The lights are on
Response to the end of Mass Effect 3 has been volatile to
say the least. As with all games, players are free to love or hate the ending
for whatever reasons they see fit – but the demand from angry fans for a new
ending is unprecedented. BioWare complying with these demands, in some
form or another, is also unprecedented, and is a goodwill tactic I believe
will likely backfire. Not just in the sense that BioWare may compromise its
artistic integrity to appease a disgruntled section of its fan base. I think it
will blow up in the face of gamers.
Warning: There are
major Mass Effect 3 spoilers ahead.
The initial shock and anger that erupted on the Internet in
the days following the release of Mass Effect 3 has given way to more
thoughtful discussions of the trilogy's finale. In addition to innumerous
critical dissections from fans and detractors alike, we've also seen gamers
interpret the endings in many different ways. These different interpretations
are possible because the endings are fundamentally ambiguous. The final minutes
task you with making a choice that will potentially affect the Mass Effect
universe for thousands of years to come. Rather than trying to summarize the
ramifications of your choice like the ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure
novel ("You destroyed all sentient life in the galaxy, but your offspring will
continue the cycle. Better luck next time."), BioWare left each of the three final
sequences open-ended, while still conveying the basics: The Reapers leave,
transform, or explode, your beloved crew survives, and Shepard goes down in a
blaze of glory (or doesn't?). The rest remains unwritten, and is left for you
to ponder, dissect, and discuss.
As we have already seen, this ambiguity has given birth to
some radically different interpretations. The most popular alternate take on Mass
Effect 3's ending is the indoctrination
theory, which suggests that the entire final sequence takes place in
Shepard's mind as he or she fights against the influence of the Reapers. While
I don't believe this is the "true" ending, I do believe those final moments are
open-ended enough to make it a possibility, and that the details BioWare
included intentionally or otherwise make it a theory worth considering. In that
sense, it's not a matter of whether it's the "true" ending – it's simply not my
ending. The people who believe the indoctrination theory are 100-percent
convinced of their beliefs and are just as satisfied with their choice as I am
Now, thanks to the backlash of fans, that could change. If
BioWare manipulates or further adds to the endings, the company runs the risk
of negating the analyses and conclusions that gamers have already come to. What
if the new downloadable content disproves the indoctrination theory? Those who
see a deeper meaning in the minutiae of Shepard's final stand will be let down.
What if the new content supports the theory even further? Fans who believed
they already understood the ending and had accepted it will feel cheated.
Whether or not the final sequence takes place in Shepard's
mind isn't the only issue that's at stake. Players made their fateful final
decision based on the evidence they had at the time, and the conclusions – no
matter how sparse or recycled their variations may be – also carefully support
a variety of interpretations.
At the end of the game I chose the "green" option, synthesizing
all organic and synthetic life based on the rationale that it was the one true
way to end the cycle of violence. My fellow editor Jeff Cork opposed the green
ending on the grounds that merging organics and synthetics is essentially the
process that created the husks. Instead, he chose the red option: To wipe out
all synthetic life from the galaxy. Who was right?
According to the endings as they are now, both of us. You
can call that a copout on the part of BioWare, but based on what I saw, my
ending is a happy one. For Cork, the red ending is still the right choice.
But what if BioWare adds something to the green ending to bolster
Cork's view, and it turns out I really did subject all life in the Universe to
some sort of synthetic enslavement? Conversely, what if the extra content reinforces
my decision, and Cork wiped out the entire geth species for nothing? Either
way, BioWare would be alienating players who thought they were making the right
decisions – as well as avoiding the wrong decisions – only to be told otherwise
by new content that wasn't originally meant to be canon. If, on the other hand,
the new scenes don't alter the final decision in any significant way, it will
only further enrage the players who were demanding a new ending. Even something
seemingly innocuous like explaining how your crew ended up back on the Normandy could disillusion some players,
as proponents of the indoctrination theory point to it as evidence of the finale's
To reiterate: I don't blame anyone who didn't like the
ending of Mass Effect 3. People can no more control their emotional response to
something than they can control someone else's reaction to the same event. Players
who hated the ending have a right to be upset. They don't, however, have the
right to demand a new ending. By potentially changing the ending – even if that
just means answering questions BioWare originally intended to leave unanswered
– the developer stands to upset the gamers who are already happy with how their
multi-year adventure played out.
And those players do exist. The comments section in our Spoiled!
episode for Mass Effect 3 contains a significant amount of players who
support and are pleased with the game's ending (even if they are in the
minority). Whether they see hints of a larger conspiracy, are content with the
sacrifices they made, or have their own ideas of what their actions mean for
the Mass Effect universe, BioWare's pledge to "answer the questions" and
provide more clarity for the final sequence may contain answers those players don't
want to hear. Moviegoers crucified George Lucas for changing elements of the
Star Wars trilogy that clashed with the established story fans already knew.
Will BioWare make the same mistake? We'll find out when the developer provides
further information on its "content initiatives" this April.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.