The Mass Effect series is arguably one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.
Bioware’s space epic sits among gaming royalty when it comes to prestige, a narrative that dragged gamers along with every peak and drop.
While most gaming trilogies usually work in isolation to the whole (Making reference but ultimately not carrying an overarching plot) – Mass Effect is one long, arching space opera that plays out brilliantly in both the individual parts and the whole.
Following Mass Effect 2 (Which many still hold up as one of the last generations greatest games), the final game simply had to stick the landing, give gamers closure and wrap up the loose ends we wanted to see concluded. This was no easy feat and with a reduced development time and the raised expectations, there was a lot riding on the final entry in the trilogy.
Here’s where everything went wrong for Mass Effect 3.
For a series based on decision building and character investment, the final hour comes off as an awkward afterthought.
Bioware almost entirely ejected the web of decisions players had made over three games, delivering a cookie cutter ending that painted the games most epic choices with little relevance.
There were several endings – all of which played out in barely changed scenes. To gamers who’d been told their decisions were leading to universe altering implications – finding out that all your agonizing choices meant nothing was a very bitter pill to swallow.
Instead, you were left with an arbitrary choice and a ghost child that felt almost entirely contrived for the convenience of getting the game over as quickly as possible.
Some have attempted to defend the way things play out in the years since, saying that it was the journey and not the destination that matters. Ultimately that’s a cop-out.
Mass Effect built its reputation on the depth of its emotional push, with characters and choices that had real consequences. Every new character was unique and their loss in your quest was intended to have real depth.
Your choices were the defining feature and promised to deliver. To find out that not only was this an illusion but a cruel sleight of hand was too much for many.
It didn’t matter if you’d been a complete terror on your quest through the galaxy or a saint – the ending played out in the same beats no matter what your path.
All those romances, all those epic decisions boiled down to nothing – and it smacked of laziness. Given that Bioware and EA knew how important the story was to the core Mass Effect experience, it’s amazing that no one stopped this from happening.
In fairness to the pair though, trilogies are hard to get right. It’s why so few are considered true classics throughout media. There’s an art to weaving a narrative across three outings and managing to hold an audience’s interest the entire way – it’s a skill that’s rarely utilized correctly.
I’d argue strongly The Godfather and Back to the Future are classic examples of much-loved trilogies with slightly dodgy third outings in cinema – but even these didn’t have the betrayal that Mass Effect 3 delivered. Movies at least offer a linear path in their narrative, Mass Effect was built entirely on your decisions. Every experience was different.
The ending to Mass Effect remains one of the more controversial gaming topics of recent years.
Even the Extended Cut failed to really sort out the mess that originals caused – simply expanding the scenes and trying to deliver slightly more fan service throughout. It’s a real shame and highlights just how poorly executed the final hour of the game is. What should have been a glorious tour-de-force required fan-service DLC to soothe the anger.
Fans deserved better than a hashed out ending that felt all too inconsequential to the bigger picture.
It’s funny, the more I think about the emotions of playing through the ending – the more I remember how bad it was the first time around. The unflinching disappointment that awaited gamers and the sheer annoyance that blocked out everything when the credits rolled the first time. It still nags me to this day that a game so heavily reliant on its story could misread the ending so awkwardly.
Shepard and his crew deserved a better send off. They certainly earned more care from a team of writers who awkwardly tried to shove emotional weight into an ending that didn’t fit the narratives ending.
As it stands, Mass Effect is very much a case of the journey being much better than the destination – and that’s just sad.
Did you enjoy Mass Effect 3’s ending? Do you think the gaming community at large was wrong about the game?