A Game Marred by Its Ending
Spoilers Ahead for Mass Effect Trilogy
It feels imperative to first discuss Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 before getting into Mass Effect 3. This series is known for having choices that span and impact the games as you move forward. Choices in the first game will have an impact for both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. It’s for this reason that it can be best to play through all three games in order. Speaking as someone who started with Mass Effect 2 and locked into the preset choices they gave, it is worth playing through the original.
The first of the series sets up and introduces players to Commander Shepard. It establishes the looming threat of the Reapers that comes to fruition in Mass Effect 3, and while it can be weaker in terms of the controls and mildly in the story, it is beginning. For those looking to have full control over the progression and choices you can make then it is imperative to start with this game, otherwise the preset decisions that will lock some options going forwards. One example is that Wrex will be dead if you do not have a save file where he lives. That was one of the biggest changes I made when I played through the original Mass Effect for the first time, and overall the experience of the games as a whole felt better.
Mass Effect 2 continues the story with players now working with former foe, Cerberus. Despite the evils that Cerberus is known to have played a part in, they are also more willing and aware of the coming threats that others do not seem be trying to fend off. It expands your cast of characters and has the largest team, allowing for more variety and romance options. The main threat of the game is the Collectors. They’ve been going to different colonies and gathering innocent people.
As with the first game, decisions need to be made, some of which involve certain tasks to complete. Things like all the ship upgrades need to be completed or crew members will die before reaching the final battle. Crew member loyalty needs to be maxed out to ensure survival not just in the second, but in the third game as well. The player’s decision is less about one over another, but a decision on how much they want to do. If one is looking to blaze through it then maybe not everything will be completed, or maybe you’re more open to letting a crew member pass on.
The DLC that was added to Mass Effect 2 provides the transition and reasoning to where the third game begins. It begins with Shepard being on Earth at an Alliance facility, either for the reason the DLC provides, or the slightly less feasible reasoning of her work with Cerberus. This puts Shepard in place for the start of Reapers attacking Earth. They are no longer a looming threat on their way to the galaxy. They have arrived, and they’re tearing through the cities and planets with armies of husks, not just those of human appearance anymore. This is where your choices start to culminate toward the end.
Did you save the Rachni Queen back in the first Mass Effect? If you did then she’ll become a powerful ally. If not, then joining with artificial queen will result in betrayal, losing not just the bonus that could have been, but some of your forces as well. Did you gain the loyalty of your crew in Mass Effect 2? If not then certain members will die, for me this was Zaeed in my first play through of Mass Effect 3.
Throughout Mass Effect 3 there were difficult decisions that were almost impossible to choose from, one memorable decision being to Cure the Krogan. Connecting back to Mass Effect 2 when you learned Mordin Solosis had a hand in making the virus that made Krogan reproduction near impossible. If you had Mordin keep the research during his loyalty mission then he’ll be able to make the cure easier. It then becomes a matter of dispersing it. However, that mission becomes a suicide mission for Mordin. You can try to stop him, but then you’re leaving a race to die out. Not only that, but if Wrex is alive, he’ll learn of the betrayal and will not help in the more difficult battles ahead. This decision is hard due to the emotional attachment toward Mordin. He was one of your allies in Mass Effect 2, a part of the team. His fast talking, mildly awkward nature was endearing, and no matter knowing that it is the best choice to let him, it can still be hard to watch him go.
Those are the types of decisions that the game progressed with. Not all were heart wrenching and painful, but most had some sort of asterisk. If certain tasks were done then better options will be available. This can pacify the more negative options and story routes, such as the Legion and Tali mission where Legion wants to free the Geth from the Reapers, but there is a risk that Qurians will be whipped out if he did that. If loyalty missions for Mass Effect 2 were completed than you can get Qurians to back down and keep most of the fleet intact. This means getting both the Qurian and Geth forces to help in the fight against the Reapers, with the emotional impact of losing Legion in the process. If the Qurian had been lost, then it would mean losing both Legion and Tali.
Why recruit these people? Why does it all matter? The objective of the game aims to be in raising the Effective Military Strength for the final push against the Reapers, gaining the allies to bolster forces in the final fight. Depending on this level will dictate the survival of Earth, your squad, and Shepard. The final fight is a multi-part mission that’s not all bad. It’s the final choice that makes the game’s story fall flat. The goal throughout the games was finding a way to stop the Reapers for good and while these were solutions, they were not what Commander Shepard was looking for ,or even what players were looking for.
These are the type of choices that build to the final. In the end, there are three possible choices:
This was the choice that has been the goal from the start. Destroy the Reapers and end their destruction for good, except there is a catch. Destruction of the Reapers will also mean the end of synthetic life, meaning all the Geth that were saved from Reaper control will be destroyed and Legion’s sacrifice was almost for nothing as a result. EDI, your lovable AI in a working robotic body, even in a romance with Joker, will be gone. There is no indication that this damage could be undone. There is also the Citadel and Mass Relay systems that would be damaged, but even those are said within that final narrative to be fixed over time.
This was what the Illusive Man desired: having the power to control the Reapers. Basically, Shepard would become the controlling mind behind the Reapers. It would result in their death and oddly might be the best option given, but this option felt so against what the goal had been and even left me unsure as to how long it could even work. Wouldn’t there be the chance that Shepard could get drawn into the current hive mind of Reapers and it would continue again without Shepard to stop it?
This feels like the weirdest one. To even choose this one players will need to have at least 2,800 of Effective Military Strength. This one involves the sacrifice of Shepard. With that sacrifice, all organic life turns into synthetic. I call this one weird because I still question how this is even possible. What logic is there to this? Are the Reapers gods that with a blast could make an entire galaxy of organic creatures into synthetic? The only bright side to this is ensuring the survival of all of the team, but once again Shepard will have to sacrifice themself to make this possible.
The problem with these three choices is they aren’t satisfying, not one of them are. After three games and needing to choose between things like the fate of a species over a friend, there shouldn’t be a catch. After all that was sacrificed to get to that point, it should be easy and simple, not another decision to stress out players. That’s why there are modded versions of this ending, and for what is meant to be an ending of the trilogy, it feels too open.
What there should have been is just a kill switch, if only for the Reapers; the Geth, EDI, and other synthetics would remain unharmed. Easy, no more hard choices and weighing options! There was enough of that throughout the three games.
Next, put that Effective Military Strength and those recruited towards the final battle to a bigger purpose. To explain what I mean, I’ll use the example of the Geth and Qurians. If both sides are recruited, then they can both provide an impact in those final pushes toward the end. Because they are there, more people survive overall and maybe even bring special circumstances, like a ship going down, but because Qurian and Geth are present, they are able to salvage and get it running again. Alternatively, if neither were recruited, then more losses, and the ship that went down is doomed. Lastly, if there’s only one of them, then half; some are saved but not all that could have been, and the ship goes down could be salvaged, but not as quickly if both sides had worked on it, meaning more losses for the lost time.
That’s the type of thing I would have liked to have had in the final battle and in the aftermath of it, not just the number of Effective Military Strength. The people that make it up seem to only be a factor in the small break during that final push where you can speak with them and see them before the end. This ending would go more in depth of how much was given towards certain areas depending on the specializations of the species or group. With my earlier example, both Qurian and Geth have technological abilities. Asari are the most capable in terms of biotics. Salarians could provide medical support. Turians and Krogan would be ground support. That’s just a few examples, not including the ship forces that are available. The more players recruited, the more boxes get checked off, and the more capable in the different areas both in the final battle and the rebuilding.
In terms of Mass Effect 3, it would likely be impossible to get everyone since you’re not dealing with just your team, but governments and rulers. Dealing with hatred that began before the first Mass Effect game, like the Krogans and the Salarians; curing the Krogans means less or no Salarian forces. There would never be a way to have every force at their highest, but as long as players did everything they could in the game, then you’d get the best outcome and the aftermath. It would take on the type of ending Mass Effect 2 had and give consequences (good and bad) based upon the player’s choices, and at least something more concise than three different endings for the end of a trilogy.
Share your thoughts and ideas! What did you think of existing endings? What would you have liked to see?