So, I’d like to make clear before anyone starts: Yes, I know the official endings have leaked. No, I have NOT read the details, but I am, admittedly, going to be inferring things based on the tone of the fan reaction so far. This is a topic I’ve wanted to broach for some time, and that reaction tells me that Bioware may have called my bluff in advance. However, there is the off possibility this may constitute some manner of spoiler for some of you. So, for those of you going in entirely cold, it’s okay, thanks for reading, see you on the flipside after tomorrow. For the rest of you, I’d like to make a modest proposal.
Somehow, I’d like Shepard to fail.
Not total failure, though I’m almost certain that ending probably exists. I haven’t worked this hard just for the whole thing to come crashing down. However, Mass Effect is a series that works best in subtleties. And I think there’d be no greater way for Mass Effect to cement itself in gaming’s annals as truly literary, worthwhile sci-fi than to NOT take the easy way out.
I want Shepard to fail. I want casualties. I want saving the universe to be a dirty, abstract, scientifically and morally fucked affair.
And I want it even moreso now that gamers have read the leaked endings.
So, quick anecdote for you: I finished my ME3-ready playthrough of Mass Effect 2 last week. I had a FemShep playthrough under my belt before that was a harmony of heroic acts. No casualties, everyone survived the suicide mission. The day is saved, for now. And I was rather proud of that, especially compared to my initial Paragon ManShep playthrough where Tali and Grunt are dead.
I actually deleted that playthrough, and started anew, with a new FemShep I brought in from ME1. All the main characters survived the suicide mission, but because I did Shadow Broker and Legion’s loyalty mission in between, I lost half my crew, including poor, sweet Kelly Chambers, in a genuinely horrific way. And as much as I wanted to restart the mission, and go into the game with a full house, I found myself being okay with it. At peace even.
Tragedies such as these are what make for good drama, what make our heroes’ sacrifices and fights worthwhile, righteous, and drag the viewer, who’s only experiencing horrors and adversity beyond imagination by proxy, right into the fray. Quite often, we remember these more so than the grandest victories. Greatness in the face of failure can be something brilliant. Moreover, it’s something rarely seen in gaming. Yes, “bad” endings exist, but they’re unequivocally reversible, and undesirable. Or they’re carried out by antiheroes, where destruction and chaos are brought on consciously by the character.
The story-driven games that leave the deepest, most lasting marks these days play around in a beautiful gray area. This is where GTA IV leaves Niko, Final Fantasy X leaves Yuna, Bioshock leaves Jack, Red Dead Redemption leaves John Marston, God of War 3 leaves Kratos, Silent Hill 2 leaves James Sunderland, Sands of Time leaves The Prince. These are some of the greatest endings in all of gaming. The nuance makes them strong, effective, and brilliant. And as far as one of the greatest, most consistent endeavors undertaken in gaming, ME would best served following suit. It’s worthy. It deserves it.
Though understandable, it’s regrettable that the gaming community seems so opposed to the notion that Shepard and/or the galaxy at large may not make it out of the fight unscathed. I understand, because we have come so far, attached to the heroes we have created, given so much to see them succeed. But I’ve come this far to play my part in the grand scale. And after everything the galaxy has been through, and what we have been promised in all the material released thus far, a 100% happy ending almost seems distant. Disingenuous. Wrong. A complex universe deserves a complex end. It’s the kind of creative decision that elevates art from being good into greatness, because happily ever after isn’t a foregone conclusion. The Lord of the Rings is a great book not because Frodo destroys the One Ring and the war ends, but because his scars force him to take the ship into the West. Greatness is sometimes measured in heartbreak, in pain, in terror. Gaming doesn’t embrace that fact nearly as much as it could and should, especially with the most interesting material developers get to play with.
For Mass Effect, we aren’t just talking slavery or command over resources. We’re talking extinction. And they are already kicking the species of the Milky Way in the tender bits within 10 minutes of the game starting. We have plenty of games where one hero is able to rush in and save the day, none the worse for wear. I expect more from Bioware. I expect the Reapers to try and make it hurt. I expect to fight like hell. I expect to be unsure of whether the galaxy can pull it off to the bitter goddamned end.
And if successful, I expect to proudly carry the scars of this series around with me the rest of my life.
But first things first.
T-7 hours. Here we go, motherfuckers.