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Four Years On – Mass Effect 3’s Ending Is Still Disappointing

ScreenCritics Shaun revisits ‘Mass Effect 3’ four years after its release, discussing why it was such a hard take for gamers.

Four years ago today, many gamers began the final step in an epic saga. When Mass Effect 3 released into the world – it was the final act to one of gaming’s most loved and highly regarded tales.  Yet somehow, Bioware and EA botched the ending, completely fluffing their lines with a final hour that not only became infamous among gamers for its failure, but one that facilitated an Extended Cut from both party’s. With the four years old today, I ask was the ending really that bad?

[Correction: We said four (March 2013), it’s actually five years (March 2012). Now we feel REALLY old]

The Mass Effect series is arguably one of gaming’s most beloved treasures. Bioware’s space epic sits among gaming royalty when it comes to prestige, a narrative that dragged gamers along with every peak and drop. While most gaming trilogies usually work in isolation to the whole (Making reference but ultimately not carrying an overarching plot) – Mass Effect is one long, arching space opera that plays out brilliantly in both the individual parts and the whole.

Following Mass Effect 2 (Which many still hold up as one of the last generations greatest games), the  final game simply had to stick the landing, give gamers closure and wrap up the loose ends we wanted to see concluded. It’s debatable how far this was achieved.

See Bioware’s classic came under for some insane hate when it touched down on March 6th 2013. While the majority of the game is fine and sticks the landing – it’s the final hour of the piece that ultimately hurts the entire whole. Bioware almost entirely ejected the web of decisions players had made over three games, delivering instead a cookie cutter ending that painted the games most epic choices with little relevance.

There were several endings – all of which played out in barely changed scenes. To gamers who’d been told their decisions were leading to universe altering implications – finding out that all your agonising choices meant nothing was a very bitter pill to swallow. Instead you were left with an arbitrary choice and a ghost child that felt almost entirely contrived for the convience of getting the game over as quickly as possible.

But was the ending really that bad? Yeah actually, there’s no real way to get around just how awful the original endings were. Some have attempted to defend them, saying that it was the journey and not the destination that matters, but that’s a cop-out. Mass Effect built its reputation on the depth of its emotional push, with characters and choices that had real consequences. Every new character was unique and their loss in your quest was intended to have real depth. Your choices were the defining feature and promised to deliver. To find out that not only was this an illusion but a cruel sleight of hand was too much for many.

It didn’t matter if you’d been a complete terror on your quest through the galaxy or a saint – the ending played out in the same beats no matter what your path. All those romances, all those epic decisions boiled down to nothing – and it smacked of laziness. Given that Bioware and EA knew how important the story was to the core Mass Effect experience, it’s amazing that no one stopped this from happening.

In fairness to the pair though, trilogies are hard to get right. It’s why so few are considered true classics throughout media. There’s an art to weaving a narrative across three outings and managing to hold an audiences interest the entire way – it’s a skill that’s rarely utilised correctly. I’d argue strongly The Godfather and Back to the Future are classic examples of much-loved trilogies with slightly dodgy third outings in cinema – but even these didn’t have the betrayal that Mass Effect 3 delivered. Movies at least offer a linear path in their narrative,  Mass Effect was built entirely on your decisions. Every experience was different.

The ending to Mass Effect remains one of the more controversial gaming topics of recent years. Even the Extended Cut failed to really sort out the mess that originals caused – simply expanding the scenes and trying to deliver slightly more fan service throughout. It’s a real shame and highlights just how poorly executed the final hour of the game is. What should have been a glorious tour-de-force required fan-service DLC and extreme expansion just to make serviceable. Fans deserved better than a lazy, hashed out ending that felt all too inconsequential to the bigger picture.

It’s funny, the more I think about the emotions of playing through the ending – the more I remember how bad it was the first time around. The unflinching disappointment that awaited gamers and the sheer annoyance that blocked out everything when the credits rolled the first time. It still nags me to this day that a game so heavily reliant on its story could misread the ending so awkwardly.

Shepard and his crew deserved a better send off. They certainly earned more care from a team of writers who awkwardly tried to shove emotional weight into an ending that didn’t fit the narratives ending. As it stands, Mass Effect is very much a case of the journey being much better than the destination – and that’s just sad.

Did you enjoy Mass Effect 3’s ending? Do you think the gaming community at large was wrong about the game?

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