Mass Effect 3.5: The Crowd Buster

Shown here? The WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO VIDEO GAMES! At least, according to players.

March 16, 2012

I don’t really play video games. The last video game console I owned was a Super Nintendo. That doesn’t mean I don’t play Wii or Xbox games when possible, and don’t think I won’t snipe you from across the map if I get the chance. It’s just not something I invest a lot of time on these days.

Others, however, do, and that’s fine. I have my entertainment, they have theirs. Nothing wrong with that. I do, however, have a few questions for people who are furiously up in arms about the Mass Effect 3 ending.

I haven’t played Mass Effect. In any way shape or form. The last modern game I played was Arkham Asylum almost a year and a half ago. I’m asking this as a storyteller and a writer.

Was the ending so bad that players needed to start a campaign to change the ending?

I’m no stranger to franchises that have spiraled into the crapper. Star Trek Nemesis and the Star Wars prequels left me feeling hollow, like their writers had abandoned me for a round of masturbatory filmmaking that left me feeling sticky and alone. Sliders left such a foul taste in my mouth that I almost gave up on science fiction television. I almost wanted to pretend the first season and a half contained the only episodes. I know what its’ like to have something you’ve cared for turned into crap.

Mass Effect 3 Reactions *non-spoilery* by *ghostfire on deviantART

I understand all that, but is there really any point to having the designers and writer change the ending?

Think about it. What would that accomplish? They made an ending you didn’t like and you’ve made your anger known. To keep going, just stop buying games from the company. They’ll be forced to listen. That’s the standard procedure whenever someone makes a bad product, right? Of course, I understand games have changed. It’s not a matter of looking for your princess in this castle or just getting to the end. Today’s games have a story. They are immersive in a way my generation couldn’t have seen twenty years ago. That changes things. You’re part of the story now. You have a personal interest in things.

Unlike watching a show, you’re knee-deep in alien guts… but are there really that many different options available to you? How many possible endings can there be in a game? This is one reason I love tabletop games more than video games. Last night’s game, for instance, I could make things up on the fly to keep the story going and still keep my players happy. A game designer, whether in print or a video game, has to come up with as many combinations as possible to keep the players interested. There’s no improvisation.

Mass Effect 3 WLiiA? by ~soren7550 on deviantART

Like I said, I haven’t played the game. Based on some of the reviews, I’m sure players feel cheated. It’s entirely possible. You should be angry. But a call to change the ending? That means you would have to return your games and wait for new ones and play the whole thing again and see the new ending. Or you would have to watch the new ending on YouTube or elsewhere anytime you finished the game and wanted the “better” ending. Maybe you could download it, but going from complaining to demanding a better ending from the designers seems like a waste of time.

If Super Mario Brothers had ended badly, I would have just not bought future games. But maybe that’s me. I wasn’t invested in the gripping story of a plumber and his lost love as much as gamers today are invested in stories of alien invasion.

And now, let’s cringe at another bad idea: Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows.

8 Replies to “Mass Effect 3.5: The Crowd Buster”

  1. A) Spoilers, potentially.

    B) Play the game. I’ll explain why shortly.

    I haven’t finished the game yet, so I’ll have more to say when I do, but I felt the need to comment on one thing.

    “If Super Mario Brothers had ended badly, I would have just not bought future games. But maybe that’s me. I wasn’t invested in the gripping story of a plumber and his lost love as much as gamers today are invested in stories of alien invasion.”

    Super Mario is a game based around the gameplay. Mass Effect is a game based entirely around the story and is one of the best games when it comes to creating a story in an interactive medium. As a writer, it’s a franchise well worth looking into.

    The problem most fans are having right now is that the story doesn’t feel like it holds up to the promise inherent in the genre, which, though emergent in this game, was better exemplified in the first two games: the player makes decisions (and I mean a LOT of decisions*) that create a nuanced experience that’s qualitatively different from other players’. There is a point in the first game where a major NPC that travels with the player and fights along side him can die. That’s resurrectionless death at that. What makes this game so incredible is that that same character is an amazingly important NPC in the third game–and if (s)he’s dead, that role is gone, filled by a far less qualified person which limits your options for the rest of the game and affects the ME universe in ways that are both dramatic and meaningful. Considering the level of programming it took to make all of the branching paths from that ONE decision, the entire series is remarkable at the very least in that it has to follow up on a similar problem in the second game where ten equally important characters can all die in any number of combinations.


    So, for a game with that level of potential to fall to the same problem Deus Ex’s ending fell to earlier this year (see this video for more on that: ), it manages to fall so short of the promise set up by the rest of the game as to arouse this response.

    Now, this part is speculation, as I still haven’t seen the ending, but as I understand it, it doesn’t even customize the endings to the player’s choices either. This one is odd because games from as far back as the late 90’s (see Fallout and Fallout 2, some of the finest branching-storyline games of their times) were doing this. Again, it all falls short of the potential that fans felt they were promised.

    *I felt the need to clarify one thing here–while many of these decisions may seem meaningless, like choosing between the rough-and-crude or nice-and-polite way of saying the same thing, some are anything but–in at least two parts of this trilogy, I have been left dumbstruck at the decision before me. The consequences of one affected me so much I felt physically ill for hours afterward–and that for a decision made at the middle of the game, not even an ending.

    In summation, any game that can make you bawl like a child and question the existence of a benevolent deity in the *middle* of act two is amazing storytelling. Check it out.

  2. Hell, I’m one of those people that are still mad that they took Firefly off the air almost 10 years ago, man, time does fly when you’re bearing a grudge!

    Anyhoo, I think in this day and age it’s easier for people to rail against what makes them angry. It’s easy to start a “We hate insert-whatever-it’s-called-here” campaign…and that’s all fine and good, they can get it out of their systems and hopefully move on. If they can’t move on (Damn you FOX for taking Firefly off the air!!!) they’ll be the poorer for it because there’s a TON of entertainment options around these days…more so then when I grew up with only 4 channels of TV, a Commodore 64 with Pong and Tank Commander and a stack of comic books and an overused library card.

    It also makes me wonder…if fans of certain things could re-channel that energy into something that really matters, say like the political process of this country, could they actually make a difference worth noticing? Be interesting to see.

      1. Yep, you’re right. However, while those particular names and bills were stopped, I don’t believe for a second that they are dead, never to return. They’ve simply been postponed, and will reappear as something else in a little while.

        1. I just had an image of an undead eldritch abomination rising when some stupid college kid reads from the necronomicon he stole on a dare. Also, I too an still mad at Fox for Firefly. Well, I’m mad at Fox for a LOT of things as you can probably tell.

  3. ***SPOILERS***

    Finished the game. And I just saw the trailer for the Three Stooges movie–this has NOT been a good day.

    So yeah, the problem with the ending is that the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. This happens a lot with video games as people don’t feel the need to invest enough money in the writing to prevent plot holes and inconsistencies.

    Unfortunately, as previously described, this is MASS EFFECT. It’s a game whose playtime throught the entire trilogy averages around 100 hours–that’s a hell of an investment for a story, especially one you have to pay approx. 180 dollars to experience. Worse, the games are great–they don’t exhibit the same level of quality (i.e., lack thereof) that the ending does–that’s absurd that a game with so much depth and richly developed verisimilitude should have an ending that unravels after LITERALLY FIVE MINUTES of mild contemplation.


    To make matters worse, not long after finishing the game, I found a fan-written alternate ending on Deviant Art. It makes so much more sense, fits better with the themes of the series and makes use of the same options and dialogue as the current ending–frankly, it’s an embarrassment for BioWare.

    There’s also the problem with the endings–there’s literally only six of them. Considering the breadth of decisions and possbilities for differences between playthroughs this late in the series, this is fucking pathetic. Games over ten years old have outdone it, as I previously mentioned.

    I have so much more to say about this series, but I’m going to sit on it for a while and think about it.

    I’m also going to hope against hope that the Three Stooges movie isn’t the cinematic abortion I know it’s going to be.

    1. Steve, the Three Stooges movie will not be a cinematic abortion. It is already an undead fetus of a movie, an abomination that will lumber into theaters with all the grace of a Friedberg and Seltzer movie.

  4. Just wanted to finish my followup–

    I think this link best sums up the shortcomings of the ending.

    Heavy spoilers, but it lays out pretty much every flaw I could spot. Worth a read if you’re interested in the minutiae of the storytelling debacle.

    P.S. – Your introductory image/caption is incorrect. The beam comes just before the death of storytelling in the game. It’s the gateway, if you will, to the perfect shitstorm. (YouTube search “Marauder Shields” for more about that.)

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