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Fervid for Finality: Why Mass Effect 3’s Journey is Salient

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Major spoilers for Mass Effect 3’s ending(s) follow.

Mass Effect 3 is one of the strangest “gaming controversies” in recent memory and is the only instance I can remember in which a developer returned and changed a fundamental portion of the game (the ending). Roughly three months after release, Bioware released a free piece of downloadable content called “extended cut” which was then bundled with all future purchases of the game, and which significantly altered the last few scenes of the game to better fit what the “fans” wanted.

In the original ending, Shepard dies, the Mass Relays are all destroyed, and the civilized races of the galaxy are left in complete darkness. Considering the vast majority of them are on Earth or at least in the Sol System (along with The Citadel), this presents something of a problem, especially given the massive amount of resources required to build colonies on the more “habitable” planets in the system for the races who couldn’t really survive on Earth.

The extended cut adds several new scenes to each ending. In addition, Shepard doesn’t die, the mass relays remain intact, and what’s left of galactic society begins to rebuild.

While I won’t disagree that the extended cut ending is in many ways superior, I still feel (and have always felt) that even changing it in the first place was a grossly misguided gesture and sets a very scary precedent for the effects that consumer outrage can have on a finished product, especially story-driven single-player narratives. What’s to say that the fans of any franchise won’t do this again? And, perhaps even more terrifying, what’s the chance that a developer will listen? At that point, we’re venturing into really scary fan-fiction territory.

I’m an absolutely colossal Mass Effect fan. I’ve completed the first Mass Effect at least a dozen times (and both of the others at least half that number), so if there’s anybody who should have been lighting a torch and sharpening a pitchfork, it was me. Initially I was indeed very frustrated at the fact that I felt like none of my choices mattered, and that I was given a color-coded ending which didn’t seem to take any of my decisions into account. I spent a good deal of time thinking about this, and I realized: the most important part of Mass Effect (and indeed every Bioware RPG) is the journey. The choices you make along the way, not the end result of those choices, is what does and always has defined Mass Effect.

I think a lot of the vitriol over the ending stems from the fact that over the course of the three games, the player comes to identify as their Commander Shepard, and in many ways becomes that character while playing the game. For any other RPG with this much player investment, an ending that simple would have been absolutely unconscionable. But Mass Effect has always been a series in which your choices matter because you — as both a player and an agent in the world — made them. Not because they have some far-reaching, tangible consequence, and not because you eventually see your decision come to fruition (or to ruin); but because you made the choice, and you as a player have to live with knowing you made it.

There is certainly some merit to the argument that the last game in a trilogy should feature a solid finale. It’s understandable; nobody wants to see end on a sour note a franchise they spent 5+ years in adoration of. But I’m not sure that Bioware was even capable of doing that. I don’t know what the situation was. But I know that journey to the ending was fantastic, and I love experiencing it time and again.

Really, what it comes down to is that I still see people spewing toxic verbal ichor at the mere mention of Mass Effect 3, and that’s kind of a problem. You spend $60 on a game, and yeah, it sucks that you didn’t like it, but move on. Find something else to hate. Spend your energy elsewhere. I promise you’ll be a lot happier with your life.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.heypoorplayer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/1414961_10200669963301938_484494497_o.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Tamriilin likes Mass Effect and JRPGs, sometimes perhaps too much. When not ranting about goings on in the industry, you can find various other musings on their twitter @tamriilin.[/author_info] [/author]

Adam has a penchant for strong, minority opinions, and loves Mass Effect, JRPGs, and the Warriors games -- sometimes perhaps a bit too much. He will defend Final Fantasy XIII to his grave, and honestly believes people give Dragon Age II too much flak.

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