To anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise that I love the Mass Effect games. I'm a complete and total Bioware fanboy, dating all the way back to the original Baldur's Gate games. I even wrote my business letter to them for my junior high language arts class. So one can understand why the vehemently negative reaction to the Mass Effect 3 endings kind of irked me.
"But!" I hear you say, "It completely invalidated all our decision through out the games! Without my own unique personalized ending, everything I decided was worth nothing!"
Well, first of all, that's complete BS. If you make it the bottom of the dungeon and get the Orb of Zot, no decision you've made up till that point matters at all. All that matters is you got the Orb of Zot. When you beat Bowser, it doesn't matter if you took a warpzone or not. The only thing that matters is that you beat Bowser.
I think this mindset serves to demonstrate very powerfully just how much Mass Effect has mastered the illusion of choice. Because in the end, there are actually very few truly meaningful decisions. Up until Mass Effect 3, decisions you made had very little impact on the actual plot. The biggest impact was mostly on who would survive and who would die.
For instance, lets look at Mass Effect 1. This game is an absolute rail road. You get to Eden Prime, no matter what you decide you end up saving the opposite gendered human from you, and getting blasted by the beacon which gives you whacky visions. After that you have a few choices on where to go next, but ultimately no matter where you decide to go next the story plods along exactly the same. All the missions end the same way. There are a few instances (like with the Thorian Beast, or more memorably at the Krogan Breeding Facility) where you get to make decisions about who lives and who dies. But in the end these decisions have little impact on the actual plot of the story. You will still end up in a crazy fight against Saren.
And the side quests don't really lead anywhere either. Scanning all the keepers gets you an Acheivement, and a little e-mail in ME2 that tells you "Oh yeah, by the way, keepers? Totally some kind of like thing that takes care of the citadel and used to be connected to some kind of alert system" which tells you nothing new about the keepers that you didn't already learn from Vigil. A few side quests get you some neat cameos in 2 and 3, but for the most part these side quests don't really net you anything--in fact, the simple fact that they net you resources in ME3 which can be used to help you get all the 3 endings is a vast improvement from the complete lack of impact they have in ME2, except to get the Asari business woman to recognize you rather than be stumped as to who you are.
So, after two games in which your story had little to no impact on the actual plot, what, exactly, where people expecting out of the Mass Effect 3 endings? Did the original endings fail to tie things up? I think that's pretty reasonable. They didn't provide the sort of denouement that we wanted after spending so many years with these characters. Is it a reason to complete hate the game? I'd say "NO". The game itself was very well polished, took risks with the ME3 story and provided exciting and dynamic game play that the series had been crying out for since the original, which had stiff controls and confusing cover mechanics, and nearly impossible to aim guns.
That's another complaint I've heard. That the game play has "Sucked since ME2". What. A. Joke.
Mass Effect 1 couldn't decide if it wanted to be a Real-Time Sci-Fi ARPG with some third-person shooter mechanics, or a Cover-Based Third Person Shooter with some ARPG level-up mechanisms. It was poorly designed from a game play perspect, it's dungeons were all the same dungeon just with different rooms locked and unlocked (*COUGH*DRAGON AGE 2*COUGHCOUGH*), and movement mechanics that were baffling at best, and killed you off at worst.
ME2 was a vast improvement. The cover mechanics actually made sense, aiming the gun was far easier, and it had finally decided how to get that balance between RPG elements and cover-based shooter in such a way that it felt like it had a cohesive game design. Each of the classes was unique in its own way, but operated in such a fashion that everything made sense.
This illusion of choice, however, put unrealistic expectations on the endings of ME3, which for whatever reason drowned out the stellar gameplay, world design, and the rest of the ME3 story telling.
A lot of people are now accusing EA and Bioware for "Milking" the Mass Effect series because of the announcement of Mass Effect 4. I'll admit I can't honestly see how furthering the series will work unless its assumed only the Red or Blue endings are canon, as the green ending was a little bit too weird admittedly, even with the expanded endings.
Ultimately, I'm excited to see where they take the Mass Effect stories from here, and I can honestly say I'm looking forward to it.