Mass Effect tragic Brenna Hillier has kept quiet about the third entry's much-criticised conclusion, but having saved the galaxy three times this week, she's ready to talk. WARNING: THIS ARTICLE SPOILS ME3'S ENDING.
Shepard is true hero, and one who deserves better – but like all heroes, won’t get it. In a military sense – and remember, every Shepard is military to the bone – that’s what being a hero means: risking your chance at a happy ending so other people can have theirs.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE SPOILS MASS EFFECT 3'S ENDING.
I picked up the first Mass Effect because it was on sale, with absolutely no expectations of liking it, but it was the first game to really make me - lazy, weak, cowardly me - feel like a hero. I was sold. I love this series and I have no idea what I'm going to do now that it's over. And over in such a spectacular way. A lot of clever things have been said about Mass Effect 3's ending already, not the least of which is "you can't please 'em all".
Many of these judgements I agree with; if you consider Mass Effect 3 as the ending in its entirety, it's much more rewarding: it's the journey which matters. And a lot of them I don't agree with; I sincerely believe the synthetic-organic tension was a prominent theme throughout the whole series, and I don't believe the endings of either previous game reflected player choice in any significant degree, either.
Inarguably, there are problems with the ending. I could probably live without that entire final sequence; just snip the film at the end of the final encounter with the Illusive Man, and cut straight to the Reapers and Mass Relays blowing up. The number of plot holes which surfaced in the last ten minutes is wince-worthy, but that's probably an unavoidable side effect of an ambitious soft science fiction project written collaboratively by hundreds of people.
But it's not like plot holes are new to the series (see: pretty much all of Mass Effect 2, as much as I loved it), or unique to Mass Effect - or that, in general, most consumers even notice flaky writing. No, as many others have pointed out, what makes Mass Effect 3's conclusion much more disappointing than other games with bad endings is that we've all spent five years connecting with these characters, and to not know their fates is a bit hard.
I'd like to see BioWare release a free epilogue - even just scrolling text - giving a brief synopsis of what each of the characters did in the aftermath, especially as I am reasonably certain that in my playthrough Liara T'soni has a little blue baby on the way ("share some memories" my ass). That would completely remedy any dissatisfaction I feel in the ending. I have no other complaints which couldn't fairly be levelled at, you know, every game ever.
And it must be said, BioWare delivered in other ways. In the final moments of my playthrough, I started to cry - but it wasn't during the traditionally tearjerker bits. I cried when Hackett radioed moments after Anderson died and Shepard, bleeding to death, having made the most heroic effort of her distinguished career, instantly struggles to her feet and answers with, "What do you need me to do?" as if it were even reasonable to expect more.
The sound of inevitability
Shepard was always going to die*. BoWare didn't hide that. You should have expected that going into Mass Effect 3, and even if you didn't, the fact that you can off the Commander in Mass Effect 2, combined with the long slow goodbyes throughout Mass Effect 3, the revelation that Shepard had been brain dead before resurrection in Mass Effect 2, and an unskippable dream cinematic in which Shepard watches herself burn alongside a dead child really ought to have tipped you off. There is no happy ending for Shepard and we were never promised one.
The Mass Effect timeline takes place over a few short years, in which Commander Shepard is constantly under extreme pressure. At the beginning of the trilogy she is being considered for Spectre status, a high note in an already impressive CV, but moments later she is embroiled in a galactic threat which never goes away. From that moment on, right up until she makes a fateful decision aboard the Citadel, Commander Shepard never stops fighting. She never rests. And she never hesitates to respond to the call of duty.
At the end of Mass Effect 3, as she achieves the impossible after years of toil and personal sacrifice, she's dying and she knows it. She's known all along that she wouldn't make it out, and so did her friends and lovers. She never received any reward, never stopped to live her own life and dreams, and now her organs have been perforated and are leaking vital fluids on the floor. Despite that, when her radio bleeps, she's instantly ready to serve.
Weepity. Oh, Commander. Not a moment's rest, but not a moment's hesitation. Shepard is true hero, and one who deserves better - but like all heroes, won't get it. In a military sense - and remember, every Shepard is military to the bone - that's what being a hero means: risking your chance at a happy ending so other people can have theirs.
Mass Effect 3 has a truly heroic ending in which players give Shepard the death she deserves - living out her promise to save the galaxy no matter the cost to herself. In that, I'd say, it is a resounding success.
*Apparently there is a "perfect" ending available in which Shepard lives - but despite following instructions to the letter, I couldn't make this happen. Enough people have written about it that I accept it's likely real, but it seems odd that only one of three choices would trigger it; until BioWare makes it explicit, I'm considering Shepard's death canonical.