The Mass Effect 3 Ending Change: How Bioware Can Get it Right
Don’t Pander, Listen
It can be easy for BioWare to screw up any sort of ending change by confusing what it thinks fans want with what Mass Effect actually needs. This isn’t about “giving in” to some invisible angry fan. It’s definitely not about providing those same fans with little blue Shepard babies or something. The ending is broken, but some perceived concession to fans sad that Shepard’s tale is at a conclusion is 100-percent not the answer. What BioWare needs to do is not listen to the hype surrounding the ending controversy, but actually listen to the people who are protesting, and more importantly, why.
The debate over the ending of Mass Effect 3 has been mischaracterized from its very inception, largely because of a lack of attentive listening. Whenever a vocal minority gets vocal, a lot of people seem to stop paying attention, but if BioWare truly does intend to listen to what fans have to say and try to do something about it, they need to give their full attention to what is really being said.
And what is really being said cannot be boiled down to a (factually incorrect) statement that what fans want is a happy ending.
This viewpoint of the argument exists across huge swathes of the Internet discussing the debate, and it’s just not accurate. Yes, some people wish that Mass Effect could end happy, and others do want things to be more upbeat, if only just a little. BioWare could very easily fail to see that this sort of desire isn’t what makes up the anger over the current ending, but is rather a thread parallel to it. Mass Effect 3′s ending has problems that go far beyond the fact that it’s fairly dark. And a dark ending can be satisfying (as can a happy one — there’s nothing wrong with happy) provided it’s done well.
Misunderstanding what Mass Effect needs can easily cause BioWare to do things to the ending that swing the pendulum much harder in the opposite direction, resulting in a “fix” that could very well make things worse. An Animal House-style explanation of what happens to each character, for example, would be staggeringly bad, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility for BioWare to see what’s being said and assume that’s what fans want.
The essence here, really, is that BioWare should absolutely not make the ending they think Mass Effect fans want. Instead, if changes are going to be made (or if the ending is to be “clarified” [he wrote, shuddering]), then it’s key that BioWare analyze the story and the characters and create the ending Mass Effect should have, rather than just pandering to what it thinks fans want, in order to shut them up. That helps no one.
Don’t Rely On B.S.
We won’t tell BioWare what the content of their additional ending should be – though paying close attention to fan commentary ought to lead them along a clear path – but whatever they ultimately do to it, it has to be comprehensive. Problems with the ending will not be resolved with an expanded codex, with extra, still non-interactive dialogue between Shepard and the Star Child, or a hastily thrown-together level like the one in From Ashes. Simply put, whether this change to the ending entails a full rewrite, or simply additional, post-Star Child content, it needs to be on the level of Lair of the Shadow Broker.
Not all of it has to be playable; the biggest complaint is that the ending lacks closure and choice; non playable cutscenes can provide a measure of both. But it needs to be big. It needs to match the scope and scale of the rest of the game. And it needs to be far more than simply a begrudging kiss off in hopes the fans will shut up. If this means they have to charge for the new ending, that’s fine; we know they probably will anyway. Whatever people are saying now, if the content is good, they’ll be forgiven.
And most importantly BioWare, please do resist the temptation to pretend this was the plan all along. We’ve many, many cryptic tweets from BioWare’s incredible social media coordinator on Twitter, giving the impression that the indoctrination theory might be correct. It isn’t. Don’t get us wrong: the Indoctrination Theory isn’t a bad idea, as fan fiction goes, but it’s just people working to fill in blanks that never should have been left open. And besides, the recent Mass Effect 3: The Final Hours doc confirms that the maddening ambiguity of the ending was intentional. How else to interpret “lots of speculation from everyone!”? Yeah, we don’t expect BioWare to admit that they might have rushed out the unpopular ending for reasons other than artistic merit, but at the very least, respect the customer enough not to pretend you meant to do that.
And For Chrissakes, Do NOT Keep That DLC Pitch
Think about this for a second. You’ve just beaten Mass Effect 3. You’re already kind of stunned by the end’s incomprehensibility, and really annoyed by how many plot holes have been opened up. None of it makes any sense, in context anyway, but you’re trying to think it through anyway. Then, just as you’re starting to ponder the implications of the final, context-free scene in which you learn that Buzz Aldrin thinks it’s appropriate to tell his prepubescent grandchild stories about hot lesbian space sex, you get this:
Yeah, that’s kind of… jolting, innit? But making the final moment of the entire Mass Effect series an ad pitch doesn’t just ruin immersion, it also demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the intended audience. Guys, have some faith in the fact that people want to give you their money. You didn’t see George Lucas popping up at the end of Return of the Jedi’s closing credits, urging kids to buy action figures, did you? Hell no, because the entire Star Wars saga is advertisement enough. Similarly, the entire Mass Effect series? A massive argument for buying more stuff with the name Mass Effect slapped on it.
Whatever else BioWare does to the ending, they have to ditch the DLC pop up ad. It might not make what came before it any better, but at least the player won’t feel like a chump for having gone through it.
We still don’t know what’s going to happen when BioWare finally gets around to explaining their plan for changing the ending. Maybe it’ll end up being cosmetic, in which case the Internet will come to an end thanks to a massive ragequit (we kid, we kid!). Hopefully it will be a substantial fix. Whatever happens, we just hope they’ll take great care not to screw it up. The fate of a Galaxy depends on it.