Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mass Effect endings: Round 2

Bioware recently put out new endings for Mass Effect 3.  It is pretty much universally agreed that the new endings are a big improvement over the default endings but of course the internet's opinion on how good the new endings are ranges from abysmal to amazing.  The structure that Bioware used for the end of the game was a strange one to my mind.  They chose to have the player talk their way through a ton of explanation and backstory and then offered four choices:  Destroy your enemies with massive collateral damage to friendlies, assume control of the enemy, turn every being in the galaxy into a synthetic/organic hybrid (guaranteeing peace for some reason) and Bite Me, I don't want to choose any of the above.

The reason I think it is bizarre is that there really wasn't any leadup to this final choice.  It wasn't foreshadowed that Shepard would have to alter the face of the galaxy completely with a single choice and your character's choices prior to this point had no bearing on the choice made at the end.  It isn't that there should have been more, better choices but rather that there shouldn't have been a choice at all.  The entire series led up to the moment where Shepard would hit the Big Red Button and destroy the Reaper menace so why not just do that?  It wouldn't require any sort of Deux Ex Machina ending nor introduce bizarre new characters but rather just finish things off in the way we always thought they would finish.  The fantastic part about doing it this way is that there could be a big variety of cutscenes afterwards that would display how Shepard's choices throughout the series played out in the long run.  It could show what happened with the Krogan (cured or not), the quarians/geth (destroyed or allied), and how the various individuals and races dealt with the end of the war.  

The trouble with the four choices at the end is that all the choices leading up to them are pretty much irrelevant.  What sort of character Shepard is hardly matters at all to the ending sequences because they are based around a single bizarre choice instead of a multitude of events over a long time frame.  This design decision is a hard one to make because there is always the temptation to try to top everything that has come before with something even crazier and more impactful so that the final moments of the story blow people away.  Writers naturally want to have a big reveal that leaves people surprised and amazed at how it all fits together but that works badly when the story isn't set.  You can't do a big reveal properly when you don't know what the character is going to do or what they have done before!  In a roleplaying game (which is what Mass Effect is trying to be) you simply have to let the ending flow naturally from the story rather than railroading them into The Big Twist Ending.

I will give credit where credit is due though:  If you are going to do a big Twist Ending and railroad the player into just a couple of options then it was done pretty decently this time.  The new endings give a solid sense of closure and feel properly done.  It isn't the best possible way to end a story but it is a damn sight better than their first try.

1 comment:

  1. To some extent I'm sure their choice of endings was hampered by the fact that they were being tacked on after the fact. Who knows what kind of programming nightmare that was, and a "self-contained" ending might have been the only realistic way for them to do it.