For Nine Years, I Have Somehow Avoided Finding Out How Mass Effect 3 Ends

For Nine Years, I Have Somehow Avoided Finding Out How Mass Effect 3 Ends
Image: EA

It didn’t start out as something I tried to do. It just happened. The year was 2012. I’d reached the point in Mass Effect 3 where it felt like I was one or two loose ends away from heading into the grand finale. Then, for various reasons, I stopped. It has been nearly a decade since. Somehow, despite the infinitely expanding spoiler galaxy that is the internet, I still don’t know how the first Mass Effect trilogy ends.

It’s not that I didn’t like Mass Effect 3. I did! It was a sequel to my favourite game about hanging out with cool aliens, Mass Effect 2, which in turn was a sequel to my favourite game about spending time with cool aliens in bad cars and worse elevators, Mass Effect 1. But when I realise the end is nigh in games where the central appeal is chilling with buds from worlds beyond, I tend to pump the brakes. I don’t want games (or books or TV shows or what have you) to be over, so I leave them in what I perceive to be a state of perfect stasis. Anything can still happen, forever. Never mind that it means I miss out on actual time I could spend with characters; brains are not rational things.

Obviously, I know about the controversy. It played a role in my slow abandonment of the game. I’d heard the ending was bad, or at least unsatisfactory, and I didn’t want last-second shenanigans hanging over a multi-game experience that I’d otherwise liked pretty well. But also, it was all anybody was talking about at the time, and I just got sick of hearing about Mass Effect in general. Whether the ending was bad or not, it was dispiriting to watch thousands of people shriek in eardrum-shattering unison for a studio to undo its artistic choices. It was obvious that the whole event was setting the stage for even uglier things to come — for it to become Just Another Day In Video Games every time a roving herd of self-proclaimed “fans” badgered and harassed developers over, say, altering a few butt shots that were in hindsight ill-advised, of their own accord. I didn’t want to be reminded of that any more than I had to, so I pressed pause on my Mass Effect playthrough.

Initially, I avoided spoilers out of a sincere belief that I’d come around to finishing the game in a few weeks or a couple months. Then a year passed. Then a year became two years, and two years became five. Around year six or seven, it became a sort of personal challenge to see how long I could avoid knowing the details of this thing, which had somehow become inconsequential despite their terrifying importance to one of the first internet mobs loud enough to go down in history. The moment already occurred, and it would have set a miserable precedent no matter what people were e-rioting over. Meanwhile, I no longer felt much for my particular permutation of the Mass Effect cast anymore. It had been years, after all.

It was surprisingly easy to just… not find out. I made a point of avoiding articles and videos that specifically mentioned Mass Effect 3‘s ending, but otherwise, I didn’t really go out of my way to avoid spoilers. I read plenty of articles about Mass Effect that didn’t concern the ending — including wild and unruly comment sections where anybody could’ve pounced on me, feral fury in their eyes, and recited every line from the final scene word-for-word. But it never happened. Here is what I know: There are three versions of the ending. They are colour-coded for some reason. Each one has a name that probably reveals something about it, but I’ve forgotten them.

I acknowledge that by writing this article, I have probably doomed myself. Somebody on Twitter will make it their quest to spoil the ending for me, and they will probably succeed. That’ll be a bummer, because the Mass Effect remaster has rekindled my interest in reaching the ending for myself. But at the same time, I’ve spent nine years not knowing; I’ll live whether I ever find out or not.

As I said earlier, the reason I play these games is to hang out with characters I like. In the time since Mass Effect 3’s ending unwittingly detonated an anthill, the game’s characters have — to a greater extent even than they had at the time — taken on lives of their own, and escaped whatever notion of “canon” contained them. Mountains of fan art, fan fiction, and discussion mean that I could live a thousand lives with them if I wanted. No ending can invalidate that, nor was it ever going to. Endings are just suggestions. They tell you that maybe it’s time to move on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back later.

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  • Bioware games, for me, have always been more about the journey than the destination anyhow. When I replay them in a fit of nostalgia, it’s like picking up a favourite book or listening to a piece of music I love.

    So, don’t sweat the ending; the game itself is the point.

    • Definitely. My preferred option for the ‘ending’ would have been to have no choice at all (except maybe between failure and success through earlier choices) – no one was annoyed with how ME1 or 2 ‘ended’ even though there really only was 1 ending for each and if 3 ended that way people would look back on the choices they made on the way rather than the final moments as what defined the game.

      A sort of what you have after the dust settles type of deal where the dust settling is always the same rather than a choice of how the dust settles sort of thing.

      • I believe the crux of the complaints was that you spent three games where choices matter and the developers went on record saying that you’re going to get a crazy unique ending depending on everything you’d done, only for it to literally boil down to “choose an ending of three, all of which use a lot of the same footage”.
        The media at the time managed to twist the narrative to “the fans are crybabies who want a happy ending” (Penny Arcade are particularly guilty of this).
        Even now, Grayson does that in this article, painting the angry people who spent years following the franchise and playing it over and over as ‘fake “fans”‘ because they dare feel robbed by the ending/s.

        • I didn’t much care for the ending because the [redacted]-ex-machina was pretty clearly pulled from someone’s hat to infodump a bunch of blather before forcing you into a choice which wasn’t one. Lazy, silly storytelling from a company who had, up till then, been knocking it out of the park, story-wise.

          I suspect that it was rushed; it felt tacked-on. I shall not be upset if Bioware decides to pick an option at random and make it canon, should they let us return to the Milky Way (as the recent teaser suggests they will).

        • Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like the ending, but if it ended the exact same way for everyone ala ME1’s Shepard rising from the rubble heroically then people would focus on what choices were made before hand – like what happened to the Quarrians? What about the Krogans? What happened to your squadmates? These choices and moments in ME3 were, imo, great!

          I personally stop playing once Shepard reaches the Crucible because frankly I think a ‘happy’ ending works better for a series that was always a bit silly – my headcanon, simple ending is she presses the magic button and watches the Reapers crash to earth with Anderson (Kai Leng never existed, The Illusive Man just dies off screen at the beginning of ME3). That’s it. It holds on that shot, the scale and devastation of even winning the fight made clear and you’re given a bit of time to appreciate what it took to get there.

          All that said everyone did massively overreact – It’s not that bad and while yes the sort of illusion of choice ending isn’t my thing it’s what it is, I don’t really care that much about the last 30 minutes of the game to think it ruined the last 20+ hours I spent with it.

          Short of a full on epilogue Citadel DLC style there never was any real possiblity for the ‘closure’ people wanted and I think it’s clear they didn’t have the ability to do that (until, obviously, the Citadel DLC), so the endings weren’t my thing, but I don’t really care about them enough to be annoyed.

        • Yeah, when Casey Hudson said “there won’t be an A, B or C ending” and players were explicitly presented with that, the outcry was entirely justified. The hackneyed writing that made is a bastard love child of the ending of Battlestar Galactica and Deus Ex Human Revolution was just icing on that cake.

          ME3 suffered greatly from Mac Walters and Casey Hudson rewriting the ending because of the leak of the original plot without any input from the rest of the writing team. The thematic dissonance between the ending and the rest of the entire series really brings into question whether they even understood the writing and theming that had been created by Karpyshyn and the rest of the writing team for the entire series up until that point.

          The inclusion of Kai Leng as a character was also god awful and I maintain his presence in the game actively detracted from it at every turn, not only because he was a terrible character, but because he removed player agency in pretty much every single scene he was in.

          The ideal ME3 would remove Kai Leng, the Leviathan DLC and rewrite the entire ending sequence. I’d honestly recommend people play the Citadel DLC, play earth until they get up to meeting the whole crew, then stop and imagine their own ending. Because it’ll be a damn-sight more satisfying that what was actually delivered.

  • I played all of them obsessively.. Finished the game with all the endings, and it all still didn’t make much sense, or even really make a big deal..

    As mentioned in other places, the journey was better than the destination in those games..

  • There are many different endings in Mass Effect, 4 primary endings with slight variations on 3 of them based on a combination of the final decision, and the cumulation of military strength from decisions made throughout the game.

    These endings include:
    1) Complete failure and annhilation (the Reapers eliminate sentient life and the cycle begins again)
    2) Choosing to destroy the Reapers and their Mass Relay tech (plunging the galaxy into a new dark age of conflict and isolation)
    3) Converting Shepard into an AI who controls the Reapers at the cost of their physical form, using the Reapers to police the galaxy in a potentially horrifying status quo
    4) Choice of ‘synthesis’ where organic and synthetic life fuse into a new hybrid to exist in harmony and a new golden age of prosperity and advancement.

    Of the 4 themes for endings, at maximum military strength, only the ‘destroy’ ending sees Shepard survive. Between that and the galactic upheaval and chaos that would result, this is often seen as the most likely ‘canon’ ending.

    For some reason, there are morons today who continue to argue that they can’t see any difference between these clearly dramatically different outcomes.

    • So I definitely agree that on paper / thematically they are different. If ME were a book, absolutely different, no denying it – but I don’t blame people for not seeing it that way because they looked and played so similarly – there wasn’t a real examination of the effects of your choice in game, you just had to imagine the consequences after the credits rolled which I suspect a lot of people weren’t fans of.

  • I completed ME3 on the easier difficulty level or levels, even though the final combat section of the game before your three choices come up was a major pain in the arse. However, like you, the ending got put into suspended animation for me when I played on the highest difficulty level when I couldn’t get past that final combat section, where Shepard had to be a gunslinger whilst concussed, drunk and stoned immaculate. I can’t remember how many years the game was in suspended animation for me, after giving up trying to get past this section. Maybe I tried a few dozen times to get past it. Fortunately, some years later, I managed to find a video online with a really simple way to get past that fannoying last alien. Finding that video was liking having the winning numbers in Powerball.

    That success got me the rejigged ending, as my earlier completion/s was for the original ending. Can’t say the new ending dazzled me. Much of a muchness.

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