Thursday, March 22, 2012


Warning - Mass Effect 3 spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

There's been a bit of a nerd-storm over the past week or so about the ending to Mass Effect 3.

I have to admit, I was a bit dissapointed myself, but overall, I don't think the ending was all that bad. There are definitely a few geniune concerns, but I think the main complaint comes down to the fact that we're still adjusting to the medium. Basically, things that work in books and movies just don't work that well in games.

First spoiler: The game ends with Shepherd dying.

In any other media, we're okay with the hero dying (as long as they die in a satisfying and suitably heroic way). The Matrix Trilogy ends with Neo dying. Alien 3 ends with Ripley sacrificing herself. Everyone dies at the end of 300...and we're perfectly fine with that. In a game? Not so much.

Here's the thing. By the time Shepherd takes his swan dive from the top of the Citadel to save the universe, I'd just spent close to twenty hours keeping him alive. It's okay for the hero to die in a movie because we're passively watching a story. In Mass Effect we've had an active part to play throughout the whole saga. In the 25 years I've been gaming, I've been conditioned to see the main character dying as a failure state. When Mario falls off a cliff, it's because my reactions weren't quick enough. When Pac Man gets caught by a ghost, it's because I wasn't fast enough. When your character dies and there's nothing you can do about it, you feel cheated.

Of course, games are completely different to the way they were 20 years ago. No one asked why Frogger was so desperate to get across the road. No one wondered about Pac-Man's motivation... but, even though games and their storylines have become exponentially more sophisticated, that same mindset persists. If you die, you've lost

It doesn't matter that Shepherd had just won an unwinnable battle. It doesn't matter that he's choosing to give his life to save the galaxy. In the back of every gamer's mind, there's this little voice telling us that we must have done something wrong or missed some side mission that allows Shepherd to survive.

It's an epic, climactic end to one of the greatest Sci-Fi franchises in history, but in the back of our minds, we're still seeing 'Game Over - Insert Coin'.

However, the one genuine complaint about the ending is that we see that the galaxy gets saved, but there's very little closure about what happens to the crew.

It's sad, because character relationships is what Mass Effect did best. Amazing writing, character design and voice acting ensured you got properlly emotionally invested in these characters... not knowing what became of the vast majority of them just feels wrong.

In the end, characters and their relationships are what make a story worth passing on. Saving an entire galactic civilisation of trillions of people is so big, it's hard to comprehend and has almost no emotional impact. It's why you can read all the history books you like about World War 2, but you only get a sense of what it was actually like when you watch or read something like 'Band of Brothers' which gives a single person's perspective.

Basically, it was nice that Shepherd saved the galaxy. It's nice he becomes a legend and his story gets told for thousands of years... but I just want to know if Tali'Zorah ever built her house on the Quarian homeworld, if Garrus goes through with his retirement...or if Joker and EDI's weird-ass relationship ever works out.