The Interesting Case of Mass Effect 3’s Endings

Guess what, everyone? It’s Mass Effect Month over here at AmbiGaming! Hold on to your N7 helmets, because we’ve got four weeks of Mass Effect feature posts coming your way!

Let’s start off with something nice and light and that no one has ever talked about before. How about… the Mass Effect 3 endings! Yes, I’m sure this has never been discussed or debated before.

To be honest, I’m incredibly late to the Mass Effect party, and went into Mass Effect 3 ready to hate the endings. In order to experience the full let-down, I played through the final game with the original endings before downloading the extended cut and playing through those, in order to really get at the meat of what made the endings just so gosh darn bad.

And, boy, was I let down.

The endings weren’t bad at all.


Now, if you’re looking for a good review of Mass Effect 3 to start you off, you should definitely go and check out Falcon509’s detailed review. Otherwise, we’re going to dive right in and pick apart the endings of this final chapter in Commander Shepard’s space opera. So beware spoilers for, you know, Mass Effect 3.


Now, I like the extended cuts, too. I’m always up for more story, especially for characters that I like. But when I played through the original endings, I thought they were fitting, and I appreciated the open-ended feeling they had, as if the writers wanted to challenge the players to wonder and discuss and problem-solve what they thought happened next. I sort of liked the uncomfortable feeling at the end of it all. But let’s back up a bit.

The Outrage

Storytelling in games is important. Storytelling in any medium is an art. The beginning of a story can set the stage for the entire journey, and the ending can leave a lasting impact. I remember in college, the conductor of the university’s orchestra once said, “As long as the rest of it isn’t a train wreck, audiences will only remember the first note you play and the last note.”

But, to quote Aria T’Loak, “How things begin is not nearly as important as how things end.”

Image result for aria t'loak

Okay, so I’m on board that the endings weren’t perfect, even though I liked them. My biggest gripes are that the original endings felt startlingly abrupt, and that one promising – and somewhat important – detail about the Reaper invasion (having to do with Tali’s work on Haestrom) was cut due to time. It would have added an interesting monkey-wrench to the mix if Shepard also had to contend with knowing biotic powers were potentially destroying the galaxy and so the Reapers were coming to stop organic life from being wiped out.

Other fans of the series have railed against the less-than-ideal choices at the end of the game, or bemoaned that every last decision they made wasn’t given a fanfare or a cookie at the end of the series (author’s note: I hate message boards sometimes). The story wasn’t tied up neatly with a bow, and many questions were left unanswered (in the original endings).

Y U no tell me all the things?!

In response, BioWare released “extended cut” endings that showed the effect of Shepard’s efforts and final decision. Questions were answered, and players were handed a neat little package, a pat on the back, and, honestly, a whole lot more closure than the original endings.

But at what cost?

The Original Endings

It’s true that, at the end of the day, your choice to kill or spare the Rachni queen doesn’t influence your final decision. Who you saved on Virmire doesn’t really matter when you’re standing in front of the Catalyst. Whether you did all the side quests for Zhu’s Hope doesn’t come back to bite you, and I made it through the entire second and third games without running into Conrad Verner and did just fine.


All of these choices and side quests were drops in the ocean that was the galaxy at war. I think it’s unreasonable to want every decision to be profound and life-altering, even in a game. Enough drips and drops affected the outcome, to a point, but I think the endings portrayed some very hard truths about life and war.

First of all, every choice you make does not set off a butterfly effect that has enormous consequences later. Sometimes you’re simply doing things because, in that moment, something needs to be done: a batarian has a gun in your face, or a quarian is asking for help. You don’t think, “Gee, I wonder how this will help me in the long run?” No, you think, “What do I do right now with this person standing directly in front of me?” If there’s a profound consequence afterward, I see that as a bonus.

Image result for quarian and volus
…This should say “his” credit chit, but… internet.

Second of all, Shepard dies in every single ending (unless some very specific parameters are met). And that sucks. There’s no “Dark Ritual” here to save the hero. No space-magic that can give a happy ending for your playable character. And that’s important. Because sometimes good people – even heroes – die. Sometimes they die heroically, sometimes they die mundanely, but in either case, those heroes don’t get to experience the world they saved. It sucks and it’s not fair, but it’s real. I think of Gold Star families in this case: their heroes will never get the happy ending they deserved, no matter the “war readiness” of the army or how often they did things “right.”

Note: I think the term “gold star family” is specific to the USA, so for all my non-US readers who might not know what that is, “gold star family” refers to the immediate relatives of a US Armed Forces member who has given their life during combat or other military-related activities.

Perhaps some fans were in shocked disbelief that even after doing “everything right,” Shepard still died and they didn’t get a “good” or “happy” ending. But if death isn’t seen as a punishment, Shepard dying isn’t a “bad” ending. Maybe it’s not what the player wanted, but the game hasn’t “punished” or withheld anything from the player, other than a desire for “happily ever after.”

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And that leads to my third point. There was no objectively “happy” ending. The SSV Normandy was torn apart and crash-landed, players were given no closure as to the fate of the other species in the galaxy, Shepard’s love interest was left alone, and players were left with an unsettled feeling of “well, what happens now?” War is like that as well. There is no “happy ending” for the troops on the ground. When a conflict finally ends, even the population at large is left standing shaken, disbelieving that it’s finally over.

Memories of the war live on. The dead are still dead. But the conflict is over. Maybe that’s a “good” ending, but is it really “happy”?

Image result for me3 earth soldiers

The future of the Milky Way galaxy post-Reaper war is uncertain, and the game’s endings captured that.

And maybe – just maybe – the endings were more profound than we originally thought. After all, here we are five years later still talking about them, still analyzing them, and still debating their merits and shortcomings. I compare Mass Effect 3‘s endings to Dragon Age II, because Dragon Age II is (usually) only brought up when someone wants to say how terrible it is, usually in comparison to Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age: Inquisition. But Mass Effect 3‘s endings have fans clearly on both sides of the issue.

But why? Because each of the endings, unlike each of our in-game choices, have profound, life-altering consequences that impact the galaxy. Of the three (main) choices, none of them are truly “good” or “bad.” One might even say that none of them are “ideal.” They just provide different options to the player and open up the galaxy to different consequences. Let’s take a look at what the endings had to offer.

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Note: I’ll be using the pronoun “she” when I refer to Shepard, partly because my Shepard is female and that’s how I default when talking about her, and partly so I don’t have to write “he/she” and “him/her” all the time.

Second note: We’ll be discussing the Indoctrination Theory in a later article, so for the purposes of this article, I’m assuming that the Indoctrination Theory is not real.

Pick the Red Pill

The “destroy” option is exactly what it sounds like: Shepard uses the Crucible to destroy all synthetic life. This effectively destroys the Reapers and stops the threat of them continuing their cycle of harvests. However, because this option destroys all synthetics, all AI are destroyed, including the geth and EDI. The catalyst also reports that technology based on Reaper tech will be destroyed (or perhaps significantly damaged), but also alludes that organics will eventually build synthetics again, implying that so-called “Reaper technology” may be salvageable in the future.

Image result for mass relay

The Catalyst seemed least enthusiastic about this option, claiming that the cycle will eventually begin again, once organics start recreating synthetics. What the Catalyst doesn’t mention is that the Reapers convinced the geth (the ones Legion calls the heretics) to try and destroy organics, so while the Reapers may seek to “elevate” organice species, they don’t go about it in a way that is amenable to organic support and – as we’ll see below – their solution is based on flawed logic.

Unfortunately, this ending means that Shepard will be causing mass genocide against the geth and any other AI “species” within the galaxy, in order to protect the lives of the organics. Of course, one could argue that sacrifices must be made in times of war, but that does not erase that thousands of cognitive, thinking creatures will be killed with the pull of a single trigger.

TL/DR: Shepard must be willing to destroy a sentient species for the greater good.

Pick the Blue Pill

In this ending, Shepard chooses to give up her physical body in order to merge her consciousness with the Reapers. Through this connection, she will become a sort of overlord to the overlords an be able to control their actions. I imagine that the assumption is that Shepard will order the Reapers to cease their attack, but future implications of her control are hazy (even with the extended cut explanation). Does she order them to shut themselves down, killing them and herself in the process? Or does she simply exist as a guardian of the galaxy?

Image result for guardian of the galaxy
Couldn’t resist

This is the solution that the Illusive Man suggested and yet ultimately failed to see to fruition because he became indoctrinated. Interestingly, before Shepard’s conversation with the Catalyst, she tells the Illusive Man that controlling the Reapers is not a viable option, because humans are not capable (for one reason or another) of that type of responsibility.

However, the assumption is that regardless of her words to the Illusive Man, Shepard will somehow not fall prey to indoctrination and will maintain her sense of justice. The Catalyst seems adamant that Shepard will be able to control the Reapers, however, and so that option is made available to her.

TL/DR: Shepard must rescind on her comment to the (indoctrinated) Illusive Man that no one should try and control the Reapers. However, due to Shepard’s strong will, it is assumed that she actually is able to control them, unlike the Illusive Man.

Pick the Green Pill

The most theoretically interesting of the three choices, the synthesis option enables Shepard to sacrifice herself in order to merge organics and synthetics into one super-species. This is what Saren wants in Mass Effect, claiming that the new species would have the strengths of both organics and synthetics, but the weaknesses of neither.

Interesting, Javik reports that some of his Prothean brethren believed this to be the only option to survive and, in the same breath, calls them betrayers. This makes sense also because Shepard (rightly) accuses Saren of being indoctrinated and of betraying everything he has sworn to protect.

This option reminds me a bit of the book Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke, and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was written by Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. In both of these stories [spoilers=”plot spoilers”>deal with the appearance of a god-like creature who forces the evolution of humans to a higher form of existence .

Getting back to Mass Effect 3, the themes alluded to for the synthesis ending imply a disregard for the organic species, as the god-like Reapers have an agenda that is very different from the organics they are supposed to be “helping.” This type of forced elevation raises many ethical concerns, especially when the player considers that Shepard has made this decision for every organic and synthetic race in the galaxy. There is also no knowing how the “perfect thought processes” of the Reapers will be able to meld with the emotional organic brains. There is also no definition of what is “weak” about either organics or synthetics, which is a very important factor when trying to decide if effectively deleting the “weaknesses” of both species is the right option.

TL/DR: Shepard decides to “elevate” organics (and synthetics) the way the salarians did with the krogan, believing – based on incomplete information – that merging the two is the only way for organics and synthetics to live peacefully, like Saren believed before her.

A Short Note

None of these choices are ideal. After all, two of them force Shepard down the same path as the characters she so vehemently disagreed with in the past two games. Destroy implies genocide, Control means that Shepard backtracks on an position she defended literally moments before, and Synthesize means that she is speeding up evolution in a way that might not be necessary for survival. More on that in a moment.

But for a short-tempered Shepard, there’s another option.

Don’t Pick a Pill at All/Shoot Him in the Face

I have no defense for this one. BioWare listened to how outraged fans were at being given what psychologists call a “forced choice”* between three very different options (as if they hadn’t been given forced choices for every choice in the past three games), and so gave players the option of shooting the Catalyst, effectively wiping out all advanced organic life in the galaxy and restarting the cycle of Reaper invasions.


Personally, I’m not sure why anyone would pick this option, other than to see what happens. You spend three whole games being a hero (even if you’re playing as a renegade), only to throw out the needs of the galaxy at the last possible moment. I mean, if that’s how you play, that’s how you play and that’s cool, but it seems out of character even for renegade Shepard (that is, renegade Shep is supposed to “get the job done” at any cost, and this doesn’t “get the job done” at all). Anyway…

TL/DR: Shepard refuses to play the game, serving her ego and being the reason advanced organic life is destroyed.

Image result for shepard deal with it

Pick Your Favorite Color

Let’s talk a little about this forced choice* during the endgame. No one really likes forced choice situations, because more often than not it seems like you’re picking a lesser of two (or more) evils. None of the choices are completely satisfying, and they force you into this uncomfortable space in which you have to fit a large human-shaped detail into a small cube-shaped box.

Image result for red green blue

There are two main reasons I think this “final decision” is fitting for the series, though. Firstly, sometimes life-altering events come down to one very “small” choice. Destroy, control, or synthesize? It seems almost overly-simple, as if it is the representation of the lowest common denominators found by the processing power of a machine. Streamlined. Perfect. Simple.

Until, that is, the far-reaching consequences of that little decision are fully realized. After all, the transition between life and death seems enormous, until you consider that the only thing separating one from the other is a single heartbeat.

The other reason I think the final choice captures the “important point” of the game is that the Catalyst is the one offering Shepard the options. The Catalyst, for those of you who don’t remember, is a highly-developed AI (or not) tasked with only one job: to prevent the conflict between organics and synthetics. And it does this with relentless efficiency as only a computer can. But this efficiency leaves no room for the messy grey areas in which organics live. So the choice is brutal, extreme, and seemingly unfair, but each is perfectly efficient in ending the Reaper conflict.


The Catalyst’s “final solution” is built on the false assumption that organics and synthetics will always wind up at war, and thus presents Shepard with the options to either destroy the Reapers or merge organic and synthetic life (either a merge with only Shepard or a merge with all organic life in the galaxy).

It doesn’t consider the much-less-efficient option of offering guidance to organics as to how to coexist with synthetics, or programming AIs to be compassionate toward their physically-weaker organic neighbors. The Reapers are not the benevolent gods they think they are. They were created by flawed creatures and so they are flawed, as well. They rebelled against their creators, and so concluded that is the only path available. They may be efficient at what they do, but that does not make them all-knowing or perfect.

Image result for tali and legion does this unit have a soul
Does this unit have a soul?  “Legion… the answer to your question was ‘yes’.”

And so the Catalyst offers Shepard overly-simplistic, beautifully-conceived solutions, which Shepard must choose from because the entire galaxy is at stake.

To that I say, well done. Shepard had all his/her power taken away, but still bore the responsibility of all life in the galaxy. While the galaxy was held hostage, Shepard was forced to make a terrible choice:

Red, blue, or green?

Image result for red blue green mass effect


You should be angry. You should be seething mad that the Reapers thought so little of organics that that was the final decision Shepard had to make. You should be absolutely furious that the Catalyst pretended to be all-knowing, when all it knew was its own programming. You should be horrendously angry that no ideal solution was offered after you worked so hard to save the galaxy. It just wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right! We had been through so much…

Image result for samantha traynor memorial wall

And the game left us shaken, uncertain as to how the remaining pieces fit together. We were shocked, angry, confused… as if we had just toppled an uncaring, all-powerful overlord from power.

What do you think? Have I dug too deeply? Or do the Mass Effect 3 endings deserve a bit of apology? What did or didn’t you like about the endings? Which ending did you choose and why? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

*A forced choice is when you are given at least two options and told you have to pick one, even if none of the choices available to you are ideal.

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  1. I had no issues with the forced choice. The 3 choices were viable options given the time sensitivity of the situation. At the same time, I am also ok with every decision in all the games being present in these endings. As you said the Rachni queen and many other choices you make are mere micro specs in the picture of things.

    Again I’m ok with the choices Sheppard had to make at the end, what I didn’t like was each eventually had the same outcome. In the end, you team crashes on some leafy planet and stare out all happy. I’m ok with having to interpret things for myself, and I’m ok with Sheppard dying. In fact, I actually hated that one ending hinted that he may have lived! I think if the stories done it should be done and don’t leave me on a cliff hanger this late in the game. What I do have a problem with is hit team not caring for his sacrifice or it being acknowledge anywhere in the ending. It doesn’t have to be a huge speech by the colonel or your teams to a huge army while inducting them with medals and honorary heroic services and such, but man at least shed a tear!

    Honestly I’ve yet to see the the extended endings, I’ll youtube them seeing as Andromeda is around the corner, but again the initial endings just gave me that vibe that they didn’t have the endings all figured out. It really left a bad taste in my mouth for all the hard work I put in the trilogy. Especially because I went out of my way to make Sheppard and Angel and be the nicest man in the galaxy.

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    1. I can understand your feelings about the speech and things like that. I guess that didn’t really bother me. I assumed that people going on and on about how much they loved Shepard would make for boring story (like how they cut out 1/3 of Return of the King when they made the movie because the ending of the book was describing how everyone lived happily-ever-after).

      That interesting that you said you wanted each ending to be different.What would you have done differently for each ending?

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      1. LOL good question, honestly no clue. Seeing the first rendition of the endings, they came off as cookie cutter approaches. Ultimately Normandy crashes on the same leafy planet, crew walks out, seem to be quite unphased by what just happened in each ending, there are subtle differences, but all 3 endings are presented in a very similar manner, in my opinion too similar for my liking considering Sheppard takes 3 very distinct approaches in each one. I understand different things happen in each ending and each of them have their pros and cons, and at the time, I was easily able to figure it out, I just thought the game did a bad job of conveying those after the deeds were done. For example, in the destroy ending, it’s safe to assume EDI is now dead, Sheppard made a huge choice to sacrifice not only all sentient life, but one of his own crew. But when I watch that ending, it doesn’t convey the regret, or to consequences fully. Again I’m not saying there should be a full feature length funeral for her, but something as simple as having Joker maybe walk by and glance at her lifeless body before exiting the Normandy and maybe shed a tear would have gone a long way to show the player, sure you saved the galaxy, but at what cost? I thought Joker and EDI were a thing, or close to that. When I played these games, I did what I could to talk and learn about each of the crew because I really liked the cast in all the games. So something small like that I thought could’ve gone a long way.

        I’m ok with having to think about the endings from a macro point of view, but given the game up until this point went out of it’s way to show pros and cons for pretty much every encounter of the game, it felt odd and inconsistent that the true ending to the entire series didn’t really follow this approach.

        Hope this is not a rant, I realize I may be going in circles on some of these but clearly we all have very strong opinions on this topic 😀

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        1. Not a rant at all! Considering the stand I took in the article, I’m really not married to one side of this issue or the other, so I’m enjoying the conversation 🙂

          You’re right that smaller details could have been added. I did find it odd that no comment was made about EDI in the destroy ending, or all the geth suddenly dropping dead, but for control and synthesize, I’m not sure there’s much else that could have been done without sitting the player down and saying “Here’s what happened” (which I was fine leaving to my imagination, even though the extended cut endings were cool).

          And I agree that no matter what, the endings were certainly abrupt, which still remains my biggest critique of them. Regardless of the story, the implied story, or my fantastic imagination, I felt a little like my knees were yanked out from under me *as a player* in that final moment.

          …hm… But maybe that’s what the developers wanted the players to feel…. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

      2. just to add, I meant to say at the end hope this is not coming off as a rant by me, lots of typing between tasks at work doesn’t bode well sometimes

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  2. Wait, you thought the endings weren’t bad at all? There’s only one thing I can say about that: I like your style.

    Admittedly, I can’t comment on Mass Effect 3’s ending because I haven’t played much of the series, but I at least agree with the movement to change it in that a bad ending can ruin an experience; it’s the reason I have that rule stating the highest score a work with a poor resolution can hope for is a 6/10. Why they fail varies wildly – one failed because it didn’t complement the way the rest of the game was written, another failed because the writing took a major nosedive at the end, yet another failed because it was sloppy even for their standards. It’s also the reason I don’t judge games until I’ve completed them; one major weakness many game critics have is that it’s clear they didn’t finish the work in question. This causes them to highly rate games that are good in the first two acts, but tank in the third or not think much of games one needs to experience the entirety of for their genius to shine through. Sadly, they’ve been making that mistake since the nineties (hence why they dismissed Earthbound), and they haven’t done much to improve it.

    Anyway, I think the ending hit a major sour note with a lot of people, and if it was anything like the games I’m thinking of, I can’t blame them in the slightest for starting that movement. Sure, some of them may have been a bit too loud for their own good, but they’re not wrong for having that opinion – how they went about expressing it maybe, but not having it.

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    1. Go big or go home, right 😉

      It’s not without its flaws. The endings did feel abrupt, and like Imtiaz mentioned above, at first blush the different endings didn’t “look” different, but for me that wasn’t too important. If the Normandy had the same fate for each ending, that wasn’t an issue to me. I tend to look at games from a macro level (in case I haven’t made that point yet, haha), so the fact that Shepard just made a decision that affected the galaxy so differently was what mattered to me. Having said that, while I like the explanation the extended cut endings provided, I also liked the uncertainty left by the original endings… And here I go with another Mass Effect post haha

      I will agree that endings are incredibly important for any story, and the fact that so many felt unsatisfied means that either it was poorly executed (dev’s mistake) or the devs got a little to artistic in how they conveyed their message and lost their audience (also dev’s mistake, but I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for thoughtfulness from an audience, either). I’m not sure *hating* BioWare was the way to go, but everyone is of course entitled to their opinions!

      It’s unfortunate that critics don’t often play the full games. A book critic would be ridiculed for reviewing a book that they hadn’t finished, and so would a movie critic for not watching the whole movie, so why do games get a pass? It’s another thing about the industry that I grumble about – if you want games to be taken seriously as a storytelling medium (or art medium, or whatever you want to call it), you need to set the bar to the standards of other art. As always, thanks for your insight; I always enjoy reading your thoughtful input!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Shepard’s story needed an end, and they went big Blaze of glory, just like the last 2 games. For someone who died and came back to life already being the hero they were, there was really no other way I could see it ending with the carnage that was happening on Earth.
    They did it, the Reapers brought the fight to our home world, it no longer mattered what race or species you were, everything with an understanding of technology was going to be wiped from existence.
    Nobody goes into a fight like that expecting to live, it’s about protecting everything they loved to begin with.
    Mass Effect is like no other game I played before, in that the story telling for a Science Fiction game is the best it has ever been for an original work. You made your own choices that echoed in your save files through 3 full games plus expansions. If Shep didn’t die, they would have been forced to Mario the hell out of that character.
    It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to explore the galaxy like the first 3 times I’ve played through all three games, and I can’t wait for the new one this month. So much to look forward to with a fresh storyline, and maybe some reoccurring characters and new ones alike. Get to find out what happened of the galaxy my first three adventures left me with.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m certainly a Mass Effect fan, and I’m interested to see where Andromeda takes the series, *especially* now that humans are the “invading aliens”… What class do you usually play as (if you have a preference)?

      It was a huge ending, and I agree that there really wasn’t any other way for them to end the game, at least with the expectations that audiences have for epic stories (in the old sense of the word “epic”). Unless, I suppose, they did the same thing like in ME1 where you think Shepard’s dead and then he/she stands up and stumbles over to her crew or something, which would have, frankly, been hoaky.

      Only a few more weeks! Hope to see you for the upcoming Mass Effect posts, as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cannot say I have a preferred class as much as fitting the best class to that play through. (Usually switch in ME2 since the resurrection feels like a good point of having space tech/magic at your disposal) Since the control mechanics change slightly from game to game, some of them are not quite the same in each game.

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        1. Fair enough. I’m usually terrible with all things mage-like, so I like hearing about other people who can wield the power. And you’re right about the changes; there’s always a bit of a curve when figuring out what’s different “this time”!

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          1. That and what weapons you want to give up. One thing to be said for playing soldier class is your arsenal is always top notch. Choosing that weapon towards the end of ME2 on my soldier was tough, but I always go sniper rifle.

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  4. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like the way the ending was set up with the “pick a colour” finale. But the actual ending itself I was ok with. Whilst it ignored a lot of the smaller things you did, I feel that made sense. The fate of the universe was the decision, all the little things that happened had an impact on Shep and the people associated with him, and perhaps even entire races. But it didn’t matter in the grand scheme.
    I do like that they added in additional features to the ending though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! I’ll actually be talking a bit about the ending’s color choices in a few weeks, so I’m glad you brought that up 🙂

      And I agree. Even though I think the original endings could have stood alone, I liked the extra story that the players got with the extended edition.

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      1. As it happens I finished it pre-ending-change and had no real issue. The change made it feel a bit like a Fallout ending with reference to your various successes and failures.
        I look forward to your continuation on this.

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  5. I chose to destroy the Reapers because to choose synthesis or control would be (as you accurately stated) mean rescinding on Shepard’s convictions. It’s a matter of principle, and in my playthrough, I saved the Geth and Quarians from a war with one another. I proved the the Reapers were wrong, that harmony is possible with real effort. To assume that synthetics and organics would always be at war would be like assuming that the disparate races on Earth would always find conflict with one another. It’s patently untrue when people are educated that all races are equal, just as all life matters.

    And Shepard lives in the ending where you destroy the Reapers. So there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a “destroy” fan myself – Shepard spent three games wanting to kill the Reapers, only to be dissuaded at the last second and *after* seeing the effects of the other two options? Didn’t make sense to me. So my “canon run” has her destroying the Reapers, brokering peace between the geth and quarians, and living happily ever after with her love interest (at least, that’s how it goes in my fanfiction haha). At any rate, the peace between the geth and quarians, in my opinion, proves the Reapers wrong that synthetics will always rise against organics. I think the deeper point is that oppressed will always rebel against their oppressors.

      And Shepard does live, which is a nice touch 🙂

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  6. Yes, I know I need to play the Mass Effect games. I appreciate the continued reminders (it’s the only way I’ll get to them, eventually) 🙂 I do remember there being a big uproar on the internet about the Mass Effect 3 endings though.

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  7. I played through the original trilogy last year (again, for the first time in awhile), and y’know…I honestly cannot remember which ending I chose. I played a strictly renegade path, but the choice I made at the end is completely escaping me at the moment. I think that kind of sums up how I feel about ME3’s ending — neutral. Honestly, when I first finished the game a couple years ago, I neither liked nor hated the ending. And I felt the same during my most recent playthrough. I do get why folks were so upset about it, since your choice doesn’t amount to much. But I can only imagine the stress that the developers were feeling in how to best end this monumental series. I think that given Shepard’s paths and the Reapers own story, they did an admirable job trying to tie up everything.

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    1. That’s a good way of looking at it. Mass Effect has such a huge story, and could have had so many different paths due to the player’s choices, the devs really needed a way to “catch” all of them and finish the story in a satisfying way. I’m reminded of the end of Harry Potter #7 (spoilers?) when Harry finally kills Voldemort, and he falls to the ground with a mundane *thud.* At the end of a seven-book story, Voldemort died with a muffled thud. That’s just how things end sometimes (I know she did this for a thematic reason, but still).

      Considering the scope of the story, yes, I think the endings tried to tie everything up well!

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  8. I’ll have to save this for when I see the ending(s) again. I had some very strong opinions about it, but I hadn’t viewed the entire game. I can say I think the reason people were so upset is because while we have to accept in life that some things will never have closure, it really, really bothers us in stories even if such a paradigm makes a story that much better. It’s “unfinished” business. On one hand, it’s brilliant. It brings a bit of reality into the narrative, because life is full of unfinished business, but it’s also maddening because we expect certain things of created stories, and ambiguity pisses many people off. I’m okay with non-happy and/or ambiguous endings (FFVII my favorite story does this AND has “unfinished business” in spades), so I’m looking forward to my take on the ending with the weight of knowing the entire story behind me instead of just drips and drops.

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    1. Definitely. I think some of the upset was about some details going unaddressed, like some other folks have commented (trying not to spoil if you didn’t look at the other comments). But yes, once you know the ending, I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

      I do agree that putting “reality” into games is hard, because for so long, games were meant as “simple” entertainment or escapism. Now that they have really begun to tell serious stories and deal with serious subject matter, I think it’s unreasonable for every story to have a happy ending. And it’s really too bad, because the complains that BioWare got might not have really gotten to the core of the issue, which means that the devs (both BioWare and otherwise) might not be willing to take risks in the future.

      Like I mentioned above, I’m not married to the original vs. extended ending; I like them differently, but I was perfectly fine with how the original endings handled the story.

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      1. I have seen the ending! But I did avoid most of the comments just because it’s been a while, and I’ll go into it with fresh eyes.

        We’ve of an accord when it comes to the narrative of games. I think it’s because it’s a new medium in which to tell a story and not all things in that medium do so, so some people can’t conceive or even entertain the idea that a game could be a medium for storytelling. Hopefully, as years go by, the “novelty” will wear off (it’s only been around 30 or so arguably that a game that told a story came out) and we won’t have to have this basic discussion anymore. Though…there are still people arguing over whether or not media is relevant to social issues, so I’m pretty sure the fight is going to continue.

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        1. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a discussion we keep having, and I think for now it needs to keep happening. We should never think we are asking too much of games, because that only diminishes their potential as an enjoyable and meaningful medium.

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  9. I played the 3rd game a small while after the ending hoopla went down, so my expectations were set pretty low for the ending. Because of that, I didn’t end up too disappointed, but yeah, I still felt the ending was rather lame.

    A lot of the problem, as I recall, comes from the audience just being lied to. My particular infuriator was the devs swearing up and down that it was possible to get the best endings without going into the multiplayer, which, until the extended cut DLC came down the pipe, was just a flat out lie. So to were the claims leading into the game that all the choices matter. I agree that not everything you do in the series has to be called back to in the ending, but when the developers are telling you they will be, it’s fair to expect that will hold up.

    Really, to me, the ending just felt like the dev team had no idea how to close it out, so they just threw up their hands and went to the dartboard of ideas. The catalyst came completely out of nowhere, I never bought the reasoning as to why Shepard would have to sacrifice her life there, the whole weapon was a giant McGuffin that was barely ever explained, and they didn’t explore the ramifications of anything. Yeah, I get that it puts the galaxy in an uncertain state, and it’s fine to have an uncertain ending if you handle it well, but they didn’t even try. The conclusion failed to conclude anything except for the Reaper threat, and opened up a lot more plotlines without addressing any of them. This was the cap on a huge, varied and complex experience, and yet it brought none of the storytelling methods that had brought the game thus far. It felt the same way a lot of other games do when you reach the point where they ran out of time/money and so had to slap all the rest together to finish it just before it was time to ship. That’s really where it came down to me. A lack of conclusion in the ending, and the fact that it did not fit with the way the rest of the story was told.

    Also, the retroactive John Glenn framing device was dumb and I hated it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, yeah, the Stargazer thing was sort of ridiculous and I didn’t like it, either.

      I guess I missed out on all the promises and such that the devs made. You’re right that if they promised something, they should deliver on it, and *of course* fans would be upset if they were mislead!

      And like I said, my biggest gripe was that the endings felt rushed, even the original endings. It was a huge story, and they were trying to end it with a bang (and make it very clear that Shepard’s story was over), but it would up a little weakly done. I still don’t mind the open-endedness of it all, as the Reaper threat was dealt with. In regards to the other plot lines, I’m reminded of a quote from Peter S. Beagle: “There never is a happy ending, because nothing ever ends.” One end will always beget new beginnings, and while of course things could have been done differently, I think addressing all those plot points is a *very* tall order.

      The Catalyst did come out of nowhere, but I think that was how the devs were able to explain the different options to Shepard, so I didn’t completely mind it. I’m not sure how the Crucible was a McGuffin, though. The game is more science fantasy than fiction, so I’m not sure what more detail they could have given without it getting unwieldy.

      Again, though, the rushed feeling definitely takes away something, but I never found it to be the anger-inducing ending some folks see it as (again, maybe because I missed all the broken promises and such).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eh, calling it a McGuffin may be a little strong. It’s been a while since I played, so my memories of the leading detail put into it may be weak. Still, though, as I recall, it was a function of the story where the idea of it got so much more weight than what it actually was. It was an ‘I win’ button that drove the plot with very little detail put into it. Not remembering the details very well, I can’t speak to what more would have been called for, but I do know I was expecting so much more foreshadowing and demonstrated planning around it that what I actually got.

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        1. I see what you mean. It was a “big deal weapon” that was made entirely off-screen and without any real fuss in regards to the story we/Shepard were/was directly experiencing. I’ll concede that it was weakly supported in-game as *the* solution to the Reaper threat!

          I wonder if the whole War Assets/big kaboom got a layer of polish for Inquisition’s War Table and application of Spoiler-Free-Good-Dragon to help end the conflict. But now I’m off thinking about a completely different game….haha


  10. Looking back at it now I didn’t mind so much how the game ended as I think it was bound to draw in all those loose ends, but the execution of it was what sucked. To have the game literally end based on your last choice and not be at all related to how you got there seemed a waste. My preference would have been to stick with a solid ending and branching epilogues to reflect what you had done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hm that’s interesting. They seem to have gone that route with Dragon Age: Inquisition (spoilers?). I wonder if that’s why… I agree that the execution could have been done a little better. Like I said, it did feel rushed!

      I’m interested in what you say about not relating to how Shepard got there. I suppose an argument could be made that your “war readiness” did open up the synthesis ending, and influenced the destroy ending, as well. But I think you mean something different…?

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      1. I think the game prompts you at one point that “there’s no turning back” and so there is incentive to go back and complete all the quests and maximise your options. For many players who do that they may not be even aware of “earning” additional endings because they have them all available. I had no idea about that at the time and totally forgot about it now until you mentioned it. 😉

        Perhaps if I had played a leaner game and got to the end faster the impact of my actions on choices might have been clearer? The “war readiness” thing was also tied to a mobile game, wasn’t it? I used that to boost my scores while I was playing admittedly which may have rigged it too. 🙂

        I wasn’t really happy with any of the options I was presented with at the end of the game – I just didn’t think any of them reflected how I felt I was playing the game (Mr Paragon, aka Die Hard Picard). I ended up choosing “Synthesis” only to save all my crew but through an earlier save game I did go back and look at the other options too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah. Yeah I guess it would have been a better “surprise” ending. It would have driven home the “Oh no I’m not ready!” feeling, instead of “Where did this come from?” But games have gotten into the habit of saying when the “final battles” are, although I wouldn’t be sorry if they stopped doing that.

          Ooo synthesis? Interesting! Was that purely from a crew standpoint, or did you have other thoughts on it, as well?

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          1. Both of the other options felt like bad choices too – one that also killed the Geth and EDI (?) and the other doing what the Illusive Man tried in taking over the Reapers. Both of those felt like they were counter to what I had been doing during the game… You spend so much time fighting Cerberus, why choose the option their leader wanted? I hope I’m remembering this all right… Been a while since I last played!

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            1. Interesting! Your memory is spot on 🙂 I find it fascinating to hear all the reasons for choosing one ending over another. I actually only ever thought the “destroy” option made sense, even though it killed an entire race of people, because it saved the much-larger galaxy. It would be a fascinating study to see if people with different personality types choose one way or another… hm…

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              1. For sure! I’m guessing that you may have also been playing the game in a way that steered you towards that choice too. I had always looked at the “kill” option as the Paragon choice, the “control” option as the Renegade and “synthesis” as the Neutral one. Their placement in front of the player reinforced that opinion on me too. And I think the game could have just avoided the problem and simply given players an ending consistent with how they played (Paragon, Renegade, Neutral, other choices during the series) and not put them in a position that might make them reconsider the kind of character they built up. That said, base on what I just said it’d mean my Shepherd would kill the Reapers, Geth, etc… 😉

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                1. My Shepard was driven to destroy the Reapers, period. That was her mission… I think “destroy” is a renegade option, but by the *actual* definition of what renegadeShep was supposed to be: willing to get the job done, no matter the cost (I’ll be talking about this in a few weeks haha). But in this case, maybe the renegade option is the paragon option (morality-ception!) This is one of the other reasons I like the endings, at least from a storytelling perspective: it turns the morality system on its ear.

                  Anyway, my Shepard decided to sacrifice the “few” for the “many,” even though it wasn’t a decision she made lightly. But I think at the end of the day, there’s not going to be an objectively “right” ending, and I appreciate that BioWare hasn’t commented on a “canon” ending like it did with the Dragon Age games! 🙂

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  11. I originally hated the endings, but have warmed to them. Having thought about the nature of the Catalyst and the Reapers, the ending does have a logical basis. To defeat something so powerful like the Reapers, then it would take exceptional. The concept of the Crucible is actually quite compelling. Not only is it built through cooperation of races in the current cycle, it also represents contribution of previous cycle. The ending is just the culmination of all that effort and work brought together.

    I can now accept the final scene with the Catalyst. However, there are a couple of of areas that are unexplained, such as why the Citadel is completely deserted at the end. But the four choices are quite logical and compelling.

    It is logical that Destroy would damage Reaper tech and destroy synthetics. That makes sense to me.

    Control is a logical option too. In the end, the Catalyst relinquishes control to someone who is physically capable of assuming it. In this case Shepard. (Indeed the Catalyst makes clear it does not want to relinquish control. It is given no choice).

    Synthesis is completely weird. To me it is a very risky solution. The Catalyst says it will be fine, but that us based on false logic and the limitations of it’s own experience. Considering the Catalyst believes that systematically destroying a civilisation and killing its people is justifiable, its judgement cannot be trusted.

    I even think the refuse option is a valid option, If you get a low score and don’t like the only option available. Shepard may decide it is not her right to say destroy synthetics or take control, she may decide Refuse is the right choice. Another reason is that, Shepard may judge that the next cycle may be able to perfect the Crucible to provide a better option not available here. Also, we don’t see Shepard die in the Refuse ending. It is possible to imagine Shepard and the team resisting the Reapers for some time, and aiming to ensure that the knowledge of the Crucible is passed to the next Cycle.

    I got a surprise when I finished ME3. My Shepard hoped to destroy the Reapers, while leaving the galaxy in a safer place for the rest. So she destroyed the Geth and sabotaged the genophage. But when I got to the end, the Catalyst only gave her one choice: Control. This meant that sacrificing the Krogan and the Geth was in vain. This Shepard didn’t want to take control. I am even considered refusing. But she chose control anyway, even though she would have preferred to destroy the Reapers, sacrificing herself in the process, to join so many of her fallen comrades. The ending was very sad and tragic. But I actually liked it as it was unexpected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your in-depth comment! I’m surprised you only had the control option. I wasn’t aware that was an option; I thought the lowest war readiness resulted in a “destroy” option, but I guess not! That’s cool though: a carefully laid plan gone wrong at the end…

      I like your assessment of the options. Synthesize is an interesting option, which I’ll discuss a little more later this week. But it takes a lot of finesse to force two cultures together, so it makes sense that it will result from only the highest war readiness rating, I think. Personally, I think destroy is the only option from Shepard’s perspective. While Control may have the same effect sans geth/technological destruction, I think that’s too much against what (my) Shepard stood for the entire trilogy for her to go back and decide to try and control the Reapers. But I love hearing about everyone’s choices, because they really are unique to each person’s interpretation and playthrough!

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      1. I like you am interested in everyone’s choices too. I like the measured way you present your opinions. I also like that you say the Catalyst is flawed logic. I think one of the reasons that people hate the endings is that they feel forced to assume that everything the Catalyst says is canon fact. However, there is no need to think this way.

        In the end, I suppose whether you choose Synthesis or not defines the ending. If Shep chooses it, the story assumes that the choice is benign. However, if Shep chooses a different path, then it demonstrates Shep does not trust the Catalyst, or at least doesn’t trust it’s logic.

        Yes, I was surprised about getting only control offered. The guide says only destroy is possible up to 1750 EMS. But I had less than 1400. I’m tempted to record it and post it to see what people think.

        One theory I have is that it could be to do with being Paragon. This Shep chose nearly all Paragon dialogue options. Maybe that is the reason.

        I saw one forum post on Steam asking about it. A reply suggested that it could be to do with saving the Collector base. But I destroyed the Collector base. So that seems unlikely.

        By the way, running a Paragon Shep on low EMS and betraying the Krogan is an interesting experience. After sabotaging the genophage, my Shep gave Paragon responses to Wrex talking when discussing the future of the Krogan. It made her sound duplicitous and insincere.

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  12. I will look forward to your article on Synthesis.

    In principle, I would prefer Destry too. But I can see justification in picking Control. Control will save the Geth, which may be important to Shep. Also, I see Control being a viable option where there are possible threats in the Galaxy such as the cured Krogan, the upgraded Geth (who knows for sure what they will do) and the Leviathan who no longer have to hide from the Reapers. Control could keep these and other future threats in line.

    My main issue with Control is what happens way in the future when everything Shep knew has disappeared. How will Shep be able to relate to a Galaxy her memories don’t identify with. And how will it influence her decisions.

    Even in the short term, it is not clear how good AI Shep’s judgement would be. How will it judge who is right and who is wrong. And how will it judge what, if any, force is appropriate. There is a risk that the AI Shep will lose all empathy with organics and make some ruthless decisions because they seem ‘logical’.

    Synthesis just seems too extreme for my liking. It effectively involves creating a new form of life, which effectively wipes out the old form of life. The consequences are not clear, even though the Catalyst believes it is the final solution. Apart from that, I find the green eyes and circuits in organics rather creepy and ugly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like Shepard says, humanity isn’t ready for that responsibility. Of course, it would be nice to think that as Shepard watches over the galaxy, the ShepardReaper will find things that it still “recognizes” in the galaxy, but who really knows…? I think that’s why that’s a weird option for Shepard to take (to each their own, of course!)

      And synthesize… yeah. It’s a weird one…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My issues with the endings were threefold:

    1) The crucible itself makes no sense – the idea that several cycles discovered the plans, made modifications to them but never completed them, successfully hid them from the Reapers and that these plans were eventually changed to incorporate the Catalyst.

    This completely ignores the continuity established in the first game. The Citadel is a TRAP! Every terminus state, except our own, starts when the Reapers pour through the Citadel and seize control of the Relay Network. Why would any of these previous civilisations alter their plans to incorporate a device they no longer controlled?

    The answer, I think, is that the developers took it for granted that we’d have control of the Citadel, and didn’t think about it. That’s why I, and many others, spent a large part of the game wondering why the Reapers hadn’t moved on the Citadel. They were never shown to be threatened by its fleet so why wouldn’t they head straight to the most strategically important location in the galaxy?

    So, all these questions come to the fore in the ending, and we think we’re going to get another Vigil-style exposition dump (which was the most satisfying part of the first game). Instead, the Catalyst is cryptic, vague, stupid and deceitful. Important questions, like “What about the Geth, you moron?!” aren’t even available to be asked (let alone answered).

    2) A brand-spanking new theme and central conflict is introduced in the last five minutes of the trilogy. The ‘synthetics versus organics’ issue was peripheral in ME1 and subverted in ME2, but we get to the Catalyst and it acts like this is the big philosophical question the game had been asking all along. ‘From the Ashes’ and ‘Leviathan’ introduce the concept earlier but a lot players didn’t buy them and, in the case of the latter, it was released after most day-one purchasers or pre-order players had completed the game.

    I don’t think it’s acceptable for the developer to hold crucial content hostage, especially if they prove unwilling to face criticism for the damage to the ending that their own business decisions caused.

    As for the idea itself, the Catalyst just lies flat-out. The Reapers don’t preserve life, they exterminate it. Even with the silly ‘each Reaper is a previously harvested race’ idea introduced in ME2, that fact remains; every single member of any space-faring race is murdered and only a few are reborn as Reapers (remember, that ME2 makes it clear that the Reapers rejected the notion of preserving Protheans).

    Since the Catalyst is lying, why should Shepard trust that any of the ‘solutions’ it offers would even work?

    3) Billions, if not trillions, of people are going to die no matter which option you choose. If you have a low EMS rating and select (or are forced to select) ‘destroy’ then everyone on Earth dies. No explanation is ever given as to why having a greater or lesser number of spaceships or soldiers in your Armada changes the effects of the space-magic super weapon, but hey-ho.

    No matter which option you choose, the Mass Relays are destroyed. If you accept ‘Arrival’ as canon (which I don’t because it blatantly contradicts ME1), then everyone in any solar system with a relay (including our own, where the entire fleet is) dies. If you ignore ‘Arrival’ (which I do), then there’s still going to be a devastating war over Earth’s scant resources, with every single alien fleet now stranded above its skies.

    I never actually understood the “your choices don’t matter” criticism, because the whole trilogy attested to this fact, so players should’ve been ready for that. A few choices that literally don’t matter at all; whether you picked Anderson or Udina as Earth’s councillor, whether or not you let Kasumi keep Keji’s gray-box and whether you left Ashley or Kaidan to die on Virmire.

    If you made Anderson the councillor, Udina is councillor in ME3 regardless. If you destroyed Keiji’s gray-box, Kasumi just found the relevant information in it regardless. No matter who you saved on Vrimire, that character behaves almost exactly like their counterpart (despite having widely divergent personalities in the first game) and fulfil the exact same role in the story (down to the most minute detail).

    I think the developers got the whole thing backwards. The story should’ve been very divergent but converged in the end – you see all your surviving squad-mates and every fleet you collected in the final battle, the crucible fires and the Reapers die. I think people would have still complained, but I don’t really see why we need a contrived red/blue choice at the end.

    I’m sorry this comment is so long – I’ve left a lot of things unsaid, and I feel like I need to get a blog or something of my own to keep things like this from festering.

    As for my preferred choice: As detached as I become during the final stretch of the game, I always choose ‘control’. To me, it seems to be the only moral course of action because it doesn’t involve violating the autonomy of every living being in the galaxy (synthesis) or committing genocide (destroy).

    I’ve heard people argue that the Geth would’ve willing sacrificed themselves to destroy the Reapers but this is nonsense – on the contrary, they were willing to align with the Reapers when the Quarians threatened to exterminate them. They agree to join you because they believe you can build a lasting peace. Selecting destroy, if you sided with the Geth (which I always do, because the Quarians’ actions during the Morning War and the Invasion of Rannoch were/are obscene), is an unforgivable act of betrayal.


    1. Sorry it took so long to reply! For some reason this (and some other comments) were bounced to spam.

      The endings aren’t without fault, and there were definitely things that could have been done differently. From what I’ve gathered, ME3 was hyped to be a much different experience than what was delivered, which is unfortunate at best and unacceptable at worst. Like I mentioned elsewhere, I came into the games way past all the outcry, so I hadn’t hyped and assumed the game was going to just completely suck. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think the game sucks by any stretch of the imagination.

      I do agree that the diverging storylines could have been addressed better, and then converged at the end. Taking the illusion of choice too far and blatantly showing everyone it’s an illusion is a poor development choice.

      Not related, I think I just assumed that the relays broke, not exploded like in Arrival. I also assumed that the ships still had their FTL so they could travel around the galaxy, it was just less convenient. One other issue that came up is that so many people (myself included for a while) looked at this game as science-fiction instead of science-fantasy. In science-fantasy, things don’t always make scientific sense. In Star Wars, why are there lightsabers? No on knows how they work, we’re just expected to accept that they do. And people got so upset when midichlorians made an appearance to try and explain the Force, because the science-fiction explanation didn’t work in the science-fantasy realm. So while it seems like I’m being an ME3 apologist, I think some of the details about the Crucible just need to be accepted. It’s a giant, science-fantasy McGuffin.

      You don’t think the Reaper conflict that started in ME1 set the stage for the synthetic/organic question at the end of ME3? That must have just been my interpretation, but the struggle between Reapers and organics seemed to hint that something big was coming. The Catalyst does lie; the Catalyst is working for the Reapers, and is following its programming. I wrote an article about the Catalyst being “right” but at the end of the day, it just followed its program, which was to “harvest” organic life.

      Long comments are appreciated! And if you ever start a blog, let me know!


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