This article contains spoilers regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3.
You have been warned.
Earlier today I wrote a post on my initial reactions to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Now, I want to dive in to the controversy, the fan reactions, BioWare's response, and my own personal thoughts on the whole matter.
Let's start with the fan reaction to the ending.
A few days after Mass Effect 3 hit shelves, some of the more dedicated ME fans began to voice their complaints regarding the final moments and ultimate ending to the game. They were upset, and they were vocal. As the days wore on, the ME fanbase grew more vocal as more and more people crossed the finish line of the game, and it's safe to say "the majority" were displeased to say the least. Fans took to the internet in force, tweets were sent, Facebook posts were published, blog posts went up, communities were formed. Unfortunately, this initial outcry quickly turned nonconstructive, with one fan even filing a false advertising complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. To add gasoline to the fire, many video game news sites were quick to call out these fans as being a bunch of entitled crybabies.
Having not finished the game, I was of the thought that perhaps the ME fan community was overreacting. Now having finished the game, I now know what all of the frustration was about - though, still not handled in a mature and constructive way by some in my opinion. BioWare stayed relatively quiet, but standing behind their product, but eventually the fan feedback was too much to ignore. Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare posted this to the BioWare blog a few days ago:
Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received. This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.
There are numerous theories out there regarding the ending to ME3. Some argue that BioWare simply didn't know how to wrap up their epic trilogy and dropped the ball in wrapping up their story. Others say that the ending was changed after a script for the game was leaked and a few individuals rewrote the ending without input from the staff. Then there's the prominent theory that the ending to the game was a battle taking place in Shepard's mind as he fought the indoctrination process of the Reapers, and the evidence to support this theory is stacking up - but more on this in a moment.
In my previous post, I pointed out many of the things I found confusing and nonsensical. I could take the time to write up an entire separate post on this, but someone has already done a great job of that. After completing the game, I had so many questions and frustrations, this Google Doc does a great job breaking down what I -and I'm sure most others- feel to be all of the major inconsistencies, plot holes, and just plain problems with the ending. It's well written, factual, and isn't meant to be malicious or fanboy bitching. If you've finished the game, I suggest giving it a read.
I knew what my frustrations and points of disappointment were with the ending, but now I wanted some damn answers. I began scouring the internet and came across a gentleman by the name of Paul Tassi, who is a freelance writer for Forbes, and his numerous posts on all of this ME3 ending business, and to say he got me thinking is an understatement. On particular article, "Did the Real Mass Effect 3 Ending Go Over Everyone's Heads?", contains a video about 20 minutes in length, illustrating most of the evidence for the indoctrination theory.
This video, along with Tassi's commentary (including additional commentary in later articles) started to form a narrative that made sense. Why would BioWare end such an amazing story with three basic endings (Control, Synthesize, Destroy) that took into account none of the decisions previously made by the player throughout all three games? Not to mention these endings are all essentially the same animations, just with different colored effects. There's also the fact that the ending separates itself from the entire Mass Effect universe so greatly, it's baffling. BioWare's staff spent so much time developing this universe and it's backstories -right down to a history for every single planet in the galaxy of the game- why would they end the game with a "space magic" cop out? It makes little to no sense.
Momentum is growing for this indoctrination theory, and many believe that Mass Effect 3 isn't actually over and that the "true" ending to this game has been withheld to be released later as DLC. Afterall, in the final seconds of my play-through my Shepard is shown awakening in the rubble of London with a gasp for air. How did he end up back in London after being on the Citadel as it blew up in low orbit over Earth? The answer seems to be he was never on the Citadel and everything that took place from the moment he "awoke" from the blast from the Reaper, Harbinger, was a struggle playing out in his head to fight the indoctrination process. A fight that had to happen eventually since he has spent so much time around, in, fighting, and handling Reaper technology. I really believe the war is not yet over, and there is still a final battle to take place to ultimately save the galaxy (or not) from the Reaper-lead extinction of all life in the galaxy.
So where does this leave the fans and BioWare now? Well, there is always a chance that this ending really was intended to be the actual end to the trilogy and fans have had their voices heard, evident by the statement from BioWare's co-founder. If this is the case, then this indoctrination theory is simply something that fans have come up with in response to their disappointment with the bookend of an otherwise amazing trilogy of games. If that's the case though, BioWare has been presented with an exceptional opportunity to take this fan-made theory and run with it, claiming that "Yes! This was the plan all along!" If it turns out that the fans supporting this theory are right, and BioWare had this planned all along, then fans are still going to be upset, but will hopefully still get the closure they are looking for. Why will fans be upset? Because this will mean that BioWare deliberately withheld the ending of their incredibly popular Mass Effect trilogy to release it later as DLC - DLC that's safe to assume would cost us, the fans, more money. If you bought all of the Mass Effect games at face value, bought all of the additional DLC for the two previous games, and now are "forced" to pay even more to get the "true" ending to the game you'll have spent over $200 total for this experience. Frankly, this is a price I wouldn't mind paying considering the quality, but to get all the way to the end and seemingly try to squeeze another few dollars from your fans is a poor decision to have made in the first place. To reference Paul Tassi again, he believes some face may be able to be saved by releasing the DLC for the actual ending to the game for free, I tend to agree, but fans will still know what the true intentions were and BioWare may lose a lot of fans for this move.
As I layed down my controller after choosing to destroy the Reapers and watched the ending moments of Mass Effect 3 play out, I was not angry. I was disappointed and frustrated. The Mass Effect trilogy is an amazing sci-fi adventure that holds up to any of the great sci-fi stories told in all mediums, and a major part of what makes this such a great video game is the fact that the story is yours. You make all of the big decisions at all of the major plot points and your decisions and story resulting from them carry over across three games and one sweeping narrative. These decisions you make will have repercussions across the entire Mass Effect universe, and to not provide the player with any sort of closure or epilogue illustrating the impacts your decisions have made is not a very fulfilling way to end such an involved story.
Personally, I know there are a lot of decisions I made throughout the game I was sure there were going to be repercussions for later on, or at least be expanded on in some sort of epilogue on how these decisions affected the universe going forward. I was disappointed to not see any of this play out, I was frustrated to think that BioWare lacked the foresight to think the players would want to have an ending to their game that somehow took into account all the decisions they made as they weaved their own story and legacy through the Mass Effect universe.
I know that the indoctrination theory could prove to be a case of disappointed fans looking for something that just isn't there. BioWare could release some DLC expanding on the ending and take it in a direction that no one sees coming, pleasing some fans, further disappointing others. However, there is just too much evidence to support this theory for it all to be coincidental, and if it is, then I agree with my friend, and fellow BSR contributor and Mass Effect fan, Senador Kooch, when he said to me earlier today, "I'm having a hard time not believing what they did was intentional to make people think and to set the stage for DLC. If you have odds that great at accidentally being successful, you should be playing the lottery!" If the DLC that eventually comes out proves this indoctrination theory to be true, we will never really know if the folks at BioWare came up with a genius ending for their story, but made the shady decision to withhold the true ending to be released later as DLC, or if this was something that the fans made up in our heads and BioWare jumped on it as an opportunity to please the fans and give them the ending they were hoping for.
I understand there are a lot of thoughts and feelings out there when it comes to this discussion of the ending to Mass Effect, and I welcome all comments, theories, thoughts and commentary you may have on the issue. All I ask is for you to keep it civil as you sound off in the comments section below!