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How Mass Effect 3 Should Have Ended
(Very, very minor spoilers ahead. Besides, the ending is so weak you'll want to imagine something different.)

So you beat the Jerk Bad Guys who wanted to destroy you / the universe / organic life for their own reasons. Whatever; happens all the time. (Never mind about threats like racism, imperialism, slavery or any of that minor stuff.) I myself have saved the universe at least five times from various antagonistic forces whose only motive was "rawr destroy". They're all the same. People who say "it's the journey not the destination" are obviously used to disappointing destinations. Why not have a great journey and a great destination?

In full disclosure, I haven't played Mass Effect 3, but I know all about the ending. Having loved and played the first two (although I didn't finish ME2 because they forced me to choose between two characters with whom I would have had perfectly celibate relationships but there was no option for "relax, I like both of you as friends let's just go kill the bad guys.") Other than some really dumb decisions with the story on a macro scale I really do love the Mass Effect mythology on a micro scale. You'll have to take my word for it. I enjoy this world a lot.

That said, this is how I'd been hoping Mass Effect would end:

You've killed the bad guys! The “epilogue” chapter begins. Your surviving teammates from over the past three games, and everyone on your ship celebrate together. You’re free to walk around the deck and talk to everybody on the Normandy. Some people might be very happy, others somber. You can have intimate conversations with everyone. Each character will talk about what they plan to do now that the crisis is over. (This will make your choices over the games meaningful, because you’ll see how you affected everyone’s lives.)

It’s a long ride back. You can either volunteer to drive everybody back home, or go straight to the Citadel where you’ll collect your reward. If you drive people home (you'll have to navigate them to their destinations yourself), you’ll get even more celebration and thanks where you land, and see some of your friends in their native home worlds. (Or at least, you’ll get a more personal “goodbye” as they go off on their own business.) Characters will reflect on the adventures you shared together. It will be beautiful, and even sad, to talk about the past and how it’s only natural for soldiers to part ways when the mission is over. Even your comrades who died in previous games can be visited and remembered. Maybe you'll have mementos from them collected in your room on the Normandy, and you'll want to bury them on their home soil. (This is poetic.)

It's possible that your love interest throughout the games (assuming you weren't space polygamous) will not want to go home, but rather want to stay by your side. (This is also poetic.)

When you finally reach the Citadel, everyone is waiting. You and your crew walk (you have to walk by default – hold the “A” button to jog) through the entire Citadel all the way to the Council Tower, where crowds of people cheer and shout. Along the way, you can even talk to people whose lives you affected during the series and have actual conversations with them. They will express their gratitude and you will feel awesome.

At the top, you are treated to a ceremony. As soon as you step off the elevator, everyone in the Council tower goes nuts for you. You saved the galaxy, after all. Together with the Normandy crew, you all walk slowly forward, having to push through crowds and crowds of people. (By this point you’re exhausted of feeling amazing, just like in real life, and you just want to rest after your difficult battles.) The grateful Council members try to quiet the crowd, but everyone is going crazy for you. The people are shouting “Shepard for President!” or, “We only want Shepard!” (The people’s trust in the Council has dwindled greatly over the past few years because of their dumb decisions over the series.) Trying to keep the peace, the Council tries to calm the crowd and offers you a reward: a seat on the Council – its first human member. Much ado is going on around you. You are given a moment to consider their offer.

You can talk to your crew members, who might offer suggestions based on their personalities and your choices over the games. Ultimately,  you have to walk up to the council and make your decision. You’ll have three:

  1. Agree to become the second human Council member, replacing Anderson. (Paragon.)

  2. Decide to retire from military life and return to Earth, where you will live out your days in peace. You nominate Anderson as the first human Council member. (Neutral.)

  3. Usurp the council’s power and take over as dictator. (Renegade.)

Option 1:
The people clap and cheer for you, as you shake hands with the Council members and everyone on your crew. You wave at the crowd amicably and perhaps kiss a Batarian toddler. Everyone seems pleased. You stand alongside your fellow council members and are asked to make a speech, which you can guide yourself in dialogue trees. (Though it really doesn’t matter what you say, it can be fun to see the crowd’s reactions to your different choices.) At the end, everyone is clapping and happy. Anderson nods at you understandingly. We can zoom out to some kid on Earth who’s watching you on TV (everyone on earth is watching on Times-Squarish screens). Your old comrades are watching you on TV as well from their home worlds. You feel great. Shepard vows to continue protecting the galaxy. The camera pans to a blue sky and we see the Mass Effect Title in big letters, then roll the credits.

Option 2:
Shepard says this whole campaign has exhausted him, and he doesn’t want to see any more conflict. With the hand of friendship extended to him by the Council, he turns his back on them and everyone else. You can make a short but noble speech where, in the end, you say Anderson would do the job better than you. People are confused, but eventually honor your request. Joker might ask you where you’re going, and you can say “Home,” “I’m going away,” or “Leave me alone.” We will fade to some lovely open fields and maybe a farm, where Shepard sits as an old man on a porch in a rocking chair, daydreaming. Now, depending on your romantic choices during the game, we might even have your children and grandchildren join you. Everyone looks peaceful, happy. Neutral. Roll credits.

Option 3:
You sit on a throne while the crowd goes nuts. Shepard makes a twisted smile at the end, and you know you have the whole universe in your hands. We slowly zoom out while some people cheer, others look around uncomfortably. Maybe some people even ask themselves, “what have we done?” The last shot of the game will be the Renegade Shepard, who you have been developing for the past 60+ game hours, standing up and accepting the glory with open arms. Cut to black with a loud sound effect and Mass Effect Title in big letters, roll credits.

And that’s it. I can guarantee 99% of all players will be completely satisfied with those endings.

Do you remember Earthbound’s ending? How you could go to every town after beating Giygas and talk to everybody in the world? That was incredible. That whole ending was beautiful because even during the last fight, the whole world - everyone you ever met, was praying for your success. As a twelve year old, that moved me to tears. And that was Super Nintendo! What a privilege to be able to walk around after you've destroyed the last boss and go talk to everyone again before going home to mom and dad.

It seems to me Mass Effect could have done this and so much more. If any game should have an ending like that - a journey back home - it ought to have been this. The ending sequence of a story really is the most important. These are the moments we've been working for! Satisfy us! Exhaust us! Make the ending too long. How can we complain from having too much ending? In fact, make it so long we would even have to save our game in the middle of it. Why not?

I'll say this: whenever I get around to playing ME3, you can bet these will be the endings I'll be playing in my imagination.

P.S. If they make you pay for a DLC alternate ending, shame on them. That's like me selling a twenty page "epilogue" to Paris where Katerina gets married or something.

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