There has been more hate spreading across the internet about how Mass Effect 3 ends than I've seen even towards the Star Wars prequels. Bioware and EA can't get a word out on any topic without people hammering them for the way the ending was handled. The @MassEffect Twitter account is a bastion of patience, dealing with near-constant criticism.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know what could cause such outrage.
Well, I've seen the ending I chose, and gone to Youtube to watch the other two.
And you know what? It's fine.
I can see why some people might be annoyed. I had a few knee-jerk reactions myself, but for the most part they went away once I thought about it for a moment.
As regards everything in the game coming down to three choices, I've seen this before. Baldur's Gate had it, Deus Ex had it. In my experience whenever a video game tries to give ending options beyond "Good Ending" and "Evil Ending," they wind up disappointing someone. It's just the way of things. When you try to add shades of grey to your morality, you always risk that some people will find something objectionable about your options.
Still, I'd like to focus on something other than the narrative content of each ending here, and explain why, regardless of ending, I like some parts of it, and feel that others don't make any sense.
First up the bad stuff, which pretty much comes down to "Normandy running away." The end sequence shows the Normandy in a Mass Relay jump, with Joker trying to outrun the Crucible Effect. Then we see the ship, crash-landed, on a lush garden world and several crew members get out. The only way this is possible would be for the squad members with me on Earth to have had time to be picked up in a shuttle, flown to Normandy, then for Joker to head straight to the Charon Relay and jumped out of the system. There's no reason for this to happen, and it's unlikely there would have been time.
My solution? I ignore this. There's enough of a disconnect there for me to write off the whole thing as nonsensical. In my ending, no way did Joker run away.
Now the stuff I can explain:
- How the geth would be destroyed by the Crucible. If it was designed to target the Reapers, which are a specifically unique technology, the only way it could have an effect would be if the Crucible targets Reaper AI Code, which was also a part of the geth in my playthrough, and EDI. However, code can be removed. It's possible, even likely, that the geth actually survived, despite the Catalyst's predictions, albeit in their less-intelligent form. As for EDI, a lot depends on how much of her original VI code was used in her construction, and how much her own development through the story over-rides that code. If we treat AI as a real form of life, again it's possible that she can survive. That said, I believe EDI would willingly die if it meant destroying the Reapers.
- The "we protect organics from being killed by synthetics by creating synthetics to kill them" point, which has a lot of people upset. I guessed the true nature of the Reapers after talking to the one on Rannoch. This actually makes perfect sense to me. Think about it like pruning a rose bush. If the bush grows too large, its environment can't support it. To us, we're just trimming it back to keep it looking nice. To the bush, an alien form of life regularly comes and cuts away pieces of it for no reason you can understand, pushing you back to an earlier stage of your development. If the goal of the Catalyst is to preserve the presence of organic life, then culling the more advanced samples so they don't destroy themselves makes sense.
- Killing the Reapers wipes out all remnants of the past cycles. I've seen this as an argument that, by destroying the Reapers, you destroy the potential knowledge they could contain of the species used in their construction. However none of the Reapers act like their intelligence or awareness is based on the members of a past cycle. Each Reaper is a machine whose will is controlled by their programming. Their consciousness is not formed by the species used to create them. Rather, their consciousness controls a vast library of data. Given my belief about the Crucible damaging Reaper AI Code above, and the fact that the Crucible Effect simply shut them down in my playthrough and doesn't destroy their bodies, it's possible that huge amounts of information remain intact within them.
- Destroying the Mass Relays. This is probably the biggest bugbear out there. We see in the Arrival DLC that the destruction of the Alpha Relay destroys an entire star system. So doesn't the destruction of all the relays destroy every system they're in? Well first off, we're clearly shown the Crucible Effect not harming any non-Reaper soldiers or ships, assuming you got your Effective Military Strength high enough. Secondly, while it's not outright stated, I would infer from what's shown that the end of Arrival shows a relay's energy being dispersed with nowhere to go. In Mass Effect 3, the Crucible focuses that energy to a specific purpose. There's no massive explosion because the energy is being funnelled along the relay network in a very specific and refined form. Physically possibe? I have no idea. We're talking about a game with giant Space Cthulhus and blue aliens who can mate with anything they want. I'll take a little bit on faith here.
- No more FTL? Even if the destruction of the relays didn't kill everyone, there's still no way for anyone to get back to their home worlds now, right? Wrong. From Mass Effect 2 onward, we see non-relay FTL in use. Shepard, Miranda and Jacob use it to escape Project Lazarus. The Collectors use it to ambush the Normandy. And the Reapers use it to enter our galaxy from Dark Space. The only thing that's changed as regarsd space travel is that now it takes a little longer. It's stated that Mass Effect 3 takes place roughly three years after Mass Effect 1. That leaves a maximum of one year for the Reapers to travel from far beyind our galaxy to Batarian space, where they struck first. Maybe it even takes a few months to cross the galaxy now, but it's still possible.
- No closure. This is the other big thing I see repeated, that we don't find out what happens, what our choices meant. But I'm with those who see Mass Effect 3, as a whole, as the ending. By the time I made the assault on Cerberus HQ, I had seen the results of pretty much every choice I had made throughout the series. I had cured the genophage, returned the quarians to their homeworld, brought the rachni back from the brink of extinction and held them to their promise to help us fight. No, the game didn't tell me what happened after I activated the Crucible. I don't think it needed to. The Reapers were beaten. Sure, you could say you want to know what happens to Garrus, or what Shepard does with his life if he survives. But where do you stop with those answers? When you're talking about a galactic-scale story, how much explaination would be enough to tell it all, instead of leaving it to our own imaginations?
The way Mass Effect 3 ended left me with enough to imagine for myself what happens next. In destroying the Reapers, the Citadel, and the Mass Relays, I gave organic life something it had never had before. Freedom. The Catalyst ensured that organic life evolved and developed along predictable routes, to better prune away what wasn't needed anymore. Without that control, life is free. Galactic civilisation finally has the thing that made Mass Effect great to begin with. Choice.
I think being told in detail what happens next, in epilogue text boxes, would take away some of what makes the ending special to me. I'm not sure I'll download the Extended Cut DLC. Not for a while, at least. I think the rest of the story as it happens in my head will fit me and my Shepard better than anything Bioware can add. And that's the best thing about endings, ones that show something new beginning. That each of us can choose our own story from then on.