Experienced Points

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4 Reasons Why The Mass Effect 3 Debate Refuses to Die

Shamus Young | 12 Aug 2014 19:00
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Mass Effect 3 Citadel Image

3. Key information was DLC

When the original ending came out, it left people deeply confused. Okay, so maybe it's supposed to be one of those mystery endings where you need to think about it? (Lots of people compared it to 2001: A Space Odyssey.) But at the end of the game you blow up all of the mass relays. (I REALLY hope you weren't expecting spoiler tags in an article about the most-discussed ending in gaming.) If you played "The Arrival" DLC for Mass Effect 2, you might expect that each exploding relay is also destroying its host star system, thus wiping out the galaxy you just spent three games trying to set right. But if you didn't get that DLC, then you won't have any such impressions. We're presented with an ambiguous event and our interpretation depends heavily on events that most players probably didn't see. (With the added confusion that playing the DLC puts you more at odds with what the writers were trying to say. The more informed you are, the more nihilistic the ending looks.)

4. "Artistic integrity!"

Some people really thought that after three games and hundreds of hours of gameplay, they were entitled to a happy (or at least non-nihilistic) ending. Others didn't need a happy ending, they just wanted the main character (and maybe their love interest) to survive. Other people didn't care about Shepard, they just wanted to know how things turned out for the rest of the galaxy after making all those supposedly important choices. Everybody wanted something different and almost nobody got what they wanted, so we have this huge angry crowd all asking for different things.

You defend Mass Effect 1 because it's the first and only game in years to offer a very specialized flavor of sci-fi, and someone else denounces it because they found the gameplay insufferable. You complain about the shift in tone, but most people didn't notice the shift because they skipped the first game, or they didn't really notice or care about the distinction. You try to untangle the ending, but that depends on DLC that other people may not have played or conversations with characters that didn't exist in their game.

So that's why this argument has such legs. It's not just one argument, it's a dozen different arguments, with multiple sides, all circling around and feeding into each other. It's a giant fractal ouroboros debate where every side-topic is a tributary to another argument.

There's no solving this. The Mass Effect 3 discussion is going to be with us for a long time. In fact, it probably won't go away until someone steps in and tries to tell the kind of story Mass Effect 1 was aiming for. I wonder what Drew Karpyshyn is doing these days?

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. You can read more of his work here.

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