[Note: Laura’s currently recovering from surgery, so here’s something from the LauraKBuzz archives!]

Mass Effect 3 didn’t end how I wanted it to end.

Mass Effect 3’s ending left me unfulfilled.

Mass Effect 3’s ending stripped all choice and defiant agency away from me.

I think the ending to Mass Effect 3 was perfect at doing what it needed to do.

I think Mass Effect 3 was the perfect, tonally consistent ending for a series I love.

Mass Effect 3’s ending left me feeling defeated and unrewarded for my actions.

I think that’s important.

So, I realise right about now a very large majority of you are already planning to click away from this feature, if you have not done so already. Since the release of Mass Effect 3, vehement insistance that it is to be heralded as the ruination of a beloved franchise has been by far the most widespread opinion on how the trilogy ended. Suggest the ending was good, tonally consistent or even beautiful, and expect to be met with scoffs or derision. it’s not always an easy position for me to argue, but I want you to understand why I think Mass Effect 3’s ending is one of the most important endings to a video game that currently exists.

Still with me? Right. Let’s begin.

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Mass Effect as a series has a few central themes that tie together the multiple narratives it weaves, and first among them I would like to discuss the idea of beating impossible odds. Shepard and their team upon the Normandy are constantly presented with situations where a series of correct choices will do the impossible and do what is right for everyone. Moral choices are presented, but there is always a moral or mechanical right choice to make that will ensure harmony is balanced

From small scale choices leading to the life or death of Wrex, to larger scale choices that can lead to the success or failure of what is largely considered a gigantic suicide mission, Shepard is always told by both the narrative and gameplay mechanics that there is a way to do the impossible.

The ending to Mass Effect 3 is Shepard being told that they cannot always do the impossible.

Sometimes, there is no way to save everyone without cost.

Sometimes, no matter the choices you make, there is only one way things are going to end.

Some battles are futile, and you sometimes really do only have your intentions to separate you from everyone else who could have reached the position you find yourself in.

This ending should not have been a surprise to anyone truly invested in the narrative of the Mass Effect universe. Mass Effect 3 spends its entire length building up these themes, giving you situations whose outcomes vary less and less, with the moral reasoning behind them becoming more and more of a consistent factor in how you look back on the impact of your adventures.

Mass Effect 3 spent almost thirty hours building up goodbyes and resolutions, ready for you to go and face the fact that some situations just end one way. You may be heralded by the universe as a god, but you are still only human. There are limits to what you can change, and sometimes there are no easy answers to be found.

Sometime in life you’re put in situations where there is only one way things can play out, and all you can do is make sure you take control of your reasoning for the choices you make.

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Thematically, Mass Effect is a series heavily reliant on narratives around cycles. Cycles of birth and creation. Cycles of death and destruction. Cycles of violence and revenge. Cycles of love and redemption. From its very beginnings we understand the Reapers destroyed all life in the past. They plan to destroy us in the present. They plan to destroy any existence that flourishes after us. The ending to Mass Effect 3 is in every regard an ending thematically focused on those themes of breaking or perpetuating cycles.

Mass Effect is a series about breaking an unbroken ouroboros. We know where the cycle started. We know if we don’t end it, the next cycle will have to endure all the same hardships we faced.

As a narrative about the unending spiral sentient life is trapped in, I find it somewhat poignant that, much like the earlier discussed inevitability of our actions and their consequences, the breaking of an unbreakable spiral largely lead to a single place.

The only way to end that cycle was to break it. To break the cycle requires a new start. A new start can only lead on from the destruction of the old. No matter how you destroy the cycle, you’ll leave its end and start your new beginning from the same place. Once again, what is different is your intentions from that point onward.

Yes the ending might be three different coloured roads that take you to the same destination, but you know why you picked the road that you picked. You understand the meaning behind the choice you made, and ultimately that resolution is what is important.

You are faced with a chance to end the cycle. If you do so you’re making a moral choice. You’re understanding why you made it. You understand where that leaves the galaxy going forward for you.

And if you chose not to break the cycle? Well, Mass Effect 3 makes it very clear you’re just leaving this choice for someone else to make.

As much as is may not be the multitude of branches you’re used to, this is the series most telling moral choice.

This is the moral choice you make when nobody else is around.

This is the moral choice you make when there is no reward to doing what is popular.

This is the moral choice you make to set the direction that sentient life moves forward.

Life is going to be in one defined place five minutes from now. Ten years? The reasoning behind your choice is going to have wildly diverged existence.

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“But Laura”, I hear you ask, “Where was my resolution for the stories of those I left behind?”

“I wanted to see the impact of my choices on those I left behind”

“I deserve to see the consequences of my final action and how it effects those I love”

No, you don’t.

I have a couple of different issues with this argument that Mass Effect 3’s ending was flawed due to what it chose not to show. First of these issues, the whole point of the ending is that Shepard makes a choice about the fate of existence, knowing full well they won’t get to experience that future themselves. They are not choosing their own fate, they are choosing the fates of a world they never have to personally face again.

It’s a galaxy of faces they have cared for, loved and saved countless times, but it’s a galaxy they never have to, or get to, see again.

Shepard doesn’t get to see if they made the right choice.

Their only option is to make a decision, confident it’s the best choice they had available, and walk into the night comfortable with the uncertain choice they were forced to make.

Your only option is to make a decision, confident it’s the best choice you had available, and walk into the night comfortable with the uncertain choice you were forced to make.

Showing you how things played out following your choice defeats that entire thematic element.

Shepard didn’t get to see the consequences of their actions. They had to find peace with that.

You are Shepard.

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Lastly, and this is squarely aimed at those who got annoyed they didn’t “get a proper epilogue” where they could see what happens to their crew, did you not play the entire Mass Effect trilogy?

Mass Effect spends three lengthy games letting you get to know every member of your crew. Mass Effect spends three games allowing you to grow close to these characters and understand their motives, their desires and their personalities.

If you finished Mass Effect 3 and didn’t know exactly what every surviving crew member planned to do going forward in their lives, you did not play Mass Effect properly.

Mass Effect 3 as a game is entirely a series of goodbyes to characters, determining if they survive and what they plan to do with that life should it continue. Mass Effect 3 was the fucking epilogue you demanded.

Mass Effect 3’s ending is a very bitter ending. It’s an ending about truly impossible choices, the importance of intent, the breaking of cycles and the end of an adventure. It’s the story of someone having to make a choice with no right answer. A choice they will never see play out. A choice they will have to come to personal terms on, and make without ever being able to justify that intent to those left behind. It’s a story of needing to be so confident in your convictions that you can make a decision for every sentient being, comfortable they will understand why you made the choices you made.

Mass Effect 3 didn’t end how I wanted it to end.

Mass Effect 3’s ending left me unfulfilled.

Mass Effect 3’s ending stripped all choice and defiant agency away from me.

Mass Effect 3’s ending was the perfect, tonally consistent ending for a series I love.

Mass Effect 3’s ending left me feeling defeated and unrewarded for my actions.

I think that’s important.

I honestly believe any other ending would have been a disservice.

I think this is how sprawling artistic epics are meant to end.

Laura's gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them.

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