(There was a comic here. It's gone now.)
I’m one of those insane people who believed that the original Mass Effect 3 ending was good. Clearly it had problems, after all: all four endings were basically the same video with a little colour swapping and some added clips. But I find that what made it such a good ending in the first place was what most ME fans consider its greatest weakness: Ambiguity.
Yes, there will be spoilers ahead. Therefore, your homework assignment is to go play the Mass Effect trilogy, then come back when you’re done. Ready? Ok then.
The original ME3 ending represents the end of what the Mass Effect story has been building up to: the invasion of the epitome of The Reapers, sentient harvesting machines that exterminate the space-faring civilisations of the galaxy every 50,000 years, revealed by the “star child” AI as a countermeasure to the crisis of Synthetic life overtaking Organic life (perhaps a self-defeating concept, but one that is created by a potentially rogue and efficient AI. This part of the Extended Cut DLC I applaud). In some form or other, whatever ending you choose defeats them-either by taking absolute control of them, outright exterminating them (and potentially every organic species as well) or defeating their primary purpose by melding Synthetic and Organic life together. What makes the ending so effective for me is the fact that, even though this ending wraps up the Reaper invasion story, it still leaves behind enough questions that the audience may fill in with their own answers.
This is also the reason everybody hates this ending. Work with me here.
The fact that the fate of the various ME characters is left ambiguous means that there is still reason to remember each and every one of those characters. I was left thinking for months what the ultimate fate of Tali, Garrus, Javik and the rest of my team members were (except James Vega. He bores me). Based off of my knowledge of the Mass Effect universe, I could come up with my own answers as well; for instance the descendants of the humans and Liara would survive and populate their new home planet whilst Tali and Garrus learn to grow Dextro-based crops from the Normandy’s stores, and the various fleets stranded on Earth would need to band together in order to survive and rebuild, etc. In my opinion, Bioware has done an amazing job of creating the personalities and back stories of the Normandy’s crew, creating a cast of characters I find myself invested in and deeply caring for (call me a nerd, I don’t care). By leaving the ending ambiguous, those same characters were left turning in my memory for weeks afterwards. It’s my own reward for investing so much time and emotion into these characters.
There’s also the question of the “Indoctrination Theory”; the belief that the events that occurred after Harbinger’s attack was a hallucination created by the Reapers in an attempt to brainwash Shepherd. This too makes for a great ending; the audience is once again left to determine their own answers to what happens in the ending. Endings such as this generate discussion between its fans that overall lead to a more memorable product.
In fact, fan fiction writers should rejoice for such an open-ended conclusion, as it creates a rich canvas in which to write and express your ideas into these characters. Just don’t write any Garrus/Shepherd erotica and name it “50 Types of Calibrations” or something, please.
By now you probably think I’m an idiot. Some of you love your concrete, definitive endings with no questions left afterward. Fine, then let me give you an example of a game that did just that: Gears of War 3.
Once again: spoiler warning. Go play the Gears games right now, then report back when you’re done. Done? Ok, let’s move on.
GoW3 concludes its trilogy by firing a gigantic ending device/weapon (similar to Mass Effect 3, yes) that conveniently wipes out the Locust Horde and the Lambent army. Humanity is left as the only surviving race of the conflict. The COG wins. End of story.
Gears of War ends having almost every story thread answered. Only a handful of questions remain: Was Queen Myrrah truly a human that betrayed her own race? Will Marcus and Anya ever get together and have many babby-Marcuses? How will humanity survive without Imulsion based fuel? Otherwise, the Locust and Lambent are defeated, meaning that the humans of Sera are guaranteed to rebuild and have their happy ending. Completing Gears 3, I was left with no lingering questions to ask myself, nor any burning desire to play that last level again to further evaluate it. In short, it was forgettable.
Perhaps you’re now thinking: “well if you’re so smart, why don’t you write a better ending?” Ok, I’ll give it a shot. Here’s the Daget J Sparrow rewrite of the Gears of War 3 ending:
The Lambent are wiped out, but the Locust survive-leaderless, fragmented, and stubbornly opposed to humanity. The COG declare victory in the war, as the Lambent are dead and the Locust, near extinct and without any organised leadership, are unable to oppose the humans save for the occasional doomed raid or skirmish. However, the Gears universe has a well established history of warfare and conflict, and the COG leadership suffers from infighting and disagreement. Before too long, the COG is split and humanity descends into warfare once again, unable to shake their decades-long penchant of violence. In this ending, the story has reached its conclusion, but the audience still has questions that can be answered by their own knowledge and investment in the Gears of War franchise, and overall creates a story that will not be forgotten by those who love it dearly.
Yes, I know Dom and his wife died, ok? In any case, that is my idea of what makes an unforgettable and intelligent ending, and that’s why I loved Mass Effect 3’s conclusion so. Whilst I still enjoyed the Extended Cut (particularly Joker’s confliction at leaving Shepherd behind, as well as the whole “rogue AI” star child think), it also left me with all the questions answered and little incentive to imagine what else could occur in the franchise.
…and yes, Anya will name the first babby “Dom Fenix”.
Up Next: Why The Reapers should have also remained ambiguous.