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Mass Effect 3 For Dummies
by Heather Hale on 06/27/12 03:41:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[Discussion of how the new ending to Mass Effect 3 takes games down a notch in their quest to becoming an legitimate art form. NOTE: spoilers included.]


I just spent the afternoon re-living some of the most touching and painful gamic moments of my life because the internet decided it didn't like the original ending to the game. Sci-fi worlds are incredibly difficult to bring to a close, this I can completely understand. Especially in a world as complex and defined as that in the Mass Effect series, it is understandable that any unanswered questions could be problematic.

My take on the Extended Cut is that Bioware wanted to have an ambiguous and grandiose ending, but didn't want to leave the players hanging completely in terms of what happened to their beloved crew, which is why I believe it ended originally, the way it did.

This instinct obviously didn't work out, as in any sci-fi universe, all or nothing is really the way to go. I personally enjoyed the ambiguity of the ending and thought the complaints about it were unprecedented and childish.

Bioware, I wish they hadn't hurt your feelings, because you did a good job and the new ending is, quite frankly a little silly. My biggest problem with this entire debacle is that video games are finally beginning to be taken a little more seriously by the general public, and is not being as discredited as an art form as it once was.

I think all of us gamers can agree that this is a good thing. However, when a piece of art is allowed to be comprised by the complaints of the general public, I believe it loses a lot of it's integrity and puts games back into a more juvenile category of creation.

Nobody wrote an angry letter to Ingmar Bergman asking him to explain the ending to Persona more clearly, or got mad at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A good piece of art should always be open to interpretation, and that's exactly what the original ending to Mass Effect offered it's fans.

After so many hours of excellent gameplay, character development, and amazing adventures, does it really matter how Garrus got to that island? What the new ending gives us is that oh-so-important explanation, and a lovely photo montage where what exactly happened after you fire the crucible is explained to you as if you were a child. After the island scene, I honestly found myself laughing aloud at the ridiculousness that was the added explanation.

What does a piece of art give us if it doesn't leave us with any questions? Especially in a sci-fi universe, that has endless possibilities, do we really want to be able to completely close the book without being able to fill in any of the blanks for ourselves?

After watching the original ending where the little boy is looking up at the stars talking to his Grandfather, my head filled with thoughts of how the universe would rebuild itself and how things would be different in the cycles to come.

Watching a still image of a smiling Krogan, and a giant Reaper vessel picking up a shovel to help rebuild the world so easily, gives me nothing but a generic sense of complete closure of the series that left me feeling robbed of it's depth.

Bioware stated that this is not something they plan to do in the future and I am glad to hear it. I know it's all fun and games to complain about stuff on the internet, but brash anger and ignorant comments is not the way to help videogames become a serious art form, which they truly deserve to be. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but there is always fan fiction if you want to answer all the questions yourself. 

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Tora Teig
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Thank you for this. I agree with you, it was a little cowardly to buckle under and "mainstream" the ending. At the same time it is also graceful in a way, to take the (raving) feedback to heart. And I suppose even though it's art - because it's a game - the creator is not the only one "creating" the piece, the player is part of it too, at least emotionally. So when the player feels such a strong connection and reacts so intensely - that is also proof that it's art. Because it has awakened something within people, and that is an achievement in itself.

It is sad to compromise the piece though, I do agree!

Daniel Boy
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I'm sorry, did you really compare the ending of ME3 with the ones of 2001 and Persona? Even for argument's sake: That's heresy. I'm totally for secrets and imagination. But that is no excuse for bad writing. 2001's twist is visually generous and deep and flat and awkward and funny.

ME3's ending was so wrong in so many points, the new one only fixes two or three very stupid ideas and gives a little bit of closure.

I don't mind the catalyst, I don't mind the reaper's back story (in fact I like it), I don't mind the heavy handed choices, what I mind is the sloppy execution of the ramifications. The closure of a tale of 100h can be something special, can give you closure or surprise, can make you think. Think about the ending of the Sopranos, a bit cheesy, but really good for a TV show. Think about the questions, this ending raises: "WTF?", "Did he really ...?", "Whodunnit?", "What will happen now?".

The question ME3 raised:
Why did the Normandy (the main support character of ME) crash? And where the heck where they moving to and why? What happened to all the other ships, when the fasted one just barely survives?
Is surviving Garrus/Tali going starve because of the lack of dextro-amino acids?
Did the mass relays' explosions really kill off all of the rescued civs?

The writers tried to ask: "What will happen with the surviving crew on a strange planet?" and "How will the galaxy look like without mass relays?"

The main problem though was, that you couldn't tell, if it was all a smart move ("indoctrination theory"/ the steep price for the freedom of the next civs/ make you think) or just sloppy work. The more you know about film the more 2001 or Sopranos can give you, the more you know about games/film and ME the _less_ the ME3 ending gives you.
And taking the Extended Cut as a clarification of their intention all of the worst fears were justified: It just corrected the worst offences against the canon (ignore Joker and Eve and starving Garrus, they just fixed the Normandy/ the mass relays did not explode, the just broke down).

The only positive thing coming out of this mess is that people rose up and created many better endings - not that that in itself was very difficult.

Stephen Dinehart
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Eric Schwarz
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Agreed. No offense intended, but Mass Effect 3 had a lot of sloppy writing and plot holes. The ending was representative of the state of the entire game, and was the worst example of writing on display - and I think the attempt to create something artistic (if that's what it even was) fell completely flat precisely because there was no lead-up to it. Every part of the game felt like it was designed and written in a vacuum, then pieced together using the Crucible framing device, rather than working into a coherent whole.

Mass Effect has traditionally been "hard" sci-fi with its own internal lore and science to explain its technology, factions, etc. - you can't suddenly pull a Magical Dream Sequence out of nowhere that's thematically distant from anything previously established. In another game it may have worked, one with some sort of spiritual element or themes of rebirth and genesis popping up everywhere - but Mass Effect had no such consistent themes or vision.

Stephen Dinehart
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While I agree with you to some extent, did you really just compare ME3 to 2001? Sorry, but we are a long way off from such powerful visions from game auteurs (by no fault of their own).

ME3 is about as commercial a project as you get.

Are Nike billboards art? Does the latest iteration of Cityville leave you in catharsis? Do you relish in the artful design of a Happy Meal box?

Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, there is more art in TSR's Gamma World than ME3.

Lou Graziani
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I played the Extended Cut too, and while I'm usually for artistic integrity, there were a few flaws in the original ending that seemed more poorly thought out than artistic.

You're right that The Extended Cut spells things out a little TOO much, but after all of that criticism for the various plot holes in the original ending, what else could they do?

Why choose between "Synthesis, Destroy or Control" when its not even clear what difference it makes? Mass Effect was all about the consequences of your decisions and that decision had no (visible) consequences.

The games creators also seem to have re-thought the ending some too. In the new cut the Mass Relays are less destroyed and the Normandy was less damaged (and repairable). Did they make that change to pander to fans who rightly pointed out that everyone would probably be dead? If you pay attention to the in-game lore it would be logical to infer, with the old ending, that all life in the universe was obliterated when the relays exploded, or at least that your squad would die stranded on that back water jungle planet.

Sure, the old man and the little boy give you an "Everything Turns out OK" type of closing, but I don't think anyone was asking for that.

Overall, the EC may have been TOO MUCH info, but it helped a little with a poorly executed ending.

Eric Schwarz
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"Mass Effect was all about the consequences of your decisions and that decision had no (visible) consequences."

No it wasn't. Mass Effect is about living a personalized 80s-era sci-fi movie. That much was clear even in the first game, with the film grain effect and cheesy synth score. I think people always attribute a bit too much "role-playing" to BioWare games, especially Mass Effect. It's not a sandbox experience with deep choice and consequence - it's a linear storyline where some of the details change based on your interpretation of the characters. It doesn't make the game worse or better, but I don't think it's right to say the problem is the lack of consequences when the entire series has already made it abundantly clear that 99% of the player's choices have no impact on the story anyway.

Tiago Costa
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You know why Bioware decided to change ME3 ending? It was not pressure from the clients, THEY knew it was a bad ending and surely not the ending they wanted to do for the reapers (see dark matter).

The effect the ending had was a justification to say to EA that they wanted to add to the ending.

The initial ending was pure bussiness decisions if I ever saw one, the outcry resulting gave power to the developpers to stand their ground and do their "Art" instead of what so much people believe to be the initial ending.

We should be happy that this happened because it may have shown that bussiness decisions alone that cripple the game are not well accepted.

I believe that if the outcry didnt happen you would have a DLC that explained some parts after the ending at 10 dollars a pop.
This was not a childish decision over the ending, it was a power display from the costumers, as customers of an industry spiralling down, and out of control, we should be happy this all mess happened.

Its my opinion and I still respect you even if you disagree.

Heather Hale
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I watched all the alternates a bit later in the day, and the only one I thought offered anything extra was the choice not to choose. Although it was quick and I really doubt many people would choose not to choose after so many hours of gameplay, I liked the idea of the cycle ending in disaster and then being forced to repeat in such an abrupt and bleak way. It was the only bold change in the endings, other than a furthered explanation of what could already be, to me at least, easily imagined. I will admit, that beyond the synthesis ending (which is what i chose) I can see a little more, the need for that elaboration, I stand by my opinion, that it was altogether unnecessary.

I'm glad that some people did get something out of it. I just found it to be a (for the most part) poorly executed elaboration on what they had already given us before.

And my comparing it to Persona and 2001 was supposed to be a far reach in that, I think that video games that are going to be bold enough to go in the direction of ambiguity and artistic interpretation are hopefully on the horizon, and although Mass effect's ending and the series in general is far from those films, the fact that they at least attempted to create a more open-ended conclusion to the series (albeit not going all the way with it), was a decision I can get behind and I hope more games will try in the future, despite possible fan backlash.

Matthew Mouras
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"I think all of us gamers can agree that this is a good thing. However, when a piece of art is allowed to be comprised by the complaints of the general public, I believe it loses a lot of it's integrity and puts games back into a more juvenile category of creation."

I agree with the author's sentiment. I don't believe that the player's involvement, emotionally or otherwise, entitles them to an appeal. This sets a poor president for video games. Artists/designers make choices. Some of those choices are meant to elicit a specific response from the audience. Video game narratives suffer because so many of the choices that have been made over the years have been juvenile. Now I don't think Bioware are the equivalent of film auteurs, but they made a decision about their ending and they should have supported that vision. Tiago Costa makes a good point above. Maybe their acquiescence simply shows how unhappy they were with their narrative and took the complaining as an opportunity to do something about it. That's a shame - I personally think they had reason to be confident in the finish despite the internet growling.

This will sound harsh, but developers have spoiled players into thinking they are a part of the creation of our art. They aren't. They are consumers. When the "player tools" packaged with a AAA game consist of a C++ development framework, source control, and relevant documentation, then they can cry foul and craft their own ending.

Until then, sit down, play, and whine if you must.... but don't expect a dev to buckle to backlash.

Nick Harris
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Doyce Testerman made this observation on his blog:

"The ending has no real connection to the rest of the story... It completely takes away your choices at the end of a game about making world-altering choices."


Testerman does an absolutely excellent job of conveying how badly Bioware screwed up all their carefully laid plans and reasonably held assumptions of their faithful customers. No wonder they had an internet backlash.

Yet, I can't agree with his conclusion.

When Bioware asserted that it was their story and they weren't prepared to change it all arguments to the effect that "...but it isn't entirely their story, it is as much the player's story as well as they have helped forge it over the many hours of interactive gameplay and consequential dialogue choices that they have made..." fall flat as far as I am concerned as I know of no game that has had the ending of its story changed after publication / distribution.

Sure, this happens with Director's cuts of Movies, but then it still tends to be a restoration of the original vision of the Director after the original release was "spoilt" by anxious studio interference. That is why there is an expository voice-over at the beginning of Blade Runner and a "flying away over sunlit hills" final scene tacked on based on unused footage from The Shining.

Bioware were wrong to produce a "bad", inconsistent, ending. They should have tested it against some fans of the earlier games and changed it in reaction to extreme negative feedback. This has happened to many films, with an anxious studio seeking a broader commercial market over the integrity of a problematic artistic vision that they had initially approved when it was in script stage:

I think there was a version of Pretty Woman where Richard Gere's character is rejected by Julia Roberts' at the very end, because she has enough money from their time together for her to break free from a life of prostitution, the implication being that the "Cinderella" ending that they went with would always leave her feeling "bought".

Yet, all of these changes (for good, or bad, depending on your point of view) happened BEFORE initial release. Once distributed, an audience should only expect aftercare to extend to bugs in the gameplay, not in the story-line, or characterisation. Additional DLC could elaborate on the story, but it would be annoying to those who had played the original game if it were to perform a retcon on the preceding material:

This is only really acceptable in pulp fiction, comics and long-running serials appearing in magazines, annuals and newspapers. Ephemerality excuses inconsistency, not lack of quality, as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes would have ended at the Reichenbach Falls to avoid accusations of unjustifiable discontinuity. Arthur Conan Doyle could yield to fan demand and bring his famous detective back because the character appeared in stories, not one story. Unfortunately, Bioware's trilogy is continuous with your character remaining as "saved" at the beginning of the next story installment as they were at the end of the previous one. Sherlock's Adventures were self-contained, so there was less expectation of continuity.

A retcon is also tolerable in more mainstream media, like film, provided that the cast gets changed. Spiderman and Star Trek have been re-booted by taking care to disassociate themselves from the exact same chemistry existing between the actors in their original outings. So, despite the protests, despite the original ending(s) being both bad and inconsistent with what story had preceded it, Bioware should not have caved in and provided an alternative, expanded, director's cut. Please, don't encourage this trend... we have enough patches as it is.

Guillermo Romero
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Delete the DLC and *poof* new ending be gone