Loose Ends

Mass Effect 3 - This is where it ends...

So most of us have seen the new Mass Effect 3 “Extended Cut” endings. And they’re… well, they’re still not brilliant, let’s be honest about that. But they raise an interesting point in their unusual finality – there can’t be another Mass Effect sequel as a result. Intentional or accidental? You decide. Here’s my thoughts.

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The three new Extended Cut endings for Mass Effect 3 raise an interesting point for me as a writer.

You see, as much as there was criticism on the ending of the trilogy, personally I had a lot of respect for them. They had plotholes and it was all a little rushed, but the series was ended with intentional and interesting scope for the future. By having a unified, coherent and unified ending point, they could – in theory – have come in with a Mass Effect 4 at some point.

Thing is, then the backlash began from the fans who felt that they deserved a happy ending, that they needed closure and an explanation greater than the one that Mass Effect 3 provided them. This had been going on for some time and was obviously threatening the future of Mass Effect, as angry consumers began to wail and gnash their teeth that they weren’t getting what they wanted. Many demanded new endings, new conclusions. The discussion on all things Mass Effect was no longer whether the games were any good – they are by the way – but whether the endings were worth the $120+ that people had shelled out over the years for them.

BioWare, in the face of overwhelming popular criticism, caved. Hence the new endings. And congratulations fanbase, you got what you wanted. But this has come at a terrible cost.

You see, the extended cut endings are no longer open ended, or unified. Each one has its own conclusion, it’s own happy ending where the universe will pull through together. And all three (with the exception of the bonus fourth ending, which may or may not be considered canon at this point) end with finality. This is it. There is simply no-where else to go.

Now, was this an accident, or intentional? That is likely a question we will never see answered. But here’s my feelings on it.

Personally, if I had been asked to rewrite an ending to a story, I’d probably react fairly extremely too. This isn’t to say I’d kill a character off, but I certainly would do my best to ensure it pissed as many people off as possible because hey, I tried – and apparantly, no-one wanted MY ending. You see, a story is often a very personal thing as well. As readers and gamers, we often don’t get to choose the progression of the story so it is down to the people writing the script and narrative to ensure that that particular aspect is as solid as possible. This can take weeks or months of work, and as a writer I can say yes, I get very involved in it. I enjoy getting into the heads of characters, seeing a world through their eyes. It’s interesting, it’s fun and you feel somewhat attached in a sense. These are people you know, you gave life and a voice to, and it is very hard when someone says you have somehow failed them.

I suppose there is something of a parental vibe about this feeling – it’s a strange thing that I can’t really explain. The thing is, BioWare lost control of their characters and their story – suddenly, their judgement was called into question. They were told they hadn’t been good enough and were failing their behemoth sci-fi saga somehow with their conclusions. The only way to sate the fans was to give them what they wanted, but in doing this, BioWare must also have realised that relinquishing control of this aspect could and would have devastating consequences.

First, this would mean the fans would have more control over any future than they would. That any future sequel would of course need to go through the fans, rather than be entreated into the hands of trained writers, and here’s the thing – fans don’t always know what is best for the series. Fans are a divisive lot, with many differing opinions, and some would go for a happy ever after whilst others would rather watch the universe burn. Some would of course put more emphasis on gay and lesbian relationships than normal, or have a Reaper fall in love with Shepard and they run away together into the sunset (no really, I have read fanfiction where they do exactly that!). Fanfiction is the place to see what the “fans” as it were would do with the series if they had more solid input. Personally, that would have me creaming my pants in no time. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let anything of mine be put to that kind of fate. I’d rather make sure there was no way to continue than to have it continue in such a format.

Secondly – and most importantly – if BioWare were to lose control of Mass Effect, EA could move in and decide to remove it from their care, and put it into the hands of another development studio. Again, this is very painful for anyone who would have spent the best part of ten years working on a series like this. You are again being told you are not good enough, and that someone else can do it better than you. Something you created and gave life to would no longer be in your care, carry your name, remember your views or voice. It’s extreme to ensure that there would be no future for the series, to deliberately ensure that EA themselves could not take it away and hand it to someone else, but it’s a probable scenario to consider.

Most of all, the whole debacle has reaffirmed me of an old saying. “Be careful what you wish for…”

You see, sure we can ask for new endings. Demand them, petition them, give money to charities in large part to draw attention to it, but you see, we’re the consumer. If by some reason we are not happy with the outcome of something, our power – traditionally – is to simply choose not to spend money on future products by the studio and/or publisher. Hit them where it hurts and they get it. What happened, in my eyes, with this was BioWare simply could no longer stand to watch as Mass Effect was being assaulted and whilst fans were writing their own endings and conclusions. Better or worse, the loss of control over their darling lovechild project prompted the most extreme of reactions – to end it all, with finality, and ensure that all three endings are so final and so wildly different that no-one could ever carry it on, not even themselves. That they would rather see their project succumb to oblivion than to see it continue in such a world.

With no power, no control and the threat of losing their dear property starting to loom on the horizon, they made the decision – if we can’t have it, no-one can.

And this, fans, if what you asked for. You got it. And now you all must live with the consequences. Mass Effect is over, done. Bar DLC, it appears BioWare are cutting it off and running a mile. And I simply can’t blame them for it either, because ultimately they created a fantastic trilogy that had a bloody amazing journey. Sure, the ending sucks but come on, we’re gamers. We’re USED to crummy endings. Beyond Good and Evil, anyone?

BioWare tried to ensure it would have life beyond Mass Effect 3. And now, because of the reaction this caused, we no longer have that.

It’s over. Rest in peace, Mass Effect. For you have been a friend over the years. If only people could understand that sometimes, getting what you want means losing out in the future…

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