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Soap Box: Mass Effect 3 Part 2 - The 5%

General Article By Suzie Ford on April 12, 2012

Be sure to read Soap Box: Mass Effect 3 Part 1 - the 95%

The Last 5%: The End, The Controversy, The Promises, Our Hope

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD (though you might actually want to avoid depression by reading them anyway…)

BioWare has been roundly castigated for what many feel is an ending to Mass Effect 3 that was applied without thought or consideration for the existing canon of lore behind the Mass Effect universe as well as obvious plot holes. Players are angry, frustrated and willing to organize to make their voices heard.  The “retake” movement is growing and is a seemingly well-organized collection of groups that want to work with BioWare to give Mass Effect 3 the ending proponents feel it deserves. These groups have only continued to swell over the intervening weeks. The Facebook fan page for the Demand a Better Ending group is sporting over 60,000 members. Other groups including Hold the Line and Retake Mass Effect are working cooperatively for the same goals though sometimes with different methods.

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So what’s the problem? Let’s take a look.

I’m going to give you the quick and dirty about the last 5% of Mass Effect 3 by borrowing a line from “The Wizard of Oz”:

The ending of Mass Effect 3 is “a clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk”.

There. I’ve said it. The day I finished my first play through of Mass Effect 3, I sat and watched the events unfold from the moment Shepard arrived back on Earth. At the end, when the final (and shameless) screen reminded me to keep an eye out for forthcoming “downloadable content”, I sat there utterly numb. “WTF was that?” I wondered. “Wait…what just happened?”

Let’s show this in the simplest way possible:

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The controversy with BioWare’s ending to Mass Effect 3 is pretty well summarized by the above images as well as this quote:

"Hi, we've noticed you've activated a Catalyst! Would you like to A) Become the enemy and die, B) Implausibly impose a new artificial genetic structure on all life without asking them and die, or C) Destroy some of your allies and deny your own values about unity and probably die? Also, the relays will blow up stranding alien fleets in the Sol System, kthxbai!"  ~ Facebook quote by “Chad” on the Demand a Better Ending page

Here’s the quote from that 2nd image in case you didn’t look closely at it. Remember that this is from Casey Hudson, Executive Producer of ME3:

 “It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C.” ~Casey Hudson pre-ME3 release

But despite Hudson’s protestations to the contrary, that’s exactly what players are forced into as the game reaches its end. Shepard, despite any and all choices made in the entire series, despite always questioning the reason behind every decision prior to the most important one of her and the galaxy’s lives, despite the Effective Military Strength of the war assets collected throughout ME3, despite the fact that every one of the three choices flies in the face of pre-existing game lore, is forced down one of three paths with barely distinguishable differences and with the end result nearly identical. Read the quote from Chad above. It’s an accurate summary of the mess that the ending of Mass Effect 3 is for most players. It’s as if the writing completely stopped at the climax of the story.

The Joe Schmidlap Cop Out

I have coined the phrase “The Joe Schmidlap Cop Out” after reading a Patricia Cornwell novel where, in the final chapter, a heretofore barely seen character in the preceding 800 pages of the book suddenly pops up and says, “YES, I DID IT! MWAHAHAHA!”

But this is exactly what BioWare did with Mass Effect 3 when it pulled the Ghost Child out of its…imagination.

Who is this Ghostly Kid? Why don’t I ever get to Renegade or Paragon interrupt his never-ending (and very circular) speech? Why can’t I at least ask some questions to clarify what he’s telling me? Why do I have to take one of his choices? Why can’t I shoot the little bastard? Why can’t I escape a potential wrong turn down any given alley without the game's AI forcing me to continue?

Why are my only effective choices: A) Condemn the universe and its inhabitants to death and die myself (since, in the long run, that’s what will effectively happen without mass relays and everyone trapped in Sol space); B) See choice A; or C) See choice A?

Why didn't the strike teams utilize more effective strategies than RUN FOR IT!?

Why is it that Shepard’s loyal companions ditched her in the midst of the battle to save all galactic races? Why do they look so f#$%@!g happy about it as they exit the crash-landed Normandy on some lush Eden-esque planet? Why do they get this happy pants peppy music when Shepard, their leader, friend and/or lover is dead, dammit?

The end result of the “epic conclusion” to ME3 is: WTF?

First I experienced disbelief followed by mourning, weeping and, finally, anger. I can’t even begin to write out each of the legion problems with the ending of Mass Effect 3. For a good introduction to all of the horror that is ME3’s last 5%, this is a good place to start:


The point here is that BioWare took what had, up to this point, been a brilliantly created story spanning the course of 2.95 games, a story that was making Commander Shepard into the ultimate hero, willing to die for her values and for her friends and allies but fighting to the bitter end not to die. Similarly, she had built a hugely loyal crew into the sort who would never abandon her, never leave her alone by ditching in the Normandy. How many times did we hear them say, "We don't work for XXX. We work for you, Shepard"? Shepard and crew would fight to the bitter end to stay alive for each other. That was one of the larger themes running through the entire series and she and her companions have embodied that over and over again. So what the hell happened?

Apparently, we need BioWare to release a DLC pack to “explain it to us”.

Clarification DLC: Maintaining Our “Artistic Integrity”

We have been told by BioWare developers that they will be releasing a “clarification downloadable content” pack later this summer, one that will allow the development team to maintain its artistic integrity while at the same time (they hope) give fans what they’re clamoring for. According to the little we’ve been told, that DLC will only clarify the conclusion of the game, will provide context and deeper insight to the Commander Shepard story arc. There will be no, as of this writing, additional endings or game play included.

Good luck with that.

There is no explanation that can give any sort of closure to the terrible ending of ME3 that is, believe me. There are more holes in the plot, more violations of canon, more just plain junk inside than can ever be adequately explained away by the “get this game out the door now” ending that BioWare slapped on to the end of Mass Effect 3.

Here’s one guy’s take on the “clarification DLC” that’s spot on the mark:


I will take a ‘wait and see’ attitude with regard to the clarification DLC. I hold out scant hope, however, because from my personal perspective, there isn’t enough “clarification and closure” that can possibly be given that will make any more sense to the ending than there already is(n’t).

I know what you’re thinking: Everyone who hates the ending of Mass Effect 3 wants a “happy ending”. While I think that that should be one option, it certainly isn’t the goal of those who identify themselves as members of the “Retake Mass Effect” or “Demand a Better Ending” or “Hold the Line” communities. What players want is for everything that came before the magic beam of light to the Ghost Child lair to actually mean something. That’s what players were promised and that’s the ball that BioWare dropped in such a spectacular way.

BioWare promised its fans and its most loyal players that their choices would make a difference in the end, that all of Shepard’s hard work throughout the three games and through the course of her final tale would bring the trilogy to an epic and satisfying conclusion. This is what people who are distressed by the ending as it currently stands are asking for: A fulfillment of the promises made by the team who had created such a wondrous universe through 2.95 games.

BIOWARE: YOU made us believe in your excellence in game writing, in the development of the Mass Effect story. We are only asking you to continue that tradition of excellence. It is not asking too much for we who love your games and our Shepards.

Empowered Game Writing

Is all hope lost for both Mass Effect 3 and BioWare? I think not though it’s going to be a long and arduous road for BioWare to regain the trust of its most loyal and passionate users.

Let’s take a look at some of a GREAT article that everyone (including BioWare and their EA handlers) should read: Phil Hornshaw’s “Mass Effect 3 Ending: Change Could Have Empowered Game Writing”.

To quote:

Meanwhile, a giant fan movement just exploded in BioWare’s face because of a story element. Sure, there are precedents for fans being upset about a story and for developers to change them, but this level of outcry is unheard of. There are a lot of messages this could be telegraphing to the gaming industry, but here’s perhaps the biggest one: Stories matter. Don’t phone them in.

Electronic Arts and BioWare should be learning well that not only are gamers concerned with story, they’re so concerned that when a story they’re invested in is made badly, they’ll react to it. You can’t slap a weak ending (for whatever reason you may have done so, be it an artistic choice, running out of time or having no idea for years how you were actually going to end the series) on a game players have purchased for the story, hoping that ending will be ignored or forgiven.

Perhaps not in all cases, but certainly in many, story is just as important a feature as anything else. That’s a great lesson for the gaming industry to learn.

Something else to consider, as Phil reminds us:

Admitting that the ending of Mass Effect 3 isn’t up the quality standards of either BioWare or EA, and then correcting it in order to reach those quality standards, would demonstrate a commitment to storytelling never before seen in the video game industry. And it would hopefully put onus on both publishers and developers: publishers to give the people making their games enough time and resources to make them properly, and developers to realize that fans won’t stand for products that don’t meet the quality standards those developers have set forth regardless of the reason for the failure.

BioWare? Are you listening? I hope so. Redeem your good name and recapture our imaginations. Up until now, you have not let us down. Don’t start.

Personal Conclusion

I find myself mourning Shepard but in all the wrong ways. The ending of ME3 as it currently stands is like watching a loved one die a terrible and instantaneous, unexpected death. The shock of a catastrophic event like this is something from which one only slowly recovers.

I realize how over the top this sounds a game but that has been the point of these articles all along: To tell Bioware, other readers, other fans of the series...someone...what this experience has been for people like me. It's highly personal and emotionally charged. To have had to bid farewell to an iconic and beloved character has brought about the unmistakable mechanics of coping with death. Given that some of us have probably spent more time being Shepard and hanging out with our ME companions than we have with others in any other game lends credence to our desire for something more, something better.

I find myself faced with the prospect of no Commander Shepard in my future, at least not one whose ending I will not already know should I choose to revisit the ME trilogy again. And it's OK if, after all is said and done, Shepard is gone (though I would fervently wish otherwise). But let her go in peace, with dignity, with nobility, with her companions by her side as they would have been no matter what. Better than that, let us, we who are Shepard, choose the way she exits the series. After all, Bioware, you allowed us to become the noble Commander Shepard. What a wonderful gift that has been for five years.

Please, Bioware. Take heed of Commander Shepard’s words:

"You can't predict how people will act, Garrus. But you can control how you'll respond. In the end, that's what really matters."

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