(Warning: Spoilers ahead)Allow me to begin by saying that I didn’t get into the Mass Effect series until the summer of ’11, and began with the second one (Wal-Mart for $20? Couldn’t resist). However, playing five missions in, I realized I was missing a lot of info with the whole Saren and the Geth deal. Found the first one, beat that, beat the second one, and recently beat the third one (80% Paragon).
So what does this have to do with the game itself?
For a moment, let’s focus on why the interwebs says that the ending sucks. From what I can gather, it all starts at the point where The Crucible and The Citadel combine, and the expected “Destroy-All-Reapers” EMP/beam doesn’t fire. Meanwhile, everyone within a light year is getting mauled and vaporized by a race of sentient machines (Skynet, anyone?). You’re told by Admiral Hackett that “It must be something from your end,” possibly meaning you push a button or something. Well, at this point, your armor you spent so much time collecting is gone, your good buddy Anderson (Who you’ve known since ME1) just died next to you believing we saved everyone (Jorge, Halo: Reach), and you can barely even stand. When you reach the control panel fifteen feet away, you’re lifted up into another room.
Okay, doesn’t sound that bad, but this is where the internet flares. Upon reaching what appears to be an observation room, you’re greeted by a ghost of a child. This is the same child you saw get obliterated by a Reaper as his escape shuttle had just taken off early in the game, which spawns several dream sequences with cryptic meanings. You’re told that this whole thing was about synthetics, that every civilization eventually creates them, and eventually they rebel (Skynet again?). You’re also told that you are the first one to get this far (Lie! Illusive Man got there earlier), and that the Reapers no longer are capable in keeping people from getting this far. I only got two choices (third unlocked via multiplayer, apparently), either do what you came here to do and destroy the Reapers and all other synthetics as well as yourself in the process, or gain control of the Reapers (as the Illusive Man suggested several times) and never come back.
So, where’s the rage? First off, we got an immortal God-Child who controls a 50,000 year cycle of galaxy-wide genocide. If the writers had left him as a PTSD element, things would have been fine. However, this plot twist was insane in its delivery, and I don’t think players were entirely ready for it. I sure as hell didn’t see it coming, nor did a whole lot of sense come out of it, but I accepted it anyway. Some things are best left unexplained.
In addition to that, most players (like myself) devoted many hours to the other two games believing that all our side-questing and carefully laid plot pieces would pay off in a seemingly unique way. Well, when you get to the end and you have one final decision that trumps all previous ones, you feel cheated out of your spent time, like it all didn’t matter.
Well, let’s hark back to the days of the previous titles, specifically the first time playing it. I remember firing from the hip on conversations, doing what I thought was necessary or right. I made Zaheed let his twenty year grudge get away in the name of the innocent, gave the Council the finger for being blind to Saren, promoted Anderson to Council (Udina retakes his spot in ME3), let the Rachni Queen go, let Wrex live in our discussion, let Alenko die a hero’s death, and helped every one of my teammates with their daddy issues. Guess what? I’m proud of those decisions and don’t regret them any.
But the fact is, players expected a short order payoff for EVERYTHING they did. When that man on the Citadel in ME1 asked about his wife’s body being brought back for proper burial instead of staying for research, the only payoff that got was a message sent to your inbox in ME2. Low risk, little time spent, low reward. Did we ever hear from him again? No. Did we expect to? Not really.
Bigger decisions came back often to haunt or reward you, like letting the Rachni Queen go. Letting Alenko die instead of Williams led me to think about what I was missing in terms of conversation. Saying “goodbye and thanks for the fish” to the Illusive Man seems to have come back to bite me in the ass. Everything had its closure, everyone had their fates. Chances are, you don’t remember half the side quests you did. Those that mattered were remembered.
My point is this. As players we need to realize that there’s a message being delivered. That message may be a reminder of how fragile our existence is, how much our personal decisions matter, and what is really important in the infinite scope of the universe. We’re given sentience either through evolution, divine intervention, or some other theory. What we do with that sentience is up to us, whether we decide to help or harm each other. As it is, the farthest we’ve ever gone ourselves is our own satellite, the moon, and we’ve only observed the distant celestial bodies, even the ones a few million miles away.
Aside from the message, we need to look at other reasons. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of ME3. Unanswered questions are used as cliffhangers, usually in lieu of suspected continuances. When you finished ME1 and 2, most of the issues got closure, but you were still left with this massive gut feeling at the end, wondering what was going to happen next. This kept you wanting to play the next title, and the next one after that. The Halo series did a great job with self-contained stories about a whole journey with cliffhangers to keep us on our feet. The Baldur’s Gate series has a habit of giving you something more to chew on after you’re all done. Mass Effect did the same exact thing but in a different flavor.
So why is that important? Well, if you haven’t caught my drift yet, it either means you haven’t been paying attention or did a TL;DR. Point is, these cliffhangers might mean an ME4, continuing the story in a much different perspective with new faces and new light on what we’re stuck scratching our heads about. Why is there a God-Child in the game? How did he get to where he was? Is he part of something much bigger?
Attempting to write a story for everyone to enjoy is hard. During the interviews with the game developers, it was said that females of some species as well as what a Quarian looks like behind the mask was never put into the game because they knew that somebody was going to be disappointed and flip a lid. Sometimes it’s best to leave that to the fandom to think about.
In closing, it comes down to this: Take a closer look before you rage. Over analyze if you have to (Bronies are, by nature, prone to this). You’ll be surprised at what lies inside.