In Defense of Mass Effect 3’s Ending

November 20, 2007, the release of the original Mass Effect. March 6th, 2012, the release of Mass Effect 3, the last of the trilogy. Every single day between those two dates, BioWare was lauded for creating a universe rich with personality, lore, and substance. This was a franchise that some were calling “the Star Wars of our generation.” Not exactly a small claim.

All of a sudden, when Mass Effect 3 ended the story, irate gamers flocked to the message boards demanding a new ending, clamoring for change. A fan poll went up on the BioWare Social Network asking about the ending, and as of this writing 89% of voters thought the endings weren’t up to standard. Of course, there is nothing official about this poll, as it’s just fans on a message board, but it’s still interesting to note. Some examples of comments:

They have to change this. I can’t deal with the idea of going through three 30+ hour games only to have my character die at the end of it all, or end up forever alone. It’s just stupid.”

The endings suck total donkey balls, but I do not necessarily want brighter endings. I just want BETTER endings.”

The endings are an absolute disaster that mar a clearly otherwise excellent game and go as far to mar the entire trilogy reducing the desire to want to replay. No happy ending or even semi-happy ending where Shepard at least ends up with the Normandy crew on Earth is absolutely ridicolous.”

These endings that Bioware thought of are bold, they have taken the risk of offending fans by creating endings that are non-conventional….. By defeating the Reapers and their purpose, YOU END A CYCLE THAT OCCURRED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THERE ARE BOUND TO BE SACRIFICES AND CONSEQUENCES.”

Those last two comments are the one I want to focus on, because the ending of this trilogy is NOT the abomination that this small percentage (yes, small percentage, as 25,000 of 3.5 MILLION COPIES SOLD IN A WEEK is 0.71%) of overly vocal critics would lead you to believe.




The entire Mass Effect series culminates in a battle for survival against The Reapers. Losing the war means galactic extinction. EXTINCTION. The stakes are higher than any battle before or after. There is no future after this loss; the galaxy as these characters know it would be gone. With stakes this high, winning must be achieved at any cost. There can be no happy ending here, something has to give. In the case of these endings, Shepard is forever separated from his crew (if he doesn’t die), and the Normandy crash lands on a lush, beautiful planet ripe for habitation.

People are saying that there are unanswered questions: what planet did the Normandy crash on, why did the mass relays have to be destroyed, and more. If this were being argued in a court of law, and these points were made, I’d have a simple retort: objection, relevance.

These questions don’t need to be answered. These worries are based on expectations that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. These angry fans decided before they played the game that it should end with everyone happy and reunited on a rebuilt Earth, in no way was it set in stone. They weren’t in charge of writing the story, so their assumptions are irrelevant.

Think about how this really ends: Shepard knowingly sacrifices himself for the greater good. The Normandy crash lands on a planet that can sustain life, as you can see by the plant life and running water. After the credits, a human man, known only to us as Stargazer, talks with his child about what happened. Shepard gave his life in order to give those he cared about A FUTURE. He gave them the ability to rebuild, the ability to flourish, and the ability to live again in peace without interruption. Shepard him/herself KNOWS that’s what he/she’s giving them, as we can tell by what he says to the Catalyst:

But you’re taking away our future. Without a future, we have no hope. Without hope…we might as well be machines, programmed to do what we’re told.

Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, so Shepard choose to give him/herself in order to restore the galaxy’s future. It may not be the warm, fuzzy ending some came to expect, but it’s still a bright future for those that survive.

Would it have been nice to see Garrus finally buying that drink for his commander? Yes. Would I have liked seeing my Shepard settle down with Ashley after a grueling war? Of course. But this was not the kind of conflict where those best-case scenarios could happen. Something had to give. In this case, it was the hero, a hero we as players spent three games crafting in our own image, making the impact of the sacrifice that much bigger.

Furthermore, I think the aforementioned mini-epilogue with the Stargazer at the end is far more important to the end of the trilogy than people realize. A man regales his child/grandchild with stories of “The Shepard,” a larger-than-life hero who delivered the galaxy from extinction and gave them the lives they live now. This Stargazer obviously knows a good amount about Shepard, so only one logical conclusion can be made:

The Stargazer is Joker.

If that’s true, and Joker is the one telling these stories, then this scene establishes that Shepard’s sacrifice was not in vain; that the handful of people who landed on that planet in the Normandy were able to rebuild their lives anew, starting the next great galactic civilization…only this time, there will be no Reapers breathing down their necks.

While it may not be the 100% happy ending the forum denizens may have wanted, the end of Mass Effect is in no way “stupid,” “an absolute disaster,” or even “donkey balls.” It is the way Mass Effect should end: a hero who, already having given so much to protect the galaxy, gives his/her life to save it forever.

Jason Fanelli oozes the blood of a gamer, having played games for over 20 years. Follow him on Twitter @bigmanfanelli for more irreverent banter you may not agree with. He’s all for good games discussion.