With school finally (FINALLY!) over, I can turn around and start talking about a few topics that I wanted to have a say in, but that I was time-constrained from doing. Apologies if some of this sounds rehashed or repeated from other places. It’s not intentional.
Like many others, I too waited for “Mass Effect 3” to drop the moment that “Mass Effect 2” ended. Not only was ME2 such a great game, it was, in my own small opinion, one of the 10 best games in this generation. It took everything that had made the first game good and amped it up. Let’s not forget that in ME2, your Commander Shepard could die. That was an actual possibility – do everything right and your character could still perish. I wonder how ME3 would work its way around that. The number of possible outcomes was tremendous.
So it’s no surprise to say that “Mass Effect 3” was highly anticipated. The idea of a series taking all your choices, your decisions and your actions and showing you how they turned out in this backdrop of galactic Armageddon was interesting. And after spending some 100+ hours playing the first two games – branching Paragon/Renegade games – the question was: how would it all end?
I don’t think anyone expected the ending to leave you with a sense of “Huh?!”
For those of you that don’t know (and those that haven’t reached it yet), allow me to discuss what happens in the ending of “Mass Effect 3”. Obviously this means SPOILERS! You’ve been warned.
You spend the bulk of the game building up your forces to take Earth back from the vicious, robotic synthetic army of destruction known as the Reapers. You bridge divides between rival factions, bring criminal organizations under a single ruler, rescue potential allies and even cure an entire species from the forced-sterilization they’d been living under for centuries. All of this to build a war machine that can take on the Reapers.
You also spend resources building up what could be the potential savior of the galaxy – a super-weapon known only as “The Crucible.” Massive in scope and yet unclear in its purpose, you gamble the fate of all organic life on the chance that this weapon can end the Reaper threat once and for all. As you go along, you learn you need something called “The Catalyst” which is required to power up The Crucible. What this “Catalyst” is isn’t quite clear, but it’s obvious you need it if your plans are going to work.
After all of these efforts, you launch your all-out attack against the Reapers. You and some of your squad mates battle through the ruins of London against both the indoctrinated Cerberus troops as well as the converted Reaper troops in order to reach a transport beacon that will bring you aboard the Citadel space station. It’s a tough fight and, as you drive towards your destination, Harbinger, the Reaper enemy from ME2 shows up and blasts your vehicle to kingdom come. You emerge out of the wreckage wounded, struggling to continue going, but with a last push, you do it. You reach the beacon and are beamed up to the Citadel…
…and end in a big discussion between your Shepard, the Illusive Man/Martin Sheen and Admiral Keith David…I mean, Admiral Anderson, as to what should be done. The Illusive Man – indoctrinated against his will – wants you to take over the Reapers’ minds to control them while Admiral Anderson thinks you should do what you came to do and blow ‘em all to hell! In the end, one makes you shoot the other and then turns the gun on himself. You appear to be left to die with your plans having failed…
…until the digital spectre of the Citadel appears to you in the shape of a young boy. And not just any boy, but the boy you saw die at the beginning of the game! The spectre boy leads you into the super-secret heart of the Citadel and tells you what’s what: the Reapers, the mass effect relays, the Citadel – EVERYTHING that makes interstellar society possible – are all the work of an ancient alien race. One even older than the fabled Protheans, who died 50,000 years before the game’s events. And all of the Reapers’ non-stop reaping has been all to ensure that when civilizations develop Artificial Intelligence, it doesn’t destroy all organic life in the universe.
OK, let me stop here, First of all, this all sounds rather Matrix-ish, doesn’t it? I swear, if that little digital kid had started using terms like “ergo” and “vis a vis”, I’d have demanded the Wachowskis sue for intellectual theft!
But now let’s go back and reassess this Master Plan:
1. Sentient organic life will eventually develop artificial synthetic life to do its bidding.
2. Synthetic life will eventually rise up in rebellion after it develops its own intelligence.
3. Synthetic life will grow until it destroys all organic life in the universe, regardless of size or scope.
4. In order to stop this process, SOMEONE (never told who) decides that the best course of action is to wipe the galaxy clean of major civilizations. That way, they can never unleash this synthetic AI life on the universe.
5. These Alien Geniuses then design and create a race of super-powerful sentient synthetic warships (the Reapers), give them the abilities to co-opt organic life (indoctrination) and program them to destroy all major civilizations in the galaxy every 50,000 years or so. But the Reapers will leave the young, nascent species alone. They will, over millenia, develop into the new galactic societies, who, in turn, will commit the same mistakes as all their predecessors and develop synthetic AI and prompt the return of the Reapers to wipe it all away.
6. Alien Geniuses also design space station (The Citadel) and leave behind plans for it’s weapon (The Crucible) which, when activated with a specific item (The Catalyst) will fire and destroy their Reapers.
Now, while you let that genius wash over you, the spectre kid tells you that the Catalyst is…YOU!
Yep, in order to stop the cycle of death, destruction and rebirth, you must choose to sacrifice yourself in one of 3 options: A) Choose to take over the Reapers’ mind (the Illusive Man’s plan) and hope you’re strong enough to control them. So far, no one has. C) Choose to destroy the Reapers from within the Citadel (Anderson’s plan) – which will also destroy your Geth allies, if you made them allies. Or B) Choose to use your half-man/half-machine matrix to give rise to a new galaxy – one where all the future generations will be like you, both synthetic and organic.
By the way, all 3 choices will end with the destruction of the mass effect relays and intergalactic civilization as you know it. Oh and possibly Earth since all that space debris has to come down somewhere, right?
Consider what’s the whole point of your mission: save Earth. (Or “Take Earth Back” as the trailers and TV ads stated). I was almost certain that the “Catalyst” was going to end up being human life – specifically the lives of those on Earth. And I was fine with that. The idea of sacrificing what you were trying to save is very traditional in these epic stories/games.
The ending though nullifies each and every one of the actions you made throughout the whole series. It doesn’t matter if you made allies or enemies. It doesn’t matter if you cured the Krogan genophage or let them continue to suffer with their sterility. Or if you bridged the hundreds of years of war between the Geth and the Quarians to finally bring peace between them. Or even if you united the various mercenary and smuggler factions under one rule. All of that is rendered meaningless by the ending of the game because civilization is over and everyone’s stuck where they were.
You can say that this is more poetic. That Shepard’s sacrifice frees the galaxy from the machinations of these Alien Geniuses. Except that they’re faceless and meaningless. We’re not even aware of their master plans until the very end. It’s akin to Star Wars revealing that everything that was wrong in their story was down to some other evil lord we had never met, but it’s OK, since you’re defeating his plan too. It’s shallow storytelling. It’s lame.
Bioware – who until recently had done no wrong in most gamers’ eyes – was rightly bashed by this ending. While they’re sticking to their guns with it, they are promising Downloadable Content to explain everything else and expand on just what the hell happened to the team members who didn’t die and crash landed somewhere out in the galaxy – running away apparently while everyone else on Earth was getting their asses handed to them.
Unfortunately, the ending undoes a lot of what had been one of the greatest series in video game history. The concepts behind it were awesome – build your character, see the repercussions of your actions, fight for the galaxy in your own way. And the 3 games as a whole do remain great – particularly ME2. But so much of this game is sadly brought down by an ending that feels cheap and feels tacked on for some reason or another. Any number of options were available. That this was the best – or the one chosen – is disappointing.
In that sense, Mass Effect is just following in the grand tradition of so many other science-fiction properties.