SPOILERS AHEAD. Seriously, if you want to play any of the Mass Effect games with no spoilers, do not continue to read this post.
O.k., you were warned…
I just finished Mass Effect 3 this weekend and five minutes afterward I was online looking to see how many other people hated the ending. I say “ending” because although there are multiple endings, they all are basically exactly the same, which is one of the failings of the game. What I found was that yes, there is a very large, very vocal community who is angry at Bioware for botching the ending of the series. There are numerous articles, youtube videos and news posts, and it seems Bioware maybe got the hint and are looking at what sort of damage control they can do right now, because clearly people are upset. As of this writing over $65,000 has been raised for the charity Child’s Play by folks who want Bioware to write a new ending. That’s a big chunk of money that is very hard to ignore.
So why is the ending so bad? There are lots of people who have analyzed this point, and I agree that part of it is because it feels like your power of choice has been stripped from you in the last ten minutes of the game, but I believe the visceral reaction people are feeling from the ending comes from bad writing. The ending doesn’t bring closure to the major themes developed over the game or over the entire series. Instead, you basically give up and accept inevitability. This rubs people raw, and it’s a sign of a poor author who wanted a “gut check” ending instead of a good ending.
For those who haven’t played the games or those who have and don’t care if the ending is spoiled, basically you are given three choices (or two if you didn’t do so hot in the game). All three end with your character, the character you’ve invested about a hundred or more hours in, dying. No resolution for Shepard. No chance to join Garrus on the beach, or watch your little blue children grow up with Liara, or see Tali walk on her homeland without her suit. You don’t get a happy ending, no matter how much you did or how well you played – Shepard will die. (There is an ending where it’s possible Shepard lived, but honestly it’s unclear and never gives you the closure this series needs.)
But killing the hero in the final act isn’t the worst sin committed by the ending. It’s bad, I’ll admit. Of all the “epic trilogies” the Bioware team could have modeled their ending on, they chose the Matrix…bad idea. They apparently never saw Star Wars (Luke lives, Han lives, the galaxy is free!) or Lord of the Rings (the ring is destroyed, Sam and Frodo live, Aragorn lives, etc.). Instead they kill the hero, because hey, that’s gritty. It’s also a kick in the nuts to all the players who worked so hard to see this character, who has sacrificed so much and done the impossible not once, not twice, but THREE times, finally get the storybook ending he/she deserves. Imagine Star Wars ends with Luke jumping into the reactor core because he suddenly realizes “Jedi are part of the problem!” That’s what Bioware did. Bad writing, man…really bad writing.
Let’s talk about themes for a moment. Throughout the ME series, and especially in ME3, one of the major themes is unity. You either stand together or you will die alone. Well, except that after preaching that to the galaxy, after reunifying the Geth and the Quarrians, ending the animosity between the Turians and Krogan, and saving the Rachni, you die alone, and all of the endings also doom those races to death because you destroy all the mass relays. Wow…talk about destroying your universe in one fell swoop. Every single thing you did in ME1, ME2, and ME3 is WIPED OUT by your decision. That’s the “good” ending?! WTF Bioware?
Another major theme throughout the series (at least if you play Paragon) is self-determination. You save the Rachni because they deserve a chance to determine their own future. You save the Krogan from the genophage because they deserve to determine their own destiny. You save the Geth because, again, they DESERVE TO DETERMINE THEIR OWN DESTINY. But then in the last ten minutes, little god-starchild appears out of nowhere and tells you it doesn’t matter, nothing matters, the whole galaxy is going to kill itself no matter what you do. Fuck you, Bioware. That’s lazy. That’s poor writing and worse, it’s against the very theme you set forth.
I read an interesting bit where the ending wasn’t nailed down until about November of last year, and it really, really shows. The guy who came up with the three endings wrote something about how it will be controversial…yeah, BECAUSE IT SUCKS. You failed to live up to your themes, failed to even acknowledge they exist, and clearly didn’t even stop to consider that half the damned ending makes NO SENSE (why is Joker running away? how did Garrus and Liara get back to the ship?). Whoever wrote that little note should be forced to read all 200+ pages of the community response to this and deliver a speech at PAX to explain why they should never be allowed to write another video game ending.
The lead developer of Mass Effect said in an interview that he wanted the ending to be unforgettable. Well, you succeeded. It will go down in history as the worst ending to a game series ever.