sort of foreshadowing, that this is life's cycle.
  • The Reaper on Tali's homeworld echoed the same sentiments.

After the Prothean VI and Reaper I knew things would be vastly different at the close of the game, more-so than just rebuilding after winning a war anyway. Either way I'm sure it will be something that we can read in the codex of the next Mass Effect game.

Posted by SolidTexture

Great job!!!!

I think I agree with everything said here.

Posted by StarvingGamer

@Enigma777: @SolidTexture: Thanks for reading!

@MisterSamMan: True, there is definitely a major lack of closure to the ending of ME3 if you're looking at it as an ensemble piece. I just think there are so many disparately different ways the universe could have turned out that it would have been too difficult to address all of them in a satisfactory way.

@Vacancy009: I agree. The ending of ME1 colored my run through ME2 with a sense of dread. And when I saw the huge Reaper fleet massing up at the edge of the galaxy at the end of ME2, it really seemed hopeless. To me the entire series has been less about winning and more about surviving, and they really drove that home in ME3 where the combined might of the galaxy and the best efforts of Shepard only results in dying less quickly. Maybe this forced BioWare into what some might consider a silly end-game, but I personally have no problem with a little more fantasy in my sci-fi.

Edited by Marz

i don't want to be a dick, but someone already pointed out the gamefront article in another thread. ah w/e i'm half asleep, sorry if you actually have anothe spin on the ending i just dont' want to read it right now.

Posted by StarvingGamer

@Marz: Yeah, I saw the article brought up in a few threads, but I don't think anyone's taken the time to break it down section by section in direct rebuttal. Hopefully you'll be awake enough to read my post later and weigh in.

Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

So...the ending sucks, is what you're saying?

Posted by 815Sox

This is just a compilation of things that I have heard over and over and over again.... people need to relax and drink a beer or take a fucking xanax (or both) and come back to this after a break. Lots of people have taken this shit so far out there..

Posted by NTM

I just thought the whole ending was a downer, no matter what.

Posted by TheH1ppo

The only problem I truly have with the ending is the fact that the relays have to be destroyed. I really feel like that's the reason why our choices are all voided. Most of the conflicts and alliances don't even matter anymore because anyone who's still alive can't get to any other part of the galaxy. And Quarians/Turians are probably ill equipped to start growing edible food for themselves since they can't eat human food.

Aside from that, I feel robbed by the lack of follow up with the crew following the crash. Mass Effect has always had such a strong focus on characters and it felt like ME3 abandoned that a bit and focused more on war. I think the first half of the game should have been the couple of weeks prior to the invasion but that's another conversation entirely.

The ending just felt hollow because I'm left with several questions about what's to become of my crew, my love interest? How do they feel about all this? Just like Patrick said on the podcast, Shepard is us, so we already know how he feels about at any given moment. We were always more concerned with the thoughts of our crew, that's what made the Mass Effect experience special. In the ending, we got NONE of that aside from Anderson.