Three and a half months later, I am finally finished with Mass Effect 3. I know I’m late to the party, but I wrote this post anyway because I was immediately asked left and right about my thoughts on the ending. Obviously, the rest of this entry will contain spoilers, so if you still wish to avoid them, feel free move along; I’ll understand. I myself have been dodging spoilers like a madwoman dodging missiles in a Michael Mann movie since March.
So here goes. After all that I’ve heard, I braced myself for the ending. From the hubbub, you’d have thought BioWare committed the worst travesty of travesties when it comes to the final moments of the game.
Now why do I feel like I’ve been punk’d by the entire internet? As the final scene after the credits played, I found myself staring at the screen and thinking…what the hell, it wasn’t that bad.
I sought to do some post-game research and discovered that those who dislike the ending mostly fall into one of two categories. There are those who hate it because it’s weak in providing different endings (read: there is essentially only one ending.) Okay, point. In this, I am in complete agreement. Especially after seeing that video, changing the colors in the cutscenes to make things feel more different is like rubbing salt in the wound and reeks of laziness.
However, with regards to the second camp, or those who are upset with the game because they wanted a “brighter” ending? What? Why? The hell with that, I say. A not-so-happy ending does not a sucky ending make. Some of the best stories ever told have “crappy” endings. The Fox and the Hound. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Romeo and Juliet. Pretty much almost everything written by Thomas Hardy.
Somewhere in the middle of playing the second game, I think that’s when I realized the Mass Effect series is one of those stories. In fact, I made up my mind right then and there in January of 2010, that this is the only way things could possibly end. The best case scenario could only be bittersweet.
Maybe deep in my heart I’ve always known it, expected it. It’s not just because of the “hero always dies” trope. It’s just that after three installments, I knew that Mass Effect has become so huge that to demand the “perfect” ending is an act of futility (or a programming impossibility). In such cases, perhaps deeply unsatisfactory and confusing story conclusions which lead to speculation, rage, etc. are an inevitability, and if I’m to ask my inner cynic, possibly even intentional. Because hey, they got us all talking about it, didn’t they?! If their goal was a memorable send-off, well then bravo, they’ve done it.
(And while I’m still in Cynical Mode, might I add that I feel Indoctrination Theory is grasping at straws (albeit some very dedicated grasping) and giving BioWare way too much damn credit? The irony is, I’m not entirely sure BioWare didn’t get exactly the result they wanted by having people formulate and discuss IT, under the guise of “Uh, yeah, we’re simply letting the players think and interpret things on their own! That’s it!” Of course, that does lead me to wonder if those who cling to the theory are in a way the indoctrinated themselves, desperately looking for the order from chaos (!) they are missing from the ending. But hey, now I’m just getting all meta.)
So ultimately all the choices I made over the course of all three games didn’t really have a smidgen of impact on the final ending, but I can’t really say it broke my heart. Let’s keep things in perspective; the ME series was never open-world, open-ended, open-anything. There really wasn’t ever that much choice to begin with, even going back to the first game (making Sophie’s choice with Ashley or Kaidan, anyone?) Always, I just made my FemShep do what I felt was best, and I am content with the result — even if that turned out, in the bigger scope of things, to be the only result.
Despite that, I’ve been allowed to make dozens of decisions that changed my journey in myriad ways. The game’s appeal has always boiled down to forcing you to choose between a rock and hard place and then living with the consequences; for me that means no going back to an earlier save or “do-overs”. I’ve celebrated my smart choices, and likewise suffered intense regret from the not-so-smart ones. But all those choices, both good and bad, were mine, dammit. I lived with them, carried them with me.
In the end, it’s BioWare’s prerogative to write whatever ending they want, but for me it’s the entire experience that matters. I don’t think that would have changed, even if they’d decided to throw dog’s vomit into the last few minutes of the finale.
Still, while I’m not dancing with joy over the ending to ME3, I’ve nevertheless embraced it. And that’s not necessarily to say I didn’t like it, because I think I do, in fact, like it. What can I say, I have a soft spot for downer endings. Perhaps, speaking of Romeo and Juliet, the best way to explain my thoughts on this matter is with the following clip. Out of the entire last act the game, do you know which scene broke me down the most?
It’s this one (since I romanced the crap out of Garrus, obviously):
“Forgive the insubordination, but your boyfriend has an order for you…come back alive.” And of course, that was the one objective the game had to go and make me fail oh so spectacularly. Now I’m in that bar in the sky drinking by myself and Garrus is…well, wherever he is, we’ll still dream of turian-human babies together.
By now, you’re all probably sick and tired of the number of times I’ve extolled the joys of BioWare romances. But I do really enjoy them. I’m a romantic, but my favorite fictional stories always tend to be the ones featuring star-crossed lovers that end in tragedy. I’ll be the first to admit I may be screwed up, but to me it isn’t a great love story unless my heart feels like it was stabbed through with a dagger and torn out of my chest by the end of it. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did like Titanic. And Nicholas Sparks also has me eating out of his hand, so sue me.
Sigh. It always comes down to love and romance for me. Out of everything that happened in the ending, that scene with Garrus is probably what I’m most torn up about. Even though it has so little to do directly with the final moments, looking back at it after I’ve completed the game still leaves me feeling gutted. Like completely gutted. Lying on a fishmonger’s block, G-U-T-T-E-D. Yeah, I kinda hate it. But then again, that’s also why I like it. Which just about sums up my views of the ME3 ending.