The Mass Effect 3 Ending Change: How Bioware Can Get it Right
UPDATE: Early this morning, BioWare made the change to the ending official with the announcement of what they’re calling the “Mass Effect™ 3: Extended Cut“. The announcement doesn’t provide very many specifics but seems to imply something substantial is in the works. We’re still concerned about their emphasis on ‘clarification’, however. Read on to find out why…
It was three weeks ago when controversy erupted surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3. And we mean erupted, with an outpouring of dissatisfaction so intense that BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka felt compelled to take to the BioWare forums to address the matter personally. He didn’t go so far as to agree with critics, but after acknowledging that the company’s core fans were unhappy, Muzyka pledged that come April, BioWare intends to drop some DLC that will attempt to resolve concerns about the ending.
Well, April has arrived, and the fans are waiting not so patiently for BioWare to finally explain just what they’ll be doing to the end. Until they do, one thing is certain: BioWare needs to tread carefully. Whatever they think of the ending they produced, BioWare knows that happy customers are its lifeblood, and a huge number of them hated Mass Effect 3′s ending. Acknowledging these fans, and finding a way to satisfy them, is surely in the company’s best interests. Doing so will not only improve what is arguably among the biggest disappointments in recent memory, it will solidify the relationship the company has enkindled from its earliest incarnation
However, whatever changes are inserted into the game must be handled just-so. Just as no one wants BioWare to make a fanfiction version of Mass Effect 3′s ending, they also don’t want BioWare to throw a switch on the end that leaves Shepard sitting with Garrus and the rest of the crew, reminiscing about the good times as they all laugh at a joke that isn’t funny or leap into the air for a full-squad high-five.
We won’t try to tell them what they should do – the fans have enough good ideas of their own – but we’ve spent some time thinking about what they shouldn’t. Here’s a breakdown of how BioWare can avoid ruining the ending to a great game… for the second time.
Don’t Just ‘Clarify’
BioWare has promised to provide two things with the still-unspecified ending: clarification and closure. This is just vague enough that it can mean almost anything, which is why we’re very concerned that they’re attempting to conflate ‘clarity’ and ‘closure’, as though the latter will flow naturally from the former. But lest BioWare think that the problem is simply that they didn’t explain things well enough, we must note that the failure isn’t one of context, it’s one of storytelling.
Here’s a parable that has the added benefit of actually being true. My senior year of high school, my math teacher was a particularly incompetent person who somehow managed never to actually convey the information in a way that allowed the students to learn. When it came time for the final exam, I made the highest grade in my class – a 63. She was forced to employ a STEEEP curve just to make sure that the majority of the class made above an F on that test. Now, if one or two students fail, that’s on them. If the entire class fails? Probably terrible teaching I expect. Sure, I passed, but that curve the teacher employed didn’t actually make me any better at math, it just saved the teacher’s record. Regardless of my GPA, I and the other students still ended up worse off than we would have if we’d simply not taken the class at all.
That is precisely the point BioWare needs to consider carefully: as it exists today, Mass Effect 3′s ending is the equivalent of a final exam in which the students are asked to answer questions they have never been prepared for. This is why BioWare’s veiled references to ‘clarification’ are troubling. It suggests they think ‘closure’ will happen if they just explain things better. But no one is actually confused by the ending, at least not in the sense critics of such people mean. It’s perfectly clear what went down. The problem is that it’s impossible for people paying attention to fit what went down into context with the rest of the game. They lack the tools needed to do so because they were never provided in the first place.
No, instead of simply giving the Star Child more time to elaborate on his total contradiction of the series’ plot, or adding more information to the codex, what BioWare should be emphasizing is closure, which will remove the need for clarification entirely, providing players with a real emotional release. But to pull that off, BioWare needs to actually pay attention to the substance of what disgruntled fans are actually saying.