Mass Effect was incredibly popular due to the importance it gave to player choice, but the original ending to the trilogy undermined those decisions.
When Mass Effect 3 released back in 2012, its ending was extremely controversial and so poorly received by fans it resulted in a wave of backlash rarely seen at that point in time. It was always going to be an extremely difficult challenge for BioWare to create a satisfying ending, given the player’s level of influence, and the original ending of Mass Effect 3 was a complete failure.
The Mass Effect trilogy reached the status and popularity it did because of how much influence the player was given through the games. The overarching threat of the Reapers was a constant focal point, but the player was able to decide what kind of leader Commander Shepard would be and had a significant impact on events which had both major and minor impacts over the course of the series. While player choice drove the narrative, Mass Effect 3’s original ending failed to make it feel like those decisions ultimately mattered.
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After two full games of investing in the series’ narrative and deep cast of characters, players were excited to finally see the Reapers make their move in Mass Effect 3. Players wanted to see how their decision making throughout the Mass Effect trilogy would impact the various storylines and how their personal experience varied from other players’. But Mass Effect 3’s original ending did not accomplish that in a satisfying way, and instead the player is presented with three arbitrary choices that completely undermined their experience throughout trilogy.
Mass Effect 3’s Original Ending Undermined Player Choice
While on the Crucible at the end of Mass Effect 3, Shepard is introduced to the Catalyst, an AI which oversees the Reapers. In a conversation with the Catalyst, Shepard learns the details of the Reapers’ cycle of extinction and is presented with three choices; destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy, control the Reapers, or merge synthetic and organic life. Regardless of which option the player chooses, the Mass Relays are destroyed and there aren’t any significant differences between the game’s various endings. This decision seemingly came out of nowhere, lacked any sort of closure for the squadmates players had grown to love, and left the world littered with logistical plot holes. The weight of player choice completely evaporated in Mass Effect 3’s final 15 minutes.
Shortly after the release of Mass Effect 3, BioWare released an extended cut for the game’s ending; adding additional scenes, making changes to existing scenes, and adding more dialogue in an effort to clarify the ending and address the criticisms that were raised. BioWare also released a DLC pack that was entirely focused around offering the player closure with the many characters they had come to know over the course of the trilogy. While Mass Effect 3’s ending is still a sore spot for many fans, BioWare’s post-launch efforts to clarify the ending and offer additional closure to players were mostly successful, given the situation, and this improved ending will be there in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition for fans who may not have revisited the game since experiencing the disappointment of its original ending in 2012.
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