Mass Effect 3: Thoughts on the Ending
Major spoilers lie ahead (for the entire Mass Effect Series) if you have not beaten Mass Effect 3 yet! Please do not read until you’ve beaten the game!
What seems to be the biggest gaming uprise I’ve ever seen is the polarizing reaction to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Some people absolutely loved it while others absolutely hated it and have even started charities and petitions to make Bioware change the ending. Now everyone is more than welcome to their own opinion, but there are some aspects of the ending that I feel no one has touched on and might make the ending make a little more sense. It might even put the entire Mass Effect series in a different perspective for you than previously thought about. I will address the issues that people have been complaining about and bring my own thoughts into this matter. Regardless of my own thoughts, however, the game is what you make of it. If you truly believe it was bad, then it’s your belief, but I hope you might consider what I’m about to say in regards to this entire fiasco.
The final bit of Mass Effect 3 has you making one of three choices. You can choose to destroy all synthetic life, you can choose to take control of it or you can merge synthetics and organics. These three choices seem like they will have vastly different outcomes in the final cutscene but as many found out, there are but a few minor changes and each ending generally looks the same (One youtube video argued an estimation of 95% similarities between all three choices). People feel that this was cheap to the players as they wanted to have different outcomes based on all the choices that they had made throughout all three games. Now this in itself is not a bad argument and I can see why people would be upset. I offer a couple different counter arguments to this.
Firstly, the choices that you’ve been making throughout the series are very well reflected during the entirety of the Mass Effect 3 game itself. If you destroyed Maelon’s data in Mass Effect 2, Wrex is aware of it and scolds you for it. You can win back his trust, but it takes work. If you saved it, the conversation never comes up. I think many people were thinking that all the small decisions you made throughout the game would have some ultimate final end game that factors it all together, but I don’t believe this was the intention of Mass Effect 3. It’s very clear throughout the campaign that you’re going through and reliving moments with old squadmates (Granted you kept them alive) and seeing the effects of your choices throughout that. The end game was more or less something new that only required one final choice.
People will argue that the smaller choices should have mattered enough to make a bigger picture, and that’s an argument I can’t deny. All of your choices should have a bigger meaning, and I think they do if you think past what you’re given in Mass Effect 3’s ending. At the very end you hear someone telling the story of Shepard. Someone who knows the legend. If this person was basically telling the story of your choices to a younger person, then in some form, all of those little choices have now been added together into a greater picture. The legend of Shepard. It may not satisfy you, but it’s something to think about.
Another point I wish to raise with the choices of Mass Effect 3 are the choices themselves and their resemblance to choices in the real world. At this very moment, you are sitting at your computer, or reading this on a tablet or a phone. Think about the last time you went on a drive. How fast did you drive? If it was a 65 MPH speed limit, did you go only 5 over? Or did you choose that the law can kiss your ass and you went 100+ ? Most of us would probably say the 5 over since that’s a social standard. As a sociologist I have made some striking realizations about the “Illusion” of choice in Mass Effect and how it mirrors our own “Illusion” of choice in our own world. When you go to a store, do you steal everything in sight and not pay for it? My point is that we are all bound by limits and laws and though we all claim to be free willed people, we still obey many laws and even things like folkways or mores (sociology words which mean laws and social norms). We conform to a certain degree to remain attractive enough for people to be sociable with us. Of course, you can always argue for the person who doesn’t fit into this category at all. Someone who doesn’t follow the law or isn’t sociably desirable. However, this person is merely an exception, and it’s the exception that proves the rule. We are shackled as a people by the rules that people higher up than us have created, much like the games of Mass Effect were made by developers and we were merely the shackled player playing the game. There are many points in Mass Effect where you had no control over what happened. In the beginning of Mass Effect 2 Shepard dies, yet no one seemed to have a problem with this. Based on the arguments I have been hearing about the Mass Effect 3 ending, we should be just as up in arms about the beginning of Mass Effect 2. If my Shepard was full Paragon in Mass Effect 1, he shouldn’t have had to die and he would have found some way to overcome the odds. Another example is the forcing of having to work with Cerberus. You could have, at any moment, said “Screw this, I won’t fight for Cerberus”, but this would have required you to stop playing the game. Who’s going to do that? No one, of course, but these are all valid moments where the developers had a clear path they wanted you to take and you had no control over it. Again this rings back to some of the things that we have no control over in our own lives. You have no control over what someone else believes or wants to do with their life. You can give advice (let’s make this equivalent to telling your Mass Effect disc that you don’t want to join Cerberus) but in the end, it’s really up to the person (Or the developer). When I first beat the game, I didn’t make these ties and I just took the game as it was, but as I’ve heard more and more debate about this, I’ve come to realize that, whether intentional or not, Bioware made 3 games that gave you the feeling like you had control over a life when you didn’t in fact have as much control as you’d like to think. A very depressing, yet realistic attribute to bring into the series, as it well reflects life itself. You can argue as much as you want that you have free will and that you can do whatever you want and I’d be right there beside you. I believe we have free will and we can do whatever we want. But the fact that we don’t do whatever we want and that we give up some free will for safety and rights shows that we don’t have as much choice, as a people, as we like to think. I think it’s this idea that people are afraid of and don’t like, thus creating such an outcry from fans.
Finally, Shepard dies. People are very upset that he (or she) dies. You can be full paragon and have done everything right and Shepard will still die. People want to see Shepard chilling with Garrus, talking about the good old days or having a family with whatever person you romanced. This is certainly an understandable desire as we have become accustomed to the “feel good” endings that many films and books have. However, the most powerful thing you can do in a series is kill a character. I’m sure many of you, if you were invested as much as I was in the story, hated seeing any of your squadmates die throughout any of the game series, but especially in three, some are inevitable. Teammates made sacrifices and died so that others could live. It’s a brutal, but honest truth about war and heroes. Heroes don’t always make it back. Soldiers don’t always live to tell the tale. They can be the best person in the world and they may have a family. They may have a wife or husband waiting for them, kids who wish to see them but soldiers still die. It’s part of war, and we all knew this when we signed up to face the Reapers. We knew this when we went through the Omega-4 Relay. We knew we might not make it back and, as it turns out, we didn’t. I believe that, regardless of the demise of Shepard, we should still feel like we went and accomplished our goal. I mean, we began this journey as a single soldier that was simply looking into an artifact and it turned into the end of the galaxy as we knew it. We accomplished our goal of saving the galaxy at any cost. There is no higher honor I believe Shepard could have gotten. He beat the Reapers, he saved billions and he finally got he rest he deserved. It may not have been the R and R that people wanted, but the ultimate decision of Shepard, as I’ve already stated, was in the hands of the developers, and they felt that the people would feel more sympathy, they’d feel more emotion and they’re heart strings would be tugged harder from this ending. They were right, as all of these complaints clearly show. They made a game that made people so upset that they wish it never happened because it wasn’t the happy ending they wanted. What we got was the masterpiece tragedy of Commander Shepard and his spectacular final fight against the Reapers and the legend of the human spectre who saved the galaxy from ultimate destruction. For that, I think we all have experienced a tale that not many other games can say they’ve ever attempted. There are books that end sadly, there are movies that end sadly and this video game ended with a hint of realistic sadness, but it still showed signs of hope.
People have also argued that they didn’t like the ambiguous final shots. Showing the Normandy crash landing on a planet, the mass relay’s being destroyed. The biggest complaint is that people don’t know why the Normandy appeared to be far away from the battle. Honestly, I’m right there with those people. I have no idea why it was traveling through a mass relay at that point. I will admit I’m stumped on that one, but the rest of I didn’t have too many problems with. In a sense, I feel that by destroying the Mass Relays made it so that any chance of the Reapers returning had been extinguished, but I also feel that this made for an interesting agreement with the original intent of the Reapers themselves. The purpose of the Reapers were to destroy all advanced organic life in order to keep them from destroying themselves, allowing lesser races to grow and advance. By destroying the mass relays, all the races were now back to square one on their own planets (or stranded with other races no various planets, hopefully calling for more cooperation since Shepard did unite an entire galaxy before the end). They’ve essentially been brought back to a point where they were less advanced and the cycle of evolution or advancing could take place again, but this time without the Reaper threat. So, in the end, it feels like you solved the problem of societies destroying each other and themselves while also destroying the necessity for the Reapers.
These are all just my own opinion based on some debate and thought with others and on my own. I hope that it at least gets people to think a little differently about the entire series and maybe opens up a new perspective. If you still believe the ending was horrible, I’m not trying to stop you. I appreciate you reading my thoughts and theories on the Mass Effect 3 ending. I certainly was satisfied by the end and was in awe throughout the entire credits sequence, but I know I’m only one person. But perhaps my choice to make this article might make a small difference in the greater scheme of things.