Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mass Effect 3 Ending

It doesn't make sense. Of course it doesn't!

Azuriel has a nice post up about why the endings don't make sense and why there's no credible theory that could correct this presumed flaw. I'm a bit surprised about this reaction.

Since I was maybe 12 years old I am constantly disappointed by movies; especially Sci-Fi movies. The only consistent thing about them is that they never make sense; not just the endings but the entire movies. And the most disturbing revelation is: the more financially successful a movie is, the worse is its logical consistency.

Is that so because most humans are stupid? Well, there are a few surprisingly stupid specimen among us for sure but that's not the point. The point is that even I, even we, who see some, or even most of the inconsistencies, don't really care in the end.
Did I enjoy ME3? Yes. Did you, dear reader, enjoy ME3? Probably. If you didn't enjoy it, was the logical inconsistency the reason? With near certainty: no.

Whether you enjoy a story has almost nothing to do with its logical consistency. And it has everything to do with the short-term emotional states you are pushed through. Whether there is something that feels like a worthy climax is much more important than whether that climax makes any sense. Similar lessons apply to many things in life, by the way: computer games in general as well as your satisfaction with your job, friendships, dating, etc.

What the movie industry has already understood a very long time ago, and what creators of interactive movies, like Bioware, understand very well, too, is this: if your story doesn't make any sense then the worst thing that can happen is people ignoring this very fact and the best thing is people talking about it and thus making other people curious. In any case it is much more important that there are big explosions and a love story at the right point in time.

In MMO-terms: there are many things about which players complain. But complaining players care and players who care don't quit.


  1. But a well-accepted ending means replayability, reputation, consumer support, player "trust", financial support. They can't do this to the series and deny themselves the future profit. Just think from your logical PoV.

    Therefore something is certainly in the works to alleviate the current concerns. Unfortunately it will look like they are selling a sane plotline to the people already expecting it in the initial product.

    P.S. And I also enjoyed the series right up to this mess of a plot in the end. The most likely reason they finished it like that is the rush for release dates.

  2. "If you didn't enjoy it, was the logical inconsistency the reason? With near certainty: no."

    This article does look for reasons. Sorry if I linked it somewhere already. It just looks accurate enough for me.

  3. Well, I wrote that post because I *do* care about the ending. :P

    You are correct that, overall, the short-term emotional states the series evoked carries the narrative across most plot holes. However, the Normandy bit was "a hole too far," so to speak. And while the ending doesn't retroactively remove the positive emotions I felt previously, it does do two things: 1) leaves a sour aftertaste, 2) represent a huge, inexplicable bungling by the writers.

    They nailed everything else. Why couldn't they nail an ending? Oh, right, because Casey Hudson wanted the ending "to be remembered," as if the Mass Effect franchise needed this level of controversy to be memorial - it was already memorial! He could have rolled out the most cliche ending of all time, blue babies on the beach, Garrus sharing a beer with Shepard, Mordin collecting seashells, and it would have considered fondly for all time.

    Heroic sacrifice fit the tone, and bittersweet endings are fine. The Normandy et tal was not fine.

  4. Thanks for the good link, Skyve. I guess I don't understand the outrage because I never really expected much from the ending in terms of logical consistence.

    See, one of the very first scenes in ME3 is you telling a completely clueless board of government officials and generals that they failed. And as if this wasn't ridiculous enough, the next second these people desperately ask you what they should do now. And you can tell them either:
    1) We all need to be willing to die.
    2) We must not lose hope.

    Then one government official asks you whether that is your plan? and I thought "Finally a good question". It's not getting answered, naturally.

    My point is: The whole story is so completely messed up in terms of credibility that I fail to see how another a plot hole can make it even worse. Why don't the Reapers go for the Citadel directly when that was apparently the master plan in ME1? Why don't they try to track down your ship? In ME2 they could even see through your stealth. How could the Reapers oversee the weakness of shooting into their 'laser hole'? Why don't they learn and just keep it closed and stomp you to death? How come that in the scene where you 'discover' that weakness, the Reaper behaves as if it's completely stupid? Apparently Reapers can destroy cities, but they can't kill a single guy on a rock as long as he's strafing !!

    By trying to disable my analytic mind and just allowing the game to push me through music and emotions I can derive some enjoyment from ME3. If I even started to think about logical consistence and plot holes I don't think I could rate Mass Effect better than 1/10.

    1. I'm pretty sure I remember them stating in-game that the Reapers bypassed defenses/blockades that were set up because they had no supply lines to protect. In other words, the Alliance treated Reapers like a conventional enemy who wouldn't just walk around a fort (who could harass supplies later if not taken). Since the Reapers ignored the outer defenders, they were able to strike deep in Alliance territory with superior numbers and force.

      As for what the Alliance could have done vis-a-vis Reapers ahead of time, the Crucible was built in weeks. Or, barring that, they could at a minimum have started the evacuation/dispersal of Earth's population.

      There are plot holes and then there are plot holes. Reaper eye-laser weakness is about on par with biotic powers: you either suspend disbelief or not. The Catalyst on the Citadel on the other hand? Yes, extremely distracting.

    2. I don't think this is convincing. The Reapers aren't 100x as fast as other ships and if they can bypass 'Defenses' within minutes then so can other races. Which warship needs to 'resupply' every few minutes ?

      And that the Crucible is built in weeks (instead fo years), without anybody knowing what it is supposed to do and then works without any flaw .. None of this is credible, Azuriel. Whatever it is you dislike about the ending, I don't think it is the logical inconsistency or the plot holes ..

    3. Actually the reapers are much faster than other ships. There was a codex entry and I think it was stated in game that they are faster. Now its not 100X but more like 3 to 10 times faster.

      All ships (not reapers) need to resupply their eezo and release 'heat' when going FTL. There was a codex entry to this as well.

      Finally it is implied that the Crucible takes about 6 months to finish. There was discussion in game and once again codex entries that imply this. As for the crucible itself they never knew what it does but the plans were selfexplanatory and Hacket even says that once they started it almost built itself.

      As for it working how is that hard to believe if they had the bluprints and followed them? I can give detailed bluprints for a jet engine and a team can make it and make it work without ever having built one before.

      So there is explanation for these things. Now you might question if even 6 months is possible no matter how many cooks they assign. But that is a different argument.

  5. I know I'm in a minority but the endings do make sense. There are some plot holes and more information would be nice. But I am the type of person that reads all the codex entries, listens to all the dialogue and played all three games multiple times.

    As with any movie, especially Si-Fi there is space magic. heck much of the game is space magic including Shepard comming back to life in ME2. And there isn't a game, movie, book where the main character does super-human things that defly the laws of physics. Some of that MUST be done for gameplay sake or to help in the action part since it is a game after all.

    But I'll explain the reapers, citedel and the Catalyst. The Catalyst controls the reapers. In ME1 the reapers wanted to go straight for the Citadel but the Prothians messed up that plan in their cycle. They couldn't get the keeps to 'turn on" the Catalyst so to speak.

    The Catalyst controls the reapers to an extent but is also bound by its programming. The Catalyst does not want to stop the culling, till Shepard appears and changes the "equation".

    As for the collectors tracking the Normandy while the reapers can't in ME3, that was explained in game. No one can see through stealth but they can see your ship. And the collectors paid for a tracking device to be put on the original Normandy. Again these are all explained but you get parts in various codex entries, DLC etc.

    BTW I thought the clueless government was so real that it fit perfectly. Just look at various governments all through hisotry for thousands of examples on how they ignore a threat and then want an answer. That doesn't cause disblief but enhances it!

    1. That doesn't cause disblief but enhances it!

      ;). I might even believe this for a second for the game's sake. What I can't believe is that the representatives push their inferiority into your face like that when you meet them.

      I mean, even if you think that government and any large institution is always ineffective and always completely stupid, you certainly still agree that the representatives don't behave like little boys without any amount of self confidence, like those 'politicians' do in the cut scene.

    2. Have you ever read how Chamberlain responded in private to Hitler? These are mentioned in The Guilty Men and The Gathering Storm.

      For example right after Hitller invaded the Low Countries he said "Hitler missed the bus I guess." He also said something like I guess this means we must form alliances which I never liked to do.

      So yes I can believe that government and leaders in history have been as stupid as they were.

    3. You didn't get my point. I wasn't arguing that real world government is 'better' than in ME3.

      [That's my opinion but it would be a fruitless debate with you ].

      What I am saying is that Chamberlain didn't go to one individual soldier and he didn't ask him with a desperate voice what he should do now. Maybe he should have *shrug* - but he didn't. And no politician (human?) would ever do this. Certainly not in front of other people. They do have *some* self-respect.

    4. Sticking to WW2 let me cite what was said between French PM Reynaud, Churchill and French FM Gamelin shortly after the Germans broke through around May 16th.

      Reynaud asked for advice on how he could defeat the Germans. Gamelin responded in a defeatist attitude and Churchill asked what plans he had to attack the bulge. Gamelin responded "inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of methods". Notice the quotes.

      So a leader asks a guy leading the war effort how he plans to win. But instead of what Shepard says you get this.

      Now I recall other examples of various lords, kings and emperors that were trapped or losing a war despertly asking for advice. Most of the time there was no good answer (defeat was inevitable) but sometimes they got advice like to hold the line and never retreat or to fight back.

      Honestly, what you have in ME3 is a military that ignored the warnings, got caught with their pants down and then asks the so called expert what to do. The expert has no good answer. Is all of that so hard to beleive?

      But this is way off topic from the endings of ME3.

    5. On the other hand, what could the military have done? The Reapers cut through their defense in .. minutes. Could any preparation have made a real difference?

      This is actually another thing that bugged me. The reapers are shown as being so über-powerful that any form of resistance seems futile. If one reads all database entries, it's mentioned somewhere that smaller Reaperships have been destroyed conventionally. But that's never really shown.

      I think the über-powerful presentation - especially as they destroy Earth's defense - is just another 'trick' to build tension and surprise (emotion) at the cost of credibility.

    6. In the codex is an entry where the Turians were able to defeat the big reaper ships. They used FTL and came out of it in the middle of the reapers. Four dreadnaughts targeting a single Soverign class reaper can destroy it.

      Remember that the Turians upgraded their weapons from tech they got from Soverign. So the weapons are many times more powerful then those that battled Soverign in ME1.

      The problem is the reapers can shoot targets many times farther away then the organics can. This means fleets are destroyed before they get into range. And IIRC there are a very limited number of dreadnaughts where the Turians have the most and they only have 31 or so.

      Bottom line is reapers can be destroyed, even the big ones. They have been destroyed and in the fight above Earth you see one being blasted apart. But the organics don't have the numbers to win in a heads up fight.

  6. I realize this is an old topic, and probably something you might not check or read, however I wanted to put in my two cents. When I played through Mass Effect 3 I had a blast, there were tearful moments and amazing ones and up until the last 15 minutes of the game it was one of my favorite games of all time. I didn't pass judgement or make a single outcry until after sitting silently through the entire roll of the credits, but then I looked at my wife(who watched me play all 3 the entire way through) and we both were like, "And?..."

    I don't particularly care about plot holes or inconsistency, my issue is that the endings make all of your choices up to that point feel...meaningless. Also, the even bigger issue, is that there is no meaningful resolution of everything that happened. To me it's like reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and after the ring drops into Mount Doom it simply reads, "And so Sauron died and the world was saved." While true, it leaves you not knowing anything about the specifics. You want to know about what happened to your characters and friends.

    Did you allies survive, did those choices you made have any lasting effect, other than the destruction of the reapers? None of this is answered, and so it feels unfinished, half-done and insulting.