My Spoiler-Free Thoughts About the Mass Effect 3 Ending, And Endings in General (Updated)

An angry gamer, via The Gamer’s Paradox.

I finished Mass Effect 3 this weekend. It took me a long time to get there. The game has a ton of content, and I played a lot of multiplayer as well (because playing multiplayer actually makes a difference in your single-player campaign – you don’t need to, but it helps if you aren’t a completionist. I, however, am both, so I played the shit out of the game and it still took me 10 days to play through). I am sad that my first playthrough is over, because I love the game and the series that much, but I’m already into my second playthrough, so that’s OK.

Before I could finish, though, I’d heard enough about the ending to make me concerned. No one spoiled it for me, thank goodness, but even though I made a great effort to avoid hearing anything at all about became impossible. What I heard, though, wasn’t about anything game-specific; rather, what managed to get past my filters was loud enough to make it unavoidable.

That’s what’ll happen when a huge fanbase goes out of their ever-lovin’ minds.

Apparently, a large swath of people hate the ending. HATE the ending. Like take how I feel about The Walking Dead and add a layer of fan reaction to Jar Jar Binks and pod racing on top. When I say people have lost their fucking minds over it, I’m in no way kidding or using hyperbole. Go ahead and Google “mass effect 3 ending”. What you get aren’t walkthroughs – you get news item after news item of fury. There are online petitions to get Bioware to change the ending. Someone has SUED them for false advertising. There are calls to avoid purchasing any new downloadable content to “send a clear message” that the fans aren’t going to take it. There is at least one positive use of this concentration of nerd-fury: someone thought to convince people to channel it to a worthwhile charity (Child’s Play) that you can donate to if you didn’t like the ending. Last I read they’d raised over $66,000 from disgruntled fans. So there is that.

Talk about first-world problems. Holy shit.

I’ll be upfront about this. I have no problems with the ending of the game. It is very much in the spirit of the Mass Effect experience. Mass Effect is and always has been about the ideas of hard choices and sacrifice. Mass Effect 3 is no different. That’s as close to a spoiler as I’m going to go with. I got a chance to see all the possible endings I had earned based on my actions. I do have a favorite. But I have no problem with any of them. It brought the trilogy to a fitting close for me. Do I want more? Fuck yes, I want more. I want there to be a dedicated team of people doing nothing for the rest of their lives except churning out new shit for me to do. But the trilogy and arc are done, for better or for worse, and I cannot for the life of me understand what has people so out-of-their-fucking-minds over it.

In a way, I’m not sure there could be a satisfying ending, something that is all things to all people. Endings of beloved stories are like that. Look at the ending of The Sopranos and how people wigged out. We don’t want an ending. We want things to go on forever, or we want a happy ending where the good gal gets the guy and they ride off on a pink unicorn into the sunset. We want to imagine them having an awesome life together, even though what really happens after that is the guy puts on a hundred pounds over the next couple of years, their kids start screaming, the farm they retired to can’t grow shit, and the heroine ends up falling for the scruffy bad-boy traveling bard. It’s what always happens.

Writers struggle with endings. They aren’t easy to do. Believe me, a writer is more invested in the characters they are writing about than the readers or watchers or gameplayers – I hope they are anyway, or else the characters suck – and they want to end it correctly. Not necessarily in the way the fans want, but the way they want it to end, the only way they see it is possible to end. I remember reading The Stand as a teenager, and the last scene in the book, after 1000+ pages, features one character asking, essentially, “what now?” The last words? “I don’t know.” That’s it. Eventually, of course, Stephen King released an extended version with more stuff and a new ending, but, as much as I wasn’t satisfied by the ending, “I Don’t Know” is a perfectly valid conclusion. In a sense, anything can happen. Of course, people complain about King’s endings a lot – sometimes it feels like they end because if he doesn’t choke the book out it’ll never end. He struggles with them a lot, I think. They aren’t easy.

But I strongly feel that like it or not, the ending as presented is generally the right ending, especially if it makes you think or feel something. I’ve said before that the end of Suckerpunch affects me very strongly, and I wish it were different, but the ending packs a pun-intended punch that hurts and makes me reel and actually proves how much I gave a fuck about those people. ME3 didn’t punch me, or give me a “it was all just a dream” bullshit ending. It ended appropriately, possibly in the only way it could. It meant something to me. I know the end that I want each of my playthrough characters to have and will work to make it happen. I look forward to it.

Bioware is now saying that they are going to see what they can do, because they want to keep printing money with this franchise, but also because I honestly believe they give a shit. Imagine working on something for 7+ years, and reaching the conclusion, and a lot of people who have made it possible by paying for each installment are having a fucking conniption. They really, honestly, have to care about that. I don’t think they need to tweak the ending. If they do, you’re goddamn right I’m gonna happily go and see what they come up with. But I don’t need it. I am satisfied. Bioware probably won’t be; there will be pressure from the suits to keep the hubbub down, although those suits are probably creaming themselves over the free press. But they don’t want future sales impacted by a backlash. Bioware has to present a face of Caring to keep people coming back (and Sony never recovered in a lot of people’s’ minds for not seeming to care during the Everquest years), so we’ll hear a lot about them making soothing noises. I think there will be a tweak, just to get people to shut the fuck up. I still don’t think it’ll satisfy most of the angry mob, but they’ll try.

I’d say something sarcastic about these people, tell them to get a life or whatever, but I understand. They were as invested in the adventures of Commander Shepard as I was. The relationships with the characters in the game were probably as close to “real” as we can achieve right now with a game. These people felt something for a bunch of scripted pixels that any writer or creator would kill to replicate. These people CARE. So I understand, because I care, too. There is a little Shepard in me and there always will be.

Sometimes, saying goodbye is hard.

(Oh, although I don’t expect anyone to do so, but if you DO comment, I’d ask that you try to keep your comment free from spoilers. Much appreciated. I’d love to hear your spoiler-filled thoughts about it, but I’d just ask that it not be here. Most of you know how to reach me in one way or another if you want. If needed, I’ll make a special place for them on here. Somehow, I doubt it’ll be necessary, heh.)

UPDATE: There are rumblings and theories and painstaking fan videos created with the idea that the end is NOT the end. Known as the Indoctrination Theory, it says, basically, hang on, it’s not over yet. If it is true, it might be the ballsiest move by a game company ever, and one that can never be duplicated. More on the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER post.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on March 19, 2012, in Philosophizin' and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I felt like the ending I chose was right for Shepard and for me as the player. I wanted to play forever, just like you, but I knew the trilogy was ending. It is like loving a character in a book that ends… as much as you want it the story to last for eternity you always reach the final chapter unless you put it on the shelf and walk away. Part of me is sad to see it end but I am not angered nor do i feel cheated by BioWare. It ended how I thought it would and I am extremely happy they gave me the option I chose because the Shepard that lives in my imagination wouldn’t’ have had it any other way.

    • I think you make a good point: your ending was absolutely appropriate for both you and the character you played. And I like the fact that the endings we had and liked were different, because it reflects the disparate things we wanted for our people. My Shepard was a little different than yours, and the way things wrap up for both of us reflected that perfectly well.

  2. Nice post. Speaking not to ME3 (haven’t played yet) but on writing in general, endings are a bitch. It’s difficult, sometimes, to strike that perfect chord in a way that both satisfyingly concludes the story you just told (or doesn’t conclude, depending on your intent) in a way that doesn’t cheapen or just rehash everything that came before it. Beginnings are tough — endings are a royal pain in the ass.

    • Sometimes I think it’s impossible for some people to do it, especially after a huge series. I don’t know if Robert Jordan EVER would have finished the Wheel of Time, because in part he may not have felt like he could do it right. The longer it goes, the higher the stakes. I have no idea if people will like the ending to the Northreach books. I just hope they care enough to hate it, if it comes to that. Heh.

  3. The thing is, the games did an unbelievable job involving the player in forming the story, or perhaps at least making the player feel involved in forming the story. When you create such a feeling of immersion, you end up with a high amount of variation in how people view the story, which goes beyond just the visible results of choices to how someone views who Shepard is to them and also even just the style of story being told. I think this is why something with millions of players ends up with so many disappointed. For better or worse, I count myself among those who hated the ending. A week later, and I am calmer about it. I did not do any multiplayer, so maybe I’d feel differently if I did. I did actually try the multiplayer a bit yesterday, and had fun with that for a little bit.

    • I definitely agree about your point about immersion. The games invested me like no other, and I understand that the people who hate the ending care about the game as much as I do. And everyone’s experience is different, which makes it difficult to achieve an ending that is satisfying to everyone. I guess what I wonder is, how did players want things to come out? What ending would have made them happier? Longer cutscenes? Further exploration of the ramifications of each choice? I can see any of those things being nice, but I can picture the universe and how it goes after that. I’ve read the “5 reasons to hate the ending” and read Penny Arcade’s counterargument to it, and I still honestly don’t know what people actually want to be different. I’m curious to see what you think. I’m going to create a new post for people to comment on to allow spoilers to be included, since I want to know.

    • If I had not been at “readiness” to have the selections that i did I would have been upset myself. I possibly might have freaked from some of the things I read.

      But…. being as high as you conceivably could have been on the numerical values I was given choices that made me feel satisfied. I’m not “happy” because the story is over but I feel I ended the trilogy the way Shepard would have wanted me to. The fact it still resonates with me emotionally is telling enough.

  4. “We want things to go on forever, or we want a happy ending where the good gal gets the guy and they ride off on a pink unicorn into the sunset. We want to imagine them having an awesome life together, even though what really happens after that is the guy puts on a hundred pounds over the next couple of years, their kids start screaming, the farm they retired to can’t grow shit, and the heroine ends up falling for the scruffy bad-boy traveling bard. It’s what always happens.”

    Can you include this as a scene in your next book? With your own special touch to make it oh so laugh out loud hilarious? You know, this would make an excellent short story for one of the professional magazines like F&SF. And I am being serious…mostly.

  1. Pingback: More Mass Effect 3 SPOILER Ending Thoughts – The Indoctrination Theory « Me and My Shovel

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