What Went Wrong with Mass Effect 3’s Ending?

This coming Tuesday Mass Effect: Andromeda, the fourth entry into the Mass Effect series, will be hitting shelves…or digital download availability, as it were. Despite some shaky early reviews, I’d still say that this game is highly anticipated given how loved the original trilogy is. Still, despite its popularity, there was a lot of uproar, backlash, and general unhappiness over the third game’s ending.

As I tackled writing endings earlier this week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the much maligned ending to the first arc of the game. Many people have their various complaints about what Bioware did wrong, but ultimately I think it comes down to a failure to do what I mentioned in my own post. The ending of Mass Effect 3 did not fulfill the promises made during the first two games.

Of course to discuss this in full, we’ll have to enter a little place I like to call The Spoiler Zone

The entire premise of Mass Effect was that it was a choose your own adventure sort of game. You could select dialogue and action options for your avatar, Commander Shepard (who you also got to create a custom model for). You could follow the path of the Renegade, a hardened soldier who gets the job done as violently as necessary, or the Paragon, a well-reasoned, kind, and ethical leader type. And you didn’t have to stick to either “path”; you could just do whatever you felt was right in the moment. Your choices would sometimes have pretty big in-game impact as well, even determining whether or not certain characters lived or died.

Throughout the course of the first two games, especially before Mass Effect 3’s release, there was this sense that the actions you took would result in a specific type of ending for your character. Paragons expected to be rewarded for their goodness in a certain way, and Renegades were willing to court the possibility that things might not end up so well for them. In fact, many players, including myself, created multiple Shepards to test out different paths and give ourselves the opportunity to view the different ending scenarios.

And this is where the problem was, really.

At the end of Mass Effect 3, no matter what choices you made throughout the entirety of the three games, you were funneled into the same room and given the same three options (later a fourth was added) as to how you wanted to end things. Each choice effectively gave you a different epilogue cut scene that would explain what happened to the Reapers, your adversaries throughout the series.

Now from an RPG perspective some of these choices were “righter” than others, but ultimately you could pick whichever one of the endings you wanted, regardless of whatever choices you made throughout the game to get to that point. And for me this was really the problem.

I, and I think many others, had the expectation that we would see different endings based on our particular play experiences. This isn’t how things panned out, and it was particularly obvious for those of us who played through the previous games with multiple Shepards. So while there were many people who complained about the ending because Shepard died (at least in most of the options you could choose), I think the real issue was that there wasn’t a range of endings based on play choice.

If, say, the Paragons had been rewarded with a happy ending for being good the whole game, and the Renegades faced gruesome death for their choices, that would’ve been more interesting. Or better yet, make the Paragons have to sacrifice themselves for the good of the galaxy as part of their ending while the Renegades live (though perhaps more of the galaxy burns as a result).

There were a lot of possible ways for this to play out, but Bioware didn’t go with any of them. In the end it felt like they were imposing a standard narrative on top of a story that was supposed to be based on choice. I think this was even worse because several of the characters, especially Mordin, had some really great and emotional closures for their story arcs. So after watching the stories of your crew build towards their end, it felt like even more of a let down for Shepard to experience a stale, railroad style game ending that didn’t take into account the player’s personal journey.

Thus far Mass Effect: Andromeda has been getting some mixed reviews for its opening, but I’m hoping that the game gets stronger and builds momentum as you learn more about the setting and the characters. And more than that I hope that Bioware has learned how to do an ending for this style of game correctly following the backlash from Mass Effect 3. I know there will likely be sequels to Andromeda, so I don’t expect a big clincher in this game, but hopefully we won’t be disappointed in this regard in any future games.

Did you have issues with the Mass Effect 3 ending? If so, what were they, and do you think my analysis is on the mark? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you next time!

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