I feel very lost after completing Mass Effect 3 – not because of the fan controversy over the ending, but for more intentional reasons. This final game (in the trilogy proper) was always going to be about finality, whether in the form agreeable closure or murky conclusion.
So I finished the final chapter with a bruised ego. There was no shaking off this spread of feelings. We all knew this was the final, bitter outing with Shepard and her companions.
It’s my view that this labour would have happened no matter what the ending – good or bad – and as such there are no spoilers here.
Moving on from the end of the series
Like many I have watched the Mass Effect saga unfold for nearly five years. Few developers have managed to attempt the beauty and scale of another world setting with such panache.
However it’s the little details I appreciate Mass Effect for – the way I rediscover characters from previous games like old friends. Treading over old ground, sharing old memories from the past games, wondering at our accomplishments, and of course the cheer excitement of exploring the galaxy with my favourite squad members.
So this week after completing the game I find myself mourning that lack of new adventure. The Mass Effect universe is now a closed book that I have little desire to return to. (In the same way I am reluctant to return to Halo after the primary story has ended). It’s not resentment about how things have turned out. In fact I find the discussion about the ending is almost detracting from my previously experienced sense of loss after the commitment that playing a three-stage space opera had become.
Shepard and her squad
This was always a story about Shepard’s influence on the galaxy, her decisions and influence however profound or difficult. I always found the interplay between the different characters Shepard meets the core of the game.
It’s the main humanising detail in Mass Effect’s extraordinary and alien world – and the one I looked forward to the most, there is little I can seek out to replace it. In fact I find myself looking back to the very first game. The first tentative steps of my Commander Shepard who was still finding her feet – cut from the cloth of Alliance proudest and most accomplished stock, but embroiled in something far larger than she could have ever imagined.
The team that I – that she – cultivated across all three games were the making of my experience with Mass Effect. Shepard had become a beacon within the context of the game and the epitome of a masterful, empowering and intelligent female protagonist that I (and many others) have desired for decades.
My soul lifted through the course of two further games, watching my Shepard interact with characters who returned. I started to rely on the same faces with each iteration of the game. I knew the members of my squad dearly (and one intimately). I knew their strengths, motives and backgrounds. I doubt with anyone other than Shepard to frame this discussion I would have found any of this dialogue as interesting. That sense of anticipation at meeting and finding old friends has gone now, and I’ll have to move on – but I do so with some standout moments and memories.
Sidestepping the ending
I still find myself reeling from the very difficult decisions I had to make during Mass Effect 3 – some of the hardest in the series, and the hardest ones were all before the ending. These were decisions I genuinely struggled to make, my insides writhed with the responsibility of the consequences. I urge anyone reeling over the final decision in particular to remember the compelling and believable moments leading up to the endings curveball, to think of those who have yet to make those decisions and how the large community fury is tarring the experience of those who have yet to see it for themselves.
I have always played my Shepard as myself, and acted I would have reacted to each question and decision. I suspect I share this experience with many others. The beauty of it was how our choices differed, and we’ll meet few people who played precisely as each of us did in turn. I will miss this most of all. The copious discussion of who, what, where, the agonising and the heart rates. It was glorious while it lasted, and I feel immeasurably proud to have been there from the beginning, with wide, wondrous eyes.
The finality rather then the method of the finality is causing me to feel down. It’s a blip on what has been a remarkable and enthralling five years, but I couldn’t see a world where the Mass Effect narrative ends as anything other than the darker horizon for narrative games. Upon refection I doubt I’d reacting with anything other than sadness at the conclusion of such an amazing and compelling story, and one that I will treasure dearly, and for far longer than most.
To summarise with the words of T.S. Eliot:
“…This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.” – The Hollow Men (1925)