Mass Effect 3 Ending Vs Sci-Fi Writers
26th May 2012 | 18:30
Mass Effect 3's ending reshapes the entire galaxy and changes the lives of everyone serving on the Normandy, but it wasn't good enough for a large and vocal number of BioWare fans. Beware: there are spoilers ahead, as fantasy authors Joe Abercrombie and Jonathan Green discuss the ending, director's cut, and whether BioWare owes their community anything at all.
Mass Effect ends with a conversation with the Catalyst - a God-like entity responsible for the Milky Way's 50,000 year cycle of annihilation and renewal - a three-way choice, and one of three cut scenes. Tens of thousands of Facebook users, Redditors, and forum posters demanded a resolution with more answers, greater respect for past decisions and less ambiguity.
BioWare's response is a free, downloadable update planned for release this summer, extending the ending and clearing up a mystery or two along the way. But it's not the first time a writer has listened to their fans says Pax Britannia and Star Wars: Clone Wars author Jonathan Green.
"I've done it," he says. "My latest novel in the Pax Britannia series, Time's Arrow, is initially being released in three parts as eBooks, and readers are able to vote online for how they want the story to continue." When Time's Arrow is finally printed it'll be a collaboration between author and reader, with an ending the community helped decide before the novel was ever finished.
Mass Effect is finished, though, so would Green re-write the end if fans wanted it? "If people were happy to pay for it, why not? I would love to be able to write something where the basic story isn't the be all and end all. I'm in the business of world-building, and such extra content can only enhance the world being built."
Should fans be given so much power? "Reader feedback is worth listening to, but reader control is the high road to disaster," says Joe Abercrombie, author of the gritty First Law fantasy trilogy. "I get advice from my editor, I get opinions, and in the end I decide exactly how it will be.
"I can see why it's a lot harder to be bold with games, though. Books are relatively easy to pull apart and alter, but you wouldn't want to tell a few dozen designers that you'd decided to trash a sequence they spent six months working on and do it differently. A lot of thought upfront is important in games."
Does Mass Effect 3 need a new ending? On our own Facebook group there are as many readers happy with the ending as unhappy at the loose ends. Some of the best science fiction novels - Rendezvous with Rama, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hyperion - work because they ask more questions than they answer. Is the fuss just the work of a generation of entitled gamers raised on Star Wars, waiting for Princess Leia to hand out the medals?
"I personally prefer the hanging questions," says Green. "Life doesn't end with a medal ceremony or dancing Ewoks, and even when it does, somebody's still going to have to clear up all those discarded streamers the following morning. But there needs to be some form of emotional pay-off for all those people who stuck with the over-arching story from day one. When it comes to a huge game like Mass Effect 3, to have an ending which negates any of the travails of the player is a mean-spirited and lazy thing to do."
"The ending was bad," agrees Abercrombie, "but in no way spoiled the experience. I was vastly more disappointed by Dragon Age 2, which just seemed generally shoddy throughout. BioWare only owed players a great game and I think they largely delivered that. Shepard's relationships were actually paid off really well."
"The best moments were things like Mordin Solus's sacrifice, and the wider plotline of the Salarians, Krogan and the Genophage. The outcry over the ending seems excessive to me, but did it make good science fiction?" he asks. "Well, was it good science? No. It was pretty incomprehensible and didn't make much sense even within the context of the game.
"But I'm actually a lot more interested in whether it made good fiction. And the answer is 'no' again. Heavy exposition by a glowing child never before mentioned seems a sure sign of failure. By the time you get to the end of a hundred and fifty hours of gameplay, you shouldn't need things explained. You shouldn't be watching with furrowed brow thinking wha? You shouldn't be thinking at all. You should be feeling it."
"An author owes their readers closure at the conclusion of a series of books" says Green. "Each individual story needs some form of resolution, although that could include setting up the next adventure." That next adventure is clearly a big part of BioWare's plans, and while the new ending will give key characters the epilogue they deserved, the Retake Mass Effect campaign have simplified Mass Effect 3's bigger problems, says Abercrombie.
"I think the problems started well before the ending," he explains. "The Illusive Man went from fascinating power behind the throne in Mass Effect 2 to tedious blathering villain in Mass Effect 3, for instance. The third game was more gung ho, more morally simplistic, more... cheesy than the second.
"A great ending begins right at the start. Red Dead Redemption - which I thought had a fantastic ending - has a strong central theme about the death of the West where the central character embodies that theme, the action all plays into it, and the end is bold and tough but entirely fitting. I'm not sure how a bit of DLC can make the difference for Mass Effect 3. If the spike on the top of the skyscraper is wonky because the foundation is wonky, a new spike ain't going to fix it."