This article contains spoilers regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3.
You have been warned.
Last night around 9pm and after over 80 hours of gameplay, I completed the Mass Effect trilogy. Over the last few weeks I’ve been hearing rumblings regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3 and the fan outcry for it not being a fitting end to an otherwise epic trilogy. Needless to say, I have been avoiding these articles and discussions. Until now. I will follow this article later today with some thoughts and theories regarding the ending, and of course the controversy surrounding it, but first I’d like to share my experience with the ending. My thoughts, my questions, and ultimately my disappointment.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have also completed Mass Effect 3 and are familiar with these final moments after regaining consciousness. To be frank, as I experienced the ending I didn’t know what to make of it, here are my thoughts as I experienced it, just as nonsensical as when I initially had them:
As my Commander Shepard battled his way through wave after wave of Reaper forces I was full of excitement. This is it, this is the climax. The final push to destroy the Reapers and save the entire galaxy. My Shepard had lost close friends, millions if not billions of people have died holding off the Reaper forces to buy time for
me Shepard to unite the races of the galaxy into one unified force to take these bastards down. All of the sacrifice, all of the hard decisions had come down to this. The plan to board the Reaper-controlled Citadel had crumbled around our forces despite our best efforts, and before I knew it I had Shepard in a dead sprint towards the only access point to the Citadel as the Reaper known as Harbinger decimated the men around me. Then, the unthinkable. Shepard doesn’t make it. He is nailed by a blast from Harbinger and all goes dark…
But wait. After all he’s been through, it’s going to take more than a single grazing blast from a Reaper to take Shepard down. Out of the darkness, he comes to with the bodies of fallen soldiers all around him. This is where things begin to make less sense and follow a narrative very out of line with the previous 79 hours and 55 minutes I had spent in the Mass Effect universe, and this is where the frustration for myself and other Mass Effect fans begins.
Reports coming in over my radio are of the Alliance reporting that all soldiers running for the conduit have been wiped out – do they not see the single man limping his way towards it? The Reapers just through everything they had at us to stop us from reaching the conduit, would they not be thorough and make sure this one man, Shepard, who they are personally familiar with is dead? I dispatch of three Husks and the noble Maurader Shields with a pistol that has an endless clip and board the Citadel. But, I’m not alone, Admiral Anderson also made it on board. Communications from him make next to no sense; one moment it seems as if he made it onto the Citadel before me, the next it seems he was behind me. I limp my way to the control room where Anderson has already arrived. There is a weird affect on the screen, am I fighting indoctrination? The Illusive Man shows up. I argue with him, tell him he’s crazy, he forces me to shoot Anderson, I even the score by shooting him. I collapse next to Anderson, as he dies Shepard looks down at a bullet wound on himself in the exact same spot he had just shot Anderson only moments earlier. Shepard begins to fade away, but Admiral Hackett comes in over the radio.
“The Crucible isn’t working, nothing is happening.” he tells me. How does he know I made it to the Citadel? Wasn’t the Alliance just reporting that all forces trying to board were wiped out? Shepard clamors for a control console, collapses just in front, and is lifted into another room. The ghostly image of a child appears before me, begins to talk about the Reapers, what they are “actually for”, that he controls them. The Reapers wipe out all advanced organic life every “cycle” to prevent them from creating sentient synthetic races thought could wipe out all organic life if left unchecked. What the hell? The Reapers who are Synthetics themselves, controlled by this ghost child wipe out advanced organic life to prevent them from creating synthetic races that could potentially wipe out all organic life? What kind of logic is that? After more vague and contradicting explanations, the ghost child presents me with three options:
1. I become one with the Reapers and take control of them, obviously allowing me to call of their decimation of the galaxy.
2. I can jump into some green ray thing. Doing this will “synthesize” the entire galaxy, merging all organics and synthetics into a single type of “DNA”.
3. I can use the Crucible as I originally intended and destroy all current synthetic life, including the Reapers and my Geth allies. But this comes with a warning that the peace that I have brokered between all races to fight against the Reaper threat will not last and there is still the possibility of synthetic life once again being created that could wipe out all organic life.
I paused the game and thought for a moment. The first two options seem fishy, and really don’t make a lot of sense. Fuck this, and fuck the Reapers. I blow them all to hell. It’s what I’ve been working towards, it was my mission. I don’t want to control the Reapers, I don’t want to merge synthetic and organic DNA (however the hell that’s supposed to work). I want the Reapers dead.
I make my choice. Red space magic envelops the planet, destroying all of the Reapers. The red mist then shoots into the local Mass Relay and the red space magic mist stuff shoots off to all other Relays across the galaxy, destroying them in their wake. I’m also presented with a scene of Joker piloting the Normandy to God-knows-where, with my entire crew on board some how. They crash on some planet, get out, smile. The final scene is that of rubble in London where the final battle took place. Here lays the body of Commander Shepard, he takes a gasping breath, credits roll.
I sat staring at my television. What the hell just happened? I’m not angry, I’m frustrated and disappointed. Up until these final moments BioWare had threaded a story and a universe together that was enthralling, epic, and emotional – did they really drop the ball with a bookend to their story full of nonsensical space magic conclusions? Are none of the major decisions I’ve made during the course of the story going to be addressed in some sort of epilogue?
At this point I began frantically texting Senador Kooch about the ending who had just finished the day prior. I spent the next several hours texting with him discussing the ending and scouring the internet on others’ thoughts, theories, and the possibility that this was not truly the end, but instead just an event that will lead to a more logical conclusion in future DLC. Would BioWare actually do this? Would they withhold the end of a game and release it as DLC?
I’ll be back later today to discuss the theories out there, and share my thoughts on whether or not I believe BioWare just fumbled the ball at the one yard line, or if this “ending” was some sort of hallucination and battle that took place in Shepard’s head and the real ending has yet to come.
In the mean time, feel free to share your own experiences with the ending of Mass Effect 3 in the comments below!
UPDATE: I have posted the article discussing the controversy with my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. You can check that out here.