There has of course been a ton of controversy about the ending of Mass Effect 3, so before I begin this week's rant, I would just like to provide fair warning: there's going to be some spoilers here.
There are times where I'm almost ashamed of the gaming community. It doesn't happen often, as most of the time developers and publishers are more than willing to be the bad guys, but there are times where our industry creators get things right. Understanding why Mass Effect 3's ending was appropriate is hard if you're used to today's modern-day entertainment standards. In this world, everything ends happy, all conflicts are resolved, loose ends are neatly tied together, and just a hint of a sequel sits around in the background. But when you know that a series has a limit, when a journey has a defined end and you're not just sitting down for a weekend of gaming, or a two hour movie, or a 200 page book, the mind works a bit differently. All of a sudden you're in this for the long haul, waiting years until the next chapter in the tale to release. Some enjoy the journey, but most can't help feel as though the author (or writer) owes you one for all the years of patience and loyalty.
Only in reality you're the one who owes them. Despite BioWare attempting to set themselves apart with the illusion of choice, decision making and character customization, the fact of the matter is that you're still partaking in an RPG. There's an overarching story, supporting characters, a beginning, middle, and end just like any other game. Now players get the ability to select a few things, make some changes to the overall flow of the story, but calling Mass Effect a 'choose your adventure' series is fairly accurate. BioWare has essentially created different versions of the same game, all wrapped up in a single package. Some would call that replay value. For gamers like myself the illusion of choice is just a nice ride. Just because I'm making some decisions that guide the overall plot, it doesn't mean I'm calling the shots when it comes to the entire story.
What I am changing is nuances. Does Wrex die in the first game? Doesn't matter, I still work with the Krogan in the second and third. Will I kill the Rachni Queen? Perhaps, and even if I don't the ramifications of these effects won't really have a major effect on the big picture. BioWare has created a story that everyone can share in a sense, focusing on major events while discussing the minor differences between them. It's incredible in a way, as BioWare gets you emotionally attached to your individual story, while at the same time keeping the differences from one game to the next fairly slim. It's also very distracting. It's easy to forget that despite Commander Shepard's Paragon or Renegade motivations, his/her goal has always been to stop the Reapers at all cost.
Maybe this is my interpretation of Shepard, but sacrifice was always an option. I never expected others to join my cause, or for alien civilizations to be touched by my bravery. I never expected to have my character fall in love with an alien sniper, to journey into unknown space and shut down a human harvesting operation. During my trials and tribulations I met many compatriots, and lost some along the way as well. But never once did I think there would be a way to stop the Reapers without sacrificing everything. If the first game introduced me to Shepard, and the second game was a chance for me to fall in love with the universe he/she was fighting for, the third was my chance to die for it.
In a sense I can understand the major complaint that Mass Effect 3 didn't resolve anything. After all, if you judge it simply by the last ten minutes it feels like nothing was really resolved.
But as I've already explained, Mass Effect 2 was the game that got me to fall in love with the universe, it may make more sense to explain how 3 was so amazingly comprehensive. As players we get far more character interaction than either of the prior titles allowed, and as a result far more characters develop. Obvious plotlines like Legion and Wrex were just as creative and engaging as seeing the return of the previously unstable Jack or helping Mordin finish curing the genophage. Sure you never actually get to play alongside these characters, but in place of them fighting alongside you players are given a deeper look into their lives.
What matters isn't the resolution, but the journey, and what players need to understand is that Mass Effect 3 is a game that is nothing but resolution. Characters are saying goodbye left and right, and almost everyone you encounter comes to terms with their inevitable death in the last ditch battle to save Earth. Survival is no longer in the playbook as is evidenced within the first twenty minutes of the game. It's too late the beat the Reapers, leave the galaxy intact, save all your friends and then watch Commander Shepard go off into the sunset. This should have been fairly obvious from Mass Effect 2, when the Citadel is actually attacked by a never before seen entity that openly declares war on all advanced galactic civilization and the council proceeds to ignore the threat as if it never really happened.
Deep down inside it would have been nice to really know what happened to the galaxy. Did it recover? What happened to Joker and EDI after the ship crashed, and what world were they on? How have the other alien races fared with the destruction of the mass relay system? It'd be great to have answers to these questions, but I didn't go out and buy a history book on the subject of a fictional universe. I wanted to know the story of Commander Shepard, and everything else was an amazing extra. I'll certainly miss playing as the galaxy's most amazing badass, but there's an entirely new universe out there that can be expanded upon in so many different ways. I'm thoroughly excited to see where the franchise goes next.