Experienced Points:
Mass Effect 3 Ending Controversy

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 23, 2012

Filed under: Column 179 comments


This week I give a breakdown of why the Mass Effect 3 ending just didn’t work as a piece of fiction (as opposed to why it didn’t work logically, which we’ve been talking about for a few days now) and why I don’t think “new ending” can really fix things. The shame of it is, it’s clear that BioWare is badly missing the point. They seem to be stuck on the “fans wanted a happy ending” idea, which is going to lead them to making a different set of mistakes.

In the article, I named three elements: Affirmation, Explanation, and Closure. My point was that an ending needs to have at least one of these elements to be an “ending” and not just “a place where the story stopped being told”. These elements are the payoff at the end of the story.

Following the discussion and watching the ending again, I’ve come to the conclusion that the writers decided to leave out affirmation and closure in favor of an explanation-only ending. Okay, it’s dark, the good guys didn’t win so much as mutually annihilate the bad guys, and we don’t get to find out how things turned out for everyone else, but now we get to hear the answers to our questions. It seems like that was the plan.

An explanation ending CAN work. Heck, the murder mystery is an entire genre dedicated to explanation-based payoffs. Of course, if explanation is going to be the ONLY payoff, then it needs to be a really good explanation. A kind of, “Oh! NOW I get it!” epiphany. The Usual Suspects is a great example of this, where the final reveal brings new meaning to what the audience has already seen.

Mass Effect was manifestly unqualified for an ending based entirely on explanation. The lore is a tangled mess of conflicts and contrivances, and the only thing the central villain had going for it was “mystery”. Most people played this game because they loved the characters and the setting, not because they just couldn’t wait for the next dose of incomprehensible balderdash from The Illusive Man.

We can envision the opposite scenario. Suppose we have a really dry and technical murder mystery novel. The characters are kind of flat and mostly speak in exposition, and we never learn anything about them beyond what is required for the case. The book spends endless pages obsessing over forensic evidence, alibis, the mechanics of the murder, and scrupulously detailing where everyone was when the victim died. And then at the end of the book there’s a whole bunch of stuff about these wooden characters that we don’t care about. A couple of people get married, someone gets accepted to their dream college, someone else beats cancer, a long-standing family feud is resolved with heartwarming forgiveness, and the book never mentions “Who Done It?” The book led up to the wrong kind of payoff. This is what the end of Mass Effect felt like.

This problem was only compounded by the fact that the given explanation was so awful. This was an explanation ending where the explanation didn’t make sense, wasn’t needed, and actually undercut the story. It was an explanation ending that actually made things more confusing. Instead if discussing the ramifications of the Big Reveal, players are left wondering, “Wait? Where is Joker going? How did Liara get back on the ship? What’s this planet? Did I just blow up the galaxy?”

There is no substitute for having a clear plan, especially when you’re trying to make a multi-game story. You can deviate, alter, or add onto it later, but you should have a clear idea of where you’re headed before you publish the first game. Fiction is hard. Even lightweight stuff like my novel – with a small cast of characters and a story focused on a few key elements – can quickly get out of hand. I can’t imagine publishing a multi-million dollar game and not having the basic framework of a story, all the way to the end credits on the final entry. The fact that the BioWare writers were (according to rumors, I wasn’t there) still changing and revising core concepts of their story just months before release shows an incredibly reckless and self-destructive approach to game design.

I’ll admit: A lot of this is sour grapes. I love world-building. If I ever found myself where someone gave me the chance to write a game – with the possibility that I’d get to make more – you bet your ass I’d jump at the chance and make every effort to design a solid three-part saga. “Making it up as we go along” would be unthinkable to me. As this thing has drawn on, I’ve come to realize that I’m less mad about how Mass Effect turned out and more angry at what an amazing opportunity was missed.

With the way intellectual property, sequels, and game budgets work, this chance will probably not come again anytime soon.


From The Archives:

179 thoughts on “Experienced Points:
Mass Effect 3 Ending Controversy

  1. guy says:

    That is actually a surprisingly clear explanation of why some endings are great and others are terrible in a way I’d never seen put into words before.

    1. Jeff says:


      Also, since Shamus mentioned his novel, Amazon.ca says it’s out of stock, and I’m on back order. Wonder when I’ll get it? Would Amazon.com send a shipment over to Amazon.ca? Hmm…

    2. anaphysik says:

      In fact, I like this post-article write-up even better than the article itself!

      Really cogent storytelling analysis here, Shamus. We like.

      1. Dragomok says:

        Indeed, this blog post is fine on its own rights.
        Actually, it’s so good, I feel like I just got a great ‘explanation ending’ to the whole ending controversy.

  2. Dovius says:

    Wait, WHAT?!
    They were making it up as they went along, even after 2 games and several novels?
    This is making me rather frightful over what’s gonna happen with the Dragon Age series.

    To the writing staff at Bioware: Frankly, you don’t have the chops to pull off the whole Tolkien-esque “Make up the trilogy as you go along” method.
    Whatever you’re gonna do in the future, plan it out, damnit.

    1. guy says:

      Argh, yeah. If you know not only that you will get future installments but also how many on the lower end, know what you will put in them.

      Now, making it up as you go along is actually pretty popular in a number of well-received pieces of fiction, but in most of those cases the creator was told that they would get one book/movie/season and then sequels might happen if people want them enough until people stop wanting them. Mass Effect was always going to be a trilogy, so they should not have an ending that clashes heavily with the iconic Sovereign conversation.

      I mean, I bet more people could quote Sovereign than the star child right after they finished the game. Yet every single detail about Sovereign and everything he says clashes with the whole Reapers exist to protect organics from synthetics thing.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        I think the problem is not so much that they made the story up as they went along, but rather that they didn’t seem to go over their established universe very thoroughly before going forward. Playing through Mass Effect 2, it sometimes feels like the writers only read a brief summary of 1’s story before starting on 2’s. That’s why small but important details seem to be missing, like Sole Survivor Shepard not being concerned about Cerberus, or how everyone says that Shepard killed Sovereign, when it was really a combined effort of the Citadel and Alliance fleets, or how the Reaper’s motivation clashes sharply with Sovereign’s speech.

    2. ngthagg says:

      There are famous writers who make things up as they go along. Stephen King is a great example, since he described the process in detail in On Writing.

      The problem is that King is able to avoid plotting by having very well developed characters. He essentially creates his characters, places them in a situation, and writes about how they resolve the situation. The problem is this cannot work for a game like Mass Effect.

      A big part of what make Mass Effect Mass Effect is that Shepard is undefined as a character. The player is able to make choices that define what kind of person Shepard is. This is a reasonable choice for the game, but it takes away from the writers the ability to have a flowing story. Instead, everything needs to be tightly plotted to give context to the choices and allow the story to proceed regardless of the player.

      Otherwise the result is incoherence.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        This is a reasonable choice for the game, but it takes away from the writers the ability to have a flowing story. Instead, everything needs to be tightly plotted to give context to the choices and allow the story to proceed regardless of the player.

        The thing is that while this changes the motivation for events, it doesn’t necessarily change the events that happen. Let’s think about a sequence of “safe-crack, chase, big fight, recover mcguffin” with a companion.

        If the player is playing “good”, this can be played as “player cracks safe open”, “gives mcguffin to companion”, “both flee to destination while pursued by baddies”, “destination area has powerful enemy kill companion”, “Player fight powerful enemy to recover mcguffin”

        If the player is playing “bad”, it runs “player cracks safe”, “companion realizes YOU’RE a baddie, steals mcguffin and flees”, “chase ‘companion’ down to destination area, chased by good guys”, “fight companion to the death to recover mcguffin”.

        It’s exactly the same sequence, leaving the exact same outcome as a successful conclusion, and the only difference between them is about five lines of dialog and some skinning. But the mood and tenor is completely different, to accommodate how someone played and it’s satisfying either way.

    3. Kimagure says:

      To be fair, part of the reason it works like that in game design is that games are made by different teams of artists. If the modern AAA title takes 5-6 years to make, then would you, as an author, really want to lock down a creative team’s options 10 years down the line? Especially when they’re likely to have a different producer, a different art lead, and many different programmers, designers, and artists?

      Life in the game industry is project-based and turnover happens pretty regularly. No matter how much you might love a game and its characters, you get pretty sick of working on the same world and same series after 10, 5, or even 3 years. At some point, it’s time to move on.

      Think of it another way: would you, as a creator, really want to come and work on a game franchise where they figured out all the creative details a decade ago? Especially given the changing nature of technology and the strong likelihood that the end of a series will not be on the same system as the beginning? (The 360/PS3 era’s been surprisingly long for the game industry for a large number of factors including cost and complexity).

      This isn’t to excuse the utter lack of an overall framework. That’s often the road to a really crap ending at the end of a series of games. But there’s a lot of underlying dynamics that go into it and it’s not just as simple as “They didn’t have a plan because they were bad authors and designers!”

      1. karln says:

        They don’t need to work out *all* the creative details at the start, far from it, but having at least the bare bones of the plot, including the ending, is probably a good idea. If the team of 10 years later decide to change it, they can, but it’s going to help a lot if everybody knows roughly where they’re heading.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          And most importantly, have all your context written out and frozen. Doesn’t have to be revealed all at once, but if you’ve got a shadowy organization, it’s established what its goal is, by what means it expects to accomplish that goal, and how much resources it has to do it.

        2. Felblood says:

          If they can make a better ending that works in the context you’ve given them, fine, but you should at least leave them with an emergency plan, in case they phone in the wrong ending.

          “In case of plot resolution emergency: Open this envelope”

      2. Frank says:

        The best analogy I’ve ever heard to avoid this problem is how George R. R. Martin describes his plan to write the last “2” books in his Song of Ice and Fire series. Essentially, he compares writing the series to planning and going on a trip. He says he knows the basics, for instance, if you plan on driving from New York to LA, you know which roads your going to take, and roughly how long it will take you. But what you don’t know is where you going to stop to eat, where a massive traffic jam will develop, etc.. The writers at Bioware can and should have had a damn outline from the beginning of the process. Which would have allowed them to actually write the minutiae without contradicting themselves constantly. Bad planning leads to bad writing, which leads to terrible endings and an incoherent story.

      3. Sumanai says:

        If it’s such a pain to set a heading early on, why plan for a trilogy from the outset? Surely the only reason to do that, from an artistic point, would be because the story is set.

        1. Felblood says:

          The guys who said this would be a trilogy weren’t thinking from an artistic viewpoint. They were coming from the perspective that saying “trilogy” makes people assume a complete, 3-part story, when they didn’t actually SAY that.

          This is essentially (and this is the part that really pissed people off, I think) false advertising.

          We were all-but promised one complete story in three AAA sized packages, but when we opened up the boxes, the pieces didn’t fit together.

          This is like someone selling you a box of desk parts, under the implied pretense that the parts could be assembled into a desk, when they are, in fact, random parts of a bunch of different desks, and none of them is the top surface.

          1. Sumanai says:

            Well, I’d argue that it does have the actual desk part and you can get into a one piece, it’s just that the top ends up in such a steep angle nothing stays on top without help. That’s why some still claim it’s good, because it’s just an artist’s desk. You know? Those that are angled so drawing is easier.

            Never mind that the desk is slanted to the wrong direction, lacks the appropriate paper holder, there’s no place for tools and it’s not what you were promised.

    4. ACman says:

      Well they managed to create amazing stories for Baldur’s Gate. That was some time ago however, and the universe lore was created well before Bioware came onto the scene. Same with KOTOR.

      The problem is that Dragon Age, Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 1 are terrible games. They may have great stories but the game-play in all of them is flawed. I disagree with some here for Mass Effect Uno but then I like my science fiction slightly harder than warm jello. Fuck it I hate Dragon Age: Origins as well for being an uninteresting Tolkien knockoff. Dark-Spawn? Really? The word ‘Orc’ isn’t trademarked, and why is the apocalypes limited to a single country about the size of france? And Why is it so white?

      In Dragon Age there where repetitive combat dungeons that lasted for hours. In Dragon Age 2 there was repetitive enemy spam to rival Call of Duty and repeditive scenery to rival nothing. In Mass Effect there was the old problem of marrying shooting with dice throwing.

      Mass Effect 2 had decentish gameplay but it completely kicked any sense of player agency up the arse and it also discarded all but the pretense of stat building, killing all the elements that make an RPG interesting.

      In addition all choices will lead in the same direction, the character build is decided at the start, and the moral choice system forces one to focus completely on either paragon or renegade to get the best dialogue options in the future (Thus disrupting player agency again.)

      If people really want to see how story telling should be done in a CRPG checkout Planescape: Torment, the Baldur’s Gate Series and at a pinch KOTOR.

      If people want to check out how player agency should be done in a CRPG they should check out Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas, Deus Ex and at a pinch Deus Ex Human Revolution.

      These are the games that should be talked about as RPGs. The latest Bioware games are nothing but stories of combat interspersed with bits of dialogue. If it was Tarantino dialogue I’d give them a pass. If the stories where Hitchcockian mysteries I’d give them a pass. If their atmosphere rivaled Stanley Kubrick’s least works I’d give them a pass.

      Without that all we have is player agency, stat-building and gameplay. Recently Bioware has failed on at least two of these consistantly.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Supposedly they’ve been getting so much better at gameplay, that all should be forgiven. I disagree, but I disagree with a lot of people.

        “…and the moral choice system forces one to focus completely on either paragon or renegade to get the best dialogue options in the future (Thus disrupting player agency again.)”

        No, see, that system encourages players to “role-play” a consistent character*. Or something. Just forget the fact that full Renegade or Paragon run is inconsistent all by itself and it’ll make perfect sense.

        * Just in case it’s not clear, I’m being sarcastic at this point. The system in the ME series is better than most, but is still dumb.

    5. Eärlindor says:

      To the writing staff at Bioware: Frankly, you don't have the chops to pull off the whole Tolkien-esque “Make up the trilogy as you go along” method.

      The kicker is Tolkien was basically making it up as he went along too.

      1. anaphysik says:

        The kicker is that that’s exactly what the person you quoted said.
        Unless I’m missing something?

      2. Dovius says:

        …Which is exactly the point that I was making. Tolkien had the chops to pull it off, Bioware doesn’t.

        1. mixmastermind says:

          Of course, Tolkien also had the luxury of making the books as a hobby over the course of years, as opposed to the, what, 2 years ME3 had? Tolkien was able to simply scrap whole sections of the book and redo them.

          1. Sumanai says:

            Inability to recognise your own limits, including deadlines, is a sign of a bad writer.

        2. Eärlindor says:

          …Which is exactly the point that I was making.

          Crap, crap, dangit–sorry! I misread what you said! >.<

          And I got burned for it. Embarrassing.

          1. anaphysik says:

            Eh, it happens.

            1. Zagzag says:

              Imagine how much nicer the internet would be if this was how the majority of arguments were resolved.

      3. megabyte says:

        Regarding the question that Tolkien was making it up as he went along, the answer is complicated.

        According to the index at the end of the book, for the first book of six (up until Frodo gets to Rivendell), Tolkein WAS just writing in any direction he felt like. For the Council of Elrond, he established more parts of the larger world and reinforced the notion that Frodo was the one to take the ring to Mount Doom. Tolkien contined to meander until the Fellowship entered Balin’s tomb.

        After he got there, Tolkien put his writing on hold for over a year to deal with the ramifications of World War II. When he came back to his writing, he put a lot more direction in the story starting with the fight with the goblins. He started working out the entire story in his head and notes, and even jumped around in the story, writing different chapters when it suited him.

        How does this relate to the writing of Mass Effect? It clarifies the writing process of the authors of a book I can be reasonably sure everyone here is familiar with and help them understand how writers write books. I haven’t worked in the game industry, but I imagine they are under strict pressure to conform their scripts to models, voiceovers, and CGI movies that cost millions to make. It was great in the beginning (see mass effect 1), but soon all those assets became golden handcuffs (see the final missions for mass effect 3).

        whoever thought it was a good idea to put GCI movies into mass effect 2 and 3 did more harm than good to the presentation, they just didn’t know it.

  3. Deoxy says:

    Was ME planned as more than one game from the start? Because I think a LOT of movies and game sequels are more of the “that was popular… let’s use it to make more MONEY!!!!” type than the “I’ve got this all planned out” type.

    Seriously, what halfway popular movie DOESN’T get a sequel, these days. Heck, they made a sequel to LADY AND THE TRAMP not too long ago.

    Now, if they said from the beginning that it was supposed to cover more than one game, well, they’re idiots… but it’s a very common form of idiocy.

    1. guy says:

      They always said trilogy.

      1. Mathias says:

        Question: Have there ever been game trilogies in which the stories felt completely interconnected and had a satisfactory conclusion? Bonus points if it was always intended as a trilogy, rather than a case of “oh, this made money, let’s make another game.”

        1. Tony Kebell says:

          Metal Gear Solid, all 8 of them (except maybe the 2 arcade ones, they’re a little iffy, so maybe all 6 of the 3d ones following the same plot)

          1. Kalil says:

            Meh, Metal Gear Solid didn’t really click together until Last Days of Foxhound filled in the blanks:

        2. Jeff R. says:

          Ultima IV-VI, the SSI D&D Gold Box games, Zork, Enchanter…

        3. swenson says:

          I’ll be honest, I can’t even think of very many book and movie trilogies that can pull that off, which is pathetic and sad. The ones that can generally were planned that way from the start, or at least they went “Well, let’s make the first one able to stand on its own if it flops, but we really would like to make more.”

          1. Muspel says:

            Books often do a good job at trilogies. Look at Mistborn, for instance. Movies and games… less so.

        4. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I dont know if it counts,but telltale adventures were this.

          But I will be able to answer that question better in about 2 years,when blizzard releases the third part of starcraft 2.

          1. mumakil says:

            I read this as Starcraft 3 and thought how lovely it would be to be so naive :P

            But yeah i hope heart of the swarm and legacy of the void link up nicely into the story.

        5. Nightbringer says:

          Strangely enough, Halo (1, 2, and 3) actually did if you pay enough attention. (The terminals etc…) There are certainly messy aspects, but the main story ends with giving you affirmation, explanation, and closure.
          There is even a bonus “truer” explanation, that makes more sense, if you search through the terminals and all the extra fiction.

          I’m not calling it the best story ever or anything, but I think it deserves more credit for managing to pull off a story than most people give it. Of course, it definitively ISN’T a character story.

          It wasn’t planned as a trilogy though.

          1. Eärlindor says:

            But Halo 3 didn’t really give closure. You rush to blow up the new Halo for no apparent reason (turns out it was a retcon on how the Halo Array works, but the game never bothers to explain that), Chief gets stranded outside the galaxy and it’s The End. What happens to the Covenant? What about the Flood and the 6 other Halos? Furthermore, the game’s narrative never bothers to answer ANY of the questions about the Flood and Forerunners, except through the terminals, which you mentioned, but you have to find all seven terminals on all 4 difficulties to get all the pieces that are fragmented to begin with. You don’t even get the meet the “Presence” Cortana talked about at the end of H2 (except briefly on the last terminal on the highest difficulty, and it’s still not clear what he does to supposedly help you).

            Heck, Bungie even admitted the reason all their exposition was dumped into the terminals was because they put all their resources into the friggin’ multiplayer.

            Halo 3 was incredibly sloppy. I was so confused and disappointed by the end. There was no affirmation, explanation, or closure. What little there was you had to spend a significant amount of time digging it up, then decrypting it. And it still didn’t cover all the bases.

            1. Destrustor says:

              You don’t blow up the new halo for no reason, you just manually activate it. Since it’s far from complete, the systems can’t handle it yet and it blows up from the strain of working before it’s ready.
              You don’t activate the other halos, only this one(it is ispossible to activate them separately). And since the flood brought all its forces to the ark to stop you from doing this, the galaxy is now free of them.
              The halo activates, kills the sentient life around it(no survivors to infect), then blows up and acts as a conventional bomb, utterly destroying the flood and the ark. the explosion wrecks the slipspace jump, cutting the forward unto dawn in two. The front of the ship miraculously makes it through as intended, but the back (with master chief) is thrown out randomly in unknown space.
              I understood all of this from dialog and cutscenes.From what I’ve seen, the terminals only provide exposition about the forerunner/flood war 100 000 years ago. And while it does not provide much information about that, I think it’s just not as important as “good guys won, we’re going to have at least some peace now”. That’s more than enough closure.

              1. Eärlindor says:

                You don't blow up the new halo for no reason, you just manually activate it. Since it's far from complete, the systems can't handle it yet and it blows up from the strain of working before it's ready.

                Yes, I know. This is the problem. Why do you activate it though? There’s no reason to, and no explanation is given as to why MC comes to this conclusion (“Light it”). Bungie spent two whole games establishing how the Halos work:

                Cortana: Halo doesn’t kill Flood, it kills their food […] the only way to stop the Flood is to starve them to death (H:CE).

                343 GS: [The Halos are] Weapons of last resort built by the Forerunners to eliminate potential Flood-hosts, thereby rendering the parasite harmless (H2).

                So what good will activating the new Halo on the Ark do for everybody? All it would do is kill all potential hosts on the Ark, which is outside the galaxy. Let’s assume everyone died and it was just the Flood. They’re not stranded. They’re on the Ark. They have access to ships (like those left by the now dead Covies and UNSC), factories, etc. It’s only a matter of time before they fly back to the galaxy.

                MC is activating the Halo… for some reason… that is never explained…. Neither MC, nor any of the human forces for that matter, have any way of knowing the ring is too unstable to fire for a convenient explosion.
                Furthermore, we seemingly never learn what supposed secret is on the Ark that will allow the Flood to be stopped without the activation of the remaining Halo rings (courtesy of Cortana’s message in H3). We just stumble on a Halo factory on the Ark and… decide to fire the bloody thing. Just because.

                Now it turns out Bungie actually retconned the way the Halo Array works so that it can now kill Flood, and this is why MC activated the ring, but this is never explained in the game. It also turns out this was the Ark’s supposed solution: the Halo factory. If Gravemind and his forces could be lured there, the head of the serpent could be cut off once and for all. The ring blowing up and taking out the Ark is just icing on the cake (depending how you look at it). Again, none of this is ever explained.

                You don't activate the other halos, only this one(it is ispossible to activate them separately).

                Yes, I know, that’s not what I was saying.

                And since the flood brought all its forces to the ark to stop you from doing this, the galaxy is now free of them.

                Are they stopped, really? There are still 6 other rings out there; 5 unaccounted for. Both the Alpha and Delta Halos had Flood specimens on them. It is more than reasonable to assume those 5 other rings contain specimens. That poses a significant threat and the game never addresses this issue. I was hoping that if the Ark could remotely fire the rings, then maybe it could remotely destroy them or something (at least something), but no, we get nothing.

                From what I've seen, the terminals only provide exposition about the forerunner/flood war 100 000 years ago. And while it does not provide much information about that, I think it's just not as important as “good guys won, we're going to have at least some peace now”. That's more than enough closure.

                (Emphasis mine)

                I disagree. The first two games raised all sorts of questions, and it acted like those would be answered in game 3. Technically, that happened, but it a lazy, half-trying attempt where the player had to do all the work. I don’t mind the terminals. I liked them. It was a call back to Marathon, and for some of that info it worked really well. But too much was placed in those terminals, and I think it deserved a place in the narrative proper. What about the Flood origins? What about the Forerunners’ relation to humanity? (Instead of, “Oh, btw, you’re Forerunner. Yeah. No comment. Boss time.”) What was this mysterious presence Cortana encountered back at the end of H2 (he shows up half-hearted on the last terminal on the highest difficulty, and does nothing? We don’t even get a comment on it)? You don’t shove that stuff to the side–you don’t mention this stuff in a previous game, only to drop it almost completely, then lazily provide some hidden, cryptic text as an afterthought.

                Next point: How do we know the UNSC is going to have peace? The three main prophets are gone, yes. Their capital is gone, yes. But how do we know this means they’ve completely dissolved? What about other prophets? What about their countless other armadas? What happens to the Brutes, do they keep fighting humans/elites? I suppose we could assume the Covenant has dissolved, but it’s not very clear whether or not the war is over.

                Also, don’t strand Chief and Cortana in the middle of nowhere! Kill him off (or give him a happy ending–I don’t care!) but don’t leave us hanging like that! This game’s idea of closure is so incredibly sloppy, rushed, and lazy, it isn’t funny.

        6. Irridium says:

          Well it’s not a trilogy, but I’d say Infamous.

          First game started a story, second game finished it. And it was an actual ending, both the good and evil ones. Which were also quite touching.

    2. ACman says:

      Currently I think all gaming IP is planned to be a series. New IP usually doesn’t make much money due to unfamiliarity thus it’s a huge risk to develop.

      That’s why we see publishers trawling IP that they own that was successful in the past.

      Also the second movie is oddly the best in the most cherished trilogies. It’s true for Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Mad Max, Terminator, X-Men, Spider Man 1 & 2 are probably equal, Aliens. (Though I contend that Alien is a better movie once your testosterone gland slows down.)

      There are very few trilogies that are uniformly good. The Dollars Trilogy is one. The Indiana Jones Trilogy is another (Though unfortunately ruined by the forth.) The Back to the Future Series is almost perfect. (If you let go of causality.)

      But why do games always go trilogy? Because in the market it’s demanded. Movies Cost $15 to see on release but games cost $60 (And up to $110 here in Australia). Nobody risks money on a game series that they haven’t heard is good unless they are obsessive. Why are Mario/Zelda/Call of Duty so successful? Halo? Gears? What about the litany of Command & Conquer/Red Alert Games?

      There are sequels that are made purely because the first did well. Bioshock 2 springs to mind. (Why didn’t they make System Shock 3 I’ll never know.)

      Then there is the fan effect. Why is ‘Sonic’ constantly remade? Why are people constanty talking about bringing back Mega Man? Why was Syndicate remade into an FPS? Why do people keep trying to make Warhammer 40K experiences?

      As a fan I want a modern version of ‘X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter’, preferably where I get to free roam from Corusant to Tattooine to Koriban ‘Elite’ style and smuggle shit in a YT-1300 light freighter, AKA The Millennium Falcon.

      Why doesn’t that game exist?

  4. Tony Kebell says:

    shamus,m iknow this is out of place, but do you know where/what is up with ruts, his rp game and blog have gone radio silent…

    1. Tony Kebell says:

      would comment on mass effect 3 but i’ve not played it, or 2, or MOST of 1, giving up after how mediocre the beggining was and how damned awkward ans un appealing the controls were (xbox), plus not really liking ANY of the characters, altough i never met any (ANY!)_ of the crew members you assemble, I went back to playing GTA IV with my mates instead.

      1. swenson says:

        If you didn’t mean any of the characters you pick up, then you must not have played more than the opening voiceover, or at least not more than ten minutes into the game, by which point you’ve already met two of them…

        1. Tony Kebell says:

          Really, it was quitlong ago, i play for about an hour or two and go to a bar scene? *shrug*

          1. ehlijen says:

            The game does draw out the time till you get your own ship and free run of the galaxy, at which point you should have all but 1 of the party members on board.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        When I started me1,I stopped quickly as well.But then spoiler warning came to be,I watched the first episode,and then went on to play the game from start to finish.It was really good.And so was spoiler warning.

  5. Astor says:

    I like this trichotomy, and I agree fully. In fact, it’s one of the things I hated very much: Reapers where supposed to be far too away from our comprehension. They were Lovecraftian Old Gods that would drive you mad – or “indoctrinate” – by mere contact (even if they were dead!) and whose sense and reason were beyond the organics wildest dreams/nightmares or ability to grasp any meaningful comprehension. You just can’t explain them. Even more specially when the explanation leaves them as silly slaves to something above them. Did Reapers even understand why they were doing what they did? I’m pretty sure causing mayhem, destruction and suffering was against their supposed goal, so I must conclude they were idiots, ignorant or mindless.

  6. Michael says:

    Haven’t played ME3 yet myself, but I kind of assumed “everyone dies” is closure enough.

    We’ll see what happens if I get around to playing it. ME2 kind of killed all desire to receive any more story from BioWare.

    1. swenson says:

      The problem is that everyone didn’t die, or at least it’s left ambiguous as to who died or not. Even for important characters, it’s simply never stated what happened to them. You can make assumptions for a few, but for the vast majority… you just don’t know. At all.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Yeah, actually knowing that everyone died would have been a better ending.

        1. Yeah, I would have accepted it if the team I brought along for the final push died on the way to the beam, or the Normandy got utterly destroyed by the red ending. Why? Because I made those decisions. I put those people in harm’s way, and an unhappy ending that killed them because of my choice would still have been a worthy end to the trilogy.

        2. Michael says:

          But the mass relays are ALL destroyed in every ending aren’t they? We’re shown that destroying a relay destroys a star system. The entire galaxy is destroyed in every ending.

          There is literally no other way this can end. They’ve written themselves into a corner with that DLC for ME2.

          1. Not just the DLC… they actually make this point again in the Codex. It’s in the Secondary Codex, in the “Desperate Measures” entry under “The Reaper War”. Yet, they only really state that the system where the relay is located will suffer. So the most species’ homeworlds will be destroyed, but many of the colony worlds will presumably survive, albeit decimated and cut off from any hope of resupply.

          2. swenson says:

            And therein lies the weird part, because if that really did happen, then where did the Normandy land? It obviously landed on a planet within the habitable zone of a star, so if the relays DID explode violently, then the planet would’ve been completely destroyed. So I’m left with the conclusion that the relays didn’t detonate like that, in which case we now have the question of A) why not and B) WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US THAT MORE CLEARLY?

            1. Unless they just did a conventional jump to another system in the cluster and landed on a planet there, outside the relay’s blast radius.

          3. Tse says:

            The mass relays release a huge amount of energy when destroyed. That energy is used for the colored magic, it’s not a directionless surge of energy like when you smash the mass relay. Yeah, it can be explained, but it still doesn’t answer the important question: Why the fuck can’t you take control only of the reapers around Earth and use them to destroy the other ones??? This way you wouldn’t need to destroy the relays.

            1. ehlijen says:

              It can be explained, but Bioware deliberately or accidentilly chose not to explain it, leaving us to wonder whether shepard committed mass murder or not.

              That is not closure for the story of space jesus, saviour of the universe.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                I’ll restate my point from earlier. I’m getting tired of stuff always exploding. I mean, it’s been annoying for quite a while but nowhere has it rubbed me the wrong way as much as it did here.

                I mean, even if we are to, by virtue of our intuition, understand that the “magical, coloured” explosion is different than the “smash a rock into it” explosion WHY choose explosion in the first place after they’ve made such a big point of it in Arrival? If they wanted the relay network destroyed they might have as well had relays be entirely consumed in that firing off that energy beam, or have them fire off the beam, then go dark as if snuffed out and start to drift and crumble, or even have them turn into butterflies. There are other ways for something to be destroyed than through explosion!

          4. Bubble181 says:

            No, they aren’t. While I do think these endings are all pretty much on the level of horse manure, and despite the three endings movies being almost color-filtered copies, they aren’t entirely. Check out the Youtube with all 6 possible endings (sorry, the MYRIAD OF UNCOUNTABILITY endings *ahem*), and you’ll see the relays don’t explode in the Control endings. Nor does the Big Ben blow up.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              True.But while relays themselves arent shown to explode every time,normandy always gets banged up,no matter which colour hits it*.

              *Ill never get used to ships being she.It always sounds weird to me.

              1. Bubble181 says:

                Well, yes. I’m not saying the endings make sense (far from it) or are acceptable, let alone good (hah!).

                I’m just saying that “greatest mass murderer in history” by blowing up each and every system with a relay in it, isn’t the ONLY possible ending. You can just completely disrupt interplanetary trade and doom billions to starvation, too. You know, being Space Jesus and all that ;-)

          5. Kian says:

            The problem is that in the “worst” ending (red, low readiness), you are shown the red surge burning the earth and destroying all the ships in orbit. Then that explosion is channeled through the mass relays. In that case, you did just sterilize the whole galaxy, and there’s little doubt about it. Except for the shot of the Normandy, which never makes any sense at all. Maybe they’re in the afterlife.

            Based off of that, and since all the other explosions use the same movie, thinking you sterilized the whole galaxy is supported in the game itself.

      2. Shamus says:

        And if they DID die, they died RUNNING AWAY.


  7. Gamer says:

    That’s the thing. By the end, I neither wanted nor expected a happy ending. All I wanted was cohesion and closure. I wanted an ending that made sense. Hell, I’d be okay with the Reapers winning. It might even be interesting to see Shepard and company struggle in vain against a threat simply too powerful to defeat and lose everything in one fell swoop. THAT is an artistic statement. Not this nonsense we were given.

    Cohesion and closure. That’s it. Please, Bioware! If you do change the ending, can you do that at least?

    1. It’s still a subversion of the core themes of the series: namely breaking destructive cycles, self-determination vs fate etc, so I’d argue it shouldn’t be the only ending, and I’d still be mad if it was. But it should be AN ending – presumably one with low war assets because if that’s the case your playthrough probably will have already subverted those themes several times making it an expected and foreshadowed outcome.

  8. swenson says:

    I completely agree with you, Shamus. Once I started to calm down from freaking out over the ending, I realized that what I hated so much wasn’t that Shepard died (which I always half-expected anyway) or that I didn’t get a happy ending. It wasn’t even that the mass relays were destroyed, which was pretty shocking but could have still worked as part of an ending. It was the simple fact that I received no closure whatsoever. What happened to all the squad members who didn’t come out of the Normandy at the end? What happened to Wrex? To Hackett? To the Council, for that matter, and all the refugees on the Citadel?

    When I ignore the stupid parts of the ending, there’s things I like about it. The idea is that the whole galaxy has been irreversibly changed by Shepard’s actions, no matter what those actions were, and now there’s a new reality. Something has been fundamentally changed about the galaxy, and it’s left to the player to imagine what comes next. That’s OK. I could deal with an ending like that, where it shows how things have changed and gives hints at what’s going to happen next. But the ME3 ending didn’t have any of that, it just sort of ended, with no indication even that people survived and no closure about “well, this chapter in X’s life is over, now they are moving on.”

    The worst of it all is that they spent so much time building up characters I loved, and then didn’t even bother to show me if Dr. Chakwas or Wrex were OK.

  9. I agree with you about the way this should play out. I thought the ending was not only terrible, but completely disrespectful of both the idea of the game and the series’ fans. However, I don’t think end-patching DLC can make things better, especially not when (surprise!) those same core fans are already upset about the day one Prothean character DLC. I would prefer for BioWare (specifically Casey Hudson) to own the mistake, explain what they were trying to do, promise to do better in the future, and move on. They certainly can’t make all the angry fans happy, and most likely whatever ad hoc epilogue they pump out as a $10 download will make nobody happy. Leaving the bad ending alone is quitting while you’re ahead.

    That said, I think the frequently-aired idea that patching the ending is the death of artistic integrity forever!!1!! is a bunch of nonsense. Not only does it fundamentally ignore that other games (and other forms of art!) have done this in the past, it also treats system and story as entirely separate things on an artistic level. If altering the “artistic vision” in response to player behavior is the end of art, the games ceased being art the first time a balance patch was released. The attitude that narrative must not be touched lest vision be destroyed privileges story over mechanics and leads us right down the road back to Uncharted, where gameplay exists merely to separate the plot episodes of a relatively bad movie.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      There’s word going around that the ending was changed by EA’s request after the original scripts were leaked, and if that did indeed happen, I fail to see why it’s any different to the supposed integrity of industry.

    2. Lame Duck says:

      It wouldn’t be the “death of artistic integrity” because they changed it, it would be the “death of artistic integrity” because they changed it from their own artistic vision into what they think the fans want. To take the patching analogy, it’s the difference between fixing a bug and removing a feature because some of the players don’t like it.

      1. It’s not like patches haven’t been used for precisely that purpose in the past. They’ve been used to add features players requested, remove features players disliked, and nerf or buff particular skills because of player complaints about balance. That kind of dialogue between players and developers goes on all the time. What makes story so different?

        1. Lame Duck says:

          OK, well maybe that was a bad analogy. The point I’m trying to make isn’t that story is sacrasant, but that ultimately it should always be up to the creator of a piece of art to determine what should happen to it according to their own vision for it. That goes for story and gameplay. Just look in the forums of any multiplayer game and different people will be complaining about how different, opposing things are unbalanced; if you were to just blithely accept everything they say, you would make the situation much, much worse.

          Now, if Bioware can take all the criticism it’s had over the ending and craft something that better conveys whatever the hell it is they were trying to convey with the original ending, then they should make a new ending (although if they had the talent to be able to do that, they probably would have just made a better ending to begin with). But if they think they already nailed it with the current ending and they disagree with the criticism being leveled at them, any attempt to make a new ending would more than likely just result in something even shitter than what we’ve already got.

          Like Shamus said “There is no substitute for having a clear plan”, and trying to appease all the demands of several million angry fans is the worst substitute of all.

        2. swimon1 says:

          The difference is that the games that change their mechanics weren’t themed. Take WoW for example (because it’s a game that gets updated a lot) when WoW decides to add or remove some skills that isn’t a breach of artistic integrity because there was no vision behind that mechanic. Those mechanics weren’t expressing an idea it was just a tool given to the player to solve the problems given to them. The ending of your narrative is different because unless you’re a really bad writer your ending will express your vision and ideas.

          Now there are mechanics that are themed and do express the vision of the game and changing these would be a breach of artistic integrity. For example if Jason Rohrer changed passage so that you could give your love interest piggyback rides and thus only occupy 1 square then that would fuck up the themes and vision of that game.

          Perhaps easier to compare to WoW would be ToR. In ToR the imperial agent class has a rather different “mana” system. Essentially you gain mana quicker the more of it you have. This forces you to play carefully, using your powers fast enough that your mana never fills yet slowly enough that you never get below 60% because if you go under that it’s easy to run out and it could take a while to get it back. This mechanic is heavily themed with the character. Both the narrative and other mechanics (the imperial agent can stealth and take cover) reinforces this idea that the imperial agent is cautious and subtle. Changing this mechanic would equal (to me at least) changing the ending, but I’ve never heard of such mechanics being changed. Usually when you patch game mechanics it doesn’t effect the themes of the game only game balance. Like a slightly shorter cooldown on backstab, that doesn’t make the game deviate from the creators’ vision.

          All this said I don’t necessarily think that changing the ending would be some disaster to the message of mass effect or an infringement on the creators’ vision or anything. I just find the idea that: changing the story of the game is equivalent to changing the mechanics of the game, to be a bit simplistic.

        3. Lame Duck says:

          I had a longer response to this that was waiting to be moderated and now it’s dissapeared; was there something wrong with my post?

          Anyways, my point is that it’s not about what you change, but why you’re changing it. If someone criticises or suggests a change to something you’ve made (whether it be story, gameplay, graphics or anything) and you agree with their suggestion then go ahead and change it. But if you disagree with them and you’re just changing it to try to appease them, then you’ll end up creating incoherent, directionless garbage. Maybe they’ve said things I haven’t seen, but everything I’ve heard from Bioware makes me think that changing the ending would just be an attempt to appease the mob.

          Like Shamus said “There is no substitute for having a clear plan” and trying to satisfy the plans of several million angry fans is one of the worst possible substitutes I can imagine.

          1. Sumanai says:

            It’s already incoherent, directionless garbage.

      2. Caffiene says:

        Patching is one analogy, but to me a better one would be more like screening a movie and then changing or editing it based on the feedback of the viewers.

        … Theyre called test screenings, and they happen all the time. Including specifically changing the final scene of the movie because the audience didnt like it.

        But for some reason I havent heard many people saying that movies have no artistic integrity.

        1. Sean says:

          I agree; that’s a much more apt analogy than patching.

          However, even that doesn’t work well. One of the key differences is that test screenings are part of the process of releasing. There’s a big difference in changing something during the process and changing it after it’s “done”.

          The perception is that the film is not “done” or “released” during test screenings – it’s a step towards getting it released, and there may be edits as an outcome from the screening. With ME3’s ending, the product was done and released. The test screenings would be analogous to BioWare reacting to some very bad feedback from beta testing. ME3 was released to the general public, so it is viewed as a final state for the product. (I accept that this is a mis-perception because of patches and other edits made to it. There’s only a “final” product when BioWare stops editing it, but the perception is there, right or wrong.)

          So I don’t know about the “death of artistic integrity” if BioWare caves to pressure… but I definitely see why a change post-launch of a game is viewed differently than a test-screening.

      3. krellen says:

        These clowns don’t have any artistic integrity to begin with, so how is forcing them to stop being completely inept at their job threatening artistic integrity in any way?

        If this was about a bunch of people being upset over there being no happy ending for Shepard, there’d be an artistic point to make. But it’s not. It’s about sloppy writing and virtual plagiarism.

        1. some random dood says:

          Yes, agree with Krellen. It’s a bit hard to call “artistic integrity” on a turkey. Try to imagine Casey Hudson as Uwe Boll and then try to keep a straight face defending not making changes due to staying true to an artistic vision. (Separately of course from the out-and-out lies stated by said Casey et al regarding the ending, and the main story arc being all wrapped up in ME3. Or do they consider that ME3 is only complete if you buy all the proposed DLC that they have/had planned?)

          1. anaphysik says:

            “Try to imagine Casey Hudson as Uwe Boll and”

            I uncontrollably chuckled before even making it to the ‘straight face’ part. That is becoming a surprisingly apt-sounding imagining, tbh.

        2. Lame Duck says:

          Well first of all, you can’t force someone into being better at their job. Especially at a creative job.

          Secondly, where do you draw the line? Assassins Creed 2 was one of the sloppiest pieces of writing I have ever seen in my life, so should I be able to force Ubisoft to rewrite the damn thing? Or do I need to get 51% of people who played it to complain about it too?

          1. Sumanai says:

            You can force them to rewrite, or to hire someone who can write better.

            Here’s how to determine whether something should be changed: Is it crap? Is the rest of it good enough that changing things for the better isn’t more trouble than starting from scratch? If the answer to both is yes, then it should be changed.

            It will only be changed, however, if the creators care enough about their work or there are enough complainers that they’re afraid they’ll lose future sales.

      4. Irridium says:

        I don’t recall games going back as an art form when Sucker Punch decided to change Infamous 2’s Cole to look more like his Infamous 1 self due to fan complaints.

        Or Fallout 3’s ending being changed because of fan complaints.

        1. Dude says:

          I’ve been seeing the Fallout 3 example coming up. The problem with Fallout 3’s ending was not really the plot point as much as being unable to continue exploring post-credits. That was the backlash, not the “he dies screw you Bethesda where is my closure!” thing that seems to be happening with ME3 and Bioware.

          So FO3’s original ending was more of a gameplay fail than a plot fail. Because, let’s face it, FO3’s plot was bonkers.

          1. No, I didn’t mind the not being able to explore after the endings, I was directly annoyed by the fact I was being asked to be an idiot/scolded for not being one by Ron Perlman in the ending when other, better options existed, but I couldn’t take them.

    3. Sean Riley says:

      I think there’s another aspect to the ‘artistic integrity’ thing, though.

      If they changed the ending to clarify their original intent, that’s not a blow to their artistic integrity. Plenty of films have gone substantial editing and changing after initial screenings (not just test screenings; actual film festival releases to the public); I’m thinking in particular of The Brown Bunny; in it’s original version, Roger Ebert called the film, “the worst film in the history of Cannes”. In its re-edited version, he gave it 3/4 stars; not great, but pretty decent.

      If Bioware release a patch (rather than paid for DLC) that, say, restores much of the cut dialogue between Shepard and [final figure of much fan angst, cut for any possible spoilerage], then that would be completely defensible. It’s certainly MUCH more defensible, say, that Valve’s re-editing of Portal’s ending to set up the sequel. (Which turned one of the most perfect endings in gaming history into sequel bait.)

      But if they add in a whole bunch of new content made to appease the fans, well, yeah. I’d call that pandering. I’m with Shamus. Bioware’s best course of action is this: Admit they made a bad ending to Mass Effect 3. Just ‘fess up, and take the blow. Do something special to win back fans, maybe host a live webshow wherein they actually discuss their story processes and how this came to be. Promise to review those creative processes, and work out why this came to be. Work out where they went wrong.

      Or, to put it another way, Bioware have now made three lacklustre single-player games in a row. (Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2, and Mass Effect 3.) This cannot be changed. What they need to do now is prevent a fourth.

      (Oh, and one more thought? We do know that Bioware deliberately decided against a planned Big Damn Boss Fight to end the series. Even when the ending sucked, I think they deserve some kudos for rebelling against that videogame orthodoxy.)

      1. That’s a really good point. I’d forgotten about that whole debacle with The Brown Bunny.

  10. Eärlindor says:

    All of this has been very well said, Shamus. I’ve noticed how, since the beginning of the controversy, you’ve been comparing the Mass Effect trilogy to The Lord of the Rings. That makes me smile for various nerd-related reasons.

    One point you bring up in the article is how some people complain about LotR’s long-winded ending, but you liked it for its completeness and closure. That was one of Tolkien’s reasons for writing it in such a way. He wanted everything he did to be consistent and complete; it’s why the book took him 17 years to complete.

    An interesting thing about LotR though (a point that almost everyone misses) is that it’s not really about throwing the Ring into the Fire, but about the characters. A soldier’s life-story doesn’t conclude with the end of a war. It’s just as much about what he does afterward. War is filled with people who have to re-adjust to ordinary life afterwards, and Tolkien was trying to show that with his hobbits. Frodo performs some of the greatest feats in the history of all Middle-earth, and he goes home and is seen as this weirdo that nobody really likes. Nobody knows or cares about anything he did, even though he performed one of the greatest of sacrifices to ensure everyone could keep their blissful existences. Frodo represents one of those soldiers who couldn’t cope with his war-wounds, so to speak, and the story is just as much about that as it is about the journey to Mt. Doom. Showing this was very important to Tolkien, a man who served in WWI, in the Battle of the Somme–one of the bloodiest battles of the war. All his friends, save one, died. He had to sleep in the mud amongst all the bodies. His platoon was once trapped behind enemy lines for days and he was one of the few who made it out. Then he had to go home and try to pick up the pieces.

    1. Nimas says:

      Holy crap Tolkien fought in that? Wow, I never knew even after I did a presentation on it for school some decade or so ago. That was not a fun place to be at.

      Well, LoTR actually makes more sense now (as a piece of art, not the story changing)

      1. Arex says:

        If I recall correctly, Tolkien once wrote that by the time he was 18 (or 20– some young adult age), all but one of his close friends were dead. The influence of his war experiences run all through LotR, but especially the Dead Marches and the slog through Gorgoroth.

        1. Eärlindor says:

          He would’ve at least been 21 or older. He was forbidden from seeing his girlfriend until then (a command he obeyed), at which point he proposed, married (I think–he was engaged at least), finished his studies at Oxford, then went off to No-man’s Land.

          1. Arex says:

            I should have looked it up– the quote begins “By 1918”, which makes more sense.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      Still, the Twitter action and mail-in to JRR to change the ending to Sam and Frodo becoming a couple would’ve been fun to see :-P

  11. Andreas Baede says:

    Good post, Shamus.

    Unfortunately, the same conclusion you drew concerning Mass Effect is the same one I drew regarding Dragon Age. Initial suspicions about sloppy worldbuilding and a certain inability to tell more complex stories were fully confirmed by DA2, and from what I’ve seen and heard of the Mass Effect series, this may be a structural problem with Bioware.

    There are some videos on the Internet where Bioware reps admit that they sort of develop the story as they go; very different from, say, Straczynski’s approach to Babylon 5.
    Pretty damn nonchalant, and ultimately a waste of the talent that’s undeniably there.

    ‘Those whom the Gods want to destroy…’

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    By the way,when is the last episode of deus ex coming?Is youtube acting up again?

    1. Tohron says:

      Seconded – since Shamus is around, I’m left wondering if the holdup is due to editing, youtube, or Josh disappearing to play Fall of the Samurai.

  13. zob says:

    I’d like to point out one thing. Bioware didn’t promise a change. They promised “clarity” and “answers”. Roughly translated: “You didn’t get it so we will explain it.”

    Also I can’t help myself but chuckle every time they mention “Artistic Integrity”. Considering the fact that they inspired by/ripped off Deus Ex ending and they inspired by/ripped off Gurren Lagann(anime, popular in certain circles) for bad guy motivation.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well they also promised vastly different endings,that arent just you pushing a button and watching a cutscene.

      1. zob says:

        I think thats the case behind the FTC claim. False advertising if I remember correctly.

      2. Dovius says:

        I’m still trying to figure out how “Every choice you make will help shape the ending” turned into “Press button for winz”.

        1. GiantRaven says:

          I’d assume a simple lack of time.

          1. Gamer says:

            I don’t quite buy that. I think EA knows that Mass Effect is a cash cow and that the audience would understand if the game was delayed. I know I wouldn’t have been angry and it would have definitely been better than what we got. Hell, I’m a Kingdom Hearts fan. Compared to the wait for KH3, Mass Effect being pushed back a month or two is nothing.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Of course they know its a cash cow.But they also dont care if the game ends up finished well,or just slapped together,as long as it gives them money.

    2. Eärlindor says:

      Honestly, even with all the Stupid ME3’s ending possesses, all I really want is for BioWare to give us some sort of epilogue montage explaining what happens to the galaxy and your friends afterwards. That’s all they have to do. This doesn’t have to be hard.

      1. Gamer says:

        At this point, I’d settle for a PowerPoint presentation at the end describing what happened.

        1. Jarenth says:

          Or Microsoft SAM reading it out loud.

  14. TMTVL says:

    “Some didn’t care about the galaxy, they just wanted to retire on Rannoch with Tali.”

    Aww, you thought of me.

    OT: Is it wrong of me to think of ME2 and ME3 as not being connected to the first game? I loved the first game, while ME2 made me lose most of my interest by the time the Illusive Man made his first appearance (I kept waiting for the option “You’re Cerberus? Die!”).

    TMT, truckin’ around the galaxy in a rubber tank made of breezeblocks.

  15. Hitch says:

    In Bioware’s defense a great deal of the complaining on the internet does sound like childish foot-stamping, “I want a happy ending.” Thankfully, we don’t see that here. Shamus puts a lot more thoughts into his critiques than that, and that inspires other people to go beyond the simple complaints and articulate why the ending fell short.

    I was disappointed, but less so than most by the Mass Effect 3 ending, but mainly because I went into the game with lowered expectations. I was just really pleased that they managed to pull things together and make the bulk of the story work as well as it did after seriously going off the rails with Mass Effect 2.

    I was also thinking about this in terms of something Chris was talking about in Spoiler Warning. Given the fairly low percentage of people who actually typically finish any given game, it seems (to me) likely, that a great many of the people protesting so loudly on the internet have never completed ME3 themselves and are criticizing the ending based on someone else’s (biased and incomplete) description of it.

    As far as the ending needing to be more than “a place where the story stopped being told.” That pretty much how the last couple Elder Scrolls games (the only one’s I’ve played) ended. There were a number of stories told in each in the form of major quest chains, and each of them were concluded with varying degrees of success. But the over-all game pretty much ends just wherever you decide to stop playing. There’s a major difference in the type of game, but with large development teams, it’s easy to imagine how parts of the teams could get confused about what kind of game is being made. Games need a strong guiding hand on the creative side. And I’m sure publisher interference can’t help.

    1. Gamer says:

      But what Bethesda does isn’t quite the same. While the game does end when you stop playing, all of the quests and quest lines do have a definite ending. There is always a point where they say “Thanks, dude. You fixed the problem so we can take care of it from here.” You at least have a sense that the major plot (good or bad) is resolved and you can move on.

      With this, there is no resolution. The bad guy is stopped(?), but their is no afterward. We never get the payoff.

  16. Venalitor says:

    The more I hear about ME3 the more I’m glad I didn’t buy it.
    I’m not entirely sold on the “Cerberus is entirely incompetent” line though. In ME1 they just had a few bases blown up by Sheperd. in ME2 we don’t really see much of their schemes, and why the hell would Sheperd be going to a Cerberus base that isn’t in trouble anyway (aside from the beginning area)? We see a miniscule part of there operation in ME1 and ME2. We are given an overview of the rest of the organization in 2. I’m not saying it justifies them ever being plot central, just that their power and tech in 2 isn’t completely unjustified

    1. Sumanai says:

      That’s a storytelling problem. You want people to consider something or someone capable, you have to show them being capable. If every time they have screen time the camera has “caught them on a bad time”, people will think they’re inept or constantly in trouble.

      If an organisation is introduced and presented repeatedly as inept or irrelevant, they don’t become capable in the mind of the reader just because the story has them defeat the hero or whatever. They’re just acting out of character or winning by writer fiat.

  17. MatthewH says:

    The alternate ending mentioned in the essay was pretty good. Not exactly how I would have done it, but pretty good.

    On the ending itself, I have had an evil thought: the endings to Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution were switched in the post office.


    They both have strange endings which involve pushing a button. But in Mass Effect, we never fight the evil reaper brain controling the invasion -as we fought Sovereign. That’s because the ME3 ending went to Eidos and became the Hyron Computer.

    In Deus Ex, we never really address the issue of tech singularity and what it means to have life in an augmented world. Should we embrace the change, destroy the augmentations, or seek to control them? We were going to have a final throwdown with Hugh Darrow about the future of humanity and then press the button -but we never did. That’s because that argument became the Star Child (who I will henceforth call Murray -Star Child is far more respect than it deserves).

    In fact, we were going to have a short discussion with Harbinger, or maybe Murray, about how the reaper plans didn’t make sense and were never going to work -and perhaps Murray would have stepped aside and allowed us to engage the reapers directly. But this became the mindless boss conversation with Darrow.

    In Deus Ex, we were going to race to Panchea, getting shot down by Zhao along the way, but then still manage to get to Panchea. We’d boss-talk down Zhao or Darrow, and the other one would be waiting for us in the core. But that ending went to BioWare, so that it became the race for the transport beam.

    And once aboard the Citadel, we were going to have the dramatic climb up to the crucible -fighting our way past hordes of zombie husks. But that ending went to Montreal, and became the mind-wiped workers that Josh keeps Typhooning.

    In fact, this explains why the laser shows up in Deus Ex where it does. It was supposed to be a heavy weapon you could use at the end of Mass Effect to make the reaper brain go easier.

    And it explains the final scenes. Sarif was going to be escaping from Panchea when it exploded, and he and Malik and the Scientists were going to go down on a tropical island, and wonder whether the mystery would ever be solved. Mass Effect was supposed to end with Shepard considering the past 3 games and whether the races of the galaxy were really going to break the cycle now that they finally had the chance.

    Given this case -I think we should consider Eidos Montreal the far superior writers. After all, they both got completely crazy endings they didn’t expect, but Eidos managed to work it in -more or less. BioWare totally flopped it.

    Of course, how much better would it have been if someone had just checked the return addresses and said “hey, wait, this isn’t our lead writer!”

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Man, you make an excellent point. Both might actually work better with the other ending.

  18. Destrustor says:

    Do you think they voluntarily made that awful ending just to drum up sales for their ending-fix DLC?
    Like maybe they took a few levels in evil and went all-out in their mad shenanigans because they think it’ll work anyway?

    I hope not. That would be downright callous.
    Seriously, they must have known at some point just how bad this was, but they kept the trainwreck going.

    1. Gamer says:

      Yeah. The means that someone write out this idea for the ending being the way it is now and someone else looked at it, read it, and said it was a good idea.

      Isn’t this why companies have lore masters? So that logical fallacies in the plot are resolves before the audience sees them.

  19. MatthewH says:

    On the article itself, I disagree that an ending needs to be one (or more) of explanatory, affirming, or closing. Alas, I’m not sure if I think it’s because a good ending needs all three, or if it’s because I think there is a fourth category.

    I’m thinking of the pinnacle of geek bad endings that were actually done well -so of course I’m thinking of the end of Wrath of Khan. We could argue that the ending provides closure -Spock is dead, Khan is dead, Regula is now the Genesis planet. But that isn’t what produces the good ending. We could argue that it is affirming -the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. That’s closer, and yet the next 10 minutes of the movie don’t dwell on that point. We could argue that it is explanatory -this is what it means to face death. And I think this is closest.

    But Nicholas Meyer provides this explanation (paraphrased): It isn’t a matter of whether you kill him, it’s whether you kill him well. If it comes out of the story or the character, the audience will accept it. If it feels like working out a clause in a contract, they won’t.

    So, do we need a fourth category: thematic?

    Or is it that to have a good and thematic ending you need explanation of the theme and events (David talking to Kirk and stating the theme again: How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life). We need to be affirmed that the events were not just the workings out of a clause (I have been and always will be your friend, of all the souls I have ment, his was the most human). And we need closure (the funural for Spock and the reflection by Kirk and Dr. Marcus as they watch the sun rise).

    1. LadyTL says:

      I think thematic is true. ME2’s ending was thematic though not much else which is why some people were put off, most people were happy with it. Regardless of what else happened in that ending, your choices matter, it felt right and didn’t detract from the rest of the game.

      1. Peachfuzz says:

        I think the “thematic” category may fit into Affirmation. I could be missing the point, but I don’t think the affirmation has to be “good triumphs over evil” or something similar. The horror genre, for example, tends to have the opposite message. I’m taking Affirmation to mean the ending reinforces the major theme, moral, idea, general sentiment, etc. of the story. And in that light, I agree that the ending was more focused on the themes of the story, rather than closure or explanation. Which I guess means I think Mr. Young is putting the ending in the wrong category.

        I’d say Bioware focused the ending on two themes: organic/synthetic conflict, and choice. The former theme, I think, is actually more general than that. Something like “creator/creation conflict” would be closer. I’m probably over-reading, but it’s striking how many of the stories in the games are about parents and children trying to destroy or control each other, either literal — Samara and her daughters, Miranda and her father — or more metaphorical — Salarians and Krogan, Quarians and Geth, Jack and Cerberus. I’m guessing the three choices in the end are Bioware trying to let the player pick the moral of the story. They tried to set it up as this giant, dramatic, galaxy-changing choice as an ending for their trilogy that was full of smaller-but-still-giant, dramatic, galaxy-changing choices. If I’m right about what they were trying to do, I find the ending pretty good on that level.

        The problem is that, as far as the game is concerned, that last choice doesn’t actually affect anything. You get a different color filter over the last, brief, cut scene. With no feedback, in a practical sense, your decision was meaningless. That gap between how the story sets up the final decision and how it actually plays out is why I think the ending felt so unsatisfactory to so many people.

        1. anaphysik says:

          Except that ‘conflict between created and creator’ is NOT expressed in the ending at all. If it were (assuming we take the ending at face value), then it should be about the relationship between the Reapers and LittleStarDerp. But as is, it’s about what colour you want to pick, and how LittleStarDerp would prefer green to red, pretty please. (It also explicitly ignores the possible relationship between the geth and the quarians, a major created/creator pair.)

          (Exploring the relationship between the Reapers and LittleStarDerp actually sounds extremely boring and frankly ultimately useless to me, actually. But say we imagine the Reapers seed life as well as harvesting it or some nonsense – then it would be the relationship between organics and Reapers.)

          That being said, I do think you are on to a good metatextual idea with this created/creator topic…
          (krogan/salarians is an interesting slant on it, for sure.)

          (‘Starchild’ sounds too non-insane-troll-logic-y for me, so LittleSpaceDerp it is.)

    2. X2Eliah says:

      Thematic could be a good point. A fair number of complaint’s on ME3 ending is that it doesn’t seem to reflect the mood, feel, ideas (or “theme”) of the ME series as such.

  20. guy says:

    Incidental note, from ME1: The destruction of the Mass Relays is EVEN WORSE than you would think. See, the drive physics mean that you have to get the ship near a planet every so often or the eezo core will build up enough of a charge to arc through the entire ship and kill everyone onboard.

    This means that going from point A to point B is not simply a matter of enough fuel; if the gap between systems with planets the core can be discharged into is large enough you need a Mass Relay to cross it. I mean, I guess the Reapers got around that somehow, but the galactic races apparently didn’t. So there are parts of the former interstellar nations which literally cannot fly ships to each other no matter how much effort they put in.

    I guess that maybe the secondary relays didn’t explode? Assuming Bioware remembered they exist it might be possible to travel between them and bypass most of the gaps.

    Incidentally, the distinction between Primary and Secondary relays is critical to why both the Rachnai Wars and the hunt for the coordinates of the Mu Relay happened in the same universe. The Rachni were at the other end of a Primary relay, which can go arbitrarily far but only to one specific other relay regardless of whether or not you know where it is. Secondary relays can go ~300 light years to any other Secondary relay but only if you input the correct coordinates, so Saren needed to know where the Mu relay was before he could get there via Mass Relay.

    I love the codex to bits.

    1. swenson says:

      Bioware never remembers the secondary relays exist. Or at least you wouldn’t know it from the game.

      But yes, I would also like to know which relays were destroyed. Was it all Reaper-built ones? Was it all primary ones? Was it all relays period, including the Conduit (assuming the “control” ending was chosen and the Citadel survived)? If you did choose the control ending, why did the Citadel NOT explode if it’s really a giant mass relay? Or was the entire ability to build a mass relay destroyed, so we couldn’t build new ones even if we tried?

      So many questions!

      1. anaphysik says:

        Funny; my impression was that they never remembered that primary relays existed (after ME1, or even halfway through ME1). All the galaxy map plots work off of bouncing off multiple relays along the way, and any mention of aligned relays is pretty much dropped. (Heck, they even seemed to forget this in ME1, with the Conduit on Ilos (a rotating planet) leading to the Citadel (which also moves?).)

        I guess the Omega-4 Relay was supposed to be primary as well, maybe? But then you might be able to infer it’s destination from where it’s pointing? Or w- no, nevermind, will stop bothering with this. Honestly, I think they just generally didn’t bother with the details too much. Though that doesn’t really bother me that much.

        1. Arex says:

          “(Heck, they even seemed to forget this in ME1, with the Conduit on Ilos (a rotating planet) leading to the Citadel (which also moves?).)”

          Primary relays are paired, but is there something in the codex that says they can’t move? (Relative to what?) I would assume that the relays normally orbit their stars, are carried with them around the galactic core, etc. As I understand it (which may of course be wrong) the Conduit and the Relay Monument can move around all they want, it’s just that the Conduit can’t transmit anywhere but to that one receiver on the Citadel.

          (Relays seem implicitly to cancel any motion relative to one another on the part of the ships passing through, since ships don’t appear to come out with some giant vector based on how the system they came from was moving.)

          1. anaphysik says:

            Well, the ‘using a relay’ animations always show you shooting out the front end of it. If a relay is on a planet (and not at a pole) which is rotating, then where the front points will be constantly changing.
            But then again, maybe all the relays correct for that, or simply don’t care, or I’m taking the cutscene too literally. (After all, the Mu Relay did get demonstrably moved, and yet was still usable; though admittedly it could have just realigned over the years.)

            Anyway, I guess the more important point is that any potential inconsistencies never actually bothered me all that much.

  21. HiEv says:

    I dunno, I thought that the fourth ending was pretty poignant. ;-)

    1. anaphysik says:

      Actually as I mentioned in the other thread, I think the view in that ‘ending’ is actually pretty nice.

  22. decius says:

    Compromise: Some number of the ME relays have to be blown up because of [technobabble] to accomplish the goal.

    Shepard gets (but doesn’t have) to talk to everyone introduced and still alive so far, but has to make the call as to who dies and who ends up stranded. Everybody tries to argue him out of every choice.

    And when I say “everyone”, I mean every character introduced by name.

    1. Davin Valkri says:

      That kinda sounds like the theoretical ending to Van Buren, with the PC deciding which nukes to cancel and which to let launch. Would you “reward” players who sidequest and generally go for everything by reducing the number of relays to blow up? Or something else maybe?

  23. Packie says:

    Here’s something I’ll never understand: If Bioware was forced to change some of the writing decisions due to budget/time constraints, why can’t they simply delay the game? instead of the 2-3 years development, why not nearly 4-5 years? I mean, I think Rockstar can delay their games until it reaches the point they’re satisfied with it despite being owned by Take-Two so why can’t Bioware do the same with EA?

    *sigh* so much potential this franchise had…

    1. Gamer says:

      That’s what I’m saying.

    2. Irridium says:

      Take Two is one of the few publishers who generally values quality over quantity. Instead of trying to put out the most games, they try to put out the best.

      Of course, results may vary, but at least they try.

  24. ehlijen says:

    The ending could be improved wihtout changing the message:

    -remove the long walk between beam in and meeting anderson. or shorten it and make it a skippable cutscene
    -allow the player to actually fight TIM. Even if he’s not much of a challenge. Anything more than just a QTE!
    -Have the starchild mention whether or not the relay destruction will blow up the systems or not
    -Have the final choice be a dialog option, not a minute long hobble
    -Have some team members be part of the cutscene where the reapers are destroyed/driven off
    -Have only normandy crew exit after the crash (all your companions were on the planet before the final push after all)
    -Have one of them find berries or something to eat, just to show that they’re not meant to be starving.

    The same cruddy ending, but nowhere near as annoying to play through.

    1. Gamer says:

      True story, they were going to have the Illusive Man confrontation be a boss battle originally. They (thankfully) decided to drop that idea. I actually like the way that confrontation plays out. It’s a bit reminiscent of Saren, but I think that’s the point.

      They also originally had investigative dialogue options for Star Child. Unlike the Illusive Man changes, I wish they decided to keep this. I agree that not every question needed to be answered. However, if you go the explanation route, you better explain make what you do explain make sense and explain enough to leave no doubts. I wish I could have been there to argue against this.

      Anything I didn’t comment on I agree with.

      1. ehlijen says:

        I wasn’t so much asking for a boss fight, just an opportunity for the player to engage in gratuitous overkill on one of the more annoying characters in the game and some actual gameplay.

        Definately keep the paragon/renegade options to defeat him, but if the player wants to shoot that lying, moronic, backstabbing fool in the face with a shotgun, they should get to.

        1. anaphysik says:

          Yes, but only if I still get to Biotic Charge his face as well. Watching him fly across the room would be pretty entertaining.

          (*sigh* As Shamus mentioned in a tweet, ME2/3 are really dumb in that Shep can fling herself across the room at high speeds during gameplay, but only stand there like an idiot, (occasionally plinking away with a pistol or assault rifle I don’t even carry) during cutscenes. Like, how would Shep stop herself from falling down that hole on Thessia? Charge into that goofball KL! Duh!)

          (Incidentally, you can Charge into the android numerous times during that stupid chase on Mars. It’s actually quite silly, despite the fact that it doesn’t end the scene like it rightfully should.)

  25. Gamer says:

    I agree that the ending shouldn’t be changed, but not for “artistic integrity” or any of that (because I don’t even know if I believe that).

    I don’t want them to change the ending because it shows doubt. If they truly wanted this to be the way Mass Effect ended, they should stand up and defend it. They should explain what the idea behind that was in a concise and sensible manner. If they were not confident in their ending, than that shit should have never been released.

    I don’t want them to change it because that would prove to me Bioware willingly and consciously put out a game that they couldn’t stand behind and did not support. That is UNFORGIVABLE!

    1. Irridium says:

      According to this, they kind of did. Evidently the lead writer and game directer got in a room, wrote the ending themselves, and didn’t put it through any sort of peer review. It was already done and recorded before anyone else was able to see it.

      1. Gamer says:

        That… that just makes me sad. Peer review exists for a reason. What sounds good in your head does not always work on paper or in execution. The game should have been delayed.

    2. Astor says:

      The thing is their latest games have been all about “steamlining”, rushing and dumbing down. SO I don’t think they care about supporting ANY vision.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        “You push a button and something awesome happens” summarizes their thought process completely.

  26. John Burkhart says:

    Listen to yourselves!

    YOU are indoctrinated.

    Suspicion: It’s all been a social experiment. And you *bit*.

    It’s going to be the greatest plot twist in the history of gaming (if only to see Penny Arcade be forced to eat crow).

    Because it’s a game, they didn’t have to show the twist until *everyone* got a chance to experience the twist… at the same time!

    What’s more, they got a ton of free publicity.

    Social Indoctrination

    1. guy says:

      Iff the actual ending is literally already hidden on the disk, I will sort of respect them for pulling it off. If it is DLC or patched in, I will accuse them of badly attempting to pretend they were planning something not terrible all along.

      1. anaphysik says:

        I’m a strong supporter of Indoctrination-hallucination theory making sense, but I doubt that BioWare could have pulled it off, or if they do then it will have still been irreparably marred by their decision to not include it as part of the actual game, and so they will have failed anyway.

        It would still be better than the crap they produced, though.

    2. Sumanai says:

      “…the greatest plot twist in the history of gaming…”

      Two words: Bull. Shit.

      Here’s the problem with that claim: Even if the indoctrination theory, including the part that “the player has been indoctrinated”, would be true, they’ve still screwed up.

      Why is the Normandy getting damaged by a “harmless” explosion? Why is the child claiming something so mind bogglingly stupid? Why does the game actually end there, even if you chose the correct one, and Shepard is supposed to have survived? Why are they even indoctrinating Shepard, since it’s pretty obvious s/he is useless right now, lying almost dead in rubble?

      If you want to use inconsistencies as hints about “what is really going on”, you can’t have inconsistencies that exist because of bad writing. The more you lack subtlety, the less subtle the “twist” has to be, since no-one will believe your blatant “in your face” power fantasy story is suddenly being super subtle instead of stupid.

      Every major change in Bioware’s games have implied that they’re going for maximum sales, artistic vision be damned, so it’s likely that would be the attempt here. But people are angry and disillusioned. They have failed.

      Both at Penny Arcade liked the game and didn’t really give a damn about the ending. How would they be forced to eat crow if ME3s ending is magically found out to be good?

      Bioware is well known, what do they have to gain by having people make negative posts about them online? Answer: Nothing. They’re not doing this on purpose, they’re just dumb-asses.

      1. Sumanai says:

        I also don’t understand how a “it was all a dream” ending is supposed to be “greatest storytelling in video games” no matter how well pulled off. It’s basically the most hated, lazy twist there is.

        The Indoctrination Theory is popular, because it helps cope with the disappointment. It makes sense of the ending (mostly), any mistakes can be written off as Shepard’s mind rebelling/submitting to the Reapers, Bioware stay “infallible” and to top of you get to act all smug towards the people who “didn’t get it”.

        But it’s still humbug.

      2. acronix says:

        I think he means, in an ironic way of course, that Bioware indoctrinated us, the players.

        Anyway. The indoctrination theory fails on a more basic note: the twist is never suggested: not making it clear, but not completely hidding it. As the endings exist right now, there´s no way to make the jump to “Shepard´s indoctrinated” without starting from “These endings are real shitty”.

        1. Sumanai says:

          Unless he’s suggesting that Bioware has indoctrinated “us”, and the proof is that “we” have bought all their games or we’re all talking about the ending, he’s wrong. The suggestion that the ending is trying to indoctrinate the player falls when you note that nothing is really wrong there.

          Destroy Reapers is Renegade Red, just as it was for Destroy Geth. Control Reapers was Paragon Blue, just as it was for Control Geth. If the ending was trying to discourage people from choosing the correct answer against the Reapers, then it should’ve been the green one, since before Renegade or Paragon was the way to go, and any third option was wrong.

          If he means that Bioware has indoctrinated people to talk about the ending, it’s just a fancy way of saying “Bioware screwed up”.

          1. Sumanai says:

            The following assumes that the Indoctrination Theory is correct.

            I noticed something: Neither of you outright state what Bioware was trying to get people to do. In other words, what exactly was the point of the “indoctrination” of the player?

            To convince people that what is happening at the end is true?
            Oh, readers believe when the writer tells them what happens? I never would’ve dreamed that. Truly the people at Bioware are the greatest weavers of fiction the world has ever seen. For they have unearthed the bloody obvious.

            The trick with a twist ending is to get people to realise what is going on too late, despite hints. And then reveal what was actually happening. Depending on the level of subtlety in the story at large, you can be subtle at with the reveal. Bioware hasn’t been the least bit subtle. They would’ve had to outright reveal in one of the endings that indoctrination was going on.

            Manipulate fans into cleaning up after them? This I might believe, but I have another hypothesis. I think they noticed the outrage and decided to pin the blame on “fans wanted a happier ending”. When they noticed that fans came up with Epileptic Trees that fit well, they decided to wait for a while so if there are any plot holes in it, they won’t lose face for claiming that the theory is right.

            Getting people angry/talk about it? Angering people is not useful, or difficult, so let’s go with “getting people to talk”. Except people would’ve talked anyway. The only potential gain would be getting more attention. For one the most, if not the best, known maker of wRPGs? And their most popular game series? Doubtful, unless they’re complete idiots.

    3. Kian says:

      I don’t know what must be more insulting for Bioware’s writers. Having people outright tell them that their ending sucks and they are awful storytellers, or having people delude themselves into praising something they didn’t write, because what they did write was so awful they could not possibly have meant it.

      I will happily delude myself when I finish the game, choose red, and come up with an ending of my own.

  27. Kaeltik says:

    Kickstarter for a Shamus-written space opera game?

  28. Xythe says:

    I’m starting to feel that my personal opinion that the ending kicked ass is going to be a strongly minority view.

    1. Sumanai says:

      Take comfort in being attentive enough to realise that. In Eurogamer there were several people who liked the ending and thought that the complainers were a small minority. Despite several complainers having comment scores over 50, while defenders were usually negative or near zero.

  29. metasynth says:

    “As this thing has drawn on, I've come to realize that I'm less mad about how Mass Effect turned out and more angry at what an amazing opportunity was missed.”

    F’ing amen. What could’ve been… a cyberpunk-ish game on Omega or Illium, or maybe something à  la Wing Commander Privateer… Shit, the possibilities for this universe were vast.

    To be honest though, I think they started losing it already with the first game by pimping the typical Final Fantasy backstory of defending everything against Teh Ultimate Galaxian Hyperthreat. The utter stupidity of the Mass Effect 3 ending was just icing on the cake.

    Wonder how they proceed with this, the poor fools.

    1. Arex says:

      “To be honest though, I think they started losing it already with the first game by pimping the typical Final Fantasy backstory of defending everything against Teh Ultimate Galaxian Hyperthreat.”

      As it was established in the first game, and at least up until the very last moments of the second, I think that worked fine. The Reapers are Teh Ultimate Galaxian Hyperthreat(tm), but they’re way off in Dark Space, with the Citadel Relay their only practical route back into the galaxy, and the Protheans cut off their primary means of getting in. They’ve tried to fix that before (the Rachni Wars), they tried in ME1 via Saren, and they tried in ME2 (assuming the new Reaper being built there was supposed to be Sovereign’s replacement, to continue to plot to get the door open).

      The implications of the final ME2 scene (of the Reapers beginning to move in the direction of the galaxy), made concrete by Arrival and ME3, cast the previous plots into an odd light. If they’re really only a few years FTL travel from the nearest relay-equipped system, and don’t have the distance limitations imposed by Citadel-level tech (needing to discharge static at a planet every so often), then… why were they messing around these last two games?

      Indoctrinating Saren and trying to have him open the Citadel relay would at least be convenient, but it doesn’t seem as if it’s worth risking Sovereign over when the Reapers can just show up in force in a time frame that– to beings with geological lifespans and calendars marked in 50 kiloyear intervals– is basically nothing. And why not hang onto the Collectors until it’s time for the main assault, rather than risk them in provocations you can’t back up?

      On the other hand, the universe seems a lot more sustainable if the Reapers’ intergalactic hangout is arbitrarily far away. (Maybe they can fly back to the galaxy directly, but not in the lifetime of anyone we’re concerned with.) Then, when you want to have a Reaper plot, you can, with people messing with Things They’re Not Meant to Know risking opening the gate for them one way or another. And all threats to the Citadel have another layer for anyone who knows its secret.

      And if you want to have a full-scale Reaper War a la ME3, the option is always available. (Though, you know, have a good ending for it.) But meanwhile you’ve got the space opera infrastructure to support all kinds of stories.

      (Or did. I’m not sure Bioware fully realizes the extent to which they’ve torn down the playground. I’d respect the choice to do a final ending if I were sure that’s what they intended, and if the ending(s) they chose fit the story they were telling.)

      1. metasynth says:

        @ Arex:

        “As it was established in the first game, and at least up until the very last moments of the second, I think that worked fine.”

        Sorry, I explained myself rather badly.

        See, I simply would have preferred smaller stories within Mass Effect, with you as Shepard exploring a rich and growing universe, later to be expanded with other lead characters. The focus here is fleshing out in detail and with utmost care what you already have, in turn reducing the chance that dipshits fuck things up on a grand level, and last but not least, leave a lot of options open for future games or other media.

        Reapers, reavers, blah blah blah; been there, done that.

        1. Arex says:

          I was the one who expressed myself badly. :-) I basically agree that that would have worked. I think that the Reapers work as the main mystery/plot driver of the first game: Shepard learns a major secret about how his/her world works and is forced to take a grand tour to figure it out. It also provides a nice general in-universe explanation of why the Fermi Paradox isn’t a problem, which I really appreciate.

          But after all that, just keep it as a detail while telling other stories in the universe that resulted from a) all the pesky elder races who should have grabbed all the good real estate being conveniently murderized, and b) the murderizers having been foiled from returning for the foreseeable future (i.e., till the writers have a good idea) by the combined efforts of the Protheans and Shepard. They remain a background threat that informs the setting, but not the central focus, and certainly not something that ever quite materializes in force. (At least till you’re ready to ring the curtain down).

  30. General Karthos says:

    This is kind of the same way I feel about the Star Wars prequels. If George Lucas had been more concerned with story-telling over special effects, things would have been better. I’m sure many of us have watched the movies and thought “-I- could do better than this!” about more or less every element of the trilogy. (And that’s the way I feel about Mass Effect’s ending.)

  31. Great post. Even if the Indoctrination theory is true, it’s still a horrible ending no matter what. There is no catharsis or closure, just a swift kick right to the pills. I really don’t want Bioware to change the ending or even explain it. I don’t care. I just want them to promise to never do something this stupid again.

    The more I think about it, the Indoctrination theory actually makes the ending even worse. From the start of Mass Effect 1, the player’s goal has been to take down the reapers. It’s the quest that drives us through the narrative, characters and universe. Shepard is our avatar into that universe. The customization and decision making only makes the player more of a part of the avatar. Then you are hit by the beam, indoctrinated and that’s that. Bioware has basically robbed the player of their agency.

    It means a complete and utter failure at the player’s goal in order to complete the game. Casey Hudson may as well have broke into my house and snatched the controller from my hand with ten minutes to go. If Shepard is indoctrinated, Reapers win and everyone dies. If the ending is supposed to be literal, Mass Relays explodes and everyone dies. Regardless of how you spent the last thirty hours playing the game. Either interpretation is an ending of failure. Bioware railroaded the player into a cheap, gimmicky ending that explained absolutely nothing.

    The goal of Mass Effect 1: Stop Saren from kickstarting the Reaper invasion. The end of the game: Saren is dead and the Reaper is destroyed. Mass Effect 2: Gather a team and go into Collector space to find out what the rest of the Reapers are up to. The end of the game: Team gathered, giant terminator/reaper hybrid destroyed. Mass Effect 3: Unify the galaxy and end the Reaper threat once and for all. The end of the game: The galaxy unites and…the entire galaxy dies horrible, wretched deaths. Mass Effect 3 is less of an ending and more of a sociopathic fantasy. The kind of thing Lex Luther daydreams about before Superman flies in to stop him.

    I do get the sneaking suspicion that Mass Effect’s ending was Bioware punishing us because we all said that Dragon Age 2 sucked.

    1. anaphysik says:

      One thing: Indoctrination Theory also holds onto a key scene – (presumably) Shep taking a breath in the rubble (presumably on Earth), which only occurs if you choose the Red Explosions Ending with super-high War Assets (choosing Destroy even when LittleSpaceDerp tries to woo you with the ‘beautiful’ Synthesis ending).

      In this situation, Shepard has successfully overcome the indoctrination attempt by sticking by her goal of destroying the Reapers and has enough forces on her side for her to matter.

      See, the real problem with IT (from a game-making perspective) is that the game should not have stopped at this point. From this point forward, the “True Ending” should have followed. As an actual part of the game. Not as some stupid ‘download/buy our ending DLC later!’ ploy.

      1. some random dood says:

        Agree with Anaphysik – this is what gets me against the indoctrination theory. From the presentation, the theory has a lot going for it, and explains a much in the last scenes. Trouble is, if that is what the writers aimed for then they should have clearly shown the results of accepting the indoctrination, and even more clearly what happens if Shepard succeeds in rejecting indoctrination.

        For those who can still stand more on the subject, another interesting read on the priciples behind writing and why the ME3 ending does not satisfy: The Writer’s Block by J M Stevenson

        1. anaphysik says:

          Thanks for the neat linky!

        2. Sumanai says:

          There’s a potential counter argument to your point about gameplay after the video: Shepard could be so wounded as to be unable to continue fighting.
          However, that brings a new problem: Why would the Reapers bother with the indoctrination, since Shepard is practically useless in the fight?

          Another problem: If the Good Destruction ending leaves Shepard alive an non-indoctrinated, why is the video for the explosion shown? Pushing the button is the very action that breaks the indoctrination, shouldn’t the ending cut straight to Shepard breathing instead of showing delusions brought by the Reapers, that no longer have control?

          The link was a great, thanks.

  32. Simon Buchan says:

    I think you’re totally overthinking this – I don’t think you need to treat writing your ending any differently to any other part of your story: bad writing is always bad. What you’ve nearly caught onto is that your ending is normally largely determined by your genre:
    * If you want your story to be a feel-good triumph of Good over Evil, then having that triumph be at the end makes sense.
    * If it’s to be about revealing a mystery, then having the explanation be at the end makes sense.
    * If you are developing your characters for the purpose of putting them through an arc, then having that arc finish shortly before the end makes sense.
    Obviously, there’s nothing stopping you from having all three be goals: or for there to be other goals for your story (comedy, social commentary, philosophy, speculative science, feel-bad for example), but those are the most common goals for stories that are best served by a specific focus in the ending.

    The problem with Mass Effect’s ending is quite simple: it’s badly written. That’s it. The dialog with TIM is clumsy and unconvincing (compare the logic of your arguments with Saren against the complete lack with TIM), the general blocking and pacing of the events is confusing without purpose to the point of distraction. There is a lot of heavy-handed, invoked symbolism without any implied higher meaning than perhaps “you are Jesus” – hardly a revelation. Star Child simply contradicts previous dialog, without either establishing which is wrong or having that ambiguity mean something (since he’s supposedly on the same side). The Normandy escaping and the relays exploding are so poorly established that they could both imply nearly opposite things depending on what you suppose. I could go on!

    The ending of Mass Effect doesn’t need closure, or a happy option, or a saner explanation from the Star Child: it just needs to be better written.

    1. metasynth says:

      @ Simon Buchan:

      “The ending of Mass Effect doesn't need closure, or a happy option, or a saner explanation from the Star Child: it just needs to be better written.”

      Yes, it needs “sanity”. As in “logically sound”. That’s what I’d call good writing. Well, maybe you don’t see it that way, but for me, a sugarcoated turd is still a turd. Et cetera.

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        The Star Child’s explanation doesn’t need to make sense – if it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense – the “writing” I’m talking about isn’t about how nice the dialog is: it’s how well it conveys the emotions and concepts the writers are trying to get across.

        1. metasynth says:

          “…the “writing” I'm talking about isn't about how nice the dialog is…”

          Duh, yes, I got that. Shakespearian prose still won’t elevate Casper “I have multiple PhDs in logic, accountability, and speciesism lol” the friendly Space Eichmann. We are also talking about a dumbed down RPG (“choices and consequences”) and not the bible, or a similar book of fables. Again, it’s not about niceties. It’s about you and your fellow character ensemble in relation to the big scheme of things, including the Big Bad.

          “…it's how well it conveys the emotions and concepts* the writers are trying to get across.”

          Try again. Try much harder. Start with the meaning of “thinking concepts through”.

  33. Dragomok says:

    Hey, I found a typo:

    Ex: Frodo drops the ring into Mt. Doom and Saruon is defeated forever.

  34. Alex says:

    …As much as I hate to give The Escapist traffic, I couldn’t turn down a chance to read Shamus further dissect one of the biggest failures in modern fiction.

    I agree that Bioware doesn’t owe anyone a new ending. It would be a smart idea. The fact that they’re suggesting it this early makes me think they always knew the ending was crap and planned to patch it in later. I could be wrong. Almost as wrong as putting off the most important part of the game until the hectic crunch-time pre-release stage of development.

    Even so, I don’t think the people who payed $120 for the special edition are entitled to a better ending. I think they’re entitled to a refund.

    …Either that, or a dance contest.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “I agree that Bioware doesn't owe anyone a new ending.”

      Actually,they do.Because what they gave is not what they advertised(vastly different endings,that arent just cosmetically different,and you dont get them just by pushing different buttons).So either they deliver,or get penalized for false advertising.

  35. silentlambda says:

    Thanks for this article. It encapsulates why the ending is frustrating on a personal level without accusing BioWare of BEEEETRAYAAAAL!1!!!!!1

  36. Daithi Farley says:

    The weirdest thing about this debacle is the almost complete disparity between game journalists and fans. I mean you’d think it vary from site to site but it all seems so oddly consistent. Does any one know why this is?

  37. DaWarBoss says:

    Ending made sense if you follow the story. Reapers were trying to indoctrinate Shepard to convince him to go along with their plan. Why did Bioware present it this way? Because it is not happening in the real world, it is inside Shepard’s head. Again, this was foreshadowed, and didn’t come out of nowhere.

    Why didn’t Bioware write the ending the way you wanted? Well, you only own your copy of their game. You can do what you want with that, but the ending and everything is up to them to write. It’s their story, not yours. Capitalism 101. Exchange your money for their goods that they produce. You’re not producing the game, you are paying $60 to play their version of it.

    Problem is, you only played it for the characters and romance options. So when it came time to deal with the Reapers, the character stories were already wrapped up. They had their closure. Oh, but you want to know what happens to the characters after the war? Well again, if you followed the story, they said numerous times “we could all be dead tomorrow”, “if you don’t defeat the Reapers, we’re all dead”.

    So it’s fine to not give closure to characters at the end, as long as you give enough during the game. Which there was plenty of it.

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