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.