We all know now about the massive shitstorm brewing on the internet with regards to Mass Effect 3's ending(s). While the ending to ANY popular trilogy usually causes unhappiness among fans, Mass Effect 3 struck particularly close to home with me because I was a fan of the game since Day 1. I have been playing through ME2 religiously in the months before release to ensure best possible save game.
And then I bought the game, and it took me roughly 40 hours to get to the end, doing everything you can do, all the tiny sidequests, planet scans and missions, in order to ensure best possible outcome.
And then I got to the end... and a thousand mouths cried out in pain...
I will try to address and express a number of issues that I personally have with the endings, and hopefully most of you will feel the same way. Or at least see where I am coming from.
Naturally, SPOILERS ARE ABOUT TO LAND UP IN THIS BITCH! Leave now.
[I copied this part from a forum post on Penny Arcade]
The Crucible is not deus ex machina, it is a MacGuffin. It's largely irrelevant except as a plot device. It is the exhaust port on the Death Star.
The narrative of ME3 is not about finding the Crucible, it is about building the greatest alliance ever seen in the galaxy (which the Crucible, as a plot device, allows to happen).
Why the Catalyst AI and his Monty Hall spiel of the Adjust Hue/Saturation is a deus ex machina is that it is the resolution to the narrative. The fact that he is also literally a "god from the machine" is irrelevant, albeit ironic. He is a deus ex machina in the literary sense, i.e. a handwaved contrivance that shows up out of the blue to quickly whisk away all the dangling story threads, and to abruptly end the story.
This is abysmal writing. This is abysmal game design; a Pick Your Own Adventure book where all choices take you to the same final chapter. It is counter to everything this game is. And what is this game?
In a recent Extra Credits, Portnow discussed core elements of a game. The Mass Effect series is really not a third person shooter. It is also really not a roll-the-dice-and-level-up CRPG. Mass Effect is, at its core, interactive fiction. All the memorable moments in these games take place in cutscenes that play out in myriad ways based on prior choices. You are role-playing in the most literal sense of crafting a character's personality based on your choices. The climax of Mass Effect 2 was not shooting the Human Reaper in the eye, the climax of Mass Effect 2 were the cutscenes that played and showed the results of your actions. Did you defy TIM? Did your crewmates survive? If your choices were poor enough, you could defeat the final boss, only to make a desperate leap towards the Normandy with no one to catch you.
The desperate leap in Mass Effect 3 is your dash towards the Beam. The only input that matters at all past this point is the encounter with TIM. That encounter is true to Mass Effect, and honors your previous choices, and provides closure for the secondary antagonist.
But for the main antagonist (Reapers), nothing you did matters. You are given three arbitrary choices to solve a problem that, depending on your actions, may be proven to be a false dilemma in the first place. If you saved both the Quarians and the Geth, witnessed Legion's messianic sacrifice, and humanized EDI - the Catalyst's claim of organic/synthetic conflict being unavoidable is patently false.
The Catalyst AI is completely incongruous with the narrative and the themes of the game. It shows up, provides a complete strawman of a conflict, and then offers three vapid, plot-hole ridden resolutions to this conflict, which abruptly end the narrative in a blinding flash of Space Magic (pick your color!).
No one is complaining about the preceding 30 hours of gameplay. Choices did seem to matter. Your treatment of the Rachni queen from two games ago ended up gaining you a seemingly valuable ally. Saving Wrex can gain a hopeful future for the Krogan. Your choices regarding Legion and the Migrant Fleet in ME2 have incredibly strong consequences in the seeming conclusion of the Geth/Quarian storyline. This is why we loved the game up to the ending.
And the ending completely demolished all of it, and made it completely illusory. Who gives a shit if you saved the Rachni? They just end up giving you Space Points and don't affect your ending at all. Who gives a shit if the Quarians or Geth or both survived? They're all dead anyway. Who cares if you cured the genophage and saved the one leader who could lead the Krogan into a less brutish, more hopeful future? He's either trapped on earth or dead, and the radioactive husk that is Tuchanka cannot sustain their race without supplies anyway.
And even more egregiously, the choices you made in the development of YOUR Shepard don't matter. She acts EXACTLY the same when facing the ultimate antagonist regardless of whether she's a Space Racist Renegade or Never Surrender Paragon or whatever your Shepard actually is, and what (insert pronoun) stands for.
You accept Space Hitler's premise without argument, and dejectedly pick one of the three Slightly Less Turning Everyone Into Paste final solutions he has to offer.
How does it matter in the slightest that I've done the frickin' impossible and united the Geth and the Quarians into a hopeful future, shown that we need not fear synthetic life, seen a nascent artificial sentience freely decide to set "Love and compassion" as their main motivation, and fought for the reactionary, bleak idea of "AI will always rebel" to be proven wrong? Space Hitler shows up, says "AI will always rebel, here are drastic fixes to this undeniable problem". And I go "yessuh"?
The ending of the story is not actually sad, it's just anticlimactic, contrived, incongruous, and ridden with plot holes.
The part that's sad and what's tearing me apart is that this is not a case of people writing themselves into a corner. This is not a case of glorified hacks like Ronald D. Moore or Cuse/Lindelof making shit up as they go along, to find themselves at the end with no way to tie all the crap together in a cathartic way.
This is a beautifully written game, for the majority of the experience. Bioware has bona fide talent within their ranks. And the story, up to the very end, is redeemable in dozens of ways. Even the contrived, out-of-the-blue Star Child could be made into an interesting character by presenting it as a shackled AI who was given a specific, limited goal born of fear (stop AI from wiping out organic life forever), and it arrived at the grotesque solution of Reapers not because AI is evil, but the constraints never allow it to look past the false dilemma it's attempting to solve.
Most importantly, this is not a TV show or a movie. This narrative is, by design, told in a unique medium which is NOT doomed to give us a singular ending. Our Shepards can be varied, yes, but there is a finite amount of paradigms that lead you to the end, and they could all have a cathartic, poignant, and persistent ending. Let the Renegades ascend to rule the galaxy. Let the Paragons defeat primitive fear and xenophobia.
I do not care if the Relays have to go down, but don't do it in such a thoughtless way as to destroy everything meaningful I accomplished. I do not care if my Shepard dies. In fact, I expected her to go down in a blaze of glory, in the greatest battle that shall ever be fought, for the most meaningful (to her) victory a soldier could ever earn. She did not get this. I did not get this.
TENS OF THOUSANDS of people didn't get this. We are not asking for a Disney ending. We are not asking for a dance party with Ewoks. We are just asking for our Big Damn Heroes to go out on their own terms, win or lose.
Credit for this post goes to: user 'unigolyn' over @ Penny Arcade
... In the end, what we got was a 1 minute long quasi-philosophical expo video where everyone starts anew, as if this was the ending of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy... you don't know what happens to anyone or anything, your friends or enemies, krogan, human, quarians or salarians (whom you dont hear from for half of the game)... it just gives you 0 closure whatsoever, and raises more questions than it answers.
[b]Not to mention that from purely gaming standpoint, there was no final boss fight. The defending the rockets part felt forced and uninspired, and all you had to do is dodge the damn laser for 5 minutes. And we are led to believe that 2 rocket launchers are our only hope, when just 10 minutes ago I took out an entire Reaper single-handedly with a single shot from M-920 Cain? Why don't everyone have those guns? There were at least 2 lying next to the broken shuttle...