The End of Shepard’s Tale: Do We Really Reap What We Sow?

Editor’s Note: The following post is all about the end of Mass Effect 3, and naturally contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. If you haven’t finished the game, please come back when you have. It’s okay, we won’t mind. Promise.

BioWare has been fending off scorn from fans of late concerning the endings for the recently released Mass Effect 3. They haven’t exactly lived up to some gamers’ expectations, disappointing some and outright angering others. Some have even gone so far as to start a petition demanding that BioWare change the last several minutes of the game. I do admit that I was a bit disappointed myself in the endings presented to me; they didn’t exactly give me the closure I was hoping for. However, I wouldn’t say that I detest the endings like many fans, just that my expectations predicted a different direction for the end.

Before I go much further, I feel I need to make something clear: I believe endings are often unsatisfactory by their very nature. People have to watch something they’ve enjoyed and spent time with come to an end. The Mass Effect series, a franchise in which gamers have been making choices and becoming more and more invested in over the past five years, is no exception. It might even be the perfect example.

First and foremost, the endings themselves were not what I was expecting. I felt that the current problems the galaxy was facing were cleared up far too easily. From the Reapers and the war itself, the deep animosity between synthetics and organics was solved with a simple choice from three outcomes: destroy, control, or magically bring peace with little to no sacrifice — one life seems paltry when combining every organic and synthetic life form in the galaxy, even if that life is Sheperd’s. They all seemed too anticlimactic. I also felt that each option gave you little actual “choice” in the matter and none of them really felt right.

Obviously, being a Mass Effect game, it had to come down to some choice. The choices presented to me didn’t feel like they properly weighed past decisions, or, even worse, ignored them to an extent. I could choose to control the Reapers, what was the same thing I had been clamoring to stop Cerberus from doing for over half the game. If I did this, I felt like I would be backing away from everything Sheperd and his crew had fought for.  My other option was to destroy all synthetic life. This included the Reapers, obviously, but also the Geth and EDI. How could I do that to EDI, a crew member I had helped gain humanity and taught to truly live, and who my comrade Joker had produced a genuine romantic bond with? I couldn’t destroy the Geth, either. Not after finally bringing an end to their conflict with the Quarians, and certainly not after Legion sacrificed himself for that very cause. Each choice made it feel like your past decisions were unimportant and no longer had any effect on events.

Closure was what eluded me the most in Mass Effect 3’s ending sequences. Most endings ultimately presented you with the death or disappearance of Commander Sheperd; I’m ok with that. Still, I had put a lot of time and effort into my character. Sheperd united a galaxy, brought an end to multiple centuries-old conflicts between warring species, and beat odds that would have destroyed other individuals. Forgive me for thinking that Sheperd had earned the right to survive and live with his victory.

What I’m not okay with is the disregard for the bonds you had forged over three games. They were all but forgotten. While storming the Citadel at the end, a blast from a nearby Reaper takes out everyone around it, including your two squad-mates. For me, one of them was Garrus, my most trusted companion. I was given no closure, no tearful death scene, not even a lifeless body on the ground to limp past. Current squad-mates aside, I would have also liked to know how Sheperd’s loved ones would (or could) cope with his sacrifice, especially if you put the time into a romantic relationship with someone. I wanted to see how Liara would react to my death and what she would do after. Instead, we were left to wonder what truly happened to the rest of the squad, how they will cope with Sheperd’s death and the end of the Reaper threat, and how your significant other will mourn for you.

Finally, the fate of the Normandy and its crew is perhaps the most nonsensical aspect of the endings. After crashing on a very green planet overrun with nature, we are left to wonder where they are and what they will do now that they have crashed there. Their fate or the significance of their place of landing is not explained in the least, and we are left to wonder if it bears any importance whatsoever.

Mass Effect has always been about the choices the player makes, but it seems that in the last moments of the game, BioWare made the decisions for us. Maybe that was the wrong way to go, or maybe BioWare wanted to make the final decisions on their creation, to determine the final outcome. Like or hate it, that’s what happened. I would have liked if the series had ended on a different note, obviously, but I’m fine with the way the series ended overall. But  just because I’m fine with it doesn’t mean I have to like it, and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I have think it is wrong. Perhaps that is what BioWare had in mind the whole time — since this was our character, our relationships, our decisions, maybe we have to envision our own outcomes past what they presented us.