Dear BioWare,
dear Casey Hudson,
dear Mass Effect team.


Let’ s be blunt: you’re not the first video game developer to kill a loved player character or gaming franchise nor will you be the last. Others who came before you did significantly better though, allowing character and player to part ways in peace and with a feeling of closure. Let’s look at some of them.

Wing Commander


Between 1990 and 1997 Christopher Blair was the player’s character in no less than 4 full Wing Commander games and a number of expansions, fighting the alien cat-race Kilrathi in 3 of these adventures and a totalitarian human splinter group in the fourth. With Mark Hamill playing the war hero, WCIII and WCIV clearly portrayed a Christopher Blair on whom years of war and great loss had left their mark, leading to a new player character in Wing Commander V: Prophecy and Blair in an observer/mentor role for the newly recruited pilot. WCV saw an extremely hostile and vastly superior alien race from unknown depths of space invade human colonies and kill everyone in their path. Sound oddly familiar? Well… Throughout the course of the game, Blair would die in an act of selfless sacrifice, not only leaving players with a new virtual incarnation, but also departing in worthy heroic fashion and providing sufficient closure on the long and hard trek he and the player had shared. Decisions made throughout the games would usually influence the events and game endings, not only but also regarding the presence of love interests, new technology, support on and off the battlefield and more – much as had been promised for ME3.

Assassin’s Creed

296px-Assassin's_Creed_Logo.svgIn 2011’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Ubisoft ended the virtual existences and careers of not one but two player characters: Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad and of course Ezio Auditore, whom the player had accompanied from being a young blighter in the streets of Florence eager to avenge his murdered family to being the icon and leader of the entire Assassin’s guild preventing a templar coup in Constantinople. By the time the closing credits rolled, most players would agree that the stories of these two guys had been told – and while certainly not overly happy and bright, could still be laid to rest without regret. Both had done their best on a small, local as well as on a larger almost global scale to make things brighter. Knowing that will allow players an easier transition when Assassin’s Creed III introduces a new player character in October 2012. Also, Ubisoft showed that they do indeed love their characters whereas the current ME3 endings suggest that similar statements from its devs are purely lip service.

Dragon Age

Dragon_Age_WallpaperYes, it has to be said: even your brothers and sisters on the other big franchise did better at solving a given problem, namely killing a player character while still giving the player a sense of achievement and closure. One ending to Dragon Age: Origins sees the player sacrifice their character to end the blight. The consequences are still dire enough, with at least one country in ruins, tens or even hundreds of thousands dead, homeless or on the run and, on a more personal level, a heartbroken love interest and the friends your character leaves behind. By no means the shining bright happy-end like some other possible outcomes, but it was alright – because the team made sure I knew about what would happen to each of my companions and other significant people I met along the way. That is “bittersweet” – not happy, not bright, but so that I know even though I’m not around anymore the people I got to care about will be alright and in the bigger picture, that “there will be a tomorrow” as ME3’s first DLC character Javik put it so astutely.


Most of us can live with these approaches to the problem. Why did Mass Effect, after all synonymous to great story telling, fall behind so much in this regard? The examples above show that it can be done and I’m sure more could be found as well.