We’re going to have spoilers on this, so let’s start after the fold.
OK. The basic issue? Shepard dies. Period. There’s one hint of a suggestion that, if you went nuts on getting War Assets and was a ruthless son of a bitch willing to kill off the geth AND EDI in order to kill the Reapers, you might have survived the big explosion that took out the entire mass effect relay system. Otherwise… roll up another character, Sparky: this one’s toast.
Total GM railroad, in other words – and if this was a tabletop game and the GM tried this on a player without the player’s prior and enthusiastic agreement, then the player would react… pretty much as your average person freaking out about the Mass Effect 3 endings is freaking out. That’s because there are a lot of people out there who are emotionally invested in their Shepards; and when a player-character like that dies it kind of hurts. Especially if you couldn’t do anything about it.
I think that one reason why I’m not particularly upset about the aforementioned railroad is because while I was just as emotionally invested in my Shepard as anybody else I had already had experience in the process (I don’t know how many computer gamers have played tabletop RPGs) and I knew going in that the medium of computer games required a certain amount of railroading. Plus, I also knew that Shepard was going to die after the first dream sequence; the foreshadowing was blatant.
Hell, the game’s last two storyboards ended with Shepard stripped of her armor, down to her last hit point, and holding a pistol as she staggered into the light (gee, was that symbolic of something?) and confronted her final demons/options. You don’t come back from that*… and, again, if a human GM ever tries that kind of heavy-handed allegory on me without warning I might respond by hitting him. But in a computer game when you have that happen to you, you go along for the ride.
And it was a hell of a ride.
*Note that I wasn’t happy about the way it ended, for Shepard’s sake. She didn’t deserve to be chewed up and used up like that. But I got my money’s worth out this series, yes indeed.