UPDATED – The Mass Effect 3 Ending Scandal – SPOILERS

Now, to be clear, this is not a case of me straight up ranting over which particular camp is correct. I will voice my opinions on the ending, but I’ll also provide an overview of the various reactions to the ending of Mass Effect 3.

By the way, when I say ending, I’m talking about the very last conversation and choice you get to make, which is about 5-10 minutes.  The rest of it is pretty damn awesome.

So, from here on out I have to throw up a spoiler warning.



So, at the end of Mass Effect 3 you’re trying to fire the Crucible, a superweapon of ancient design that will hopefully stop the Reapers once and for all. Every damn fleet you’ve assembled is there to try to take back Earth and get this damn weapon fired. But the key to firing the Crucible is, in fact, the Citadel, which the Reapers have parked over London. Shepard and Anderson lead a last ditch ground assault to secure it, and on the way Shepard takes a direct hit from a Reaper cannon & survives, and the Illusive Man turns out to have been indoctrinated by the Reapers.

And so it seems Shepard’s journey is over. He sits with Anderson to watch the end of it all. But it doesn’t fire. Shepard tries to reach the console again and collapses. When he wakes, an ancient VI tells him the purpose of the Reapers. Organic life always create synthetic life that then tries to destroy organic like.  And so, the Reapers exist to “save” sentient life by turning them into Reapers, destroying synthetic life and allowing new life to grow.

Shepard is now told that this system has failed because Shepard made it so far. He can choose to destroy all synthetic life, including the Geth and EDI, take control of the Reapers and force them to leave, or sacrifice himself to cause a fusion of organic and synthetic life. But whichever way, all the Mass Relays will be destroyed. So no interstellar travel.

What’s wrong with this conceptually? Nothing. Conceptually. But this isn’t just one game.  It’s a trilogy we’ve been playing over 5 years. A trilogy where we’ve not only chosen, but worked to make our choices to come to fruition. Ultimately, what does it matter if the krogan would start a galactic war with the Genophage cured? The Mass Relays are destroyed. They can’t travel anywhere outside of the Sol System.

What do all those fleets do now they’re stranded on a ruined Earth? Who knows! We never get any explanation about how everything plays out in the end. I have all these problems and more with the ending.  But, at the same time I can see what they’re doing. They’re trying to remind us that this conflict is bigger than just the cycle we’re experiencing. They’re trying to show we can’t always have that “golden ending”. Also, the ending was meant to be memorable and divisive, something we could discuss for years.

And I recognise as the creators and owners of the Mass Effect franchise, it’s their right to end the story the way they want to. But I also think that after five years of investment in this universe, and the choices we’ve made and resolutions we’ve worked at, we deserve more closure. Not to necessarily change the endings, but at least something that says “and then everyone made FTL drives and went home and all the races lived happily ever after and were all very sad that Shepard was dead.”

Hell, I still *want* that Golden Ending. I want to destroy the Reapers without destroying all synthetic life and blowing up the Mass Relays. I want to see everything go back to the way it was, with the changes I’d brought about taking shape. The Quarians reclaiming Rannoch, the Krogan becoming more peaceful, Earth being rebuilt.

But there we have it. That’s the ending and how I feel about it. As for how other people feel about it, I can discern four major opinions that seem to be cropping up.

1) Authorial Control

It’s Bioware’s story. Accept it. You may not like it, I may not like it, but to demand a new one is to be entitled and immature.

2) Death of the Author

It’s not just Bioware’s story though. It’s our’s. Each of us has our own Commander Shepard through whom we’ve experienced and invested in this story.

(I’d like to add an addendum that I feel there’s validity to this, not just entitlement. As an interactive medium where we’ve been given agency to affect the world, denying us the ultimate conclusion of our choices is a choice I think it’s right for fans to take umbridge with.)

3) Defenders

They liked the ending. Mostly it seems by looking past the surface to the themes and recognising the levels of metaphor and philosophy the choices play off of.

4) Fakeout

Aside from those who just write off the last ten minutes as a dying dream before someone gets the Crucible to actually fire, there’s a group that has, with alarming speed, created a rather solid seeming theory that Shepard didn’t really experience those past ten minutes.

Basically, some people think that his exposure to Reapers, Reaper tech and other indoctrinated creatures has been slowly and insidiously poisoning Shepard’s mind, and they force him to hallucinate either everything beginning with the charge to board the Citadel or from the meeting with the Catalyst VI onwards.

It talks then of the choices all being different ways for the Reapers to “win”, by tricking him into one of these things. I can see how “Control” would be a trap and that he couldn’t actually do it, and how “Synthesis” requiring him to jump to his death would be them saying “jump off a cliff!” but  I don’t really see how this explains the “Destroy” ending.

Supporting this are various pieces of circumstantial evidence, like Shepard’s frequent contact with Reaper tech, some audio/visual strangeness in the game’s ending sections as well as an app and some digging into the game’s code.

The last two haven’t been verified,  and the circumstantial evidence looks solid but has nothing conclusive. The audio/visual strangeness, however, is either a series of art mistakes and thematic choices, or a big pile of hints.

Anyways, the app in an non-Bioware piece that, among other things, sends messages from your squadmates as you reach certain parts of the game. Once you complete it, it apparently sends a message from the Virmire survivor, suggesting that you’re in a hospital. This could be because one of the endings implies Shepard is still alive, but I’ve seen a Bioware member declare the app non-canon in the forums. Then again, it’s also been promoted by Bioware themselves. So, that’s up in the air.

As for the code, apparently the game tags the ending with one of three titles, including “did not finish” as one of them. This would seem to correspond to one for each of the three endings. Bioware has hinted we should keep our ME3 files, and that some “great new single player content is on its way” before, but it’s all speculation right now.

If we take that they knew the ending would be a huge, divisive shock and accept the code & audio/visual evidence, it looks like they were playing us all along and planned the ending to be a fakeout.

And I hope so. Not just because I’m displeased with the ending, but I want to see what they’d do if there are indeed plans to expand upon it.

UPDATE: Bioware have since announced that there will be some kind of “story extending single player content” coming out in response to all the backlash. This has, in itself, caused a backlash.

Some game developers, of Bioware or otherwise, have responded to the controversy with sorrow, saying that these are the works of the creator and that fans should accept them and not insist on having things their way.

Also, a lot of professional commentators have responded negatively, seeing this as an act of immature fan entitlement winning out of artistic integrity. I won’t name names because I respect those people and their opinions, but I do have to disagree.

Many of them are acting like this WILL set a terrible precedent, this WILL change the industry, this WILL set the medium back, this WILL damage its artistic integrity. I really don’t think so. Fallout 3‘s ending was changed due to fan complaints about how contrived and illogical it was with the DLC Broken Steel. And editors, producers, writers, actors, directors, studio executives, publishers, test audiences, these have all caused endings or parts of works in pretty much every medium to be changed before or after its release.

Overall, I’ve found the backlash against the backlash to be more annoying than the original backlash, which I personally think has gone way too far. Metabombing was stupid and wasteful, but understandable. The charity drive was nice, but also kinda dopey. The “Retake Mass Effect” campaign and the fan suing Bioware for false advertising is also ridiculous but the point is the people who were angry do have legitimate reasons, and changes are made all the time based on fan feedback. That’s why there’s no Mako after Mass Effect 1. Really, I don’t see this as inherently different from that.

Also, there is a literary theory commonly known as “Death of the Author” that basically states that the creator of a work isn’t a Godlike entity with supreme control of it any more. The fans, the investors, anybody who’s got any kind of stake in it has a role to play in the creation of the work. Not just the actual process of creation, but also in how it’s remembered and interpreted. And I support it. It’s like an academic theory that lets you say “that really stupid episode in that show never happened” or “I choose to believe Snape was never actually evil”, even if a work suggests or outright states otherwise.

To me, I’d say that game developers also need to grow up a little and accept that fans have a real voice, and that taking criticism on board for a sequel isn’t always enough and that there will be times when they have to bend over for their fans to do things they don’t want to, like compromising on their idea of an ending because it won’t be one that satisfies fans. Like fans need to be a lot less rude and learn to properly show the appropriate level of disappointment, and publishers need to grow up and adapt to the rapidly changing game market instead of trying to swindle fans at every turn.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dreewr
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 00:29:28

    Man, i started believing in the indoctrination theory after my 7th time ending the game. I don’t know if you noticed, but when you make your decision, Sheppard stops to limp, walk normaly, EVEN RUN. I undertood that part as a “I’m sure of what i want to do. This dream is over” or something like that. Another thing: the control and synthesis choices turns Sheppard into a kind of husk, or any indoctrinated creature, with that blue thing on the eyes and stuff.


  2. Trackback: Should I Buy? – Mass Effect 3 « buythatgame
  3. fede
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 09:45:08

    Bioware promised a game that will yake into account choices made across 3 games, and 100+ hours of gameplay…

    3 endings, with MINOR differences, well, that promise is no longer valid….

    you can end a story the way you want, but promising something and not keeping, well, ive paid my product based on those promises…

    Bioware has made an excellent product, but is like an elecric car that the battery only lasts for 10 minutes, when the brochure said it will last for 10 days…

    BTW the indoctrinationntheory is awesome! hope is close to what´s really happening, that theory keep´s my faith alive 😛

    Sorry for any language mistakes

    Nice article though



  4. mass effect 3 gameplay
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 19:37:27

    The collector base, for example, does play a role in what choices you have in the ending but I didn’t really feel like my decision to destroy it made much of an impact throughout the game. This was, at least I thought, a huge decision and all it does it determine which three crappy choices will cause you to “win” if you even “win” at all. That is, the crappy choices are permuted depending on your choice to destroy or not destroy the collector base.


  5. Donald Blood
    May 11, 2013 @ 12:08:29

    Actually the last 5-10 minutes is not Bioware’s story, it’s Casey Hudson’s story, who is a producer and obviously has no idea how to write whatsoever. Funny thing how it’s usually the marketing or producing people (scum of the earth) fucking up stuff, not the actual authors of a particular story.


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