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"Mass Effect 3" (2012): Why Fans Hated the Ending


Ash has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.

Promotional art of Commander Shepard.

Promotional art of Commander Shepard.

After playing the remaster of the Mass Effect trilogy, I stopped at the end of Mass Effect 2 when I realized that Mass Effect 3 would be impossible to play without mods (or else I'd have a nervous breakdown). So I went back to the original trilogy and did a playthrough with mods.

My favorite mods for Mass Effect 3 are the Miranda + Femshep romance mod (because I find Miranda's arc more satisfying when she romances Shepard, even if she gets dumped by the commander), Anderson's Extended Dialogue Mod (for the conversation right before Anderson dies), some mods that fix Shepard's annoying nightmares and remove the kid, and several ending mods that change the ending significantly for the better.

These mods include MEHEM, JAM, and CEM (The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod, JohnP's Alternative MEHEM, and the Citadel Epilogue Mod, which allows you to play the Citadel DLC as the post-ending wrap-up of the game, with Shepard alive and well and having defeated the Reapers).

What prompted me to write this article (which has been a long time coming) is the fact that I got to the end of Mass Effect 3, and as Shepard said her last goodbyes to Liara . . . tears slipped out of my eyes. It then finally clicked for me why I (and so many other fans) absolutely hated and continue to hate the ending of Mass Effect 3:

There is zero emotional payoff.

The Star Brat

A fanmade render of Shepard kicking the Star Kid.

A fanmade render of Shepard kicking the Star Kid.

A lot of fans (myself included) really hated the kid who appears in the opening scenes of Mass Effect 3, largely because it felt as if BioWare was trying to emotionally manipulate fans into caring about Earth through this one, random, annoying kid. This despite the fact that Shepard has dealt with a lot worse than seeing a kid die.

It was a weak attempt to make us care about Earth, and it might have been handwaved if it had been confined to the game's prologue. Instead, Shepard, who has a thousand things more worthy of her nightmares, becomes obsessed with this one kid for the duration of the game.

Shepard has seen the horrors of war, watched friends die, possibly even saw her family die on Mindoir or her entire unit slaughtered by a Thresher Maw, and yet, she's haunted by this one kid? It's absurd. Most fans hated the poor attempt at emotional manipulation to the point that a few mods have cropped up over the years, modifying Shepard's nightmares so that she focuses on more important things that Shepard and the player should actually care about: the Virmire Sacrifice (Kaidan/Ashley), Saren, seeing humans get liquified during the events of Mass Effect 2, and any other number of atrocities Shepard has dealt with.

The end-game Star Kid.

The end-game Star Kid.

BioWare pushed things a little too far with the Star Brat. Instead of confining the boy's death to the prologue, they used him to try and manipulate us into caring about Earth through Shepard's nightmares. And on top of that, players get to the end of the game only to discover the Catalyst is a Reaper construct that is also using the kid from the prologue to manipulate us.

Because the Star Brat is so annoying, he robs us of any good feelings we should be having about the ending of the game. Instead, we just feel irritated that he is showing up once again, this time not only to manipulate us, but also to contradict the established lore with a huge information dump.

It was . . . infuriating.

Contradicted Lore Galore

The original Destroy ending.

The original Destroy ending.

The Star Brat presents us with three options: Control, Destroy, or Synthesis. These three options contradict everything we've been told for three games, which is a large reason why the more lore-obsessed fans of the trilogy were pissed about the ending.

We are consistently shown across three games that Control is an option that cannot succeed, namely through Cerberus, who tries numerous times to control the Reapers, only to wind up getting indoctrinated every time. And yet, we get to the end of the game and are told the Illusive Man was right the entire time and that Shepard should try controlling the Reapers. . . Argh.

Synthesis is pushed as the ultimate and correct ending, yet we are also told that Synthesis is an option that cannot succeed in that the differences of the galaxy's races are actually a strength, not a weakness. "Nature demands diversity" is a saying repeated often throughout Mass Effect 2, both by important characters like Mordin and trivial characters like that guy who cleans the water on the presidium.

We are told over and over that diversity is good and should be embraced, that it's a strength and that the races should and can coexist in peace, only to get to the end of the game to hear that it's impossible, that the only way for peace to happen is if everyone's the same! If this was the case, then why have Shepard bust her butt for three games trying to unite the galaxy? It makes Shepard's efforts across the trilogy seem futile if she's just going to make everyone the same in the end anyway. It also directly contradicts the game's theme, which is that the races of the galaxy are stronger when they stand together despite their differences, something Admiral Hackett even straight-up states during his end-game narration.

The Normandy flees during the Destroy ending.

The Normandy flees during the Destroy ending.

And lastly, the Destroy ending, the only correct ending, also contradicts the established narrative in that it tells us it's impossible for synthetics and organics to get along, despite the fact that Shepard can actually build peace between the geth and the quarians, and despite the fact that EDI has worked willingly with organics for two games.

Choosing the Destroy ending and being told it's wrong is like a slap in the face when we've been told for three games that it's our objective and the only way to resolve the conflict. Having EDI and the geth die on top of that is like following up with another slap.

Fans just wanted to destroy the Reapers. That's all we wanted. We didn't need the lore-breaking Jeopardy. Instead of making you emotional and weepy in a good way, the gameshow ending just pisses you off with how frustrating and absurd it is.

Shepard Dies No Matter What

A fanmade render of Shepard dying in Liara's arms.

A fanmade render of Shepard dying in Liara's arms.

A lot of fans were pissed because Shepard dies. The developers added a "breath" scene if you chose Destroy, which shows Shepard buried under rubble and taking a breath after destroying the Reapers . . . but even that wasn't enough. I mean, what was the point of the readiness score if it never really comes into play?

One thing I love about the MEHEM and JAM ending mods is the fact that you can essentially choose whether or not Shepard lives or dies based on your readiness score. If your readiness score is high enough, Shepard lives through the ending and appears at a memorial service for Anderson. And if you have the Citadel Epilogue Mod installed, then you are further rewarded by being able to play the Citadel DLC post-game.

But if your readiness score is low, then Shepard dies, and instead of there being a memorial service for Anderson, there is a memorial service for Shepard, at which Shepard's romantic interest places her name on the memorial wall.

I very recently did a playthrough where my Shepard died because her readiness score wasn't full-bar. She lost EDI and the geth because of this as well. It was a sad ending, but it was still satisfying for several reasons:

  • There was closure. I wasn't left wondering if Shepard was dead or alive like in the original game. I was also made aware of what happened to the crew, and the fact that they were repairing the Normandy while stranded.
  • There was no annoying, lore-breaking Q & A with Star Brat, and no pretentious attempt on the developers' part to be "smart" and not "video-gamey."
  • The Reapers were destroyed and there was peace in the galaxy, without a catch or a compromise. I was allowed to do what was stated from the very first game, instead of being forced down a lore-breaking path with a frustrating ending.
  • Shepard's death and low readiness score gave me more incentive to go back to the very first game and complete more quests, thus raising my readiness score and allowing her to live. I like games that make me want to play them more, not games that piss me off and make me want to play them less.
Liara places Shepard's name on the memorial wall.

Liara places Shepard's name on the memorial wall.

It's a shame that mods had to give fans the emotionally fulfilling ending that they deserved. And I don't say this as some entitled, "ungrateful" fan, either. I have loved and supported this franchise for a decade now. I invested myself emotionally and financially, and it's because of fans like me that the original Mass Effect trilogy was such a success.

Given all the dedication fans have put into this series, we did indeed deserve an ending that was emotionally fulfilling. Interestingly enough, the developers of the trilogy still to this day see nothing wrong with the ending and even expressed the (amazingly ridiculous) hope that fans would have changed their minds about the ending by now.

Thankfully, there is an extensive modding community who always has our back. Thank you to modders like JohnP, MrFob, and the many dedicated fans who set out to make the ending right with their very talented mods. You are the only reason I and many players could ever stomach playing Mass Effect 3 more than once.

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