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3.31.2012

The Mass Effect 3 Ending: An Analysis

[Spoilers ahoy! I discuss the ending in all its gory detail. Do not proceed past the jump if you don't wish to read those. You have been warned.]


Despite my general dislike of Mass Effect 3's ending (a sentiment seemingly shared by 90% of the internet), I will attempt to discuss it here with as fairly as I can. Really, it's not all bad. I liked some of the things it tried to do. And it certainly didn't make me flat-out angry like it did a lot of people.

I think there are two main categories of issues with the ending: those external to the game and those internal to the story. I have to really disagree with people who say that fans who disliked the ending are just being whiny or immature seeking a "happy" ending to everything or just being generally ticked that it is ending. I guess a fair number of people might feel those things, but for a lot of us fans, we quite simply feel that the ending was wrong on many levels.


The External Problems: We Were Promised Diversity

Oh, the dangers of hype! This is a strange issue circling many franchises. Few highly successful pieces of entertainment produce sequels that actually live up to the hype produced around them. It's gotten to the point that many of us have learned to avoid marketing altogether to save ourselves from setting expectations that cannot be met. I have a friend, for instance, who's managed to almost entirely avoid the marketing push for The Dark Knight Rises in order to not get too excited about it.

Here's the thing though: I wasn't underwhelmed by anything the game hyped up. The action and scope of the game still managed to satisfy me. It was great, really. It lived up to that massive marketing hype as far as action and adventure are concerned (they really shouldn't have put Kalros in a trailer though).

No, the thing that bothers us disappointed fans is what we were promised about the ending. We were promised our choices would matter. We were promised that the ending wouldn't be an A, B, or C choice (which is exactly what it is, ironically.) We were promised a huge amount of diversity.

What we got, of course, were basically three endings that felt like one ending.

No matter what you do, Shepard dies and the mass effect relays are destroyed (excepting that one ending where Shepard might still be alive).

Even the lead up to the ending doesn't change that much depending on your actions. Unlike the ending of Mass Effect 2 where all of your preparations for the suicide mission seemed to matter,  none of your preparations in ME3 change the cutscenes, the casualties, or the possible endings (again, with that one tiny exception of an extra second on the end with Shepard "waking up.") This was disappointing to say the least.

Did you recruit the Krogan? Want to see a massive Krogan charge on the enemy? Too bad. Nothing. Did you bring the Quarians and Geth together? Sorry. No footage of them fighting alongside each other in this final battle.

All you get for your efforts is a different set of people standing around for you to talk to before the final battle. That's nice, sure. I enjoyed those little chats with the characters... but I kind of expected a little more showcasing of the galaxy in action. It's just one cutscene of the space battle which I am informed does not change depending on who you've recruited. On the ground it's basically just you and your two squadmates.

So the lead up to the ending was disappointing. As we got closer to the ending, player choice tapered off. There's not nearly as much diversity as promised. It makes you feel like your actions have had less of an effect - a message that is loudly re-enforced by the ending itself.

Here's the thing: if Mass Effect 3 were a standalone game it would be awesome. We wouldn't be expecting dozens of endings with broad choice and massive indication of cause-and-effect. The reason for the Reapers' existence would still be stupid, but I'm guessing, in general, we would probably be just fine with what's there. But it is Mass Effect 3. It's almost like BioWare, in an EA-mandated effort to hold the hands of new players, forgot they were making the end of a trilogy with regards to the ending.

One example of this from the middle of the game is the Rachni. I spared the Rachni queen in ME1. The great thing about some of the choices in Mass Effect is that you don't know how they will affect you down the road. I made the call I thought was right. So when the Rachni showed up as Reaper-control enemies in ME3 I naturally thought "well if I hadn't spared the queen I wouldn't have to deal with this." Turns out I'm wrong. If you kill the queen the Rachni still show up anyway. There's no legitimate story reason for this. They just didn't want to design and alternative enemy.

This is the kind of crap that makes us players mad. It's when we choose one thing and BioWare tells us, "no, sorry, you made an invalid choice. We want to use the Rachni as enemies so we're going to basically ignore what you did."


And that brings us to the ending. No matter what you've done in the entire series up until this point, you still have the same three choices. A, B, or C. And they all suck.

One could make the argument that Mass Effect has always presented you with the illusion of choice and not actual choice. The ME3 ending tears this veil away completely. Suddenly it seems like none of your choice mattered. And the choice you make between A, B, and C is anything but diverse from the player's perspective.

We were promised differently. We shouldn't have listened. Maybe the problem is not that BioWare doesn't listen to us; it's that we listen to BioWare. I won't be making that mistake in the future.

The Internal Problems: Betrayal, Not Subversion

I want to take a moment to talk about the things I like about the ending. I like how strange it is. I like that it reminds me of the harder-sci fi tendencies the series occasionally has.

My favourite moments of ME1 were talking to Sovereign and Vigil, the Prothean VI. In these conversations are great reveals about the history and overarching plot of the series. The idea of cyclical history, the Reapers, and the Protheans trying to preserve some knowledge across cycles are super engaging to me. They cause me to think about really cool, big ideas that are far beyond me and that's what good hard SF does.

The fact that the ending is more than the construction of a magic superweapon to fix the Reaper problem was fantastic. I do appreciate the effort there. I was afraid the ending would be fairly boring and predictable. Unfortunately, it breaks down in the actual execution.

Someone aptly described the ending like going from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think that's quite apt. It's thematic whiplash. Ignoring that rough transition, the ending is still completely nonsensical.

For no reason at all the Catalyst reveals itself to Shepard as the creator of the Reapers and architect of the 50,000 year cycle. Why does it do this? Why not let Shepard die and just continue the cycle? Apparently, it's because he made it to the Citadel. That changes things.

Huh? Why does Shepard making it to the Citadel change your vast plan? That makes no sense. Why present Shepard with these choices? Why?

We could forgive some of this. We could forgive the thematic whiplash. Heck, we could even forgive the plothole-ridden cutscenes that follow if this part had just made some bloody sense.

I won't bother pointing out all of the continuity errors or that kind of minutia. Others have done that at length already. They're there and they're pretty glaring. Enough said.

But there's a fine line between subverting our expectations and betraying them. This was betrayal.

I can't believe I'm writing this, but this all-powerful AI's stupid, stupid, stupid motivation for creating the Reapers is best described with usage of the "yo, dawg" meme:


Yeah, that's about right. This is a lame and nonsensical reason for the existence of the Reapers (which would have been better left a mystery). This logic assumes the premise that synthetics and organics cannot peacefully coexist has some merit. Its a compelling premise, perhaps. The problem is that Mass Effect 2 & 3 have completely dispelled this idea.

In the first game, the Geth and the Reapers are presented as straight-up bad guys. We're told that artificial intelligence is a bad idea because it'll always lead to the production of Terminators. Virtual intelligences are the substitute - effective AI minus the dynamic learning capability. Okay, cool. That's putting a new spin on that old sci fi convention of the "evil computer." Gotcha. I like what you did there, BioWare.

In 2, however, we're working with Cerberus who doesn't care about the rules. They've installed EDI, a full AI, on the Normany SR-2 which causes quite a stir at first. Through the course of the game, however, you begin to feel more comfortable with the concept. Then you get Legion, the Geth companion. So maybe AI aren't all bad after all?

This theme is furthered in 3 with possible conclusions to the Geth/Quarian storyline. My Shepard chose to make them play nice together. Mass Effect 3 reveals that the Geth did not in fact rebel against the Quarians as had been previously though. Moreover, EDI makes further strides toward understanding organic life. You can choose as I did to encourage her and Joker to pursue a strange and very humorous relationship.

The Catalyst's argument that the created will always rebel again their creators seems particularly hollow in light of these events. Isn't the whole idea of Mass Effect 3 to unite the diverse forms of life found in the galaxy for a common cause? Not since the first game has organic life vs. synthetic life been a valid dichotomy.

So let's give BioWare the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that they intended for the Catalyst to be incapable of accepting any other reality. AI being less capable or incapable of dynamic throught is a long standing sci fi convention. Let's assume that the Catalyst isn't just a really stupid all-powerful AI. It's just one that's old and set in its ways. Okay.

Shepard - my Shepard the character I've been crafting over the span of three games - would never put up with this argument. I mean, I just reunited the Geth and Quarians a few hours earlier. If player choice mattered, shouldn't I be able to cite that as an example of how the Catalyst is wrong? Why is Shepard incapable of arguing with this thing? He's weary, sure. He's half-dead. But why does he just keel over and accept that he has to take one of these three bogus choices?

Making one of these choices is inevitable. It is final. It will alter the galaxy forever. Shepard cannot refuse. He cannot sit back and simply refuse all of the options offered him.

The way I played, Shepard has always challenged the odds - always refused to take a bad outcome for an answer. Sure, there were always hard choices that couldn't be "win-win" like having to choose between Ashley or Kaidan

Maybe the idea was that some things are inevitable. You have to bend over and take this choice because there are forces larger than you at work in the universe that you can't escape. Fine. That's perfectly acceptable theme. It doesn't belong in Mass Effect though. Why? 'cause even though some situations have been lose-lose, that is always due to circumstance as in the Ashley/Kaidan choice and not your interaction with another character.

And that leads me to the simplest fix for the ending...


On Changing the Ending

A vastly improved ending, could be as simple as A, B, C, or D. Give us a fourth choice. Y'know, the choice we've always had before. The "screw you" choice.

Give us the choice to do nothing. To defy the Catalyst and its horribly flawed logic. Shepard and the Catalyst would then watch the battle play out. Maybe the Reapers always win. Maybe you have to have everything maxed out to survive. Maybe it's a total coin toss. I don't care. That's not the real issue.

The real issue is that we have no choice currently but to follow the inane logic of the "Star Child." Adding this one simple option would go a long way to helping alleviate a lot of frustration, at least I think it would have had it been in the original release.

It's not difficult to see there's been a split in the gaming community over this ending. While the majority of fans are dissatisfied with the ending, it seems that a minority of critics shared that negative reaction. A lot of them seemed to think it was fine and that fan outrage has been ridiculous.

I do think people are getting really bent out of shape for something that ultimately doesn't matter. I would have liked the ending to have been better, but ultimately it's a video game. It doesn't really matter. I will agree with the critics on that.

I will also agree that changing the ending at this point isn't a good idea. The damage is done. BioWare needs to move on. If they're smart, they'll give away a decent piece of DLC (unrelated to the ending) to win back some favor from fans.

Would I play a new ending if BioWare released it for free? You bet I would! But I would always remember the original. We all would. The new ending, we all know, wouldn't be the "real" ending. The real ending, unfortunately, was a betrayal of expectations, established continuity, and common sense. No patch will change that.

BioWare, I hope you guys do better next time.

21 comments:

  1. I already told you all my thoughts but this being a public blog, I'll share my thoughts with your audience on why I DID like the ending. I had heard that all your decisions in Mass Effect 1 and 2 would carry over and effect your over all experience (which it did) but I had never specifically heard that it would effect the very end.

    I agree it would have been cool to have all the additional cut scenes such as Krogan and Turian fighting together at the end... but it would have just been fan service.. we've already established that they're working together.. is visually seeing it in an extra 10 second cut scene going to effect the story? nope... it would just be cool.

    I really read up on the first Mass Effect before it came out and knew they were planning a trilogy to begin with so it didn't upset me to a 2nd and obviously a 3rd. However for the 2nd and third game I decided not to read into the development and "promises" for the game so they may also be why I don't feel jipped by the ending. I got excited about Mass Effect in the first place because of how awesome KOTORs story was... and I hated the gameplay in that. That game had basically only 2 endings and they we're abrupt and kind of obvious.. but I didn't mind because everything before was so awesome.

    So going into Mass Effect 3 I really only expected my decisions to effect the over all game.. I didn't go into it expecting multiple different endings and frankly there weren't.. As I could only see it playing out in these kind of ways.

    Example ideas on if Bioware had multiple endings based on decisions made through the trilogy..

    1. The ending plot point is canon, let's say the ending plot point is Shepard Kills the reapers. And everything else inconsequential. Shepard kills the reapers and there's an ending cut scene showing the quarians and geth working together to build there home planet.. or if you played differently, you see the quarians rebuilding there home planet with a sad camera shot of dead geth. Who cares? we already established resolution. Or maybe Shepard kills the Reapers but didn't get your galatic readiness very high so it shows humans in an epilogue cut scene saying "our race is to devastated by the reaper attack.. we'll have to start a new off world.. if only Shepard had rallied more fleets together" Again.. who cares?

    2. There is no canon ending and they take a Silent Hill approach by having drastically different conclusions based on how high or low your galactic readiness rating was and other similar factors from the first 2 games. In one ending Shepard dies in a last ditch heroic effort. In another it's revealed he's now actually a clone, or a human reaper or some lame plot twist to capitalize on him dying at the beginning of the 2nd game, (So glad they didn't do that! Because it initially seemed like they might). And another ending where Shepard sacrifices the other alien home worlds to save earth and make humanity the dominate force in the Galaxy because you have high renegade points. Or another where it shows you made everyone live in peace and retired and got married to Liara.....

    3. This could be kind of cool.. but similar to the first option.. you could have an epilogue after the "canon ending" (reaper die) however instead of the epilogue showing you what you already know... the epilogue takes place 2000 years in the future.. so you can find out the nitty gritty of how your decisions effected social politics. I would be okay with this option..
    ...but I'd rather have a good Sci-Fi brain overload

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  2. No matter what way I think of it.. I don't think think a ton of different endings would have been as satisfying in the science fiction sense. I wouldn't want the experience be me talking to you and saying "oh so what was your ending Matt?" "Well Micah, because I united the krogan, they rebelled a 1000 years later.. but thankfully I let the Rachni go.. so the Rachni actually did a role reversal and saved the Galaxy from the Krogan!" "Really Matt? that's so different then my ending! I killed the Rachni queen, but the Krogan died off because I lied about the Genophage.. because there was no war, the Geth evolved into God like beings and blah blah blah blah blah" ..it just wouldn't be as cool.

    By the way, Shepard DOES say at the end of the first Mass Effect "The Reapers are still out there" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_6yQwHJ4tU 5:25 and he says so in some form in each ending

    All this being said, I understand why you say it betrays what the series stood for.. especially if Bioware was making promises that the actual ending would be hugely varied. Though with My KOTOR expectation of know how Bioware worked.. I was okay with it.. Heck, even the 1st Mass Effect game ending didn't take "every decision Shepard has made thus far" to the change the ending.. it still mostly remained the same. But the journey there was different for everyone.. and that's how I feel about Mass Effect 3.

    The other reason I would defend the ending can be found in what I originally sent you.. which like I said I thought I'd share for your audience :D And here's a video you've probably seen supporting the Indoctrination theory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythY_GkEBck

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  3. I just beat Mass Effect 3 and as promised wanted to discuss it with you. The ending I thought was great and what I love about sci-fi, that being said I have a mixed feelings about it. Much of my thoughts are also in regards to reading up on what everyone else thought of the ending.

    I agree to an extent that it was a little disappointing that after all the decisions you make throughout 3 games ultimately didn't change things . But if you look at Mass Effect 3 as a "whole" as an ending, I think it was great in showing how your decisions effected the game. But the actually end to the ending (so to speak) was certainly strange.

    the biggest issue I had was the garden of eden planet that Joker landed on... no matter what way I think of it, it just still seemed dumb and kind of pointless especially considering the squad mates who were on earth randomly showed back up in the SR2 and that Joker decided to jump the mass relays (why?) before Shep's decision.

    The epilogue reminded me of Matrix Revolutions and made me wonder if that's what you were talking about.. the Grandpa talking to the kid about "The Shepard" was very similar to The Oracle talking to the kid at the end of the Matrix Revolutions.... but done slightly better.. which isn't to say I like it. I thought both scenes were cheesy and unnecessary... it was just to story bookish.

    Regarding the quote that looks to be real popular amongst fans
    --
    "Yo dawg I heard you don't want to be killed by synthetics. So I made some synthetics to kill you every 50k years. So you won't be killed by synthetics."
    --
    That is really funny but I think it can be assumed (though admittedly the game never did state this) that the logic was that eventually organics and synthetics would kill ALL life. So they're going with a "The Day the Earth Stood Still" logic (the original.. duh) that if humans get out of line, machines will comes and destroy us if we don't get our act together.
    --
    I theorize this because something I always thought was awesome about Mass Effect verses other sci-fi stories is that the destruction of life was only a partial destruction and they left less evolved species alone so that the cycle of life could go on. So the Reaper philosophy is that life as a concept is important.. and in order to preserve it, you must destroy portions of it that become so advanced that it could destroy ALL life. So I'm okay with the explanation of The Reapers motivation.

    Now regarding the 3 decisions.. I like the ideas presented behind the 3 decisions but would have liked to see how the outcome of my decision rather than three different colored explosions. But I agree with a lot of people in that "my commander Shepard would have asked more questions to the VI and would have also tried to find another way then the ones presented" It makes no sense that Shepard would have responded this way unless he was indoctrinated. Which is why I'm a fan of the indoctrination theory.

    I'm sure you're familiar with the indoctrination theory (because I know you're similar to me in reading EVERYTHING nerd related that we're invested in). But just in case, I'll go over the run down. Since getting blasted by Harbinger, Shepard becomes indoctrinated.. this is evidenced in how dream like everything becomes.. how Shepard seems to float towards the beam... the fact that you don't have your armor when you on the citadel... the weird little black swishy things on the sides of the screens.

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  4. But most importantly how the 3 choices are presented I think really shows indoctrination.

    1. The "star child" VI presents controlling the reapers as a paragon decision which is what the illusive man was pushing for along... and they made it pretty obvious that the Illusive Man was indoctrinated... so the cycle would likely just continue. The fact that it's presented as a paragon decision is SO opposite of everything the game implied before about it's morality system. and showing The Illusive Man who's the quintessential "bad" guy in a paragon light just shows that something is amiss in what is presented to you.

    2. The "star child" VI presents Synthesis (which is what I chose not knowing that walking to the left or right was how to make the decision, oops! I thought i'd have an option wheel pop when I walked to the light) Synthesis is the culmination of synthetic and organic... BUT it's already conveyed that The Reapers already are the perfection of synthetic and organic.. so again you're still giving into reaper control. The "star child" VI also looks at this as a favorable option.

    3. The "star child" presents destruction as an option and gives a very bleak outlook on it saying that civilization will just create synthetics and kill each other... and it's presented as a renegade decision even though it's what Captain Anderson would do. The fact that this is the only ending in which Shepard can (theoretically) survive definitely shows something. Of all three endings this is the only one that gets an additional cut scene? That certainly makes the "destruction" choice stand out. So throughout all three games your trying to destroy The Reapers.. and when you're finally presented with the option it's a renegade choice... even though they show that Anderson would do it when he was always displayed as a quintessential "good" guy. And if you do it (and got all your other ducks in a row) it's the only ending you survive. I think this really shows that you were indoctrinated on the citadel but if you chose to destroy the reapers you were fighting the indoctrination. The other 2 options essentially continue the-reapers/star-childs' plans in different ways.

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  5. Now if that's not the case and Bioware didn't intend for that at all and just got their colors confused and randomly decided to add an additional survival cut scene that's only available on one of the endings... then I agree with the general population that the ending(s) sucked.

    However it's a bit tricky... I admire the indoctrination theory so much because if it's what the writer intended, it's artistically brilliant. the Indoctrination theory on the endings wouldn't work if it was blatantly explained in game because everyone would know which one to choose and it would go against the games narrative. Everyone in the game who was indoctrinated generally had no idea they were indoctrinated but truly felt there logic in assisting the reapers was sound... the only time they would realize it was when someone who was NOT indoctrinated pointed it out to them (Saren, Illusive Man). So if the game blatantly explained you were indoctrinated... it would go against the whole narrative.. as a gamer.. as we relate to the Character, we're supposed be submerged in his experience. The fact that weather or not he's indoctrinated is vague is why it's so awesome.. because there's no way he'd know for sure if he was.

    Again if that's what the writer intended.. then I say I loved the ending aside from two things.
    1. The Grandpa telling a story cut-scene
    2. The Joker landing (and the logic behind it?) cut-scene.

    And the 2 things I have mixed feelings about
    1. Not getting to see the individual results of your choice... it's disapointing.. but if the indoctrination theory is true.. it totally makes sense why they wouldn't show it.
    2. Your over all choices not impacting the ending... it would have been so cool to see multiple endings based on your 100's of decisions over the trilogy.. but at the same time I'm not sure I would have been satisfied with a ton of endings... part of closure is having something definitive to hold on to.. and in a weird way the indoctrination theory is very definitive.
    (sorry had to break this up into 5 different sections to get it to fit) -Micah

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  6. Thanks for your extensive thoughts, Micah. I suspected we might disagree based on our vast difference of opinion on the ending of Fullmetal Alchemist.

    I really don't think I'm going to convince you that the ending is bad and really why would I want to? If you enjoyed the ending more power to you. I wish I had.

    I have a few main points of disagreement and I think that's just what they are: differences of opinion.

    1. I think it would have been AWESOME to have had wildly different endings like you described. Video games are not books, movies, or TV shows. They're unique in that the consumer of the media has a part in affecting how they experience the media.

    Sure, some games are very linear and they are no less good for it, but the Mass Effect series has always touted player choice. Why not in the ending? Why at the very end does BioWare start touting their "artistic" vision over player choice? Are they necessarily mutually exclusive?

    Mass Effect doesn't have a canon ending now and doesn't need one. To have wildly different outcomes based on player choice... that sounds fantastic to me. It's something that could only be done in a video game. Instead BioWare ignored what makes their medium unique. I think the whole "artistic vision" argument is just an excuse for laziness. If the ending had been good I would have accepted it... but it wasn't.

    Honestly the lack of player choice is the weakest argument for the ending being bad. I'll give you that. But there are so many others.

    2. I just can't accept the Reaper explanation or the theme of organics vs. synthetics. I don't think they were going for the "Day the Earth Stood Still" thing at all. And if they were they pulled it off really poorly. I never got the implication that organics were a danger to all life. Organics were a mixed bag. Some were good, some were bad and destructive. And the same was true of the series' portrayal of synthetics too.

    I always thought of the Reapers as a strange force of nature. They did what they did because that was their function in the cyclical history of the galaxy. And trying to stop them was a bit like trying to stop a hurricane.

    Whatever the reason, I really feel that the Reapers would have been scarier and more interesting left unexplained. As it stands we get a partial explanation which leaves us with more questions than answers. Why even bother to explain them at all?

    Also, I don't think the Reapers leaving some alive is very unique. Again, this is like the Matrix where the the One gets to select a small number of people to re-establish Zion after its destruction. A little different but not enough to make Mass Effect totally unique for me. There's nothing wrong with that and this isn't really a criticism. Just thought I'd point it out.

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  7. 3. The Indoctrination theory while compelling is almost certainly not canon.

    Yeah, maybe we'll never know for sure. Maybe it's supposed to be ambiguous. I doubt it.

    If it is true, then BioWare truly did ship an incomplete game and that is far more enraging than the horrible ending. "Finish the fight," "take back Earth." But neither are possible if all we saw at the end was Reaper indoctrination. The story would be unfinished.

    If one of the ending choices represents Shepard breaking free of indoctrination, then why don't we see that and why don't we get to finish the fight after that?

    If Shepard is meant to fail then why did BioWare waste my time with this story? It's the story of Commander Shepard: a guy who got closer to breaking the Reaper cycle than ever before but still failed in the end. Well then who cares? It's a pointless story to tell because no matter how you play the game, nothing really happens. When you make your game's scope encompass so much in the way of galactic history, you'd better allow for something pretty significant to happen. Shepard being Indoctrinated and failing is not it.

    Indoctrination theory is not definitive at all.

    I recommend you watch the video I linked to in my other post on the ending if you haven't already. Even if you disagree, it's really smart and entertaining like the Red Letter Media reviews it's made to imitate. The same guy also has a video about the Indoctrination theory that's worth a watch too.

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  8. quick thoughts: I'm perfectly okay that we disagree also. And this time I'll admit that I can't look at your response to the ending as "Oh Matt's just being a snudey film student again" ;) because 90% of the people who have played Mass Effect 3 hated the ending.. and I would respect your opinion way more then most of the Joe Schmoes who hated it. I did see both of those videos. And like he says in the 2nd video the first is largely negated if the indoctrination theory is true.

    I agree the main goal of the series was to destroy the reapers and having 2 other goals suddenly thrust in at the last few minutes made no narrative sense... but it does with the indoctrination theory as both ideas are presented by Saren and Illusive Man.

    Also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFG5Wx-x0yM 2:30 "Without us to stop it, synthetics would destroy *all* organics" This could've been expanded upon more.. but I still think it's a legit argument for a "The Day the Earth Stood Still" comparison.

    "If one of the ending choices represents Shepard breaking free of indoctrination, then why don't we see that and why don't we get to finish the fight after that?" Because if we did see it, it would ruin the whole point of indoctrination. The idea of the last battle being a fight against being indoctrinated seems like a fantastic way to end the series considering everything we've learned. It could have been explained more, yes.. but I believe it's part of the artistic vision bioware was going for that the player doesn't know they're indoctrinated.. All the evidence that points towards it (which I won't list because you'll know what I'm talking about) seems way to intentional.. especially considering it's bioware we're talking about here. If we got to see the results of it, there would be no mystery left.

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  9. It would be like watching Inception and after the credits the spindle falls over, or Decaprio looks over and sees that it's still spinning. Hurray! we now have a definitive answer for Inception! So now we can't watch the movie anymore and argue about the kids clothes and joseph gordon levitts' intentions! What fun would that be? The main difference between the 2 is Inception ended it with it being an obvious question... at which point we no longer related to the character because it was never a question in his head. Mass Effect 3 ended it (if the indoctrination theory is true) with nothing implied except the visual clues. It would be like watching the 6th Sense and never revealing Bruce Willis was dead.. just because the movie didn't out right say he was dead doesn't mean that all the narrative clues aren't there for it to be true.

    So I believe they basically took the idea of the Unreliable Narrator, but didn't blatantly inform you that narrator might be unreliable. Again I think it's a creatively genius choice that works best in a video game (could work in a book or a movie but it would have to be completely observed through the perspective of the character like The Hunger Games book.) Most books and movies you relate to the character in 3rd person because you're watching them go through something... In video games, you yourself are submerged to feel like you're going through something.

    That said reading your personal expectations of wanting multiple endings I think are perfectly legit expectations considering where you're coming from and I would be upset to. I went into the ending not having expectations of multiple endings but a more defined ending with slight variances (again like Mass Effect 1, 2 and Kotor) but then again I wasn't reading Biowares promises.

    Now Me liking the ending is completely reliant on the indoctrination theory being intentional. I like it and feel it is definitive because whenever I get invested in other sci-fi media and it ends with big questions (12 Monkeys, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, etc) I always have the same conclusion when discussing the end with different people. Despite every one trying to figure out the definitive ending to Inception.. my argument always goes back to "there's is no definitive answer to weather or not Dicaprio was in a dream because the writers wrote clues to support both directions with the intention of it being vague so people would talk about it"

    With Mass Effect 3 I feel like the writers actually had a true intention. No armor, switched colors, shooting Anderson for no reason at all, then himself bleeding in the same spot. etc... it just doesn't seem like it would be random or the result of Bioware going "oops, we had to rush the game forgot to put Shepards armor on" or that Bioware would have decided for *no reason* that Shepard would shoot Anderson.. and with no intentions at all, decide to coincidently show Shepard bleeding in the exact same spot and even have the camera zoom in on it. I trust Bioware to much for these things not to be intentional and just be random forgetfulness or sloppiness.

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  10. Yeah, you're putting a LOT of faith in BioWare. I just don't share it. Again, it's compelling but it's a bad end if it's true because it isn't an ending at all.

    Look, I see what you're trying to do comparing the ending to Inception, but Mass Effect and Inception are totally different animals. Inception is a movie about the human mind, about reality and the mind's power over reality. Mass Effect is a sci-fi saga about Shepard, his team, and their fight to save galactic civilization from Saren, the Collectors, and the Reapers.

    The ending of Inception makes sense given what kind of movie it is. The ending fits. The ending of Mass Effect 3 does not fit. Yes, it fits in the sense that the concept of indoctrination was presented before and it makes logical sense that Shepard might have become indoctrinated given his proximity to Reapers throughout the series. But it doesn't fit at all thematically.

    An ending is about fulfilling promises to readers/viewers/players. Storytellers create promises and expectations for the consumer over the course of their story. In the case of Mass Effect I think it's pretty safe to say BioWare promised us (not just outside of the game, but inside as well) a conclusion to the Earth invasion story and the story of Shepard and the Reapers as a whole. We got great, satisfying conclusions to basically every other storyline.

    If Indoctrination theory is true, then it means BioWare did not fulfill the promise of telling a full story. We got gypped. If it isn't, we merely got a lousy ending.

    Inception had as one of its main themes the question of what is real reality so the ambiguity of the ending worked. In Mass Effect pretty much everything is solid as far as the main story's concerned. There's not a whole lot of ambiguity or mystery about the events that transpire. Reality is never questioned. There are all kinds of pre-established themes they could have brought to bear on the ending. The question of reality is not one of them.

    Now I agree that if Indoctrination theory is true that BioWare did a good job of being subtle and giving clues rather than outright saying that Shep got indoctrinated. But again, this leaves the story of Shepard and the Reapers unfinished. This is supposed to be the end of Shepard's story. This is supposed to be a conclusion. Indoctrination theory is does not conclude the story unless you assume that Shepard remains indoctrinated and fails to stop the Reapers in all cases. Again, if that's the case then thanks for wasting my time, BioWare.

    If indoctrination is true, then there needs to be a way to escape it. It is too frustrating to the player to tell them that do not have the ability to fight something when that has never been the case before. Say the "destroy" choice is how you escape. Okay, then we need to be able to play beyond that choice and be able to actually FINISH the fight with the Reapers. This the promise that BioWare made in telling this story. I don't care if Shep wins or loses that fight. I'm not asking for a happy ending. I just want one that's fitting to the rest of the series and that doesn't take place inside Shepard's insane mind.

    Again, endings are about fulfilling the promises you've made to your audience. This doesn't mean they can't be surprising. You can subvert audience expectations without betraying them. But in this case it's betrayal. The ending is incongruous with the rest of the series.

    I like ambiguity in endings. I like all kinds of endings if they are done well. But I really feel that Mass Effect 3 wasn't the place for ambiguity because that was never a major part of the series before.

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  11. Oh, and on an unrelated note: I found someone who agreed with me about FMA. Yeah, I was still being a snoody film student though. Snoody's what we aim for. ;)

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  12. I'll even be willing to say that I can respect disappointment that you don't get to see then results of it. After all, that would be conventional, normal, what the audience would expect and not near as creative or risky. But I would still say that it fits thematically. To go on your logic, the idea that Bruce Willis might also be dead is never presented until the "twist" but again all the evidence is there. So that would mean that it's a bad ending. Same goes for KOTOR, (I'm assuming you know the twist) It's never presented as option that your character could be Revan until the "twist".. but again all the evidence is there. I think you and a lot of people would have liked the ending a little more if they went with the indoctrination idea, but then did a more cliche "twist" or "gotcha" reveal. Oh and Mass Effect 3 is Sci-Fi, and if it's a sci-fi genre, you have every right to have an ambiguous ending. It' my opinion that if there was no dlc coming and people just came it time instead of demanded and whined about the ending... that over time people would come to love it. Same went for Blade Runner, 2001 a Space Odyssey.

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  13. oh and any thoughts on the original rumored dark energy ending that was apparently cut?

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  14. Honestly (and I know this is shocking) I have never seen the Sixth Sense. I wouldn't say that it has a bad ending. I wouldn't know.

    I'm trusting, based on the reputation, that the Sixth Sense's twist ending satisfied audiences. But look at all the other N. Night movies with twist endings that didn't work. Twists are really, really risky and they often don't pay off. But people like the thrill of a twist so writers feel often like they have to throw one in because their story will be "boring" or "conventional" if they don't. This is a bad way to think. Anything that's gratuitous is dangerous to the artistic integrity of that piece of art. But that's getting a little off-topic...

    I have seen both Blade Runner and 2001 so I can comment on those.

    The central question of Blade Runner is something like "when does artifical intelligence become actual life?" There's no definite answer. It's wholly speculative so an ambiguous ending concerning whether Deckard's human or replicant makes sense and is consistent with the thematic focus of the film. People who were disappointed about Blade Runner missed the fact that it's about ideas. They wanted a straightforward ending to the story because they thought it was a futuristic crime movie.

    Similarly, 2001 is also about ideas. It's about man's development and how tools have shaped that development. Thus ending as it does with a "rebirth" of sorts makes sense. People wanted it to make more obvious sense but that is a highly unconventional film throughout so the ending is consistent.

    Mass Effect is the other way around. It is not primarily about ideas. There are some interesting ideas presented but those form the backdrop of the story. Characters are at the forefront of the series. If your line of thinking is true (and it may be) then BioWare tried to give us an ending to a story about ideas when we were looking for an ending to a story about characters.

    It doesn't matter if its sci-fi or not. It's about characters. And while 95% of the game is about characters, the ending has very little to do with them.

    You can sing praises of "riskiness" and "creativity" all you want. It's not a congruous, satisfying ending so it's bad.

    The other huge difference between all these films and KOTOR (I know the story but never actually played through myself so I feel I can't accurately speak about it) is that Mass Effect 3 is the third in a trilogy. It is part of a series which means that it can't just change genre on us at the end. It has to be consistent with what's come before. Everything up until now has been straightforward. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being conventional. There's nothing really, truly original anyway. Just stick to whatever you're doing and do it well.

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  15. Reaper indoctrination is a really heavy-handed way to end the series. It's the writers essentially forcing Shepard out of your control. Does it make sense in-universe? Sure, I guess. But that's not the point.

    If indoctrination is true, then suddenly, at the very end, reality is completely and totally altered and we aren't even given the ability to escape from the trap. We aren't even told for sure that we're in one. We don't really know what happens. And if we don't really know what happens to Shepard then why play a game series ABOUT HIM?

    If the first game had ended with Shepard becoming indoctrinated and losing then people might have hailed it as a brilliant sci-fi with a dark twist ending. And that would have been fine. Then the theme would have been the inevitbility of the Reapers winning and the cycle continuing. About how you can try your best but you can't beat the odds. Fair enough.

    But the fact is that BioWare took three games to tell this story. Did we really need three games to tell the story of Shepard getting owned? No. No, we did not. We did not need to have our time and money wasted just to lose in the end. I get enough of that in real life, thank you very much.

    This, to me, is the strongest evidence that indoctrination is not the real answer. Again, if it is true then we don't really get to find out what happens to Shepard (except he dies in vain, I guess). So what was the point of all that?

    If BioWare wanted to tell us tragic tale they could have done it a lot quicker. All this time over three games was to establish how big an obsticle the Reapers were to overcome. But if they were going to tell a story with a dark ending then they should have at least given us the courtesy of TELLING us that we experienced a tragedy.

    The ending is just bad writing unless indoctrination is true... in which case it's sadistic.

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  16. As for the "dark energy" ending... I don't know a whole lot about it. I read a little of what the original writer had to say about it, but I just don't know how it would have played out. It sounds to me like more meaningless technobabble. Might have worked better, might not have. Impossible to say, really.

    Now I like some good technobabble myself but I personally think it should be a means to an end and not an end in itself. The most satisfying moments in Star Trek/Stargate/Battlestar Galactica/Firefly aren't when characters are spoutting off explanations for the magic going on around them... it's when they're doing awesome stuff!

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  17. Yeah I don't know a lot about the dark energy thing either.. just found it interesting. And the points I made about Kotor comparing it to Mass Effect... so if it happened at the end of the first it would be fine but because it happens in the third that makes it not okay? that makes no since? it should matter if it's a self contained story or a 3 part story? And if you're going to add a twist it should be done at the end of the 3 part story. The whole idea of Shepard slowly giving into Indoctrination over three games is very similar to Frodo carrying the burden of The Ring. It Thematically works great with the story and makes for a good twist. I agree with everything you had to say about Blade Runner and 2001.. but they were poorly received because general public just didn't get it, and critics thought they were overly artsy projects that defied to many conventions of story telling to be considered good. So yes.. everything you said about the films are true... but Critics didn't see at the time because they thought breaking convention was a bad creative decision. And I would put you in that category! The idea of a twist that is (I believe) intentionally hinted at but never explicitly revealed or questioned has never been done to my knowledge. It's a huge risk, extremely innovative and as video games take a larger role in society in the coming years I am sure the Mass Effect series is going to be known for its impact... and that includes an ending that I believe will become appreciated over time.

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  18. Okay, let's go with your example of Lord of the Rings which is fairly comparable to Mass Effect in some ways. Yes, Frodo gives in at the end, but you know what? Tolkien doesn't end with that. He doesn't shift into Frodo's perspective and just end the story with Frodo overcome by the temptation of the Ring leaving his readers to wonder how it all played out. That's what Mass Effect did if indoctrination is true. Shepard just gave in and end of story, right? That's what you're saying, right? Well why do I care about that then? Why would I want to play as that character?

    Tolkien knew his story was about characters first and foremost. So he actually bothered to complete his story and give deep, satisfying endings for the characters involved. BioWare did not.

    I do not have a problem with ME3 being unconventional. I have a problem with it being broken.

    Time will tell who is right. Maybe Mass Effect 3's ending will go down in history as brilliant.

    But I really, REALLY doubt it. And I don't think I'll ever be convinced that it's good.

    There is one way that my perspective on the subject might change. If I played all three games again back-to-back perhaps I would see a thread I had missed or forgotten that makes it all tie together. Maybe. I am will to admit this possibility exists. But I also feel like BioWare's wasted my time by telling me an broken story so the likelihood of me investing the time to play it all again is very low at least for the foreseeable future.

    Anyway, our disagreement is just getting deeper and more vehement and that's kind of pointless. Like I said, time will tell how ME3 is remembered. I predict it'll be more like the Matrix sequels and like Blade Runner or 2001. It's a lot more like the Matrix sequels in every possible way.

    But whatever. I'm glad somebody enjoyed it. You have an awful lot of faith in BioWare. I, for one, have lost mine.

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  19. reading my last comment I think some of it came across somewhat harsh.. and I hope you didn't take it that way. I enjoy our little disagreement because I enjoy being challenged on my creative perception. I think we both adequately gave our arguments.. and (as we knew it probably would) ot boils down to the "i don't know anything about art but i know what i like" though both of us our waving around what we do "know" about art... to justify what we like/don't-like. So our arguments ultimately came down to taste and and trying to convince each other why our taste is the superior taste. Thank you for arguing with me Matt, that was a good discussion!

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  20. Eh, don't worry about it. Things get heated when nerds argue, heh. As long as we can agree at the end of the day that our disagreements on such things aren't actually important in the grand scheme of things, I'm cool with it.

    Whatever you believe about art and what makes it "good" or "bad" it comes down to how you define it. As someone who would like to be in the arts, my perception is that art's true function is to extol truth and beauty through the conduit of human emotion and sensory perception. This can mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people.

    So really I can't tell you that Mass Effect 3 didn't do that for you. I don't get exactly why it did, but it was fascinating to learn your arguments. I think I understand better, but I certainly don't agree. Haha. I'm sure we must agree on something nerdy... something...

    Anyway, thanks to you as well, Micah. I tip my N7 baseball cap to you.

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  21. So Shepard doesn't argue with the Catalyst and just bends over and accepts whatever he is told is the biggest issue? Aside from the lack of choice people were promised.

    Reminds me of something in ME1.

    Direct exposure to the Reaper signal turns you into a mindless slave. Sovereign's signal is too strong. Spend too much time near the ship (Reaper tech), and you *feel* it, like the tingle at the back of the skull. It's like a whisper you can't quite hear (Anderson/TIM scene). You're compelled to do things, you don't know why, you just obey (Shepard shoots Anderson, but the gun fires on its own without the player pulling the trigger). Eventually you stop thinking for yourself (Shepard believes whatever the Catalyst tells him).

    Even if there was a place for Shepard to argue, I don't think that he could just convince the Catalyst out of doing what he's doing. Reapers have been doing this for billions of years, and every time, the Reapers wipe civilizations out.

    If they had a Shepard in the previous cycles talk with the Reapers, the outcome is the same--no compromising or understanding the Reaper motives. Complete utter annihilation and extinction. The Reapers are made of cold calculated logic. They're machines. They don't feel pity or remorse or fear, and they absolutely won't stop, until everyone is dead.

    It was said in the first game, there is no compromising or understanding with the Reapers. Your job is to destroy them. Not to sit there and change their minds or convince them of another solution at the 11th hour when the end comes.

    Reapers don't care about Shepard's truce with the Geth/Quarians. They only care about their own ass (self-preservation). They're only interested in completing the harvest and wiping out entire civilizations.

    I'm kind of glad there wasn't an option to refuse the Catalyst's logic and ultimately end up winning and everything going back to normal. Least on the high-EMS perfect ending that requires pretty much a completionist playthrough with every single corner of the story explored and every choice made in a certain way.

    I think that's what it boils down to. The lack of a good choice, because the choices offered to Shepard by the Catalyst don't fit his character. If every choice fit Shepard's ideals, you'd end up with something like this:

    Shepard refuses, w/high EMS, Reapers destroyed, galaxy rebuilds, and life goes on.

    Pretty predictable, but that's what people like. Currently, the endings are just different shades of bad outcomes with no clear cut good ending. People have stated they didn't spend 100 hours to get punched in the gut. They wanted to go out in the blaze of glory.

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