In Praise of the Mass Effect Lore
Since everyone on earth has now done one of these, I’ll try one too (and because I think I would still add something new) – an elaboration on how I would have ended Mass Effect 3. Yes, you might think the original entry would have been long enough…
So, in my perception the biggest problem with the ending was, if you really had to boil it down to one thing, that it happened outside the (firmly over the course of 3 games and since 2007 which makes it 5 years) established lore. That’s why I’m claiming, that basically every ending within said lore, would have been (if not okay) easily accepted by a vast majority of players.
Another huge problem is, that Mass Effect 3 had only one ending. That’s naturally a tough sell, if the material was always presented as something with many choices/decisions and resulting consequences. Simply for that, there should have been at least 2 endings to the game, maybe even 3 (with additional minor variations).
I always thought that, for the sake of making an enemy truly menacing, it should be possible to loose against him. So yes, I would have built in an ending, that would have the Reapers crush the allied troops and harvest organic life according to their usual spiel. The EMS rating is way too low? You go down. I already said that, but – imagine no one could have died in the Mass Effect 2 “suicide mission” (no matter what you did wrong) and they’d still called it that. Stupid, right?
In memory of ME2 I also missed one vital part, because there, I thought, they made one very huge, important thing very right. At least in principle. To completely succeed in the end, you had to play the game in a certain way BUT it also still mattered what you did, once you’d reached the endgame. In terms of gameplay it wasn’t such a complex thing, to decide which squad member would fulfill a certain role, but it still added a lot to the scenario. It made things matter. That was already where ME3 started to disappoint. The complete endgame starting with the Cerberus base and the continuation on Earth, could be played in only one way, without any nuance to it, it was just a static mission. I guess you could say they were just being consequent now, because for the ending, nothing mattered anyway.
I also disliked the whole idea of the Crucible, being this magic space weapon, that was being built although no one understood it (just like no one used to understand the purpose of the Citadel and we all saw how awesome that turned out). I generally like no plot devices, that can just defeat any enemy (no matter how powerful) by doing something very trivial. It’s like killing the head vampire turns his victims into normal humans again. Sometimes stuff should be irreversible. That way writers might think twice before they write themselves into a corner. I hated that Mordin died, but at least his death made sense, it was already established in Mass Effect 2, that he felt like shit because of the genophage and his part in it – to a part, that was what his character was about. It made sense and the scene was powerful because of it.
The only situation in which I would have ever included the Crucible into the story, is if it would have turned out to be another trap, just like the Citadel was supposed to be. This makes even sense, since it had to be attached to the Citadel (of all things)… It also makes important characters look stupid, when they never question it. Why not have the Reapers create the Crucible, just so people would waste time and resources for building it, instead of using it for something that could actually become dangerous to them… That would fit much better into the scenario. Apparently BioWare noticed a problem with this Crucible-idea too,
because Mass Effect 3 is the first game that mentioned that it took the Reapers hundreds of years to wipe out the Protheans, up until that point it was pretty much said they hit the Citadel (it being the head of the Prothean government/society) and that was it for the Protheans, after that they had little trouble wiping out the rest. Vigil on Ilos said no word about an epic war lasting several centuries. [Update: Actually he did, this is incorrect. Vigil used the word centuries. But other problems exist, e.g. Vigil also said the systems were isolated, while Javik mentioned fighting the Reapers planet by planet and system by system… I hope I remember this one right!] It was all about them showing up and that was it for the civilizations. But back to this being a huge problem for the concept of the Crucible: ME3 told, that the Crucible was a design developed by each species in every cycle and was improved with every iteration. But how could any iteration build and develop this weapon, if the Reaper attack was the first sign (for the organic species) of their existence? You can’t prepare for something that takes you completely by surprise. Duh? We learned that this cycle was the first to have an advance warning, because these Prothean scientists managed to sabotage the keepers on the Citadel. This doesn’t even cover, that it’s highly unlikely, that every cycle would just happen to find the earlier plans for the Crucible exactly after the Reapers attacked AND knew what it was for. Also, why wasn’t the Crucible in the Prothean beacons Shepard found in ME1 AND 2 (Vigil knew nothing about the Crucible too)? You’d think that plans to the sole weapon that could defeat the enemy would be the most vital clue of them all – Liara thought of including the Crucible in her time capsule all by herself… It’s like they swapped writers between games (oh wait, they did…).
Also, what took away from the Reapers as an enemy, was that they were only one evil body without any attributes to them. Souvereign/Nazara and Harbinger were the sole 2 Reapers to be singled out and even they spoke with one voice (and didn’t appear as characters in ME3 at all). BW obviously didn’t know why the Reapers did what they did (above having the need for an enemy in the story) and quite frankly they should (at least) have stuck to this (staying silent concerning their motivations), because it was so embarrassing to present this as emergency solution… Although I never would have dared to present something like this myself, I don’t see this as a situation in which you at least could be impressed by their courage.
So, to make another ending possible, I would have introduced more nuances to the Reapers. Made them real characters in the story. How about having Shepard learn of conflicts among the Reapers themselves? They could have introduced a faction that was simply unhappy with ending life every 50.000 years until the end of time (that would have been understandable right there :P) and wanted something else. Maybe hoping for a different outcome this time… The Quarians and the Geth made peace, EDI was cool too – so even the premise of organics and synthetics always being enemies contradicted the game. Having this option, Shepard could have found allies among the Reapers themselves and convince them to fight the “evil” Reapers led by Harbinger. With that plot there also would have been no need for magical superweapons like the Crucible , to create a resolution that could have the player defeat the Reapers. With this alternative, it never would have been possible to defeat/destory all the Reapers, but it also wouldn’t be necessary, because the remaining ones would no longer be enemies and just leave to find a new destiny.
One of the major emphasizes in Mass Effect was always that Shepard could make peace with/between just about anybody. Shepard could make everlasting piece between Israel and Palestine in one afternoon and there never would be a problem again – if that was happening in the Mass Effect universe. So why not apply these wonderful diplomatic skills with the Reapers? You’d still have the huge battle against Harbinger’s forces.
And following this train of thoughts, I also would have made a version in which it is possible to sway TIM to your cause. The final conversation with him was nice enough and all, I guess, but… It was still a waste. All this built-up to simply yet another onscreen death.
I’m not planning to go into every detail of every minor story aspect (although hitting 20.000 words would be interesting), but OF COURSE I would have supplied an epilogue, no matter what (in fact, I expected it when I started playing the game, because this wasn’t just an ending to a game, but to the Mass Effect trilogy itself – everything that this game failed to wrap up, probably wouldn’t be).
To every character (at least all the major “players”) and also to most of the events the player helped shape during his adventure. That absolutely could have been implemented via text, almost exactly like Dragon Age: Origins did it. Show some wallpapers, play a sad but hopeful tune in the background, have some text explain what massive effects (ha!) the player’s actions had. That certainly wouldn’t have been more expensive than getting Jessica Chobot and hire this new composer, whose music I never noticed (and name I forgot), because I thought they mostly reused well-known music from Mass Effect 1 and 2…
My prediction is btw that they won’t change the ending in any significant way, so I’m a little disturbed that so many sites are writing some crazy stuff about new endings and so on. They are only setting people up for a second disappointment. I’ll expect only another text like the one that started the game and be happy if it’s more.
Or how about luring (tell them about the Crucible, maybe via the indoctrinated Illusive Man, so they think it’s credible – while in reality the Crucible doesn’t work at all and is crap) the Reapers into a solar system (it’s a trap!), blowing up the mass relay and fight the survivors conventionally? That idea would have been completely within the known ME universe and could have even been connected with these themes that are supposed to involve players more. Like you had to blow up Earth to destroy the Reapers. So many possibilities! But whatever! I can’t stop thinking about this. AHHH!
That’s another problem I had with the logic of the plot. The Reapers were presented as something so powerful that could never be defeated conventionally. But my question was really: Why?!? In Mass Effect 1 I still get it. There was just this powerful/unknown vessel (=Sovereign/Nazara). But beginning with Mass Effect 2 everyone had these Thannix cannons, which were reaper tech and the Codex described those as the same guns the Reapers themselves used. The Codex even states that all Tuarian ships were equipped with those – having a Thannix, and thus a REAPER gun, wasn’t even anything special anymore. For ME3 this means, that you have this huge fleet of ships that is equipped with the same tech the Reapers use to fight. I mean of course there would still be heavy losses, but why wouldn’t they be able to destroy the Reapers, when their weapons are basically on par?!? Why should the Reapers still be special after that? It would even fit logically, because this cycle was the first where the organics were warned and had some time to prepare. All the previous cycles never managed to destroy a sole Reaper (and developed weapons of their own based on this Reaper-tech), before the whole Reaper fleet began their attacks (when it was too late). That just doesn’t work for me.