Mass Effect 3 - Endings

Well I've finally finished Mass Effect 3 and I can have an informed opinion on the game's ending (or at least the ending I got). For those who haven't started playing Mass Effect 3 yet a word of advice:

If you want to have the "best" ending in the game available, make sure you not only do all the side quests but that you also play Galaxy at War (the multiplayer component to ME3).

I was relieved at first when Bioware reassured fans that you could still get the perfect ending with single player, however I find this hard to believe and it's actually either impossible or very difficult to achieve with single player alone.

Be warned, the material below will contain spoilers!

Effective Military Strength

Okay, so for those of you who have actually finished the game, you'll realise that most endings results in Shepard's death - even the so-called better endings. Initially, I was okay with the idea that Shepard dies. You don't want a stupid Hollywood ending where against all odds, Shepard somehow survives. Hell, Shepard's cheated death so many times it's probably about time his luck ran out.

However, after some reading into the endings, it turns out that it actually is possible for Shepard to survive which is the perfect ending. Apparently you need have an Effective Military Strength (EMS) of 4,000 if you've maxed your paragon/renegade points or 5,000 if you haven't. I ended the game with around 3,300 EMS and this is after doing 95% of the side quests - I think I missed a couple somehow but I did just about every side quest I could. Consequently, it seems quite unlikely that anyone could get the requisite 4,000 points minimum in order to get an ideal ending. Maybe I didn't get enough support from the Salarians or maybe Renegades get a bonus from ME1 if they happened to save the Alliance fleet, although I thought it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Different choices

As a consequence, I was quite disappointed with my ending, even though it was technically a win for organic life. Oh and that brings me to another point: the choices you get for an ending. If you manage to get onto the Citadel with a moderate EMS (which is what I had) you actually get three choices for an ending. They creepily draw parallels with the endings from the Deus Ex series. One is destroy all synthetics and the mass relays with them, kind of starting a new Dark Age like Tracer Tong wanted in the first Deus Ex. Another option is Shepard controlling the Reapers, maybe a bit like JC Denton merging himself with the Helios AI? Then there's one where you combine synthetics and organics together so they can all get along, similar to the advanced e-democracy ending of Invisible War perhaps where humans basically transcend.

It's an interesting mix - some of the endings are pre-determined by your actions in the ME3 and the previous games, but you also get a choice of ending. While choice is always good the endings are all a bit depressing (unless you have heaps of points as I've mentioned above). With movies, a depressing, surreal or ambiguous ending you can probably get away with. With games, it's a harder act to pull since a movie is only a 2-hour investment of your time - a game of Mass Effect 3 can take almost 50 hours. Imagine being told there's a 99% chance your character will die at the end of your 50 hour game. You'd feel a bit disappointed you wasted that much time. Yes, I know it was possible for Shepard to die in Mass Effect 2 as well but the chances of that happening were low - in ME3 it's the more likely outcome not the exception.

So how should it have been done?

Firstly, having the multiplayer determine the outcomes of the single player campaign was a mistake. There is no mention of playing the multiplayer during the single player campaign plus when you play it, it's awfully laggy for Australians. Also, what happens if you buy the game later and people stop playing multiplayer? You're pretty much destined never to have the best ending. Adding multiplayer is fine but they should've kept it as a separate module - maybe for grinding new weapons for their single player characters or additional epilogues to the single player campaign. They really should've allowed single player purists to have their way.

Secondly, I was actually fine with the endings where Shepard dies. They shouldn't have had an ending where Shepard survives (since it seems unlikely there'll be another game with Shepard as the protagonist anyway). They also should've spent more time showing how your party members, the people you care about, lead the rest of their lives or at least having them give tributes during a funeral scene.

Thirdly, the endgame was sloppily done which reminds me of another game that had a rushed ending thanks to publisher intervention: Knights of the Old Republic 2. This forum post suggests the endings were going to be a lot different and it takes into account the two squad members you bring along as well. In the current ending, your squad members miraculously disappear before you're teleported up to the Citadel, but then seem fine in the closing cinematics! Plot loopholes during the end of a game infuriate me and I never expected a company like Bioware to release such a poor epilogue. What happened to the awesome endings of Knights of the Old Republic or previous Mass Effects? What happened to the well documented epilogues of Jade Empire and Dragon Age? Bioware, you've done good endings before (or at least palatable ones) - I hope this isn't the start of a downward spiral!