Mass Effect 3 Ending Controversy
Ok so this is a SPOILER FILLED BLOGPOST. I am giving away key plot points right from the get go. So if you don’t want to know what has happened move away now. Really sod off.
Because SPOILERS AHOY!
Still here? Righty ho then, it has clearly aroused an incredible amount of debate and controversy. And as there are a fair few gaming fans I know I thought I’d write a blog about it.
Well first things first I don’t think the end is anywhere near as bad as some people seem to be made out to be, I mean we have been being prepared for the fact that Mass Effect aint blooming Disney ever since Ashley/Kaiden died on Vimrie back in Mass Effect 1. That it wasn’t going to all be sweetness, light and happily ever after has surely been signposted for ages.
So assuming Bioware *were* shooting straight with the ending/s we got (and I am far from convinced but more on that later) then it was a very interesting ending (if in some ways unsatisfactory).
It has been a theme of Mass Effect (and most of Bioware’s oeuvre) that actually Whitehats are not always right, and that the Blackhats are not always unrelentingly evil. Shades of gray has pretty much always been a big part of their story telling. Saren in ME1 *thought* he was the good guy, The Duke bloke antagonist in Dragon Age thought what he was doing was necessary (and you probably ended up saving him) and it was basically the entire plot of the KOTOR games.
I was wondering about the some of the motivation for the Reapers from about the middle of ME2. There was some subtle clues in your conversations with Harbinger that maybe all was not exactly as it seemed. And a couple of moments in ME3 really got me thinking about “where all this was going”. Specifically the repeated signposting that if the Reapers really wanted they could exterminate all biological life really easily but didn’t. Initially we were given to thinking this was because the evil blighters were just hoping to have new tech and folks to nosh every 50 thousand years but the conversation you have with the reaper you have just wasted on Rannoch rather suggests a different motivation.
So these clues (along with it being highlighted to me by the controversy that people were pretty unhappy with the ending) had me approaching the final bit in the Citadel thinking that things might be a little different and they sure were.
So the things I like about the end (assuming Bioware were playing it straight) are that it was genuinely thoughtful and challenging. That Shepherd has been able to see the conflict as basically black and white, good versus evil (even if his methods are variable) and then he finds out right at the end that things are much more complicated is an incredible headf*ck.
Having had the massive mission for so long “defeat the reapers” to find out that actually defeating the Reapers may well result in a pyrrhic victory that rather than saving civilisation would actually result in the extermination of the entirety of biological life forever? And Sheherd is the guy who has to either chose to either complete his mission knowing it might end up with the extermination of all life (as well as the unintended consequences of destroying interstellar travel, killing the Geth and ED-E) or to do some other pretty unpalatable choice (which all involve destroying interstellar travel) is a pretty crazy and interesting, and most of all challenging end to 90-odd hours of fantastic story telling.
Personally I like challenging endings in books, films and games. I love films like Solaris, Silent Running where you have to think some pretty deep philosophical thoughts. Similarly I love films where the end is challenging, I love the fact that even now we are talking about what really went on in The Usual Suspects or at the end of Inception. Challenge and ambiguity are good in stories.
Having said that there are still some problems with this analysis. The first and most obvious is that if they have chosen to go down this route they are probably not really appealing to their target audience. Mass Effect is great story telling, about as highbrow and accomplished as the art of video gaming has ever got to date. But it is still a video game, and it’s target audience is still gamers. Further the story telling up to this point hadn’t actually been thoughtful auteur sci-fi from the 70s, it had been Space Opera very much in the Star Wars mould (thanks to Andrew Nattan of Unmemorable Title for this great comparison you can see it in context here!). Fans can pretty realistically have had an expectation that it was at least possible they might get a Return of the Jedi like ending. To suddenly and profoundly genre hop would always be a little jarring.
Secondly as and act of story telling it didn’t really work because the ground work really hadn’t been put in for such a jarring change of pace. I mean in all honesty the Crucible appears for the very first time announces that he is the leader and controller of the Reapers and that the cycle was all his idea. WITH NO FRICKING ANSWERS OR BACK STORY! He tells us this is done to save organic life because synthetics will inevitably wipe out organics but doesn’t in any way back it up. Doesn’t explain why this is true or why we should believe him.
At the same time a major plot point of the last two games is that the examples put before us actually run completely contrary to this. Despite appearances we find out that the Geth are not that bad after all, and in fact we are strongly encouraged to save them when it turns out they were not the baddies after all and in doing so they prove themselves to be thoroughly decent. Ditto the whole of Ed-E’s story arc. For it to be even remotely credible that Shepherd would even consider taking the crucible at it’s word there would surely have needed to be some backstory that would allow him to start doubting his course? Where was the challenging conversation with Harbinger earlier in the proceedings that makes Shepherd start to wonder just a little bit about what was going on?
Lastly given we have been told time and time to keep our saves, and think about the choices we made because they would ultimately effect the outcome of the story. So I guess the biggest failure of the end is that none of the choices you make have the slightest bit of difference to the outcome (which is broadly the same) or even how the final show down pans out. You have the 3-4 possible ending depending on how well you had prepared for the war principally in ME3 and it’s spin offs (your prepared score and galactic readiness determining which choices available to you at the end). That it turns out none of what you did really mattered is kinda cool in the “thoughtful challenging story” stakes but in a game that has sold itself on decisions, choices and consequences is a bit of a kick in the teeth for fans many of whom have put in 90+ hours into their characters.
So there we go, if Bioware were shooting straight then in my opinion the ending isn’t as bad as everyone is saying but it is still problematic and deeply flawed. But I don’t think for a second they were, I am sure there is more going on there were loads of problems with the end of ME3, loads of stuff that didn’t make sense, didn’t feel or smell right.
Now it could be that after 3 games and 90 odd hours of storytelling Bioware just lost the plot in the last 10 minutes and wrote a load of stuff that contradicted everything that went before and had massive, gaping plot holes. But I have to say I personally find that a little unlikely. I was already thinking in a certain direction when I started googling about the ending and found that lots of people had been thinking along the same lines as me. Not going to rehash it all as plenty of other have done this better than I can be bothered to do here but have a read of this great (if a little lengthy) summation of the “Indoctrination Theory”:-
For those who can’t be bothered to read through all that And/Or watch the excellent video they link to (though really you should and heck you have made it this far down my post!) a couple of the salient points.
- Indoctrination, and being indoctrinated without knowing it are major, major themes throughout the series.
- Shepherd has spent more time in, around and talking to reapers and reaper tech than pretty much anyone not indoctrinated and the Reapers would surely try
- There a loads of things that don’t make sense on the Citadel
- How did Anderson get there? Why is he uninjured? How did he know Shepherd was aboard?
- How did Hackett know it was Shepherd aboard the Citadel?
- Why when Shepherd shoots Anderson in the side does the wound appear on Shepherd?
- How come the Crucible knows the appearance and voice of the Kid Shepherd saw at the start and was dreaming about?
- Also what were those dreams all about?
- A fair few hints that Shepherd is questioning himself (wondering if he is a VI when on the Cerebus station)
- The red/blue colours of the final choices are counter intuitive the action Anderson would have taken presented as the “Renegade” option and the action the Elusive Man would have taken been presented as the “Paragon” action. Though suggested that subtly the paragon style music plays when you choose destroy
- That the “third was” suggested by the Crucible is exactly what Saren was talking about in ME1 (and he was definitely Indoctrinated).
- That if you get the 4th (and presumably best) ending choosing destroy and see the secret cut scene of Shepherd taking a breath his N7 armour doesn’t appear to be melted like in the final scene and he doesn’t actually appear to be on the wreckage of the Citadel.
And quite a bit more if you trawl, the long and short of it is people are suggesting that the reason it seems to jar is it is supposed to. What you are seeing in that scene isn’t really happening but it is the final attempts of the reapers to indoctrinate Shepherd and what is happening is that Shepherd is making his choice, does he succumb to the reapers and fall down either the Elusive Man’s or Saren’s respective paths or does he reject and fight? Seriously in light of reading this stuff go and play the end bit again and see what you think.
Now this indoctrination theory whilst not perfect does “fit” rather with the available facts, so it could be true. Sure “then I woke up and it was all a dream” is a pretty hackneyed storytelling device (though in these circumstances one that could seem appropriate). And it would raise some questions of its own. At exactly what point did the indoctrination hallucination start just after the laser when Shepherd advancing on the beam to the Citadel? Was Shepherd captured on Thessia? When Earth was attacked? When he died?
The only one that could be remotely satisfying (I mean if it turned out most or all of ME2 and 3 hadn’t really happened people would be even more pissed) would the after laser scenario. But in that one why would would the Reapers need to indoctrinate him if the attack had already failed? I suppose logically maybe he has made it to the station but everything that happens is a dream as Crucible tries to dominate him to stop him actually destroying the Reapers.
I can see how this could work, and it would have been in many way more satisfying that the real ending. Imagine if you had got one of the vaguely unsatisfactory ones and when you took to “teh interwebs” to complain you heard actually if you took particular choices not only was there a better ending but actually potentially some extra gameplay! You’d be annoyed but hey they warned you your decisions matter and I bet most would be cracking out a new game to get to the desired ending.
Trouble is whilst this could have been bloody awesome, if this is what happens now but only via DLC (especially if **paid** DLC) then it is just a colossal, massive misstep from Bioware. I read on the internet that it would be like the Sixth Sense or Fight Club finishing 10 minutes from the end and you would only get the proper twist endings a month later if you paid again.
So it seems like even if Bioware are being clever then they have made a massive blunder. All the same either way the end just isn’t as bad as people say even if it is flawed and doesn’t live up to what came before. And let’s be honest who on earth who has come all this way won’t now download the rumoured DLC “The Truth” shortly to be released? I know I sure as hell will be!
Posted this on social media but this is an excellent, excellent take on the Indoctrination theory in video format. I seriously challenge anyone to watch this and not at least think they might have a point.
And if you want to have a theory as to why they might have done this try this bad boy