Yes, The Ending To Mass Effect 3 Can Be Kind Of Perfect
By Alex Cranz
SPOILERS FOLLOW. I found the most critical point of the game and the point that most needed to be discussed was the ending. So spoilers for it are found within. DO NOT READ unless you want to know how six years of excellent action RPG gaming ends.
I was getting close to the end and my heart was racing. I knew it was coming. I’d been sitting in front of the tv for the better part of two and a half days working towards the moment when the story of Mass Effect would end.
I’d spent six years with these characters. Haunting message boards and pouring over wikis and reading weird tie-in books. I’d played the first game so many time I’d memorized some of the dialogue and I relished whole swaths of the second game. But here I was at the end of Mass Effect 3 and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.
The anticipation–the wonder–are something like a drug for me. It’s why I prefer my stories in ongoing narratives rather than the perfect little morsels that are films and books and plays. And with Mass Effect I really felt I was witnessing my generation’s Star Wars. At last we’d have a big generation defining epic trilogy saga. We’d been promised it with The Matrix and even Pirates of the Caribbean but they’d fallen short.
Until the last few minutes of the game Mass Effect 3 is a perfect distillation of the first two games. They took what worked and threw out everything else and made a lean shooter/rpg that had me giddy while I played. While the action could grow wearisome in the previous games here it was always timed just right and wonderfully balanced with the long “talkie” parts.
This is a streamlined flashy game meant to show off everything Bioware can do. The game blends cinematic moments, and character beats and gameplay like Uncharted only it managed to keep you invested for 30+ hours than Uncharted‘s breezy ten.
I played through my first run through as a “FemShep.” She was a brutal woman. Pragmatic but eschewing the silent part of the strong silent stereotype. She had opinions that she was perfectly willing to make known. In her I found one of the most realized heroines in video games. She wasn’t sexualized and she wasn’t clumsy. She was just Shepherd, take her or leave her.
And I refer to her in the past tense because in those final moments of Mass Effect 3 I was given my last choice. Before me were three paths. The “good” ending in which I’d commit genocide and wipe out whole races and hope a cycle of violence was finally ended. My friends would be stranded and I would barely be alive and the world would be in ruins with whole races thousand of light years from home (Talia’s people have gotta be PISSED). But I would be alive.
In the “bad” ending I would die. I would disappear into millions of machines. Become a cog in the wheels of the universe. Everyone else would still be stranded but the cycle would be over and free will for millions would be lost (and I’d be spitting in the face of all Legion tried to accomplish).
And there was the final ending. The one I chose. As I staggered towards the light and wept over all the hours I’d lost to the stupid game and all the endings I wish I could have seen I knew, emphatically, that it was the right ending. Here the cycle of devastation would end. Here every choice I’d ever made would culminate in one shining moment where I existed in all space and time. Here I would die so that the universe might live.
The game, the whole series, had been hinting at this moment. Marveling at my ability to defy odds. Promising me the joy of growing old with the one I loved and having drinks with old friends. Every game before it told me that if I played my cards right I’d get the perfect squishy happy ending. Even if it wasn’t thematically appropriate I could have it. But Mass Effect 3 denied me what all other RPGs had promised. Here Bioware bucked the trend. It was wonderfully simple and utterly heartbreaking in how perfect it seemed to be as my avatar found her strength and fell into a run. She leapt into the light. The world changed. Some moment of catharsis was experienced there in my den at 3am. Perfection. Tragic perfection.
Then the credits rolled and some old fart showed up to stare at the sky and talk about the Shepherd like he took a theology course once in fourth grade and all I could think is “what is this fuckery?”
Which led to me replaying those last few moments to see the other endings. And there I realized that it was hopeless. Nothing changed. What I’d chosen wasn’t a true ending as much as a slight variation on one ending. A little tweak to Joker’s eyes. Maybe someone else steps out of the ship. It was all the same and it was all utterly worthless.
What had spent 30 hours being one of the best games I’ve ever played suddenly turned into something else. Something utterly ruined by a few minutes at the end. I’m curious as to who thought it was a good idea to have the EXACT SAME ENDING minus a change in the color of Joker’s eyes? Who thought that having everything boiled down to a path split into three directions was wise? Did they miss Deus Ex: Human Revolution where even the developers admit their ending was a MASSIVE COP OUT.
Years ago Steven Spielberg said that games would be considered art when they made people cry. I’ve wept more than once over a game. I’ll still spill a few bitter tears over the time my brother deleted my Ocarina of Time playthrough when I was at the Spirit Temple. I got misty at the end of The Dig but in the Mass Effect series I think I finally got what Spielberg meant. This was never the most original story. It borrowed heavily from science fiction stories that had come before. The characters could often be action film clichés (except Ashley my beloved xenophobic bigot/poet you glorious and conflicted bitch you). Yet it got to me. It forced me to care about a quick talking scientist who participated in eugenics, and a bloodthirsty test tube warrior, and a breathy blue chick. It manipulated clichés and tropes into something compelling and involving. And in the end, if I take a moment, I can forget that stupid old man and the complete lack of choices and remember that feeling I had as a character I love leapt into the light to save the universe.
- The first game was too RPGish with its inventory management. It had clumsy controls and because of it people have made some monstrous avatars. The second game was too much of a streamlined shooter. Choices we’d had were taken from us. The third game really is perfect in that sense. The controls are fluid and for the first time I’m actually okay with the action sequences. In fact they’re so fun I’ve tackled the multiplayer!
- The multiplayer isn’t required for a perfect ending (which I still largely feel the “neutral” ending is) but it will help, and it IS fun. Give it a go even if you hate multiplayer most days.
- Liara annoyed me in the first game and stole my heart in the DLC from the second game. I wish her story had carried over properly in the third game. For a conflicted ex-lover and then eventual lover again she was frigid as all get out with her “hello Shepherd” every time I stopped by for a chat.
- Conversations were also streamlined and improved. No sitting through long bouts of boring dialogue when turning in quests! More of that please.
- I romanced Thane in one playthrough….I will not be carrying that one over to the third game.
- Okay, who else felt that the first few hours spent on Mars and the Citadel played out like a fantastic love triangle? Because they did. It was the most involved I’ve been in a game’s story since Uncharted 2.
- There are rumors Bioware is doing a DLC to “fix” the ending. I’d be down with that.