So this isn’t going to be one of my typical Q&A posts. I’ll get back to those later. This is likely about to be little more than an editorial rant, if anything. Let’s get started…
So I just finished playing Mass Effect 3.
… and already half of my readers probably know what this is going to be about. I love the series. I love the characters, I love the emersion, I love how the side quests actually contribute to the main story, and I love the multi-aspect of the games.
The first game, as expected, was a complete story. I think BioWare and EA were being cautious to give everyone a complete story surrounding the characters and crew of the Normandy with room for a sequel but weren’t really banking on one.
The second game destroyed the original Normandy… kay… and landed the main character in a two-year restoration program to bring him back to life. I actually liked this one the best. Why? Well right off the bat, you find yourself working for the bad guy. That’s right, Cerberus saved your life, rebuilt your ship, and reassembled your crew. Right away, you know these people have their own agenda, but they have the survival of humanity at the top of their list and there are bigger fish to fry, so you have little choice but to go along with it. It’s also in this game where the romance options really start to come into play.
Now, once you’ve beaten the second game, you find yourself under house arrest for working with Cerberus, while the Reaper fleets are moving closer and closer to Earth. The game actually starts off with the kick-off of the Battle of Earth. You’re forced to evacuate, and the Normandy (now an Alliance ship), is returned to you. You go through the galaxy, building Alliances, bringing other fleets into the fold and attempting to get the galaxy up to a military strength rating of 5000… which isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Spoiler Alert: Though the games have been out for years now.
If you either don’t gain enough military strength or make the wrong decisions in the game, the main character dies…
Okay, I’m not a huge fan of that, but whatever. I’m not the writer, so if that’s the logical outcome to the people who created the story, then so be it. This is why I started writing my own stories because I too often find the endings of other peoples, disappointing.
My main gripe comes with ‘Good’ ending. If you get that 5000 EMS, and make the right choice, you go through the typical ending, but after the Admiral gives his speech and we see everyone go their separate ways… you’re then taken to a massive debris field where you see a familiar suit of armor and a dog tag with the letters N7 on them. The suit of armor moves as its wearer takes in a deep breath, signifying that Shepherd is still alive.
I anxiously awaited what was to come next. Was someone going to find him? Where was he? Would he be reunited with the crew and his love interest (in my case, Tali’Zorah)?
Was any of this going to be answered?
NOPE!!!! That’s where the game ends. It’s supposed to give you hope that Shepherd lives, but given how badly he was hurt, given that he’s been beaten up, shot, survived a massive explosion, survived mind control, and then survived whatever happened with the Crucible… for all we know, he could be brain dead, he could be badly injured and not survive long, etc. There is any number of things that could happen here. Just because we see him breathing, doesn’t mean he’s going to survive or if he does, they may not find him.
This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a fourth game (No Andromeda doesn’t count!), but it doesn’t seem like there are any plans to make another one following this cast.
Writers in all formats, I’m begging you now… PLEASE STOP DOING THIS!!! Open endings at the end of series or the end of a story is a good way to piss your audience off. If they’ve devoted the time and energy to get through your story (in the case of Mass Effect, 150 hours of gameplay to effectively do everything), they’re not going to appreciate being left hanging.
This is especially dangerous as a bad ending can break a good story, whereas a good ending can absolutely save a bad story. The wrap up is arguably one of the most important aspects of your work because that’s the note people are going to be left on. If you build everything up and then the ending lets them down, it will leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. You want people to remember your stories fondly because you want them to reread those stories or even look into more of your work. Even if they loved your story throughout the entire thing, a lousy ending can suddenly unravel everything you’ve built.
This is why so many people say that a bad sequel turned them off to a story, or they simply pretend it doesn’t exist. Well, that’s great, but you don’t have that luxury when the part you don’t like is an integral part of the main story.
My advice honestly when it comes to things like this… if you don’t intend to write a sequel, or you’re goal isn’t really to make people think philosophically on a topic… then don’t write an open ending. Don’t leave things up in the air or open to speculation, because if you do, the specter of doubt will always be there, and most people will not like it. Wrap everything up, finalize everything and leave it.
Fortunately, gamers these days “suffer” from a condition known as ‘Weaponized Autism’. Apparently, a few people who felt the same way I did, took it upon themselves to do something about it. With several game developers leaving their code open so that gamers can modify aspects they don’t like (See Skyrim and Dragon Age on Nexusmods), a final fix for this ending was put in place.
This anal-retentive attention to detail cleaned up the problem areas of the original ending that made no sense and still respected the original ending while expanding on Shepherd’s survival. If you haven’t played the game, but plan to… do yourself a favor, DOWNLOAD THIS MOD!!! Do it before you finish the game.
Okay, not that we’re past that, is there a place/time where an open ending is a good thing? I’d like to think so.
In my book, Damnation, General Xaphan has committed horrible atrocities. First by helping Lucifer wage war against the Most High, then by helping him build a new army in the Underworld, and even after that by attempting to murder her own sister. However, out of love she developed for a human, she turned on Lucifer, foiled his plans to launch a second attack on the Celestial World, and sacrificed her own life in an attempt to save the human she loved.
As I was writing the ending, I was stuck on whether or not the Choirs of Angels would overturn her exile and permit her return to the Celestial World. Were her sins too great to be redeemed? I couldn’t decide. I alluded to the outcome I wanted for her but decided to leave her with two possible outcomes. At the end of the story, she’s resurrected and given a human form. The angels tell her that, in order to earn her place in the Celestial World and thus, a chance to be with the one she loved again, she would need to linger on Earth for an average human lifespan. She was given two options;
- Live a righteous life, a life of charity, celibacy, and selflessness. If she could do that, she would be allowed to return.
- Refuse the offer or fail to live that way, and she would be returned to the Underworld to linger forever in darkness.
She took the offer, but that’s where I ended the story. Did she redeem herself or not? Well… that really depends on the reader in each case. If the reader thought that she’d done enough and deserved to live out eternity in happiness, the reader would grant her that, if not, her banishment to the Underworld would be on them. It depends on the philosophical question of what it takes for a person to be redeemed.
Anyway, that’s my opinion regarding the problem of open endings. Let me know what you think in the comments!
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