Why the Mass Effect 3 Endings are bad (spoilers)

If you’ve been paying attention to Mass Effect 3 news, chances are you’re aware that a LOT of people have been complaining about the ending(s). I held out hope, thinking that maybe it was all overblown, or they had rushed through the game and not earned the best possible ending. I did every side quest, scanned every planet imaginable, played the heck out of the multiplayer to get my “Galaxy at War” rating maxed out, in short I was prepared.

I finished the game this weekend. And all I can say is “…..what the hell?”

It’s bad. No matter which option you end up taking, it’s just awful. A truly disappointing end to an awesome series, on multiple fronts. Of course, there are people who DO like it, but for the life of me I cannot imagine why.

So I’m going to break down every single problem I have with the multiple endings. Be warned, it will be impossible for me to do this without spoilers, so if you’re weird and care about that sort of thing, you should probably not read this.

Still with me? Okay, let’s do this.

The basic idea behind “improving” your ending in Mass Effect 3 are things called “War Assets”. You’re doubtless already familiar with these, it’s a numerical value assigned to the various people/races/groups/etc you recruit to help you fight the Reapers. The more you get, the higher your number.

This number is modified by something called the “Galaxy at War” rating. It’s a percentage that shows the “readiness rating” of the 5 sections of tha galaxy. You increase this primarily by playing the multiplayer, but there are other means to do it as well. The minigame in the iOS app “Mass Effect Datapad” can do it, for one. It starts out at 50% and won’t go lower than that

Multiplying the War Assets by the percentage of your Galaxy at War rating gives you your “Effective Military Strength”. This is the number that your ending is based on. To get the best possible ending, regardless of your choice, this EMS number must be above 5000.

So if you play no multiplayer at all, you have to get War Assets totalling 10,000 to get that. As far as I know, that isn’t possible. My final War Assets was in the high 7000s, and I can’t see how I could have possibly gotten more. So, when BioWare said you could get the best possible ending doing no multiplayer? Yeah, they lied. Unless there’s some mysterious amount of War Assets out there hiding, I don’t see how that’s possible.

But that’s not the problem. I love the multiplayer anyway. No, the real issue comes from the story.

At the game’s end, you meet an aritifical intelligence calling itself the Catalyst. It takes the form of the little boy you helplessly watched get killed at the game’s start and have been having nightmares about ever since. They don’t mention who built it or why, but its task is to solve the problem of synthetic races always rising up against their creators. And its solution was the Reapers. The Reapers would harvest advanced civilizations, convert them to new Reapers, and leave the primitive ones alone so that life can continue and synthetics won’t ever destroy life entirely.

Um…what?

First of all, by choosing to take this kid form, the Catalyst comes off sounding like a scared little boy who happens to be all powerful and thus built gigantic death robots to protect it from bullies. Second of all, this solution it comes up with makes NO sense at all. It wants to prevent synthetics from destroying organics….so to do that it makes extremely powerful synthetics to destroy them? Or worse, melt them down into their base chemicals to use as feul for a new Reaper? (Yes, they do that. You can see it happen in Mass Effect 2, and it’s very very hard to watch) This is his “solution?” And we can’t call him out on the BS that it is?

So when Shepard makes it to him, he simply says “Oh, you found out about me. I guess my solution won’t work anymore. You’ll have to come up with a new one. Here’s your choices” He then lays them out for you, and you have to choose by approaching one of three objects. These actually look like they’re presented in a dialogue wheel turned on it’s side and rotated 90 degrees. The left and right platforms are colored Blue and Red, respectively, to match the idea of “Paragon” and “Renegade”, with the middle one being a neutral color.

Let’s tackle these in order, from left to right.

Ending 1: Control

In this ending, Shepard sacrifices him/herself to take control of the Reapers, ordering them to, ostensibly, leave the galaxy and never return. S/He has to unleash the Citadel’s energy, the spread of which destroys the Citadel and all the Mass Effect relays. Assuming your War Assets were high enough, Earth is saved.

Here’s my problem with this ending: it basically undermines half the things you were fighting against in the first place, because it means Cerberus, and more specifically the Illusive Man, were RIGHT. You battle Cerberus trying to prevent them from undermining your efforts to destroy the Reapers, and in the end, why did you bother? Yes, the Illusive Man was under the Reaper’s control in the end, and they’d have never allowed him to do what he wanted to do, but several times you try to convince him of his complete folly, that he could never control the Reapers, and if he wanted any chance for humanity, he should stop fighting you.

Oh wait, turns out maybe you should have stopped fighting with him. Because he was right.

This is incredibly disheartening. You’ve been fighting Cerberus for almost no good reason. You could have simply worked with them, then taken control of the Reapers yourself. Everything you fought against them for? Little to no good, because you’re doing exactly what they did. Not to the same end, mind you, but that really doesn’t matter. All the deaths at their hands, and you wind up using their methods, practically legitimizing all the people Cerberus killed. What the hell, hero?

And this is somehow the “Paragon” ending?

But this isn’t the worst of it. No, for that we turn to…

Ending 2: Synthesis

You get this ending by walking towards the beam of light directly across from Shepard. In this ending, Shep sacrifices him/herself to add his DNA to the energy of the Crucible, which then fires, unleashing it across the galaxy, destroying it and the Mass Effect relays. However, instead of affecting the Reapers, this energy essentially rewrites the DNA of every living thing in the galaxy, both organic and synthetic, into new creatures that are a combination of both. The Reapers then suddenly leave, because with all life being both organic and synthetic, there will be no war between the two, so their purpose is fulfilled. We’re treated to an extra cute scene of Joker and EDI, clearly both part machine and part organic, embracing each other on the Jungle world the Normandy crashes on.

Let’s step back for a moment and think about this. This is a galaxy full of people that, thanks to the Geth, at best distrusts synthetic life, and at worst hates synthetics. Only just recently is everyone starting to get over that, thanks to the Geth joining the Alliance and the revelation that the “evil” Geth were actually under the Reaper’s control. Shep’s crew, thanks to EDI and Legion, are well and truly past that, but face it, the number of people who don’t fear and distrust synthetics is still well in the minority.

So imagine that suddently in the middle of a war with giant death robots that do horrifying things to the people they capture, everyone is knocked out by a sudden green energy wave, and when they wake up, the Reapers are gone, but entire parts of their biology have been replaced with robotics. Or if you’re the Geth, you suddenly go from beings of logic and metal, to suddenly having these squishy organic parts that weren’t there before.

Imagine that happened to you. And everyone else in the galaxy. And no one has any idea why.

Imagine the sheer pandemonium that would ensue. People would be TERRIFIED beyond measure. Some would break down, unable to accept or even comprehend it. Some would probably start trying to tear the machines out of themselves. Blame would start flying around left and right, especially among the giant fleet full of various alien species manning very powerful ships. The humans and Geth would take the worst of it, Geth for being synthetic and thus obvious targets, and humanity for leading this entire effort because of course they knew this would be the result. There would be no peace from this at all. The Alliance would shatter, and even more wars would ensue. All because Shep chose to transform the entire galaxy without even bothering to ask them if this is what they wanted

But let’s cast that all aside for one second. Let’s just assume all of that away. I dunno, some sort of enlightened peace accompanies your unwilling transformation into a robo-organic monstrousity. You’re all okay with it. Because that makes total sense.

What you do in choosing this ending is exactly what the Catalyst, and by extension the Reapers, wants.

Think about it. The Catalyst’s brilliant solution is to “preserve” organic species as Reapers. Which they do, lest we forget, by slaughtering millions of people, and melting the rest into feul for new Reapers, in a process that is extremely painful and horrifying. So the Reapers are somewhat partly organic themselves. But if the Catalyst can make you think this is the best option, it can get you to trigger a process that turns EVERYONE part organic and synthetic, and it can stop dealing with it. You’re doing exactly what an AI that admits it is responsible for most of the pain and suffering and death in the Galaxy for the past number of years wants you to do. Not because it will create peace like it says it will, no, we’ve already disproved that above. No, it wants you all to finish the job its Reapers started. Annihilation. And you just helped it along. Nice job there, hero.

Well, not picking either of THOSE options. After all, I’m Shepard. I’m a freaking hero. So all I’ve got left is….

Ending 3: Destruction

You choose this ending by walking up to the Red-lit path to your right. Mind you, THIS is supposedly the “Renegade” ending. Wow. The other two choices are absolutely awful, so this one must be worse, right?

You do exactly what you’ve been setting out to do the entire game. You destroy the gorram Reapers. And their evil little child-creator too. The reaction unleashed destroys the Citadel and the Mass Effect Relays (noticing a pattern yet?), but the resulting energy wave destroys all synthetic life in the Galaxy. That means no more Reapers, but also no more Geth or EDI. Any synthetic life is wiped out. Shepard, however, lives in the best version of this ending. The Normandy still crashes on some unknown jungle world, but your two squadmates you took with you to the final battle emerge with Joker.

So…yeah. The entire game, hell even the entire series, has been about destroying the Reapers. And somehow, doing this is the “Renegade” option. Anyone care to explain that to me?

What makes this worse, is that you can’t reason with the Catalyst. It claims that synthetics turning against Organics is inevitable. But you can’t prove him wrong, even though you have two examples in EDI and the Geth, doubly so if you stopped the Quarian-Geth war. That’s proof right there that this cycle can be different. This cycle can stop the supposedly invevitable. But you don’t get the chance to tell Catalyst that, and hopefully persuade him to make his death-bots go away. Nope, you destroy one, you destroy them all. It reeks of a child throwing a tantrum and issuing a black and white ultimatum. Maybe that form it chose has less to do with Shepard and more to do with Catalyst itself.

And you have to accept all this if you want Shepard to live and you don’t want to inflict horrifying transformations on the entire galaxy without their consent. No trying to convince Catalyst that it’s wrong.

This should be the good ending. It really should, but thanks to lazy writing, willful or otherwise, it’s not.

So those are our options. None of them are even close to good. And no matter which we pick, the Citadel and the Mass Effect relays are destroyed. Think about what that means for a second.

The Citadel is the central hub of the galactic government. Not only does the Council govern galactic affairs from here, it’s one of the most active centers of trade in the galaxy. According to the Codex, 13.2 million people live here. And you just blew it up. Of course, those people could have already been killed (either by Cerberus or the Reapers) or managed to flee the station, but if not, you certainly just ensured they were. Not to mention all the homes you just blew up.

As for the Mass Effect relays, let’s not forget they’re the best means of travel around the galaxy. The only other option is standard FTL travel, which is expensive in terms of fuel use. Mass Effect relays allow people to come and go safely and quickly. And you destroyed them all, stranding everyone on the worlds they’re on. Oh, and let’s not forget what happened the LAST time a Mass Relay blew up, in Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC. An entire solar system was destroyed. And now you blew them ALL up. You might remember that the Mass Effect relays are almost all in inhabited systems, generally pretty close to the worlds of many of the Galaxies major species. And you just wiped them all out, ostensibly. Is it probable to assume the energy waves being generated prevented this sort of galactic genocide from occuring? Sure is! The problem is, we have NO idea what happened.

And that’s really the problem with all of Mass Effect’s endings. They’re either bad choices or lazy writing, or both. We’re presented with three equally awful/stupid options which make almost no sense, and then we don’t get to see any fall out from them. The Normandy crashes on some jungle world, the Reapers are dealt with, and if Shep lives, we see him breathing.

And that’s it. The game jumps to the credits, and after those, we do a timejump some years into the future, where some old man has been reading Shepard’s story to his grandson, describing the wonders of the galaxy. And it’s over.

….what?

No. I’m sorry, people. These endings are not good. They’re at best, lazily written, and at worse, a deliberate choice by BioWare’s writers to not give us the good ending we should have gotten. People are right to complain about it, because it’s awful on so many levels.

Bioware, We have invested heavily into this game series. You’ve given us every reason to care about the people in it. We played as our version of Shepard, and we made the choices that determined the galaxy’s fate. And this is what you present to us. Sorry, Bioware, but this is unacceptable. Give us the ending Shepard deserves, the one as epic as your games have been. Give us a truly heroic option to pick. And for God’s sake, do not pull this “time skip immediately after the climax” crap. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games both did this, and it made their final books a tremendous letdown. Have authors forgotten how to actually write endings?

Of course, since you’re BioWare, and you’re obsessed with DLC, I know I’m probably going to have to pay another $10 or $20 for this ending(s) you should have written in the first place, but, sadly, I can only respond to that with “One problem at a time”

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    • Mathanugg
    • March 20th, 2012

    Does the ME3 ending issues effect your feelings for SW:TOR?

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