And yes, there will probably be spoilers ahead, though I will do my best to avoid them where possible.
So the game arrived just over a week ago, and it didn't take long for most people to finish (though it still weighed in at 32 hours for me, the longest of the three games). It took me just over a week, due to various constraints, but before finishing I rather alarmingly noticed a large number of people clamouring angrily over the ending for Mass Effect 3. A very large number. In the sea of disappointment and rage, it was actually nigh-on impossible to find anyone who was happy or even satisfied with the game's ending. Some proclaimed it the ruination of the trilogy. But I was 27-odd hours in, and being blown away by incredible voice acting, amazing writing, perfect character moments and epic set pieces...how could any ending ruin all that?
Finally, after gathering the might of the galaxy, and launching an absurdly large attack on Reaper-controlled Earth, my Commander Shepard made his way to his destination, his final confrontation, the solution to the Reaper threat. Everything was shaping up to be one of the best and most epic endings to a franchise of all time. Then Bioware throws a ruthless curveball at you as you seem about to succeed. "Did I just fail?", I actually thought to myself. No. Shepard picks himself up, dusts himself off (only just), and limps on towards his destiny. Something felt...odd, from this point on. And indeed, from this point on is where the controversy entirely stems.
The following 10 minutes consist of a slow, dramatic final push towards the conclusion you've been salivating over. The final confrontation between Sherpard and the now-deluded shadowy leader of Cerberus, The Illusive Man, ensues. An extremely tense standoff ensues, followed by resolution, one way or another. At this point, you're certain you've succeeded; the Reapers are about to get theirs. What occurs instead is an absolutely, shockingly bizarre and seemingly unnecessary 5-10 minutes of something that can only be described as an acid trip. Without ruining much, Shepard is effectively given an arbitrary choice of three options. All three options will 'solve' the Reaper problem in some way, and will affect the galaxy forever, but all three will also result in, *gasp*, the death of the story's protagonist. I made my choice; it was time to see how the galaxy would be affected. What came to my mind after the 5 minutes of cutscene that followed was something that I, or anyone else for that matter, would never have expected from the ultimate ending to one of my favourite franchises in gaming history...
"Uh...what the hell just happened?"
As it turns out, all three choices present a similar reaction. Do not expect a grand epilogue a la Return of the King/Jedi, because you will just end up massively disappointed as I did. The ending is bleak; incredibly bleak. It also leaves questions not only unanswered, but infuriatingly made more complicated. It seems rushed, sloppy and above all, just completely baffling. What the hell was the need for all that? Bioware does storytelling right, and this seemed entirely wrong. Something smelled funny. The biggest question on peoples' minds now was "Did Bioware intentionally make this ending incredibly abstract and messy, or is this the most epic troll of all time?".
In truth, there may be a third way of looking at this.
(At this point, it's difficult to avoid getting spoilery, so be warned.)
Under the right circumstances, making the 'right' choice, you bear witness to the truth of the matter; Shepard is still alive. He/she never even made it onto the Citadel. Wait...what? Well if you're familiar with Mass Effect at all, you know that the Reapers use a form of telepathic domination known as indoctrination, where the subject is effectively under the influence of the Reaper, ranging from being susceptible to suggestion, to being completely under its control. As many Youtube videos have shown, every sign points towards the idea that Shepard became indoctrinated shortly before he/she was about to accomplish his/her goal. This effectively means that the final 20 minutes or so of the game did not happen. Yes...it really was all 'just a dream'.
On the upside, this makes the ending that we have not only finally make sense, but it actually becomes quite brilliant and beautiful. On the downside...it's not an ending. What we're left with is Commander Shepard on the verge of accomplishing his mission, but in truth, he/she is still on Earth, with the Reapers still actively reaping.
Yeah, that's a trilogy without a conclusion, folks. I do, however, have a theory. See, already people are taking to this indoctrination theory, effectively accepting it as the true explanation to an otherwise plothole-filled ending, and already they are going off the deep end about Bioware selling us the true ending as future DLC. Now, this is a distinct possibility, and I wouldn't put it past them after the debacle that was the "From Ashes" ordeal, but I'd like to play devil's advocate for a moment. A few months back, the ending to Mass Effect 3 was leaked, and it seemed pretty legitimate. At the time, there was no outrage or overreaction to it. I personally have not seen it, but I have read the basic premise, and indeed it makes sense in a literal manner, whereas the ending we have now does not. This leads me to believe that Bioware purposely cut the 'real' ending to prevent their flagship franchise from having a predictable conclusion, something people would just sort of nod their head at and grunt in mild approval, as they knew exactly what to expect. Instead, they left us with this strange indoctrination ending, a move which I believe was entirely intended to stir up the hornets' nest, so to speak. They have even gone on record to say that a controversial ending that people talk about for months is better than a forgettable one.
Now, Bioware is pretty good at fanservice, regardless of how corrupted they've become since EA started whispering in their ear. I fully expect that this 'real' ending, with a full epilogue, is lingering around their offices somewhere, waiting to be released as DLC. The thing is, this could easily be released as free DLC. "Free DLC, how preposterous," you say? They've done it before (admittedly not with anything as huge as the end of the game), with Zaeed and the Firewalker mission pack in Mass Effect 2, and Shale in Dragon Age: Origins. All these pieces of DLC were completely free...IF you had bought a new copy of the game and had the code enclosed. I would not be entirely shocked to see the 'true' ending of the Mass Effect trilogy released as a thank-you to those who bought the game new. Charging for it would probably be the worst PR mistake Bioware could ever make, and would never be forgotten. As it stands, Mass Effect 3 needs closure one way or the other; the story remains incomplete.
So Bioware may have done something no other developer has ever done; they've tricked us with a false ending, perhaps with the intention of providing the real deal down the line. If this is the case, I could see this conclusion going down in history as one of the most mind-blowing. I, for one, have changed my tune about the ending we currently have, after reading the various indoctrination theories. However, I'm equally adamant about getting my big, epic epilogue, complete with a final reunion with all of your friends and allies you've come to know over the years, and ultimately seeing them all go their separate ways in a galaxy free of looming destruction, the choices made by you echoing throughout galactic civilization.
Alternatively, Bioware has given us a bleak, depressing and confusing conclusion to a beloved trilogy. Let's hope they're better than that.