Spoiler-Talk: Mass Effect 3 and the future of the franchise

In Spoiler-Talk, we take a no-holds-barred look at some of the biggest games and discuss what the future holds for these franchises. Expect many, many spoilers.


One of the most talked about games of 2012 was Mass Effect 3. BioWare made good on its promise to finish the fight and end the trilogy and finish Shepard's story. Unfortunately, many fans were disappointed by the ending--so much so that one fan even filed a complaint with the FTC. The controversy forced BioWare to go back and make an "Extended Cut" of the ending, one that promised to "give fans seeking further clarity to the ending of Mass Effect 3."

A Look Back

With the furor surrounding Mass Effect 3's ending, it can be hard to remember some of the bigger moments that ME3 offered. There were some very big decisions to be made in the adventure, perhaps none more nail-biting than the resolution of the battle between the Geth and Quarians. This conflict exemplified one of the main themes of the trilogy: the conflict between synthetic and organic life. In that one moment, players were forced to question if artificial intelligence could be considered actual life. While some will be able to wrangle a truce between the two warring species, others had to witness the destruction of an entire race. In my game, seeing the Quarians get wiped out was unexpected and haunting.

Many of the game's critics say that--largely due to Mass Effect's ending--the game fails to recognize player choice. Others, like myself, believe the journey is more important than the destination and found Mass Effect 3 riddled with a number of heart-wrenching decisions.

The Ending

Ultimately, players have to deal with the Reaper threat. And unsurprisingly, the Crucible, which looks likes a giant laser weapon, ends up being a giant laser weapon that can destroy the Reapers. Critics called it a deus ex machina, given its sudden appearance in Mass Effect 3. Still, it's hard to imagine how else the conflict against the Reapers could have been resolved, given the overwhelming force they represented. BioWare uses the Crucible's construction as an obvious player goal, much like the "suicide mission" from Mass Effect 2. From the very beginning of the game, players are reminded that every action will add to the Galactic Readiness level--essentially, how successful building the Crucible will be.

Depending on your Galactic Readiness, you'll have a number of options available at the end. There are essentially three choices: to destroy the Reapers, to control the Reapers, and to "synthesize" artificial and organic life, each of which results in a different colored laser shooting across the galaxy. (There's also the option to avoid using the Crucible altogether.)

Many were disappointed by how similarly these three endings played out. The Extended Cut DLC adds epilogues to each of these choices, making them more unique, appeasing some fans. Others were disappointed that in all but one ending, Shepard is forced to die.

The Indoctrination Theory

Perhaps more contentious than the ending itself is a fan-created argument for the "indoctrination theory." Conceived before BioWare announced and released the Extended Cut DLC, it argues that the end moments of Mass Effect 3 aren't exactly what they seem. Essentially, the indoctrination theory posits that Shepard has been indoctrinated by the endgame, and that the final decision represents Shepard's ability to fight the Reaper influence. For example, the Catalyst suggests controlling the Reapers, much like the indoctrinated Illusive Man does. While the Catalyst's argument is convincing, the indoctrination theory adds a sinister wrinkle to Mass Effect's ending--suggesting that the happy end of the Control and Synthesis options are ultimately a Reaper illusion.

Fans have spent hours poring over the evidence. This two-hour video offers just a small glimpse of the theory's rabbit hole. There have been over 2000 pages devoted to the theory on BioWare's official forums.

So What's Next?

There is at least one more bit of DLC for Mass Effect 3. "It's all hands on deck for this one. Pretty much every Mass Effect 3 DLC writer here in Edmonton is involved," wrote BioWare's Jos Hendriks. Given the scope and scale of this expansion, could it be the long-rumored post-ending DLC? Believers of the indoctrination theory are still looking for vindication, whereas others would just like to see a more fully-fleshed out epilogue to the game's endings. Given how different the Extended endings are from one another, a post-game DLC will definitely be tricky to pull off.

Mass Effect 4

BioWare has already confirmed that they're working on a new game in the Mass Effect franchise. The new game promises to be a pretty radical departure from the original trilogy, with a new developer taking the helm, and a new engine powering the experience. The direction of the new game promises to be different as well: "We don't want to make 'Shepard 2', or Mass Effect 4 with like, 'oh there's no more Shepard but you're a soldier in the universe'. So this will be a very, very different context for sure," BioWare Montreal producer Fabrice Condominas said.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the next Mass Effect game is its setting: will it be a prequel, or a sequel? Producer Casey Hudson asked fans for their input, and the response has been overwhelmingly in favor for a sequel. "Definitely after the trilogy. Would be fun to see how things are re-defined in a post Reaper galaxy," one fan commented. "After the trilogy for sure. I want to see where the galaxy goes, not where it's been."

But the problem of having a sequel is that BioWare will have to choose a canonical ending. As one fan joked, "I'd rather have a canon ending so at least I know which color I'm supposed to like." Forcing a canon option onto players will probably further aggravate fans who felt betrayed by the ending they received in Mass Effect 3--a prequel could avoid that complication, while exploring the rather rich world BioWare has created.

Blasto

The Hanar Spectre, Blasto, proved to be one of the fan-favorite surprises of Mass Effect 3. Teasers for Blasto 6: Partners in Crime on the Citadel proved to be one of the most entertaining side-stories in the game. A fully-fleshed sequel has been occasionally requested by fans, as it would certainly make good on BioWare's promise of making a very different game. But, will such a quirky character command as wide an audience as BioWare's original trilogy?