Mass Effect: The End That Never Was

The video game industry has seen its share of let downs; from the release of the much-anticipated Duke Nukem Forever after 15 years to the disappointing Fable III, and even to the catastrophe that was The War Z.  While this is a common practice, some games certainly stood out more than others, and I felt as though one stood above, or should I say below, the rest – Mass Effect 3, which was a disappoint 5 years in the making.

BioWare had put high hopes in the minds of gamers even before the release of the first Mass Effect game.  The premise of the game was to discover more about an unknown synthetic race known as Reapers, and discover a way to stop them from wiping out life in the known universe.   It had been stated that most (if not all) decisions you make would have an impact on the outcome of the trilogy, most notably how the reapers were stopped.  Throughout the course of the trilogy, major decisions such as choosing to save or kill certain characters, and how you choose to treat your party members and characters involved in side quests.  These choices were carried over throughout the trilogy, so many so that it seemed unfathomable that all of these would influence the end of the game.  Surely enough, the promises were once again confirmed when director Casey Hudson stated that the ending will be “different for everyone who plays it “ based on all the choices that were made, leaving fans with a astronomical expectations for the climax of the series.


This following section contains possible spoilers


However, after building up an army and increasing your “galactic readiness” in an effort to fight off the reaper invasion throughout the campaign (and online play if you so choose) and reaching the final playable section in the game, it was clear that the multitude of promised endings based on your decisions did not exist; the only decision that is relevant to the ending is the last one you make based on three options, in which the player was able to arbitrarily decide how the reapers were dealt with.  Possibly even worse, the three endings are almost entirely identical.   As one would expect, much of the fan base was outraged; a game that had a story based around the player’s decision, but later revealed that most of the decisions were irrelevant would be infuriating to anyone.  This frustration was shared by most of the fan base, even bringing some so far as to create a petition, which raised $40,000 on the first day (money which was directly donated to the Child’s Play organization), to change the ending of the game.  Some more, well, passionate fans even took it upon themselves to contact the Better Business Bureau, who claimed it was false advertising and even threatened to sue.  BioWare responded to these complaints by releasing downloadable content to slightly alter the ending, and even adding a fourth possible option – a refusal to make a decision.  This content helped to clarify a few aspects of the already confusing and disheartening ending, but did little to soften the blow for the disappointed fans.  Recent expansions have also been released such as “Leviathan”, which helped to shed some light on the events that transpired toward the end of the game, but for many it was too little and far too late.




Recently, BioWare even announced the released of Mass Effect 4, which would have a completely new story arc and a whole new cast of characters.  This does however beg the question, should the fans give this new game a chance after they were left with such an anticlimactic ending to the previous trilogy?

  8 comments for “Mass Effect: The End That Never Was

  1. Steve
    February 28, 2013 at 4:43 am

    I agree with you in that I expected far more diversity in the Mass Effect 3 endings, but saying that the outcomes were bland and similar isn’t very accurate in my opinion. In fact, each ending resulted in massively differing results including the fates of yourself, your crew and friends, Earth, and the rest all life. The philosophical notions and eerie, mysterious undertones are very interesting and warrant repeated analysis as well. I understand the disappointment when Bioware says “a different ending for everyone.” But that was always an overly ambitious goal to begin with. There is some extra variability in a few areas that I’m forgetting now that give some extra feelings of an individual play through, but it isn’t very critical stuff.

    I think Bioware changed its entire perspective on Mass Effect as a series after the first game and people have either forgotten that or never realized it. The original game is clearly the most individual of the three and has much more fleshed RPG elements whereas 2 and 3 became much more streamlined, action-oriented, and submitting to blockbuster conventions. Many fans still consider the first game the best in the series (I don’t actually). I think we all wanted a Mass Effect 1 ending when we were living in a 2 and 3 universe.

    • ef23
      February 28, 2013 at 10:58 am

      I think that’s a pretty good observation on the Mass Effect 1 ending comment, and I completely agree. It seemed as though once they had decided to take a different direction with the series, it became a more action-oriented game. After going back to play the first one, it felt like an entirely new game in terms of combat and gameplay mechanics.

      Something I should have mentioned (although people who haven’t played the game most likely wouldn’t understand) is a the “Indoctrination Theory” which some of the fans developed, which would have been an unexpected and fantastic ending in my opinion. A video explanation can be found here.

    • Allison
      February 28, 2013 at 11:16 am

      So many interesting points made in both you all’s posts. To begin with something Steve mentioned, what do you mean when you say, “I think we all wanted a Mass Effect 1 ending when we were living in a 2 and 3 universe”? What was the ending like for Mass Effect 1? Was it nothing like what they had in Mass Effect 2 and 3? After reading this post, I think it would be interesting to trace the evolution of the trilogy, the changes the game makers made, and why.

      In terms of the disappointment the fans felt, being so enthused and excited by the revolutionary concept of an infinite endings game, it must have been a huge let down for them, like the time when I was 10 and my mom took me to Pizza Hut for lunch and told me that the spirit of Santa Claus lives on in our hearts.

      Though it’s sad for those devoted gamers to be let down, reading this post, I found myself laughing out loud! To say they were going to essentially create an alternate universe with choices that would effect what was seemingly every aspect of the game, and then to hear how far off and how short they came of their fans’ expectations is hilariously rediculous to me. NO I would not go back out and spend the money for Mass Effect 4!

      In watching the endings video that you posted on here from Youtube, I noticed how strikingly realistic and human the characters look! May I ask how they get characters to look so real? You mentioned how there will be a whole new “cast” when they do start developing Mass Effect 4. Do they cast people to act in the roles of video game characters? That would be the sickest job ever!

  2. William Hurley
    February 28, 2013 at 10:48 am

    The endings to Mass Effect 3 made me wonder what, if anything, the point was for my choices in Mass Effect 1 and 2. I remember the difficulty of choosing to save the Council or to save thousands of lives of my own race, after the Council had done nothing but berated humanity for their ignorance and unimportance, treating us like little more than children in inter-galactic affairs. I remember the moral quandaries raised by the choice of destroying Reaper technology, or giving it to the Illusive Man so he could create weapons to combat the Reapers (though, this later turned out to be for naught as he intended to control them all along). These were very emotional decisions for me and it took a significant amount of time for me to make my choice when confronted, and I felt as if my Commander Shepherd was more or less, well, myself. The ending to ME3, conversely, merely presented me with three, equally unfulfilling choices that had nothing to do with my character or the world that he had created.

  3. Allison
    February 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Wow, William, that is a really good point. It kind of loses that personal luster when, in good gaming spirit, you try to be personally invested in the game to get your best intended outcome. I’m sure that was disappointing.

    Moving to matters about this Indoctrination Theory, that was the most curious video that was put together about that. And If I saw correctly it was put together by the fans? Would you say that is evidence of an actively engaged “fandom” always seeking to interpret and dig deeper for meaning? Thank you for including the Indoctrination Theory into this discussion and providing us with some insight because ef23 you are right, I was unfamiliar with that concept.

    Some of the things I took away after watching that video on the Indoctrination Theory was mostly about making connections and drawing parallels about its meaning. The clips we say in the video were extremely melodramatic and corny. The voices of the reapers chanting, “Join us” reminded me of Evil Dead 2. And of course, you could draw parallels to Star Wars– that always lurking and looming dark side threatening to take us over from the inside out.

    We hear a number of things in the video that describe Mass Effect’s Indoctrination Theory. It is a mindset. It is also the process in which Reapers take over Shepard’s mind, “corrupting organic minds”. It is interesting because the traditional portrayal of a Reaper throughout the centuries has centered around a consumption of the human soul. It is a entity in the spiritual realm. In Mass Effect 3 however, the Reaper is the machinery, the antithesis of what it means to be human- a hopeless grind of mechanical metal set on taking over the universe. Does that sound accurate? Someone correct me if I’ve missed the mark. So in what ways is this game about human conflicts with technology? And with a name like Shepard, he is charged as the good intentioned main character, with saving and guiding the sheep (humanity) safely.

    In a way, this also made me think of Fight Club, especially at the end of watching the Indoctrination Theory video when they were all killing each other to save themselves. It would be interesting to look at complexities of illusion versus reality in this game. And another point to be made that touches on gender issues in video games we discussed in class: where are the women in Mass Effect 3? The only one I saw was robot! Also, could someone clarify, I think it said in the video that the Reapers are from Hell? Finally, did anyone see any parallels that could be made with this to Lord of the Rings?

  4. Edward
    February 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I know I am not the only one in saying this but I actually liked the ending for Mass Effect 3. I’ll explain this with a few reasons why (specific spoilers ahead):

    1) I viewed the whole game, the 20+ plus hours of Mass effect 3, as the actual ending. I did not view the last 2 minutes of Mass Effect 3 as the ending because no one would have been able to end a story that huge in a couple of cut-scenes. I like to compare it to the Harry Potter series, where we could read 6 books and on the 7th book, we judge the whole series just based on the last chapter.

    2) I thought those last minutes actually gave you a lot of choices to make. You could either destroy the reapers, take control of the reaper or ‘evolve’ the species of the universe. The only thing I didn’t like about the ending was that it was based all on “Galactic Readiness’, which to kinda ‘max’ it out you needed to play the multi-player. Single-player experience should never be based on the multi-player experience.

    3) It’s kind of impossible for Bioware to end Mass Effect effectively. If you end Mass Effect 3 with a specific ending, which I think is what the fans wanted, the Mass Effect universe would of been over completely, which I don’t think fans and Bioware would of really wanted. What I mean is that Bioware couldn’t make a Mass Effect 4 without some way pissing off most of their fans because Mass Effect 4 would have to pick an ending to use. Imagine how hard it would be to consider all the endings possible, which by the way you have a huge impact in Mass Effect 3 of which race actually lives (if any) in the future Universe. Instead, I think the logical choice for the next Mass Effect is to be set on a whole different Universe away from the previous one, a parallel universe or even one set in the past and completely ignore the first Mass Effect trilogy.

    4) Most games that get hyped up never live up to that hype. It’s Life. It’s interesting that you used the Fable series, because I remember all the lofty promises made for the original Fable and Fable 2. The Fable series didn’t live up to the hype and the promises, but the original Fable is one of my most favorite games I have ever played. Its too bad the proceeding Fables got rid of what made Fable ‘1’ so good, especially how their villains don’t compare at all to Jack, the villain of Fable ‘1’.

    5) The following argument isn’t really a good one but if you think about all of Mass Effect 3 as the actual ending, each ‘ending’ would therefore be different. Talk to people to see which of their character died or lived in their games. My biggest accomplish in the Mass Effect trilogy in my opinion wasn’t ‘stopping’ the reapers, but letting the Geth become a bona-fide race. I felt bad though that Legion had to die in my play-through but I heard from others that theirs were different as the Quarians and Geth could become friends in one or that one of the species had to die in another play-through. Just talk to people and you’ll just see how different your experiences actually were.

  5. William Hurley
    February 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Edward, you can actually achieve enough Galactic Readiness without multiplayer. It may not be “full,” but it unlocks all the endings, so story-wise, you can call that full.

    Furthermore, I don’t agree with your point about “many endings.” There were essentially three, with the fourth being “I choose to do nothing,” which I don’t buy as a real ending, EA. And if you watched the video that Evan posted, the three endings are nearly identical with maybe about fifteen seconds of true difference between it, and I don’t count “one is green, one is blue, one is red” as a significant difference. My problem with ME3 was that it ultimately took choices -away- from the player and presented them with three superficial ones that may as well have been dictated to the player without giving anyone a true choice. The illusion of choice is just as bad as the absence of truth, and I’d rather at least not be lied to.

  6. Hughes
    March 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    I completely agree with everything you said. My main problem with Mass Effect (and despite the confusing and, well, bad ending I do still love the series) is that it felt like the series decided to be another game in the last 20 minutes. Suddenly, Mass Effect wasn’t about making choices, establishing relationships, and creating your own unique story while trying to save the galaxy, it was about the inevitable conflict between organic life and synthetic life, which was actually a huge letdown and completely changed the tone of the story…in the last 20 minutes! I’m sorry but that’s just bad writing. And it wasn’t impossible to end the game effectively, just hard, and they took the easy way out.

    Also, saying that there are profoundly different endings, while technically true, is utterly ridiculous. The point isn’t that we wanted profoundly different endings, the point is that we wanted endings that stayed true to OUR Commander Shepard. We wanted closure and, well, good storytelling in the last moments of the game, and we just didn’t get what was promised.

    Evan, in response to Mass Effect 4, I’m not sure if I would buy it. What drew me to the first series was continuity between games and seeing how my choices would impact future events. Seeing as how now we have these color-coded endings, I don’t see how continuity is possible anymore.

    This is a good video about the endings:

    Also this:

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