Mass Effect 3 Ending Post-Mortem: Fans Are Still Right
1. Player Choice is Completely Discarded
For the most part, this remains true. Player choice is discarded when it comes to the three “positive” endings to the game. While Shepard makes a choices about the fate of the galaxy and thematically, those choices are different, they don’t seem to do much in the way of practically changing what the galaxy is left with upon completion of the game. You may choose to destroy the Reapers, along with synthetic life, or control the Reapers, or merge with them — but on the whole, the mass relays are repaired, the galaxy learns to coexist peacefully, and a new era begins in the wake of what Shepard wrought. The primary difference is whether EDI is left alive at the end, and who gives the epilogue voice-over.
All these choices, though they may be different in just what kind of galaxy you leave behind, basically have the same effect. Destroying the Reapers or spreading an organic-synthetic synergy through the galaxy differs only on paper, where synthetic life has been destroyed. Much of what remains has to be extrapolated, but for the majority of galactic citizens, the differences are minimal. The crew still mourns Shepard in the same basic cutscene, and things return, more or less, to normal after the fact. BioWare has added a lot more showing that your choices from throughout Mass Effect 3 are reflected — whether the Krogan civilization is left to renaissance or collapse, for example, gets its own still, as do a few other major situations. But the primary choices from the ending, at least from an emotional standpoint, are very similar.
Interesting then is the Refusal ending, the only real choice in the matter. Here BioWare has given players the ability to reject the Catalyst’s offer mostly because many felt that Shepard would not play by the Reapers’ rules in the final moments of the war. Sure, Shepard wants to end things in whatever way possible, but many felt that Shepard would see the options presented in the finale of the game as unacceptable given the themes and character developed up to that point. They wanted another ending; BioWare obliged.
Here is the one place where players are given a real and meaningful choice that results in more changes to the galaxy than just those implied philosophical differences between benevolent Reapers, ruined Reapers and Reapers who understand organics. Instead, players are given the ability to reject the entire endgame and with it, the entire ending of the game. It’s not just a huge choice in the framework of Mass Effect 3′s story, it’s a fairly remarkable choice in and of itself in terms of video games as a whole. In fact, we felt the need to give it its own complete analysis.
The good thing about the Extended Cut is that it finally does establish enough difference in the endings as presented to make the choices feel real and consequential, even if many of the real results of those endings remain rather similar. Throwing in the Refusal Ending at least gives users some real capabilities in terms of free will and there’s a chance to make a more consequential choice than the series has ever really presented in the past. This is probably the most important point, and this is the place where BioWare delivered in such a way as to at least honor the spirit of the series it has been creating since the beginning.
We freely admit that the Extended Cut delivers much-needed improvements to what was at launch a game with a broken ending. It has even restored a measure of replay value lost in the crush of a million lazy vague insinuations, surprise plot holes and a literal deus ex machina that removed player agency. Unfortunately, those improvements don’t fix the fundamental elements that broke it in the first place. While we no longer feel as frustrated and disappointed as we did, in the end we’re forced to admit the truth: the fans are still right.
And now, we really should go.