Please continue if you are okay with hearing about the endings to Mass Effect 3.
There are spoilers ahead.
I was actually writing this in response to an earlier post, and it got a little too long so I decided it was a blog. There are a lot of people up in arms about the Mass Effect 3 endings, and I just finished the game myself so I'm just finding out about all of it. I honestly thought the game was great. I thought the game built a truly compelling story, and ended it with a more intelligent ending than most games out there. For the most part the endings looked the same visually and that may have disturbed some people. But, I was happy with it all the same. It shined a light on your final choice rather than spending too much time showing you the results of your actions. This was definitly a message to players, begging them to pay attention and think of the choices they've made instead of going through every ending on YouTube to see what they've missed out on.
I get the feeling people are thinking of the last episode of LOST or The Sopranos, which are on lists of worst endings of all time. Those shows have their own bullshit answers for why they ended that way, but I don't think this is what's happening with Mass Effect 3. The Mass Effect 3 ending is actually a no-bullshit ending.
My initial reaction to seeing the ending 'movie' was that it was extremely short and didn't explain much. But my very next thought was about how riveting the entire ending was - starting from when you make a mad dash towards 'the spire' (Halo reference - it was a beam of light that transported you upwards). The ending was quite a bit more thought prevoking than I initially thought it was going to be. I actually expected the worst, because of a few people complaining about it online. I tried my best not to read anything but the headers. But the feeling, regardless, was that the ending was going to dissapoint. As it turns out, it did not.
The high road and the low road.
If you've played Mass Effect at all, you know about the dialog choices that you are given that sometimes result in changing your reputation. You are a renegade-type if you choose to kick ass rather than adhere to protocol and it can be pretty harsh. Renegades destroy their competition, shoot first, and ask questions later. On the other hand, the paragon-types tend to adhere to protocol and are the goody two shoes of the spectrum. They ask questions and only shoot when necessary. Simply put: They (Paragon personallities) are fans of order while on the other side the renegades choose destruction, chaos, and generally being free to kick ass.
These choices usually come in to play later in the game when you have to use your points in reputation (where Paragon and Renegade points go) to affect a situation, usually in some profound way. The great thing is, neither one of these options feel 'bad'. It is a bit different than good and evil. And as it is portrayed in the game, it ends up being the difference between controlling something and destroying something.
Long story short: In Mass Effect there are large machines that come every 50,000 years to obliterate all forms of sentient life in the Galaxy so that the chaos that sentient life brings can be leveled out. The life energy from the sentient lifeforms is then collected and stored to be used later for raw materials for these machines. The machines figure this is a good way to respect advanced lifeforms by letting them live on in their own huge machine bodies, and a good way to continue to let life flourish by letting the primitive life survive so they can evolve naturally. These machines are called Reapers, and the entire Mass Effect trilogy culminates in the main character fighting them to save the human race (and other races too).
The ending gives you three choices. Two of them relate to the themes of Paragon and Renegade. The Renegade choice is to destroy the Reapers. The Paragon choice is to control the Reapers. And there is a choice in the middle that creates a new world where machines and organic beings are mixed together and are on equal terms with each other. This is the sythesize option. The middle option was the, "Can't we all just get along." approach. Admittedly I am leaving out a lot of the details, but the other choices were more extreme in comparison. Merging and birthing a new type of life was a beautiful way to show that all of the war and conflict was there because of discrimination between races. The middle option seemed to transcend the paragon and renegade options that were always at odds with each other.
All three of the choices during the ending were a profound reality check for whomever was playing. I, for one, played as a Paragon-type personality the whole time. No matter what choices came up, if I was given the choice I would do the right thing and uphold order and act as a good policeman would. I would enforce the rule of law. I would keep order. It was a smack to the face when I realized that I was acting similar in a lot of ways to one of the antagonists (called The Illusive Man) that I consistantly hated throughout the series. This man wanted to control the Reapers, and I showed through my choices that I wanted to control them too, without even knowing it. Mass Effect looked at my choices as a Paragon and said, "You're a control freak." And to the Renegade it said, "When your solution is to destroy your enemy, there can be no peace." The middle of the line 'merge' option is almost sexual. Instead of controlling or destroying, we make love (not war) and truly give birth to a new kind of peace and understanding. Mass Effect seems to say, "This is more than being in the center. This is an exercise in love and tolerance."
So all the while playing Mass Effect, racking up points to Paragon or Renegade - we are often being extremists. And this is oh-so-clear in the game's ending.
There is no real need for reflection. The ending credits roll with your choice fresh in mind. We know the score already. We know the consiquences of our choice. Do we need to see Commander Shepard controlling reapers? Do we need to see who survived? The answer is 'no', and Bioware made the decision to focus on your final choice. No big deal.
I was surprised to see people in the Bioware forums latched onto another preposed ending. This guy was trying to get Bioware to change the endings through DLC. The preposed ending is similar to the 'destroy' ending. So much so, that I'm not sure why people couldn't see past it. It involved refusing to make a choice and watching the war play out. And the way I see it is if the reapers win the war, you go back to the status quo and gain nothing. If the reapers lose, you've destroyed them all - and that's the destroy ending. The concept of the choice is the same. It still comes down to control, synthesize or destroy. In concept, this preposed ending was equal to the destroy ending.
That'll do Bioware.
I'm happy with the ending. I'm also spending a significant amount of time thinking about it.
And that's the real problem here, isn't it? The ending was a little too clever. People wanted more content. They were expecting a long drawn out epic ending explaining who survived, who didn't, and what happened to their love interests. So, one might ask, "Why did they go for a clever ending when the rest of the game was kind of more action packed and full of romance options?"
I think I'm risking talking out of both sides of my mouth here. I liked the ending, but also thought it was strange that there wasn't more content. I'm about to put Mass Effect 3 to the side and just let the story run around in my head for a while. I'm finished with it. And I will never really know the implications of why I had to run around the galaxy and collect resources for the war. Did my choices effect my overall success? Anyway, I am fine with having similar endings and having Commander Shepard's choices speak for themselves, but I admit it is strange there wasn't more.
Cool fan art.
I forgot to say this. I was reminded listening to the Secret Moon Base podcast... I'm so glad Mass Effect didn't turn into another Jesus story.