Mass Effect 3 is simultaneously the best and worst game in its series. It does almost everything right and yet at the same time have easily the worst climax to any Bioware game in the last five years. I’m not talking about the stuff surrounding the game either, this is without taking into account things like day one DLC you’re forced to pay for or being forced to install EA’s Origin spyware. This is purely from the aspects of the game and what you’re forced to do in it.
Now, to their credit, it seems like Bioware took a lot of previous criticism to heart rather than just ignoring it. They avoided problems from previous installments, let you have a much bigger impact on the universe, and allowed minor things to carry over into ME3 which made it feel like a true conclusion to the series. Even things people were dreading from their first appearance turned out well, Vega was a likable character, you’re not forced to recruit Jessica Chobot, many aspects were not dumbed down and the big battles aren’t brainless. The only criticisms were things which could be overlooked without too much of a problem and while not buying certain DLC does have negative impacts upon you this is primarily to tie up storylines. Plus it only reduced certain war assets rather than completely removing them.
What are war assets? The stuff you’re hunting in the game this time round, forces which range from ME2’s recruitable characters to war fleets which will assist you in fighting the reapers. These are mostly the rewards for certain missions and take the place of resource scanning; they’re certainly a hell of an improvement over that as well. Combined with the much improved combat, artistic approach to cutscenes and emotional delivery on par with the scenes from the Overlord DLC, this game looked like it was going to be the best in the series. Until the ending.
Sweet heaven, Mass Effect 3’s ending. This following section is going to be full of spoilers so if you don’t want to know its conclusion stop reading now, just be ready to be very disappointed in the last ten minutes of gameplay.
*** SPOILERS START***
Now, as you’d expect with a Bioware game the ending is heavily based upon a moral choice of sorts – the one which ultimately defines your character. Or at least that’s what it should have been. Instead you’re given the exact same ending three times with slightly differing consequences and events which happen no matter what choice you make.
In one you destroy the Reapers but at the cost of earth, in the other you take control of the Reapers but at the cost of all synthetic life, AIs and VIs; and in the third choice you perform some act which turns everything into cyber-organic beings which stops the Reapers somehow. After all of these the following happens – Shepard dies, the Normany crashes with no closure to your team and all the mass relays everywhere self-destruct as a result of your choice. Let’s go through this step by step:
Shepard dies. You know what, I’m fine with that, giving up his/her life in order to finally halt the Reapers is a good ending to the character and there are some situations in which he/she can survive. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
What there is something wrong with is the fate of the Normandy and your crew – the ship crashes on an unknown planet, a few people get out, look around and that’s it. No closure, no final ending for them or even a hint about what will happen to them in the future. Bioware games generally don’t give too much of a conclusion to their characters, but this was seriously lazy, and gives no hope for them. At the very least there should have been some hint they’d be rescued or perhaps even a page of text like in Dragon Age Origins, which tells you what happens to them later on. Just some small indication of what the hell happened to some of Bioware’s best written, best fleshed out icons. It’s not too much to ask for is it?
And finally – the relays exploding. Why. There was no reason to do this and it adds nothing to the story in any way. It’s nothing meaningful or any event which feels tacked on to insult the player, like Bioware has just gone “Nya-ha! There’s nothing you can do to change this, this is canon now and it’s all your fault!” Let’s consider all of the problems with this last part – the mass relays are vital to galactic space travel and civilization as a whole. Without them space lanes will collapse, lines of communication will break down and every planet will become an isolated fragment of civilization in the universe. This is effectively the dawn of a new galaxy wide dark age.
To make matters worse, almost all worlds were heavily damaged by Reaper attacks and had refugees swarming towards them en-mass as other planets were destroyed. All of the best leaders, scientists, ships and people vital to each race were at earth. So you have thousands of isolated, wrecked planets overcrowded with refugees and no way of contacting their leaders or support. Worlds which will likely collapse due to this stress and devolve into anarchy. They are also going to be cut off from supplies, so many worlds which would have needed shipments of food or fuels will now be starved of resources. These are things which are going to be a major problem for earth as the planet has thousands of ships from many species surrounding it, is in total ruins and has been noted to be resource starved. Ships which will almost certainly have been crippled by the detonations as in each ending we see the Normandy being fried and crashing after being caught in the shockwaves given off by the mass relays.
And all this? This is the best case scenario. There’s also two other things to consider, the first being the “dead” Reapers on each world.
We’ve seen two dead Reapers in the past games, one was Sovereign and the other a derelict you were forced to visit. Sovereign was completely torn to bits by concentrated fire from several fleets after having its mind destroyed while fighting Shepard through Saren – it was made “safe” as it was utterly dismembered and had its mind deleted. The derelict didn’t have this and in spite being supposedly dead was able to indoctrinate hundreds of humans without any conscious effort, bending them entirely to its will.
In the so-called good ending, there are dozens of Reaper corpses littering Earth and hundreds lying on worlds across the galaxy – ones completely capable of indoctrinating others and turning everyone nearby into its tools. The galaxy’s sentient races are very likely completely screwed over, as are any planets the Reapers took interest in and landed on en-mass. And finally there is the big issue – the explosions. In the Arrival DLC it was very firmly established that a mass relay exploding would go off with the force of a small supernova, wiping out any and all nearby worlds and everything in between them. Every single mass relay in the galaxy explodes as a result of the player’s actions, no matter which choice you make. You have quite possibly just done the Reapers’ job for them, not only wiping out every advanced sentient race in existence but also entire planets covered with unique bioforms. And the game railroads you into doing this, without any way no to get around this event.
Now, all of the above, that’s just the stuff which comes from the unavoidable last few minutes. You don’t even want to know how aneurysm inducingly stupid the few minutes prior to Shepard’s death are.
So that’s Mass Effect 3, great game – terrible ending. If it had a much better written last few minutes this would have easily been the best in the series, quite possibly Bioware’s best work to date. But it’s brought low by the same problem we had with Dragon Age 2; you can see the quality in it but the ending completely undercuts and wrecks every aspect of the game. Honestly, and it breaks my heart to say this, don’t buy it. Wait for the price to come down or for some DLC to be created which gives a much better ending and then get it. As it stands the game just isn’t worth paying full price for.
Now, for those of you who did hate the ending to ME3, I do have some good news. There’s a very good fan re-editing of the concluding moments which skips most of the stupidity. It’s not perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we got in the game, take a look if you’re one of the many who wanted something which felt like a conclusion to the trilogy.