While much better than the originals, the new ME3 endings certainly bring with them new questions and inconsistencies. Hurray discussion time!
**THERE WILL BE SPOILERS BELOW.**
When I first beat Mass Effect 3, I chose the rainbows-and-unicorns synthesis ending. I figured, “Why not put an end to the fight by making everyone the same!?” The ending left me with some questions, but overall I was satisfied, as my imagination was able to fill in the gaps that millions of fans apparently could not. “OMG with the relays destroyed, is everyone stranded?!” “Why was Joker running away!? He would NEVER do that!” “How did my two companions escape!? I thought they died!” These were not relevant questions in my opinion, but I heard them asked over and over again from people who apparently needed every minor detail in a game ending spelled out to the letter or they would be forced to bitch and moan to no end. I felt pretty good about my ending. That is, until I read about the indoctrination theory. At this point, I felt like a complete tool. I felt so bad, in fact, that I replayed the entire ending to choose the “right” ending, in which Shepherd does what he set out to do years before: destroy the reapers.
I was 100% committed to the the indoctrination theory, as it appeared to be supported not only by countless events, dialogue, and other subtleties in Mass Effect 3, but in the prior two games as well. I read as many blogs and news posts as I could analyzing the theory, and I’ve still yet to find someone who was able to completely refute it’s validity. That is, of course, until Bioware released it’s new extended endings. These endings have managed to completely refute the indoctrination theory by directly labeling the “Star Child” as an AI, rather than a figment of Shepherd’s imagination. It’s sad really, as it shows how sloppily the ME trilogy was written, and seemingly proves that it wasn’t actually written as a trilogy from the beginning. Like many other sequels that have been written after-the-fact, Mass Effect 2 & 3 suffer from plot holes and inconsistencies that helped feed the indoctrination theory at it’s roots. But let’s talk about the actual ending for a bit, shall we?
The Star Child
So the Child is simply an AI (or “VI” virtual intelligence), programmed by higher beings (assumingly hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years prior) who saw the problem with organic life constantly creating synthetic life. Eventually, synthetic life turns against it’s creators, and thus threatens to end all organic life in the galaxy. So if it was simply an AI, why would it provide Shepherd with the three options at the end? Oh, because the Crucible “re-wrote” him in some way. Wait a minute… the Crucible, a machine with blue prints that change with every cycle, and that was designed by organic creatures with no knowledge of the Catalyst, somehow perfectly rewrote the code of an AI that no one knew existed? I find that slightly hard to believe.
What’s even more hard to believe is the new “screw you, kid!” ending that Bioware introduced with the DLC. I actually had no idea they had added a 4th ending when I booted up my old save. I was so pissed at how Bioware tried to pass the Star Child off as an artificial VI that I immediately shot at him the first chance I could.
When you shoot the Star Child, he suddenly decides that the best idea is not to allow you to make the decision like he said previously, but rather to simply let the Reapers carry out their mission. What happened to him being “re-written”?! Did my bullet passing through him re-write his code back to the way it was? That makes no sense. Granted, the brand new ending cinematics for this decision were pretty good, with a new (Asari!?) woman taking the place of Buzz Aldrin’s “star gazer” character from the original ending. I honestly don’t know the reason for this, but it was a helluva lot better ending with her in it. Sorry, Buzz.
I realize that I haven’t gotten to the actual endings yet, but I wanted to voice my questions (ones that were easily answered by the indoctrination theory) that were left before we even get there:
- Why does the Star Child look exactly like the child who was killed on Earth at the beginning of the game?
- If the Star Child has always been in control of the Reapers, and in control of the Citadel, why didn’t he do something to assist Harbinger’s invasion of the Citadel in the first game?
- (The following only applies if you made peace with the Geth) Shepherd STILL doesn’t address with the Star Child the fact that the synthetics are currently completely at peace with organics, and are in fact working to help SAVE the organics from the damn Reapers. One of the biggest moments of all three games is completely left out of the ending. Wow.
- Why is the Citadel designed to perfectly acclimate a human making one of the three choices? (I mean, there were automatic paths that came up and everything, the two handles to grab for the control ending, an exposed component to be shot for the destroy ending… wtf?)
- As mentioned above, why does the AI just automatically go back to his old way of thinking after Shepherd shoots him or waits too long? He was either originally programmed one way, or he has since been re-written by the Crucible somehow. He shouldn’t just go back and forth between the two options at will.
- How was the Crucible designed perfectly to rewrite the Catalyst AI despite no one actually knowing the AI existed? As I mentioned, we’re talking hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years of countless cultures all somehow adding to a design that the Reapers, with all their technology, could never destroy. Yet it’s a design that works with this current cycle’s technology, people, etc to re-write an AI that was programmed in a way modern civilizations couldn’t even begin to fathom. Unless they had objective C back then too?
- How did Anderson end up in the exact same place as Shepherd without following the same path? No, the idea that the station was “shifting” doesn’t work. Anderson describes exactly when Shepherd sees maybe 5-10 seconds before Shepherd sees it, and there is absolutely no shifting going on as you approach the console area, yet Anderson is sitting there waiting for Shepherd, with no other path to that location in sight. Huh?
You may have more questions, and I may think of more after the fact, but those are the big ones that stood out to me just a couple hours after finishing the game.
The Three Main Endings
As for the three main endings themselves, I can say that I’m definitely impressed with how much new content Bioware created, as well as with how different the endings are now. You finally get a clear idea of the consequences of your decision, whether good or… well, good. Seriously, all the endings really end in a good way now. It’s kind of strange, but while the original three endings painted the red “destroy” decision as the “good” one, the extended endings show the destroy ending as really being the worse one, which fits more in line with the renegade (red) vs paragon (blue) color scheme the game has always had.
The Control Ending
This ending originally seemed like the bad one, as this was the ending that The Illusive Man was going for all along. The idea was that he could control the Reapers and use their technology to further the Human race, assumingly for his own causes. So yes, in the Illusive Man’s hands, this probably would have been bad. However, in the hands of Shepherd, things happen quite a bit differently than what the original ending showed. Shepherd essentially becomes the new Citadel virtual intelligence. That’s right, somehow his mind and memories are retained through his electrocution, and he becomes disconnected from his original self and gets integrated into the system in place of the Star Child.
This ending was by far the most intriguing for me, as it shows that while his physical form may be gone, Shepherd didn’t actually “die”. It appears that all those jokes about having a Shepherd VI back on the Citadel proved to be foreshadowing for his ultimate demise and rebirth. Shepherd then uses his new powers to repurpose the Reapers for good, and to help rebuild the Citadel, the Mass Relays, and all the destruction they caused on various planets. Things seemed pretty damn peachy with this ending, and I almost feel guilty for not choosing it… almost.
To me, even with Shepherd seeming to have ascended beyond any sort of threat, I still worry that there’s always the chance that the original programming comes back and the cycle immediately starts back up again. There’s a reason I didn’t choose control in the first place, and there’s a reason I didn’t choose it this time. Too risky.
The Synthesis Ending
This was kind of a cop-out “happy happy joy joy” ending the first time, and it remains the same in the extended cut. However, the extra shots of people’s DNA being changed and such were cool. I still don’t really buy into the idea that all life can instantaneously become partially synthetic, and that everyone is fine and there are zero issues. Whatever, it’s sci-fi, right? By the way, this is the ending where Shepherd truly does die.
Sure, Joker gets to somehow start a relationship with a machine (good luck with your sex life, buddy!), and the Reapers, seeing no reason to destroy synthetic life for some reason, are now helping everyone out like the good little cyber-crabs they are. But wait a minute… can’t semi-synthetic life still create synthetic life?! What’s to stop someone from creating new robots that aren’t synthetic+organic!? Oh that’s right, NOTHING. No problem is solved as all, other than ensuring that Joker will never be able to reproduce. Wait, did synthesis add organic reproduction systems to all synthetic life?! I would rather not think about it.
Up next in Mass Effect 4: a group of partially-synthetic humans create a fully synthetic robot that gains awareness and goes on a galactic killing spree. No more happy happy joy joy.
The Destroy Ending
As I mentioned in the intro, this is the ending that I originally chose after coming to the (technically false) realization that Shepherd had been indoctrinated. It felt extremely satisfying to know that I finally stuck it to the Reapers. To my surprise, I found out that Shepherd actually isn’t dead due to a clip right before the credits. This made perfect sense with the indoctrination theory, as the idea was that Shepherd never actually left London, but rather was waking up after the blast in the clip. After all, there was no possible way he could survive the entire Citadel exploding right? RIGHT?!
Wrong. Despite being in the vacuum of space, in the center of the largest expulsion of energy any organic-made device has ever seen, and sitting on top of an exploding space station, Shepherd is somehow still alive. Let’s not even take into consideration blood loss, or any of the other trauma he experienced on the way there. Riiiiiight. Don’t get me wrong, after the over 100 hours of gameplay I invested into these three games, I want to believe that my character survives, but it makes absolutely no sense outside of the indoctrination theory, and it was not explained any more in the extended cut.
As for the rest of the ending, it was about what I expected, and is probably the most realistic of the three. Things got really messed up, and they’re gonna stay that way until everyone works together to fix it. I like to think that the people who are left behind will start stripping down the Reapers and will use their technology to create even more powerful FTL drives for their ships. Perhaps the Mass Relays won’t even be needed in the future! Either way, it’s made clear that civilization will rebuild, and all is not lost.
I’m OK with that.
Obviously these endings won’t satisfy everyone, but I have to say that Bioware did one helluva job with only three months to whip up the new content. They flesh out each ending, making it feel like your choice really had a unique effect on the universe. In the end, isn’t that really all we can ask for? Sure, the added 4th ending is unsatisfying for many, but what else could have happened if you refused to do anything about the Reaper threat? I feel like the 4th ending is exactly as it should have been. Sure, life as we know it has been obliterated, but the next cycle’s civilization might have a fighting chance when they discover Liara’s message.
Yes, I wish that Bioware would have adopted the indoctrination theory, as it would have been the single greatest twist in entertainment history. Millions of players would have been “indoctrinated” into thinking the horribly confusing and inconsistent ME3 ending was simply all in Shepherd’s mind. The DLC could have had you waking up in the very spot where you got knocked out, and the play would then continue based on the choices you made in your head. I don’t know how this would have played out exactly, but I’m also not a science fiction writer.
When all is said and done, whether you agree that the endings were satisfactory or not, the fact that the extended cut exists shows how committed Bioware is to their fans and to their franchises. I haven’t heard it mentioned in any media outlets yet, but they actually removed the DLC message after the credits that everyone found so offensive (I couldn’t have cared less)! I have enjoyed every minute of my time with the Mass Effect trilogy, and can’t wait to see what Bioware has in store next for the universe.
I just pray that it’s not an MMO.