My Mass Effect 3 Ending Lasted 34 Hours. It Was Wonderful.

My Mass Effect 3 Ending Lasted 34 Hours. It Was Wonderful.

Some called me a sympathiser when I championed the rights of some video game fans to have disliked ending to a video game changed.

They said I didn’t like the ending, and that’s why I concocted a theory in March about video games as a malleable art that is justifiably tweaked by player and game creator.

They were wrong, because I had not yet experienced the ending of Mass Effect 3. I couldn’t say then whether I liked the ending or not. I sympathised with the ending-complainers on principle, not facts.

I only finally played through the ending of Mass Effect 3 on a Sunday in May. I’ve now seen this ending. I’d be happy if it never changed.

(Spoilers follow, of course.)

I think my Commander Shepard saved the universe. She synthesised artificial and organic life. She enabled her formerly human pilot and the formerly robotic virtual intelligence aboard her ship to hold hands as two beings of equal bio-mechanical sentience. She gave them a future together. Shepard died. Her friends did not, at least not any whose lives I could save.

Over the last half decade, across three Xbox 360 adventures, my Shepard spared Wrex and saved the Geth. The plot of the game would not let her save Thane or Legion. In some cases she did choose one friend over the other, but she saved as many as she could.

We’ve published two takes on the ending from Kotaku staffers. One was a complaint that the series’ system of clear choices was sabotaged by its creators when the time came for players to make the most important choices at the end of the long Mass Effect saga. The other was a positive appraisal of a series that had revealed itself in its narrowed ending to be a tale told in the mode of a myth whose details may change but whose conclusion and meaning remains the same.

Early in my play-through of Mass Effect 3 I came to think of the entire game as the ending.

I finished Mass Effect 3 thinking differently. Early in my play-through of Mass Effect 3 I came to think of the entire game as the ending. Mass Effect 2 was Shepard’s triumph, her second gathering of friends to fight against the odds. Mass Effect 3 seemed, instead, to be all goodbyes, one long ending. Having played the first two Mass Effects preserving as many lives of key characters as I could, my Mass Effect 3 journey was a summer vacation after high school. It was a re-visit with friends who I could sense I’d never see again. I’d been told Shepard’s adventure was a trilogy. I assumed I was playing an ending. I sussed out that it would be a melancholy one. Mass Effect 3‘s sad title screen with the earth under a rain of devastation was a sufficient hint. The last game I’d played that was so bleak at boot-up was another extended tragedy, Metal Gear Solid 4. Here, I expected a game of sorrow.


The best part of the end of the original Star Wars movie isn’t the knowledge that the Death Star was destroyed but the smile, during a military awards ceremony, that the princess has for the farmboy. I always feel good when I see it, that knowing look between new friends (siblings, whatever). They are alive in an epic, but their joy is nearly domestic. It’s quaint and cute and more satisfying, paradoxically, than any blow to an Empire. Who cares if the world has been saved? I care that these people became friends in the process.

The next Star Wars movie ends more darkly but with a hug of companionship that compensates for the bad guys essentially winning. The final Star Wars movie ends with the possible downfall of evil and a planetary party, but it’s that one look between a father and son that thrills me the most.

Mass Effect 3 is full of those Star Wars-friendship moments. It’s full of those moments that affirm the bonds this band of buddies has made. (Tali and Garrus? I never suspected!)

Mass Effect 3 is essentially a game that needs several hours of cosmic space battle in order to sprinkle in all the warmth between friends required in an epic with so large and well-realised a cast. Shepard fought Cerebus, battled banshees and blew up the citadel, but all of that was, I realised by the end of the game, padding in between her — my — farewells to Zaeed and Tali, to Legion and Thane, to Ashley, to Grunt, to Wrex and on and on. The goodbyes were sad, because I sensed that Shepard would be the one incapable of saying hello again. She would die. But these other characters would live on because of her and me.

The Mass Effects, for me, were always about keeping friends alive, of giving them a chance to smile at each other one more time before the credits rolled.

My Commander Shepard actually died many times while I played Mass Effect 3. Her particle rifle reloaded too slowly to always dispatch Banshees in the first go-round. She sometimes walked into the buzzsaw of a Cerebus engineer’s turret. Before she killed the assassin Kai Lang, he killed her a few times. I undid all but one of her deaths. I kept that final one at bay as long as I could.

We can play Super Mario Bros. to save the princess and win. But we will only ever play Tetris to lose. Our best effort will only delay the loss. Mass Effect 3 proved to be more Tetris than Mario, but with each extra effort, each new re-load, I had a shot to keep a cast of characters alive. When my pieces finally reached the top of the screen, I had bought enough time and made enough effort to guarantee that a starship full of friends had lived. Their survival had little to do with any weaving between Shepard’s paragon and renegade sides. It had nothing to do with her gender or hairstyle or the guns she used in battle. It had to do with me stretching the story and keeping it going. I got a lot of them through it, and I got to say goodbye.

The creators of Mass Effect 3 now say that, due to fan reaction, they will elaborate on the ending of their game. They will add non-interactive scenes to provide more closure. I won’t mind it, but I don’t need it. The Mass Effects, for me, were always about keeping friends alive, of giving them a chance to smile at each other one more time before the credits rolled. That’s what I accomplished, as well as could be done. Commander Shepard’s mission is a success.

Top image: The Team lithograph, available at the official Mass Effect website.


  • Congratulations, you’ve posted something worth reading on Kotaku. Have one internets! We need more writers like yourself on here.

  • The game was great, although the ending left me feeling as though it were incomplete.

    If the game concluded in a way more like ME2, then I’d be giving it a perfect 10/10 rating. However, as it stands I give it a 9.5/10. The series is excellent!

  • Enjoyed the article and agree.

    I think Biowares biggest mistake was that they didn’t make it very clear that you are experiencing a different story than a lot of others. It blew my mind when someone said in their playthrough they got the Geth and the Quarians to work together, and they saved Mordin.

    • You can save Mordin but in order to do so you have to kill Wrex in ME1 and destroy Maelon’s data in ME2 which will lead to Eve’s death.

      So in a way Mordin and Wrex are like an Ashley/Kaiden moment of the whole trilogy

  • I’m one of the people that hated the ending, I hated it because I had no control over my Shepard. My Shepard always question what people said, then made a decision based on that yet I found my Shepard simply accepting the Star Child’s logic and being told I have to pick from Blue, Green or Red.

    I couldn’t even asked How do I Control the Reapers, What exactly will happen when I synthesis the who galaxy or Why do the Geth have to die if I pick Destroy. That is what broke it for me, simply Commander Shepard going “Okay Kid I just met, I believe you”

  • @ Azza, the title pic is from the Art of the Mass Effect Universe. It is an awesome book to read if you’re a Mass Effect fan.

    For me, ME3 was pretty much the ending story for my Shepard. She started as a normal soldier that was thrust into a galactic conspiracy that pointed to death and destruction on a monumental scale in the first ME. ME2 was all about surviving the odds. She did everything that was possible for others and herself to survive. After all, it was her passion given she was dead and risen again.

    3 was about that final end. Despite everyone doing synthesis or control, she went destroy. It was her belief that life would continue beyond it all. Sure, the mistakes of the past will come back but for what is worth, isn’t life like that? There is no box of chocolates where you get randomly a selection of choices. It is connected and spun over a lifetime.

    For me, 3 was pretty much how I expected the ME trilogy to end. Sure the ending patch will help clarify my decisions but I’m content as well. I’ve done what I could and that’s it.

  • Thank you for being one of the voices of reason in the gaming community on mass effect 3. I’m tired of hearing “EA is evil’ and all of that.

  • To be honest, I loved that I had less control over the outcome than I thought I did. I really don’t get the arguments about it not fitting “thematically” because it’s a matter of interpretation. To champion this as a reason Bioware has “lost touch” with its fans was so incredibly arrogant to me. The idea that a human was about to literally move races together after years if conflict and ignorance only to find yourself in a situation that has no clear answer or choice, where you are shown to be not just a programmer of a story but just human, no less at the mercy of fate than anyone else. I found that story far more interesting “thematically” than anything I could have chosen for myself because no doubt I’d want the ending where we all sat on a sandy beach. I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    • Lots of people aren’t thinking like that as well though. Anyway considering the previous articles on Kotaku I think it’s good that this one has come along as well.

        • Out of all the copies sold, I would be very surprised to hear if even 10% wanted their money back. I am not saying that I am right or that they number I gave was right. I am just saying that I would be surprised as hell. I think it is just a very vocal minority that are going all out (or went all out) over the ending. But hey, each to their own.

          • It’d be interesting to see the figures of refunds from Amazon, since they were apparently offering full refunds if people wanted them. I’d be surprised too if the numbers of returns were significant.

  • Look, the endings were serviceable. The only thing I missed about the endings was that there was no closure for the characters. I’ve compared the ME series to Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate series, in which you stay with a character for three games, develop him and his friends and allies, and then (after a similar sacrifice ending) you view a text-based epilogue for all your characters, the personalities you’ve shared dozens of hours with.

    And it was fantastic.

    After three games, that little insight into the completion of those story arcs is vital and important. It certainly beat stepping out of a spaceship into a transparent Garden of Eden metaphor.

    The endings were fine, honestly. But the fly in everyone’s ointment is that there was ample room for simultaneous cake possession and cake consumption, and it didn’t happen.

  • The complaint has always been about how the ending of the game contradicts everything that went on beforehand. Synthetics and non synthetics were getting along fine, but then that’s not an option?
    The destrution of the gates would result in the destruction of the surrounding systems but then it doesn’t? Edi was with me on the final mission, but then she was magically on the normandy? I mean, it was just lazy. After how fantastic the rest of the game was, the ending was just so… Lazy.

    • This.

      I also had Liara with me on the final mission, both survived on the Normandy :/

      Also, I want to know what happened to the other characters. Did Jack’s group survive? Did Garrus live on? After so many decisions, I wanted to know that they had impact.

  • I’ll agree that this is a well written article, but I cannot agree with the idea that the ending was “good”. The word I’ve used most often to describe the ending has been “unsatisfying”. As much as some people have disliked hearing (or reading the words of) others who passionately hated the game’s ending, nobody can deny the fact that it was riddled with inconsistencies and unresolved issues (hence the need for closure). Especially after so many amazing moments throughout the rest of the game; bringing peace between factions thought as perpetual enemies, watching former squadmates selflessly making the ultimate sacrifice, this made the last 5-10 minutes of the game felt incredibly sloppy. This whole incident made me realise how sadly right people are when they say you’re better off stopping the game early. I honestly would have preferred it if Shepard died after getting hit with the reaper laser, and all developed life in the galaxy was wiped out by a truly unbeatable enemy – but not without fighting, together, going down in a dramatic General Custer-esque blaze of glory, instead of the horrible mess we actually got. Too bad I’ll never be able to wipe my memory of that ending.

    • When that laser came down, I got up and started shooting, only to be shot dead by an enemy trooper. I thought, that ending was cool, then I realised I had just died and there was still more to go.

  • It was a good game, with a really lousy 10 minutes at the end. It reminded me of “No Country for Old Men” in that respect. Personal feelings aside, I genuinely believe fans can demand better endings. Its part of the dialogue of art (though frankly, I really question ME3 as a whole is art). I also thought the outrage that the movement was called “retake mass effect” when the game has “take back the Earth” written all over it. Seems like a fairly appropriate name to me.

    Slightly off topic, but I have this theory that the lousy ending was due to the multiplayer. They committed themselves to both having the ending influenced by multiplayer, and to being able to get the best ending without playing it. Obviously the multiplayer didn’t influence your decisions in the game, but at the same time, it wasn’t allowed to influence the “goodness” of the ending. The only way I can think of to reconcile that was to offer very limited endings that pretty much everyone got, with a very minor deviation if you played the multiplayer enough. Also, ME3 had some of the most tedious fetch quests I can remember: I suspect to push people to the easier multiplayer.

      • Without ten minutes of Tommy Lee Jones telling us about his irrelevant dream for starters. In fact, I might well have dumped the character all together, seeing as he literally does nothing of consequence to the actual plot of the film.

  • Brilliant article. I’ve often said that however bad the ending was, the rest of the game is brilliant enough to make up for it. The ending itself wasn’t even that bad, just badly presented. Hopefully next time they’ll learn from their mistakes and not have hire a seven-year old to voice the final baddie.

    That said, if they do intend to patch this game further, I think they should change the default Galactic Readiness rating from 50% to 75%. That way, people who don’t have access to the multi;layer (like myself) can still get the best Effective Military Strength rating. Either that, or make it so the N7 missions in single player increase the Readiness Rating as well. I mean, they’re already using the multiplayer maps, so why not?

  • Still talking about this? Sigh, the people who had a problem with the ending was that it raises more questions then actually answering them. The game was great. Everything was explain and everything was set in place. The Geth, Krogan, Quarian, Cerberus, and so many more story arcs were explained.

    The problem is when you get hit by the lawl laser is when things get muddy. The Mass Relays blowing up doesn’t make any sense. If you played the DLC from Mass Effect 2 (The Arrival) you would know that if a Relay is destroyed that all life in that system is destroyed as well. That is why Shepard is grounded on Earth is the first place.

    This was a well written article, I will give him that, But it just shows that the gaming “journalist” do not get why people are upset. I understand you all are busy. You need to play so many games and be at so many different places to make a living. We all have to do that to survive, but don’t make articles that doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem.

    Should the ending be changed? In MY opinion, no. I’m a die hard fan of Mass Effect. Mass Effect 3 was a great game. I loved it. I replayed both games just so I could have everything perfect for the end of a great series. It’s just what has been seen can not be unseen. This is the ending we were given. We have to accept that. I feel that BioWare really slacked off on the ending and also the “Tali Reveal picture”.

    The reason I say they slacked off is because nothing makes sense.
    Why did Joker leave with your friends instead of fighting till the end?
    Why does the Mass Relays blow up? How are people still alive if that happened?
    Does everyone have to live on Earth now? If so, how would the Quarians and Turians survive?
    Why do we get a stupid cutsense of showing Sherpard breathing if this is the last game? Can’t he just die and , you know, end the game? It feels like they want him/her alive so they can make yet another game…. or DLC. I’d love to think of Mass Effect 3 to be a 34 hour ending, but the ending of said 34 hour ending contradicts itself by it’s actual ending.

    Also, to everyone who is upset about the people wanting a new ending, these people love the series. They love it so much that they made up their own theories like the Indoctrination theory. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it.

    • My opinion of Mass Effect 3 is how much it sucked for only giving me 2 of my 4 completed runs of 1 & 2 to onto use, then having to rebuild the character anyway. They should be focusing on a patch that fixes the start of the game before the end.

  • Agree that the ending was a little frustrating, since essentially each choice I made at the end had pretty much the same result (gates destroyed, Normandy crashing, meh). Couldn’t there have been some variation on that theme?
    Having said that tho I did love the game, completed two playthroughs 🙂

  • Possibly the first time I wholly agree with something written by Stephen Totilo. Well done on looking past the regular game bullshit and seeing ME3 for what it really is a fitting end to a series about characters and relationships. So what if the very end didn’t make a lot of sense, most David Lynch movies make absolutely no sense at all ( to me anyway ) and people still like them.

  • I didn’t mind the ending, it seemed natural to me, if a bit cliché and flimsy, but then 95% of SciFi has the same issue. I can understand why people are peeved though especially with the almost 100% identical ending variations, it means there’s no real benefit to playing through the game multiple times and taken with all the previous developer comments about what the ending “would” be, it speaks of an obvious time & budget situation: this was the cheapest, quickest solution that could come up with and still have it reasonably satisfying with the time and money constraints they were under.

    So it wasn’t too bad for a budget ending, but still pretty cheap.

  • The problem isn’t just the endig it’s the huge plot holes which insult the fans. Imagine I in return of the Jedi the empire was created to kill rebels so thy wont create an empire and kill rebels. See its dumb and it’s the same as saying we exist to kill organics so they don’t make synthetics to kill them. No all evidence says the reapers exist to stopadvanced civilizations that use dark matter energy because it destroys the universe.

  • people are still writing articles about this? really? i didn’t like the ending , i should clarify, the last 10 mins but i respect people’s opinions that they enjoyed it. i guess i am just more emotionally invested or a closet case who has no real life like some people think. i just don’t see how another one of these articles is relevant when it has all clearly been said already. its really just a waste of space for anyone whether you agree, disagree or have no opinion on the matter.
    that being said i don’t play the SP anymore. no new content no reason to keep playing. my shepard died and went out with a fizzle not a burst of flames the way i envisioned. why would i want to revisit that? even with new content that is clearly a long time away i think i will have moved on. just like skyrim (on consoles atleast) i think the game companies are finding it hard to retain players these days whether thats waiting for new content or underestimating the importance of a story in this case. this is yet another prime example of a game compromised by many factors even if the principle made it great. there have been many great games but some will be remembered for the story which will influence many or gameplay which will never carry the same weight. this will most likely never carry the weight the BW had hoped for

    sorry if i went off on a tangent there

  • “I undid all but one of her deaths. I kept that final one at bay as long as I could”
    A wonderful way to think about the game and your adventure with/as Shep, it makes me reflect on all the decisions I made, the friends lost and the enemies killed. Some people may never consider games to be art, but the emotional connection many people, myself included, have to their Shepherds makes such a discussion mostly meaningless to me.

  • Agree that all of ME3 felt like an ending – I was fine with the idea of the whole game being an ‘ending’ rather than a journey to the ending.

    It was spectacularly executed up until the beam of light. I don’t need to repeat all any of my opinions, they’re well covered everywhere else but I will say that the ending sequence killed more than just my Shepard – it killed the franchise for me.

    Every time I’ve attempted to launch the games (I started a ME1 play-through again) – I’m just reminded of the ending waiting for me. Bioware are entitled to build their story the way they want – I’ll reserve judgement for the new sequences they’re putting together but the end of the story (as it currently stands) left such a sour taste in my mouth that I have been completely turned off the series.

    That’s my opinion – I know I’m not alone.
    In saying that, I am pleased for the people that DID enjoy the ending though – to each their own.

  • great article!

    i really enjoyed the whole ME3, even the ending, although i was quite annoyed with some ending plot holes such as relay explosions and crew teleporting back to the Normandy without explanation etc

  • I really don’t know how else it could of ended, I mean wtf do people want? Shep gave it all up for the galaxy, the universe, and his/her friends. It can’t really get anymore detailed than that. I just assumed whoever didn’t die with me..was on the Normandy and they made it-and that’s good enough.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!