Mass Effect 3: Beloved Art with a Poor Ending

May 16, 2012    

Note: This is part 1 of a series on the Mass Effect 3 ending. This segment is spoiler free. You can view the other parts here: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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.