Mass Effect 3’s Ending Disrespects Its Most Invested Players [Spoilers]

Mass Effect 3’s Ending Disrespects Its Most Invested Players [Spoilers]
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We should have known the conclusion would be trouble. Ending a game like Mass Effect 3 poses a special set of problems, because a central attraction of Western RPGs is that their systems respond to player choice. Mass Effect and its like are the classic case of games that generate stories through collaboration between designer and player. Drawing things to a close, however, requires the hand of the developer to show, often in ways that seem unattractive.

Editor’s Note: Spoilers follow below.

This famously happened in the case of Fallout 3, which had an ending so widely disliked that the developers ultimately retconned it with DLC. As I write this, there are petitions to see the same happen with Mass Effect 3. This effort exists because the game’s ending does not respect the player’s investment in the universe or creative force in the game.

The Mass Effect series has always presented itself to players as a vehicle for them to make important, if difficult, decisions. From the first game, the player’s choices as Commander Shepard have dictated who lives and dies, with results that ultimately define the fate of entire species in the trilogy’s finale.

The end of Mass Effect 3 disregards the player’s choices on both galactic and personal scales. In contrast to the exquisite, if occasionally opaque, ways the player’s decisions dictated the outcome of Shepard’s suicide mission in Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3‘s finale is essentially a railroad. Provided a player has gathered enough military force, all three possibilities for dealing with the series-long villains, the Reapers, are available. The player can opt to control them, destroy them, or join with them in an organic-AI synthesis of some kind. The choice only determines the primary colour and some other minor details of an ensuing cutscene. This denies the player any meaningful feedback about this decision, and the game’s refusal to elaborate in any serious way on what happens to the galaxy undercuts the importance of choices made in this and previous ME games.

However, these scenes also destroy the galaxy that the games spent so much time developing. No matter what the player chooses, the mass relays detonate spectacularly, releasing massive shockwaves. In the world of the game these relays are the lynchpin of galactic travel and commerce, and their removal separates its the various worlds by voyages that take years, rather than moments. Demolishing the paths of commercial and cultural exchange that defined the galaxy, however, is a minor problem compared to what the game itself states will be the result of the exploding relays.

Although it has recently been demonstrated that mass relays can be destroyed, a ruptured relay liberates enough energy to ruin any terrestrial world in the relay’s solar system.

Mass Effect 3 Secondary Codex, “The Reaper War – Desperate Measures”

Did you choose to cure the genophage, or do what the Dalatrass asked? It doesn’t matter. Tuchanka and Sur’Kesh were destroyed.

Did you save the Geth, or the Quarians? Who cares? The fleet is wrecked and Rannoch has been obliterated.

Did you take back Earth, as the game’s ad campaign promised you would? Not in any meaningful way: the world you fought to save is gone.

Was your Shepard a paragon? Too bad, buddy; now she’s the galaxy’s worst war criminal.

The more the player understands about the Mass Effect universe, the worse the ending seems.

Destroying the relays nullifies not only the major decisions Shepard has made, but even the mission she undertook. The Reapers did not harvest all life, Shepard murdered it instead, eradicating not only all the principal civilized worlds of her time but also any primitive cultures unlucky enough to live near a mass relay.

Even the more personal choices were ignored, at least for my renegade Shepard. As the conduit exploded around her, she flashed back to images of her pilot, Joker, her mentor, Anderson, and… Liara? Well, Shepard had a fling with her once, but that was years in the past. They’re just friends now. My Shepard had finally fallen for Garrus, even made love to him not long before the final battle. Yet she saw no vision of her lover in her final moments, nor even of her best friend outside the crew (Wrex, obviously). Instead, my Shepard’s thoughts were apparently with the pilot she thought was an irresponsible cut-up.

At least Joker manages to save a few lives. Although almost all of Shepard’s crew was with her on Earth for the final push against the Reapers, they somehow end up on Shepard’s vessel, the Normandy, racing at lightspeed to escape the shockwave. The ship crash-lands on some hitherto unknown garden world, dooming Garrus and Tali to a horrific death by starvation. As organisms built on D-amino acids, they find L-amino life indigestible. Tali will likely have the worst of it, as when she inevitably tries to eat something it will certainly cause a painful allergic reaction on top of being non-nourishing.

This absurd sequence, which ignores not only the details of the game’s universe but even obvious aspects of the immediate plot, points to the ending’s failure to adequately mesh even with its own fiction. This also shows through in the explanation given for the Reapers themselves, which is that each Reaper is used to store an organic civilisation so that all organic life will not be wiped out by synthetic lifeforms. In one sense, this is troubling because it implies that killing a Reaper is an act of genocide. The larger problem for the ending, though, is that it leans on the series’ least interesting theme, and even then disregards everything that the games have conveyed on the subject.

After all, the genuine synthetic intelligences present throughout the series have generally not been inimical to organic life. The robotic Geth, although initially presented as aggressive foes, are later shown to have been the victims of pre-emptive attacks by the Quarians. Even the ones that joined the Reapers in the first game did so out of a desire for self-advancement, not out of intrinsic malice towards organics. The other true AI the series presents is EDI, whose voluntary aid repeatedly proves crucial in helping Shepard’s missions succeed, and who might even be in love with Joker. Though the game undercuts itself by almost always placing synthetic lifeforms on the business end of Shepard’s gun, in dialogue and plot the synthetics are neutral, or even allies.

Yet even though the story of the Mass Effect games refutes the necessity of war between AI and organics at every turn, the finale presents their conflict as inevitable. The ending does not even give Shepard the option to use the truth about the Geth to argue against the Catalyst that controls the Reapers.

In this and other ways, the ending doesn’t reward the player for paying attention to the world the games have presented. Indeed, the more the player understands about the Mass Effect universe, the worse the ending seems. For a game series that had a rich backstory conveyed through dialogue, detailed factsheets, and miles of text, disregarding the lore is a significant act of disrespect towards the invested player. It argues that their interest in the world does not matter, not even to the world’s originators.

Shrinking the possible outcomes of Shepard’s final confrontation down to a few options allows the developers to exert the maximum amount of control over those moments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, by ignoring the series’ lore and discarding the effects of the player’s choices, Mass Effect 3‘s ending disrespects the player’s investment and engagement in the game’s world. Handled that way, the conclusion argues that the player’s time and emotional attachment have been wasted.

This transforms the developer-player relationship from creative collaboration to adversarial dictation. That transformation is exacerbated by decisions – the day-one “From Ashes” DLC released alongside a game-ruining face-import bug, Ashley’s new look, and Jessica Chobot’s cameo – that seem openly contemptuous of the series’ core fans. Destroying the universe on their way out the door is the developers’ ultimate attempt at seizing control of the creation, an exclamation that “This is mine, and you can’t have it!”

This explains some fan reactions to the ending. A petition to alter the ending through a patch or DLC may seem unrelated to a forum post reinterpreting the existing conclusion as a hallucination. Both responses, however, represent players’ attempts to seize control of the narrative back from the developers, by choosing a new series of events, or by choosing a new lens through which the existing events will be viewed.

Upset as these players are, a poor ending does not undo a wonderful game. Up until its last 15 minutes, Mass Effect 3 is excellent, a remarkable and moving culmination to an extended saga. The game’s conclusion does not undo the excellent cooperative storymaking that went on in the previous 60-odd hours, or the player’s investment in the universe. It does, however, disrespect them.

Sparky Clarkson is a structural biologist working in the Boston area. He writes reviews and essays at and his personal blog, Ludonarratology.

Republished with permission.


    • I find the Indoctrination Theory cool and all, but doesn’t the Prothean Beacon’s VI specifically reject Kai Lang because of his Cerberus Indoctrination while giving Shepard the all clear? Admittedly you can chalk either side up to sloppy writing, but at the time this was the reason I stopped thinking Shepard could be under Reaper Indoctrination.
      I dunno. I’m almost there on Insane so I’ll pay more attention to the specific details this time.

      • I believe the indoctrination theory suggests Shepard is not actually indoctrinated until Harbinger lands on earth and knocked down by one of his attacks before entering the transport beam to the citadel. One suggestion is that Shepard never leaves Earth and possibly dies there (or possibly lives, as seen in the 7 second cutscene you get of Shepard’s body lying in the rubble if you have an effective military strength above 5,000).

        • Most of it seems to rely on Shepards constant exposure to Reaper tech, the nightmares and other little things. Full Indoctrination occurs (or attempts to occur) at the end but the smaller influence builds up from as early as Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC. It’s understandable to say he simply wasn’t deep enough under for the Beacon VI to recognise it but Kai Lang didn’t seem too deep into it. Although Cerberus Indoctrination might just be way blunter and easier to recognise because it’s just a crude knock-off of the

    • I like the indoctrination theory, I disagree with it, but I’m cool with people thinking it’s what happened. It’s like the “Multiple James Bonds” theory and the like. Just like those, I don’t want it to be official. I like the ambiguity.

      • I don’t particularly like or agree with the indoctrination theory but I respect those with a different view. I see this as people who have tried to somehow make sense of ME3’s ending – which is fine.

        Others want the existing ending fleshed out and explained and there are certainly a substantial number of players who would prefer to see it changed entirely.

        Personally, the ending of ME3 pretty much had me throwing my hands up in disgust. If it was supposed to be ‘art,’ it didn’t resonate with me and I didn’t find anything to appreciate in it. It was confusing, left me disappointed and unfulfilled – then after all that – it put my Shepard back on the Normandy with a message telling me I could continue his adventures with DLC – in a galaxy where the mass relays had been destroyed (which is supposed to destroy the system they are in as well).

        Is Bioware entitled to tell the story they want? Sure, but that doesn’t change the fact their choice of ending has damaged their reputation as amazing storytellers. I’m still interested in seeing where they go from here and what they do to (try to) earn the respect of their fans again.

  • “Upset as these players are, a poor ending does not undo a wonderful game. Up until its last 15 minutes, Mass Effect 3 is excellent, a remarkable and moving culmination to an extended saga.”

    Agreed – ME3 was an amazing effort in storytelling, despite the baffling final few minutes.

    I think this article captures some of the major points pretty well.

    • agreed. i think the writers though underestimated the impact of the last few minutes.

      i will keep playing the game because its enjoyable but perhaps not with the same zealous as before.

    • The game was wonderful, it really was. The problem stems from the fact that it was more than just one game. ME 1, 2, and 3 are a series that players have followed from the beginning . By the time those players get to ME3, it’s no longer just a game; It’s a story. The Shepard they designed, and tinkered with, and tediously finished every side quest with, became a part of them. So when ME3 just ended without giving players closure , it was actually painful. I mean, I played my Shep from ME1. I went full Paragon, I saved everyone but Ash in the first two games, I finished every side quest, I made all the right decisions, and yet I still got the same ending? The first two games weren’t like that. Take ME2 for example. The end had multiple options. Your crew could all die, they could all live, you could destroy the base, you could save it, you could die, you could live, and all of this was directly linked to the decisions you made throughout the game. Then, after all was said and done, you could hop back on the Normandy and talk to all the squadmates who made it though. Shep “Hey Tali, hell of a fight, am I right?” Tali “You bet your galaxy-saving ass it was!” End of convo. ME3? No. All you get in ME3 is a mess of plot holes and speculation. And from what I can “speculate” things are going to suck. Even if Shep takes that final breath in the last scene, everything will still suck. Who cares if Shep lives to see another day, if the galaxy is screwed, it won’t matter anyway. All the aliens will be stuck in the Sol system, which can’t sustain them. And your crew will be stranded on a random planet where they’ll most likely die off. Your LI? Who knows what happens to them. All I know is that the entire ME universe is universally screwed.
      The ending matters more than anyone understands, because it’s more than a game. To the true fans of the series, it feels like we were told “Hey, if you work hard enough, you can spend all you’ve earned on something really awesome!” and finding out that we’re being paid in monopoly money, and the only places left on the board are a couple red, a blue, and a green.
      Seriously, instead of the stargazer scene, we want a couple scenes with our surviving squad mates on their homelands telling their kids “I fought alongside Commander Shepard.” And IF Shep survives, a scene of him or her standing on a hill watching a kid running about playing with a model Normandy. And that’s only IF Shep survives. But where the ending is at now, is pathetic. There is hardly any of the trademark “player choice”, and all the endings end in some sort of epic despair with barely a sliver of hope despite the choices you’ve made in the past few games. If the ending had player choice, variety, and a clear and direct display of how our choices impacted the universe, only then would the endings be satisfying.
      What non-gamers don’t understand is that this isn’t like a movie where you sit on the sidelines and watch. WE made the decisions in game. It’s a collaborative story from Bioware and the fans. Bioware’s games are largely based on feedback from their fans. They do actually listen to us, and they take our feedback seriously. This isn’t about feeling entitled, this is about constructive criticism and offering the company a way to fix a colossal mistake. Dragon Age Origins was a fantastic game, but it had it’s flaws. They listened, and fixed those flaws in DA2. Sure, DA2 had it’s own colossal mistakes as well; but they listened. The fans are heated over the ending to Mass Effect 3, and they want to be heard. They’re holding out hope that if they shout loud enough, Bioware will hear them, and work to correct what went wrong. There are a few angry people who just want to yell and throw a fit, but there are close to 60,000 in the Retake movement who are willing to wait and hold out hope that Bioware can come back and earn our trust again.
      You can call us entitled all you want, but if you bought a product and it wasn’t what you were promised, wouldn’t you take it back?
      My name is Montana, and I am holding the line.

      • I couldn’t agree more with this comment, you put into words what I was trying to disect in my mind. Why did Bioware do this to us? The epic final scenes in the first 2 games had me literally brimming with excitement and anticipation of the marvel that was to come, and it never did….

  • I can not tell you how incredibly over this debate I am. It’s an ending to a video game, since when do people carry on about it a month later? Have the people that are so passionate about this, not gone on to some other game by now?

    • Absolutely still relevant. The notion of players as true authors, the concept of communal ownership of a brand or license or setting, these issues are on the bleeding edge of game design and related philosophy.

      Further, it’s a sign that perhaps, just perhaps, our community is getting over it’s rampant futurism, and is analysing and considering extant games more thoroughly. Film classics are still debated, many years after they launch. Games being debated for a month is nothing.

      Finally, you know what I’m over? People commenting without reading, to bah the subject / Plunkett / Ashcraft.

      • There’s a huge difference between criticising the ending and asking Bioware to change it.

        That’s why I like the indoctrination theory: people interpret the ending in a way they like. It’s not the first time it’s been done (James Bond is just a codename, Zion is another Matrix, etc), but I think it is the first time it’s been done with a game. I love it.

        I don’t love, though, people complaining and campaigning for a new ending. Sure, I hated Quantum of Solace, but I don’t want it to be re-edited and made better. And the case with Star Wars’ edits, although it does have some similarities, people want it to be returned to it’s former glory, not edited into a new beast like here.

        And, finally, bringing on a guest writer to complain about the ending should not be on Kotaku, a news site. On someone’s personal blog, sure. If it’s got some incredibly unique take on the issue, sure. But this states nothing that hasn’t already said before, and it should not be here. It can exist, sure, but it shouldn’t be here.

        Like you, Fenixius, I agree it is still relevant. People debate things from classic films and books all the time. But this isn’t a debate, not right now. It’s a tirade. A crusade. And that’s the problem.

    • I guess because some people can’t finish the game in a week because they have jobs, study, other commitments?

  • Eh, I like this article. It reminds me that I wasn’t just imagining things and that there were some really serious plot-holes that drew me away from being excited about the ending.

  • This article might have been relevant on day one, but there’s been too much debate about the legitimacy of the Indoctrination Theory to pass it off as “choosing a new lens through which the existing events will be viewed”.
    Not only have the Reapers indoctrinated Shepard, but Bioware has indoctrinated the player base at large, too. The game is far from over, folks.

    • call me skeptical. i will believe it when i see it.
      being a scientist i can explain anything into existence given enough time and circumstantial evidence but doesn’t mean it is true. its when you can synthesize or create that compound or theory of fusion that it becomes law. i have not seen sufficient proof of this theory to convince me. i am not disregarding it but until BW announces and releases a DLC based on this theory i am sitting on the sidelines observing and taking notes

    • have you not seen the writer’s notes about the ending that was released as part of that ipad app?
      the indoctrination theory has already been put to rest, the developers weren’t going for that. all of the ‘evidence’ is just a bunch of pure coincidences.

      and WHEN would shepard have gotten indoctrinated? He wasn’t on Thessia. The only reaper contact he had after that was getting zapped by harbinger. Harbinger doesn’t shoot indoctrination rays. Indoctrination takes time, and proximity. Harbinger can’t indoctrinate shepard from a distance, if the reapers could do that, they’d just indoctrinate everyone from a distance.

      furthermore, what would be the point in indoctrinating him? Harbinger obviously meant to kill him with that blast.

      Lastly, if he’s indoctrinated, why even give him the option to choose what to do with the crucible? the catalyst says that shepard can take control of the reapers, but that the illusive man could not, because the illusive man was under control of the reapers, he was indoctrinated. the catalyst is clearly telling shepard that shep ISN’T indoctrinated.

      oh, you want to say everything that happened after the blast was just in shep’s head? That he’s still on earth, bleeding to death? Well then the game doesn’t even have an ending. It literally has NO ending if that is the case. We don’t know what is going to happen to the galaxy, or the reapers, or any of the characters you know, any of the races. It’s all just one big question mark. You think they planned this all along so they could finish the game with DLC? That’s even worse. they sold us an incomplete game.

      But then there’s the stargazers at the ending! Doesn’t that disprove the indoctrination theory? It’s a guy telling his kid a story about shepard fighting the reapers. Why would he end the story that he’s telling with shepard being indoctrinated and fighting imaginary god-children in his head? Why wouldn’t he then tell the kid what happened to the galaxy and the reapers?

      indoctrination theory believers are just clinging to it because they refuse to accept how shitty the ending actually was, and they’re desperate and all too willing to latch onto ANY other theory. it’s pathetic.

  • Whilst much of the content of this article has been well discussed already, I can’t help but support the sentiment due to my intense disappointment

  • Did you choose to cure the genophage, or do what the Dalatrass asked? It doesn’t matter. Tuchanka and Sur’Kesh were destroyed.

    Nope, I saved them.

    Did you save the Geth, or the Quarians? Who cares? The fleet is wrecked and Rannoch has been obliterated.

    I saved both and they fought beside me during the final battle.

    Did you take back Earth, as the game’s ad campaign promised you would? Not in any meaningful way: the world you fought to save is gone.

    I damn well tried, but sometimes the action of an individual don’t have as much impact as the individual would like.

    Sometimes decisions don’t have the desired outcome, sometimes they do, sometimes they have no impact on the overall outcome. It doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that they were my decisions.

    I’m rather sick of this entire fiasco. The ending wasn’t great, I get that. It didn’t diminish my overall enjoyment of an otherwise fantastic game and fixating on this seems rather pointless.

      • I wasn’t clear on that, I thought it was just the relays that went down. Essentially wiping out long range transport and effectively stranding the military might of the galaxy.

        My thoughts on how much impact my decisions had was purely short term. Some of them may have been long-term decisions (curing the genophage) but I made those decisions knowing that there was an impending apocalypse.

        To me, it’s the same as saying it doesn’t matter if you were nice to someone today because they’re going to die anyhow. Sure the timeframe is a little more immediate but the actions still matter.

        • Arrival DLC showed us when a Relay is destroy, it kills and entire system worth of life. It’s the reason your under house arrest at the beginning.

          • That’s debatable. We see an uncontrolled discharge of energy as a result of an asteroid cracking the Mass Relay in half – the system and the Batarians are then wiped out because the Reapers turn up about five minutes later.

            What happens when a large quantity of energy is discharged through the Mass Relays to other Relays and distributed across the entire network, which in turn causes the Mass Relays to break apart and explode? We don’t actually know.

    • Regardless of whether the relays actually exploded like they did in Arrival, all those fleets around earth? Gee I hope earth can grow enough food to feed them. You know, except for the Quarians, Turians and Volus because we cant feed them anyway. Every fleet in the galaxy essentially is at earth – with no means of returning to their home planets. This is almost as bad as the relays blowing up anyway. I think you rather missing the point.

      • the quarian civilian fleet would have had the organic food and growing capacity to feed their entire fleet, I imagine there would be issues but I can see the quarians not having any trouble with their food supplies, most likely it will be the humans and turians and other aliens around that will ahve the issues

  • Mass Effect 3 feels like it didn’t want it’s long term fans, the people who had bought the DLC, read the books and comics and were invested in the story. It wanted the casual dickhead who has trouble deciding what they want for breakfast. They’ve tailored the whole game so they’ll feel secure with fewer choices and dialogue options and even coloured coded the crap endings for their benefit.

    • After reading that the typical player plays as a soldier and did NOT import a save from ME1/2 into three, my wife started a new game just to see what the “baseline experience” was for a new player. She made a soldier and chose to have had ‘numerous’ casualties.

      The game is actually quite different, and several of the scenarios can end differently if you have not previously interacted with/gained the loyalty of some major players.

      Believe me, Bioware was definitely thinking about ways to reward the player with a better story if they’ve been on board for awhile.

    • I actually felt the experience was quite tailored to my Commander Shepard, and I’m a long term fan with all the extra junk. It might be because I play a Paragon Soldier, but the events all felt like they were mine. The War Asset function also made my choices feel a lot more important. I wanted the best ending possible and the achievement the same way Shepard wanted to win the war, so unlike the rest of the games where I was free to be myself I was constantly forced to think about the big picture.
      I felt like that added the atmosphere I was hoping for from the first game but always found lacking. The atmosphere where I had to choose between what I wanted to do and what I had to do. In Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 I did what I wanted there were consiquences but they were local and there was almost always a ‘good’ choice that saved the day. In Mass Effect 3 I had to make tough choices. I usually made the same choices I’d make without the pressure, but the pressure really drove them home.


      The Genophage is a good example. In Mass Effect 2 curing the genophage would have just been a choice. Good people cure the genophage, bad people don’t. In Mass Effect 3 however there was the Salarian support to think about. My need to help these specific people may infact hurt them by damaging the war effort.
      By the time I was done I’d almost started a Salarian Civil War, and unlike the previous games where the outcome was off in the distance, this time I knew I’d have to pay the price by the end of the day.

      • The example you’ve used is a really good one, and it certainly made me stop and really think about what I wanted to accomplish in the ensuing missions, but at the same time after two games of playing full paragon it felt ingrained in me and I ultimately went with that choice. Did I enjoy it? Most certainly. But I also feeling like a large part of the reason why I chose that way was simply running with tradition. I really liked that it made me stop for a few moments, though (and that the game gives you several opportunities to think about it, where if you try to tell Wrex about the Dalatrass’ plan the vehicle starts shaking and you get distracted. That really had me re-evaluating my decision a few times.)

        Anyway, I also felt like the story was tailored to my Shepard, in a good way. It was great to see so many variables with some key characters – Miranda is a good example. There are quite a few ways to kill her off based on your interactions with her both in ME2 and 3. One of my favourite things about ME3 was hopping online when I was done and seeing what could have been if I had played it differently – the fates of Jack, Tali and Legion in particular were quite powerful when I read about what else was possible.

        Aha, at this point I’m not sure if what I’m saying has any relevance to what you said. I just like talking about this series. :p

        • Aha, at this point I’m not sure if what I’m saying has any relevance to what you said. I just like talking about this series. :p

          Which is pretty much why I’m in the comment section to begin with. I just like talking about the game.

          I went with mostly Paragon options too. I wouldn’t say out of tradition but yeah, if you show me a blue option and a red option I’ll go with the blue because that’s what sort of guy my Commander Shepard is. Like you said though the choices gave me pause. Even after I’d made the call I questioned whether the right thing to do was actually the right thing to do.

          There was a really tense moment where Legion was uploading to the Geth and it was clear that I had to choose between Tali and Legion. There was no way out. It really felt like there was a ticking clock where I had to choose between Legion who I trusted and was only trying to help save his people and Tali who was my friend who also wanted to save her people. It sounds pathetic to say Tali was my friend but in the moment it really felt like I could betray her.

          No matter how I felt after the end of the game at the time those decisions felt way, way, way deeper than the Kaiden or Ashley decision in the first game. If they ever make a Mass Effect 4 I expect it to make my hair go gray with stress. =P

  • Now that I’ve finished ME3, I can say I agree with this article pretty thoroughly.
    Many of the earlier articles, which I didn’t read for fear of spoilers, seemed to be tinged with immature anger and frustration.
    Having finished the game I was disappointed by the ending but loved the game, especially the final sequence which eschewed the “one big boss” for a challenging, intense battle.
    I loved the games, but I can uncerstand why somany people raged, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the way they went about voicing that view.

  • I hate the whole, “Your decisions don’t matter” argument. They’re foolishly falling under “the ends justify the means”.

    That’s like saying you should stop giving to charity because your contribution doesn’t prevent poverty.

    • Curing poverty is near enough an impossibility. Writing a narrative is completely up to the authors and is limitless. Stupid comparison.

  • The fact is though, as much as I like the Mass Effect games, there really isnt much choice at all, besides being either paragon or Renegade. All this talk of deep narative choice is a load of garbage. And the story for Mass Effect 3 was pretty repetitive and had reams of dialogue that had no meaning, and wasnt a patch on Mass Effect 1 or 2s’

    • you make a valid point but you wish to force your beliefs on others. sorry that people are trying to tell you otherwise but you don’t realise you are doing the very thing you hated,telling people what to think. you also obviously overlook the others that agree with you. if you are so sick and tired of articles like this then don’t read them. i guess thats like asking a child not to touch, no matter how clear you make it they are going to anyway.
      there is a difference between civility and belligerency and this post is a prime example of people who insist on yelling their point across rather than discussing it in a constructive manner

      • Sorry, I did what to the who now? I’m forcing people to think? I didn’t know I weilded such power. I also never said I was sick of such articles, I said I was sick of discussing, endlessly trying to justify why I think the ending is mostly fine as is.

        No, see now you’re doing the ultimate wrong in a debate and that’s a strawman argument.

        My opinion is my opinion. What I am frustrated by are people who can’t restrict themselves to having an opinion. No, they need to tell Bioware they made their game wrong. They need to say not that they didn’t like it, but that Bioware had better gosh darn fix it, or else!
        I have people who approach me online, even friends (even my wife!) who harass me in person, telling me the ending is stupid and I’m effectively stupid for liking it.

        If other people don’t agree with me, I can’t and won’t stop them – though I may step in to correct them when they’re being factually inaccurate. But opinions are an unstoppable juggernaut.

    • That clip funnily ALSO could apply to Seth McFarlane shows.
      (Pretty much the only good things from that are Seth Green and Sir Patrick Stewart.)

  • Good article. I, too, felt cheated by the ending. Before people yell at me about ‘artistic integrity’ or to get over it, a bad ending can ruin any form of media. I’ve read books or seen movies where the ending has ruined it. Case in point – the recent ‘I am Legend’ re-make had a horrible ending.

    Do you know what happens when movies have terrible endings that are widely disregarded by fans? Do smart-arses on websites tell people to ‘get over it?’ No, the directors listen and make director’s cut endings (as was the case with ‘I am Legend’)

    • Actually the Director’s Cut was the original ending, which was originally removed because test audiences didn’t like it. The ending seen in the cinematic run of I Am Legend was produced as a comprise to artistic integrity in a failed attempt to appeal to the broadest demographic.

      • Also because the majority of people don’t like hating Will Smith. Hancock was heavily changed to make him more likeable.

  • I agree, I’ve been a fan since Mass Effect 1, bought 1 and 2 and all it’s DLC and just felt cheated by Bioware with Mass Effect 3’s ending.

    They really should’ve thought it through before making that ending, its like all your choices were for nothing over the last few years and making the “real” ending as “DLC” doesn’t really cut it either.

    Why does everything that a game is missing that should’ve been in the game to begin with is now classed as DLC?

    A game like Mass Effect needs to be great from START to FINISH. Not from START and then lazily make it’s way to the finish. All Mass Effect games have been great from beginning to end exepct for Mass Effect 3.

    Seriously, those who say “get over it” aren’t true fans of the franchise, I’d bet they have felt cheated by some other franchise whether it be video games, books or movies.

    Remember the whole Halo 2 legendary ending being crappy, not living up to expectations of the previous game?

    Yeah I thought so.

  • *Wha* *wha* entilied whiney gamers are ruining my like *wha* *wha* why does kotaku force me to click on these links and read these articles I hate *wha* *wha*

        • “Dumbed down” – there it is, they said it! I thought I was going to read an article without unwashed neckbeard input. Thanks for putting me at ease.

      • While I don’t agree with Gemini’s point (at least not entirely), EA didn’t acquire BioWare until ME2 was actually finished. All they had to do was publish it.

    • i agree, EA is the cancerous growth of the gaming industry. its both malignant and benign. its spreads but keeps its hosts alive which proved a weakened product time and again as the cancer engulfs its very being

  • A very well crafted article that covers a lot of valid points overlooked by many other sites and journalists. Nice work Sparky!
    (That has to be a pen name…right?)

    This video by a Plinkett fan (with a dash of homage) also analyses the reasons why the ending fiasco isn’t just “whiny bitching” by “entitled spoilt gamers”.
    (Get comfy, this is 40 minutes!)

    • it was about time something like this was posted on Kotaku. still outnumbered by all the articles written by the “leave-it-alone” brigade

  • Wow, I did not read in to the ending that much with regards to the relays and the planets near them…

    I was happy with the endings. I grew up on Greek tragedies and old Chinese folk lore/stories/history etc. In most of them the protagonist gets killed while doing a heroic deed at the end….or gets killed in a minor skirmish set after the main story. Romance of The Three Kingdoms and The Odessy are great examples of this. So Shep kicking the bucket did not bother me (it did but only because I thought HE was a great character).

    What bothers me is the holes. What happened to your squad that went with you on the final mission? Picking the Synth ending, does that mean EDI IS in fact dead? I mean we don’t know for sure do we?

    One other thing. If you picked the Synth ending I suppose (if the planets did not get blown up from the relays going pop) the relays would not take that long to rebuild since the Reapers built them or at the least would be advanced enough to build more. Who knows. Just have to wait and see.

    • I’m with Darren – the people who enjoyed Mass Effect most care a lot for the characters, and would appreciate knowing that they made it out okay after Shephard made the ultimate sacrifice.
      At the very least, I wouldn’t mind it if the team who created those amazing trailers to create & distribute a new trailer showing brief flashes about what happens to the crew after Shephard’s “synthesis” sacrifice (e.g. Tali with a house on Rannoch, Garrus rescuing evacuees from the Citadel, Liara and her “time capsule”, and Shephard living on as an electronic “angel” watching over the new, friendlier galaxy that they created).
      For myself – once I’ve finished wrapping up all my Shepards in ME3, I’ll be starting on SW:TOR – if only to play the instance where the (Republic) player rescues Revan after he disappeared. I certainly wasn’t happy with how SW:KOTOR2 (Sith Lords) continued Revan & Bastila’s story – and it’d be nice to get some closure. Just look out for a female cyborg trooper called Jayn Sh’pard…

      • Just in case you don’t know, when you hit a certain point in the story in SW:TOR you get the option to make a ‘Legacy’. The Legacy comes with it’s own last name which applies to all your characters on the server. So to make Jayn Sh’pard, you’ll want to make a character simply called Jayn then progress through the story until you unlock your legacy. At which point you’ll be able to set your name to display as Jayn Sh’pard.
        You probably already know that but I just thought I’d post it anyway in case you go to create a character and think JaynSh’pard is the closest you’ll be able to get to Jayn Sh’pard.

  • Wow, an ending that showed up the solipsism of the Shepard Experience was not well received by shut-ins who write Garrus fanfics?


    That is all. For all the pop philosophising, the issue is not about narrative construction or any functional aspect of story telling or delivery.

    It’s just that lots of emotionally invested people expected a trite, technicolour ending like in all the mainstream Hollywood movies.

    The ending arguably was a lot deeper than the ‘AND HERE IS GARRUS ON A BEACH WITH A PINACOLADA HAHA LOOK AT HIS HAWAIIAN SHIRT’ ending the community desires but hey, PLAYERS ARE AUTHORZ!

    Luckily I would imagine Bioware has the skills to whip up a suitably trite ending that will soothe, if not completely deflate, all the bristling neck beards out there.

    • Neck beards? Shut ins? Anymore overused tropes you want to throw in there buddy? Trying to paint the ending as ‘anti-hollywood’ or unconventional doesnt make it so. Nor does insulting people who dislike it make you in any way superior to us. Im guessing your either in your late teens or early 20’s. As they are usually the ones who like to try and sound all unique and mature.

      • ‘Us’? So you identify as a neckbearded shut in who writes Garrus fanfic then?

        You wanted a Disney ending. You didn’t get one.

        That doesn’t make it a bad ending, it just makes it something you personally didn’t like.

        Express your personal dislike all you want, don’t call for a friggin’ Jihad against Bioware for crying out loud.



        • It’s been said time and time again by most people who are dissapointed with the ending but here it is one more time, just for you.
          It’s not about a happy ending.
          Oh and the deus ex machine god child is the biggest hollywood trope of them all.

      • I agree to an extent. The last thing I wanted to see was the galaxy go back to the way it was with everybody sweeping up the mess and rebuilding. How predictable, how unfulfilling. It was clear that the reapers were absolutely unstoppable and that in order to come out on top, the galaxy would have to have been changed beyond recognition, to be left with scars so horrendous they’d change the course of countless worlds an species. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to hook the Crucible up to the Citadel, activate the giant laser, endure a turret sequence in which you pop Reapers like space invaders and save the day, get a medal, see all the worlds celebrate and see was the image of a 50 year old Shepard living peacefully behind her white picket fence with 2.5 kids while Liara opened up a crepe restaurant. To tie everything up in a nice neat bow that left people on a high would have been offensive.

        I was pleasantly surprised by the shocking and challenging ending.

        • Here’s the thing. I actually didn’t like the ending all that much. It was OK, but given the solipsistic nature of the trilogy, I would probably have been happier with a Disney ending.

          I appreciate the fact the writers did something a bit different but like most people my conditioned expectation would have been somewhat happier with Hollywood fare.


          The stench of entitlement wafting off these whiners is disgusting. And the fact that the imaginary power of social media has seen Bioware kneejerk a response sets an awful precedent for the future.

          Every single time a writer steps outside the boundary, can they expect to be confronted by insane howls from ten thousand sweaty dewflaps?

        • Right. So you haven’t looked up the page then?

          Explain how it is functionally a bad ending then please.

          ‘Oh and the deus ex machine god child is the biggest hollywood trope of them all.’

          Yeah! There were like twenty eight films with that just last week!

          Am I doing it right?

          • How is it functionally a bad ending?
            Well I guess I don’t want to play through it all the way to end again with another shepard because I know all that changes is the colour of an explosion. Actually, I guess I could deal with a unchangeable cutscene, and suffer Bioware’s artistic integrity, IF it was a well directed and engaging cutscene but Bioware made it laughable e.g. the Normany and friends on happy forest world.

            And I don’t believe 28 films were released last week..

          • a) That’s not functionally a bad ending, you just didn’t like it.

            b) The 28 films was a sarcastic comment to illustrate the stupidity of your exaggerated comment. Thank you for the extra endorsement.

          • So it didn’t bother you that the squad you were fighting with on Earth appear on the Normandy while Joker runs away for no reason? That’s a bad ending.

          • I wish whoever introduced nerds to the concept of deus ex machine hadn’t. A lot of the moaners have learned a new word and they’re running with it. It wasn’t a deus ex machina at all. The Crucible plot thread ran through the entire game. And even the star-child was a theme for the whole game so people need to stop playing that card.

            Sure you didn’t find out the truth about these elements straight away but the entire plot was slowly building to that moment. Hardly a deus ex machina.

            I think people are actually disappointed that the Crucible wasn’t a giant laser that could kill Reapers and save the day. If anyone actually thought the mysterious piece of alien technology that humanity had little knowledge about how to even use or activate was going to turn out to be EXACTLY what they thought it was and be EXACTLY what they needed they probably also thought the game was gonna end with Rafiki on top of Pride Rock holding Shepard’s new born baby while the animals of Africa cheered.

            If that’d happened, if they really discovered a super-save-the-day in the openeing scenes of the last game, then people could talk about lazy writing.

            If people wanna talk about a deus ex machina that’s it right there. It’s like, “oh God, the Reapers are coming and they’re going to kill us all, let’s spend 2 games hopelessly fighting them and at the beginning of the last game we suddenly find a super weapon that was under our noses the whole time that can stop the Reapers.”

          • @sharmona I hate to break it to you but you had just as much control over the ending as you did the previous 2 games, that is to say, none.

          • ah but you see, the ending of the other two games made sense and were well constructed. This one was rushed and cheap.

  • If only more games journalists had the courage to express these opinions when they game first shipped. Almost all (Kotaku included) were too busy drinking sweet sweet Bioware hype that they either overlooked, or in most cases rudely shot down any concern about the terrible conclusion. Sure there are many dickwads on the terrible ending side, but to have almost every major games website tell us we were a crazed minority was insulting. THEN afterwards came the whole artistic expression push and how we who were dissapointed were enemies of art!

    • You are enemies of art. If every author was deluged by fat whiteboys sending them letters whining about the ending of their books they’d probably quit for the more comfortable climate of a call centre.

      You don’t like the ending? Write your own book, don’t whine on the internet that the author had the TEMERITY to choose an ending other than the one you wanted.

      Just remove all the slash fic before you try peddling it to daywalkers please.

        • Well these behaviours are not the behaviours of sane, well adjusted people.

          They are the behaviours of people with intense personal and social issues who invested too much in a video game and believe they have a special entitlememt.

          So yes, shut-in neckbeardies.

  • I would argue that the player has had
    only the most minimal amount of input on the game’s story from the get go. Without a doubt, every major story beat in the game cannot be altered. Even the supposedly big decisions you make at the end of first two games do not affect the story of the following games. At best, you see different character in different scenes and hear different dialogue but you cannot impact the greater story, not one bit. I think the player was betrayed in game 1, the moment they figured out that their choices didn’t really affect the game at all.

    • This, but you need to realise that the whinge brigade developed a more *comprehensive* view in their own imagination.

      Not that there is anything wrong with that.

      • I do respect people who didn’t like it. I know why they didn’t like it. But at the end of the day it’s just opinions. They have one, I have one, the important thing is not trying to be right. I wish people understood it was ok to dislike something or even disagree about something. People are just driven by an overwhelming desire to be right that only ends when one side sensibly accepts the other’s point of view or it turns into a fight. Obviously the latter occurs the most

          • I also think the characters had suitable resolutions and like most good stories, the supporting cast has their conclusion before the story wraps up.

            You find out all about how the races got into the situations they are in an you see those situations (the genephage

          • I also think the characters had suitable resolutions and like most good stories, the supporting cast has their conclusion before the story wraps up.

            You find out all about how the races got into the situations they are in an you see those situations (the genephage, the geth war etc) and you get to see how those situations resolve and in turn, the paths the characters from those species will take. Thankfully we were spared having to be told and then clumsily shown where the characters wound up on a personal level.

            Look at the Lord of the Rings films. Did you see Gimli go open up the Mines of Moria and rebuild it? Did you see Legolas return to his home a hero? Did you see Faramir become the right hand man of Aragorn as he ruled for many years?


            Why see what you already know. Aragorn has his arc before the conclusion, Legolas and Gimli too. All of the characters become a different person because of the conflicts and you get an absolute sense of where they are headed in their lives. Being shown it would be clumsy and wasting time.

  • Kudos to someone on Kotaku who finally gets it. No where in this write up does it cry about “Shepard dying” and explains the real problem with the ending. I have said countless times that Kokatu needs to stop milking the ME3 ending train, but this one I will give a pass because it’s well thought out and actually explains the problem.

    I do agree that BioWare kind of messed up their own lore. I was also sadden by the “reveal”. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it’s from this link on

    The reason this is disheartening is because instead of going to the trouble to make an original face for tali. They instead go to a site with no royalty fee’s to get a stock photo. Then photoshop her hands so it looks like she only has three fingers…. Is this as a big deal as the ending? Of course not, but it’s just another glare on BioWare.

  • Well given that going by the official and established in game lore of what happens with the destruction of a mass effect relay being that it wipes out the planets in it’s solar system then I think we can say yeah that ending was pretty terrible. At best they completely ignore the rules of their universe and at the worst all life in the universe is eradicated in every ending, good job bioware.

    • These Mass Relays were destroyed in a way that hadn’t been done before. In all three Endings the destruction was caused, effectively, by burnout, not being attacked.

      • Addendum: The devestation caused by a destroyed relay is caused by a release of energy. This energy was used to either convert life, kill Reapers or enforce Shepard’s control, however. No contradiction required.

  • “This denies the player any meaningful feedback about this decision, and the game’s refusal to elaborate in any serious way on what happens to the galaxy undercuts the importance of choices made in this and previous ME games.”

    How dare they imply things! We need to be told EXACTLY what happens! What caused the zombies in Night of the Living Dead? What happens between Die Hard 1 and 2? Why didn’t they show us the Death Star being built? RAAAGE!

    They tell you the future in several parts during the game.

    For instance:
    If you save the Krogans, but Eve dies, you’ll most likely cause another Krogan rebellion/civil war.
    If you save the Krogans and Eve lives, you’ve most likely allowed a once great race to reach its former glory.
    You could cause the death of two of the major species (Quarian, Geth), and can, if you play it right, actually make both races extinct. I don’t think it’s hard to say that this wouldn’t have consequences, like renewed racism towards humanity, and the lack of Quarian and Geth.

    Joker managed to get out, and I would assume that many ships were also escaping the system when the Citadel went kablooey. The galaxy would once again be many stranded worlds, like before the Mass Relays were found, only this time many planets would have a wide variety of species.

    Also worth noting: the Mass Relay’s can’t be the only way to get from one side of the galaxy to another. They were built by this ancient species. How were they built? They must have had a form of transport, and with the citadel in orbit around the Earth, I’ve no doubt the many species around will be ready to study everything on it that might help.

    tl;dr: Just because it didn’t explicitly tell you something doesn’t mean it’s stupid.

    • actually, if the series revolves around tasking the player with making decisions, and then confronting the player with the consequences of those decisions, then yes, they do have to tell us what happens. they cannot ‘imply’ what ‘might’ happen. because then there was no point in making the decisions.

      the examples you gave have no relevance, because the player/viewer had no say in making key choices in those stories. please think things out before posting next time.

  • ‘tl;dr: Just because it didn’t explicitly tell you something doesn’t mean it’s stupid.’

    No, but if this upsets you it might mean YOU are stupid.

  • Hey, there’s an article on Kotaku that isn’t pithy and dismissive and actually represents some of the valid arguments/complaints about the ending to Mass Effect 3? Is the world ending?

  • finally an article that talks about the fact that the big problem is not only the ending but the whole game, that is always the same with any Shep disregarding your former choices…zero replayability, big disappointment.

  • Nice, finally some site that say things how they are, ME 3 was good until end, and more you know this game (ME1 and ME2), bigger was and still is the delusion, I feel like I waste my time all this years.

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