My Spoiler-Free Thoughts About the Mass Effect 3 Ending, And Endings in General (Updated)
Posted by Alan Edwards
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.