Initially I had a load of things I wanted to say and analyse about Mass Effect 3’s ending, but then a week passed and I realised I’d stopped personally being bothered by what that notorious final cutscene did or didn’t answer. I’d had an adventure, and now it was time for another one. Mass Effect games have always been peculiarly adept at entirely dominating my thinking for a while, but quickly enough something else always comes along to distract me. The concluding moments of the game remain a bone of contention for many, however, and so much so that it’s taken me nearly 700 words just to document the current state of the online debate.
I’ve avoided all direct spoilers and narrative details in the below, but there are a few oblique references to the manner in which the conclusion is presented which you might want to steer clear of if you’ve not finished the game.
Mr Cobbett has already laid out his problems with ME3’s ending – many of which are shared by a growing fan collective who have now donated an incredible $67,000 to charity Child’s Play as an admirably philanthropic display of their great discontent over the cutscenes. Mr Walker, by contrast, will be along later today to set out his case as to why he believes the ending(s) don’t deserve such fury.
Bioware and EA, meanwhile, have been a little flip-floppy about whether they’re taking the complaints seriously. Initial comments from ME3 lead Casey Hudson held that he deliberately wanted to polarise sentiments and leave mysteries hanging, while other Bioware brains later stepped into the fray to claim that they were listening to fan feedback and hint that it might lead to something.
Now, from Geoff Kieghly’s iPad app Mass Effect 3: Final Hours, it’s become clear that the ending went through a hell of a lot of chopping and changing, and wasn’t finalised until, if not quite the eleventh hour, then at least the tenth.
“In truth, the final bits of dialogue were debated right up until the end of 2011. Martin Sheen’s voice-over session for The Illusive Man, originally scheduled for August, was delayed until mid-November so the writers would have more time to finesse the ending.”
‘We basically made it up as went along’ is probably not what fans who’ve been invested in this story across three games wanted to hear. Then again, I’d take that over George Lucas pretending he always had a six-film masterplan for Star Wars any day. It does, though, present a possible explanation (but not, alas, justification) for why certain characters appeared to suddenly be in a completely different place to everyone else in the final moments, as well as potentially undermine the prevailing crazy ‘it was all a dream’ conspiracy theory.
A longer, more expository conclusion was originally planned, and would have gone further into the origins of the ME3 universe and the backstory of the Reapers, but in last-minute meetings at the end of 2011 Hudson and co ultimately settled on something which would require ‘lots of speculation’ in preference to explaining away the nature of their fictional universe. The question, I suppose, is whether they were successful in that.
In a new statement, Hudson is more conciliatory towards fans who felt closure was lacking, claiming that these concerns are “valid” after all. You should read the lot, evasive and vague as it may be, but the key part is this:
“Throughout the next year, we will support Mass Effect 3 by working on new content. And we’ll keep listening, because your insights and constructive feedback will help determine what that content should be. This is not the last you’ll hear of Commander Shepard.”
Hopefully he’s aware he’s playing with fire if he purely intends that to mean new DLC missions and whatnot inserted during ME3 rather than after (or, I suppose, just before) its divisive conclusion. Aggrieved players want footnotes and appendices detailing what happened to everyone and what the ultimate upshot of their decisions was, not additional side-content squeezed into the early and mid-game.
And some of them want it so much they’ve even filed a complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission, arguing that ME3’s finale doesn’t match up to what was promised by marketing. Good for them. I’m going to go and play another videogame now.