Counterpoint: The End of Mass Effect

Mass Effect 3

Welcome to Counterpoint, the new GamerNode column in which members of the GN staff flex their muscles, brains, and fingers in discussion about the most debatable issues in gaming.

Will they agree? Well, that wouldn’t be much fun, now would it?

Nope, we already know that gamers rarely agree, and everyone’s opinion is the right one, so in Counterpoint – as the definition implies – get ready for plenty of conflicting opinions and passionate arguments about… everything.

coun·ter·point n \kaūn-tər-pōint\
1. The technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.
2. A contrasting but parallel element, item, or theme.

Our first edition of Counterpoint will take it easy on the mudslinging, name-calling, call-outs, and rebuttals, because this particular topic has already seen more than its fair share of virtriol spewn all about the mean streets of the ol’ internet.

Mass Effect 3 – its ending, specifically – has incited more community backlash surrounding a game than one would have ever imagined coming into the final chapter of such a beloved franchise. But mere days after its release, the internet was ablaze with complaints ranging from simple discontent to outright rage and newfound hatred for developer BioWare.

After such public outcry, BioWare saw fit to release an “Extended Cut” DLC add-on for the game, to hopefully right its “wrongs” in the eyes of a once-loyal fanbase. Was that enough? It was for some, but not for others. Now, without cutting the gloves off, let’s find out what the ‘Node staff thinks. We’ll get to the glue and broken glass another time.

Kickboxer glue and glass

Greg’s Disappointment

When I played Mass Effect 3, I was the third person in my apartment to sink his teeth into the game. By this point, both my roommates had completed the game and had several winded, abstract, nauseating discussions about the story and the end. When I reached the final hours, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it left a lot of fans foaming. I knew it had wild theories congealing around it, one involving some psychosomatic analysis of Shepard. Most importantly, I knew it was the end of Mass Effect, one of my most treasured gaming experiences from the past 10 years. 

And so I completed it. And I felt… not angry. Not sad. Not happy. To be honest, I didn’t really feel anything. The game ended on a limp, obfuscated sigh for me. There was nothing particularly special about it. It left me unsettled but I wasn’t sure why. I suppose it’s because I hoped for more. I hoped for some grandeur. I hoped for questioning, but not the middling prods we were given. I wanted something punctuated. Something drastic. I thought the Indoctrination Theory delivered that perfectly, despite its obvious holes. Alas, that remains untrue with the release of EA’s DLC, which gives additional content for the previous endings (while nullifying the fan-created Indoctrination Theory) and tries to iron out – patch up – the many questions left with fans. And I don’t blame EA for this whole fiasco. I’m fine with them ending the game how they want to end it. I just wish I wasn’t so disappointed.

It’s been a week since the release of the revised endings, and I’ve barely spent an hour considering them. Jay and Murph have their own, differing opinions. For me, there’s still nothing gripping about it. Like the previous endings, these have little cause for discussion. I’ve completed other expansive, poignant games (Xenogears comes to mind) and they left me wondering. With Mass Effect, there was none of that. It ended. Cleanly. No thematic musings or shots of depth. It was, and remains, tamed.

Mass Effect 3 ending

Mike’s Indoctrination Defense

Like Greg, I was late to the party with Mass Effect 3. Being on the home stretch of my SWTOR review, I had to put the game on the shelf for a few weeks. After I started the game, work here at the ‘Node, coverage of both PAX East and E3, and other obstacles slowed me down over the months. However, I was miraculously able to keep myself from being spoiled on the major details of the ending. All I knew was that a lot of fans were pissed off about it.

When the Extended Cut was announced, I vowed to see the original ending before the new content was released. I did that the night before the EC landed, and like Greg, I was just left unsure and not really feeling much regarding the ending. Everything leading up to it just didn’t seem right. I started noticing the holes that the Indoctrination Theory patched up, and thought there was something to it. After looking at a video made by ACAVYOS on IT, I was sold. It was just too perfect and made all of the events from Mass Effect 2 – “Arrival” to the ending of Mass Effect 3 make complete sense. We were all indoctrinated and – like the codex entry says – we didn’t even know it!

After playing the EC, a lot of people have said that Indoctrination Theory has been disapproved. Again like Greg, I tended to agree and initially took the endings at face value. But I didn’t like settling for that, and realized that BioWare stated they made the EC in a way that wouldn’t or shouldn’t debunk any theories players have on the ending. They also have refused to admit Indoctrination Theory is false since the content’s release. After a few days I watched some even better IT videos – two hour-plus documentaries – on the original ending by CleverNoob (Part 1Part 2), which go into even better detail and analysis on anything and everything related to the IT. Since the EC, CleverNoob has released a vlog on it with initial, unofficial reactions and the statement that he plans to make a fifty-minute Part 3 to help show that IT has not been debunked by the EC. After watching all of this, it reinforced my belief in IT and still has me believing it’s the best possible way to interpret the game’s ending.

For those who say it isn’t possible, I’ll refute by saying the strongest piece of evidence brought about for IT in the EC is that all the ending clarification scenes happen after Shepard has been hit with Harbinger’s beam and the final decision. Even though you see your squadmates leave in the Normandy beforehand, does Shepard really know where they go after that? Them fleeing could be Shepard’s desire to see them survive. Also, though it may not be Harbinger’s exact voice, Starchild does sound very Reaper-like when he yells, “So be it!” in the Refusal ending.

The only scene I can see that legitimately threatens IT is when Admiral Hackett hears from some random crew member on his ship that someone made it onto the Citadel. But I can always argue that’s also all in Shepard’s mind.

ME3 ending

Jason’s Statisfaction

I was on board with the ending of Mass Effect 3 from the start. The original endings were short and vague, yes, but the entire series is based upon the decisions of the player; why then shouldn’t the ending be open to player interpretation?

Of course, the gaming masses didn’t see it that way, and through much complaining/death threats/cupcake deliveries, they were appeased: extended endings for all choices, and even a fourth Easter egg ending thrown in. With these new endings, I am beyond the level of satisfaction I experienced before.

Each choice offers a clear and concise view of the future of Mass Effect: Control and its Deus Ex Sheperda, Synthesis and its ultimate sacrifice, Destroy and its hope for a reunion, and Refusal and its continuance of the cycle. There are still some lingering questions (which one is canon?), but no matter which way one chooses, there is a definitive end. Some may suggest that the game just ending isn’t exactly a good thing, and I ask, “why not?” This was meant to be a trilogy of games that gave the player control over where the story progressed, so doesn’t it make sense that the player’s final choice would bring the ultimate end of the story? This isn’t Halo 3, where the “call me if you need me” line opens the door for more cashing in: this story is over and done with. Of course, one can argue that the Destroy ending, with its “they could reunite!” angle, IS a Halo 3-esque opening, but that’s only 1/4th of the possibilities.

I love the way the Mass Effect Trilogy ended, and it’ll take a lot to convince me otherwise.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

2 Comments on "Counterpoint: The End of Mass Effect"

  1. A Parker August 14, 2012 at 11:39 am -

    I just finished the original cut endings this weekend and will tackle the extended shortly. I’m basically in Jason’s camp. While short and I’m find with endings like that. Honestly, watch some classic anime and or play some JRPGs for endings that really mess with your mind.

    I’ll admit I thought the substantial overlap for what the endings actually show you (Since I, like everyone else, watched the other two after finishing the first one) was a bit silly but when it boils down to it, you’re using the same device to cause all three endings so the fact that the physical depiction of that is similar makes sense and the three original choices still remain fundamentally different approaches so speculating about how each would affect characters and races you’ve know for 3 games is interesting.

    Anyways, like or hate the endings, I was still a bit embarrassed by the public outcry and evident entitlement issues it represented (#1stWorldProblems). Could a terrible ending (if that’s your opinion) cost them game of the year consideration, of course. But does a little anti-climatic/disappointing ending affect the 100+ hours I’ve spent enjoying the franchise, absolutely not.

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