[NOTE: If you plan to play the Mass Effect series, know that this post contains massive spoilers. And if you haven’t played any of the Mass Effect games and don’t plan to, this post will probably make no sense whatsoever.]
I think I got the “control/bad ending”, although it’s hard to tell for sure. Personally, I didn’t hate it as much as most people did, but I do think the ME3 endings should forever exonerate the vastly-superior Knights of the Old Republic II from charges of having an “incomplete” or “unsatisfying” ending.
So… where to begin… I guess first of all I should say that I don’t know what to make of the “Renegade” or Paragon” interrupt options. The first time it really struck me as odd was when Kai Leng (who I kept wanting to ask “did you escape from Jade Empire or what?”) was sneaking up behind Shepard with his sword drawn, and you have a renegade interrupt button. I pressed it, on the logic that doing something is better than doing nothing. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t.
Then, during the climactic end scene with Shepard and the Illusive Man pointing their pistols at each other, I got another Renegade interrupt. Again, I took it; figuring that the sooner I could end the Illusive Man’s career, the better. I read later that if you don’t do this, Illusive Man will shoot Shepard, and the game will end. If this is true, it’s kind of a weird game mechanic.
So, having done this, I proceeded to the controversial endgame sequence, where Shepard meets the Catalyst. The Catalyst is an artificial (I think, as opposed to “virtual”) intelligence that governs pretty much everything, including the Reapers. It presents Shepard with three choices to end the game, none of them very pleasant. This parody video sums them up fairly well:
I can’t imagine that others haven’t pointed this out, but the Catalyst is literally “God from the machine”, or, as they say, deus ex machina. Deus ex machina is, as Wikipedia describes:
a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.
All fit the Catalyst, except for the part about solving things. The Catalyst solves nothing, but it does end things.
Having said that, it’s not such a bad ending. You could argue that all Shepard’s thousands of choices amounting to only a minor difference makes a grand philosophical point about the Universe. Or you could argue that the writers were lazy. Your choice.
Looking back, the Mass Effect series is surprisingly uneven. The mechanics of the first one feel very different from the sequels. It kind of morphed from an action, sci-fi RPG into a third-person FPS with dialogue. Which is okay with me, although the fighting did grow tiresome after a time.
The characters and plot likewise are uneven. There are some deep philosophical concepts in the story–the Prothean V.I’s dialogue with Shepard on Thessia reminded me a little of Oswald Spengler’s writings–but there are also quite a few space-cowboy movie cliches.
The characters are sometimes believable and emotionally compelling. I liked the scene where Shepard and Garrus go to the top of the Presidium, for instance. The Illusive Man himself is a fairly complex and interesting character. But then again, you have Shepard and Ashley’s messed up relationship, which felt like artificially-created drama, especially in ME2. And don’t get me started on the forced relationship with Liara. I liked both Ashley and Miranda better.
The voice acting was all pretty good, though much of the dialogue was corny. I lost track of how many times people said “This is it,” during the final hour or so. Most of the Big Inspirational Speeches in all three games were pretty hackneyed, I thought. But the actors did their part; and frankly, I’d listen to Jennifer Hale or Yvonne Strahovski read the phonebook. Or Codex, as it were.
Mass Effect is not a great series, it’s just a good one. I think it got a little too “franchisified” too early, and tried to be all things to all players, and of course it could not be. But it’s still a very enjoyable sci-fi adventure series. It’s not the best series of games ever, but I’m still glad I got to play it.
If you don’t take the Renegade interrupt with Kai Leng, you just don’t break his sword. You still dodge him and stab him. Honestly, I think the interrupt is mostly there to make stabbing Kai Leng feel even more satisfying.
The ending goes completely off the rails once the Catalyst shows up. The scene with Shepard, Anderson and the Illusive Man has some good writing, and no matter which approach you take, it’s appropriate for what’s come before. And the moment between Shepard and Anderson is emotionally satisfying.
And then that satisfaction is ripped away so the Space Brat can dredge up a thematically resolved conflict in the hopes of pushing the player towards some cheap humanist utopia nonsense through the use of Space Magic.
The game dropped the ball so thoroughly, with the ending, that it’s actually one of the worst endings ever.
ME3 had a lot of problems with the plotting. The Crucible was always problematic, especially the convenience of it being found at the exact moment the Reapers are invading. The Rannoch arc was a major missed opportunity in terms of moral ambiguity. Kai Leng was just incredibly lame. But all those problems could’ve been overlooked if there’d been a satisfying, well-written ending. Instead, the ending was a huge example of objectively bad writing.
Real shame, that.
I saw a video edit of the ending someone made where it cuts right from Shepard and Anderson looking out from the Citadel to the “Destroy” ending. Not perfect, but a distinct improvement.
BTW, have you heard the “Indoctrination Theory” alternate interpretation of the end?
Sadly, the Extended Cut killed the Indoctrination Theory. On the plus side, the Extended Cut did add some degree of resolution, even if it was just a cheap, stupid slideshow. The lack of falling action and resolution was one of the bigger problems with the original ending. The Leviathan DLC fixed another problem by adding foreshadowing of the Catalyst.
It’s still terrible writing, but it’s less terrible than it was originally. Seriously, the original ending should be studied as an example of how not to end a story.
I always go with Destroy. No other option is acceptable. The Reapers don’t deserve to survive. They need to be destroyed, and the Space Brat needs to die.
I know a lot of people don’t feel this way, but in my eyes going back and retroactively adding foreshadowing to a story only after people complain about the lack thereof feels pretty weak. It’s more like “aft shadowing”.
Well, yes, that’s true. The foreshadowing should’ve been there from the start. Still, its addition made it a bit more complete a story.