Let’s get this out of the way right now, I kinda liked the ending(s). Yes, they were a bit anticlimactic and unimpressive by Mass Effect standards. Yes, they looked very much alike from one another, but the ending was not that big of a problem for me. If you think about it, you realize that the philosophical ramifications actually are epic and impressive. The ultimate consequences of your choices at the end of the game are pretty overwhelming and, from a writing point of view, they were good. In my humble opinion.
I think the big problem with Mass Effect 3 is not the ending, but the final mission. SPOILER ALERT. The first part of the final mission when you raid Cerberus’ main base had some pretty cool and interesting moments, but the end and the outcome were disappointing to say the least. Kai Leng had a bad character design compared to his importance in the story. Still, I was looking forward to fighting him. That was a disappointment, especially considering that it was one of the only moments of the game that could be considered a “boss fight”. I hate scripted fights. I especially felt betrayed when I spent the first few minutes of a fight efficiently taking out the enemies Kai Leng was magically spawning so that I could focus on killing him as soon as possible, but the fight’s scripting was so obvious it was painful. An enemy which takes a hell of a beating just to get his shield down shouldn’t take three shots to die after the scripted part of the fight. That’s all I have to say. I also expected a possible epic showdown with the Illusive Man, now that we were in his base. Another disappointment. This could have been great.
But I think the worst part of the final mission was from the start of the fight with the Reapers to the part where you run towards the beam. The Reapers were scary. They were one of the most impressive enemy forces I’ve ever witnessed in a video game. In result, the beginning of the game was overwhelming. For the whole duration of the game, I was enraged and extremely enthusiastic towards fighting the greatest forces of the Galaxy. I think it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a final mission so epic and impressive that it would bring me on the verge of tears (like Mass Effect 2’s final mission did). Here came the betrayal. When you show and tell the player that the Reapers are so powerful that it’s next to impossible to fight them without a weapon as big as a mountain and massive military firepower, you have to make sure the player is gonna put up a crazy fight. That being said, the final mission went against all these basic principles. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect at least a boss fight. There was none. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect the use of special game mechanisms to make the mission more interesting. There was none.
The whole damn mission was about killing the same enemies you did for the whole game in a very repetitive and extremely bland way. There was nothing special, nothing new. “Defend X” and “Survive” shouldn’t be objectives of a final mission, especially for a franchise such as Mass Effect. The action and preparation that lead up to this surprisingly very easy fight (I played at “Hardcore” difficulty and I died 2 or 3 times at most) was like getting a Ph.D. in advanced theoretical mathematics in hopes of solving the most difficult problems only to solve a simple division. What happened to the previous missile-launching, laser-dodging fight against a Destroyer? What happened to the use of biotic barriers you had to defend with your life to provide protection while fighting other enemies? How about the unexpected deaths of important characters the player felt emotionally connected to? Yeah, there was this guy Cortez, but I mean, come on.
As I said earlier, the final mission of Mass Effect 2 was so intense, well designed and expertly written that I almost cried. There were a lot of new dynamics and interesting mechanisms. The fight was so difficult and engaging that I actually screamed, Rambo-style, a few times. BioWare, you were able to make it awesome and to bring a great, emotional and satisfactory ending to an epic and elaborate trilogy I spent more than 60 hours playing, but you didn’t. You got lazy, and in doing so, you betrayed me and a lot of loyal gamers and fans. You make great games and you have talented staff, but you didn’t live up to it. Don’t ever do this to me again.