originals\ Mar 19, 2012 at 11:07 am

The Five Stages of Mass Effect 3 Grief


Mass Effect 3 Ending Spoiler Warning! Please finish the game and come back later!

Last week, over the course of about six evenings, I assumed control of Commander Shepard for his final run against the Reaper threat. I have to say, I did a pretty damn good job, too. I cured the Genophage, gained the loyalty of the Turians, Asari, and Salarians. I even bought a shiny new Prothean named Javik. I settled the Quarian/Geth conflict with minimal casualties, turning a battleground into a homeworld for two races. I assembled the largest fleet in the history of this cycle and sent them barreling towards Earth for a final, bloody battle against a force that threatened to undo all my hard work.

All things considered, it was going great. We suffered huge losses, but I eventually fought my way through the streets of London, working my way towards a one-way trip back to a Reaper-controlled Citadel. I said goodbye to all my friends. The losses were tragic. Entire fleets were being decimated in the skies above. A Reaper with a grudge arrived to finish me off, and even after a giant death laser to the face that presumably killed my girlfriend and best friend, I didn't stop fighting.

It's silly to think this was ever going to go well. Sure, I got through Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission with only one death, but this was the final battle for the galaxy. It was going to be a tragedy for Shepard and his crew, but I knew if I did everything right I'd stop the Reaper threat and leave a galaxy for everyone else to enjoy. I reached the Citadel, confronted The Illusive Man, and activated the super weapon that would end it all. A tear-jerking piano theme played as Anderson and I bled out our final moments. “You did good, son,” Anderson assured me.

I wasn't convinced Bioware could pull it off, but here it was, the perfect, beautiful, poetic, heart-breaking ending to a trilogy that won me over with a cast of lovable characters and a story that became my own. They'd done it, it was one of the best stories ever given to gamers to make their own. This was the new bar that all other game stories would have to live up to.

And then, the real ending started.

By now you probably know how the rest goes. Three choices, 16 barely differentiating outcomes, one stupid ghost kid running the whole show. No matter what I chose, the galaxy was irreparably damaged. The Mass Relays were destroyed, cutting off all forms of practical travel between systems. The armadas of every race were trapped at the burned out husk of Earth. Most of the galaxy will enter a dark age, starve, and possibly go extinct. My surviving crew will never see their homeworlds again, even after I worked so hard to make it possible.

I broke the Reaper cycle, but at what cost? I'm worse than the Reapers, I am Space Hitler. The End. Begin grief.

At the time it hadn't even hit me that I wasn't the savior of the galaxy. I was still getting over the sheer aesthetics of Mass Effect 3. The epic finale of this game is a beautiful thing to watch even when it stops making any sense. But it wasn't long before the plot holes started hitting me hard.

The big questions: Why did Joker run away? How did he magically whisk away my face-lasered squadmates to a weird fantasy planet without a scratch on them? Why didn't the explosions of the Mass Relays wipe out their systems in the same way the Batarian relay did in ME2's Arrival DLC? Why did Shepard submit to three terrible and confusing options when he spent the entire series solving impossible situations in the best possible way?

It didn't make sense to me, and I'm not even the Mass Effect superfan. For those that have replayed the games dozens of times and examined every bit of lore available, the plot holes were plainly obvious. Something was wrong, and denial set in.

It's this denial that has drummed up some of the craziest theories regarding the whole point of Mass Effect 3's ending. Many, for example, have strung together clues and devised a theory that Shepard has been indoctrinated by the Reapers. Some of the evidence for this possibility is collected in the following video:

It sounded completely ridiculous. But at that point I'd take any explanation I could get. The Indoctrination theory has some cool evidence to back it up, and it leads into the next crazy idea that deniers have grasped onto: the false ending as a set-up for future DLC.

No amount of denial could make me believe that EA/BioWare would craft a purposely nonsensical false ending and put it in the last game in a multi-million dollar trilogy, so I moved on to the next stage.

There is enough anger on the internet regarding Mass Effect 3's ending to fill an entire article. First it started with the bad user reviews on Metacritic and Amazon. Soon, BioWare forumgoers began cultivating choice quotes from the development team regarding the ending. Stuff like this:

“There are many different endings. We wouldn’t do it any other way. How could you go through all three campaigns playing as your Shepard and then be forced into a bespoke ending that everyone gets?” —Mike Gamble, in an interview with 360Magazine.co.uk.

I'm still wondering that myself.

With the anger came finger pointing, and when Geoff Keighly's making-of feature, The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3, launched on iOS platforms, fans got the target they needed. The feature reveals BioWare writer Mac Walters notes on the finale of Mass Effect 3. It's enlightening, to say the least.

Oh sorry, I just speculated all over myself. I'll be back in a minute...

Now you've probably heard this one by now, but ME3 fans are so upset about the ending of the game that they've rallied together to demand a new ending. Some think this is absurd, discrediting the movement as the whining of entitled gamers. It is an affront to art, they say. How dare you ask the creator to change their work, you have no right!

But fans have every right to speak up. It's up to BioWare to choose whether they will listen or not. With that in mind, there are several options to support the movement.

1) “Like” the Facebook page for the movement and follow it on Twitter.

2) Donate to the Child's Play Charity in support of the movement.

3) Share your criticisms and comments on the ending with Bioware. They are listening for feedback on their forums.

4) Write a letter to Bioware. Hand-written snail mail shows you care. A letter campaign has already started and you can send your thoughts to:

BioWare Edmonton
200-4445 Calgary Trail NW
Edmonton AB
Canada T6H 5R7

I'd prefer to have my mind wiped of this ending, and live in a world where a good, logical, satisfying ending rounds out a series that provided me with 138 hours of good, logical, satisfying storytelling. Would changing the ending through DLC really heal the wounds? Can the same BioWare that wrote this ending provide a satisfying alternative? I don't know, but I'd be pretty bummed if nothing is done.

It may seem silly to dismiss an entire series based on its five minute ending, but if you take the story of Mass Effect seriously at all, it's easy to get pretty depressed about it. Why help all the people of the Citadel with all their stupid little problems if they all get turned into bio-paste by the Reapers? Why give Tali a home world if she'll never get to see it?

All the people you've saved? They will all suffer a galactic dark age far from home. Knowing the ending makes going back and playing the previous games seem a bit futile, and I'm certainly not the only one saying this. Go to any forum discussing the ending and you'll see that many share the same sentiment.

Why does this matter for a business like BioWare or EA? Because they intend to release DLC that tells smaller stories of Shepard before the end. Rumors suggest you may join Aria to take back Omega in a future DLC expansion. Supposing this is true, why would I bother? Omega is a rock floating in space with no real resources of its own, so anyone there will be cut off and slowly starve and die. Many of Omega's denizens would be stuck in the Sol system after the final battle anyway. This train of thought can be applied to just about any DLC BioWare could cook up because the ending has such horrible repercussions.

I've spent the last week pouring over various forums and news sites looking for some kind of cathartic outlet for my feelings on ME3's ending. Considering the pace of discussion, I know I'm not the only one.

There's only so much we can do. Let BioWare know you care, but then move on. It's so stupid to get wrapped up in the ending of a sci-fi video game. That's a credit to the awesome job BioWare has done up to this point. They've created something that stands alongside the great popular fiction of our time. It's easy to get obsessed.

Until BioWare decides on their next move, I'll be on the hunt for the next great piece of fiction I can obsess over. Any suggestions?

And if distraction isn't enough, there's always comedy. The one great thing to come out of Mass Effect 3's ending are all the wonderful internet jokes...

About The Author
Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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