The criticism has been so pervasive and consistent, BioWare obviously could no longer ignore it. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka took to the company blog to address the issue, and strongly hinted that the company is considering altering the ending of the game.
"As co-founder and GM of BioWare, I'm very proud of the ME3 team; I personally believe Mass Effect 3 is the best work we've yet created. So, it's incredibly painful to receive feedback from our core fans that the game's endings were not up to their expectations. Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics - but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility."
BioWare's last truly good game - up to BioWare's standard - was Dragon Age: Origins. This game had everything I had come to expect from a company whose heritage includes some of the best games of all time, such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Dragon Age had deep and highly tactical group-based RPG gameplay, and despite some minor balancing issues (cone of cold comes to mind), it was a game that was easy to pick up and play, but very, very hard to master.
Finishing that game on nightmare difficulty as both a rogue and especially as a mage is still something I'm quite proud of - you need the right character builds for yourself and your party, and you need to program them accordingly. It required planning and constant monitoring of the entire battlefield (friendly fire is a constant threat in badly managed/programmed parties), and one tiny mistake pretty much meant instant death. The trademark BioWare depth, writing, and characters completed the package.
In my view, Dragon Age: Origins was the last truly good BioWare game. Coincidentally, it was also the last game to be developed mostly without EA's involvement. After EA acquired the company, things started going down hill. Mass Effect 2's story and RPG elements suffered. The epicness and ever expanding story of Mass Effect 1 was nowhere to be found, and the gameplay was barely adequate enough to feature in a Gears of War game.
Dragon Age II had to be made more enticing for the Call of Duty crowd - with all due respect - so it was forced to move away from the proper way to do fantasy RPGs (invisible dice rolling in the background determining hits) to the wrong way (hitboxes). To make matters worse, gameplay was repetitive, it only featured like three constantly reused environments, and it had virtually no story. The real story only kicked in during the last 30 minutes or so with the collapse of the Chantry, making it feel like a an incredibly long and boring prologue to Dragon Age 3. Mind you, a long and boring prologue we had to pay €60 for.
All this made me very nervous about Mass Effect 3. While playing, a lot of the nervousness subsided - gameplay was a little bit more in-depth than ME2, the individual races' storylines were wrapped up pretty well (especially my favourite storyline, the Quarian-Geth conflict, was tear-jerkingly fantastic). I specifically avoided all gaming media for a few weeks, to make sure I got a fresh and uninfluenced experience.
When I hit the ending of the game, I was flummoxed. It was pulled right out of someone's intergalactic ass, and made absolutely no sense. It offered zero closure, was riddled with painfully obvious plotholes, and delivered nothing in the sense of what kind of galaxy you left behind. The problems went way, way deeper than that - Ross Lincoln summed it all up very, very well.
For once, I found myself in total agreement with an internet outrage over a game. Mass Effect 3's ending is a trainwreck, and completely utterly discredits the entire series up until now. For a company priding itself - rightfully so - on creating deep and intricate universes, it just doesn't make any sense. It's like Martini adding arsenic to every 5000th bottle. As a final affront to loving fans, they throw up a "buy DLC!" notice at the end of the credits. You have got to be kidding me.
Some people will probably point out that if the rest of the game was good, why worry so much about the ending? Well, picture the best and most awesome and thrilling roller coaster ride in the world that happens to end in instant death. As awesome as the ride was, it will most likely be overshadowed and devalued somewhat by the fact that you died at the end.
Closing a trilogy is a hard thing to do, and surely, not all expectations could be met. I'm well aware of that. However, this wasn't just a case of not living up to impossible expectations - this is a case of a really good book with the last 30 pages ripped out.
It's a very good sign that the company is this aware of the problems, but where to go from here is difficult. Crafting a different ending is no small task, especially since EA will most likely insist we have to pay for it, opening up a whole different can of worms.
I'm very intrigued where this will go.