Analyzing the bad Mass Effect 3 ending
So, when you next head over to Amazon, but not right now, you will find a bunch of very negative reviews of Mass Effect 3. Apparently, there’s somewhat of a backlash going based the last 10 minutes of Mass Effect 3. It seems, though, that most gamers including myself have found the lead up to the ending reasonably enjoyable if not overly short. As I said in my previous article on this subject, it wasn’t until the very end where it all fell apart. So, I’m going to analyze why this ending sucked so much. Again, spoilers ahead so stop reading now if you want to play..
My Analysis of the Backlash
When you create a multi-part game, you have to keep in mind the goal and outcome for the final character. Players have invested substantial time into not only the story, but in building out their own character in that universe. At the same time, the story being built needs to slowly introduce new concepts along the way so we’re not surprised at the end by something unexpected. Unexpected is what we got from Mass Effect 3. Unfortunately too, it was the result of an Ex Deus Machina late addition to the story at the final few minutes of the game. In fact, the character that was introduced seemed added as afterthought, but at the same time didn’t fit at all within the concept of the game.
The Citadel Entity
This character was introduced in the final 10 minutes of the game. I’m actually fine with introducing characters, but not immortal, unkillable, omnipotent characters. Unfortunately, this is what we got from the entity on the Citadel. Why is this a problem? Omnipotent characters (characters with unlimited and extraordinary powers) can almost certainly not be defeated by an ordinary human. However, assuming that Shepard was rebuilt from both machine and man, he might have been able to overcome his human side and fulfill that destiny. Unfortunately, though, the game designers also decided to make this character as a spirit and immortal. How do we know he’s immortal? He clearly explains that he has gone through this cycle multiple times in the galaxy. That is, wiping organics out and letting them flourish back. How do we know he’s omnipotent? He also admitted that he’s the one who builds the reapers… from humans! Basically, he subjugates the humans into becoming reapers to do his bidding. So, unless there’s a reaper factory out there turning humans into reapers, he’s got some severely fantastical powers.
The entity also states he’s living ‘in’ the Citadel, for whatever that means. There’s nothing that says he can’t live somewhere else, though. So, even if the Citadel structure may be destroyed, that doesn’t mean the entity will be destroyed also.
The Real Enemy
Actually, this wasn’t even discussed and should have been. Once Shepard reaches the Citadel and begins getting the full story from the entity, it should have been clear as glass. The reaper threat paled next to the threat that this entity poses. If this entity is truly at the bottom of the whole reaper invasion and if he can make them at will and do it time and time again throughout eons, then nothing that Shepard can do with the Crucible will have any effect on that entity. Basically, killing the reapers was completely and utterly futile. The entity can wait an infinite amount of time to start his task over again. He simply needs to wait past everyone who remembers the Shepard era, rebuild the reapers (perhaps even ironically out of Shepard, Chakwas and other crew members) and have these new reapers start the cycle over.
That the writers completely failed to see the danger that this entity poses and, worse that they failed to let Shepard recognize it is a serious lack of judgement. Any person who is military trained would have clearly spotted the danger that this entity poses, specifically after hearing this entity’s explanation. Of course, if this entity is truly omnipotent, he could have been playing with Shepard’s mind and making him believe and do as he wished. So, Shepard may not have been able to control his own actions against this entity. And that’s the number one problem with using an immortal omnipotent being in any story.
This is a total cop-out method for story closure. It means that the writers did not have enough confidence in their own abilities to write a satisfying conclusion and instead had to rely on a ‘trick’ to pull off the end. That ‘trick’ cost them their review status on Amazon and severely damaged this franchise’s reputation, probably permanently. EA/Bioware will be lucky if they can salvage this franchise for any use after this.
Can this be fixed?
That’s debatable. Possibly. However, it will take the writers to venture again into Ex Deus Machina territory to explain off the previous ending as nothing more than a mirage, illusion, dream sequence or other type of fantasy. The one way I can even hope to see it work at all is by using the time when Shepard goes unconscious just after the ground reaper attack, but before he crawls to the portal. That’s the time right before meeting the omnipotent immortal entity. This could be explained off as simply as Shepard was fished from the surface of the planet in a coma and allowed to wake up. Basically, the entire ending was simply a coma dream. He simply fantasized it all because he wanted it to be over.
This would allow three things. One, it will completely get rid of the immortal omnipotent entity from the story line (a totally unnecessary Ex Deus Machina character introduced way too late and without any previous setup). Two, it allows the writers to completely regroup and come up with an actual ending that works. It also allows EA/Bioware to continue this entire story into Mass Effect 4. Three, even though using a ‘dream sequence’ is about as Ex Deus Machina as you can get, it does fit with ME3’s setup just enough that it could work. The entire game kept revolving around Shepard’s dreams of chasing a boy. So, the boy omnipotent entity could have simply been an extension of those dreams during his coma.
The trouble is, you can’t do this setup in ME3 at all. It has to be done in ME4. So, this will leave the fans hanging on this bad ending quite for some time before ME4 comes into existence. So, the problem is solved and Mass Effect 4 can continue. But, how to undo the reputation issues quickly? EA/Bioware will need to leak details of ME4 very very soon. Specifically, a video trailer to YouTube that shows Shepard waking up from his Coma, then some short dialog about what happened and an even shorter explanation that he never made it into the Citadel that gets immediately cut off by an explosion rocking the Normandy and off to work they go.
Of course, the reapers still need to be stopped as the relays are still active. This could also lead into a very active opening for Mass Effect 4 and would allow Shepard to jump immediately into action to stop the heavy reaper invasion already in play. So, he can’t remain in a coma very long or the Galaxy would be consumed by the huge reaper attack. They’ll need Chakwas to find a way to snap him out of it really fast. Note that this also means that the Elusive Man is still alive.