The Mass Effect 3 ending: Why it is vital to the future health of games that BioWare not change it

Consider this. Mass Effect is frequently referred to as the Star Wars of video games. And it’s a fine comparison. Both are epic space operas. Both take place in beautifully-realised, fully fleshed-out, universe with centuries of history. Both have elements reviled by their fan bases. But consider this also: Star Wars’ reality is so rich and fully-formed that it has been able to support so much expanded-universe content that there’s way, way more for fans to explore and enjoy beyond the movies and their various successes and failings. And they do. And so too can be the case with Mass Effect.

Above: Fans didn't give up on Star Wars just because of this guy

Post ME3, there is a vast amount that Mass Effect could do with DLC. There are so many places to go, so many points in history to explore, that the possibilities are dizzyingly exciting. And to do so would be great not only for Mass Effect, but for DLC as a whole. There’s been a worrying move of late for games to be released with unfinished narratives, only to be completed by way of extra paid content. Alan Wake, I’m particularly looking at you. By adopting the Star Wars model, Mass Effect could set a new, much better precedent for narrative single-player DLC, using it to expand and enrich its world and story in new directions rather than to hamstring the development of the core game, as others do. Mafia II and Deus Ex: Human Revolution have done great expanded and parallel narrative work in DLC over recent years, but Mass Effect could make real, fundamental changes to the way single-player DLC works. 

BioWare will already have a post-trilogy DLC plan for Mass Effect. That I can almost guarantee. They’ll have had it for years. And whether that plan includes the sort of thing I’m discussing here or not, the potential of what a special case like Mass Effect could achieve in this area is huge. And to renege on that potential for the sake of tying DLC to the main story post-completion in order to appease a bunch of grumblers would be a vast waste. The Matrix sequels were crap, but their crapness wasn’t the biggest tragedy. The biggest tragedy was that a concept so huge and open to almost infinite interpretations was tied to a single linear trilogy following a single narrative path.

Above: A million times better than Keanu Reeves having a wanky conversation with Colonel Sanders

We got hints of what could have been, through the excellent Animatrix anime anthology, as well as some works of official short fiction, but they tantalised with what we could have had as much as they satisfied and stimulated us with what they delivered. Yes, BioWare could concentrate on changing what has already been and gone in order to appease an angry minority, but Mass Effect can achieve so, so much more by looking to future possibilities instead.

And one more point before I go. One more point to explain why a changed ending won’t do anyone any good. Because there’s a simple but fundamental issue here that those demanding a new ending seem too blinded by rage and self-importance to see. If the complainers should get what they wish, it won’t be what they want at all. Because the process of consuming someone else’s story and the process of creating your own are very, very different.

Above: Speaking of creating your own, Matt created loads. Check out 'Mass Effect 3: Not happy with the ending? Choose one of these 20 alternative endings instead'

In a recent blog post to the Take Back Mass Effect campaign, organiser Robb stated that “You have been heard. Now it is time to make sure they get the details right”. Arrogant as that statement may be, it also completely misunderstands the author/audience relationship. You see the thing is, if this community demands an ending of its own specifications, as Robb implies it will, and if BioWare do deliver that, then experiencing that ending will be an utterly hollow experience.

There will be no surprise. There will be no stimulation of thought. There will be no sense of wonder. There will be only the empty, ego-massaging victory that comes from having someone else bend to one’s will. Because if the complainers write their own ending and have it delivered in-game, all they’ll see on screen is what they’ve already seen in their own heads a hundred times over. And if that’s all they’re going to get out of the experience, they might as well bugger off and write some fan-fiction. They’ll save everyone a whole lot of wasted time that way, and allow the series they claim to love to achieve far more than their blinkered self-absorption currently seems to want it to. 

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  • THEBIGJ3 - May 31, 2012 2:28 a.m.

    Can everyone stop F**king moaning about having the PAY for stuff!! So what you PAID for Mass Effect 3! You paid for the sodding game! All 40+ hours of it, not the bloody ending!!!! If you are so poor that PAYING for the game has caused you great financial upset, PAY for it second hand! Jesus some of you people PISS me off...
  • Atreides - April 26, 2012 7:10 a.m.

    I haven't read this article, or the ending, so apparently I'm fully qualified to comment on it. I also feel that it's vital to the future health of the restaurant industry that a chef never takes back a meal after a customer complaint. He is after all an artist and therefore knows best whether or not to make turd mousse as the dessert. He obviously knows what he is doing, since the rest of the meal was great. Nevermind that the meal was advertised as being turd-free.
  • FoxSOW - April 20, 2012 6:42 p.m.

    False article is false. All of these arguments have been disproved by other journalistic entities such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. Sorry GR, you're wrong.
  • fault3 - April 19, 2012 3:16 p.m.

    lol... this is so funny. of course a guy who gets all his games for free can write an article like this. we other people on the other hand,who pay alot of money for our games,maybe we feel cheated? + one big thing in the ending.. WHY is normandy in hyperspace?? wtf is up with that???
  • kodesy - April 17, 2012 11:59 a.m.

    Consider this, most of the games you remember as being the best games you've ever played are probably older games. Games from an era BEFORE the consumer had any real say in the development. As a lifelong gamer who has been a complete devotee of every console generation that I have lived through, I feel as though I can say with conviction that I have watched the industry succumb to the masses. I remember the days of the SNES and the original Playstation where there were plenty of amazing RPGs being released regularly and they were fantastic games. Then shooters became insanely popular because there is less reading and depth involved, just point, shoot, blow shit up, just has to look pretty and the story won't matter. RPGs fell into near obscurity and now rarely even appear on the radar other than with a few exceptions. Until, of course, they combined it with a shooter. I love the Mass Effect series, but it is still a hybrid that is almost blasphemy to RPGs. These days, the vast majority of top selling games are shooters. It's sad that the survival of RPGs depended on attributes from shooters. There isn't a traditional RPG in existence these days that sells nearly as well as any of the "Action-RPGs". A genre that also includes The Elder Scrolls so it can't even be used in rebuttal. Elder Scrolls is also guilty of capitalizing on the trend with the first person perspective it relies on (how dare I, right?). Yes, Elder Scrolls have always been first person, but that's exactly the issue. Skyrim sold somewhere around 3.5 million copies in 2 days at launch time. Modern Warfare 3 on the other hand, about 6.4 million one day. Now, thinking of how two of the top three highest selling games of last year are both first person perspective (thus appearing similar and now gaining the attention of some of the folks playing CoD that never would've considered playing an RPG before) and the third is a dancing "game" many people do you think would be playing Skyrim if it wasn't first person and it was turn based? Less than half, I'm certain of it. Skyrim wouldn't even have made the top ten list. Even Final Fantasy (a legendary stalwart of RPGs, as you all know) is pandering now, becoming an "Action-RPG" as well. Games are losing their individuality and are slowly being assimilated into one ball of crap. P.S. Mass Effect 3 DOES have a sub-par ending in my opinion as well, but as gamers, you should've known it was a possibility. The last of a series is always hated on by many for some reason, regardless of medium. It's much easier to leave a story on a cliff-hanger with a "To be continued" than it is to depict a defintive conclusion. I didn't enjoy the ending either, but changing it calls artistic integrity into question...You're not going to ask a painter to change his final work, are you? Also, to say video games are not "art" in their own respect is extremely bold in an age where f**cking SKRILLEX is considered an "artist". In games, someone has to write the story, someone has to draw and render the characters...nay, saying they aren't art isn't a bold thing to say, its foolish and uninformed. If entertainers can be considered "artists" by programming a beat, sampling SOMEONE ELSES'S music, etc. then gaming is a whole league of it's own. Character design, motion capturing, composing the soundtrack, narrative, a$$ games aren't an art form!
  • antonus-youngblood - April 16, 2012 6:39 a.m.

    Written like someone who hasn't experienced the ending. First of all, it wouldn't be changing the ending, as much as it would be completing it. I will not go into details, as I do not want to spoil it, but the ending, if taken literal, contradicts key parts of the story. How does one maintain integrity, when fans can point out at least 3 different plot holes? Also, not caving to give fans what they want, which is a complete ending. You think this is a bad thing? So fans should have to deal with a lackluster effort and be expected to pay? I, for one, know that if they do not complete the ending (because it is obviously incomplete), will not be buying any other Mass Effect titles. It's one thing to give a bad ending, it's another thing to ignore crucial details of your own story and expect fans to deal with it.
  • tedsini - April 14, 2012 10:32 p.m.

    Disagree entirely. Changing the ending of ME3 would set an EXCELLENT precedent; one which empowers gamers everywhere. It has nothing to do with artistic vision - this is mass media, not fine art. Changing ME3 is not akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, it's more like extending a TV show after it has been cancelled by the network. Once the network gets thousands of letters supporting a particular show, it may decide to give it another year to bend to public opinion. TV has no trouble giving viewers what they want. Ditto for popular music, film (most film, anyway), sports and even politics. Wherever you have a media-driven industry or institution, public opinion will ALWAYS matter, and there's nothing wrong with that. I know that people who write about the gaming industry (I won't call them journalists, because in most instances it would be insulting to journalists) like to think that they are covering an artistic medium, but in truth, video games are entertainment for the masses and only the very best games ever come close to "Art" and then only in brief increments. There is NOTHING wrong with giving people what they want The people have spoken very clearly on this issue, and they are not just a few whining fanboys. How insulting. Oh wait, Dave's a "journalist" so it's OK to insult his readership. Pthfwp! Epic fail on this article.
  • tamiko-sora - April 3, 2012 2:35 a.m.

    Quotation from Dave: We’re at a stage of gaming’s development right now when storytelling ambition, technology and delivery techniques are bursting out in a whole stack of exciting new directions. Interactive narrative and creative experimentation are making breakthroughs all the time, and it feels like we’re finally at the dawn of a new era for games. Well THAT definitely is an illusion. Not only concerning ME3. Players wrote: That's true the fact that the decision you made didn't change the ending much. That to your idea of future gaming. In my opinion it is not the ending of ME3 what makes people mad. It is the expectation which were awoken by the developers and by comments like yours which disappoint us gamers a lot. I still can hear all the important people saying: "We will revolutionize gaming!" during the release of next gen consoles. And what do we really have? Better graphics with worse storytelling. All the promises from developers and publishers are arrogant and lead to nothing but disappointment.
  • james-collar - April 2, 2012 11:14 a.m.

    I agree with him completely, and while I have finished all 3 games, I find the fact that he hasn't to not matter. He's right. I have problems with Mass Effet's ending, however I agree that to change it would set a horrible precedent. All that we can do is hope Bioware learns that this type of ending is not something players want, and improve in the future. But, changing it due to public outcry would be detrimental to the gaming industry as a whole. Please, everyone who is mad about the ending of ME3, I understand but please think about what this author is saying, and if you look past your hatred at EA/Bioware over ME3, you should be able to see that this author is correct in his assessment. In closing, I say to the author... Get crackin' man! Even if you don't like the ending as we do, the series overall is truly one of the best trilogy of games ever!
  • Lurchibald - April 2, 2012 1:49 p.m.

    As has been said many times before, Bethesda changing the Fallout 3 ending due to public outcry totally FUBAR'd the gaming industry and its creative freedom... oh wait, it didn't....
  • Atreides - April 26, 2012 7:11 a.m.

    Exactly. And they went on to sell a lot of DLC in the process. Let's see home much Mass Effect DLC gets sold with this ending.
  • Tricky69 - April 1, 2012 12:20 p.m.

    @samsneeze. For someone who thinks there's more important things going on in the world you sure as shit spend a lot of time fucking commenting and arguing. I thought you woud have gone to Africa to save the children by now.
  • bilstar - April 1, 2012 2:41 a.m.

    Changing an ending is crazy. It's just madness.
  • viberunner - March 31, 2012 10:51 a.m.

    "I haven't played the game but I know it's important the ending remains unchanged" This is what the author is, who the author is. He does not make a case for Bioware's ending - he makes a case that suggests one should not make a comment on an complicated issue without at least understanding it. Until he has spend £150 on games and DLC and spend perhaps 250 hours playing the games, he can't even do an "I RECKON". All he can suggest is "I RECKON I RECKON". HE HASN'T EVEN ++PLAYED++ THE GAMES BUT HE'S CALLING ++OTHER++ PEOPLE'S VIEWS "KNEE-JERK". The author wins the "unintended irony" award of the week. The game industry is famous for cop-out and poor endings of games. It's bad enough when it's just one, linear, game. This is a story-rich, choice-rich, trilogy that does such a poor ending the out-cry is entirely justified - indeed, it's magnificent to behold. If only more poorly-ended games had such an outcry we would get better endings to games. Perhaps. The out-cry of the Mass Effect ending is entirely justified. It's even kind of strange. The ending of Mass Effect 2 was pretty good (I thought) and the ending of Mass Effect 1 was staggering - one of the best endings of a game ever produced. "To [change the ending] would give the impression of admitting a lack of faith in its own world staff." No, it's not lack of faith. Faith is what you have ++BEFORE++ the productions starts. What changing the ending now would do is give the proof (not impression) that the staff at Bioware got it ++BADLY WRONG++. And they did. They got it WRONG. Badly wrong. And once the author has played through the series he'll know just how true that statement is. Until then, his advice is just KNEE-JERK BOOT-LICKING (if you'll forgive the catachresis).
  • ithurtstopoop - March 31, 2012 3:38 p.m.

    but on the other hand, dave is really cute
  • Cloakedvengance - March 30, 2012 1:33 p.m.

    Well I for one support this article. A great example to me would be the series of books that Game of Thrones is based on (A Song of Ice and Fire) I have spent hundreds of hours reading those books and comics and now watching the tv show spanning over the past 7 years and still have 2 more books yet to be released, I have a vision in my head already of how I'd like it to end but the complexity & scale of the books mean I'm unlikely to get it, but will I be on forums whining and demanding George RR Martin change it? Hell No! It is his story and he can end it how ever he wants just as Bioware can end ME3 however they like, if they have lied about it and broken promises then shame on them, but it doesn't give anyone the right to demand a new ending.
  • Lurchibald - March 31, 2012 2:42 a.m.

    Oh, so you actively control the main protagonist and are actively told that what you do will effect the outcome in GoT? What's that? No? Then that analogy is really gorram stupid.
  • viberunner - March 31, 2012 10:56 a.m.

    Imagine if JRRM ended Song of Ice and Fire with Daenerys Targaryen being killed by a shotgun blast from a time-travelling Elvis impersonator and Made-Man from a time-travelling New Jersey Mafia family. That would be JRRM's right. It would also suck. Welcome to Mass Effect 3.
  • CerebralAssassination - March 29, 2012 11:13 a.m.

    nice article. totally agree
  • CerebralAssassination - March 29, 2012 11:19 a.m.

    Not really lol. I was having trouble posting so I used the dummy post above to see what the problem was. Anyways, to everyone supporting David, take a look at 2 of his "high-horse" articles. I tried posting the links but something kept going wrong. One is about David urging gamers to stand united against the flaws of a game (Skyrim PS3 version) instead of fighting amongst each other. The second has him urging people to not blindly support a game company (Bethesda) and simply accept or ignore the flawed games it produces (again Skyrim PS3 version). By now, it should be clear that David is either just trying to incite a flame war and generate a lot of hits on his article (just like the Dark Souls vs Skyrim article in IGN) or is just a hypocritical douchebag. You decide. Or not. Keep on blindly supporting him. Just thought I'd point out the obvious.