Given the six part series I wrote on the original ending of Mass Effect 3, a post on the new ending seems long overdue. In response to the criticism levied against the ending, Bioware released a free DLC, Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, which sought to “[provide] more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.”
After playing through the various new endings, it became very clear to me that, if this content had been in the game from the very beginning, the majority of people would have been satisfied. The new endings gives a mix of happy and sad options, based on the player’s actions, and provides cut scenes that summarize the main character’s lasting impact on the universe. Additionally, a few sequences were added in an attempt to smooth over glaring holes in the story (most notably, that the main character’s crew went from being on Earth to crashing on a remote planet in the span of a short fight.)
All in all, I’m glad that Bioware released this new content and happy with what’s contained in it. It went a long way to fix the damage that they had done by taking their fans for granted. It showed that they could and should have put more effort into the ending initially and that doing so wouldn’t have hurt their artistic vision. It also let them bring back some disenfranchised fans just in time for a different DLC that cost $10.
That being said, I stand by my assertion that the story ended poorly. It was (and remains, despite the new ending) an example of an author brain dumping all the facts and back story of their world that they didn’t reveal during the narrative. I clearly remember the main bad guy in Mass Effect 1 saying “You cannot grasp the nature of our existence” only for it to be plainly defined in the final few minutes of the series. The ending robbed the magic and mystery from the world.
During the height of the outcry over the Mass Effect 3 ending, folks did all sorts of things to voice their opinion. One group sent Bioware hundreds of cupcakes that were all the same flavor but had different colors of icing. Others donated money to charity, mistakenly thinking they were crowd funding a new ending. But in all the press, I never saw one article explaining why the ending was good. Sure, plenty of people said it “wasn’t that bad” but most just relied on attacking the fans that didn’t like it.
A common claim was that the fans suffered from “gamer entitlement”, that they only wanted a happy ending, and that they were standing in the way of Bioware making great art.
The book has been written and you can change the way you read it but don’t pretend you’re the author.
If we were talking about D&D, this would be the fatbeards‘ position. We, as players, are supposed to lap up the story as spoonfed to us by the gamemaster. Anyone who questions it risks having a giant boulder dropped on their character’s head or being kicked out of the game. Now imagine that you’ve paid $200 to play in that D&D group — wouldn’t you speak up if it wasn’t good for you?
And let’s be honest. The video game industry has made it clear that they’ll use downloadable content to change their games when it suits them. Portal’s ending was changed to promote Portal 2; did Chell’s recapture ruin the game’s art? Or what about Fallout 3, where the ending involved the main character dieing right up until they wanted to sell more content. This was another game where the Internet spoke up that ending was poor but almost everyone agreed that time.
When a company excels at creating a great work of art, be it a video game or TV show, they should be thankful when they find fans passionate enough to care. DLC provides the video game industry with a unique opportunity to modify their games after they ship. This mechanism is happily exploited for profit. It shouldn’t take an outcry of dramatic proportions to use it to fix mistakes.
As I’ve discussed earlier in this series, the biggest concern I have with the ending is that the plethora of choices made over the years don’t matter. The actual ending relies almost solely on the final decision and, in either case, it doesn’t save the Galaxy. In this post, I’m not going to address any changes to the dialogue with the Catalyst; my first task would be to delete that entire scene and any foreshadowing thereof.
Since players may have enjoyed one, two or all three of the games, we’d need to ensure that choices from the early games can impact the ending while not excluding those new to the franchise from those endings. Additionally, we’d want to make sure that all possible endings are available to both good and evil (paragon and rebel, in the series) characters. Finally, it is readily apparent that the designers wanted one of three endings: destroy the reapers, control them or synthesis, a process through which living creatures and robots are melded into a new hybrid species. I’d keep those endings even if they were made more distinct.
First, to facilitate the control option for all players, we need a way for the Illusive Man to get the needed knowledge. In Mass Effect 2, Shephard could have chosen to save the Collector Base; in my version of Mass Effect 3, Shephard needs to choose between saving Oriana or stopping Kai Leng. If the Collector Base was kept OR Kai Leng escapes with the data gathered on Horizon, the Illusive Man can continue to proceed with his plans to control the reapers.
During Mass Effect 3, Shephard works to unite the fleets of the various species to build one gigantic force. The size of these war assets is measured as “Effective Military Strength” or EMS. This score, in the canonical ending, serves to color the final cut scenes. Let’s take it a step further.
EMS 0-1749 – The galaxy isn’t prepared for the final fight. The Crucible is attacked and destroyed before reaching the Citadel. Shephard watches it explode before bleeding out himself.
- Cutscene 1: The soldiers on earth are slaughtered as the Reaper attacks continue.
- Cutscene 2: An unknown but obvious alien planet and species fifty thousand years in the future. A human-form reaper descends from the sky and cuts a swath of destruction with dual eye lasers.
EMS 1750-2349 – The Crucible is heavily damaged as it docks with the Citadel. It fires a radiant orange bolt just before exploding.
- Cutscene 1: The Reapers collapse moments before the Earth is destroyed. The Mass Relays explode as the orange bolt jumps from one to the next.
- Cutscene 2: The Normandy crashes on the Eden planet. Shephard’s favorite crew members climb out.
- Cutscene 3: If Gabby and Ken entered a romantic relationship, queue the canonical final scene talking about the mythical shephard. Otherwise, show Joker and EDI setting up a communications device outside the crash site. (No, EDI and the geth aren’t destroyed by the orange beam).
EMS 2350-2649 – Shephard collapses short of the final button and doesn’t get up. (a) If the control option is available and, if Shephard used any rebel options to recruit the mercenaries, Aria arrives with an armed guard. She activates the Crucible which discharges a blue beam. (b) Otherwise, Bailey arrives with a few C-Sec guards. He activates the Crucible which discharges an orange beam.
- Cutscene 1a: The Reaper’s glowing red eye turns blue and they lift off Earth.
- Cutscene 1b: The Reaper’s collapse.
- Cutscene 2a: The Reaper armada approaches the Omega space station, laying waste to the remains of the Cerebrus forces there.
- Cutscene 3: A funeral service for Shephard, somewhere recognizable based on dialogue options from Shepard’s romance(s). For example, FemShep and Traynor talk about settling down in London.
EMS 2650-2799 – Shephard collapses short of the final button and doesn’t get up. A Keeper makes it’s way over to the control panel and presses a glowing green button. The Crucible sends a green wave out through the galaxy.
- Cutscene 1: The Reaper’s on earth disintegrate. As they do, the dust settles over the soldiers and the synthetic-organic zombies (husks, banshees, etc). The former gain the mark of implants, like the glowing circuit pattern on their skin and the Illusive Man’s eyes. The zombies seem to gain sentience again and look around, perhaps horrified.
- Cutscene 2: If Joker and EDI entered a romance, we see them in the Citadel’s hospital. Otherwise, if the Geth and quarian are at peace, we see a pair of them in a hospital. In either case, we witness the birth of a hybrid child. If neither happened, this scene is skipped.
- Cutscene 3: A funeral service for Shephard, somewhere recognizable based on dialogue options from Shepard’s romance(s).
EMS 2800+ – Shephard makes it to the final button and the player is presented with options. The control option is only available if the Illusive Man had the technology. After pressing a button, Shephard collapses.
- Cutscene 1: Choose first cutscene from 2350-2649a, 2350-2649b or 2650-2799 depending on the selected option.
- Cutscene 2a: If control is selected, we see the Counsel issuing a war decree. The Reapers descend towards a planet. If Shephard failed to make piece with the Krogan, it is their home world and we witness the first volley in the attack. The same for the Geth. Otherwise, it’s an unrecognized planet.
- Cutscene 2b: For synthesis, copy cutscene 2 from 2650-2799.
- Cutscene 2c: In the destroy option, we’ll see a parade in Shephard’s memory. In fact, this could be many separate parades or similar ceremonies on each of the allied homeworlds.
- Cutscene 3: A funeral service for Shephard, somewhere recognizable based on dialogue options from Shepard’s romance(s).
EMS 4000+ – Exactly as above in 2800+, except that the parades are in honor of Shephard
- Cutscene 3: Shephard and their romance (if any) standing over the grave of the young boy shown in the opening of Mass Effect 3.
Admittedly, there would need to be a number of conversations about “What if…” since the players could have made a number of different choices during game play. But I think these options are a solid foundation that would provide a more satisfying ending. At the same time, I don’t think any of the options depart too far from the developers’ artistic vision or operational budget.
One of the common defenses of the Mass Effect 3 ending is that the story is about sacrificing for the greater good. My problem with that theory, however, is that the canonical ending has no greater good. But first, let me tell you a story about sacrifice.
Commander Shephard is an elite soldier that stumbles upon evidence of genocidal robots, The Reapers, that intend to kill all sentient life. The Reapers already are somewhat like the boogeymen of the galaxy, so almost no one believes him. As the story progresses and Shephard sets out with a trusted group of friends to stop the attacks, his life as he knows it ends. In one plot twist, he dies only to be resurrected. In another, after saving all the galaxy’s colonies from being kidnapped one by one, he’s imprisoned. Time and time again, the powers that be use him as a weapon and then downplay his epic contributions.
Despite all that, Shephard continues to fight. In the last installment, it becomes his responsibility to gather the galaxy’s fleets into one united armed force while discovering information about a super weapon. And, as I describe in another post, he ultimately suffers a mortal wound while attempting to deploy that weapon. “What do you need me to do?” are the words he spoke in what he thought were his final moments. Sacrificing everything, right until the very end, for a cause that he believed in. Stopping the Reapers. Saving the galaxy as he knew it.Instead, the end given to him by
To be more specific, all of the choices that end Mass Effect 3 destroy the Mass Relays and crash the Normandy on a garden planet. In the final moments, we’re shown an unknown father and son talking about “The Shephard” and how the son can go to the stars one day. The obvious implication is that enough time has passed that Commander Shephard has become a mythical figure.
Why didn’t anyone rescue the crew of the Normandy before they started a new society based on their hero Command Shephard? Without the Mass Relays, the galaxy that Shephard sought to protect is no more. Sure, faster than light engines exist, but the same trips would take years or decades. In the final battle, the ships of every species are at Earth. How are those species supposed to rebuild their wounded worlds? Returning home would take forever and that doesn’t begin to cover gathering supplies that were previously available on the intergalactic level.
The Catalyst, the boss of the Reapers, told us that he eliminates the dominate species and lets the fledgling ones survive until it’s their turn to be culled. Regardless of which ending is chosen, humanity is instead effectively reduced to a fledgling species. I don’t think that’s the outcome Shephard thought he was sacrificing for.
Because of the dust up that saturated the internet, the ending of Mass Effect 3 was spoiled for me. Not entirely, but I did learn that Command Shepard dies. I assumed that this unhappy ending was what led to the controversy. This knowledge colored how I played the game. I had a heightened awareness of the foreshadowing that told of the finality of the story. I also feared that it’d happen in a cheesey way.
Thirty hours of game play later, for a brief moment, I thought everything was going to be rainbows and sunshine. The internet was wrong; the ending was great. Let me describe what I saw:
In the final mission, Commander Shepard is nearly struck by a giant laser beam and is mortally wounded. He still managers to board the Citadel and struggles to the control room. After a final confrontation with the Illusive Man, he completes his mission and slumps down next to Anderson, a friend throughout the long campaign. In a touching moment, he watches Anderson pass and then, finally, assesses his own gushing wounds. It’s obvious that he knows he’s going to pass and, given that he’s stopped the reapers, is at peace.
Then the fleet calls “What do you need me to do?” is Shephard’s only reply. He needed to make one last effort. Struggle to the control panel and push one last button. This is where the game should have ended. With that button press.
But, in the crawl, Shepard collapsed under the weight of his wounds. Was the galaxy doomed to destruction? Nope. Because, just then, this guy shows up.
And, just like Neo, Shephard was presented an impossible decision by a robot in the sky. A robot who kills an immeasurable number of people in the name of saving a few. A robot who houses living creatures in constructs. Does all of this sound familiar? Well, in Mass Effect, it is just as bad as it was in The Matrix. A let down. A story killer.
The icing on the cake is that final choice. Shephard is given three ways to finally end the reaper threat. All three of them involve Shephard dieing (even when the plot has to be twisted to do so) and all three have the same effect. The reaper attack stops, the Normandy crashes, and all the other choices in the three games, in the six years, have very little impact.
Did you save Ashley, the Geth or the Collector Base? It doesn’t matter.
Video game stories come in a large variety of forms, from the barely existent story in Angry Birds, to the satirical barbs in Portal, all the way up through the multiple endings of Chrono Trigger. Mass Effect definitely falls in an unique spot on this continuum since the story itself isn’t very complex or deep. The universe is being threatened and one exceptional soldier fights to save it. But, unlike most other games, Mass Effect is laden with choices.
Because of the choices, if I had to compare Mass Effect to one other game, it’d be most like the living campaigns that take place in D&D and other roleplaying games. If you’re not familiar, the basic idea is that one central authority defines the setting and releases pre-written adventures, but it is up to each gaming group to make characters and play through the story. The adventures contain choices to present to the players, details about the NPCs involved, and even descriptive text to read aloud.
At the end of the day, dozens of separate groups could play the same adventure and have vastly different, yet similar experiences. Players from different groups could have discussions about the big bad evil guy; he probably had a deadly glowing sword in both of their games, even if in one he was described as having a green hat and, in the other, it was red.
Mass Effect plays like this. Bioware designed the setting, populated it with NPCs and set out the major plot points. But there’s enough branch points, decisions and customization options that each players’ experience is unique. Additionally, just like players in a living roleplaying game can take their characters from one adventure to another, Mass Effect let you import your character from one game to the next. If you saved a given NPC in the first game, they’d be in the second; if they didn’t make it, don’t expect to see them again.
This framework, which generated thousands or millions of different game experiences over six years, allowed the players to become uniquely attached to their characters, the NPCs, and the locations in the story.
Since it’s release in March of this year, there’s been blog posts, newspaper articles, and more talking about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Perhaps not a majority opinion, but there are enough fans who dislike the ending to stir up quite the brouhaha. It got so fevered that the game’s review scores on Metacritic and Amazon plummeted compared to the previous game, despite having nearly identical game mechanics and a more involved story. As it stands right now, the co-founder of Bioware has released a statement and promised a DLC that would provide “more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.”
Now that I’ve finished the game, I have my own opinion on the ending, which I will explore more in later posts. But first, I want to touch on a concept from Bioware’s statement.
I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds, and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism. At the same time, I also believe in and support the artistic choices made by the development team.
It’s important, when framing video games as art (and they are, despite what some might say) that we consider how different games can be from each other. A game like Skyrim can have a poor ending to the main quest line and it doesn’t get eviscerated across the internet.
There is something unique about Mass Effect that sparked the fans’ care of the story and the subsequent intense reaction to the ending. This same type of reaction has been seen in other media. The Matrix, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica are all series that left fans bemoaning the ending. These were stories where the fans were deeply engaged, speculating on the various plot twists and character motivations.
It’s that engagement that makes a lackluster finale such a disaster.
While reviewing one of the Game Chef entries, I came up with an initial idea for a new game. It’s also inspired by the lyrics to Who Wants To Live Forever by Queen.
Who wants to live forever?
Who dares to love forever?
When love must die?
I see this playing out as a card game where the player is an immortal of one sort or another — vampire, highlander, etc. The cards themselves represent people the immortal has relationships with, whether that’s a business associate, significant other or friend. There would be a per-card count down timer that would represent the length of that relationship. Each turn, those timers would tick down and, eventually, the cards would get removed from play. This could signify that the person has died, drifted out of touch, or has otherwise lost touch with the immortal. This mechanic is meant to represent the turnover of people during the long life of an immortal.
I’m missing the goal, however. I was thinking that each relationship could provide resources (money, weapons, influence) and that each player would have a different victory condition. Maybe one immortal is trying to become king (influence) while another wants to be the “godmother” of organized crime (weapons). I’m not sure if the varied win conditions would hinder strategy.
Other random but not fleshed out ideas:
- Tax a relationship to get more resources this turn but quickly reduce the timer.
- The ability to lengthen a relationship or shorten that of another player.
- The immortal enters torpor if they burn through too many relationships.
To Put Things Right by Antti Lax
Realising that he is living his past again, Doctor begins his Last Chance to save his beloved and Put Things Right. A storytelling game for one player and up to three narrators.
This game combines Choose Your Own Adventure with Groundhog Day to make an interesting little storytelling device. Our main character, the Doctor, has a limited amount of influence and can only change so much each day.
The game isn’t really setup, however, to allow the players to continue reliving one day until they get an ending (spoiler: not all the endings are happy ones). Unlike in the movies, the director here can’t opt to skip the scenes we’ve already seen and aren’t worth watching again. To Put Things Right only has twelve scenes and it’s likely most of them will be touched upon in one play through.
Note: After reading through the rules a few times, I’m still not 100% sure what order the scenes go in — sometimes you’re told what scene comes next, other times it is left very open ended.
In terms of Game Chef, I feel like the Groundhog Day concept really robs us of the last chance theme. Theoretically, the doctor has unlimited chances to set things right as long as they don’t spend the last of their resources. However, as I mentioned above, the nature of a story telling game with limited, predetermined scenes does sort of enforce the “might only be played once” idea. Finally, the ingredients themselves have little to no bearing on the game. As you can see, the words were used to name the characters (The Doctor) but I can’t see any reason why. The character isn’t an MD or anything similar; perhaps it’s loosely based on Dr. Who? But I really feel like this game could have been created entirely without the ingredients and ended up in exactly the same spot.
Coyote’s Winter by Mael Rimbault
The characters are the last Coyotes, struggling to survive and adapt to human environment.
This game has a fascinating theme where the characters, coyote spirits, are forced to decide between losing bonds with the humans they know and becoming more human themselves. Both are seemingly unhappy endings so it’s up to the players to maintain a balance. Character creation is loosey-goosey with a very open traits system and conflict resolution is equally simple and vulnerable to GM fiat. In my opinion, it’d work well playing with friends and not so much at a convention or something like that.
In terms of Game Chef, Coyote’s Winter heavily embraces the coyote and mimic ingredients. Lanterns and doctors are included as part of the setting with the latter feeling added just to satisfy the rules; the evil overlords could have easily been called Big Brother or the Combine instead of the Doctors. The theme is present but not as time-sensitive as originally described — it feels like the players could enjoy a long and winding campaign in this game.
As a final note, Mael opened with an apology for his English given that it is not his native language. However, I found the text very easy to read and understand.