To say when gamers find something they really care about, they take it to extremes can sadly sometimes be an understatement. Back in 2007, Mass Effect was released for the XBox 360 and PC to much critical acclaim and commercial success. The game’s follow up, Mass Effect 2, would release in January 2010 for the XBox 360 and PC and almost a full year later on the PlayStation 3. The final part of the Commander Shepard trilogy was released on March 6th of this year with, as you guessed it, Mass Effect 3.
One of the biggest draws for Mass Effect was the promise of an epic storyline that not only spanned three full games, but contained choices that would affect the rest of the player’s story throughout the remainder of the story. Destroy a race in Mass Effect and they would not appear in Mass Effect 2. Let a character die in Mass Effect 2 and don’t expect to see them in Mass Effect 3.
So in a series all about choice, many players were floored to learn that upon completion of Mass Effect 3 and whichever choices they ultimately made, the game presented them with one of six different endings. The “perfect” ending would feature an additional five seconds of footage. The six “different” endings however were merely palette swaps. No matter what choices were made through the entire story or even in the ultimate decision of the player, they just received a different color explosion, particle effect and small changes in animation, but essentially the same ending.
Look at the side by side comparisons in the video from Crosscade (obviously, spoiler warning).
This quickly lead to outrage from a vocal minority of the Mass Effect community, with everything from petitions to threats against the creators of the game on their Twitter accounts. Amazon went as far as allowing players to return copies of the game if they were unhappy with it, an unprecedented move in the world of media retail. Recently, EA announced that there would be additional DLC content from BioWare, further expanding on the end of Mass Effect 3. Ea and BioWare claim that the DLC had always been planned while the protesting gamers will claim that it was made in response to their actions. So who is right? Who is wrong? Does it even matter?
Many will argue that the absolute end point of Mass Effect isn’t what matters. It’s the journey the player took to get there. Players didn’t go through the trouble of mining every single resource or completing every single fetch quest because they thought every minor piece would play a specific part in creating millions of different possible ending combinations. They put the effort into a game world that they fell in love with because of the totality of the story, not the final moments.
Others would also contend that the divergent paths in Mass Effect lead to lots of little endings as opposed to one larger one. Much like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are moments throughout the series that end the various plot threads, some sooner than others, and that these different threads give each player a wildly different experience than someone who made differing decisions despite the trilogy’s final mission having similar outcomes. Different characters surviving or becoming love interests all determine the entire journey of the Commander Shepard trilogy, not just the final cut scene.
Think about media today and look at how many stories have ended in a way that “ticked off” the viewer or player. Finding out the truth behind Lost. The Sopranos cut to black. Finding out Super Mario Bros. 2 was one big dream sequence. Not knowing if Randy “The Ram” lives or dies at the end of The Wrestler. Sure some people didn’t like the creative choices and even if the audience could magically come up with an ending that satisfies everyone, it isn’t ultimately the viewer’s choice. The writers, the directors and any other creators involved in any piece of work have the ultimate say in what is the end they envision. If people don’t like it… tough. Would people have been happier with Shakespeare at the time if Romeo and Juliet had survived? Most likely but that wasn’t his vision.
While Mass Effect might not be as timeless as a story about a pair of lovesick teenagers who commit suicide over the course of a few days (and yes, that is the basis of the story), the team at BioWare saw Mass Effect playing out the way it did and it isn’t the audience’s right to make them change that. Yes, the audience has every right in the world to their opinion on whether or not they like it, will continue to support the creators or sell their games back to GameStop.
They are consumers and the consumer has the right to dislike a product they purchase. They even have the right to return it and demand a refund if it is broken. But a story isn’t broken. A game not turning on because of a programming error or a glitch that prevents a mission from being completed are both examples of a broken game. But as long as a story logically gets from point A to point B and doesn’t contradict itself, it is a complete working narrative.
We have moved into a society where everyone feels a sense of entitlement. People want to purchase a used game that has the full features unlocked as if they paid full price and purchased it new. People want the same discounts as the person next to them who went through the trouble of clipping coupons. They expect a creator to change their vision just because of a vocal minority who wasn’t happy with the final outcome.
Mass Effect 3 scores a 93, 89 and 93 on the XBox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 respectively on Metacritic. All of the scores factored in for each SKU of the game are positive. Game news organizations don’t get paid for rating a game high or low so giving Mass Effect 3 a 1 or a 10 doesn’t change the way they do their daily business. There is something wrong with the system if only the user score rating “can see the problems” with the game.
My Final Two Cents: I never completed the first Mass Effect because I never felt like the game was for me. I stand by the adage that if you don’t like it, don’t play it. Heck, even tell your friends it disappointed you. But don’t tell someone to change their work. This isn’t math where 1 plus 1 will always equal 2. This is a creative work that people have dedicated years of their life to the creation of.
Just because you sunk 120 hours over the course of three games, don’t think you have the right to demand that they make changes for you. Speak with your dollars. Buy and support games that you do like. Don’t take a big heaping spoonful of “internet tough” guy for breakfast and threaten people on the internet and think that is the way to make a change.