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.