A writer enters into a kind of contract with their readers. You pay them to entertain you, take you on a journey through highs and lows, with action, adventures, romance… and then to deliver an appropriate payout at the end.
As a first time author, you are an unknown. People have to take a great chance with you, because you have no reputation to work with.
For an already published writer, however, the nature of the work is different. You have a reputation to live up to. For a writer working on a series, that reputation and legacy is even more important. With each new instalment, the stakes need to be raised, the highs and lows need to be more turbulent, the emotional roller coaster needs to be more engaging, and the payout needs to be just as satisfying.
This is true in video games as much as it is in novels, but because the medium is more interactive, the potential for emotional attachment is much greater: instead of a 600 page novel that takes 3 to 4 hours to read, you have a game that lasts 30 hours instead, where you make choices along the way.
BioWare have long been held in high esteem as masters of interactive storytelling. They seem to understand this “author’s contract” better than any team of game creators.
So it is extremely sad to think that, where it matters most — the culmination of a massive video game trilogy that people have put upwards of a hundred hours into — they seem to have dropped the ball and forgotten the most important tenet: an emotional payout equal to the investment put in.
Mass Effect 3 is a brilliant game. Its controls are sharp, its mechanics refined, and its story almost universally well scripted and presented.
Until the very end, where it delivers one of the worst emotional payouts I’ve ever seen in any medium. The possible endings to this series are so underwhelming that speculation is rife as to them not even being the real ending. Players are hoping that the perceived endings are just hallucinations — pointing out slight holes in the narrative that seem to support this theory — and praying for downloadable content that actually finishes off the series in a more appropriate manner.
Forum posts are springing up everywhere with potential sequences for fitting endings — many of them just as bleak or tragic as the ones we’ve been given, but at least they are fleshed out to a proper extent. As it is, the consequences of our choices and actions over three games get reduced to practically zero, and instead we get a very short cinematic that basically tells us nothing about our real impact on the galaxy.
This is not the payout we signed up for. And as such I find myself siding with the players who hope that the endings are a dream, a hallucination brought on by a key event in the final stages of the game. It seems very much to be grasping at straws but that honestly seems better than the letdown we currently have.
From a writing standpoint, it almost seems to me like we have to be right: the ending of the game simply isn’t anywhere near the caliber of the rest of the writing. It seems rushed and a little bit forced. There’s absolutely no reason, no excuse, for the final game in a trilogy to have anything less than an amazing ending.
The ending to FFXIII-2 is bleak, but say what you want about the game, its ending is at least foreshadowed through the narrative and is reasonably well told. We don’t even have the comfort of that in ME3.
It is hard not to sound entitled when faced with something like this. I could say we should have got better endings, that we deserve free DLC to wrap this story up in a more fitting, fleshed-out manner… And a big chunk of me does indeed feel that we at least deserve better. I, at least, need more closure than what we have.
Surely a company with as much storytelling experience couldn’t underestimate how much series fans are going to feel betrayed by this half-assed ending? I don’t see how BioWare can honestly expect to sell a ton of DLC for this game like it did with ME2 when so many people felt very let down. I mean, where’s my replayability? There are an absolute ton of different decisions I could have made throughout the game, but none of them seem to have mattered one iota at the end, so where is my impetus to explore them?
Critics will say “Mass Effect has always been about the journey, rather than the destination”, and that is certainly true to an extent. It is true of all the famous epic trilogies, but they all had big payoffs. Think what Star Wars would have been like without the payoff of redemption for Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. Think what Lord of the Rings would have been like if Frodo gave into the temptations of the ring completely, threw Sam into the volcano instead of the One Ring, and walked away from Mount Doom to deliver said ring to Sauron…
Think how pissed off you would be if, instead of spending several hours reading these, you have spent several real life days actually guiding the characters through their decisions, feeling the weight of their choices. Imagine you’d pissed off Han enough that he doesn’t fly back to save your ass at the end of A New Hope. Or that, thanks to choices you’ve made, Boromir actually survives.
The Mass Effect series has asked for more emotional investment in characters than any other videogame series to date; arguably it has asked for more emotional investment than many books and television shows in recent memory too. I fully expected my Commander Shepard to die at the end of ME3, but in doing so, I at least expected to find out the consequences of her actions. As it is, we get practically nothing. I don’t know if BioWare think they are saving more for DLC, or maybe even a Mass Effect 4 (“Just one more…” says the guy at the end) but unless it pulls a public relations card out of its backside pretty soon, I’m not sure how many people would flock to purchasing another title from them.
We were promised an epic conclusion to the trilogy. We naturally assumed that this would include an epic ending to go with it.
The game was indeed epic!
But the ending…
Hoping for this to be part of BioWare’s plan and that we aren’t done yet, ~Demajen