Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Ending Discussion (spoilers!)

Yeah, best to not read this unless you (a) don't care about Mass Effect or (b) have already finished ME3

So I finished ME3, put up my review, and discovered I was a dissenting voice in a tidal wave of fan-hate in regards to 3's ending.  Most people, it turns out, are pissed right off at the ending.  I explained my position (briefly) in 3's review, but an earlier post received a comment that I felt compelled to respond to.  As I was writing my response, I realized "shit, this is getting pretty long, I should just turn it in to a blog post."

So I have.

Here's the comment (thank you for your comment, by the way!):
"Chance. . .to put it bluntly, I'm a fan. your reviews on bioshock 2 and fallout new vegas were so spot on to me it was like we were separated at birth. (1)
Maybe that's creepy, but I've never had that feeling with another critic and you've been a daily internet haunt of mine ever since.  (2)
*sigh* i really don't want to do this, but i can't help myself. . .was there truly nothing that felt off or even rushed by ME3's ending to you? (3) I know i just stared in shock for a good ten minutes into the credits. 
Now i don't want the ending to change, if Bioware needs what happened to happen I'll respect that, but i feel they need to sell it better. You know, expand upon it. show the player the true repercussions of the final choice, instead of focusing on an secondary character's shoehorned love interest for the final shot. 
God, that made me so angry. . .anyway I'm just worried you think the fanboy rage is rash and unjustified, but i ask you to thumb through the bioware forum and i think you'll find it's far more articulate then you'd expect." (4)
- Mr. Larker, Mar 12, 2012 01:09 PM - 
(1) Ohmigod, thank you!

(2) I'm still too flattered to find it creepy.

(3)  No.

Now, let's get down to business.

(4) :

I've checked out the BioWare forums - personally, I think the 'indoctrinated' theory is brilliant and makes a sound argument for Destruction as the canon ending - but to me, any exploration of what went down with the Krogan after the war or how things worked out on Rannoch or whether or not Liara got knocked up with your space baby are all secondary to the greater Mass Effect question of organic life plus synthetic life equals question mark.

This is the classic sci-fi conundrum.  This is the one science fiction has been batting around since Frankenstein.  Well, that and time travel - and I love that Mass Effect concerns itself, principally, with such discussion.

There remains the belief that there is some fundamental separation between ourselves and the technology we create, and symbiotically rely upon to survive.  Modern society has further blurred this line, as how people contribute to society and interact with each other are continually being redefined through technology.

As technology advances, so too does the belief that we, its creators, are somehow separate from it.  And so technology grows, and we grow, until finally we find ourselves at odds with it.  

Technology and humanity are constantly evolving, constantly changing.  It is this belief that we and our creations are somehow separate or opposed that limits us to who we currently are and where we currently stand.  In order to continue along the path of evolution and progress, we must come to the understanding that nothing, in fact, separates us from technology, save our perception.  

The next step, then, for both technology, which is immortal, and organic life, which is dynamic and subject to change - is to combine.  Technology achieves death, life achieves immortality, much is lost - but something wholly original is created in the process.  

It is the next step for all intelligence.  Or at least, that is the answer I gave to The Question - and I was thrilled that my understanding and expectations of Mass Effect lined up with BioWare's.  They delivered precisely what I wanted from the game's finale - making the game's ultimate answer to The Question yours to decide.

Whether or not one enjoys the ending, I feel, comes down to what they understand Mass Effect to be.  Personally, I view the series as an addition to science fiction literature - and, so, am quite pleased.   

Yes, Mr. Larkin - I love the ending of Mass Effect 3

I can appreciate folks getting all bent out of shape about ME3's ending, but to me - as someone who generally cares first and foremost about narrative, I don't need to see anything that happens after I make the final choice.

That event - that decision - is the end of the Mass Effect story.  It is the player's statement, in answer to Mass Effect's central question - and anything beyond that is merely punctuation on a closing sentence.  Were the narrative - or explanation of it - to carry on at any length beyond your final choice would be like BioShock after the Golf Club Scene: needless filler.

The origins and nature of the Citadel and the Mass Relays were always shrouded in mystery, so of course BioWare has to tie their relationship and purpose into the finale - which provides the dual function of turning whatever decision you make into one that reshapes the entire galaxy.  Anyone who didn't realize what The Catalyst was as soon as the word was dropped hasn't been paying attention to Mass Effect.

The ending can't - and could never - simply be "you save the universe and everyone is happy."  What happens to everyone else that we care about doesn't require explanation.  While they are a part of The Story - they are, specifically, devices used to tell The Story - they are not The Story.

The Story is an exploration of The Question, and once The Question is answered, that's the end of The Story.

Now, if...

...if Synthetics, throughout Mass Effect, had only ever been antagonists - if BioWare had never asked the question, but merely answered it with the statement "synthetics and organic life will always need to kill each other," then the new question becomes classic action movie fare : "can Shepard kick the shit out of them?"

Were that the theme of the series, Mass Effect's fundamental question would no longer be a philosophical/spiritual exploration (and a wonderful examination of one of science fiction's core conundrums), but an exploration of Shepard's character, and so his or her surrounding characters.  The story is no longer about The Question, it's about The Character.  If a player were to perceive Mass Effect as that story - which I suspect is the case, for many - Mass Effect 3's ending would be profoundly disappointing.

So... I can understand many Mass Effect fans getting pissed off at the ending of ME3.  Mass Effect, like any art, is explained and defined by its audience.  If an audience member understood the series' fundamental question to be of Shepard's character and its capacity for universe-savin', I can appreciate why they'd be pissed off.

I see the series' theme and central question as something else - a question the ending gave the player direct control in answering - and so, am perfectly satisfied with it.

As to "a secondary character's shoehorned love interest," I feel that precisely reflects my interpretation of ME2/3 as an exploration of - and BioWare's own answer to - the series' central question.

To some, it may seem like a slap in the face - who cares about Edi and Joker when Wrex and Garrus and Tali are God knows where?

To me, it was the period at the end of the sentence.  The build of Edi and Joker's relationship over ME2/3 was BioWare's own direct, flat-faced way of forcing the player to ask themselves if synthetic and organic life could find harmony.  They symbolize the central question.

Of course it ends with them.


  1. Dawww. Thanks Chance.

    I don't don't know, I'm starting to appreciate what they did there. It's just I've never had a game ending get under my skin like that.

    There's just so many questions

    Where was joker going?

    Did he really leave Shepard to die?

    And if Shepard's sacrifice is really that important why cop out and show him breathing for two seconds?


    I will defend Bioware's right to end their story the way they wanted to, it just seems like they ran out of time and if that's the case I'd certainly shell out an extra ten clams for an epilogue. . .would you?