By now, anybody reading this has heard about the controversy surrounding Bioware’s recently released Mass Effect 3 video game and how it ended. I happen to be one of the people who take issue with it, and I feel the need to explain my position.
First, let me say I understand that the Mass Effect games are property of Bioware, and they have the right to do whatever they feel like with the games. And yes, I did spend more than $100 of my hard earned money to buy the collector’s edition, and then spent about 30 hours of my life playing ME3 through to its conclusion. ME3 is, in my opinion, the best game of the trilogy, and warrants a spot on the list of greatest games of all time. But don’t mistake this for a review of the game, because it isn’t.
Secondly, for those of you who don’t play video games, or have simply never played a Mass Effect game before, let me give a brief overview of what the game is all about. The Mass Effect games are role-playing games set in a science-fiction universe, about 150 years in the future. Humanity discovered advanced alien technology on Mars that allowed us to begin to explore the stars. There, we encountered a number of alien races spread across the galaxy, united under a single governing body known as the Citadel Council, loosely analagous to the United Nations. You play as Commander Shepherd, a human being considered for a position with the enforcer arm of the council, known as SPECTREs. During your evaluation, you come to learn that an advanced machine race, known as Reapers, have repeatedly wiped the galaxy of all technologically advanced sentient life. And they’re coming back. The three games consist of you attempting to delay the return of the reapers and seek out a way to defeat them when the arrive.
*SPOILERS* if you haven’t beaten ME3 yet, I will be revealing certain things about the end. If you don’t want to know, stop reading now.
Right, so, ME3. The reapers have arrived, and it’s up to you to unite the various species of the galaxy to defeat the reapers, and save Earth. Except you don’t. Hold on, let me back up a minute. Most all criticisms I’ve found have to do with the fact that the games’ end leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Also, it seems a lot of people aren’t happy that Shepherd doesn’t live happily ever after with your chosen paramour. And most importantly, that the end presents the player with three choices, A, B, and C, that are only marginally different from each other, and don’t reflect in any way the hundred hours or so I or any other fan will have put into the trilogy since the first Mass Effect was released in late 2007.
And while these things do bother me, I could live with them. I could create my own answers to the questions Bioware leaves open (arguably more fun than letting them answer for me). I could even live with Shepherd dying on the Citadel and leaving Ashley (my paramour) all alone. None of this would bother me as long as I knew I had saved Earth. But as I said, you don’t. Allow me to explain, and please forgive me for going nerd.
At the end, you meet the Catalyst, a synthetic being created long ago to maintain order in the galaxy. It explains that organics introduce chaos by creating synthetic life (think C-3PO from Star Wars or Data from Star Trek), and that created will ALWAYS rise against creator. Pause for a moment.
In the Mass Effect universe, this has already happened. 300 years earlier, a race called the Quarians created a synthetic race they called Geth. When the geth achieved sentience, the quarians tried to destroy them. In the resulting war, the quarians were driven from their homeworld and forced into a nomadic life aboard a massive fleet of starships. In ME3, the quarians have seized an opportunity to attempt to retake their homeworld, and you end up aiding them in order to secure their aid against the reapers. However, over the course of my playthrough, I learned that the geth only resorted to self defense in the face of quarian aggression. The quarians, for their part, were understandably afraid of what they had created. But the geth still desired to aid their creators. In the end, I managed to secure a truce between quarian and geth, with the geth cooperating with both the quarians in rebuilding their homeworld, and the galaxy at large against the reapers.
I realize not everyone will have accomplished this during their playthrough, but even the possiblity invalidates the argument the catalyst is making. Now, you could argue that jsut because they’re cooperating now, conflict come to be in the future. This is true, but hardly proper justification the murder of trillions of sentient beings (if such justification can be said to exist at all).
And more importantly to me is the result of whatever ending you choose. Regardless of ending A, B, or C, an energy wave is released and transmitted across the galaxy via the Mass Relays (a system of devices used to send ships across vast distances almost instantaneously). This results in the destruction of every Mass Relay in the galaxy. Well, Shepherd has already destroyed a Mass Relay, in The Arrival DLC pack, the last DLC released for ME2. In the DLC, we learn that the energy release involved in the destruction of a Mass Relay is roughly equivalent to that of a star going supernova, which would result in the total destruction of any star system in which that occured. The end result of The Arrival is that Shepherd destroys a Mass Relay in an inhabited system, delaying the reapers but also killing 300,000 Batarian (an alien race) colonists who had made a home in that system.
Right, back to the end of ME3. So every mass relay is destroyed. This means that every system containing a mass relay suffers a supernova level event, and is destroyed. Well, only a minute fraction of all systems in the galaxy actually have a mass relay, so whats the big deal? If you pay attention to the galaxy map, you see that many important systems have a mass relay. The star systems containing Tuchanka, the Krogan homeworld, Rannoch, the quarian homeworld, Thessia, the Asari homeworld, Palaven, the Turian homeworld. And Earth. Sol System has a mass relay. Every one of those worlds is destroyed, along with any things else in the system, when the mass relays explode.
Call me crazy, but that doesn’t soundlike winning to me. It’s like having Victor and Ilsa’s plane blow up at the end of the runway at the end of Casablanca. Or, if you prefer something more modern, it’s like having Katniss eat the poisonous berries at the end of The Hunger Games.
The female version of Commander Shepherd, or FemShep as she is affectionatly known to the fanbase. The Mass Effect games allow players to choose their characters gender and customize their appearance based on player preference.
Source: Bioware Mass Effect Website
I brought this point up to a friend of mine, and he argued that maybe the destruction of the mass relays was modulated in some way so as to not result in total destruction. Now, you’ll have to consult your friendly neighborhood physicist on this, but I would think that downgrading the strength of the explosion would mean the signal you sent (whatever ending you chose) wouldn’t have the ability to reach every corner of the galaxy, which could conceivably leave a few reapers out there.
I’ve heard fan speculation that the end is actually Shepherd being indoctrinated ( a form of reaper mind control), thus rendering the last 30 minutes a gameplay a ‘dream sequence’ of sorts. To me, that just feels cheap. Why do all of that, instead of just giving us a real ending?
I’m also aware the Bioware has announced they plan to answer fans complaints, and rework the ending or something. I’m not getting my hopes up. All I expect to see is an addition to the existing ending video in order to better explain what happens following the players choice.
So here’s to Bioware and Mass Effect. One of the best games created to date, with the crappiest ending of them all.