Why The Mass Effect 3 Ending Doesn’t Suck

There is nothing wrong with a vocal fan-base. In fact, I encourage fans to be vocal about what they are passionate about. In the wake of Operation Rainfall’s success, I thought it would be appropriate to finally write, in detail, about my thoughts on the Mass Effect fan-base. While I may have ranted about this before, I feel like enough time has passed. We can now sit down and have a civil discussion about the Mass Effect 3 ending. Beware, this post is spoiler-heavy.

Alright, before we begin, I want to point out a few things. The first is that I am encouraging discussion. Many people will disagree with me. As long as you remain civil, I would love to hear your thoughts. Secondly, in order to begin this discussion, I will be referring to this video. The linked video is a very popular rant breaking down why the Mass Effect 3 ending is hated. I understand that this man does not speak for the entire fan-base, which is why I am encouraging discussion in the comments below.

So, let’s begin.

On March 6th, 2012, Bioware released the massively-anticipated Mass Effect 3. The game launched to critical praise. In fact, on the game’s official site, Bioware flaunts 75 perfect scores. It was not too much later that fans got their hands on the title, and evidendly, tore it to pieces. You don’t have to be a fan to know that the ending, apparently, sucks. Let’s take another look at why.

According to Jeremy Jahns, these points all contribute to the lackluster ending;
-The similarities between the 16+ endings
-The lack of choice
-The “perfect” ending’s extra clip
-The Allied forces being stranded
-Shepard dies
-The crew is stranded on an unknown planet
-The Normandy’s escape

Let’s dissect each of these arguments.

The similarities between the 16+ endings

This is the biggest issue that Jeremy has with Mass Effect 3. He spends the majority of the video complaining about the endings being too similar. Before I explain why there are not too similar, I will explain why this main argument is only said by a flock of sheep, following whatever is the cool thing to complain about.

Mass Effect 3 is a 25-30 hour game. Skipping most of the side quests will only narrow down the game by a couple of hours. When Mr. Jeremy Jahns completed the game for the first time, did he have any issues with it? There is no way he could have known that the endings were “too similar”, right? Unless, of course, he formed an opinion by watching videos online before beating the game himself. So when he first played the game, what was his issue? He couldn’t have known anything about the other endings. Most of his critiques have little to do with enjoying the content given. So he would have had to beat the game, or (since he referenced that he wants ME2 to affects ME3’s ending) the entire trilogy, multiple times before “hating” the game. Now, before hating on Mass Effect 3, ask yourself if you have played the game multiple times, or if you only complain because you saw something online? Because you didn’t take too much issue with the content in your Shepard’s story. I find that many complaining fans are only complaining because of what they read online. So, already, I am establishing that the game’s story is not the issue. The issue is that fans, many who would not even play the game a second time, expect more replay value. Complaining about the replay value of a 25 hour game with dozens and dozens of side quests, character fates, choices, and dlc is laughable, when you put it that way.

But let’s take a look at these similar endings, shall we? People complain that there are only three real endings, but these people are obviously wrong. IGN posted a chart that explains the differences depending on how you have played Mass Effect 3. Oh look, your choices did matter after all. Now, the cutscenes are somewhat similar, this is true. But that only matters to someone who doesn’t care about the story of Mass Effect. In one ending, Earth may be destroyed by The Reapers, the Normandy may not survive, but the Reapers are destroyed. In another ending, Shepard might live, destroy the Reapers, and your entire crew is safe. The actual story of the game is in the balance, whereas the fans complaining haven’t even acknowledged this. I am seriously getting the sense that those complaining don’t actually care for the series, considering that Mass Effect has always been about storytelling.

What about other great games of 2012 that boasted “choice”? Dishonored grew a fan base solely on its “freedom” in gameplay. It also boasted a two-tiered morality system like Mass Effect. Dishonored only has three endings, all of which are almost exactly the same on-screen. Yet no one took issue with this. What about the Walking Dead? The game explicitly says that it “tailors” itself to your choices. Everyone’s ending, however, was almost the exact same. The same outcome occurred in any play through. Double standards like these are why I can’t take Mass Effect 3 criticism seriously.

The lack of choice

Choice plays a big role in the Mass Effect trilogy. One aspect that makes Mass Effect so notable is the ability to transfer your save files. Jeremy claims that the game’s outcome rests on three choices, but sadly, he is just another misinformed fan. Having no knowledge on how the game’s ending mechanics work, one would definitely think that there are only 3 choices. However, Jeremy is wrong. First of all, you have made many choices playing the game, and those choices affect your Shepard’s universe. In my initial playthrough, the Genephage is cured. Rannoch is inhabited by Quarians. These are all choices I have made. It is sad that Bioware had to physically show these choices in the Extended Cut in order for you to understand the impact that you have had. Furthermore, how you have played the game changes the outcome. If you have an low Effective Military Strength, your ending will be different than someone who picks the same “blue, red or green” option but has a higher EMS. This is where the mechanics get interesting. Mass Effect 3 calculates your influence, as a Shepard, on the res of the universe. The greater your influence, the more positive your ending. While you chose between three choices, you made a choice on how you would play the game. Lastly, your paragon-rengade statue affects which choices you are even allowed to make at the end of the game. Its a very complicated system that many fans clearly don’t understand.

The perfect ending

This is simply a case of someone wanting to complain. The ambiguity of Shepard’s fate, assuming you have a high EMS and chose to destroy the Reapers, is nothing to complain about. There are literally thousands of films, games, and books that end ambiguously. Take a look at Inception. Inception is the most notable film with an ambiguous ending as of recently, and is widely considered an extraordinary film. Once again, this is simply the case of someone wanting to complain.

The Allied forces being stranding

Alas, we have the first complaint about the actual content of the story. This is almost a legitimate complaint, too. So bravo, you found something worthwhile to complain about. While I understand that the notion of the Allies stranded on Earth sounds ridiculous, it is not explicitly shown. Therefore, why take it as canon? The Stargazer implying otherwise is far more reliable of a source. If you are worried about the canon of Mass Effect, it is wise to take the Stargazer clip over what you assume happened to the Allies.

Shepard dies

This is another example of complaining for the sake of complaining. Shepard dying doesn’t affect the position of the universe at the end of the game. Him living or dying does not make the game bad. His story and his character arc are complete. Therefore, his fate is up to Bioware. Stop complaining for the sake of complaining.

The crew is stranded on an unknown planet

It is truly a shame that people complained about this. This could have made for an interesting story for the next Mass Effect game. The fact that they are lost in the universe doesn’t affect the position of the universe, again, so fans should have given Bioware some wiggle-room. The next Mass Effect could have had a Requiem scenario, with the crew possibly finding some ancient artifact of relevance (or something along those lines). But no, fans had Bioware patch this up in the EC. What a shame.

The Normandy’s escape

Why, and how, did The Normandy escape Earth? I don’t know. Perhaps once Shepard made it to the portal, there was no reason to stand by its entrance. Perhaps something happened off-screen. This is not a plot hole. A plot hole is a contradiction between two events on screen. This is simply unexplained. Regardless, it has been patched up with the EC, so no more reasons to complain about this.

I have heard other complaints regarding the ending, such as the Star-Child and the ending’s pacing. So, now looking beyond the rant video, let’s look at these two “issues”.

The Star-Child

Aliens taking the form of a familiar entity is nothing new to science fiction. I don’t really understand the complaints with the Star-Child. The child who was killed in the games introduction haunted Shepard throughout the game. Perhaps he projects his fears onto the Reapers. Perhaps the Reapers do it for him. This is intriguing, if anything. Why are fans taking issue with the Star-Child? Why do they want to shoot him? This makes no sense.


A friend of mine once told me that the ending sucked, not for its content, but for its pacing. At least this is an issue one could experience while playing the game, instead of looking up on the internet. I take no issue with the pacing, and this is why;

The notion of a boss-battle is incredibly dated, in my opinion. As gaming moves more towards a narrative-driven medium, I am happy to see that Bioware focused on story over gunplay for the last ten minutes of the game. This isn’t to say that there is no gameplay for the last few minutes. Mass Effect’s iconic dialogue system was still in affect. Furthermore, any fast-paced gunplay would not have hit the heights of the game’s ending, which was accompanied by one of the most powerful and emotional songs in the entire industry. I guess I just have had enough gameplay throughout the 30 hours that the ending was welcomed, not discouraged.

And there you have it. That’s my take on the ending to a brilliant game. Don’t like it? Tell my why in the comments below.


10 responses to “Why The Mass Effect 3 Ending Doesn’t Suck

  1. There’s a video showing the “wide variety” of endings. There’s basically 6 endings: Destroy Bad, Control Bad, Destroy Good, Control Good, Synthesis, Destroy With Shepard Alive. And all of them look virtually identical. The Extended Cut fixed that a little bit, but in the original version, the endings were all insultingly similar. Regardless, I’d argue that the real complaint in terms of the endings all being exactly the same, the underlying issue, was a lack of falling action and resolution. BioWare ended the game with the climax, which is just bad writing. Western literature follows a general pattern. The dramatic structure. Introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. A story can break outside that structure and be great as a result, but it needs to have a reason to do that, and I don’t think ME3 had any real reason not to have the falling action and resolution. So when people complain about the endings all being the same, I think what they’re really complaining about was a lack of falling action and resolution. This was also fixed, albeit in a half-assed fashion, by the Extended Cut.

    This also ties in with the lack of choice. Yes, we make choices throughout the trilogy that will shape the future of the galaxy. We wanted some idea of how that would play out, though. What does it mean that the Genophage is cured? For that matter, what does it mean that we’re Controlling the Reapers?

    For the Allied forces being stranded, it’s a case of an implied holocaust. The Citadel explodes, in two out of three endings, right above Earth, which has already been ravaged by the Reapers. With the size of the Citadel, having chunks of it raining down on the planet is going to cause even more destruction to a planet that’s already taken a lot. And then we’ve got a bunch of alien ships in orbit. The planet’s resources will already be stretched thin, and having asari, krogan, turians and quarians living there is only going to make it worse. The turians and quarians will almost certainly starve to death. Among the remaining survivors, a brutal battle for survival is guaranteed. Again, the Extended Cut removes that problem, albeit by basically declaring that it doesn’t happen.

    With the crew, again, it’s a matter of a lack of resolution and fridge horror. They’re stranded on an unknown planet. Either it’s going to be amino-acid based, or dextro-acid based, in which case either Garrus and Tali or everyone else is going to starve to death. Assuming it’s only Garrus and Tali who are doomed to starve, then the rest are doomed to simply be left there for the rest of their lives. They don’t have enough people to sustain a colony, so all the humans will be dead within a few generations, leaving Liara alone and doomed to go insane from the isolation. Which, admittedly, would make for an awesome fanfiction. But the point remains that these people we spent three games growing to know and love are now doomed to die. Again, fixed by the Extended Cut.

    The Normandy’s escape, with the crew members from Earth, was idiotic. The EC fixed it, but in the original ending, it was awful writing.

    The problem with the Star Brat is that he just happens to take the form of the kid Shepard’s been dreaming about. It’s awfully convenient that he appears as a human child, rather than, I don’t know, anything else. It’s blatant emotional manipulation from the writers. The audience should never feel like the writers are trying to manipulate them, but that’s clearly what’s happening with the Star Brat. It’s an obnoxious character. Even more so for its utter lack of any foreshadowing prior to appearing. And no, the Prothean VI speculating that there’s something behind the Reapers does not foreshadow the existence of an advanced AI living on the Citadel. The Leviathan DLC adds that necessary foreshadowing, but in the original ending, the Space Brat comes out of absolutely nowhere.

    The lack of a boss fight wasn’t the problem with the pacing. No, the problem is that the scene itself is just badly paced. We have the dramatic showdown with Shepard and the Illusive Man. We kill TIM, open the arms, and watch the Crucible dock with the Citadel. We did it. We get that beautiful final moment with Anderson, and then look out at Earth and wait for the end. It’s over, and it’s satisfying.

    And then that satisfaction is stolen from us. We’re brought up to talk to the stupid kid we’ve been told throughout the game is supposed to make us feel sad. He tells us he controls the Reapers, and that he created them to solve the conflict between organics and synthetics. Which raises another problem: From a thematic standpoint, we solved that conflict. That was the whole point of the Rannoch arc, was to solve the conflict between organics and synthetics. Whatever we chose, we resolved it. We either proved that they can live together, or they can’t. It was over. Done. Finished. And then it gets dragged back at the very end, and we’re told that it was the overriding conflict of the entire series, when it was only one of many conflicts. The dangers of interfering with races who aren’t ready was just as important, maybe even more. The second and third games tried hard to prove that organics and synthetics can live together in peace, but then we reach the end, and we’re told, nope, they can’t. They’ll always fight each other, and there’s no way to stop it. And we don’t even get to argue with that. We make some lame argument about choice or whatever, and it’s such a lame argument even I wasn’t convinced, especially since it didn’t actually address anything the Star Brat had said.

    And then we’re given our three choices. Destroy and Control are fine – Idealism vs. Pragmatism mixed and matched so that one can no longer tell which is which. Interesting, even if it’s hard to tell exactly how either of them actually works. But if we did what we were supposed to do, we’ve given the third choice: Synthesis. And this choice is presented as the best, as the ideal option. But it’s actually complete and utter nonsense. It violates core themes – the value of free choice (Shepard makes the choice on behalf of all life in the galaxy to make them partly synthetic), strength in diversity (he just made everyone more similar), the dangers of forced, unearned progress, and more. In a series that prided itself on internal scientific consistency, it also broke that consistency, using Space Magic to accomplish its goals, because there’s no way the Synthesis beam makes any scientific sense at all, no matter how you try to handwave it. It also punches science in the face with lines like “final evolution of life” – something which completely misses the entire point of evolution. All because the guy who wrote it wanted to spout some transhumanist philosophy.

    The Mass Effect 3 ending is objectively bad writing. It fails on every conceivable level.

    • Hey, xmenxpert. Thanks for the read/comment. I, obviously, disagree with some of your points, but would love to discuss them.

      Starting with the 5 act structure, its actually interesting you bring that up. But no, all literature does not have to follow the Shakespearean 5 act structure. Take 1980+ films adoption of Syd Field’s 3 act structure, which has become an absolute constant within the film industry. The point of structure within a narrative is to maintain order, and frankly, Mass Effect 3 didn’t feel chaotic to me. Furthermore, most games don’t follow these familiar story structures. While I guess it is agreeable that there is some form of “raising the stakes” towards the end of most games, I would definitely argue that most games aren’t written as traditionally as you are asking ME to be written. I’m going to give an example, so I don’t sound like I am making this all up. Halo 4, while perhaps the Cortana story arc plays out traditionally, is a pretty structureless game. The main threat is introduced literally halfway into the game, and an overall objective is never made clear. Most of the time, objective’s are temporary. Skyfall, a generally well-received film, is also written…..unpredictably. This is very apparent when comparing it to, say, Wreck-It Ralph, which is written using the 3 act structure.
      What I am trying to say is that ME3 doesn’t follow these established structures because the last 10 percent of the game would be…well, boring. There would be no tension. No intrigue. Games are much longer than a film, so you would have to inflate the percentage given to the 5th act, assuming you are using the Shakespearean model.

      As for our choices “mattering”, I don’t understand why BioWare had to show you a picture of happy Krogans in order for the fanbase to understand that the Genophage has been cured. Wrex mentions it everytime you speak to him after the priority mission, and you even get messages about it in your inbox. The idea that EVERY plot piece had to be reminded is quite ridiculous when you consider how much choices you have made throughout the trilogy. Does the last game, as a whole, summarize your choices and your universe? Yes. Why does the last 10 minutes have to remind you?

      The Normandy’s escape was, agreeably, badly written. That doesn’t make it a plot hole or an inconsistency. It just means that it wasn’t explicitly shown. It has been patched up though, so I guess there is no use in complaining about it. It is one of two issues that I can agree on. The other being the destruction of the Mass Relays (should have killed everyone). That too was patched up though.

      Especially after playing Leviathan, I got a sense that there is well-thought out mythology backed into the game. It is no secret that ME is known for its lore and mythology. The “star child” and that whole scene is just revealing a bit of that complicated mythology. While it is arguable that the mythology could have been more explained, it is absolutely there, and is absolutely fascinating. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.

      As for the “themes” of the series, and how it “goes against it all”, I feel like that is an excuse to hate the writing. The three choices are given so you decide the fate of the Reapers. They clearly had a vision for the ending of Shepard’s story, and branched it out so you can make a choice, albeit it still follows their vision.

      Lastly, I still think that the fans should not assume what happens to the crew. Making your own personal fan-fiction cannot be looked at as canon. I don’t think that was the intention, and it was clearly taken out of context.

      So, given everything I said, I don’t believe there is anything objective about your opinion on the ending.

      • It’s not so much the 5-act structure as it is elements within that structure. Any story needs an introduction – pretty obvious. A story needs to have rising action – you don’t go straight from the introduction to the climax. You need a climax – the big near-finish. And then you do need resolution. Most games, like novels, movies or any other story-based medium, will have a resolution after the climax. Some games have more than others, but if it’s a story-based game, it’s almost certainly going to have something. And the Mass Effect games followed that structure previously. ME1 had the climax with Sovereign’s destruction, and then the resolution with the Council. ME2 had the climax of destroying the Reaper fetus, and then the resolution of the final conversation with TIM. ME3 had the climax of the beam, and then . . . nothing. No resolution. Just a lot of, “But what actually happened?” The Extended Cut half-assed it, but it did provide that vital resolution.

        The Leviathan DLC fit the Star Brat into the mythology of the series (though the form it takes is still blatant baiting from the writers), but originally, it just came right out of nowhere. That’s terrible writing. You don’t have that massive a reveal, that major a twist, without foreshadowing it. You need to give the audience a chance to figure it out before it comes, and they didn’t. When the twist comes, it should shed new insight into some of what’s come before. The Star Brat reveal doesn’t do that. It’s a twist for the sake of a twist, a swerve that no one could’ve predicted.

        I hate the writing because it went against the themes and conflicts previously established. Synthesis, in particular, is frustratingly stupid and contrary to everything the series has taught us prior to that point. That it’s clearly meant to be the best choice, and that it’s the choice the leads to utopia with everyone happy and friends and all conflict is ended and the Reapers immediately forgiven and Keiji’s back to life and AIs are now alive and we’re all going to live forever – that just makes it even worse. Also, Joker’s hat seems to be alive. That alone makes it unforgivable.

        As for fans not making assumptions about what happens to the crew, well, in the original ending, we didn’t have much choice, did we? BioWare didn’t tell us what happened, so we had no choice but to extrapolate on the little we saw. And applying a little logic leads to Liara, hundreds of years later, completely insane from isolation. Which, again, could make for a really awesome fanfic. If I wasn’t so lazy, and already writing multiple stories of my own, I’d be seriously tempted to write it.

      • For a much better explanation than I could ever provide of why it’s objectively bad writing, read this: http://jmstevenson.me/2012/03/22/all-that-matters-is-the-ending-part-2-mass-effect-3/

  2. Why the Mass Effect ending did suck: You had to write an article to explain it. There’s no depth or poetry in an ending so wide open to interpretation that everybody that invested time in the story is just flustered.

    Great Expectations had two endings: One where Pip got the girl and one where Pip didn’t. The one where Pip didn’t made no sense whatsoever and it sucked, even though Fitzgerald insisted that the story was better off. There is beauty and poetry, yadda yadda, about Pip moving on and growing up, but nothing justifies having a character’s entire journey focused on one thing, and in the end that one thing is demoted to by “loljk, here’s what really matters.” Fitzgerald made Pip not getting Estella the ending (but somehow he’s totally okay with it) because he felt like the guy getting the girl was too vanilla, but he ended up producing an ending that the majority of people feel…sucked. Fitzgerald then wrote an ending where Pip did get the girl and, vanilla as it was, it was soooooooooo much better. There was closure. There was a sense of a journey completed. There was the sense that everything the character went through, through 400 pages of text, wasn’t trivialized by something that may or may not be a good enough justification.

    Mass Effect has Shepard devote three games to fighting the Reapers and the epilogue is “loljk, the Reapers aren’t the enemy.” Forget that the 3rd game was more about development time and money than quality content, the ending still sucked.

    • I believe that the best works are the one’s that people will talk about, and that can be written about for a very long time. Prometheus is a film that a lot of people did not understand, and can be discussed and argued for a long time. That is a GOOD thing, ESPECIALLY for a science fiction. I don’t understand how me writing an article proves that it is bad.

      As for Great Expectations, I have no idea what that is, so ‘no comment’ I guess. But the protagonist does not NEED to complete their objective, if that was your point. Isn’t that what makes tension? Not knowing if he/she will succeed? If there is never a sense of danger, than what is the point of watching?

      Lastly, “loljk, the Reapers aren’t the enemy.”?
      The Reapers are the enemy. I can only assume that you are talking about the star child. I assume you have no idea what the Starchild actually is, though. The Intelligence? It’s a notable piece connecting Mass Effect lore. I get the impression you don’t understand the ending. Just like Prometheus (mentioned above), many people thought it was bad because they didn’t understand it. Perhaps that is just the mainstream reaction to true sci-fi.

      • I meant Dickens, not Fitzgerald. Was thinking about Gatsby.

        If you have no idea what Great Expectations is–not even in name–, then I find the depth of your writing specious at best, and uncultured at worst. If your intention is to analyze Mass Effect and its ending as literature, one would expect you to have some basis in literature.

        Your point about tension is extremely circular. Of course the protagonist needs to complete his/her objective. Every single creative writing class in every single university in every single country teaches that. When I say complete, I don’t necessarily mean achieve; I mean resolve. The entire point of a story is so that he/she does. That objective is either obtained or irretrievably lost. Either ending is okay. But, no ending–or an ending with no appreciable connection to the plot–is not a good thing, sci-fi or not. Bad story telling is bad story telling. What makes the tension is a struggle, but always with the promise of an ultimate resolution. The excitement is seeing how that resolution is reached much, much more often than what that resolution actually is. We know Shepard’s resolution, but it makes no sense as to how we got there because the Reapers aren’t the actual enemy. They’re a physical incarnation of the enemy that Shepard actually, physically fights against. In the last 20 minutes of the game, we learn that regardless of what Shepard just spent 3 games fighting, his true battle is against the mandate of an ancient species to preserve organic life. That realization renders the physical struggle–the struggle we spend 70+ hours observing–irrelevant because we weren’t fighting for what we thought we were. It trivializes all that work up. Sovereign references a higher purpose, but Shepard persistence and continued struggle is borne of misunderstanding that is projected onto the player. Even with the intimations by dialogue with the Reapers, the player, through 3 games, is still fighting the Reapers, not the purpose of the Reapers.

        You can deign that I don’t understand the ending, but that’s because there’s nothing to be understood. If you genuinely, actually convinced yourself to appreciate the ending, then fine. But the only reason you do is that you’ve justified to yourself that it’s a good ending; not that it, objectively, is.

        You disregard and have no comment on a third of my post and conclude that I’m the one who doesn’t understand. Good one.

  3. WordPress will not let me Reply to some comments. I apologize if it seems like I am ignoring some of these, that is not the case.

  4. Starchild is Harbinger taking the form of a boy on Earth:

    Takes a “non-threatening form” instead of Harbinger.

  5. Ack. Skip to 43:10 minutes of the first video, and around 27:15 of the second video. Silly formatting

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