(SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISCUSS THE END OF “MASS EFFECT 3″)
Yes, the ending of “Mass Effect 3″ is bad. But it isn’t just bad, it actively calls out for explanation. Why did this happen? What were they thinking? I have several theories, and because you have nothing better to do with your life, you’re going to come read them. Let’s speculate, Dear Reader, and try to come to some kind of peace.
Before we begin, let’s agree on why the ending is bad. I think there are three primary causes: massive plot holes, extreme brevity, and a startling lack of difference of outcome between character choices. Now let’s talk about why these things happened to one of the best RPG developers on the planet.
Possibility 1: Bioware Ran Out of Time/Money. The reason I suspect this one is true is not, as some have said, because “Mass Effect 3″ has multiplayer; rather, it’s because that multiplayer is actually good. It’s relatively well-balanced, deeper than you’d think, and it runs stable (although it does like to stutter between waves). Creating good multiplayer is a financially exhausting process, and trying to tackle that on top of delivering another full-length campaign may just have gotten the better of them. God knows that’s what happened to Bungie with “Halo 2.”
In truth, “Mass Effect 3″ bears several telltale marks of corner-cutting, from a dramatic up-tic in in-game dialog (as opposed to cut-scenes), to the Tali reveal being a modified jpeg off of Getty Images (I wish I was kidding). So this one seems quite possible to me.
Possibility 2: Bioware Actually Thought Their Ending Was Good. And I’m not saying this can’t co-exist with the first one in some weird way, either. The team at Bioware might genuinely feel that they wanted “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Blade Runner” in the conversation instead of “Star Wars/Trek.” Even if money or time was tight, they might still have decided that limitation led them to something bolder and more philosophical.
This one almost inevitably is true, at least to some degree. On the other hand, Bioware’s hasty retreat from their hypothetical artistic high ground suggests they ain’t too proud to beg, so to speak. So I’m not sure.
Possibility 3: Bioware Is Losing Their Edge. Bioware has had a slightly contentious relationship with their fan base lately. “Dragon Age 2′s” critic/user disparity on Metacritic was the stuff of legend, but “Mass Effect 3″ actually features an even wider gulf. Trolling happens, yes, but these numbers reflect a genuine sentiment, not just a couple of angry nerds. That’s two out of three flagship games received with serious disapproval in the past few years, and for a company as venerated as Bioware, that’s no joke. Is Bioware simply beginning a slow downward spiral as a company?
Nah, probably not. I don’t agree with all of their choices lately, but I think the culprit is the company’s wild ambition, not a lack of commitment to quality.
Possibility 4: We’re All Wrong and the Ending is Amazing. This is the theory put forth by Gabe at Penny Arcade. Of course, while addressing the mass relay controversy, he shruggingly admits he didn’t even remember that mass relays destroy star systems, so I’m not sure he’s an expert witness in this trial. But that aside, let’s consider the very real possibility that we are re-enacting the initial reception of “Blade Runner.” Maybe we went in with “Indiana Jones” in mind, pitched a fit when that’s not what we got, and failed to see something deep and profound underneath.
Again, I doubt it. Penny Arcade is right that a Forest Moon of Endor-style victory party never would have fit here, but I don’t think “it made me weepy” is the primary color in the palette of discontent. We’re angry because they didn’t fulfill their own stated agenda. I doubt history will look back and say, “Oh, those fools. If only they could have seen the genius in Bioware’s vague homogenization of the choices that are supposed to define the franchise.”
Possibility 5: Bioware Did It on Purpose. Not the farthest flung idea in the world, especially when the ending credits kick you right back into the game with a reminder to buy some DLC. How better to keep an audience coming back for more than to leave them with questions they badly want answered? Could it be that Bioware doesn’t view “Mass Effect 3″ as the conclusion that we do?
Very possibly, but we can’t be sure. And even if this is true, I doubt they intended us to be unsatisfied to this extreme degree. They probably wanted lingering nostalgia and yearning, not full-blown anarchy.
Anyway, those are the possibilities. What say you? Am I close?
you lot, or their lot, whoever gets me first