Mass Effect 3′s ending part 1 – Retake Mass Effect is wrong

I just finished playing Mass Effect 3 on Saturday. While I didn’t love the ending, I certainly didn’t hate it like most people did.I do have may thoughts on the ending though, enough that I am splitting this post into two parts. Part 1 will deal with the criticisms of the ending, namely the Retake Mass Effect effort. Part 2 will deal with what I thought was good and bad about the ending, and some a few tweaks that could be made to the ending to make it incredible. Now that I have played the game, I can confidently say that I think the Retake Mass Effect point of view on the game is, for the most part, wrong.

Warning, major spoilers of the last few minutes of Mass Effect 3 ahead.

The Retake Mass Effect petition states (1):

A Petition for Alternate Endings to the Mass Effect Trilogy

We, the undersigned, respectfully request the consideration of the following petition.

Whereas:
* Mass Effect is an interactive video game providing a detailed framework within which the player may create a unique story
* A major concept of the Mass Effect games is that your choices significantly affect the outcome of the story
* Another major concept of the Mass Effect games is success in the face of seemingly impossible odds

We believe:
* That it is the right of the writers and developers of the Mass Effect series to end that series however they see fit

However, we also believe that the currently available endings to the series:
* Do not provide the wide range of possible outcomes that we have come to expect from a Mass Effect game
* Do not provide a sense of succeeding against impossible odds
* Do not provide a sense of closure with regard to the universe and characters we have become attached to
* Do not provide an explanation of events up to the ending which maintains consistency with the overall story

We therefore respectfully request additional endings be added to the game which provide:
* A more complete explanation of the story events
* An explaination of the outcome of the decisions made, especially with regard to the planets, races, and companions detailed throughout the series
* A heroic ending which provides a better sense of accomplishment

To this end, we donate to the “Retake Mass Effect 3″ Child’s Play Charity drive in lieu of our signature to this petition, in order to establish our sincerity, our love for these games, and for the Mass Effect universe.

We thank you for your consideration.

For the most part I just don’t agree. BioWare is all about story. They set out to tell a story with the Mass Effect games, just like they did with the Dragon Age games. I think that the point of view above places gameplay over story. They want the story to be the expected outcome of how they played the game; in other words predictable! It’s sad, but everyone wanted a formulaic ending. I’m going to do my due diligence though and go through these arguments one by one instead of just hand-waving them away as being asinine.

“Do not provide the wide range of possible outcomes that we have come to expect from a Mass Effect game.” This is the only point that I do agree with. While the choices weren’t bad, and they can be an interesting reflection on the part of the person playing, I do think there should have been one (and probably only one) more option which I will discuss below.

“Do not provide a sense of succeeding against impossible odds.” Seriously? No matter which option you choose, the Reaper threat is over. There are no more cycles. How is this not a sense of success? Do players need to see parades with everyone singing yub nub to get a sense of success? Can these players not handle open ended endings? Sadly the answers to those last two questions are “yes” and “no,” and these answers have been born out by decades of film history. This is why mainstream summer blockbusters sell so well, even though they are incredibly formulaic, predictable, and boring, while the really interesting, thought-provoking, and truly great movies are lucky to be made at all and make orders of magnitude less money than their summer blockbuster brethren. People just don’t want to be intellectually challenged, they wanted to be intellectually satiated.

“Do not provide a sense of closure with regard to the universe and characters we have become attached to.” This can be nice sure (this is something Dragon Age: Origins did very well), but to say that the ending sucked because it wasn’t there? That’s ludicrous. That type of ending didn’t fit with what BioWare wanted to do, and did do, which was to provide a thought-provoking, cerebral, and open-ended ending.

“An [sic] explaination of the outcome of the decisions made, especially with regard to the planets, races, and companions detailed throughout the series.” I’m sympathetic to this argument, but I still think Bioware did the right thing. An explanation wasn’t necessary…the outcome of all of the races, etc, was obvious. Explicitly showing what happened to, say, the Krogans based on whether or not you saved Wrex and Eve and whether or not you told them about the STG sabotage was unnecessary because the game made it painfully obvious what was going to happen given those decisions. An explanation like this would have just served as a pat on the back to players and wouldn’t have contributed anything new to the story. It would, however, have diluted the story that BioWare did want to tell because the core ending would have had to share screen time with this fluff.

“Do not provide an explanation of events up to the ending which maintains consistency with the overall story.” I simply don’t see any inconsistency. There are two major consistencies I see discussed: 1) the kid came out of nowhere and 2) everyone should have been destroyed by the relays exploding. Both of these claims are flat out wrong. On 1), the existence of something controlling the reapers was explicitly mentioned earlier in the From Ashes DLC (which should have been shipped with the game) which takes place fairly early in the game. In addition, this theme of new layers being slowly revealed has a very strong precedence. First, we thought the Protheans were the only previous race, then we learned that the Reaper’s also existed with the Protheans, then we learned that races existed before the Protheans, then we learned the Protheans weren’t a single-race species but rather a multi-race empire, and so on. Whoever claims that the kid came out of nowhere simply wasn’t paying attention to the game. On 2), well everyone wasn’t killed because the relays didn’t explode. Everyone compares the events of the ME2 DLC Arrival, where a relay did explode because an asteroid was crashed into it with the end of ME3 and claim OMGZ PLOT HOLE !!!!11!1!@#! Once again, these people simply weren’t paying attention. The relays broadcast a signal across the galaxy that did whatever choice was chosen, and overloaded in the process. It’s like detonating a nuclear weapon version breaking one by over volting the circuitry. The nuclear weapon is destroyed in both cases, but only the first one destroys an entire city. The other consistency issues brought up are so tiny and assinine, I can’t believe people got hung up on them to begin with. I am someone with a lot of physics and some biology background, yet I still enjoy sci-fi movies. If I got upset at the MAJOR misunderstandings of science in virtually EVERY sci-fi movie EVER MADE, then I wouldn’t be able to watch movies, period. Entertainment isn’t going to be perfect down to the last detail, it’s just simply not possible.

Party Time (this is what fans wanted)

Party Time (this is what fans wanted) (2)

There is a common trend among all of these complaints: people wanted a predictable, thoughtless ending that was focused on them. They wanted the ending to Return of the Jedi, not the ending to 2001. They wanted a party with everyone getting drunk, as shown in the fan art above, without any real depth or intellectuality at all.

To quote another player mentioned in Ben Kuchera’s excellent writeup on the issue: (3)

Mass Effect 3 emotionally wrecked me. It’s Bioware’s game so it’s their choice. And obviously the game was effective to get that response, but I still feel like shit,” one fan told me. “I don’t play games to feel like this after [they’re over]. How do I trust Bioware to not wreck me again if I decide to join them on their next epic?”

This player is pissed off that the game made him/her feel something other than satiated happiness? That’s…just…fucked…up. It is through emotional and intellectual discovery that we advance as a species. This type of discovery doesn’t occur when you have the attitude expressed by this player, and it really makes me despair for humanity to see opinions like this proffered. These types of fans hated the image from the synthesis ending of ME3 below, despite the fact that this is a very powerful scene, just dripping with meaning. The sad thing is that it went over most people’s heads.

Synthesis of love (what people hated)

Synthesis of love (this is what fans hated) (4)

I wrote the following paragraph when discussing the ending of another recent BioWare RPG in which people hated the ending: (5)

I suspect that the majority of these players weren’t making choices because it’s what their interpretation of Hawke would actually do, but because it would result in the outcome they wanted in the story, thus making these choices a game itself. These type of players wanted to “win” at the game of “choice,” instead of taking part in a narrative. Given this mindset, it is no wonder that they were upset because they felt that the game cheated them out of winning.

I get the distinct impression that the same phenomenon is manifesting itself with Mass Effect 3 too.

People often complain about the banality of AAA games these days (I’m one of them), but the Retake Mass Effect effort tells us exactly why most AAA games are so mundane: the average gamer hates intellectually challenging games! So much so that they create petitions to try to force game companies to make the few attempts made at interesting games be rewritten. The ending of Mass Effect 3 wasn’t perfect, as I am going to outline in part 2, but the response by the average gamer to the ending fills me with far far more rage than the actual ending itself. And that’s just sad.

(1) “Retake Mass Effect.” ChipIn. 12th March, 2012. Available: http://retakemasseffect.chipin.com/retake-mass-effect-childs-play
(3) Plunkett, Luke. “Mass Effect 3 Gets A Happy Ending After All.” Kotaku. 21 March, 2012. Available: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/03/mass-effect-3-gets-a-happy-ending-after-all/
(3) Kuchera, Ben. “Why the ending of Mass Effect 3 was satisfying, and worthy of the series.” Penny Arcade Report. 13th March, 2012. Available: http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/why-the-ending-of-mass-effect-3-was-satifying-and-worthy-of-the-series-mass
(4) Freeman, Zadishe. “Outrage over the ending of Mass Effect 3: Not just a game.” Freeman’s Mind. 25th March, 2012. Available: http://zadishefreeman.com/the-outrage-over-mass-effect-3-not-just-a-game/
(5) Salo. “The Illusion of Choice in Dragon Age 2.” Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. 26 October, 2011. Available: http://chronosynclasticinfundibulum.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-illusion-of-choice-in-dragon-age-2/

Part 2 is live!

One thought on “Mass Effect 3′s ending part 1 – Retake Mass Effect is wrong

  1. Pingback: Mass Effect 3′s ending part 2 – praise and criticism | Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum

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