Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mulling the Mass Effect Ending OR: How I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the ending

The below was (mostly) written prior to the release of the ‘Extended Cut DLC’, I have also provided some follow up thoughts on the way the reworking has been handled.
In the period since the release of Mass Effect has been released much has been made of the ending either for or against, mostly the latter, of course, or at least more of the latter are making themselves heard.
That is neither here nor there in the end, the game ended how it ended and I would be thoroughly satisfied if it was left at that (obligatory potential spoiler warning).

Watch out they're coming to destroy the ending!
Image from (Bioware Attributed Image)

This whole saga essentially proves what people have known for a while, gamers have the feeling that they are entitled to get what they want in a product. No other creative medium would the adoring (or not so adoring) public demand a rewrite, could you imagine Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg being demanded to recut their films because of fan demand (some would argue the possibly should have at times, and even George Lucas who is quite prone to a recut, has never done so at fan’s request…it’s always self serving and for his vision which by now that vision is more than questionable), it beggars belief that Bioware would lack the confidence in their vision and actually comply with these near rabid fans.

The main issue seems to be that the endings didn’t take into account your choices throughout the series, and let’s face it, it doesn’t. That’s not a fault that’s a vision, one of those ones that does matter. This game had to end. No trickery just a statement of fact, it had to reach a pinnacle all the story lines had to converge to one point. What my belief is that these people wanted an option where it was sunshine and roses, Shepard lived and we could continue making choices, like whether he retired to Neptune’s 2nd largest moon or spent his retirement hanging out in seedy bars continually picking up girlfriends (or boyfriends, no discrimination here).

In case you missed all 3 games, it’s a pretty bleak scenario; the Reapers are harvesting parts of whole civilisations and destroying the rest. It was pretty obvious that there was some sacrifice was going to be made. The ending basically boils down to the same choices you make in every scenario, a paragon, a renegade and a somewhere in the middle solution, which like all your previous actions, have consequences to others, it’s just that Shepard has basically one way he can go to save life in the universe, the ultimate sacrifice.
And major plotlines actually do take into account all your choices and wrap up those major plotlines elegantly. Does it tie directly into the ending, well no, but to have consistent plot lines running through the 60 to 90 hours these games could potentially last for, it is an astonishing feat and to be tied up so convincingly is an impressive feat, and I know that when I lost a potential war asset because of choices I’ve made not just in the third instalment but the first and second too.

 Others have complaints about the lack of exposition, with consequences to those friends that we held near and dear, which I guess ties back in to the above point as well. To be honest I wouldn’t be a fan of the campy 5 years later…’Wrex retired to Omega 5 after the war, and still looking for love and a cure for the genophage’. I could see the collective roll their eyes at that one, ultimately does it matter? This has and always has been Shepard’s Story, the team members ultimately tools to make your life easier, sure we grew to love some of them and loathe others but ultimately what happened to them doesn’t matter, you sacrificed yourself so they could live, ultimately giving further context wouldn’t give any more impression that your choices mattered, maybe I hated Wrex and only grudgingly let him survive to the third game, because he seemed to be the most useful way for my game to progress, I’m so upset that he’s living peacefully on Omega 5, see how this works? In fact this leads to a weird case where Bioware were never going to win, regardless of what loose ends they did or didn’t tie up there would have been someone who wasn’t happy with this thread or another wound up. It’s arguably a problem that games have over any other medium, we’ve all spent 60 plus hours shaping and moulding the character, he is part written character, part avatar for each individual, it’s hard not to feel invested, that this is really our story not written by a group of people in a room halfway across the world, writing not only to make a great product, but to fill out their own vision.

A possible concession is that the game does try to cram in a lot of information into the last 5 to 10 minutes that had not been previously alluded to. That’s fine, ultimately I do agree. The revelations could have potentially been dolled out through the game through information that you pick up as you finish major questlines but on the whole I’m Okay with it too. The ending is a point that no other civilisation has reached, it’s fairly reasonable to assume that no one else had this information to dispense, either. I’ll be the first to concede that it is all just a little bit hokey, that some of the justification of the Reapers seems a little nonsensical, why didn’t they start the cycle with the emergence of the geth? Why wasn’t the failure of this current cycle be explained? It raises more questions than answers, yet it still fits, not every story needs to be explained in detail and sometimes leaving you wanting more is better rather than crapping on in 4 hour cut scenes to wrap every last detail.
Mystical super holo-program or convenient hole filler? 

Ultimately the caving of Bioware to the outcry of disgruntled fans makes all my arguments a moot point; sure it’s not a new, reworked ending, which I am glad there was not a capitulation to the wants of the vocal minority. Instead we get some extra scenes, which ‘add context’ so perhaps those 4 hour cut scenes are abound after all.    

Addendum: The Extended Cut was actually everything I wanted to be, considering that it was decided 'it' must exist. I am extremely pleased that they stuck to their guns and the outcomes are essentially the same. It gives greater context to why the reapers are destroying and why your choices are what they are. It also even manages to give the finger to those who said the original 3 choices are not in line with the character they built, well guess what deciding against all those gets you? That’s right by refusing to choose you actually destroy all advanced civilisations, puts these decisions into context doesn’t it?
Maybe it reveals that this game is about sacrifices, doing things for the greater good not about crafting your character as you like, how quickly people forget that the decisions you made were always constrained in one way or another.
All in all the ending stays true to the vision (making some points in my above ramblings essentially moot) while still adding to both the mythology of the Mass Effect universe and providing greater context to why these decisions are set out before you.
All in all these are great ways to wrap to wrap up the series whether you stick with the original ending or go with the extended cut (despite my earlier reservations).

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