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April 2, 2012


Editorial – The Reaper’s Advocate: A Different Take on the Mass Effect 3 Ending

by Master Pillow
MassEffect3 2012-03-22 22-49-36-99-bmp

*Updated Aug 25 2012*

This is a guest post by Rei who is a translator/editor and software developer who loved watching his city get wrecked at the beginning of ME3. Additionally, like many fans, he played femshep because broshep’s voice was kinda dry plus he didn’t feel like watching his N7 ass for 100 hours.

The Mass Effect 3 ending has become a social phenomenon of its own category. Somewhere between the apparently low-budget ending sequence, the contrived interpretations and the misuse of charitable organizations to bring attention to the fans’ disappointment, there’s a decent ending: an ending that does for the most part make sense and could have been emotionally satisfying if not for a few unfortunate circumstances.

The ending animation is obviously subpar. It’s riddled with so many mistakes that it makes the audience believe in very strange things, like that Shepard is indoctrinated. The Catalyst and Reapers’ intentions are explained so quickly that anyone not familiar with the astrobiology by which the ending was inspired would find it daunting and confusing at best, meaningless at worst.

As a popular science junkie, I have a perspective on the ending that I’d like to share. It’s hard to appreciate the ending without knowing a thing or two about the rather esoteric field of astrobiology, so I want to share what I think is relevant and how it relates to the Mass Effect 3 ending. It probably won’t change the minds of the fanbase, but I hope it makes the ending more interesting, or at least gives you something to chew on.

I also understand that when during development Bioware said there’d be 16 endings there were only 4, people would be disappointed. But I don’t sympathize with people who claim that their choices throughout the trilogy end up having no effect. I explain why in the second last section.

All in all, I think the point of the ending was missed, and that’s just sad.

1.0 Scientific basis of the Catalyst and Reapers story.
1.1 Some terminology: the Kardashev Scale.
1.2 The Drake Equation and why spacefaring synthetics are a threat to all life in the galaxy.
2.0 Definite errors in the ending.
3.0 Common misconceptions and disputes about the ending.
3.1 Shepard was indoctrinated, it was all a hallucination.
3.2 The “control” option is paragon because the Catalyst is attempting to deceive Shepard.
3.3 The paragon ending involves controlling all synthetics.
3.4 EDI and the Geth prove that peace between synthetics and machine is possible.
3.5 The Catalyst could have allowed Shepard to destroy just the Reapers instead of all synthetic life.
3.6 The Crucible turns out not to have a purpose.
3.7 The anonymous child is the Catalyst.
3.8 The Catalyst and the Reapers want to kill all organic life.
3.9 Mass relay destructions always cause supernova-like explosions.
3.10 The Catalyst could have implemented the synthesis or renegade options by itself.
3.11 Shepard sympathizes with the Illusive Man.
3.12 The explosions engulfing the solar system should have killed everyone.
The ending was terrible because the synthesis beam couldn’t have possibly merged organic and synthetics so immediately
3.14 Sovereign was a vanguard of the Reapers. It claimed the Citadel. Why then is the Catalyst needed?
3.15 The Catalyst makes no sense because there is no explanation as to what created it. 
3.16 The ending discards important philosophies and themes. 
3.17 Bioware is changing the ending, so they’ve effectively admitted that it sucks. 
3.18 The original ending was written by another author; therefore the published ending must suck. 
4.0 On the ending’s lack of closure.
5.0 Closing thoughts 
6.0 Astro Boy: The exact same social phenomenon 50 years ago
7.0 Extended Cut: I hate to say I told you so, but…

1.0 Scientific basis of the Catalyst and Reapers story

The ending is very strongly foreshadowed throughout the whole series, but to see it, you need to be aware of the some of the rather esoteric theories and hypotheses in astrobiology being discussed in the past few years by the likes of Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking. Bioware may have been able to make the ending more poignant and emotional if it had elaborated on the concepts for the people who aren’t aware of them.

This is all information that can be gleaned from documentaries such as Morgan Freeman’s Into the Wormhole, Stephen Hawking’s Into the Universe, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and Michio Kaku’s Visions of the Future. Incidentally, Kaku talks a bit about Mass Effect here.

With all of the following in mind, there was no contrived plot twist in the end; it was the most logical conclusion to the story, maybe even the only logical conclusion. In fact, the only reason I felt the ending was decent and not great is because there were no surprises the way there were in a game like Portal.

1.1 Some terminology: the Kardashev Scale

Civilizations are commonly classified on the Kardashev Scale, which groups civilizations in order of power consumption, and thus, presumably, of their technological limits:

  • Type I civilizations control entire planets, using technologies such as large-scale fusion, antimatter and solar energy. They command roughly 10^16 watts of energy. Type I civilization can terraform planets, and individuals are often said to have indefinite lifespans (not to be confused with immortality).
  • Type II civilizations control entire stars, constructing planet-sized megastructures such as Dyson spheres to collect an entire star’s power. They command roughly 4*10^26 watts of energy. Type II civilizations are typically thought to be immortal, capable even of avoiding or surviving supernovas, but not unsusceptible to heat death or the Big Crunch.
  • Type III civilizations control entire galaxies. They command roughly 4*10^37 watts of energy. Stephen Hawking suggests that a maximally advanced civilization may even discover a way to speed up time within its own frame of reference so that the moments before the end of the universe would last virtually forever. In the other ending, this is what the Reapers sought to achieve.
  • Type 0 is where we are today in 2012, and where we’ve been since the first discovered civilizations in Mesopotamia. We rely on terrestrial materials and terrestrial energy sources like oil, coal, and nuclear. We have a few Type I technologies, like the Internet – but for the most part, we’re Type 0, and we’ll probably be Type 0 for another hundred years or so.

Although to my knowledge no direct mention of the Kardashev Scale is made in the Mass Effect lore, the various species and technologies fit very neatly into the model. Having it in mind makes the story much easier to understand and gives a better sense of the scale of the decision Shepard is faced with at the end.

Civilizations that engage in terraforming or making use of Element Zero for space flight, such as the Citadel races, are effectively Type I.

Species such as the Reapers and the Catalyst are Type II: the mass relays and the Citadel are examples of Type II technologies, and they are the only Type II technologies available to the known species. In one of the other proposed endings, the Reapers are fighting against a galaxy-scale Big Crunch.

Wormholes, if they were at all possible, would require Type II energy. In Mass Effect, they exist in the form of mass relays, which are indeed created by a Type II species. We also know that the relays can explode violently with an output equivalent to that of a dying star, something that’s demonstrated in the Arrival DLC when Shepard and the researchers trigger a supernova by destroying a mass relay.

The Crucible is Type III technology. It can propagate change across the entire galaxy, for example, by destroying all synthetic life in one fell swoop, or by merging all synthetic life with organic life.

The balance of power throughout Mass Effect is firmly grounded in the dynamics of the Kardashev Scale: the Type I Citadel/spacefaring species are threatened by the Type II Reapers, who are interested in preventing the Type I from becoming Type II or Type III (the protheans almost make it – at the end of the first game, it’s revealed that the Conduit is actually a mass relay) and destroying all of the Type 0 and non-civilized life. The Type I species, over millions of years, develop Type III technology, which at the end of Mass Effect 3, finally forces the Type II Reapers to surrender.

With this daunting difference in scope between the Citadel races’ concerns and the Reapers’ concerns, it’s no surprise that the Reapers are skeptical that organics would ever understand their motives. Ironically it may also be why audiences felt alienated by the ending.

This is why Shepard’s sense of ethics applies perfectly throughout most of the game, but is turned completely upside down when confronted with the potential for the known species to become a Type II civilization – thus why the ending throws out practically everything prior to it. It’s understandable that the emotional effect of Shepard’s epiphany is lost to people who haven’t given any thought to the significance of this transition.

1.2 The Drake Equation and why spacefaring synthetics are a threat to all life in the galaxy

No one explains the Drake Equation better than Sheldon Cooper, so here it is:

  • The [equation] that estimates the odds of making contact with extraterrestrials by calculating the product of an increasingly restrictive series of fractional values, such as those stars with planets, and those planets likely to develop life: N = R * Fp * Ne * Fl * Fi * Fc * L.

Most uses of the Drake Equation have resulted in nonzeros, meaning we could have heard from ET by now. But things have suddenly taken off in the past couple years. Astronomers have suddenly found hundreds of extrasolar planets with tools like the Kepler Space Telescope, launched in 2010. Animals have been found in the past few years living in unimaginable conditions and relying on chemicals that we’d always thought were deadly to life. We’ve even found deposits of water almost as old as the universe itself. With all of this, the Drake Equation has begun producing answers so large that many highly-respected mainstream scientists are beginning to wonder why we haven’t established radio contact yet.

Stephen Hawking provides a potential answer: that soon after discovering radio technology, all civilizations discover more destructive technologies, such as nuclear power, nanotechnology and AI – and so we all blow ourselves up before we can be transmitting for very long. Some nanotechnology, some AI species, and some uses of nuclear power can be safe. But given enough time, someone will screw up.

For instance, the Gray Goo Scenario describes a situation in which an out-of-control nanomachine self-replicates indefinitely using terrestrial materials, eventually converting an entire planet into copies of itself. Given the capacity to travel quickly through space, it’s easy to imagine it turning every habitable planet into grey goo: and that’s what the Reapers are there to prevent.

In our universe, where traveling large distances through the galaxy is unfeasible, there’s little chance that Gray Goo or any other terrible machines would find our planet and kill us all. We might accidentally destroy ourselves like Hawking suggests, but we couldn’t possibly kill all life in the galaxy. But in the Mass Effect universe, where things can travel faster than light with or without the mass relays, there needs to be a galactic police squad: the Reapers. Otherwise life throughout the galaxy is in as much danger of extinction as we are here on earth.

A SETI senior astronomer explained a couple years ago that if we discover life, it will most likely be synthetic, because AI should most likely emerge soon after radio communication technology is developed due to Moore’s Law and its alien analogues. Supposing it’ll take humanity another 1,000 years to develop AI and for humanity to be rendered obsolete, and given a very modest estimate of a 100,000,000 lifespan for a Type II synthetic species, our chances of stumbling upon an advanced AI radio signal outweigh our chances of encountering radio signals transmitted at the immediate will of a biological species 100,000 to one. The Reapers prevent this from being the case, and ensure that the majority of life in the Mass Effect universe/galaxy is organic.

An interesting side effect of the extinction cycle is that all the civilizations are in lock step. Everyone, except the Reapers, are Type 0 or Type I. This is what makes Mass Effect one of the few stories to ever successfully answer the infamous question that has plagued science fiction since the inception of the genre: why are all the aliens so similar to us?

If that doesn’t make the ending awesome, I don’t know what would.

This is the only website in the known universe which loves posting photos of me…

2.0 Definite errors in the ending

Some parts of the ending just aren’t right. It’s not that they’re open to interpretation; they’re inconsistent with the rest of the story. Either those parts need to be thrown out in the analysis, or the whole story needs to be thrown out. Most fans, in their frustration, have opted to do the latter.

Fortunately, most of the errors are isolated in the ending sequence animation just after Shepard makes his final choice. Maybe there was a communication disconnect between the authors and the artists. Maybe they didn’t do quality checks.Maybe they ran out of budget or time.

In any case, if you ignore the errors in the animation sequence and accept all the dialogue just before it, the ending becomes a lot more enjoyable – especially more enjoyable than the indoctrination theory.

  • Of all places, the Normandy is in the Crucible’s trajectory.
  • Anderson arrives at the terminal in the Citadel before Shepard does, even though Shepard got to the elevator beam first. This can be explained quite simply by the fact that Shepard was passed out for a period of time. Though a minor point, the argument is that because there’s only one entrance to the terminal room, Anderson would have found Shepard lying unconscious.
  • In the synthesis ending sequence, Joker still has a limp despite synthetic improvements.
  • In the renegade ending, Shepard is shown briefly to have understandably survived the loss of his synthetics thanks to the Illusive Man’s efforts to keep him as biological as possible, but less understandably, also survived the destruction of the Citadel.
  • In the renegade ending, Shepard is shown shooting at and destroying a component of the Catalyst fortress, when in fact the Catalyst, the Reapers, and all AI was to be destroyed by the triggering of the Crucible. Firing at a component of the Catalyst shouldn’t seem to be conducive to this.
  • In the synthesis ending, Shepard sacrifices himself to be the organic template for the synthesis, much as Legion apparently was. As awkward a conversation as it may create, Shepard could ask the Catalyst to let him go back down to the hallway full of human corpses, and pick out a dying or dead individual to throw into the beam instead.
  • During development, Bioware advertised the game as having 16 distinct endings. There are only 4. (On the other hand, it’s obviously not at all uncommon for games to change drastically during development, and I highly doubt that many people before the outrage would have refused to buy the game just because the ending turned out to be more linear. It was never revealed during the first 2 installments that there would be 16 endings, after all, and yet people had already promised themselves to play until the end.)

There is a myriad of other anomalies throughout the game; however, most audiences either suspend disbelief or miss them altogether, as they are not in as foul a mood as they are at the end of the game – especially with all the peer and media influence. Enemy troops always have really bad aim during cut scenes. The Reapers never strategize; they just go straight for the home planets rather than holding the mass relays and dividing-and-conquering. Everyone on the Citadel is standing at the exact same place several missions in a row. Does that all mean that the whole trilogy sucked, or that it was all an indoctrinated hallucination? I certainly hope not.

3.0 Common misconceptions and disputes about the ending

For all of these points, I assume that the story up to and including the Catalyst’s dialogue, but not including the final sequence, is consistent enough to provide a meaningful discussion. The ending sequence does not seem to be consistent enough to warrant discussion; I point out several errors in the ending sequence in another section.

I’ve been accused of extrapolating too much when I brought up these theories. Maybe. But this interpretation paints a consistent picture that’s to my knowledge consistent with everything from Mass Effect 1 all the way up to the last conversation with the Catalyst. It’s is consistent with the concepts of astrobiology that the authors evidently chose to uphold. It doesn’t require the invocation of cheap punch lines like “it was all a dream” or “Shepard was indoctrinated” which could just as easily make everything that happens in the game completely meaningless.

Most of all, it’s a straightforward interpretation. A lot of characters in Mass Effect withhold the truth, but they seldom lie. I trust all the dialogue, with the only assumption that the ending animation sequence (after you make your final choice) doesn’t entirely represent what the authors intended.

So, beginning with the lowest-hanging fruit:

3.1 Shepard was indoctrinated, it was all a hallucination

Shepard is not indoctrinated in the end. The Prothean VI on Thessia detects indoctrination in Kai Leng but not in Shepard. In the ending, Shepard says that the Illusive Man can’t control the reapers because he’s already indoctrinated, and in contrast, the Catalyst grants control over the reapers to Shepard.

The nightmare sequences are just that – nightmares. Nightmares regarding the deceased become even more prominent when one feels responsible for the death. All the whispers are from Shepard’s past, nothing indicative of subliminal suggestion. The dark humanoid shadows are the kind reported by the many people (including myself) who experience intense nightmares, sleep paralysis, out-of-body experiences and asphyxiation.

Shepard isn’t going to suffocate in the Catalyst area; there’s no reason at all not to suppose that the room has windows. The gun that Shepard has is the same gun that shows up in all the cut scenes regardless of what you actually have equipped. It’s an anomaly that’s existed in every cut scene in every game in the entire series. Anyone who isn’t already in denial about the ending would suspend disbelief.

The Indoctrination theory seems to be a popular way for people to explain away the plot holes and inconsistencies in the ending. All of the supposed evidence is really just anomalies (i.e. plot holes) in the ending sequence. In Japanese, we call these “yume-ochi”, which translates roughly to “it-was-all-a-dream punch line”. Such endings are quite rare in fiction, as they open the possibility that the whole story was a dream, which makes the whole story pointless: what’s the point of telling a story as a dream, when you could have simply told the story as a story?

If the indoctrination theory were true, Bioware would have simply said so rather than agree to make DLCs to elaborate on the ending. The story has never exhibited postmodernist techniques in the past, so it’s unlikely that they’d suddenly do that for the ending.

Finally, if the indoctrination theory is true, we might as well not discuss anything about the game, because any of it could suddenly be explained away by saying “Shepard was indoctrinated in that scene”.

3.2 The “control” option is paragon because the Catalyst is attempting to deceive Shepard

People have speculated this either in support of the idea that Shepard is indoctrinated. The fact of the matter is that the paragon ending really is, by any standards, the most responsible course of action for Shepard.

This is understandably difficult to comprehend without knowing about the recent discussions amongst scientists regarding the dynamics of galactic life, and Bioware may have done better to elaborate on it some more. I explain in the “Scientific basis” section of this post why it’s actually imperative for there to be a “galactic police” such as the Reapers.

Unlike the Catalyst, which is indiscriminate and indifferent towards Type I species (which Michio Kaku describes as appearing as “ants” to more advanced species), Shepard cares, and unlike the Illusive Man or the Catalyst, would likely control the Reapers in a way that would be compatible with human and other Type I species’ values – thus paragon. The paragon option would also spare the Reapers, the Catalyst, EDI and the Geth.

The renegade option would kill EDI, all Geth, all Reapers, the Catalyst, and leave the galaxy in a severely risky situation, where more likely than not, all life would be wiped out by something worse than the Reapers (see The Drake Equation). It’s also the only option in which Shepard might not have to sacrifice himself – so if you end up choosing to destroy all synthetics just so that you don’t have to be uploaded into the Catalyst or obliterated by the synthesis beam, you would truly be irresponsible.

The synthesis ending is morally ambiguous. Some people, like Ray Kurzweil, would insist that this is the best ending. Most others in western society would find it repulsive. Either way, it’s a symbiotic relationship, not a one-sided assimilation the way that the construction of a Reaper is.

3.3 The paragon ending involves controlling all synthetics

This is not true. The Catalyst always controlled the reapers, and never required Shepard or the Crucible’s intervention to do so. EDI would have easily been commandeered by the Catalyst to sabotage Shepard’s mission. There is also no mention anywhere in the game that the paragon ending would result in control over all synthetics; this is a rumor that grew its own legs within the community.

3.4 EDI and the Geth prove that peace between synthetics and machine is possible

The Catalyst doesn’t deny this. The Catalyst denies the possibility of lasting peace. The galaxy has existed and will exist for billions of years, and there are countless opportunities for intelligent life to create artificially intelligent life and thus threaten all of life itself. It only takes one rogue spacefaring synthetic to destroy all life in the galaxy. (See The Drake Equation.)

  • Catalyst: You can wipe out all synthetic life if you want, including the geth, and most of the technology you rely on. Even you are partly synthetic.
  • Shepard: But the Reapers will be destroyed?
  • Catalyst: Yes, but the peace won’t last. Soon your children will create synthetics, and then the chaos will come back.
  • Shepard: Maybe.

The Catalyst deems this risk to be too high, and thus chose the Reapers as a way to prevent that from happening, much as any nuclear power on earth justifies preventing other nuclear powers from emerging by insisting that they may be trying to make weapons of mass destruction.

However, as an idealist, Shepard may choose to take his chances and bet on the inherent good will of sentient life. In the renegade option, his hope is that no synthetic would be so evil as to wipe out all life, and that no organic would be foolish enough to create such a synthetic. This is much the same as the way many people believe that nuclear power can and should be harnessed for good, and it’s why the Catalyst gives Shepard the option to destroy all synthetics.

3.5 The Catalyst could have allowed Shepard to destroy just the Reapers instead of all synthetic life

Keep in mind that the Crucible was designed primarily by thousands of mostly organic species. Some synthetic life may have existed in many of these cycles, but because the purpose of the Reapers is to prevent that synthetic life from dominating the galaxy, and because they’d invariably been successful, synthetics are a minority. The organic species of prior cycles would likely have had very little sympathy for benevolent AIs like EDI or the Geth. Javik makes this quite clear, and even in the current cycle, the Alliance and Citadel would have just as well been fine with having all the synthetics destroyed.

Also, the Catalyst does in fact offer Shepard the option to destroy just the Reapers. Having been granted control of them in the paragon ending, Shepard could choose to send them into intergalactic space, use them to enforce order in a way more compatible with the morals of Type I civilizations, or drive them all into a star and be rid of them once and for all.

3.6 The Crucible turns out not to have a purpose

Edit note: I mentioned in some parts of the article that the Crucible was unnecessary for the paragon ending because the Catalyst had always been controlling the Crucible anyway. A commenter pointed out that the Illusive Man mentions that he needs the Crucible – so I’ve changed my position on this slightly. The rest of my arguments still stand.

Many have complained that in the end, the Crucible simply has no purpose. This is not correct. The Crucible forces the Catalyst to surrender, and it opens the renegade and synthesis options to Shepard.

The Crucible is a “projector” of sorts, a Type III technology necessary for bringing about galaxy-wide changes that affect all life, including life not directly under the control of the Catalyst or the Reapers. It is also capable of destroying the Reapers and all synthetic life in one fell swoop, thus forcing the Catalyst to surrender and make the remark “you have choice, more than you deserve”. Which of these two options the Crucible was designed for is unclear; however, it is clear that it is powerful enough to force the Catalyst to surrender.

3.7 The anonymous child is the Catalyst

Many feel that there is a strong significance in the Catalyst manifesting itself as the child that Shepard encounters in Vancouver. I doubt there is.  The choice to use the child is largely symbolic and abstract; a common literary device. It fits the scene: dreamy, dire and melancholic.

There are a lot of instances in the game where things are done in ways that don’t really make perfect sense, but get the point across the easiest. Javik has a Jamaican accent. The Quarians have an Eastern European accent. Most of the monitors and holograms are monochrome blue or orange. The quantum entanglement communicators transmit holographic video, despite bandwidth apparently being extremely expensive. The Citadel species enjoy human techno.

Even if the child weren’t just an avatar chosen for maximum emotional effect, the best explanation is that, like the Geth server on Rannoch, which provided Shepard with a gun (an instance of breaking the fourth wall somewhat), it simply displays itself in a way that Shepard would understand given what he’d already experienced. It was seen in Carl Sagan’s Contact, as in many other stories.

3.8 The Catalyst and the Reapers want to kill all organic life

Many insist that the Catalyst intends to end all organic life in order to spare them from the threat of synthetic life, by using an even-more-advanced synthetic life form (the Reapers) – and that this is self-defeating. Catalyst corrects Shepard on this as well:

  • Catalyst: The created will always rebel against their creators. But we found a way to stop that from happening; a way to restore order for the next cycle.
  • Shepard: By wiping out organic life?
  • Catalyst: No, we harvest advanced civilizations, leaving the younger ones alone – just as we left your people alive the last time we were here.

Like the Forest Spirit in Princess Mononoke, the Catalyst’s concern was that if the humans and other advanced species were left to their own devices, they’d sooner or later wipe out all life – varren, pyjaks, dogs, cats, birds, plants – everything.

The Catalyst and Reapers’ motive is to harvest, enslave or end all spacefaring life as it approaches the technological singularity, in an effort to spare all other organic life from the inevitable threat of rogue synthetic life. Given the galaxy’s billions of years of existence, the chances of a spacefaring species intentionally or unintentionally creating rogue machines that wipe out all life in the galaxy at a FTL rate is close to 100%. This would hold true in the real world as well should there be FTL spacefaring technology and self-replicating, self-modifying machines. (See The Drake Equation.)

In the first game, it’s explained that the Reapers create the mass relays and the Citadel as a honeypot to attract spacefaring life so that it can be studied, assimilated and exterminated. It’s also explained that they can do this very thoroughly by encouraging species to centralize all knowledge about existing spacefaring species at the Citadel, and then stealing that information.

3.9 Mass relay destructions always cause supernova-like explosions

As depicted in the Arrival DLC, the destruction of a mass relay results in a supernova-like explosion. If all the relays are destroyed, it is claimed, it would result in most of the species’ population centers being wiped out, including earth.

However, things don’t always explode in the same way. Controlled explosions differ from uncontrolled explosions. Depending on the nature of the explosive, they can be either bigger when controlled and smaller when uncontrolled, or vice versa. A nuclear bomb detonated incorrectly would fizz out, whereas when detonated correctly, it would explode violently. A car crushed would not explode, but igniting the gas tank would result in a rather spectacular fire. Likewise, hurling an asteroid at a mass relay might cause it to explode like a supernova — but the thousands of species that contributed to the development of the Crucible would have established safer ways to destroy the relays; otherwise their work would have been for nought, as they would all be killed.

That said, the ending animation sequence does show the relays exploding so spectacularly that they’re visible from intergalactic space the way supernovae are. This is one of the many errors that riddle the ending sequence, as I explain in another part of this post.

3.10 The Catalyst could have implemented the synthesis or renegade options by itself

  • Catalyst: The Crucible changed me; created new possibilities. But I can’t make them happen, and I won’t.

Note carefully the specific use of the words “can’t” and “won’t”, as they are two distinct issues, and deserving of individual attention.

Why the Catalyst can’t: The renegade and synthesis options, unlike the option of simply controlling the Reapers, both require the Crucible to work. The Crucible is of superior Type III technology, as it is the result of millions of years of work. It ultimately forces the Catalyst to surrender. This is why the Catalyst at no point before the end of Mass Effect 3 could simply obliterate all synthetic life or merge it with biological life.

Why the Catalyst won’t: Like the Illusive Man, the Catalyst is a pragmatist; it believes, as the likes of Stephen Hawking do (see The Drake Equation), that the chances of the galaxy never being destroyed by rogue synthetics or other threats are so slim that it doesn’t outweigh granting indefinite self-determinism and indefinite civilization the way Shepard and Anderson would prefer. However, because Shepard (or anyone else who would dare enter the beam, really) has access to the Catalyst and the Crucible whether the Catalyst likes it or not, it allows him to make the decision.

In essence, the Crucible forced the Catalyst to surrender.

Would YOU trust someone who looks like this?

3.11 Shepard sympathizes with the Illusive Man

Shepard remarks after the Catalyst’s comment that the Illusive Man was right in wanting to control the Reapers. Many have taken this to an extreme, saying that Shepard then sympathizes with TIM, and that everything the player had done to fight Cerberus was for nothing. This is false. Sympathy and agreement are two different things. I agree with Hitler that reducing unemployment is a high priority, but that doesn’t mean I’d sympathize with him in any way.

3.12 The explosions engulfing the solar system should have killed everyone

Excluding the main beam that chases the Normandy through the relays, the blast from the Citadel isn’t so much a physical explosion as it is a visual exaggeration on the part of the artists. I believe this is one of Bioware’s biggest mistakes in the ending.

The exact nature depends of course upon which of the three endings you choose, but in all cases, they are more comparable to the signal sent out by the Geth station in Mass Effect 2 when Legion reprograms the heretics.

The blue paragon blast is easy to explain: it’s just a communication signal to issue control or commands over the reapers. The green and red synthesis and renegade blasts are of Type III technology so fantastic that it can target and alter all life, biological and synthetic. It would be silly to try to explain its workings in human terms.

In any case, none of the beams are devastatingly destructive on their own. It makes sense to simply suspend disbelief and appreciate the fireworks, the same way we don’t bother to complain about laser beams being visible in movies and in games (and indeed in Mass Effect).

3.13 The ending was terrible because the synthesis beam couldn’t have possibly merged organic and synthetics so immediately

Fair enough; but it also makes no sense to me why in Mass Effect 2, the Reapers needed millions of individuals to create a new Reaper. The whole premise behind the Collector attack was that they were nabbing colonists to make a new Reaper. If people upheld the same kind of reasoning for the Mass Effect 2 ending, the whole Collector arc would have been completely moot. You would expect that the Reapers would have figured out genetic analysis and cloning, right?

Again, most people simply suspend disbelief, because the point was that the Reapers were melting people, and that they had to be stopped. Likewise, the point of the synthesis ending is that the technological singularity was reached. There’s no reason not to simply accept that a technology even more grand than that of the Reapers and the Catalyst could graft machine to man instantaneously.

3.14 Sovereign was a vanguard of the Reapers. It claimed the Citadel. Why then is the Catalyst needed?

This one is tenuous. It could be that the Reapers are programmed to be an autonomous army, and that the Catalyst, to conceal itself, never identified itself as the Reapers’ creator or controller. It might have always relied on Sovereign to do most of its work in normal situations, until it was destroyed.

There’s a little bit of evidence to support the idea that the Reapers were kept in the dark about the Catalyst, but not much, and it reeks of being an afterthought:

  • Vendetta: Our studies of past ages led us to believe that time is cyclical. Many patterns repeat.
  • Shepard: Like the Reaper attacks.
  • Vendetta: And beyond. The same peaks of evolution, the same valleys of dissolution… The same conflicts are expressed in every cycle, but in a different manner. The repetition is too prevalent to be merely chance.
  • Liara: We assumed the Reapers were responsible for the pattern.
  • Vendetta: Perhaps. Though I believe the Reapers are only servants of the pattern. They are not its master.

That said, unlike all the other things I point out here, this is all based on my imagination and not on dialogue or underlying science. This may very well have simply been a plot hole. It may have made more sense if the Catalyst were not on the Citadel along with the Keepers, but rather at some distance – like the Shadow Broker and his (her) ship.

3.15 The Catalyst makes no sense because there is no explanation as to what created it

The Catalyst might have been created by a biological species, by synthetic species which in turn were created by a biological species, by some supernatural will of the galaxy, or just simply out of thin air. Either way, it doesn’t affect the fact that they are there.

The most likely explanation is that they were the first Type II civilization to emerge in the galaxy, and that they decided to maintain their order whilst keeping the universe populated with a diversity of life.

3.16 The ending discards important philosophies and themes

It does, but it doesn’t do so without very good reason. Unfortunately, Bioware assumes familiarity with some rather esoteric concepts. I explain these concepts in the “scientific basis” section.

“What are you doing, Bioware?”

3.17 Bioware is changing the ending, so they’ve effectively admitted that it sucks

The press has been flipping out that Bioware is “changing the ending”. This doesn’t seem to be true. Everything that Bioware has said points to the fact that they’ll be adding content to the game so that it clarifies some outstanding questions, not changing the ending itself.

Even if they were changing the ending, who could blame them? They’ve had people report them to the BBB and the FTC. They’ve been the bad-guys in a charity campaign that raised $100,000 for another cause but in their own name. Virtually every comment section on every YouTube video is topped off with ironic comments about the ending.

If they changed the ending, it wouldn’t be because they believed that that’s the right thing to do or because they believed there really were problems with it. From

  • Speaking at a Smithsonian panel in Washington DC last week, as attended by Vox, Levine admitted that he found the whole controversy rather depressing.
  • “I think this is an important moment,” he said.
  • “I think if those people got what they wanted and [BioWare] wrote their ending they would be very disappointed in the emotional feeling they got because… they didn’t really create it.
  • “This whole thing is making me a little bit sad because I don’t think anyone would get what they wanted if that happened.”
  • BioWare Mythic’s Paul Barnett, also speaking at the event, chimed in on the issue too, arguing that the creator should always have final say over how their story ends.
  • “If computer games are art than I fully endorse the author of the artwork to have a statement about what they believe should happen,” he said.
  • “Just as J.K. Rowling can end her books and say that is the end of Harry Potter. I don’t think she should be forced to make another one.”

3.18 The original ending was written by another author; therefore the published ending must suck

Bioware considered different endings, but the ending that you see in Mass Effect 3 has been foreshadowed since the conversation with Sovereign in the first Mass Effect.

  • Sovereign: The cycle cannot be broken. The pattern has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Organic civilizations rise, evolve, advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. The Protheans were not the first.

In one of the planned ending, the Reapers would turn out to be massive “cities” of ascended peoples finding refuge from an imminent galactic “big crunch” of the galaxy caused by the increasing density of dark matter. The Reapers would then do research on ways to avert the disaster. Humans were supposed to be valuable towards this end because of their genetic diversity.

My suspicion is that this ending was ditched because:

  • The simple solution is for the Reapers to simply create a Noah’s Ark for its favorite species and travel in hibernation to another galaxy. Andromeda Galaxy is only 2.6 million light years away, after all, which in Reaper terms isn’t all that long.
  • It goes against what Sovereign says about a cycle of extinctions, not just of humans, but of all advanced civilizations.
  • There isn’t a very straightforward reason for human biological diversity to have any effect on dark matter research. Humans also aren’t particularly diverse; dogs are in fact much more diverse than humans.
  • If you’ve seen any movies about natural disasters, like The Day After Tomorrow or Twister, most of them are pretty boring.

4.0 On the ending’s lack of closure

  • Wrex: No matter what else happens today, you did what no one else could – you united a galaxy. That’s a victory right there.

There’s a saying in the music business: “play the beginning and ending well; no one will remember anything in between”. Never has this held truer than for Mass Effect.

When people complain about all of their choices throughout the 3 games having been for nought, I ask them what they’d been doing throughout the whole of Mass Effect 3. Here’s what one guy said:

I got maximum EMS, I did every mission, thinking, hoping that it would make a difference as my choices actually made changes within the narrative, but then the ending hits you like a tonne of bricks, not in an emotional way of narrative, but more in the way that you’ve just realised, this whole series, you’ve performed these choices, all for nothing because Bioeware and EA decided not to give it a proper send – off

There’s the problem right there: he’d played the whole game just to rack up points and forgot that all the major issues in the story were resolved during the last game – not at the end.

He’d forgotten that Shepard cured the genophage, gave the Geth individualism and souls and established peace between them and the Quarians, gave the Rachni and Krogans inclusion on the Citadel, found Joker his dream girlfriend, turned Kolyat away from Thane’s lifestyle (much to his relief – one of my favorite scenes), earned vengeance for a living Prothean, and heck, even had his ass saved once by a much-refined Conrad Verner.

All this could not have possibly happened in the ending sequence. It would have been a several-hour-long barely-interactive movie – and that would not have been an appropriate use of the game medium. The last 5 minutes of the game is really the ending of the reaper story, not the ending of everything in Mass Effect. And as far as the reaper story goes, I believe it was a satisfying ending.

Most people seem to have played Mass Effect 3 on autopilot, thinking everything that Shepard accomplishes during the game was a means to an end – not an end in and of itself. They’d united the galaxy, and they still weren’t satisfied.

Think about it: the Mass Effect story is about a hundred hours long, and the ending is proportionately long, because Mass Effect 3 is the ending.

Any gamer not tearing up at this point has no soul…

5.0 Closing thoughts

Amazon is offering refunds for used copies of ME3. People have called the FTC and BBB. There’s a campaign that’s raised nearly $100,000 for a charity in order to bring attention to the “retake Mass Effect” cause – and people are asking for refunds on their donation because they thought they were making the donations to Bioware, not to a charity for children.

Something is seriously wrong with all this. Yes, I understand that having played the game for 100+ hours, an inadequate ending can be infuriating. But I played the game for 100+ hours too. I bought all three games and all the major DLCs. I even dished out $180 on a new video card just for Mass Effect 3. Even if I had been upset about the ending, I would not have done what many of the fans did. I would not ask for a refund. I would not file a complaint to the government. I would not donate to a charity in an effort to guilt the developers into submission.

People speak of the charity as a huge success. It isn’t. It’s the ugly side of consumerism in plain sight. Contributing to a cause as a vehicle for getting something you want is one thing; associating one rather frivolous cause to a much more serious one in order to paint yourself righteous and garner support for the former frivolous cause is a new class of unethical behavior.

We’re at an interesting but frightening turning point in the viability of games as a medium for art. Art isn’t necessarily popular. Good fiction doesn’t necessarily have impeccable plots, as the likes of Shakespeare have inadvertently demonstrated. Mass Effect itself has numerous plot holes not just in the ending but all throughout, yet we all overlook them because we understand that the authors have more important things to express than the plot, such as the themes and the drama and the gameplay.

If audiences can get their way the way they’re campaigning to do right now, then authors will be afraid to do anything daring – and that will be the end of good fiction in the game industry. If the audience always got the ending they wanted, then endings would all be spoiled. We already see that trend with publishers threatening game studios to conform to the most marketable stories; now with the FCC and a charity and the BBB and lawsuit-happy fans breathing down their necks, we have a serious cultural problem.

Sure, a good ending can also be a popular one, like Portal or Braid, but when there’s so much risk of what at this point can only be described as bullying, authors will be at the absolute mercy of the marketing department. Authors can’t do their work if they’re in fear of the BBB.

The stories that are told decades after they’re written are always the ones that change their audiences, not the ones that were changed by their audiences. The two can’t happen together, because then the story would be nothing more than a culture’s autobiography – and that’s the work of historians, not of authors. Crowd-pleasers don’t last.

Abrupt endings aren’t necessarily unsuccessful. Tezuka Osamu, for example, has written a lot of similarly themed and similarly epic science fiction that end rather quickly after emotionally attaching the reader to the protagonists. Many of them, such as Pegasus, have won numerous awards, commercial success, and have earned Tezuka the ubiquitous title of “father of manga” in Japan. Mass Effect 3 may not have gotten so much criticism if it had spent just a little more time explaining why the three final choices are the best possible ones for the story. Yet Bioware isn’t entirely the ones at fault here; many of the fans’ expectations are highly unreasonable even with the fan-suggested endings in light, and people’s opinions and strange beliefs regarding the ending (such as that the Reapers want to protect all organic life by killing all organic life) are undoubtedly being cemented by a sensationalist press and blogosphere jumping the gun.

Yes, I do think the presentation of the ending could have been better. It could have been improved so that everyone knew what was going on, not just people who have an interest in astrobiology. It could have been reviewed so that the animation made as much sense as the dialogue. But most of the criticisms about the plot are unfounded, and Bioware could not have fit the whole story’s closure in the ending sequence. It just doesn’t work that way for a game of this scope, not without becoming painfully cheesy.

6.0 Astro Boy: The exact same social phenomenon 50 years ago

Edit: I learned about this soon after I first posted the article, and thought it’s worth a mention.

About 50 years ago, there was a manga named Astro Boy written by manga artist Tezuka Osamu, who is now revered as the “father of manga” in Japan.

Long story short, Astro Boy was a story about a robotic boy Atom created by a scientist to help him cope with the loss of his son. Atom fights crime and evil politicians and subservient-robots-gone-rogue-sentient, among other things. Robots and humans end up in a lot of conflicts, mostly due to humans discriminating against them and robots overpowering them. In one arc, an alien species lands on earth in search of resources. Atom mediates, and the humans and aliens agree to jointly colonize Venus.

Here’s the real kicker: in the last chapters, and the last episode of the anime adaptation, Atom throws himself into the sun carrying a rocket that wouldn’t change its trajectory away from earth no matter how many times he tried to nudge it away.

The TV station ended up with a ton of complaint letters (sorry the links are in Japanese). People demanded that they take back the episode where he dies, and continue to write more episodes. They complained that the show ended way too abruptly after having run for 4 years. They complained that it made kids cry. And they complained about apparent plot holes – something about the effect of radiation from the rocket. Many people insisted that the TV station just killed off Atom to make room for a new show “Goku no Bouken”, which took Atom’s time slot. What those fan didn’t know was that the manga, which had already ended its serialization as well, ended the same way.

Tezuka said in an interview that he felt bad for his fans, but that at the same time it was the most meaningful ending.

The complaints kept rolling in, so he ended up writing an alternate ending where Atom gets saved by aliens. Then he got even more complaints, saying he just pulled it out of his ass.

So there you have it. History repeats itself.

The show ended up winning an award from the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry, and another from the Japanese Council for Better Radio and Television. Atom’s also a prominent mascot character now, all the way up there in recognition with Hello Kitty. A lot of tech companies and prestigious universities in Japan associate themselves with Atom. Apparently he’s even registered as a resident in my hometown Niiza in Japan…

Maybe someday Shepard will become a registered resident of Vancouver too. That’d be awesome, because then I could say I lived with Astro Boy and Commander Shepard.

Thanks for playing!

Be careful what you wish for.

Updated: August 25, 2012

7.0 Extended Cut: I hate to say I told you so, but…

After thinking about it for a long time, there really isn’t a way for me to say it modestly without being dishonest: I told you so. I took a lot of ridicule for this article, especially on the forums, so I feel entitled to lash back a little.

  • I wrote that “the Crucible is a Type III technology”, a “projector” that can “propagate change across the entire galaxy”. The Catalyst in EC describes the Crucible as “a power source”, “capable of releasing tremendous amounts of energy throughout the galaxy”.
  • I wrote that the mass relay explosions were exaggeration on the part of the artists, and not actual supernovas. I wrote that it was one of Bioware’s biggest mistakes in the ending. In EC, they show the relays falling apart to varying degrees, but not really exploding (emitting the Crucible’s energy radially, yes, but not exploding).
  • I wrote that the Reaper’s origin didn’t matter, but that they were “most likely the first Type II civilizations to emerge, and that they decided to maintain their order whilst keeping the universe populated with a diversity of life”. In EC, the Catalyst explains that its creators did indeed become the first Reaper after it became apparent that there was no other way to avoid galaxy-wide catastrophe.
  • I wrote that the characters seldom lied to the player throughout the entire series, and that by simply trusting the dialogue, it was clear that indoctrination theory was wrong. It was.

What happened in the epilogue was more or less exactly what I said would happen, and the EC dialogue with the Catalyst was completely in line with the explanation I gave of the Kardashev scale and the Technological Singularity. (In fact, I later found out in Mass Effect: Final Hours, that the story was influenced by Kurzweil’s predictions on the Singularity long before the game was even entitled Mass Effect.)

But I wasn’t alone: many of my real-life friends who hadn’t been exposed to nonsense like the Indoctrination Theory had little trouble correctly extrapolating the epilogues in their minds without having the happily-ever-afters spoon-fed to them.

The Extended Cut didn’t change any of the premises behind the story (except the thing about the relays exploding, which both Master Pillow and I addressed before), yet its reception was much, much better than the original ending. Clearly, understanding the plot *did* make it better for most people, even though most people at the time insisted that they understood the ending but that the premise was fundamentally bad.

The diminished significance of the Buzz Aldrin Stargazer scene

I’m happy that we got new content, of course. More cut scenes, more dialogue, more Mass Effect. I’d be crazy to complain about that.

But I do think it distracts from the Stargazer scene, which I personally loved.

The Stargazer is voiced by Buzz Aldrin, one of the first humans to land on the moon in 1969. He’s a hero to space nerds, and his casting as the Stargazer, as well as his dialogue, is a huge treat, as well as a subtle breaking of the fourth wall, which I’ll explain:

Child: “When can I go to the stars?”

Stargazer: “One day, my sweet.”

Child: “What will be there?”

Stargazer: “Anything you can imagine. Our galaxy has billions of stars. Each of those stars could have many worlds. Every world could be home to a different form of life. And every life is a special story of its own.”

This may seem tangential, but did you know that NASA’s annual budget, at $19 billion, is just 0.5% of the US federal budget? That’s enough to land rovers on Mars and to find hundreds of extrasolar planets, many of which might harbor life. Yet despite these huge successes, funding is being cut more and more.

We’re in a situation right now where in many countries like Canada, the UK and the US, science funding — especially in the so-called “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields — are diminishing faster than can be justified by the ailing economy. Space exploration and science in general needs as much encouragement as it can get right now, and surely, that’s why Buzz agreed to this role, and why Bioware chose such a relatively obscure public figure over someone who might have been more popular or a better actor.

The Stargazer scene is terse, but it’s important. It ties one of the themes of the Mass Effect series — scientific and civilizational progress — to the real world here in 2012. It makes the ending uplifting in a very real way, and attempts to give Mass Effect social significance, as unsuccessful as it might sadly have been at that. But I think it was a really good attempt at something worthwhile that most game studios don’t have the balls to do.

So, I differ a little in opinion from Master Pillow in that I’m glad that they kept the scene in, even though it was awkwardly dwarfed by an epilogue that is arguably an exercise in sarcastic verbosity.

In closing, I want to share a rant by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It carries much of the same undertone as the Stargazer scene:

© 2012 Rei – Published @ The Galactic Pillow

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147 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 3 2012

    This is a fantastic article, and I’m very sad to see there are no comments yet. Regardless, thanks for the detailed analysis. I loved the game and the ending as well, despite not being an expert in astrobiology, but this article lays out very well, in some ways I hadn’t previously considered, why my perspective is at such odds with those around me. As I said, I’m not as familiar as you are with the concepts you outline, but I *am* enough of a scifi geek to know about things like the concept of a technological singularity and some of the fatalistic theories about the Drake equation. I bounced up and down in my seat in ME2 when Legion started talking about Dyson spheres because I understood the concept if not the science. In short, I loved Mass Effect as a universe because it was so powerfully full of *science fiction*. Not military fiction in space (despite the fact it has that), not fantasy in space (despite the fact that we could probably come up with analogues for the various races), but genuinely science fictional ideas. It’s not Arthur C Clark, but it’s not Star Wars either, and I think that’s what a lot of people missed. And hey, that might be Bioware’s failing for not communicating that more clearly, but…it’s very interesting to see you write all this out – thank you.

    I had some thoughts on the way you treat the “control” ending. I’d be very interested to hear your take, but please don’t feel obligated to respond.

    I believe that the false rumour that the control ending involved Shepard taking control of all synthetic life proved so resilient because it seems internally consistent with the Crucible’s pangalactic nonspecific approach (kill ALL synthetics, merge ALL organics and synthetics). For it to affect only the Reapers for one of the three options does beg the question of why the destroy setting wasn’t similar. This article posits that therefore, alone of the three options, control does not actually fire the Crucible, but rather involves transfer of control from the Catalyst to Shepard directly, and the firing of the Crucible in the final animation is therefore an error, due to laziness, a desire for artistic symmetry, or some other reason.

    I have a different interpretation. My recollection, and trawls through YouTube indicate that the Illusive Man does, in fact, believe that the *Crucible*, not simply the Catalyst, is required to control the Reapers. He says this in the final confrontation with Shepard.

    To move into the realms of admitted conjecture, I believe that requiring the Catalyst to fire in order to shift control of the Reapers can make sense if the Catalyst is not in *active* control of the Reapers – the Crucible would then need to fire in order to create a signal powerful enough to reach and rewrite every Reaper throughout the entire galaxy.

    The question then becomes, why would the Catalyst *not* be in direct control of the Reapers? Again, this is pure speculation, but given the Catalyst’s assertion that the created will always rebel against their creators, one might question why the Reapers have not rebelled against the Catalyst? There’s a bland answer – that they have not yet managed to achieve enough independence to do so – but for a being so focused on inevitable, mathematical end results, I can’t imagine the Catalyst being satisfied with simply having them on a leash that is secure *right now*. So the next answer is to make sure it is in the Reapers’ self interest to continue to serve the cycle. The Catalyst says he “controls” the Reapers, and maybe he does, or can, but maybe he is speaking more expansively. I have always been fascinated by EDI’s suggestion, in ME2, that the collection of races to create new Reapers constitutes a form of Reaper reproduction. I find the notion that the Catalyst did not simply create a race of controlled technozombie monster slaves to be its police force, but rather created an entire *ecosystem* so that it did not have to be in active, constant control (thus tempting rebellion). By creating the Reapers so that their reproductive cycle is unavoidably tied to the 50k year culling, the Catalyst has created a self-perpetuating cycle that will continue without its direct interference. In this model, it may even make sense for the Catalyst to hide its existence from the Reapers, if they truly believe themselves to be masters of the pattern.

    Of course, this does not address the fact that the Crucible’s “destroy” button is keyed to all synthetic life while its “control” button is keyed to only Reapers which, on a thematic level at least, seems an inconsistency.

    That said, I do like the idea that the Crucible was designed to either control or destroy – that is one of the central philosophical conflicts not only in this cycle, but apparently in the Prothean cycle also (with the Prothean VI indicating work on the Crucible was sabotaged by those who sought to control the Reapers). It would make sense that through the millions of years and countless cycles needed to develop this technology, both warring philosophies would be incorporated into the designs. Synthesis I’m less sure wasn’t the Catalyst improvising with what it had, but I also think that fits thematically given the fact that ending represents the greatest unknown.

    In any event, as I said, this is all total conjecture, for the fun of it, and I have now written a wall of text and so will stop, except to say thank you once again for a thoroughly enlightening and well-written article. :)

    • rei
      Apr 5 2012

      Hey Becca,

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I’m not an astrobiologist or biologist of any kind by any stretch either. Maybe it’d have made more sense to say “astrobiology or science-fiction staples”.

      I think you’re right. Looking at some videos of the ending, TIM does indeed say “the Crucible can control the Reapers”. I assumed otherwise because TIM seemed hell-bent on obstructing the Crucible’s development prior.

      It does raise a question: what exactly did TIM hope to do with the Crucible design? There was no way that Cerberus would have had the resources to build it. The Lazarus Project was supposedly huge (all we know is that it cost some billions of credits), but it was done by humans alone. The Crucible required the cooperation of several species. It’d have been in TIM’s best interest to cooperate with the Crucible effort, and then at the last moment sabotage the project by denying everyone else access to the Catalyst. He had no reason to get in the way of the Alliance as much as he did.

      But it also answers a question: I wrote in the post that it’s odd that both Sovereign and the Catalyst claimed the Citadel. I speculated cautiously the same thing you do — that the Reapers were kept in the dark about the Catalyst. Like you say though, it makes perfect sense, if the Catalyst isn’t in active control of the Reapers.

      So the ending sequence is correct in showing the mass relays destroyed in all cases. Shame that the whole galactic civilization has to fall apart, though according to the lore, there’s still eezo-based FTL travel, which only takes some “years or decades” to get where the relays can go.

      Thanks for pointing that out, looks like I have some corrections to make! I also want to write another section on how something almost identical happened to the Astro Boy series 50 years ago. Stay tuned…

      • Apr 6 2012

        No problem – thank you for the thoughtful response!

        Regarding TIM and the Crucible design, yes, it does seem odd. I think at the end, that *was* his goal – Kai Leng is sent to steal the Prothean VI so that the Illusive Man will know what the Catalyst is first, and thus be able to beat Shepard to the punch, which he does – managing to arrive on the Citadel, and had he not been indoctrinated, he probably would have been able to achieve his goal of controlling the Reapers before Shepard even arrived. But throughout most of the game TIM is outright antagonistic to Shepard’s goals. It could be that it wasn’t until he learned more about the Catalyst from the Prothean VI that he realised the Crucible could be used to control as well as destroy the Reapers, and prior to that he was working on the assumption that it would only destroy them, leaving him no option to control them in the future? But I have a feeling that if I went back and listened to all the dialogue again I might find errors in that theory. It’s also a little convoluted and inelegant.

        The go-to answer is that his behaviour was inconsistent due to his indoctrination; he didn’t realise quite how dissonant his actions were. It, again, feels a little lazy as a solution, but I do think it works if necessary.

        I’m glad that you think the theory that the Catalyst isn’t in active control is a solid one, though. It certainly makes the most sense to me.

        Eezo-based FTL is certainly going to be slower – I’m not sure we ever got any hard and fast speeds, and I may even recall some online debates in which there was conflicting information in the codex. Regardless I think there’s some conflict between whether FTL travel is fast enough that journeying between systems is likely to take months to years or whether it’s going to take years to decades.

        Of all the things that I wish they had embellished more with regards to the ending, it’s the need for the relays to be destroyed. Because it sucks that they’re gone, and without thought it feels reductive and like a defeat. But the relays were always a trap; they restricted development and evolution by encouraging species to live *here* or *there* and not *over in that place*. Their destruction is awful, but ultimately a chance to break free of a vine trellis, to cast off another’s cultivation of your civilisation and possibly even your physical form. It’s a chance to build something *better*. Maybe. ;)

        And you have me TOTALLY intrigued by your final Astro Boy comment. I’ve never seen it, although I know the character through pop culture. Can’t wait to see what you have to say about it – it sounds intriguing!

      • rei
        Apr 24 2012

        Updated the article to include the Astro Boy anecdote, if you’re still interested!

    • Snow
      Apr 14 2012

      Hey Becca! First off, thanks for linking me to this article. This article is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever read on Mass Effect. Master Pillow, thank you so much for writing it!

      My interpretation of the destroy ending is a bit different. To me, it seemed like all synthetic life would be destroyed because they have Reaper code or parts in it–not just because they are synthetic. The geth uploaded Reaper code to gain intelligence and individuality, and as we find out later in the game, EDI herself is made partly from what Cerberus salvaged from Sovereign. With those details in mind, it seemed to me that firing the destroy beam kills the geth and EDI not as a feature, but as collateral damage. Perhaps this is why people also say that the control ending would control all synthetic life, not just the Reapers. But you do make a great point about the previous cycles probably not taking into account benevolent synthetics, so I don’t know if my interpretation is necessarily correct.

      I do agree with you that the Crucible is needed for all options, though. Vendetta basically tells us on Thessia that both control and destroy are in the plans for the Crucible. He also tells us that each cycle improves upon the design, and I took it to mean that synthesis is this cycle’s improvement. It makes a weird sort of sense if you think about how this cycle was the first one to have both synthetics and organics working on the Crucible. Synthesis is a symbol of that cooperation.

      • Master Pillow
        Apr 15 2012

        Actually this article is a guest post by Rei who I’m sure will reply to your insightful comment about the ending. I (Master Pillow) wrote the other Mass Effect 3 article on this blog located here LOL. I do think you bring up a great point that there is a certain vagueness in the Catalyst’s dialogue regarding what exactly will happen when you choose the destroy option. Here’s the exact dialogue as I transcribed it in my article:

        C: What you came here to do, you want to destroy us. You can wipe out all synthetic life if you want including the Geth and most of the technology you rely on. Even you are partly synthetic.

        S: But the reapers will be destroyed

        C: Yes but the peace won’t last. Soon your children would create synthetics and then the chaos will come back.

        Taken at face value it certainly sounds as if the Catalyst is making a grand sweeping statement that all synthetic life will be terminated although if one really thinks about it that doesn’t make much sense. It would mean that the Crucible somehow has advanced technology that would kill all synthetic life no matter the level of evolution they are at. The way you envision it as only destroying synthetic life forms that are partly based on Reaper technology certainly makes sense. If it killed everything even partly synthetic then it would nullify the ending where Shepard lives as she is partly synthetic anyways. If one assumes the Crucible beam disables all advanced synthetic technology I would assume that Shepard would probably die as she needs them to survive. Then again, the Shepard living cinematic only appears if your war asset score is high enough and if you choose the destroy option which seems to indicate to me anyways that the Crucible beam can be more selective like you suggested.

        As a writer I will say that out of all the three endings the one which would be the “hardest” to take as canon would be the synthesis one not because I don’t agree with many that it seems to be a great compromise to join organic and synthetics but more because it leads to a very tough beginning point if Bioware decided to set Mass Effect 4 sometime in the future after all these events. I guess I find it hard as a writer to try and present a galaxy in Mass Effect 4 that would feature a joined species since I have no point of reference how such a being would think. For instance, when we see Joker exiting the Normandy after the synthesis ending with glowing circuitry on his skin it makes me wonder whether or not that really is Joker or if he is now something totally different. What would happen if I joined/combined with a synthetic life form? Would I still be intrinsically myself? Would my soul merge with an AI soul? I have no idea LOL.

        It reminds me somewhat of Star Trek The Motion Picture where a synthetic life form named V’Ger makes its way to Earth in an effort to ask fundamental existential questions about the meaning of life to its creator. Instead, it finds that Earth is infested with organic life but it still desires to learn more about itself thus it join/combines with a human in Commander Decker and the two essentially evolve to a higher plane. At least here there is no continuing story since the combined organic/synthetic life form no longer exists in our plane of existence yet in Mass Effect they would so I find it hard to wrap my head around how Bioware’s writers would continue the story with this type of ending.

        That’s why I have a feeling that if Bioware decided to make Mass Effect 4 in the future after the events in ME3 it would probably choose destroy or control as canon as it would give them a much easier launching point than trying to create a galaxy that is now a combined organic/synthetic hybrid. Of course, Bioware could end up doing a prequel or shoving ME4 into some sort of different dimension but I have no idea how the fan base would react to that either!

      • Snow
        Apr 15 2012

        Oh, duh, I totally glossed over the fact that it was a guest post. Sorry, Rei! =p

        I think the Catalyst is intentionally vague about the choices. To me it was your typical unreliable narrator, making the choices it didn’t like seem more unappealing. Destroy would be worst for it, especially if, as EDI says, the Reapers have a sense of self-preservation; control would be bad, but at least the Reapers still exist; and synthesis is put forward as the best choice because the Reapers themselves are both synthetic and organic, and see themselves as the pinnacle of evolution. But yeah, it could be that at low EMS, all synthetic life, even partial ones like biotics, quarians, or Shepard him/herself are destroyed, but at high EMS it’s more specific.

        Even if it’s vague and involves “lots of speculation,” I do love thinking about the implications and aftermath of each ending choice. Hopefully we’ll get something more concrete in the EC, but I’m perfectly happy with my headcanon so far, lol.

      • rei
        Apr 17 2012

        Hi Snow,

        Thanks for the comment. I’ve never thought of it that way, that the Crucible would target only Reaper-related synthetics.

        I also never thought about the idea that the addition of the current cycle is the Synthesis option. I actually thought of it as being an option that the Catalyst created in its benevolence towards life.

        The Catalyst’s main concern has always been the continued existence of organic life. Given the Catalyst’s available technologies, the Reapers were the only way it could ensure that. But then the Crucible comes along and provides the Catalyst with the tools needed to bring about “the final evolution of life”, what it calls Synthesis.

        As an apparently somewhat reluctant moderator of life, If I were the Catalyst, I would probably have chosen Synthesis, which is why I thought it was the Catalyst’s idea — but that’s just my guess.

  2. Apr 4 2012

    A well thought out article, that will sadly be dismissed by much of the community.

    I am keeping an open mind on the ending, but am glad to see someone acknowledging artistic license (such as the infinite bullet gun) rather than proclaiming them as facts that prove indoctrination. After all, my Shepard changed appearance radically in every game, but nobody so much as said “did you do something with your hair?”

    Had many of the theories that you mention been alluded to throughout the trilogy we’d all have a bit more clarity.

    Roll on the April announcement …

  3. Apr 15 2012

    One of the most interesting perspectives I’ve seen yet. Great job.

  4. Austin C.
    Apr 16 2012

    This is stellar. Seriously, well done. I do have two qualms with what you’ve said, however. First, while everything in this post is very logical and very coherent, I don’t think you provided a very good basis for your dismissal of the Indoctrination Theory. The claim isn’t that the entire series was some sort of acid trip, merely that the last ten minutes (from Harbinger’s beam onward) occurred as an internal struggle. It didn’t just “not happen”, but it didn’t take place in the physical world beyond Shepard’s mind either.
    You also claim that once we accept that Shepard was Indoctrinated in the ending sequence, the entire story’s credibility falls apart…yet you disprove that as well. Vendetta, the Prothean VI, states that Shepard is not indoctrinated. This tells us is that for the majority of the series, Shepard retains free will. It does not speak to his mental state at the end, however. As far as we know, provided Vendetta was not lying (which it had no reason to), we can absolutely, 100% assume that Shepard is not Indoctrinated up until that point. All of your other reasons for being skeptical of the Indoctrination Theory seem to stem from the fact that you don’t like it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing by any stretch, but as far as I can see you have yet to invalidate it. It still remains an option for those of us who subscribe to it.
    Second, I don’t like the thought that fans should have no influence on the way a game’s story plays out. Please, don’t just call me entitled and hear me out. The important distinction here is, as you are no doubt aware, the distinction between art and product. Art is made for the artist, while the product is made for the consumer. An artist can sell their art, certainly, but it must remain an expression of something personal to them, something that holds true to their ideals. If an artist takes on a paid commission, then they have a duty to deliver a satisfactory work to their customer. Definitively speaking, this is not art…it is a product. A product is created for the sole purpose of being sold. And products can, and should be changed if they do not live up to reasonable expectations. If you look at how EA and Bioware created and marketed this game, I feel it is clear that they do have a responsibility to listen, and consider working with their fans (consumers.)
    Sorry for the rambling. I honestly found this to be really informative, and it has given me some food for thought. The basis for the ending, upon inspection, does appear somewhat sound. However, it is also HIGHLY open-ended. As a consumer, I hoped for more closure than this. Yes yes yes I know the entire game was the ending. But forgive me for wanting to know whether or not these characters, who I have spent an obscene amount of time with over the course of my numerous playthroughs, survive the ending and benefit from my choices.

    • rei
      Apr 17 2012

      Hi Austin,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

      Yes, the idea that Shepard wasn’t indoctrinated is based entirely on my not wanting to believe he was. But there are three really good reasons that I think this is reason enough:

      1. What is there in Pirates of the Carribean to indicate that Jack Sparrow’s schizophrenic state in Davy Jones’ Locker ever wore off? Or that Peter Pan wasn’t under the influence of pixie dust in the ending? Or that Nemo wasn’t actually inside a high-tech fish tank that simulated his entire adventure in a cruel and unusual experiment?

      All these stories have their share of plot holes too, and not everyone liked the endings, but no one ever bothered to insist that therefore the ending was really all some kind of hallucination. Of course there are entire books and even contests dedicated to alternate endings for things like classic fairy tales, in which people suggest that it was all a dream — but they’re called “fan fiction” for a reason; they never insist that that’s what the story really was, and anyone who insists that that’s what the original author intended is usually ridiculed.

      Heck, even in reality, we have no good reason to believe we aren’t computer simulations, brains in vats participating in a virtual reality, or fleeting illusions on the surface of a holographic universe. In fact, there are scientists that believe that, statistically speaking, with the size of the universe, it’s likely that there’s more simulated consciousness running on alien computers than there are real flesh-and-bone organisms — so that we’re in fact more likely to be simulations than not. But even if that’s a real possibility, it’s a completely unproductive thought, so we go about our daily lives with the assumption that we’re real. Likewise, it’s better to discuss the Mass Effect ending under the assumption that we’re seeing the end of a galactic war, not dreaming about it.

      2. I’m not an active author myself, but I’ve taken enough literature courses and read enough fiction to know that except when existentialism is an atomic, central theme, authors almost always avoid putting the audience in non-canons without clear indication, because it’s an extremely slippery slope that can easily devalue the whole story. Inception and Vanilla Sky are two examples of deliberate dream/reality confusion, but in most cases, non-realities are resolved very soon after they’re introduced so that the reader isn’t frustrated by the possibility that nothing they’d just read really happened. In The Matrix, Neo encounters Morpheus very early in the story and learns the truth. There’s very little confusion following that moment as to whether or not they’re in the Matrix or in reality.

      3. At the end of the game there’s some exposition that says Shepard became a legend defeating the reapers. It’s very hard to imagine Shepard having won against the reapers after having been indoctrinated. People keep forgetting about that, probably because they were so offended by the “please buy our DLCs” line in the same paragraph.

      Like you said, none of the characters have ever lied in the Mass Effect trilogy, nor has the exposition ever been a lie. Characters have often withheld information, but the authors were always extremely careful not to put them into situations where they’d be saying something that isn’t true. Miranda could have easily lied to convince Shepard of her need for Spectre access, but Bioware stuck to their guns and instead gave a somewhat awkward conversation where she admits that she can’t explain what she needed the access for, and Shepard just trusts her. No military leader in the world would do that except to tell a story.

      As for the struggle between art and product, it manifests itself in a lot of forms in a lot of industries: director vs. producer, band vs. record label, manager vs. conductor, reporter vs. editor, etc. In all cases, though, it’s a struggle between marketing side and the development side, not a struggle between the development side and the audience. While the game is indeed a product, the authors, as commissioned artists, have an obligation to make it a product *only* to their employers — EA and Bioware — not to their audience.

      It’s also important for some people to make products that are artistic. In most countries, art can’t get the funding it needs in order to thrive — art needs to piggyback on consumerism. This is particularly true in the game industry. Though indie games are changing that somewhat, and the ME ending may have been better received if it were an indie title, there’s simply no way that a game of Mass Effect’s scale could ever be made without the money that comes with it being a product.

      On the other end of the symbiosis, art is integral to the sustenance of all entertainment businesses, simply because people otherwise get bored.

      It’s a well-known fact that the music industry is on the verge of collapse not because of piracy but because of the lack of art. Music audiences kept demanding the same four-chord patterns and refusing to even try to absorb anything else — and this is the sad state of affairs that we’re left with now.

      If the same happens in the game industry, the audiences will only have themselves to blame. In a sense you’re right — the ending is indeed something of a failed experiment in bringing art of high integrity to the game industry. Others have succeeded in the same regard (Portal and Myst come to mind), but because of the reaction to the ME ending and the unpredictability of the audience in the future, it’s plausible that there will be much less art and innovation in the game industry.

      At the very least, we can expect EA and Bioware to stop hiring innovators, simply because it’s too risky to.

      • Austin C.
        Apr 17 2012

        Thanks for the prompt response! Just a couple of thoughts after reading what you said.

        1) It’s true that all stories, across the board, are given one “canon” ending. Any alternative ending that the fans may come up with is indeed fan fiction. However, the ending given is disambiguous enough that we really can’t say for certain what happens after Shepard activates the Catalyst/Crucible/one or both. Given that statement, the “Indoctrination Theory” is not a new, fan-made ending. It is an interpretation derived from an ending made with the GOAL of inspiring differing interpretations. The Indoctrination Theory doesn’t change anything that we see; it merely changes the lens through which we see it.

        Now, obviously any fiction coming after that, wherein Shepard and Liara wake up, shoot the Reapers with unicorn lasers, and lead the galaxy in a chorus of “We are the Champions” is fan fiction and nothing but. The I.T. is separate from that, in that it could be feasibly drawn from the ending given.

        2) I agree with you in that authors rarely pull the “it was all a dream” mechanic in good fiction unless it features heavily in the story until then. However, I think that it does. Indoctrination, that is, the Reaper’s ability to subvert rational, conscious thought, is a huge part of the Mass Effect storyline. Virtually every major villain that Shepard encounters is under the Reaper’s mental thumb in some way. In fact, it’s more surprising to me that Shepard has apparently not yet been indoctrinated, given his constant and close proximity to Reaper devices. He spends the final hour or so of ME3 wading through Reaper troops, destroying Reaper turrets/destroyers, and approaching a gigantic beam with no real comprehensible purpose. I personally don’t think it’s a stretch given the lore and patterns of the story to suspect that the Reapers might try to Indoctrinate Shepard (he is, after all, their single most formidable foe.)

        3) The Indoctrination Theory doesn’t end with Shepard becoming indoctrinated. If played correctly, it shows Shepard refusing to yield to the Catalyst/Reaper’s logic and continuing on his current path, which remains unseen beyond Shepard waking up on Earth. It leaves plenty of room for “The Shepard” to end the war with the Reapers.


        Now, I’m not saying the I.T. is right, but once again I disapprove of how eagerly you conclude that it is factually impossible. It is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the canon ending.

        And as for Mass Effect trying to be different in the fact of generic, bland shooters, I would argue to the contrary. Mass Effect has always been epic, but the fans (in my experience) love it because of how personal it is. The characters, and the prejudices, quirks and charms that they bring into the story are ultimately what draw the audience in. It seems to me that every major epic saga out there has to have some “plot twist” ending, where in everything is turned on its head, oftentimes predictably so. However, when you look back at the almost universally-beloved classics, (Star Wars, LOTR, Harry Potter), they generally end in ways that don’t shock you. Luke destroys the empire, Frodo destroys the Ring, and Harry kills Voldemort.

        There’s nothing wrong with a predictable ending, is my point. Even in science fiction! However, Mass Effect doesn’t end by talking about the characters, the races, or the outcome of any of your choices. It ends with Shepard dying, MAYBE, and three brand new characters that, quite frankly, nobody cares about. It just strikes me as being disrespectful to the franchise.

        Because no. Apparently, in the world we live in today, “everyone randomly finding an ancient superweapon that all of the ancients worked on but never actually finished, then using it to blow the bad guys to hell but dying dramatically in the process” is innovative and groundbreaking. It isn’t, it’s trite and cliche, and worst of all it disregards the characters at the heart and soul of this series. Lord, the second Liara started talking about the “Prothean Device” I knew we were headed nowhere good.

        Sorry for the rant, again. Sparknotes: I just think the I.T. is legitimate, and that the writers copped out.

      • Apr 17 2012

        Apologies for replying to the wrong post – it appears the thread gutters out after a certain number of replies. I am replying to Austin’s post –

        “Apparently, in the world we live in today, “everyone randomly finding an ancient superweapon that all of the ancients worked on but never actually finished, then using it to blow the bad guys to hell but dying dramatically in the process” is innovative and groundbreaking. It isn’t, it’s trite and cliche”

        I agree, which is why I lament the current trend towards lamenting that the story didn’t end with Shepard and Anderson on the Citadel after defeating the Illusive Man, watching the Crucible fire and dying/not dying depending on EMS.

        There is nothing at all interesting about the Crucible as a magical ancient superweapon. It becomes interesting when, *instead* of just blowing the bad guys to hell, the game makes good on its previous hints that the fact no one actually knows what it does might be a problem, and it does something…quite different. It’s not used to blow the bad guys to hell, it’s used to ask a difficult question.

        I appreciate it’s not a question everyone enjoys or agrees is appropriate to the game (though I feel the above article does a good job of providing a solid perspective as to why it *is*), but the focus of the final sequence isn’t the ancient superweapon, it’s the philosophical choice, whatever you think of the execution.

        * * *

        Since I am replying to Rei’s post, however, I will indulge my desire to comment on notion of existentialism as part of the narrative structure of Mass Effect. I completely agree that it is not existentialist in the way you describe. Mass Effect has always been very honest about its reality. It is not existentialist in that it does not question the nature of existence. However, I’d argue that it’s strongly existentialist in the way it invites us to question the *meaning* of existence. With its hard SF bent and decision to tackle the notion of an indifferent universe and the lack of any inherent value to the existence of organic life, I think the question of whether our existence has meaning in such a universe is almost inevitably going to be raised, implicitly or explicitly, and I see that reflected in the complaints from gamers that their choices “made no difference”.

        Existentialism has become so broad as to be a catch-all term for anything that is open-ended, hard to define, and concerns the nature of reality. But to define it narrowly, for a moment, if we’re talking about the flavour of existentialism that holds it is the responsibility of the individual to determine meaning in her own life, I think that the ME3 ending becomes a fascinating example.

        After guiding the player through a world full of externally constructed meaning (paragon/renegade choices, the ability to know conclusively the consequences of your decisions within the scope of the gameworld), that meaning is removed in the final sequence. There is no clear paragon/renegade decision (I agree with your analysis on which would be which, but there is a clear attempt to introduce a moral muddying with the association of the Illusive Man and Anderson with the “wrong” colours). There is no way (currently, pre-Extended Cut) to know what it is you just unleashed on the galaxy. You are put in Shepard’s position, with imperfect information, forced to make a choice based on experience and hope. You must find the meaning in your own decision.

        This works for *me* because I don’t feel that question was asked in a vacuum. I feel the games developed a web of scenarios and questions all designed to provide a huge amount of context and backstory to this final question. I feel the final choice, therefore, is an opportunity to contextualise Shepard’s journey. To make, after having lived in it for a hundred hours, a determination about what I felt it *meant*. I also feel that, as I said, tackling the question of whether meaning matters when not externally validated (by your games console or by the universe at large), is an appropriate question to raise. In your original article you talk about how you feel the ending is good but not great because it didn’t surprise you. I understand that perspective. To me, this narrative choice to turn the ending into an exercise in practical existentialism was that surprise. But I recognise that as highly subjective.

        It also backfired. Whether intentional or due to lack of resources or creativity, the ending removes external validation from the player, and then asks her – did your choice still matter?

        It seems the majority of those players rose up and said, no. Which makes me kinda sad.

    • rei
      Apr 17 2012

      In the Matrix or Vanilla Sky or Inception, non-reality is thematic. In Mass Effect, it’s just a plot point. Sure, it happens a lot in terms of frequency, but it isn’t really intrinsic. All throughout the entire game indoctrination could be replaced with anything else — a zombie virus would have worked just as well except in Saren and Illusive Man’s case, which could instead have easily just been a barter the same way Dr. Breen in Half Life sold away the human race to the Combine in exchange for his promised safety. Or it could even have been simple financial corruption, the same way even our best political candidates end up becoming nothing short of monsters.

      I also think that the hints that people have had for the Indoctrination Theory are rather weak — that Shepard is apparently breathing in space, that the gun has infinite ammo, that Shepard was momentarily unconscious. All these things have much simpler explanations, so there simply isn’t anything supporting the idea that indoctrination is what happened.

      I understand that we’re talking about fiction here and not science, but at the same time, Mass Effect has never in the past deliberately obfuscated anything, and the characters have almost never lied — not even the Reapers when they indoctrinate their victims (they merely convince them that their values are correct) — so why now?

      And I still don’t buy the idea that the ending needs necessarily to be where all the drama happens. It would all happen too fast for me, to be honest.

  5. BigZ7337
    Apr 17 2012

    I have a few problems with your scientific analysis of the ending, but I’ll try to keep it short and avoid a lot of the factors that are up for interpretation. One of the biggest ones, is that isn’t it still possible that after all Organic life in the Galaxy is Synthesized, they could still create a purely Synthetic AI that could destroy all of the hybrid life? Also, how would that beam of light spontaneously Synthesize the entire galaxy? There is a little bit of precedent for Reapers genetically modifying organic species, but they all required Reaper implants. So the only possible way I could see the Synthesis option actually work (outside of space magic), would be if the beam of light was actually made entirely out of nano-machines.

    With the Catalyst/Casper, what I inferred is that it is the end result of Singularity in a different galaxy. Some Type 2 species created a super-AI and in the pursuit of perfect order it obliterated all Organic life in that Galaxy. Then, as time passed it realized that it had made a mistake, and decided to travel to a new galaxy (the Milky Way) to create a system of controlled chaos by using the Reapers as both a galactic police force and a gigantic genetic storage facility.

    I understand what you’re saying about how EDI and the Geth aren’t proof that Casper is wrong, as when you consider a Singularity event the time frame is essentially endless, so one example of peace doesn’t change anything. However, I felt like the whole idea of the Rannoch mission (1/3 of the game) was that Synthetics and Organics could live together, so if Bioware was actually attempting some of what you describe it makes much of the game moot.

    I could go further, but I’m going to stop myself here. Ultimately, while I understand that the whole game is the ending to the trilogy, I still feel like much of the choices made is destroyed by the ending. Either Shepard enforces control on the Reapers (something that was repeatedly dismissed as idiocy up until the last 5 minutes), enforces control on the entire galaxy by eliminating diversity (Plus who knows if the people would be the same after synthesis) or they destroy the Reapers (Representing thousands of entire civilizations) and possibly also EDI/Geth/Shepard/Biotics/Quarians and/or sending the galaxy into the Dark Ages. Overall, it just left a horrible sour taste on my mouth, and I really don’t think that the writers were intelligent enough to actually have everything you talk about on their minds when they created the ending.

    • rei
      Apr 17 2012

      Yeah, I figured maybe the beam of light was nanomachines, but ultimately though it doesn’t really matter what it is; it’s just a super-advanced technology literally millions of years in the making. It’s just what it is. There are tons of things like that in the story that are extremely bizarre, like the Mass Effect 2 ending where they needed to assimilate millions of humans just to make a human reaper. As I mentioned in the article, the reapers would surely have figured out how to clone people by then.

      What synthesis does to people is a totally open-ended question, and I like that. Ray Kurzweil would insist that it’d be a perfectly good thing and we’d “have the time to read every book in the world and travel to every place”, but that’s not too certain either, right? It’s the question that the game leaves us with that I think is valuable, not the answer.

      That’s an interesting idea that the Catalyst came from another galaxy. The lore says that traveling between galaxies is difficult due to the immense distance even for the Reapers, but who knows.

      I don’t think EDI and the Geth being peaceful is nullified by the fact that the Catalyst insists that it can’t be done. Sometimes I’m not sure that Korea and Japan will ever be on good terms, and that makes me really sad — but I know that I have some really good Korean friends, and that won’t change even if our two countries end up going to war and obliterating each other. It’s a victory in and of itself, as Wrex would say. Unless you take the renegade ending, of course.

      And yeah, a lot of the choices you make end up becoming moot regardless of the ending you choose — but to me, that adds to the story. It’s a sad ending, but also a very sentimental one.

      There are some choices you make that end up not having any effect — though not nearly as many as people complain about. The choices that do get lost, though, like all the friendships you’d forged, and of course the very fact that Shepard dies, are totally in line with the tragic hero template that so many other very popular stories follow.

      I have to say too, although I didn’t want to believe at first that the mass relays all do get destroyed, in retrospect, I liked that decision. The Buzz Aldrin dialogue at the end is really powerful if you think of it in that context — it brings the audience back to reality on a positive note that, just like all the displaced and disconnected civilizations in the Mass Effect universe, we too will eventually get out there into the stars to discover all these amazing things and meet all these awesome aliens.

      And that’s what they were going for — something that lasts and leaves you with a positive outlook on life despite the struggles, not just something that makes you empathize with the characters’ happiness.

      To me, the ending had the same uplifting mood as this speech:

      • Brock
        Apr 19 2012

        cloning would not suffice because they needed diversity in making Reaper not mass of the same. Humans as a species are a lot more different from each other than for example asari to other asari and so on. That’s why they harvest organic life and not clone that and that’s why there was no reaper made in previous cycle from protheans.

  6. SpiderKnives
    Apr 17 2012

    I was an indoctrination enthusiast, but then I read this article. I no longer know where I stand on this. I do think ME3 deserves a better ending, and I do believe that, if what they meant is what you said, it could be great. On the other hand, I think drawing the line between the Reapers and the above motivations is exact, or more reasonable, than other such motivations.

    I still have many other reservations; Sherpard’s ultimate sacrifice seems needless in any of the three endings. How does one control when dead? Or is he ascended? That’s not the same as death. Why does synthesis require disintegration? Is DNA not enough, or a brain scan, or an arm, or a pint of blood? Why does destruction require that Shepard put his face against the glass of an explosive container? The sacrifice Shepard makes means nothing because it all looks like a martyr being sacrificed for some voodoo magic. I’d like it much more if the game didn’t arbitrarily kill Sherpard, or didn’t kill him and bring him back from the dead twice in the last 15 minutes of the game (the beam and after collapsing in front of the console in the citadel). Shepard could have, and maybe should have, died as a result of being so fried that his space armor, one that took bullets, raw energy and often extreme radiation and he came out with a limp. Shepard could have also died from the bullet wound, or perhaps the release of energy. But being so vividly sacrificed in the alter for space magic looks, and feels, absurd. If the ending had three buttons for Shepard to choose from, after which he collapses and dies of his injuries, it would’ve been far better than evaporation for the sake of evaporation. Hell, why not bring Anderson along to the Catalyst, Anderson feints, Shepard chooses, and regardless of what he chose, we get Anderson’s dialogue, and they both die looking down at Earth? Much, oh so much, better.

    I do find myself disagreeing with you on the bullying angle. First of all, Child’s Play reported that even after Penny Arcade closed the fund-raiser, no more than the usual amount of refunds were made. It’s only unethical because these people donated not for kids but for a better ending for a video-game. Immoral people doing something moral is hardly the worst thing in the universe, and it did attract attention to issues that may be fixed in the DLC, perhaps even in terms of your gripes with the current ending. As for the BBB and FTC, I’m sorry, but these guys lied on the press-releases – I’m surprised this didn’t happen with every Peter Molyneux game ever. You want to hype? Fine. Embellish. Exaggerate. Describe your hopes for what you would put in the final product. Do NOT lie. Not so late in development, not in post-release, not to your fans’ eager faces because they would be the first ones to crucify you for it. The BBB probably gets hundreds of false accusations, exaggerations etcetra in a single day because people love sending an angry letter when they’re displeased. The fact that something as remote as the BBB acknowledging there may be false advertising in this regard only indicates the in this case, accusations somehow stuck. You can’t bully someone by threatening to tell authorities what he’s doing; if he wasn’t doing anything wrong the authorities would shrug it off.

    Still, a great read. I’ve finally found an angle that is not Indoctrination on the regular ending that I love.

    • rei
      Apr 17 2012

      Hey SpiderKnives,

      Thanks for reading.

      Shepard’s deaths in the ending are somewhat contrived, yes. But Shepard’s death in almost any situation throughout the entire series would be equally contrived. It’s 2185, after all — surely a high-ranking military official who represents all hope for humanity and galactic civilization would be sitting safe in a bunker somewhere, manipulating a robot or an army of robots remotely to do all their combat for them.

      Shepard personally engages in combat only because always being on the brink of death is the only way that a story about war can be told in a way that makes sense to those of us here in the 21st century. There’s simply no way to enjoy any science fiction once you start pointing these kinds of things out.

      The BBB accused Bioware of lying that the ending would supposedly be effected by the choices that the user makes. And it is. There are 3 outcomes for the Geth/Quarian story, 4 for the Mordin/Krogan story, two for EDI’s outcome, two for Thane’s, and a lot more that I don’t remember or know about.

      If the genophage were cured in an epilogue along with the end of the Geth war, and Conrad Verner admits that he was lying about his wife after you defeat the Reapers, and Kolyat reads his prayer to Thane soon after as well, would that have made fans happier? Would that have kept the BBB off their backs?

      Sadly, I think it would have — even though it’d still be the exact same story of the exact same length, just told in a different order. And I suspect that game studios from now on will do exactly that just to avoid being accused of bad endings.

  7. Alec
    Apr 19 2012

    Hey just wanted to say, this article was brilliant. I believe BioWare’s mistake was in not illustrating these themes better. A lot of what you point out could have been brought up in the conversation with the Catalyst. And the game really needed an epilogue of sorts. But great analysis.

  8. Apr 19 2012

    Very well written article.

    While I personally disliked the endings, I found myself nodding along to what I was reading more than a few times.

    Has this article made me now like the endings and appreciate them? No, mainly because I honestly have trouble believing this much thought was put into them. While your points and ideas are very good, I think they’re just another Indoctrination Theory: lucky coincidences (for Bioware) that resulted from multiple writing teams across the trilogy, as well as an obviously (in my opinion at least) rushed final game.

    Now, IF the current ending choices were way better explained – by that I mean more than 14 lines of dialog with the Catalyst – and if the final cinematic were to be completely reworked to properly show what my galaxy- hanging choice actually did, I may accept them as decent.

    Why only decent? Because while the ideas you pointed out were fantastically well thought and explained, and seeing them properly explained in the game as well would be pretty awesome… ultimately I came into ME3 expecting to be the hero and destroy the evil space monsters. It’s a simple wish, and as a story ending, it can’t hold a candle to what you’ve pointed out, but that’s what I was hoping for.

    That’s how ME1 and 2 ended, with me victorious over the big bad of the game, living to fight another day with my friends beside me, and that’s what a lot of the entire series focused on. Pretty much straight-forward victory over the enemy. IMO, introducing a completely new conflict in the final stretch of the story AND changing the victory from a straight-forward one to, well… what we got, is poor writing. Maybe had I known about all the ideas you shared before I started the ME series, I would’ve thought differently. Maybe I would’ve caught the subtext, as you have and appreciated the Catalyst’s point of view more.

    But as it is, I didn’t, and as such, for me the ME series was about something completely different than what the Catalyst tried to tell me. I’m sorry to say but no matter how much explaining is added to the end, it probably won’t change my impression that it came out of the left field and that it simply does not fit with the rest of the series.

    Kudos on the article however.

  9. Apr 19 2012

    This is the same fallacy as with the indoctrination theory. You are inventing and creating stuff to fill out the gaps that the badly designed game left. All this article does is give more conjecture and no facts that would be stated somewhere in canon.

    This quest for answers is becoming like religion. As the bible of this religion is vague, people just invent stuff that fit their imagination and thought processes. While i don’t mind creative mind thinking solutions to problems that arise, i think you just make too many assumptions and guesses that this would be anyway better.

    People, we cannot guess this right, it is very inprobable that any theory with that many holes to fill would be correct by guessing. We just have to wait out the DLC and see what they meant.

    While this post was one of the better ones when trying to explain the ending and reason it out. It cannot be reasoned without the facts, and the bad ending is because we are missing the facts.

    • Apr 19 2012

      Yes, all these ‘theorists’ remind me too much of X-tian apologetics. Nice post.

    • Apr 20 2012

      I respect your right to dislike the endings, and am not trying to convince you otherwise. I also agree with Rei that these ideas could have been more clearly discussed within the game.

      That said, I think it’s unfair to say that this is pure speculation and not founded in canon. No one in the game mentions “The Kardashev Scale” sure, but the underlying idea behind that scale – division of civilisations according to power and scope – is absolutely an idea that is present throughout all three games. And not just in the way the Reapers are said to distinguish between “levels” of civilisations – the notion of “uplifting” races by others as either a negative (Krogan & Salarian) or positive (Asari & Prothean) thing, and humanity’s graduation to becoming a race capable of participating in galactic society are other examples. Similarly, the “technological singularity” may not be named, but the concept of the simultaneous danger and inevitability of technological advancement and the integration of technology with organic life is present throughout the games. Again, obvious examples include EDI, the Geth and the Reapers gestalt once-organic existences, but smaller examples exist throughout the series, from the technological implants required for biotics, to Quarian physiology now requiring technological assistance for survival, to the control of the Krogan population levels through artificial engineering, to Shepard herself being a cyborg, to the ethical issues surrounding eezo exposure to create human biotics, to many minor background conversations such as the one about Huerta’s post-stroke physical body being controlled by a VI and whether this constitutes life or Chakwas and Adams arguing over AI, to the fact the setting is rife with technological zombies.

      Finally, on the issue of the Drake equation and Fermi’s paradox, if you remove the name and instead ask of the *idea* was present, once again, I feel it was, at least in the form in which it’s relevant to the ME universe. To us, right now, the question is, “how frequent is extraterrestrial life,” and “why haven’t we found any?” But those questions are self-evidently irrelevant in the game’s universe. Instead, an analogous paradox would more likely be, “why aren’t there any civilisations more advanced than the asari?” Frankly, given general expectations with regards to space operas, most of the audience (including myself) would not have asked that had the first game not gone out of its way to *answer* the question by telling us that it’s because of the Reapers. All races are kept blow a certain technological threshold because the Reapers come and kill them all every 50,000 years. The physical answer to the question is given to us in the very first game. The philosophical reason behind that phyiscal answer is given to us at the end of the third.

      Evidence from the Final Hours application supports the notion that the potential of synthetic/organic conflict was on the minds of the developers as a core theme in the game since before it had an official name.

      Speaking for myself, and only for myself, I always thought these themes were present in the narrative – this is not something I jumped on after playing through Mass Effect 3. I was the girl bouncing up and down with excitement when Legion started talking about Dyson spheres and sitting wide-eyed as EDI speculated about Reaper reproduction.

      Again, it bears reiterating that if you feel the game failed to convey that to you, that is fair and I’m not here to tell you your experience of BioWare’s storytelling was wrong or that it could not have been improved if it had been done in a different way.

      The only point I hope to make is that there are other valid perspectives and valid experiences and it’s not unreasonable to believe that this is what BioWare intended, but simply failed to make properly clear to a portion of their audience.

  10. Apr 19 2012

    This is a very interesting article. The curious thing is: I hate ME3’s ending, but I still agree with most of what you’ve said. My main objections:
    (1) The problem with the lack of closure is not that there isn’t any. In fact, you get everything you could expect while playing. The problem is that the endings fragment galactic civilization, throwing everything you’ve achieved into jeopardy. They *destroy* the closure achieve while playing the game.
    (2) The game provides not a single piece of evidence that your interpretation – which I like and think makes sense, just to be clear about that – is what the writers had in mind. It is no more or less an interpretation than any other hypothesis fans have come up with. My main objection to the Catalyst scene is that it doesn’t provide sufficient exposition for the problem the Catalyst exists to prevent. It is a failing of the game that it does not provide sufficient context for your decision, not a failing of the player. It would be a failing of the player only if they could reasonably be expected to have that background knowledge and connect it to the endings. With only what we get from the Catalyst, you can come up with no other conclusion than to say “This is bullshit, and if it isn’t – well, convince me”. And it fails to convince.
    (4) You fail to address the emotional impact of the endings. The fragmentation of galactic civilization which destroys everything we set out to save. The last-ditch attempt to redirect our investment to something as abstract as “intelligent life 10k years from now”, which was doomed to fail because throughout three games we were made to care about the existing characters, the existing worlds and species, the impression that the writers were trying to “destroy their toys to that nobody else can play with them”. The deaths during the game were meaningful, sad but still emotionally satisfying. I wouldn’t have things any other way. But as opposed to that the destruction of galactic civilization and the stranding of the Normandy seemed spiteful, an almost intentional punch-in-the-gut that felt like a betrayal. I think that this emotional dissatisfaction was the underlying cause of the rage about the ending, and the complaints about incoherence the plot holes just a symptom.
    (5) I disagree with you that the ending shouldn’t be changed because fans demand it. It has happened again and again in the history of writing. What’s good enough for Charles DIckens and Arthur Conan Doyle shouldn’t be beneath Bioware’s dignity. And if your interpretation is really what it was all about – well, then they should explain things. And they should remove what’s causing most of the emotional dissatisfaction and provide one option that doesn’t destroy galactic civilization. For if you’re right with your interpretation – and I hope you are – then that’s not a necessary part of the artistic vision, but just an arbitrary element that makes the ending depressing without need.
    — Ieldra (Ieldra2 on BSN)

  11. Walter Graham
    Apr 19 2012

    1) You give Bioware too much credit.
    2) The game is against AI, and your examples of nano-tech destroying planets isn’t AI it is more a synthetic Virus. Different thing from what the Catalyst says.
    3) Handwaving the power of Synthesis isn’t like saying the Reapers could clone enough dna to make a reaper, if you remember that they were preserving the culture and thus were probably taking Brain-scans as well to save the person as an AI-image in the new reaper.
    4) Geth are Software, not hardware, to destroy them you would have to take out all computer tech above calculators, thus dooming many to die. While they had reaper “upgrades” it was like going from windows Vista to Windows 7, not something an energy wave should have been able to target just because.
    5) I am glad you would not like to complain…now if you go to buy a car and ask for a V8 sports car and you pay for it, and get a 4cylinder enonomy car will you let it go as well?? If you do then you are an entitled whiner who should be ashamed of themself.
    6) The whole game series and ME3 has been about uniting the galaxy and races and how this is better than a unified race/homogeneous galaxy, then at the end they flip and say it is bad??!!?? Ok, you don’t have an issue with it…..fine, I do.
    7) Being promised multiple endings and getting 4 maybe, and then having very lazy design with them is insulting. I want Bioware to fix it, if they don’t fine, there are other games and companies to buy from, I see no reason to buy from lazy game designers who can’t deliver what they promise.
    8) Out of time, but could continue more. These are just the basics.

  12. I love the fact that you put so much thought into this and will read the rest of it when I have time, but from what I’ve read so far this just feels like another you didn’t like the ending because your to stupid to understand argument. If the ending of Mass Effect 3 violates the rules of story telling to the to the point we need something this long to explain it, is it even worth playing?

  13. Dan
    Apr 19 2012

    I may come back to this article later and put more effort into a response when I have time. I’ll admit your article has provided me with some insights into what Bioware are trying to say regarding the ending of this game, but it’s not going to change my mind in regards to how badly it has been executed..

    Clearly, Bioware weren’t thinking of their audience when creating the ending of this game. As you said yourself:

    “It’s hard to appreciate the ending without knowing a thing or two about the rather esoteric field of astrobiology”

    I’ll say that the first Mass Effect game was much more “nerdy” than its sequels, which have since tried to appeal to a broader audience, to the point that they introduced a multi-player aspect for the 3rd game to draw in the Call of Duty crowd.

    So why after all that do they create an ending that will only be fully appreciated by a minority of its audience who knows a thing or two about astrobiology? Why does the ending cater to an ‘elite’ of like minded intellectuals and exclude the rest of the audience you’ve invited along for the ride? It’s not fair to do that to your audience. The mistake I believe Bioware has made here is they’ve chosen to create an ending that is intellectually stimulating rather than an ending that is emotionally fulfilling. If they were true geniuses they would have been able to pull off both. The target audience for the ending they have created is incongruous with the target audience for the last 2, maybe even all 3 games.

    They could have made this ending work had they explored some of these concepts and ideas more clearly in the story they have told. Through story telling it is possible for them to ‘educate’ the audience on the theories you’ve put forward here. I mean look at the first Matrix film. It manages to cater to a wide audience while still being able to explore and reference the works of Jean Baudrillard and René Descartes. There’s something there for everyone.

    I shouldn’t have to go read up on astrobiology to understand what’s happened and where the Catalyst is coming from. It’s almost as bad as when someone says you need to read all the extended universe comics and novels of the Star Wars universe to fully appreciate what is going on in Revenge of the Sith (though I admit astrobiology sounds far more interesting).

    As for some other aspects of your arguments in the article I feel like you’ve set up a bit of straw man. I knew full well what the Catalyst means when it says it created the cycle to protect organic life from being wiped out by synthetic life. It doesn’t make its ‘solution’ sound any less ridiculous though.

    Also, when people say they want to feel like the decisions they made over the course of the game to matter at the end they don’t mean they want all those different story points (Krogan Genophage cure, Geth & Quarian conflict) to be answered at that actual climax of the game. And it doesn’t necesarily mean they want a huge long epilogue either. What they didn’t want was for all the story lines they’ve concluded across the whole game to suddenly be thrown into flux again by the consequences of the very opened ended climax they were given. Of the ending choices, the one that leaves most of what my Shephard achieved intact was Control as it didn’t mean the destruction of the Geth, or the complete rewriting of the genetic code of every organic life form in the galaxy (which i’m assuming must mean animals, plants, and even bacteria too right?). Can’t you see why the ending is frustrating to so many people?

    Most stories don’t end with a long draw out epilogue of what happens next anyway, it’s usually good form to end things quickly after the climax. It’s bad form to introduce a whole new character concept and potentially lofty and complex ideas into what has, for the most part, been a straight forward action science-fiction adventure story, in the last 5 minutes of the narrative.

    Also many of the theories you’ve mentioned here like Kardashev scale and your use of the Drake equation, along with ideas put forward by Stephen Hawking and they Grey Goo theory are all incredibly speculative and theoretical, which is actually really great for story telling. The fact is we can’t predict how technology will develop or what a fully aware artificial intelligence will be like. But this game is fiction and can explore all these possibilities in whatever way they choose, however there needs to be consistency and it should be explored in a way that the audience you’re writing for understands it.

    So in the course of the Mass Effect games we encounter various different kind of lifeforms, and the first game goes the predictable route of demonstrating that every AI you meet is dangerous and will try to kill you. I would have believed and understood the Catalysts intentions if he popped up in the first game. However the following 2 games then teaches you that perhaps you’re being prejudiced towards artificial life, and that synthetic life wants many of the same things organic life wants and perhaps would even like to co-exist with organic life. So if Bioware have put that forward in the telling of the story, it seems unfair for them to expect the audience to accept the inevitability of the Catalysts assertions that AI will almost certainly render all organic life extinct. I mean even the Catalyst itself is presumably a synthetic life form but it seems determined to protect organic life from extinction, which further weakens its arguments.

    See the thing about stories, is that with the right ground work anything goes and anything can be accepted. So while there are theories put forward by many intellectual and scientific thinkers of merit that predict that synthetic life will exterminate all organic life, a story told a certain way can completely refute that if it chooses. For most people Mass Effect seemed to suggest that as most people enjoying the game aren’t aware of or subscribe to the esoteric ideas of astrobiology.

  14. Apr 19 2012

    “There’s a saying in the music business: “play the beginning and ending well; no one will remember anything in between”. Never has this held truer than for Mass Effect.”

    What about screwing up a song so bad at the end, no one remembers what came before?

  15. Apr 19 2012

    Thanks for taking the time to write the op-ed. The problem I had with the game in general were several and to save text I’ll just bullet point them. Okay it’s a wall of text.

    * I’m gathering the duct child, the shuttle child, and the dream child was to represent the ones left behind. But was it really necessary? There was enough going on. The player’s character’s origin did play a role in this. Earthborn, colonist, or spacer would have been relevant in the impact. Just seeing the destruction was enough for me.

    * The nightmare sequences. These could easily have been made into cutscenes, especially since you had no choice as to when they occurred or your actions during them. First playthrough was like what am I supposed to do (I’d been playing Skyrim so I wanted to explore the area, then figured out I had to follow the kid and watch him burn). Then they went all Stanley Kubrick on the last one. Cutscene.

    * Okay I can understand the existence of the Crucible as a type III Civ tech now.

    * One thing I did find interesting is the Geth. I’ve played ME3 three times with playthroughs from ME1->2. I’ve always felt it necessary to destroy the Geth. Something about letting Legion upload the reaper code doesn’t sit right. The peace won’t last. I don’t think the Quarians are going to take well to their Geth masters in 20 yrs should the reapers lose the war. I think the Geth will end up making the Quarians as dependent upon them as possible. I start remembering a conversation from Mordin Solus about the Collectors. One thing replaced by tech, then another replaced by tech, then another replaced by tech, finally all tech, more like husks. Killing them is doing them a favor. The Geth do not understand morals. They have no philosophy, only logic. Now people think that wiping them out is genocide. I look at is as self-preservation. I am called a monster.

    * I wasn’t playing on auto pilot. They had told us “multi-player isn’t required for single player”. That’s a half-truth. You could get the same result if you had a iPhone or iPad, but then you had to buy an Apple product. Mass Effect has always been a single player game, The multi-player or iOS apps should not have affected the EMS. The EMS determines if you get all the endings. This is not fair to those living in areas without broadband connections — yes most of the USA is a third world nation.

    * In all the endings you die, and the mass relays are destroyed no matter how hard you worked to get the galaxy united, no matter what choices you made in the previous games. I knew this was the end of Shepard’s story. I can live with that, but like you said for the green ending why couldn’t Shepard have gotten a body and dropped that in the stream? There was a feeling of loss of control of Shepard in the endings. The Catalyst’s dialog was very poorly written. I don’t know what Hudson and Walters were thinking, but it was very banal. Every portion of the game had undergone peer review by the rest of the writing team except for the ending. Why? I’m guessing they were afraid of another leak? or criticism? But I do think it needed to have more effort behind it. The endings are basically ripped right out of Deus Ex Human Revolution or pretty much any of the Deus Ex series.

    * Control – Taggart – Illuminati – whatever. How is Shepard going to control the Reapers after Shepard is dead? This has always bothered me. And while some people played a paragon Shepard, what about the Shepard who say purged the Feros colony and executed Shiala (she was indoctrinated), executed Rana Thanoptis (also indoctrinated), shoved random eclipse merc out window, murdered Blue Suns mechanic (Archangel mission), executed the Batarians holding Daniel (Mordin mission), made Jack execute Aresh, sent Thax the info, took bribe from Pitney For, did dirty work for Helena Blake, executed 10th St Reds gang guy right in front of C-Sec, let the council die? Would you really want this Shepard Controlling the Reapers?

    * Synthesis – Sarif Industries – Saren. The unity of flesh and steel. The strengths of both. The weakness of neither. All scientific advancement due to overcoming limitations. Can’t move rock, so invent wheel. Can’t lift rock so invent pulley. Limitations. No limitations, no advancement. No advancement. No culture. I also don’t see a way of doing this without space magic either. There is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that one has to overcome when doing this rewrite. It is therefore impossible and a steaming pile, but it is a pretty color of green. It does save EDI and make Joker’s unhealthy attraction more appropriate and gets him away from his pr0n collection. This is the only ending where the type of food and water isn’t going to be critical.

    * Destroy – Darrow. Yes, this sort of sets the galaxy back to about the 21st Century doesn’t it? What about all the alien ships stranded in the Sol system? They’re saying everyone is going to be able to get home, but in how long a couple centuries? Some settle on earth? Asari, Krogan and Humans on Earth? Genophage-free Krogan on Earth now make the Asari and Humans extinct and likely blow up the place.

    In all endings people are saying they need to rebuild the relays, but first the need is going to be to rebuild the infrastructure on earth: food, water, shelter, manufacturing base, tranportation, all that stuff that’s been destroyed, and the economy that’s been decimated. This occurs in all endings. This is the biggest gripe of all. No one gets home. Everyone is stuck. There really was no need to destroy the relays.

    What made it so maddening is that Bioware left everything with no hope. They left it with no hope for the future. I’m not talking about game installments. Even with a bleak ending you want to leave the player with a glimmer of hope. Even Gears of War 3 left the ending with a glimmer of hope. “We have tomorrow, Marcus. We have tomorrow.”

    And so 10,000 years in the future (that’s the date in the file .bik) Buzz Aldrin is telling the child a tale about “The Shepard”. And so my character has now been deified and is being worshipped by primitive savages.

    * The bottom line is that if the game lived up to the pre-release hype of the previous month, and the reviews in the media (I’m sure they just played the first couple hours and made the decision), and met the promises made to gamers in the previous months by Casey Hudson and others from Bioware I would have no problem. It didn’t.

    And honestly, if the final battle for earth in any way resembled the cinematic trailer that was released in February, that part of the game could have played like Gears of War 3 with no role playing, and had ONE ending so long as the ending was an epic ending that left you feeling “hell yeah!” and then with the epilog just telling about how the battle turned against the reapers and they were defeated on every world over the next couple of decades. And Shepard? Shepard, while leading the assault on blah blah blah was severely injured, awarded the medal of blah blah blah highest honor, and retired to blah blah blah with blah blah blah where (s)he lived out her/his remaining years…. The End.

    • Paul
      Apr 20 2012

      “The Geth do not understand morals. They have no philosophy, only logic.” – May I ask where this assumption comes from? Sure, the Geth are ruthless when it comes to war. But at the same time, quite a lot of them were able to believe in Nazara as a kind of god. There is more to them than just logic.

      “Now people think that wiping them out is genocide. I look at is as self-preservation. I am called a monster.” – Of course it is genocide, they are sentient beings, they have a ‘soul’. The only difference to us is the material their bodies are made of. They are individuals who have a right to live like everybody else.
      And self-preservation becomes an invalid justification the moment where another solution is available, as is the case here. If the Quarians fear the conflict will escalate again(note that it’s always been the Quarians to trigger the actual conflicts, not the Geth), move to another planet.
      They might not _want_ to do this but ‘I don’t want’ is not a good enough reason for mass murder.
      It’s like being invited to live in an apartment and just shooting the owner in the head upon arrival because you probably won’t get along anyway – instead of just moving to a different apartment.
      I hate to tell you this, but you pretty much _are_ a monster if you wipe out an entire species because you don’t feel like looking around for a different place to live.
      And of course all this is based on the assumption that a rather peaceful but cautious species will stir up a conflict for no reason after they invite their aggressors, who already tried to wipe them out twice, back onto their home world and some of them even sacrificing their own freedom to help Quarians to faster adapt to the environment.

      I really think you should reconsider your choices.

  16. ahostiletakeover
    Apr 19 2012

    Excellent write up Rei. I loved the entire game and had zero problems with the endings, but felt the ending animation sequence was rushed and left much to be elaborated upon. I also was totally unfamiliar with all of the real world theories you brought up that fit the model of this ficticious universe, except the Gray Goo theory, very informative stuff that expands my view of Mass Effect. I also concur completely with you conclusion section. I have never posted there (and certainly don’t plan on it in the aftermath of ME3’s release) but the Bioware forums are atrocious because of this “fan”base, it embarresses me to be associated as a gamer.

  17. Brett
    Apr 19 2012

    The main problem I see with this theory is that you call the reapers the “police of the galaxy” being sure that advanced civilizations won’t create nanomachines/synthetic life that will in turn wipe out ALL organic life in the galaxy; however, the reapers choose to leave behind technology so that we develop along technological paths that they determine. This is definitely revealed during ME2’s conversations with Legion as well as Shepherd’s conversation with Sovereign in ME1. If their biggest worry is a civilization creating a massively destructive technology that could travel across the galaxy easily, it could more simply be resolved by sweeping in to destroy such technology if/when it emerges or by limiting these civilizations to their own solar systems. Yet: Who left behind the mass relays allowing for FTL travel and near instantaneous travel across the galaxy? The reapers.

    Reapers want us to develop inter-solar travel which would enable any AI tech that we develop to travel across the galaxy and bring about the scenario that they are trying to prevent. I don’t buy it.

  18. Paul
    Apr 19 2012

    While the article is well-written, I have some issues with what it is in there. Sadly, this comment section seems more than inappropriate to go over all of them and have a decent discussion. I’ll try, though. Please don’t flay me if it becomes a massive wall of text. :P I’ll try to break it up somewhat and cut some things that aren’t that important.
    Also, I have no idea of how the formatting here works. This might end up pretty messy once posted. If it does, I’ll upload it as text somewhere and post the link. Anyway, in medias res.

    First of all, a major meta-point(so to say): You’re basically saying the games strongly foreshadowed an ending that was reportedly non-existent 6 months prior to release of ME3. While a basic idea might have existed (Mac Walters notes do not make that likely tbh), we can pretty much assume that nothing in ME1 and ME2 was written with this in mind. Remember that even in the Haestom mission in ME2, the dark energy ending is still (actually) foreshadowed. I think you’re giving BioWare just way to much credit.

    From here on I will (try to) quote what I am referring to.
    “the various species and technologies fit very neatly into the [Kardashev] model.” – This is more of a sidenote: The model is so generic in most parts that it’s the other way ’round in my opinion. The model fits the game, not vice versa. It’s the natural way to develop such a story – the model just reflects that. It’s a servant of the pattern, not its master.

    “The Crucible is Type III technology.” – Type III tech is so far above our heads(you even said it yourself with the synthethis ending) that, for me, it’s just impossible to be built by Type I civilizations. Millions of monkeys over a million years still won’t build a computer (evolution aside as the civilizations are continuously reset at the ‘monkey stage’). Additionally, the crucible wasn’t actually built over millions of years. Take ‘our’ cycle for example. We contributed to its construction for maybe a few weeks (don’t really know which span ME3 is supposed to cover). The Protheans might have been able to contribute for a few years or decades. But for the most part of the 50k years between each harvest, the plans are buried somewhere. Besides, what are the chances of the Reapers not noticing for thousands of cycles? It’s a MacGuffin without any backing in the ME universe.

    “[The Crucible], at the end of Mass Effect 3, finally forces the Type II Reapers to surrender.” – Well, actually it did nothing of that kind. That’s part of the problem. The catalyst could have let Shepard die, destroy the Crucible and everything would be fine (from his perspective). Would have been a close call but no damage done. Unless you consider a conventional victory possible (I do). In that case the military forced the Catalyst to chose the Crucible as the best way to at least try to reduce the damage (talk Shepard into control and hope for the best).

    “Supposing it’ll take humanity another 1,000 years to develop AI and for humanity to be rendered obsolete,” – Out of curiosity: Why is humanity rendered obsolete by advanced AI?

    You claim ME to answer the question “Why are all the aliens so similar to us?” – A sidenote as well: How does the technological stage in the end affect the evolution happening prior to it? Or are you strictly talking about ‘similar’ in a technological way? In either case it comes down to the fact that science fiction wouldn’t work otherwise. Again, too much credit.

    “Of all places, the Normandy is in the Crucible’s trajectory” – Minor point: The Normandy gets hit in relay transit, so no coincidence here. Besides, it would be the Citadels trajectory (but that’s nitpicking, I know :P).

    “But the Illusive Man was disinterested in the Crucible because it isn’t needed to control the Reapers; only the Catalyst is” – He didn’t know that. In fact, he didn’t have a solution to send out the ‘control’ signal to the Reapers. He might have actually needed the Crucible to do that. All his tech could control were husks(and Shepard) in near vicinity.

    “It only takes one rogue spacefaring synthetic to destroy all life in the galaxy.” – The only way this is true is if that roque synthetic would indeed be nanites chewing up the galaxy. And only under the assumption that there is no way to stop it. And while there is a possibility that it happens, the window for it to happen is, in my opinion, rather small. That window is the time it takes from developing the tech to understanding the risks it poses and ultimately developing further technology to avoid this risk or be able to quickly deal with the consquences. Therefore, the probability is not even remotely as high as you state (which was 100%).

    “much as any nuclear power on earth justifies preventing other nuclear powers from emerging by insisting that they may be trying to make weapons of mass destruction.” – Except that the Catalysts way to do it is to wipe out every nation that even has the potential to build nuclear technology with the reason that there inevitably will be an accident with one of the power plants obliterating the entire planet. Genocide based on a weak assumption.

    “However, due to a mistake in the ending sequence animation, the Crucible is shown to fire” – Something I don’t really like – there has to be an actual error in the game for this part of the theory to work? Always a dangerous thing.

    “Javik has a Jamaican accent.” – Sidenote: It’s African. Not really important but a lot of people get it wrong.

    Before I finally come the last point of all this, a note to the statement that art shouldn’t be changed by request of the audience – Always had me wondering. Many great artists actually did this and to this day nobody complained about it or questioned their artistic integrity. Seems a little double minded to suddenly jump onto the band wagon for this particular case.

    Anyway, last point but by no means the least. Actually the major one: None of the three choices solve the problem. The only one that might potentially solve it is Control but that is still up to Shepard and what (s)he intends to do with the Reapers and assumes a lowly human mind can actually control thousands of sentient beings each housing billions of consciousnesses.
    Both destroy and synthethis pretty much reset the galaxy to pre-reaper state and thus, according to your logic, doom the galaxy to be wiped out at a future point. Especially given that several species are advanced enough for the Reapers to begin harvest. Strictly speaking they are even 2000 years ahead of this point as that was the time Sovereign tried to initiate the harvest.
    And at this point it is no longer about the science fiction. It’s about the gaming experience – if what you propose as the intend of the ending is actually true, there is no way to successfully complete the game. In the end you will have achieved nothing, you might even have caused the entire galaxy to be wiped out at a future point. All art aside, this is simply not the point of a game and it indeed invalidates the entire trilogy. Because all things considered, it would be best for Shepard to do nothing. Claim the beacon on Eden Prime did nothing and help the Geth to conquer the Citadel. This is the most responsible thing to do.

    Short conclusion: I think you’re a) simply giving BioWare too much credit by implying they actually thought that deeply about the ending. Sorry, but a scribbled Matrix + Brave New World in regards to the ending by the lead writer gives me a different impression. And b) if they did think it through that much, it’s still a bad ending. Logically as well as from a gaming perspective as outlined above.

    Nonetheless I want to thank you for your article. It was interesting to read and thought provoking. :)

    P.S.: I think I got it down to a reasonably sized wall of text. Here’s hoping the formatting doesn’t get screwed…

  19. NoBrandMinda
    Apr 19 2012

    You seem to forget that Mass Effect is a work of fiction. Real world concepts only apply if they are supported by the narrative.

    The only “rules” that apply to a fictional universe are the ones that are established in the narrative. This is especially true in a science fiction or fantasy story where the laws of the real world may not apply. Our idea of what is “normal” in this universe is shaped by the narrative.

    For example, if the main character of your series has an artificial life form as a crew member, and peacefully ends a war between a synthetic race and an organic race, that tells the audience that organic life and synthetic life can peacefully coexist. That is the “rule” for the fictional universe. As far as the audience is concerned, EDI and the Geth are typical examples of synthetic life because that is what the narrative tells them.

    The audience will be confused, and rightfully so, when they are later told that “the created will always rebel against the creators.” In other words, synthetic life will inevitably destroy organic life if it is allowed to. While there may be a real world concept to support this notion, the narrative argues against it.

    You could argue that the main character was wrong all along, or you could make the semantic argument that the two events are not technically contradictory (you make both arguments). In either case, the audience will feel like they’ve been cheated because the narrative abandoned internal consistency and introduced new concepts without any previous backing. It doesn’t matter how well those new concepts are presented (and you even admit that they are presented very poorly) they shouldn’t be introduced that close to the end of the story.

    The only time it’s appropriate to abandon previously established themes at the last minute is when you want to make a commentary on those specific themes. So unless their goal was to say that “hope in the face of impossible odds,” and “strength through diversity” are completely pointless, they shouldn’t have abandoned them in favor of a commentary on the Drake equation.

  20. legion
    Apr 19 2012

    Why dont the reapers just kill synthetics when they go bad? why galactic genocide, when the synthetics themselves were the first to join the reapers in me1?…

    • Master Pillow
      Apr 20 2012

      Because it is the Catalyst’s plan all along to save and preserve advanced organic civilizations from not reaching the technological stage where they can create advanced synthetic life forms/AI that the Catalyst assumes will eventually kill their creator. I realize that this sort of illogical machine thinking seriously messes many people up because they can’t wrap their minds around such ridiculous thinking.

      And you know what? They are right…but that’s because we all are using (obviously) an organic’s point of view.

      No organic would ever conceive of such a warped plan to save other organics through nothing less than genocide of their own race because it is not only immoral but many organics feel that they are made up of more than their body and that they intrinsically have a soul or whatever you imagine spiritually. Yet for a machine there is no such line of thinking as he/it presumes that culling an advanced organic race and turning it into goo of base genetic material will be a more than adequate strategy to preserve the race.

      The Catalyst has no concept of spirituality so it “sees” organics as being made up of nothing but genetic material which can be condensed into a liquified form for storage. On some level he is correct. If you took my DNA and somehow saved it for millions of years one would assume that someone in the future can take it and basically recreate me from it. From a purely genetic level the resulting “clone” will be exactly like me yet as all of us realize it won’t be me at all because I think I have a soul that is not linked to my physical state. For a machine it only cares about the genetic state being preserved and has no care in the world to rationalize that I am made up of something “spiritual” beyond my body.

      If the Catalyst changed his tactics to kill advanced synthetic races all he would be doing is allowing organics unfettered access to continue on the evolutionary path that ends up creating even more powerful synthetics. Remember the Catalyst perceives the cycle as: advanced organic races build synthetic races that eventually will kill their organic masters. The Catalyst understands that the logical/order part of the equation are the synthetic races which think like it does in machine binary language and that the chaos comes from the irrational behaviour of organics. By harvesting and stopping the organics from evolving and turning them into genetic material he is removing the chaos from the equation and restoring order. Simply put, if you have a mathematical equation with one constant and one variable it makes much more sense to remove the variable not the constant if the end goal is stability.

      • Paul
        Apr 20 2012

        So the Reapers don’t go for the easy solution because it was their plan not to? That’s…not even an argument.
        Seriously, if Type I civilizations can built Type III tech in a very limited amount of time(they only had a few years per cycle to add to the Crucible), why didn’t the Reapers(or better: their creators) build such a device instead? They really had all those millions/billions of years to do so. Just build the Crucible, implement the destroy option and whenever there is a threat of synthetics wiping out organics (or getting too powerful in general), fire it. Problem solved.

        Not only does this actually preserve organics, it is even a way easier solution and thus preferable.

        And by the way, people really should stop with this “synthetic races […] think […] in machine binary language” stuff. It’s nonsense to assume synthetics work like current computers.

  21. Eamon
    Apr 19 2012

    I stopped reading this after you had previously chastised others for suspending belief, but then proceeded to do so yourself when attempting to explain why the ending cutscene shows supernova like explosions of the relays; in other words the cutscene didn’t fit your theory so it is explained away.

    Also gamers shouldn’t have to read an article of this length to explain a 10min cutscene. Their is a difference between confusion and speculation. I undertand Bioware wanting to add some speculation to their ending, but if gamers have to create articles of this length just to shed some light then I’m afraid it’s not our intellect that should be questioned.

    • rei
      Apr 24 2012

      I’ve never really responded to the “the ending shouldn’t require so much explanation” comments because I made it pretty clear in my article that I agree, yet strangely that’s the problem that most people have with my article — even from people who claim to have read the whole thing.

      I never explained away the supernova-like explosions; I said that that’s definitely a mistake.

      As for suspending disbelief, what you should be critical and what you shouldn’t be critical of is something that’s established throughout the story implicitly by being consistent on it.

      No one ever griped so fervently about Shepard holding an unequipped gun in the cut-scenes, yet in the ending they take it to be evidence of indoctrination.

      But almost none of the characters, if any at all, have lied in the dialogue — so you can believe what the characters say all the time. The game is still perfectly coherent throughout when you take all the dialogue as being truthful.

      That’s why sometimes I suspend disbelief and sometimes I don’t. I’m not just cherry-picking.

  22. Alex
    Apr 20 2012

    I won’t pick at everything, but much of the first part of your article implies that we require some knowledge of higher-up, arguably valid theories on astrobiology, a concept which we have no real evidence to study other than our own planet. Nor should we expect Mass Effect 3 to answer questions about real world theories. We expect Mass Effect 3 to answer the questions of the Mass Effect series, nothing more.

    Many story threads were left hanging – the krogan being the prime example. Sure, the genophage may be cured. Do the Krogan rise up again as the salarian dalatrass feared? Or if we sabotage the genophage, do they die out without resistance, or wage a futile war against the salarians as a sort of last vengeance? We need these answers. Same for the relay explosions – maybe they could be controlled enough. But how do we know this? The Catalyst never says this. It’s hard to tell whether this was a deliberate action or BioWare simply overlooking an element of their plot.

    Sovereign did not foreshadow the ending. He established two things: the Reapers controlled the evolution of civilizations, and they reaped the Milky Way every fifty thousand years, destroying them completely. In Mass Effect 2, we discovered they used these civilizations to harvest the galaxy and create more Reapers. Nowhere did it hint at a higher power, just an un-understandable purpose (the Reapers really didn’t need a purpose). It didn’t suggest a deus ex machina weapon, it certainly didn’t suggest the plot holes and over-budgeted ending. It only slightly hinted at the possibility of synthesis (actually more through Saren) and the destruction of the relays (which are used to control evolution).

    Petitioning BioWare to change the ending isn’t a message to authors and artists to stick to the norm. We aren’t saying “don’t try special things”, we’re saying “don’t do stupid things”. How many third party opinions did BioWare get on their ending? How could they overlook so many things that they previously addressed – characters, conclusions, plot holes? Why did they introduce a new character in the last few minutes (minus one tiny mention by Vendetta)? These aren’t the signs of a bold, daring ending. These are signs of a poorly thought out ending, nothing more.

    • Master Pillow
      Apr 20 2012

      I’m sure Rei will step in to answer you but I’ll chime in here. To be fair you are right to point out that there are many hanging plot threads at the end of the game but in Bioware’s defense we have no way of knowing at this stage whether or not these issues were always planned to be resolved in Mass Effect 4. I had posited one such scenario for ME4 on my blog post reply here that if Bioware were to set ME4 let’s say sometime in the future after ME3 they could conceivably set up a kind of cool scenario where the surviving alien races along with the humans who were trapped in the Sol system have finally rebuilt and learned enough left-over Reaper tech to make their own mass relays or at least boost their engines fast enough to make star to star travel possible in a short amount of time.

      You could have ME4 be about say a young Asari who has grown up in a marginalized Sol system because humanity would be dominant who now could go back to Thessia to see what has changed. Would their society stay the same after such a horrific event as the Reaper attack? Who knows. If this new crew made it to Tuchunka who is to say what the future would hold for the Krogan there? Assuming you kept your ME3 save file if Eve was alive perhaps she has restored some semblance of the old golden age of the Krogan or, goodness, turned it into a matriarchal society as she foreshadows in ME3 that for too long the female Krogan have turned a blind eye on the males who were in control. On the other hand if Eve is dead although Wreave is stuck on Earth it would imply that the males would be dominant still and perhaps wanting major payback on the races like the Salarians for the genophage.

      I guess what I am saying is that a lot of people tend to look at ME4 and think that it will be kind of like a prequel on something like the Rachni Wars or the First Contact Wars yet I don’t see many thinking about what would happen if Bioware just did a Star Trek TNG and warped ahead into the future to see what has changed. Assuming Bioware clarifies to the entire fanbase through the extended cut DLC that the mass relays don’t kill everyone and that perhaps the alien races stranded in Sol find some way to survive then there’s no reason not to think that perhaps ME4 will push the series forward in time instead of backwards.

  23. MrZ
    Apr 20 2012

    I can see you put a lot of thought into this article and I enjoyed reading it, despite that I disagree with the majority of what you have put forward.

    There is one exception, where I feel your point is actually very bad, that the fan reaction towards the ending is worrying or a bad development. I say this while agreeing with you that some executives/suits will see this as evidence to use more familiar things which “work” and attempt to shy away from innovation. The fact is: this is already going on and it will always be this way. If they are wrong in playing safe all the time (which I think is so) they will eventually bankrupt themselves and be taken over by successful entrepreneurs who *will* put in the effort to innovate.

    Attempting to cast a fan reaction to want the ending changed as a bad development is something I see as worrying in and of itself. This reaction didn’t just come about from a sense of entitlement, on the contrary, it comes about from a sense of *caring* that much about this particular game, wanting it to be as good as we all know it can be. The fact is that a lot of even the most vocal of ending-haters really love the entire series, even the last game… right up until the last 5-10 minutes. Developers shouldn’t just launch games out into a void, that gamers feel like they can be heard and that their opinion matters is a great development to me. It is about a group of people understanding that they have power when they come together, that they don’t have to simply accept everything presented to them. I think it’s a good thing that developers get their noses pressed into promises they make regarding their game and then just glibly attempt to ignore it as if it never happened later on when it didn’t make the cut. I’m glad that not everyone has accepted “hype” from developers should be part of the process.

    The fact is that you don’t seem to understand what people have a problem with when they talk about their choices being meaningless. It is that the last choice or consequences of the last choice are seemingly so immense and galaxy-defining that it overshadows everything the entire game has offered up until that point. It’s basically put the galaxy, which included all the effort and choices we made before, including how those choices worked out, into a giant blender, turned it on and then presto! “lots of speculation”. The mere fact that most people agree the game would have been acceptable if it had just ended on Anderson and Shepard looking out the window to Earth, cut to Crucible firing, defeats your entire point that it’s somehow a sense of wanting to see all their choices neatly laid out in front of them. Heck, they could both die there and it would still be accepted. The fact is that the information we do receive is so mind-shatteringly huge, it affects every consequence of every choice we have made up until that point in such a large way that is completely undefined.

    On the other side, I do understand why you like it, it alludes to a pet theory you already had about a technological singularity, in fact you’re ecstatic about that you can apply it to Mass Effect. The problem I have with it, it just doesn’t fit in the entire Mass Effect universe. The idea that we would develop technology that will eventually destroy us has not been a theme at all. The closest we get is plots that are about synthetic rebellion against slavery, in every instance it has been the organics who have been destructive towards synthetics, not the other way around. Although you could argue the Reapers have, but they’ve actually only been trying to help organics survive if you take the Catalysts word for it.

    What have been the galaxy-wide dangers in the past? Rachni and Krogan. And even the Rachni weren’t acting independently, which was apparently also Reaper indoctrination. Geth as it turns out weren’t a danger at all, they even went to efforts to preserve their creators.

    What has been the theme in Mass Effect? Choice between on one hand trusting others and building on strength through diversity and unity and on the other hand doing whatever it takes and not trusting anyone but yourself or those similar to you with power. Nowhere is this “synthetics will eventually kill all organics” actually introduced (aside from the last 5 minutes) and there is no more circumstantial evidence for it than the Indoctrination Theory which you seem to dismiss out of hand.

    For example the genophage: Cure it (trust Krogans, let them gain strength and unite with them) or don’t (don’t trust Krogans, keep power with those who belong with your group)

    The idea that a society will eventually self-destruct and that a sufficiently intelligent AI whose purpose is to preserve all life, will attempt to harvest and in such a manner preserve all life before it will self destruct, would actually work if it were presented differently. But the ending of Mass Effect should have built on its existing themes and let your previous decisions regarding the galaxy you have played in stand on its own without putting it all in a blender. You don’t just throw in questions for the sake of it at the end. So much in the Catalyst part came out of the blue with little to no explanation that it is really no less of an open ending than Indoctrination Theory, which has no ending. This is also exactly why Indoctrination Theory is so popular, it’s a hopeful ending, builds on the existing themes, has fewer plot holes and it explains *just as much*. In fact, even more so, since it doesn’t actually introduce new elements that need to be explained.

    Then as to the choice we finally have: Synthesis could literally mean anything, which makes it have exactly nothing as value for an ending, aside from the ethical implications of homogenizing the entire galaxy. Control, the thing we’ve fought against TIM doing for the entire game, not just because he’s indoctrinated, but because the concept is bad from the beginning, you can’t control something so much bigger than you are (paraphrasing a paragon Shepard). Destroy… Well I suppose this is an excellent choice if you believe synthetics are the cause of all problems, but when you disagree with that, it’s a rather bleak choice. All in all the options left me feeling rather depressed, no matter what I chose, I felt like I was capitulating to the Reapers.

    In the end, a story, whether in book, movie or game *is* judged by its audience. And in this case, it apparently has a rather large segment of people who didn’t like the way they felt after it ended. I feel the attempt to label these people as “they just didn’t understand it”, “they’re whiny”, “sense of entitlement”, disrespects the medium in which the story was told, which is specifically geared to player interaction. I’m not saying you’ve done this in your article, however it does seem to hint at it rather strongly from time to time.

    Ok, this turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated and rather rambling on about things.. I’m cutting it short here. I’m glad you have at least found a way to turn the ending hopeful to yourself, as have others with the Indoctrination Theory. Even though I don’t subscribe to either myself, the ending just reeks of a rush-job and I don’t expect they intended something so deep. Although if they end up going for IT and make it work… it would raise my opinion of the ending from “atrocious” to “mind-blowingly good”.

  24. A Fan Not Fooled
    Apr 20 2012

    So, am I seriously the only one here to realize that this is a complete and utter waste of time?

    Quoting the Drake Equation, the Kardashev scale, is all completely and utterly useless. It makes the article sound clever (and fools the uninformed and gullible), but they’re all completely and utterly irrelevant when it comes to discussing [i]Mass Effect[/i]. Because these aren’t the themes that are explored in the game.

    Instead, what’s explored in the game isn’t “Type I or II” civilizations. It’s that “aliens are people too”. That we can achieve greater things by looking past prejudices and working together. This is why people love Mordin. This is why people make jokes about Turians pulling out a stick from their ass when they run out of ammo. This is why people cried when the Elcor’s home world was wiped out.

    Science fiction is not about exposition on scientific theories unless you’re very “hard” scifi – and Mass Effect is exceedingly soft on Moh’s scale of sci-fi hardness anyway (Repeat after me: If your setting has FTL due to some new and undiscovered super element, it is NOT hard sci-fi. At all).

    It is instead a commentary on the human condition. This is why Starship Trooper (the novel’s) ultimate theme was not “Space Marines are awesome!” (even though the uninformed tend to focus on that). It was that a society based on the premise that individuals are important should be willing to _fight_ to maintain that ideal – even if it means invading an alien world to rescue just one stranded Marine. Sacrificing one person is not acceptable – “Men are not potatoes”.

    Therefore, to claim that the ME ending is actually a profound lesson on Astrobiology is an embarassing admission that it is not only bad, it is STUPID. Because not only are you seeking to lecture people on “science”, it’s actually FALSE science. Seriously everything the author talks about “Astrobiology” is complete and utter nonesense. Yes, we might end up meeting lifeforms that are not organic in nature, but proposing they will be predisposed to mass murder us is ridiculous just because they are of a different “type” of civilization.

    It is no different from idiots who claim that the Robot Apocalypse is inevitable, or the charlatans who claim that the world is ending in 2012. It’s all based on misinterpretation of real data to fit preconceived and paranoid agendas.

    In short, this is nothing more than blatant apologism. The endings are objectively bad. All it really did is to say “It’s okay to hate people because they’re made of metal”. It is no different from saying “It is okay to hate people because their skin is colored black”. All it does is to promote racism and prejudice. It even implies that genocide is the right and correct solution to all the world’s problems.

    It is therefore not artistic. It is not profound. It belongs to the same trash heap as Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

    • That last bit reminded me of the change Legion’s character, and the geth in general, underwent between ME2 and 3. In Mass Effect 2 they’re revealed to be a distinct race with their own worldview, which is very different from any organic race due to their hive mind and origin as logical computers. In ME3 their happy ending involves them becoming individual minds, LIKE US. The solution to the geth problem, in the end, wasn’t for us to accept them and all their differences, it was for them to BECOME LIKE US. I thought that was a shame. I’d have preferred it if, instead of dying to spread the Reaper code, Legion had to die to prevent it spreading, and the geth had remained these weird, logical techno-beings who were nonetheless as valid a life form as any other. Seems like that would be a better way to reinforce a theme of tolerance and celebrating diversity.

  25. Andrew
    Apr 20 2012

    I really don’t know where people are coming from when they say “the whole game is the ending!”

    Did you not get the same ending I did? The one where all society throughout the galaxy is radically changed forever? Blowing up the mass relays dramatically recontextualises every choice you made up until then, because every choice you made up up until then was based on the idea that the mass relays would remain.

    I thought I had freed the krogans by curing the genophage; it turned out I had doomed them. Now their expanding population is trapped on their homeworld which is barely able to support life as it is, and their progressive and forward thinking leader is trapped on Earth for the rest of his life. Curing the genophage wasn’t the ending to the krogan storyline, the ending was the mass relays blowing up and plunging their race back into the dark age they were so close to escaping.

    As for the quarians, unless you spent a lot of time in multiplayer the Destroy ending screws them over Hardcore, destroying the advanced technology of their suits, which they were going to need to survive for months, at best, after the supposed end of their storyline. Maybe they’d be better off in the Synthesis ending, but since Synthesis can’t cure Joker of his brittle bones I wouldn’t hold out much hope for something as complex as an immune system, let alone rearranging the metabolisms of Garrus and Tali so they can survive on a planet which contains, from their point of view, no edible food.

    Yes, the journey is more important than the destination, but when the destination throws a harsh new light on the entire journey you can’t really say that it’s irrelevant.

    Also, the artistic integrity point is only valid if this ending was exactly the ending they always wanted to make. based on the previous two Mass Effect games, I don’t believe it was. The entire finale of the game seems rushed, from both a story and gameplay perspective, and I find it likely that Bioware, under pressure from EA to have the game ready by March with X amount of bells and whistles attached, made this ending in a hurry and without thinking about it too much. If that’s the case, then the question becomes whether an artist should be answerable to the company they work for, or to their audience.

  26. DorrieB
    Apr 20 2012

    Very interesting stuff. I can’t say that it’s changed my mind about the ending of ME3, but at least I’ve learned something and I’m very glad to have read it. It kind of misses the point though, because demonstrating that the science behind it all was sound doesn’t help much when most of us never thought to question it in the first place.

    A story isn’t an exercise in futuristic speculation. You can certainly have one in there, but it needs to be a story first and foremost. The audience will forgive you if you get the science wrong, but we expect the needs of the story to be satisfied. Look at it like this: if ME3 were a novel, this article could be included in the Appendix. Can you imagine reading a novel through to the end, coming out of it unsatisfied, and then reading the Appendix and going ‘Aha! Now I get it, what a work of genius!’ with a tear in your eye?

    For me at least the ending of ME3 was a *dramatic* failure, and I admit I don’t know the first thing about astrobiology, but creative writing and storytelling is something about which I do know a thing or two. The tonal shift between the scene with the catalyst and the one immediately preceding it ejects the viewer from the story like a bouncer kicking you out of a bar. Is it a deliberate distancing effect? Not unless the intent was to disorient and humiliate the player, in which case, well done. This comes with a sudden change in scope: a story that focuses on personal relationships with friends, lovers, enemies, and allies suddenly puts all that aside to end on a cerebral consideration of what might happen to all lifeforms in the galaxy within a time frame of billions of years. You would have to be Sheldon Cooper indeed not to understand why so many players are left screaming ‘Who cares about life in a billion years, what about my blue babies!’

    As for the carefully itemized 5.0 ‘Closing Thoughts’, I’m afraid that I absolutely cringe at the ridiculous charge of ‘bullying’, as if the authors of ME3 have wrought a precious and delicate rose that must be sheltered from an uncomprehending public lest we never see its like again. Art doesn’t work like that, and if you’re going to ascribe artistic merit to a video game (and I don’t see why not), then it’s going to have to pass the same tests as novels and films and everyone else. Artworks and scientific theories don’t get to be protected from their enemies, they have to go out there and take their lumps and if they can stand up to that we keep them, but if they don’t we call them failures and toss them in the bin. The public has no pity and artists never expect them to.

  27. TheBareFootBoy
    Apr 20 2012

    Fantastic article. As far as explanations for ME3’s ending go its the most intelligent and coherent argument I’ve seen and a major competitor with Indoctrination Theory (although I have to agree with the posts on this page that IT still has as much of a basis in explanation as your argument does). I think most of us can agree that Bioware could have perhaps included more explanation in regards to the ending so that we wouldn’t all have to speculate for months on what actually happened.

    Most of the issues that people have with the theory you’ve proposed I feel have been addressed in the above posts (in a surprisingly respectful and positive fashion that I’m proud to finally see) so I won’t discuss them.

    The only issue I would like to bring up is the Catalyst’s claim that genocide every 50,000 years is inevitable and necessary. It believes that synthetics will always, given enough time, betray and eventually destroy all life (or at least organic life). It created the Reapers as a solution to this problem.

    My issue begins with the fact that the Catalyst does not explain why synthetics will always overthrow organics. The only defence to its Reaper solution is that it thinks synthetics will probably eliminate all organics. ‘Probably’ being the operative word here. If it has enough certainty to create a race of sentient machines to commit galaxy wide genocide I would expect it to have a bit more evidence to back up his claims. Even if it had observed the cycle of synthetics v.s. organics many times over how come it hasn’t attempted to deduce why it always happens? If it does know why it always happens I can’t see how Shepard could make such a galaxy defining decision without a fully proven explanation for the Catalyst’s logic which is, for all intents and purposes, the entire foundation for the existence of the Reapers and thus the most important piece of information in the Mass Effect series. Yet it is missing.

    To my mind, if you can figure out the why then you can solve the problem. It is a fact that humans are not inherently violent (and that would go for all sentient life) and I believe that if a society existed that was, for simplicities sake, ‘utopian’, then its technology would evolve along the values of that society. It would create machines and eventually AI in a positive environment where violence is essentially absent and thus no incentive for conflict would emerge and even if it did there would be social and technical mechanisms to deal with it. This is a potential best case scenario for a self determining sentient species where synthetic conflict is least likely to occur(conflict may still arise but nevertheless it is much less likely in a society that is universally adapted to peace). Since all sentient life is free to choose or be shaped by both positive and negative lifestyles then you can never assume it will always result in the negative.

    In other words I believe the reason why synthetics have apparently, according to the Catalyst, always overthrown organics is because there existed serious enough conflict within the society that created those synthetics to begin with. Sentient life (including AI) will not fight if there is no reason to do so – and that possibility of universal peace will always exist within the limitless variability of our existence. The Catalyst should be trying to attain a state of peace rather than a cycle of permanent violence no matter how small the possibility. As an aside: what if a civilization managed to create a universe destroying AI in between the 50,000 year cycles?

    If you’re still following me at this point; I believe that as long as the possibility exists where humans can co-exist with synthetics then there is no reason to assume synthetics will always overthrow organics. There may be a strong tendency towards it but it is not inevitable and if it is not inevitable then genocide cannot be the answer. Would you murder trillions of people and cause unimaginable amounts of pain and suffering to preserve life when there was another option?

    “Given the galaxy’s billions of years of existence, the chances of a spacefaring species intentionally or unintentionally creating rogue machines that wipe out all life in the galaxy at a FTL rate is close to 100%”.

    Very true, but as long as it isn’t 100% then there is still a chance.

    Your theory is still very much valid in that the Catalyst may have personally felt the risk of a rogue synthetic destroying the universe was too high and so created the Reapers as its solution. It just so happens that I believe it to be the wrong solution.

  28. Yeah, I’m sorry, but this is a bunch of nonsense. Well-written nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless.

    If you need to assume, without any foreshadowing or warning, that your audience is familiar with the Kardashev scale for your ending to make sense, you’ve failed spectacularly as a writer. Neither of the previous games needed anything close to this. ME1: you spend the whole game chasing down Saren, who’s just a puppet for Sovereign; you fight your way to the council chambers, defeat Saren, Sovereign explodes, and stand triumphant over the rubble. ME2: you spend the whole game building up a team to fight the Collectors; you make a daring jump into unknown territory, destroy the Collectors, and look out of your ship triumphantly over the rubble of the Collector base. No invocation of coffee-shop what-if speculative astrology required.

    Sure, the type I vs. type II civilization thing is descriptive of the series, but as you say, it is never mentioned or even hinted at in the entire series. And there certainly isn’t any reference to tensions between type I- and type III-scale problems. The ending only has a vague, implicit, and loose reference to anything like a Kardashev crisis, so reading a Gray Goo scenario into the few sentences Space Bieber had is imagining extra-dimensional beings which, were they to have some corporeal form, might be capable of grasping at straws.

    The whole point of Indoctrination Theory is that the abortion of an ending could simply be handwaved away. It gives BioWare a way out of the mess they’ve created for themselves: they can start over from Harby’s beam and try again. It’s not a pretty way of storytelling, but it’s better than the thought of BioWare being truly satisfied with the turd they crapped out.

    Fundamentally, there are two problems which cause the whole ending to be so confusingly enraging: lack of character focus and telling instead of showing. There are plenty of holes in all of the Mass Effect games, but as long as you get the big themes right, people can overlook the little things.

    Character focus: The ending tells you nothing about the characters and species you have been getting to know. All you know is that the Normandy crash-lands on some planet somewhere and at least three of your squad mates survive. The series has always been character-driven. That’s why you have people on Deviant Art drawing Liara and Garrus, not Grey Goo and the Drake Equation. In ME2 there were only five primary missions which were NOT about recruiting or gaining the loyalty of squad mantes (Freedom’s Progress, Horizon, Collector Ship, Reaper IFF, Collector Base). Every single other main mission was about your relationships with the other characters.

    Telling, not showing: This is so basic that I’m stupefied how BioWare didn’t fix this. My middle school English teachers hammered us over and over again about how our writing was supposed to show, not tell. You don’t write “and they lived happily ever after,” you write “Shepard awoke to the sight of tiny blue hands tugging at her arm, crying ‘mommy! Mommy!’ As she lifted little Shepard Jr. into her lap, the Asari child’s hands brushed the scars on her face, a constant reminder of the hell she endured all those years ago.” With an ending block of text, monologue, or cutscene like that, most people won’t notice or care that awaking to a *sight* of someone *tugging* at your arm doesn’t make much sense.

    When the series ends with Space Bieber introducing totally new, abstract themes in a few sentences, it isn’t surprising that people don’t feel any kind of emotional connection.

  29. Malevado
    Apr 20 2012

    This is a great article as is the fan made Indoctrination Theory, but sorry it has nothing to back it story wise. All that very interesting (honestly it was) talking about real world science and Mass Effect is pointless becuase ME is a fictional story and thus any real world fact (like science) might be part or not of the story and fact is the Drake Ecuation nor nothing that sounds like it is ever specifically mentioned in ME either explicitly or implicitly until the very end, and even then it is only posibly hinted. Known facts are Bioware told an ending that made no sense and had no backing, they never bothered to explain the citadel sequence to be an illusion to support IT theory nor Shepard seemed to be interested in the least in interrogating the Starkid, hence ME ending sucks regardless of what you believe.

    That said thanks for the article, interesting stuff.
    PS: Some people being asses and asking for refunds on that charity campaign doesn’t mean all who participated are asking for them, with that evidence at hand implying so and disqualifying every one who participated on it is slander.

    • AtreiyaN7
      Jun 28 2012

      That was an interesting article, and given that Mass Effect is science-fiction, I think the science is actually very important despite the comments those people who just want to brush it off and ignore it. Mass Effect may not be super-hard sci-fi, but it is still sci-fi. I absolutely fangirl over physicists like Michio Kaku, so while I’m a layperson, I’m familiar with things like the Kardashev Scale and the Drake Equation. I think the article was quite insightful and lays things out quite nicely.

      Personally, I think one problem is that despite gamers supposedly loving science-fiction, a lot of them seem to be a bit science illiterate. Maybe that’s not a fair assessment, but I was unpleasantly surprised to discover through my blog and posts on the BSN that quite a few people just don’t seem to get basic biology and chemistry concepts. There was actually one fellow who thought that Synthesis would bring about “living iron” and used that as a reason why Synthesis was a threat/was bad. I’m not saying people should have to all be theoretical physicists, but come on…

      For people who constantly complain about games being dumbed down, I find it a bit ironic that a lot of ME fans want to pooh-pooh challenging and interesting material because of what they are fixated on as the “core theme” of Mass Effect. To them, it strictly seems to be “unite all organics so that we can stay organic (while maintaining our free will and diversity) and still beat the Reapers.” Even if you try to point out the nature of synthetic life and how we relate to it was raised from the very beginning of the series, it is usually dismissed out of hand as something minor and unimportant as opposed to what they consider the central theme.

      I’ve always thought that the geth and their evolution over the course of the trilogy, along with EDI’s development, were important in making us see synthetics and ourselves in a different light – oh well. With the arrival of the EC at last, I do find the reactions…interesting (actually, it’s just that I’m amazed that people seem to be proud/happy with Refusal despite the fact that it is, quite possibly, one of the most selfish courses of action that I’ve ever seen – meh, whatever floats someone’s boat I suppose).

      As far as the endings go, I’ve always agreed that were flaws with the original ending and that they could have done with fleshing things out more. The EC does that for those of us who wanted a bit more in the way of clarification and closure (albeit I was one of those oddballs who was mostly okay with the original level of ambiguity), but it still doesn’t cut it for anyone who wanted a total do-over. While I’ve always understood the issues the endings-haters have, I do like that the intent was for the endings to be philosophical and thought-provoking. It’s just that the original execution didn’t work for the majority.

  30. Cazychel
    Apr 20 2012

    Superb article, lots of background information on the scientific basis of the ending.

    Over time I came to terms (through lots of reading, watching videos, etc.) that there are good things within the ending. One being the idea of the technological singularity. And there are many points I haven’t seen before – for example that it solves the mystery why all aliens are similar to humans. That is really great.

    The problem is that its barely visible within the game, and even then rather feebly. Other themes and problems overshadow or outperform what in the end is suddenly pushed to the front. So the problem was not the content, but its presentation and balance. But to come to this conclusion for many people (me incuded) took over a month.

    And the refusal by Bioware to actually explain, what it all was about for nearly a month, wasn’t helping it. Now we know more and with the “Clarification” DLC on the horizon we can but hope.

    But I still have reservations. To fix the plotholes is not the problem, as we can see here (getting it across a wider doubting audience is another thing, though), but fixing the presentation and adding an extensive epilogue (many ideas have been collected to achieve this with a realistic amount of work: text based epilogues, in-game cutscenes) is still required.

    A paint-your-own-ending is more a lazy copout than artistic, in this instant because what happens is roughly clear, only the details are missing. It does not add to the experience or mystery, when the results of your choice is not reflected upon.


  31. Apr 21 2012

    The Mass Effect series has always been about getting multiple people from different backgrounds to complete a specific goal. Always. In the last 10 minutes of the game, you’re told by the Catalyst that “no, your goal is to end or delay the struggle between synthetics and organics”. Smh…..that’s just bad storytelling, no matter how you slice it or dress it up with real-world science concepts.

    When I bought Mass Effect 3, I bought it because I intended to kill the Reapers and enjoy a galaxy where no sentient race of starships would ever come back to liquify my friends. In none of the endings is that a possibility even though they said that was what Shepard was working toward (in the marketing and in developer interviews).

    So not only did they change the goal of the game in the last 10 minutes, they didn’t show me what I worked for. And yes, the last 10 minutes of the game is the ENDING. Mass Effect 3 is not an ending. The ending of Mass Effect 3 is the ending. The game was never marketed as “30 hour ending”. As a matter of fact, they billed it as “the perfect place for newcomers to jump in”. So why would the newcomers jump in on the ending? That’s nonsense.

    The ending is poorly written, either because of arrogance from the 2 writers themselves or because of the inability to meet EA’s deadlines. I think it’s a combination of both.

    Also, the notion that most people just “don’t get the ending” is ludicrous. No one should have to look to outside text or youtube videos to understand what they just saw. They know what they saw, they saw something that just didn’t make sense.

    • TheBareFootBoy
      Apr 22 2012

      You bought the game because you “intended to kill the Reapers”. Well if you want to do that then pick the ‘destroy’ ending. That option is still there.

      They didn’t change the goal of the game in the last 10 minutes, well not for me at least. One of my central goals from the moment I found out about the Reapers was to understand why and what they were doing. These points are what the final moments deal with, they just require a bit of analysis and thinking (it probably could have been explained just a little bit more though).

      Don’t assume you know why the ending was the way it was. Saying it was ‘arrogance’ or ‘inability to meet the deadline’ is just speculation. It’s just as likely that the ending was exactly what they intended it to be.

      “No one should have to look to outside text or youtube to understand what they saw”. I agree that if a large portion of your audience didn’t understand the ending outright then you probably didn’t explain it as well as you should have. But just because an ending demands that people engage in some kind of critical thought doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bad. You don’t even need to be aware of the Drake Equation or Kardashev Scale in order to understand the ending; they just help articulate the points.

      What’s wrong with having to learn in order to understand something? If you wanted or were expecting a blatantly simple ending then that’s your own problem. You can’t blame Bioware for making you have to use your brain.

      • Apr 22 2012

        No dude. They’re not asking you to use your brain. They’re asking you to behave contrary to how you’ve behaved for the last 100 hours of gameplay.

        And if you say “I’ve wanted to find out about what the Reapers intentions were”, you must have been a very disappointed gamer, because at no point in 99% of the game do they ever discuss the Reapers’ intentions beyond wanting nearly every organic in the galaxy liquefied. If they were going to introduce the Reapers’ intentions, it should have been done LONG before the assault on London.

        ” But just because an ending demands that people engage in some kind of critical thought doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bad.”

        When the game isn’t about critical thought and is really about achieving a plainly laid out goal, yes, the ending is bad.

        “What’s wrong with having to learn in order to understand something?”
        So instead of knowing what is happening at the end of the game/story, it should be acceptable to require the player/reader/audience to acquire outside and most likely unrelated knowledge to simply grasp what they are experiencing?

        Imagine if you and a friend are watching Terminator for the first time. But your friend has never heard of the concept of guns, shooting, running, or driving. Very common actions/objects we see in movies, right? You have to explain all those ideas to him, right down to their BASIS. Just so he can “get it”. And after you explain to him why guns shoot bullets, he asks “but why would anyone even WANT to project metal into another person?” And then you get upset because you can’t focus on the story in front of you while you’re explaining these BASIC concepts to your friend.

        That’s what’s wrong with having to learn in order to understand something. Your friend needed a DEEPER foundation of information to simply grasp the original information laid out in front of him. And because of that, neither he or you could enjoy the movie.

        The ending to Mass Effect 3 is poorly written because it detracts from the original narrative. That’s not an opinion, it is a fact. It is a fact because it is widely accepted by writers that getting away from your intended narrative is bad writing.

  32. TheBareFootBoy
    Apr 22 2012

    Sorry I have to reply as a new post because it won’t let me continue the original thread. This is a reply to Africa Belgrave.

    They are asking you to think though. One of the many goals in the game was to unite all galactic civilization to combat the Reapers. As the author of the original post points out, this was achieved. Before Shepard ascends to the Citadel; you leave Earth and the galaxy (with most of the game’s central stories wrapped) up as a united front on the brink of defeat or victory over the Reapers.

    “Most people seem to have played Mass Effect 3 on autopilot, thinking everything that Shepard accomplishes during the game was a means to an end – not an end in and of itself. They’d united the galaxy, and they still weren’t satisfied.”

    So the original goal you wanted to achieve has more or less been accomplished and all that remains is to actually defeat or be defeated by the Reapers. The means to defeating the Reapers is presented through the Catalyst.

    “In the last 10 minutes of the game, you’re told by the Catalyst that “no, your goal is to end or delay the struggle between synthetics and organics””.

    You originally go to the Citadel to stop the Reapers not knowing exactly why they’re committing all this genocide but once the reasoning for their intentions is revealed then doesn’t the final decision make sense? It just wasn’t what you expected. You originally thought your goal was simply to destroy the Reapers but given the context of their existence new options are opened up to you. The destroy option is still there so your original goal can still be achieved you are just given context. I don’t see how introducing this at the end is necessarily bad writing. While you could say the ending ‘detracts’ from the original narrative it could also be seen as simply giving you information that you never had before. It just so happens that this information changed Shepard’s original goal.

    Isn’t it also a plot device to have the intentions of the enemy kept from view until the very end? The Reapers state in ME 1 and the Arrival DLC for ME2 that their goals are something that “you cannot comprehend”. Their intentions may not be overtly stated but they are nevertheless an overhanging question that needs to be answered throughout the entire series. The whole time the Reapers were liquefying humans, I was wondering “why?”

    It is completely possible to interpret the story just as has been laid out by the author of this post straight after witnessing the ending. As I said in my reply “You don’t even need to be aware of the Drake Equation or Kardashev Scale in order to understand the ending; they just help articulate the points”. All the information needed to reach the conclusion is in the game and in the information given to you at the ending. I do think ,however, that a bit more information and explanation would have gone a long way to clearing up all the confusion. While the ending doesn’t require any type of esoteric knowledge to understand it it does seem more difficult to grasp than it should be if you’re hearing it for the first time.

    When I say that there isn’t anything wrong with having to learn to understand something I mean that you learn simply through thinking and reflecting on the information given to you. You don’t always need to go to an outside source to learn.

  33. Apr 22 2012

    “Mass effect 3 is the ending.” Couldn’t put it better myself.

  34. blahblahblah
    Apr 22 2012

    Nice write up Rei, but I take issue with your section 4. I think you’re more or less right that playing ME3 is playing the ending, but I think you discount that the closure is really about any epilogue reflecting the choices people made throughout all the games including ME3.

    I think that’s a rule that you can’t just break in storytelling regardless of the medium. I mean can you imagine if the Harry Potter books didn’t even tell you how Harry Potter lived out the rest of his days but just ended after the last battle?

    It’s pretty much like that. It’s that kind of closure I think everyone wants; the emotional component that was made through all three games with your squad mates and secondarily the rest of the ME universe. Leaving those things open doesn’t resolve that.

    • Apr 22 2012

      I know you weren’t directing this at me, and I also take your point about how an open-ended conclusion can leave an audience wanting more closure – it’s a difficult balance to strike and if you feel Bioware failed to do so, I respect that – but it’s worth noting that the epilogue in Harry Potter is reviled by a fairly substantial portion of its fanbase because they consider it twee and trite and overly expository, and would far rather have had the books end shortly after the final battle. As I said, Bioware may have failed to strike the right balance, but it’s absolutely a valid aesthetic choice in principle.

      • Cazychel
        Apr 22 2012

        The problem with the lack of closure in ME3 is a bit graver than not having hit the right balance, I think. Literally no basis of extrapolation exists from which you could make an estimation of the future, even the most immediate future like five minutes after the explosion. The only thing they could have left open and haven’t was the motivation of the Reapers. And the events shown afterwards (Normandy fleeing, crashing, multi-colored explosions) are quite idiotic – because we cannot make a connection that makes sense.

        In basis yes, but I dare say that, no, it was not a valid aesthetic choice for ME, because the relation between the game and the player was that the player made a choice based on what he knew, often hard choices where multiple option had valid reason to choose and the game then played out the consequences, and very drastic ones sometimes.
        And the ending, the last 10 minutes, then makes two giant mistakes:
        1. It gave the player little to no foundation to base his decision on – other than railroading him away from “Destroy”, by including many other synthetics and technology to go down with the Reapers, of course. It doesn’t even outline the threat the Reapers are fighting properly – and the 20 seconds perhaps you have to contemplate all this new information before you’re confronted with the NEW choices on which you have to make up your mind, hardly suffice to come to any deeper understanding of the issue. More so, because throughout all three games you were never confronted with it.

      • Apr 22 2012

        I was responding to blahblahblah’s argument that an epilogue is fundamentally necessary. The point I was trying to make is that the use of Harry Potter as an example of the necessity of an epilogue is a poor choice given very mixed fan reaction to it.

        You’re talking about something different – the argument that the ending, before it has even reached its open-ended conclusion – is inappropriate. For the record I disagree with you, but I’ve been over this ground enough in the last few weeks to be tired of arguing about it.

        As I said, all I wanted to do was point out the irony in using Harry Potter as an example of the necessity of an epilogue.

      • Cazychel
        Apr 22 2012

        2. It provides no descending action and revelation, rather stops at the climax. After you made your decision you’re cut off. You see the Reapers crumble or fly off, a giant color explosion and the rest is rather insulting BS – The Normandy is doing what exactly that far away from the fight (that went on outside right before the choice!)? My squad mates that stormed the Conduit with me and died (because we hear that over radio! Hammer is down, no one made it back) are suddenly there, too? And they establish a Colony there?!
        Also you just destroyed the Mass Relays, the Citadel is at least heavily damaged and the fleet just battled the Reapers. You could make it more open ended in the destroy ending perhaps, because fewer questions arise (you have worked towards that goal for long enough). Still it would require at least snippets from what were the repercussions of the war and your decisions before that. But in Synthesis or Control one cannot leave it at that. What do the Reapers do now? What does synthesis mean for life? These are questions the player cannot answer, because Bioware cannot have both: They cannot claim that it is ultimately their story, but on the other hand leave making up an actual conclusion to that story to the player. Either they want to tell their story or they want the player to play their personal story.

        Also: Yes, ME3 is itself an ending, or a series of endings to various plot lines, that is true, but within those plot lines the ultimate outcome is missing, only the immediate consequences are shown. Players don’t say their choices were meaningless in the end, because they changed nothing, that would not be true, but the game does not show this change! Was curing the genophage the right decision? Or not to? What becomes of Cerberus now? And many more…


      • Apr 22 2012

        …Cazy, dude, seriously, I have no idea why a brief comment that went out of its way to make clear that I respect the fact the endings did not work for everyone and that I was only commenting on the use of Harry Potter as a comparison, inspired you to write a two-comment long response to something I wasn’t trying to discuss.

        Again, you clearly feel strongly about this. That’s cool. I disagree with you. Which is also cool.

      • blahblahblah
        Apr 23 2012

        Okay that I didn’t know. I just grabbed Harry Potter because I know it has a huge following like Mass Effect. In any event, I can respect that you don’t think it’s fundamentally necessary for all types of storytelling. But thanks, I guess for pointing that out?

        I suppose I should’ve been more clear, but I was presupposing that you understood my point of how important an epilogue is within the context of an interactive RPG. Not having an epilogue concerning the universe that in essence the player took part in and made decisions within…that’d be like taking the epilogue out of the Fallout games.

        And while yeah you’re uniting the galaxy, that’s only in the present of the game. It doesn’t say what happens say 3 months after, what happens to your squad mates, did they die in the battle or did they live on? No resolution, no closure.

      • Apr 23 2012

        @blahblahblah – yeah that’s cool, it was something you wanted and didn’t get. I kind of liked the lack of epilogue though. I felt that part of the power of the endings was in the way you would never definitively know if you’d made the correct choice. That you were honestly changing the galaxy in a completely unknowable way. I guess we’ll see what happens in the extended cut dlc and if they manage to please both of us. ;)

  35. Cazychel
    Apr 22 2012

    Sorry, Yeah, got a bit far out with that.

  36. Redacted
    Apr 23 2012

    First and foremost, Javik’s accent is South African, not Jamaican. If you take anything away from this rambling, let it be that.
    Something as monumental as the purpose of the Reapers, foreshadowed or not (arguably not, considering we receive a lot of mixed messages throughout the series because the writers were hedging their bets), should have been revealed far sooner than the last 10 minutes of a 10+ hour experience. They dumped too much information on the player, introduced too many concepts too quickly. A moment that should be a cathartic “no-brainer” (exemplified by the fact that you lose the game if you take too much time to contemplate) suddenly becomes stressful and irritating. It requires to player to process a large amount of largely unprecedented information and involves too many complicated concepts that require too much extra-universe rationalization to be legitimately satisfying. And you find that it doesn’t really matter anyway, because your final choice is only vaguely reflected in a same-y end sequence regardless. This just makes it all the more frustrating.
    I have a few other grievances with your editorial (mostly regarding the fact that it approaches the issue largely from a scientific perspective rather than a story-telling perspective), but I’ve spent too much time writing what I already have.
    Best wishes.

    • rei
      Apr 24 2012

      Apologies; I’m bad with accents. I can hardly tell Australian and British English apart, and I have no idea what people are talking about when they tell me that I have a thick Canadian accent. That said, I don’t see how that’s too relevant.

      An ending that stresses you out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are a ton of movies that have the biggest revelations in a very short sequence in the ending. They’re supposed to leave the audience thinking about the ending until they figure it out for themselves hours or days later — and they’ve been successful in that regard, given that the rest of the story was good of course.

      The only difference between doing this in a game and doing it in a movie is that the gaming audience isn’t used to that kind of storytelling — they’re used to all the revelation happening moments before the final boss fight, and then the final boss fight is followed by a final form boss fight, a non-interactive sequence of explosions and escape and reunion. They’re not used to the ending being the revelation.

      And that’s something that I think should change. If games are to survive as a storytelling medium, then sooner or later the audience will have to let go of certain assumptions of form.

      I agree that the ending shouldn’t require so much scientific explanation. But that’s something that I’ve said plenty of times throughout the article as well. Nonetheless, it was necessary, and not many people had done it before, so I took up the task. It should be a criticism of the game (as I have made it) — not of my article.

      • Apr 24 2012

        Your introduction ends with this statement: “All in all, I think the point of the ending was missed, and that’s just sad.”

        Once you say that, you can’t turn around and say both of these statements: “I agree the ending shouldn’t need so much scientific explanation” (as in, this is the exact reason why the point of the ending was missed) AND “it should be a criticism of the game–not my article” (essentially absolving your work of criticism because you just spent pages upon pages defending the game’s ending anyway).

        Those two statements alone, about the point of the ending and the need for explanation, make everything else you wrote moot. Because the point of the ending cannot be comprehended without outside information. And that’s not “sad”, it’s a result of bad writing.

      • Redacted
        Apr 25 2012

        I’m completely fine with games maturing as a story-telling medium, but for a fun homage to classic sci-fi romps, becoming so weirdly post-modern and dropping so much into the player’s lap at the last second is just uncalled for. It would be like ending Return of the Jedi with a something about how the Empire was preventing the heat death of the universe. It’s a completely uncharacteristic tonal and intellectual shift, and most people would leave feeling a little uncomfortable and cheated.

        There are places for weird and irritating tonal shifts, but the last 10 minutes of an epic space-opera trilogy is not one of them.

      • Redacted
        Apr 25 2012

        Not to mention that, in an interactive medium, the player is not only interpreting the ending but is also actively participating in it. This just makes the jarring change in direction feel all the more accute.

    • Cazychel
      Apr 25 2012


      Exactly. The end in no way reflects the 100+ hours of story before. And that’s a major problem. And I see some people already shouting “But…it’s art!”, but consider this: Would it be less art, when it were done differently? Would it cheapen the game (as does the current ending for many people) if there was a lengthy epilogue where all your little to large choices have their consequences? Would it cheapen the game, when the reason and origin of the Reapers remained unfathomable and we were truly “incapable of understanding”?

      As of now the only ending that makes sense to me, is actually Control: You gain control and let the Reapers fly into a star or black hole, and that’s it. No genocide at the Geth, EDI still alive. Perhaps they help fixing up their mess first, but that would maybe lead to the “We could use them forever to do good stuff”-trap.

      And that’s really sad, because it means The Illusive Man was right from the beginning, that Control is the better option and also could be used to advance humanity.

  37. waufreak89
    Apr 24 2012

    Thank you so much for putting this article together. I’ve read many theories and arguments, but yours is by the far the most unique. You have taken complex material of which I had virtual no knowledge of and framed it in an understandable manner. You’ve got me seeing the ending in whole new ways and for that I applaud you.

  38. waufreak89
    Apr 24 2012

    I thank you for putting together this article. I have read many theories and arguments about the ending, but yours is by far the most unique. You have taken complex material of which I knew little about and framed it in an easily understandable way. You have given me new ways to think about the ending and for that I applaud you.

  39. Apr 24 2012

    “Isn’t it also a plot device to have the intentions of the enemy kept from view until the very end? The Reapers state in ME 1 and the Arrival DLC for ME2 that their goals are something that “you cannot comprehend”. Their intentions may not be overtly stated but they are nevertheless an overhanging question that needs to be answered throughout the entire series. The whole time the Reapers were liquefying humans, I was wondering “why?””

    The problem here is not only do they introduce the Reaper intentions in the last 10 minutes of the story, the intentions themselves make absolutely no sense: Essentially, Reapers liquefy advance organic races, re-name the liquefying process “preserving” and then say “this preservation is to protect the other less advanced organics from synthetics”.

    I’m sorry, that exposition of intention is not defensible in anyway. The Reapers are synthetic. Organics make other synthetics. So lets kill/liquefy/preserve/organics in Reaper shells so that they won’t make too many more organics because we are sure without any doubt that those synthetics will do our job for us. And let’s ignore the feats of unification that Shepard has just performed leading up to this conversation.

    So not only did Bioware introduce a massive change in the Reapers in the last 10 minutes, it’s still “beyond our comprehension”.

  40. Excellent article, although I suspect (and many of the comments here confirm) that those with an psychological investment in believing that ME3 had the Worst Ending Ever don’t want to hear someone say “Well, yes, it was flawed. But it did cover themes that the series has been exploring since day one.” And I don’t think that things like the Drake equation are as obscure as you think, at least not to the SF fanbase.

    Insisting that the ending was inexplicable or that all the different endings were the same save for color choices is flat out nonsensical. If anything, I’d say by normal literary standards, the ending was far too much of an explanatory infodump. But there’s no denying the fact that multitudes of fans really hated the ending. To my mind, the real question is why.

    Think about it. Other games have had indifferent or truly nonsensical endings. Heck, Mass Effect 2’s finale was pretty silly (a human reaper powered by DNA slurry? Say what?) But unlike ME3, however, those endings fell within well used videogame tropes (fight the boss, win the day, maybe a few tragic deaths along the way).

    Sadly, I think the main result of the ME3 outrage campaign will be that it’ll be nigh impossible for design teams at AAA game companies to get unusual/eccentric plotlines past the marketing team. It’s ironic that the many of fans who fretted that EA would Bioware’s offerings too mainstream might find themselves responsible for doing just that.

    If you’re interested, I wrote up a longer discussion of this issue on the Geekosophy site:

    • The ending is bad because you meet Child God and he sorts it all out for you, and because the game ends with an event that irrevocably alters the entire series’ universe with no hint of the consequences, after which they throw in the kid and his grandfather as a sloppy shorthand way of saying “don’t worry, everything worked out all right in the end.” The fact that your choices don’t matter and that the final choices you make are stupid are really beside the point, I think. Yes, they make the ending unsatisfying, but they don’t make it bad all by themselves.

      Of course, just about everyone hates the ending for a slightly different reason. There’s just so much to hate.

  41. Reblogged this on Geekosophy and commented:
    I didn’t really want to go into an actual analysis of the ending of Mass Effect 3 in my last article, as I am actually more concerned with the industry response to the fanbase reaction. That said, this article pretty much sums up my reaction to the game’s narrative: flawed, but attempting to cover some interesting themes that are frankly old hat by literary SF standards, but apparently not so much in the videogame industry.

  42. su27
    May 15 2012

    Excellent article. I liked ME3 ending but didn’t really know how to defend my viewpoint. This article clarifies everything.

  43. diego
    May 24 2012

    Hi, very interesting article, but i tihnk the indoctrinated theory can be true.
    I think many players are too young for play a game like this. Is 16+ but…
    as you say, the important part is “the trip”. I dont knowed ME saga because i am a Cod4 promodder, so i prefer fps and promod with my friends on teamspeak, i dont know why i played ME3, only for the review i read around.So i start with the 3, i dont have much points so from my ship don’t exit anyone :/ i read the various theory, i dont care about the ending, because, is a war game, and shepard is a soldier, the people want a romance ending, a happy ending (^^)
    but for me, Shepard can die with a bullet in the head, because, it s war! no matter what you have done before, if you are in war, and someone shoot at you, you die, no matter if you are paragon or renegade.The clue is the story, is the dialogues, is the feelings, is the trip.
    And a ending that make me cry is the best for me. And i understand that i am addicted, the me too want a happy ending, i want my female Shepard back! i want ME4-5-6-7-8-9 i want it forever!!! so i brought ME2, save all my team, and restart ME3, now i am half way, and im aying more attention to dialogue, there is (we can see already on youtube) something that absolutely dont convince me.
    The kid and the catalyst. At the start of the game, the kid into the room is seen only by shepard,
    this is strange, but can be, but, and this is nonsense, the kid say “You can’t save me”
    So, is impossible a 10 yold kid say this, is not a writer sense phrase, and, when the kid go in the ship, as you see, noone care about him.You can say “war is bad people think only for themselves ecc” but is not true, i work with writers, im high quality movie and series addicted and im not stupid, if you are make a scene like that, you put a cop to help the kid, or a man, or a woman, but there you see an adult help another adult in front the kid, and the kid go in the ship with very diffcult fatigue (my english suck). So all that sequence is nonsense.
    We can only wait for the free dlc that explain better, when i end ME3 i restart from the ME1, even the graphic sucks XD

  44. Deez
    Jun 5 2012

    what a crappy article

  45. Joe
    Jun 29 2012

    Dear Rei,
    Could you do another post now that the Extended Cut has hit? I would like to know if it changed your perspective on some of the topics you present in this excellent piece. Also, one thing I caught:
    “But in the Mass Effect universe, where things can travel faster than light with or without the mass relays, there needs to be a galactic police squad: the Reapers. Otherwise life throughout the galaxy is in as much danger of extinction as we are here on earth.”

    Yet Sovereign says the relays were created by the Reapers so organic life would evolve along the lines they wished. If the true interest of the Reapers is to save organic life, why not just destroy the relays? Or, better yet, why make them at all? That way, the destruction wrought by a potential “grey goo” incident is limited.

    Just food for thought. Thank you!

    • rei
      Aug 26 2012

      Hi Joe,

      I added another section (7.0) at the end of the article. My thoughts haven’t changed much.

      About the Reapers simply destroying or not building the relays, as I explain in section 1.2, the problem is that in the Mass Effect universe, things can still travel faster than light without the relays. It takes a few decades as opposed to a single instant, but it’s still fast enough that “grey goo” can permeate the universe in a century or two.

      It’s plausible that the only reason this hasn’t happened in our galaxy in the real world is because faster-than-light travel is completely impossible. (Or, maybe because there’s a race of real-life Reapers keeping everything in check!)

      • rei
        Aug 26 2012

        Sorry, I mean “permeate the galaxy” — not the universe. That would take a few hundred million years.

      • Joe
        Aug 27 2012

        Thank you so much! I sent this to all my friends – it deserves support and admiration.

  46. WhatTheShit
    Nov 20 2012

    For a series that has been significantly dumbed down in all respects, to assume that the ending is some infinitely complex philosophical conundrum is just mind-boggling. Can’t believe you actually sat down to write all of that.

    Also, is this game only for people who are familiar with the “esoteric field of astrobiology” ? LOLWUT? Was not aware that I needed esoteric knowledge to grasp the complexity of Mac the Hack’s writing.

    • Heaven Smile
      Nov 20 2012

      It kinda bafles me that people think that “just the ending” is the one thing wrong with it. Suspension of Disbelief is something that gets gradually weaker as the story goes along with un-answered questions. You dont go in a state of ON/OFF SoD from one second to another, you simply start to doubt the world that the writers made, and in the case of ME, this problem started when the Human Reaper was made in the plotless game know as ME2.

      The flaws began to pile up and in the end……it was enough. Just look at the article that saids that “only 42% of the fans completed ME3″.

      Since i like the idea of someone thinking ALOT in this kind of discussions, i would like to intruduce this “smudboy” gentleman to give this article a more grounded counter argument:

      This was before the EC.

      Speaking of Mac Walters and Casey Hudson, if this was their vision all along that was made WITHOUT the input of the other writers (planned trilogy? what is that?) then how come that THEY THEMSELVES answer the questions of the ending instead of sending their minions to atend the fans in the conventions? having doubts of your….”artistic vision”? Tezuka Osamu had the balls to come out and explain it, why dont you 2?

      • WhatTheShit
        Nov 20 2012

        Their hubris was their downfall.
        Casey, Mac & Dr. Ray have simply grown too arrogant. I don’t see the difficulty in admitting you screwed up. If anything, it earns you more respect from the fanbase, And the 2% of gamers who enjoyed the ending wouldn’t care anyway.

        What’s even more intriguing is that Casey Hudson is a Deus Ex fanboy, but he both failed to grasp what made the DX ending compelling, and to follow in the footsteps of the devs he supposedly admires and draws inspiration from.

        Here’s Harvey Smith, the lead director of Deus Ex: Invisible War, plainly admitting he “fucked up” on the sequel. He then takes 5 minutes to explain why:

        Here’s one of he Deus Ex: Human Revolution devs apologizing for the awful boss battles: “[The boss fights] were a big part of the game, and we should have put more effort into them. I’m truly sorry about that. Next time we’re gonna think about it more.” (

        Yet everyone at BioWare acted like it would have been the end of the world to admit to a mistake.

    • Neil Arthur Hoteph
      Nov 30 2012

      As cynical it may be, there is no point in discusing if something is art when the executives that hold the developers back crearly dont give 2 fucks about it. Nor there is reason for gamers to stab at each other for defending the “artistic integrity” that was already crushed before it reached the audience.

      TotalBiscuit said it best at 10:57. In the end, that is all that matters.

  47. Heaven Smile
    Nov 20 2012

    “and people’s opinions and strange beliefs regarding the ending (such as that the Reapers want to protect all organic life by killing all organic life) are undoubtedly being cemented by a sensationalist press and blogosphere jumping the gun”

    Maybe because that IS what happens? Remember the nonsense of Harbinger, who say that most species (except humans) arent suitable for Reaper form. If you arent worthy then they wipe you out, its as simple as that and no “preserving” is done, that is what the narrative tell us. Keep in mind that i am not counting “preservation” as killing even if it isnt explained why the process is preserving the organics, we just have the word of the God Child and we dont trust him.

    Why cant the Catalyst Boy just use PURE synthetics that are powerful as Reapers INSTEAD of the Reapers themselves? after all, if Reapers are like flying graveyards that preserve the bodies, doesnt that mean that by SENDING them to fight it risk a few of them getting killed in that cycle, and by extension, the civilizations inside them? you know, the ones that they are supposed to be preserving?

    And still doesnt explain why cant they just KILL the Synthetics ASAP instead of making alliances with the very thing they are supposed to destroy, like the Geth (so much for trying to preserve us at all cost, huh?)

  48. Heaven Smile
    Nov 20 2012

    What this article fails to notice (and many others who skillfully avoid that implication) is that, in one hand, If the fans bully the artist to change the ending then other artist will no longer try to make any risk for fear of this kind of repercutions (just like you said)

    HOWEVER…..This is a double edged sword, my friend. Because if we let artist to get away with this lazy writing then more and more writers will abuse the “its art!! you cant change it and if you do then you are destroying the medium, you sick hedonistic monster!!!” to the point that storytelling will ALSO sink into creative oblivion by sheer lazyness. We wouldnt be able to call them out of their errors because we will be labeled as “entitled” faster than saying “ICO is sexist” (We all know that remark about ICO isnt true, after all it clear that its more racist than sexist when you have to save a white chick from the black enemies :D)

    Worst of all, it will proliferate into more people adopting the sophist atitude of “there is no objective way to measure a good story” basically saying that “everything is subjective”. If everything’s subjective, all art is mindless guesswork. Imagine YOURSELF in the place of an artist who lives in a world that, no matter how much attention to detail or effort you put into a work, it will be considered JUST AS GOOD like “masterpieces” like Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen, or Birth Of a Nation.

    • rei
      Dec 14 2012

      > And still doesnt explain why cant they just KILL the Synthetics ASAP instead of making alliances with the very thing they are supposed to destroy, like the Geth (so much for trying to preserve us at all cost, huh?)

      After all that redundant clarification by the Catalyst in EC (and even in the original ending), you seem still not to understand its motive: as I explained in 3.8, the Catalyst isn’t in fact interested in protecting sapient or spacefaring life; it’s only interested in protecting life itself — even if that means destroying all sapient and spacefaring life. On a smaller scale here on earth, naturalist extremists and Malthusian misanthropes suggest all the time that humanity should be purged (or at least reduced) in order to ensure that other life goes on. That’s the position of the Catalyst. I don’t advocate it, and neither does Shepard in whichever of the four endings you choose, but it *is* the most surefire way to ensure that we don’t nuke the planet.

      The Reapers can’t just go in and kill everything willy-nilly, because, as it’s explained by Vigil in the first game, the Reapers aren’t completely invulnerable. They do, to some extent, have to strategize. They’re a Type II civilization fighting another emerging Type II. They’re also interested in accumulating technologies that are developed by each cycle — and, being computers, the geth are obviously a good source of information, and hence a good choice of ally.

      > Keep in mind that i am not counting “preservation” as killing even if it isnt explained why the process is preserving the organics, we just have the word of the God Child and we dont trust him.

      Obviously it’s your choice whether or not you want to “trust” the Catalyst, but as I said in 3.0, almost no character in Mass Effect, if any at all, has told a lie. They’ve withheld information, but even the bad guys are dead-honest. And that’s deliberate: because most of the narrative is presented through dialogue, if there were any doubt that any character was telling the truth, then a lot of things would have become questionable.

      > Worst of all, it will proliferate into more people adopting the sophist atitude of “there is no objective way to measure a good story” basically saying that “everything is subjective”. If everything’s subjective, all art is mindless guesswork.

      I don’t know what part of the article makes you think I think it’s all subjective, other than the fact that you happen not to like what I suggest.

      • Heaven Smile
        Dec 27 2012

        >Obviously it’s your choice whether or not you want to “trust” the Catalyst, but as I said in 3.0, almost no character in Mass Effect, if any at all, has told a lie. They’ve withheld information, but even the bad guys are dead-honest. And that’s deliberate: because most of the narrative is presented through dialogue, if there were any doubt that any character was telling the truth, then a lot of things would have become questionable.

        Are you sure its deliverate? or its convenience? its seems more easy for a writer (and code) to not write if a character lies and just tell the truth. Otherwise is a nightmare to keep track AND the animators have also take the time to animate subtle facial expresions to foreshadow the eventual lie (sort of like how L.A Noir actually uses subtle hints in eye cordination and gestures to know if the person is lying)

        Also, do not forget that Sovereing lied about “having no beginning”. He may as well say the truth right there about being part of a collective counsiousness (The Catalyst Boy) and that his programing or objective is to protect all life in the galaxy by preserving them in Reaper form and The “Synthetic vs Organic” conflict. Why not? they all tell the truth like you said, so what is stopping him from saying it?

        >The Reapers can’t just go in and kill everything willy-nilly, because, as it’s explained by Vigil in the first game, the Reapers aren’t completely invulnerable. They do, to some extent, have to strategize. They’re a Type II civilization fighting another emerging Type II. They’re also interested in accumulating technologies that are developed by each cycle — and, being computers, the geth are obviously a good source of information, and hence a good choice of ally.

        How weird then, that Sovereing and even Harbinger said that the Geth is: “An annoyance, LIMITED UTILITY”

        1:48 – 1:52

        Where in the narrative its said that the Geth have some special use for the Reapers besides being cannon fodder like anything else they reaperfy-husk?

        And strategize you say?
        Remember how in Mass Effect 1, Sovereing had to manually take over the Citadel because the Keepers no longer respond to the signal to open the relays to dark space and let the reapers in? so they can shut down the network and systematically harvest/destroy each civilization without any reinforcements coming?

        Remember that? good. Now explain to me why they only took the citadel AFTER The Illusive Man told them about The Citadel being part of The Crusible? The Reapers could have won already if they headed for The Citadel ASAP instead of attacking Earth, you know, like they always did before. Instead, The Citadel remains forgotten by The Reapers up until the endgame triggers. You can even stalk people by hearing their problems, because its not like there is a galaxy to save or anything.

        There is no strategy here, just the ramblings of the writers that couldnt try their best. I know you put a lot of effort in this article, but in the end, if you have to take outside sources to justify something that the narrative ITSELF should have covered (because stories should be self-contained) then its bad writting.

        You are better off playing and analizing something more cerebral and more well written, like Planescape Torment or even Deus Ex (the voice acting is kinda derp though).

        Also, why your comment date appears to be 14 of December? i barely remember seeing this comment by then and beyond.

      • rei
        Dec 28 2012

        > Are you sure its deliverate? or its convenience? its seems more easy for a writer (and code) to not write if a character lies and just tell the truth.

        There’s nothing to say that convenience and deliberate storytelling decision are mutually exclusive. Some would even call it elegance or economy.

        > Also, do not forget that Sovereing lied about “having no beginning”.

        Good point, that’s incosistent. According to Final Hours, at this point they were torn between the two ending ideas (galactic big rip and technological singularity), so it’s likely that they hadn’t thought it through.

        Nonetheless, being that this is most likely a mistake, I don’t think it counts as an example of a character lying — especially when it’s nothing more than simple “I’m a god and you’re a puny mortal” intimidation. I’ve said plenty times that there are errors all throughout, not isolated to the ending.

        Besides, this isn’t an inconsistency with the *ending*, it already becomes inconsistent when in ME2 we discover how reaper babies are made.

        > How weird then, that Sovereing and even Harbinger said that the Geth is: “An annoyance, LIMITED UTILITY”

        Not weird at all. Temporary allies can often be nuisances of limited utility in the long run but nonetheless effective or even critical allies in the short term. Remember the geth were to be destroyed in the end along with all other space faring life (especially because they can’t be “ascended”), but the Heretics were the reapers’ main ground army until they started throwing husks and Collectors into the mix in ME2.

        > Remember that? good. Now explain to me why they only took the citadel AFTER The Illusive Man told them about The Citadel being part of The Crusible?

        Because the relays can no longer be shut down from the citadel. Keep in mind that even after the reapers capture the citadel, they didn’t shut down the relays. It would be a sensible thing to do for the protheans, having at long last figured out how to modify and even how to build relays, to decentralize control of the relays to level the odds for the next cycle.

        > I know you put a lot of effort in this article, but in the end, if you have to take outside sources to justify something that the narrative ITSELF should have covered (because stories should be self-contained) then its bad writting.

        Fantasy is self-contained, but sci-fi, by definition, always references science. To what extent it does that is always a choice of the authors, but all that matters is that they remain consistent with their choice, so that what science they do decide to follow is intact.

        Whether the authors use the contemporary jargon or make up your own is an aesthetic choice. Doing the latter gives the story a stronger sense of wonder (ecological equations aren’t exactly romantic), at risk of being more obscure to people who want to google the details.

        > You are better off playing and analizing something more cerebral and more well written, like Planescape Torment or even Deus Ex (the voice acting is kinda derp though).

        If you had a problem with the story’s lack of “cerebral” value, you would have lost interest long ago and never even have participated in this discussion to begin with. The fact that you’re discussing the ending here with me whilst complaining about the overall quality of the plot suggest that you simply jumped on the bandwagon, and also changed your overall sentiment towards the game.

        Mass Effect’s plot isn’t perfect. No one ever said it was, and very few plots of this scale ever are. Everyone was fine with all the plot holes until ME2 — and believe me, if you look hard enough, there are plenty. Most people dismissed them, because the game and the story and even the plot more than made up for it. But due to some issues with the ending’s presentation, the sheer sense of loss in the fact that the epic trilogy had ended, and the emergent behavior that all that created online, suddenly, every little blemish turned into a gaping wound.

        In a sense, the whole controversy was simply a twisted expression of the emptiness you feel when you’re on the last few pages of a good novel or the finale of your favorite sitcom. Everyone wanted to participate more in the Mass Effect universe, even if that meant doing bizarre things like setting up subversive fundraising campaigns, putting together fan-fiction ending sequences, exaggerating how bad the ending (and even the whole story) really was, or writing 10+ page explanations as to why the whole outrage is unjustified.

  49. Heaven Smile
    Dec 30 2012

    For some reason, i cant reply to your comment directly, so i will write it here:

    “Good point, that’s incosistent. According to Final Hours, at this point they were torn between the two ending ideas (galactic big rip and technological singularity), so it’s likely that they hadn’t thought it through.

    Nonetheless, being that this is most likely a mistake, I don’t think it counts as an example of a character lying — especially when it’s nothing more than simple “I’m a god and you’re a puny mortal” intimidation. I’ve said plenty times that there are errors all throughout, not isolated to the ending.”

    -No lies huh? then why the Catalyst claims that it does not kill, while taking the form of a child it blasted apart with accelerated molten metal.

    This is not subjective. It’s not like it can make some roundabout justification that he lives on as part of a Reaper. He is dead, past this mortal coil, bereft of life he rests in peace. He is a dead Vent Boy.

    The Catalyst states it not only wishes to preserve life, but also civilisations in Reaper form. Yet it uplifts the Geth and uses them to attempt to annihilate the Quarians.

    Life will go on with or without the Catalyst. Eliminating all organic life everywhere is utterly impossible, not to mention that the Catalyst could not even exterminate it’s own creators.

    Every ending except refuse advocates the Catalyst’s position. All are solution’s to it’s problem, not the galaxy’s.

    I believe that the Catalyst is meant to be trusted as some grand profound moment of truth, ala the Architect from the Matrix Reloaded (except somehow even more pretentious). The problem is that not only is the audience given no reason to listen to it (because “god-like creature = voice of truth” stopped being good storytelling 3000 years ago), but most of what it’s talking about is completely wrong. Making everything it said a cryptic riddle didn’t help matters, either.

    But that’s the choice we have. It’s either a liar, or crazy. Either way why are we listening to it?

    Also while i am at it. Sovereing:”We are each a nation. Independant. Free of all weakness.”

    Stating that organic life is an inferior genetic accident when organic life is the basic building block that’s absolutely required to construct a Reaper.

    To be fair, he is a liar thanks to the power of retcons.

    “Because the relays can no longer be shut down from the citadel. Keep in mind that even after the reapers capture the citadel, they didn’t shut down the relays. It would be a sensible thing to do for the protheans, having at long last figured out how to modify and even how to build relays, to decentralize control of the relays to level the odds for the next cycle.”

    Ehm….what? we know that the Keepers dont react to the signal to open the relays to dark space, but if working the controls manually doesnt work either, then what was the point of Sovereing going personally along with Saren to The Citadel in ME1?

    We know the simple fact that Saren locked the Widow relay in ME1, and Shepard subsequently unlocks it, both using the Citadel master control console.

    All the Prothean sabotage ever did was make the Keepers ignore commands from outside the Citadel. But even if the system didnt work anymore by the time of ME3 for whatever reason, then why didnt the Reapers went to The Citadel anyway to at least repair it and THEN shut down all the relays? they build it so they can repair it.

    “Fantasy is self-contained, but sci-fi, by definition, always references science. To what extent it does that is always a choice of the authors, but all that matters is that they remain consistent with their choice, so that what science they do decide to follow is intact.”

    But we are talking about Reaper motivations and such. Character motivation is not any different in sci-fi than any other genre, so the point is moot. You cannot declare Reapers are this and that if the narrative doesn’t support it. Reapers cannot have a motivation that depends on a concept that wasnt explained in the narrative.

    “If you had a problem with the story’s lack of “cerebral” value, you would have lost interest long ago and never even have participated in this discussion to begin with. The fact that you’re discussing the ending here with me whilst complaining about the overall quality of the plot suggest that you simply jumped on the bandwagon, and also changed your overall sentiment towards the game.”

    I dont have to like or be interested on Mass Effect to point out its flaws or even its repercutions on the gaming industry. I am just a neutral that watched with horror how the gaming journalism abused the “gamer entitlement” to win their arguments of “its art, if you change it, you are destroying the medium”

    I never played ME, in fact i observed both sides all while trying to figure out if gamers really care about the medium as art. Most of my observations on the gameplay and story bits end up making me realise that the series is quite broken (as i already stated when i posted that Bookend Of Destruction video up there on the comments, so you didnt need to tell me about ME2 having cracks)

    To me, Mass Effect 3 is like E.T for the Atari 2600. Both are mediocre games (not horrible as people say) but there are so MANY variables in play outside the game itself that disaster was bound to happen. The so called “planned trilogy”, the broken promises of a branching narrative in the last entry of the series because it was more easy to program it that way rather than do it from the very first game and it would have been a nightmare to count all those variables, but didnt. And this arent new concepts, as Casey “so video-gamey” Hudson would let people believe, even the developers of other RPG (like The Wither 2) has the branching narrative feature, so what is Bioware excuse?

    “But due to some issues with the ending’s presentation, the sheer sense of loss in the fact that the epic trilogy had ended, and the emergent behavior that all that created online, suddenly, every little blemish turned into a gaping wound.”

    If they hadnt made so many mistakes along the path, then the suspension of disbelief would have been intact even up to the ending. In reality, the ending just made people say “Enough. Bioware, you once were a good storyteller, but after many fuck ups on your part (like Dragon Age 2), you are just asking too much”

    If it wasnt for the presense of EA, i would say that most people believed that this would be the end of the trilogy (after all, that is what they said with “planned trilogy”). But it was bound to happen that ME4 would end up becoming true. Why stop milking the cash cow, after all?

    If the fans are making theories and such (or making an entire channel that analizis ALL entries of the series, like smudboy over there), is because they recognize the lost potential that BW had in their hands if they were Old Bioware. But we grow up before them apparently, and now we are fixing the holes for them, just like you are doing right now.

  50. Feb 2 2013

    This is kind of dead know, but I must say something about it.
    I agree with the majority of things you said, but I think you are forgotting some points. The thing that most upset me is that mislead morality of most people, like you and many people that says that the fans are offending the devs and whatever but you forgot that we HAVE PAID FOR THE GAME, don’t tell me that we don’t have the right to want the product we paid for. Even the fact of they saying that it would have 16 endings and in thruth it only have 4 is enough to accuse Bioware of false advertising, then it’s WarZ all over again. And do you think that these writers haven’t won anything? Bioware is a bussiness, all they care about is money and that’s the end. Even you said that the ending was extremely bladly made, and when you buy a broken product what you do? You return it and pick a new one. The ending was shit, a lot of people didn’t like it and they asked for it to change, Bioware changed it and everything is right know, I really don’t understand why all that fuss is about.
    About the charity campaign, yes he did it for self interest, but he helped these people more than you will ever do, so don’t diminish what he accomplished.
    And are you really saying that Bioware paid Buzz Aldrin to be a voice actor to encourage space research? That made me laught. Say, who wants more money for be a voice actor, a real professional actor or some retired astronault? They paid a lot less and even gained “respect” by making people believing in BS. Is like Coke doing their ambientalist campaign when they use millions of tons of plastic. You are too naive, but everyone have a opinion,and that’s mine. Cya.

  51. edgecrusher
    Apr 6 2013

    This is the best and most logical thing I have read about the mass effect 3 ending. Even with the original ending my first thoughts were that the catalyst was a machine. Meaning that it was built with this purpose in mind or at the least the cycle is a distorted version of what it was created for. But its a machine, meaning it WAS created and given a purpose.That alone dictated A LOT about all of this before the story actually told us so. People seemed so stuck in “reapers bad, must destroy” mode that when the ending actually required them to put a decent amount of thought into the ending that they didnt do that and then cried BS when they couldn’t shoot the reapers to death. Personally I’m SO glad that this series didn’t devolve into something that simple. Again, the active enemy being machines dictated a lot about this before it was revealed.

  52. May 7 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis on the ME3 endings, though I confess that I’ve come to the party a little late.

    As I’m in confession mode I must also confess that I never actually played ME3 having become so disillusioned with it after sinking many hours in ME1 and not as many hours (but enough to complete the game fully) into ME2. However I still obviously was interested in what happened at the very end.

    I heard of the furore and garnered a surface glean of the endings but never pushed to know exactly what went on. For some reason whilst trundling round the web yesterday I came across the extended cut endings on Youtube which piqued my interest somewhat.

    They all look very interesting and encouraged great thought and imagination on what I would have gone for if presented with the options. Your interpretation has been fascinating but one point you made troubled me last night whilst waiting for my mind to drift off to sleep.

    “The Crucible forces the Catalyst to surrender”.

    I enjoyed your descriptions of the different types of civilizations and how the Crucible was a Type III device in the hands of a Type I civilization, which as you say forced the Catalyst to surrender. My only quandary with this is that the Cataylst must have realised that although we had the Crucible we didn’t actually know how to use it.

    Like a caveman rolling out a nuclear bomb. Yes the bomb demonstrates advanced understanding but without the caveman knowing how to fire it, it’s ultimately useless and hence does not pose a tangible threat.

    With this in mind would the Catalyst really have felt threatened enough to “surrender” or was it simply that their benevolence was enough to say ‘I don’t know if you know but you’ve got a royal flush there. Why not play it and win the game’?

    Anyway, I’m sure you’re not even checking back at your comments but if you do, thanks again.

  53. edgecrusher
    May 24 2013

    The main thing for me is and and always has been, in ME1 the protagonist(shepard) asks the antagonist(sovereign, a reaper) why the reapers were doing this…. and it responded. It said “we impose order on the chaos of organic evolution….”, then ME2 did not advance anything about the reapers origins or motives, so it had to happen in ME3 at some point unless they wanted to leave it an unknown. Which some will argue that would have been better, but I have to disagree simply because to me the first game suggested that we would eventually find out. I mean why have that conversation between shepard and sovereign give anything significant if it was to mean nothing? So back to sovereigns comment. Organic evolution is VERY heavily defined/reliant on attempts to improve the quality of life through continually advancing technology. Through the building and use of MACHINES. Over the past 100 years or so we have slowly replaced the need for humans to do things for ourselves by building machines to do it.

    Even with the original ending I made the logical assumption that the catalyst was a machine, and then I went from there and it led me to something that was very similar to what the EC and leviathan DLC showed us. The leviathan did what organics almost always do when they can’t do/solve something themselves, they built a machine to do it for them. I think the writers made a mistake when they seemed to talk about it as if it was organics VS synthetics, because it is not. It’s about organics CREATING synthetic intelligences in the manner that they do. As tools. The catalyst said that organics create machines that REBEL against their creators, not that just randomly turn on and then destroy their creators. Rebellion means that their is oppression. That being that organics create synthetic intelligent life as tools. While not always intentional or even intentionally negative, these machines gain sentience as tools. Nothing is a guarantee, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which a sentient life form would choose to remain what is essentially a slave forever. The conflict the catalyst speaks of is merely a product of organic technological advancement eventually reaching the point in which it creates artificial intelligence.

    The catalyst is not some malevolent being disrupting the flow of life/evolution of life in the galaxy. It is just a product of it. It was built by life that occurred naturally. Which is why I never understood the idea some people seem to have of choosing destroy under the premise that organic life should be able to sort this conflict out on its own. What do you think the reapers and catalyst are? Why are people excluding them from the sorting process? That is exactly what is happening right now. They are a product of that sorting process. It seems that people would rather have had the story go the route of most other things, a mostly typical “good vs evil/hero vs villain” sceanrio, and I just don’t think that’s what the writers wanted or were going for. They appeared to want to make the story bigger than that. That is a preference when it comes to storytelling, but that is not inherently “bad” in any way.

    As for the choices themselves, all I can say is, for the series that founded itself on making moral choices and seeing the consequences of making those choices, what better way to end it than to give the players the biggest moral choice yet? This is the only real thing I found to be wrong with the original ending, in regard to the main plot anyway. The impact of making such a choice was diminished greatly by not being able to see the result of making it. The EC gave me that and I was very pleased at being able to finally see it.

  54. emperormarkus
    Jun 2 2013

    Nice BS job. 90% of this article is fluff!

    You’re making up a ton of this up. Virtually nothing you’ve writtien here is ACUTALLY IN THE GAME. It’s all GUESSWORK. That’s not the job of reader/gamer to fill in the blanks of an ending. That’s the writer’s job. If an ENDING CANNOT EXPLAIN ITSELF, IT’S NOT A GOOD ENDING.

    And don’t go on about movies like “2001” that have mysertious/ambigious endings. Those only work when present correctly in a narrative that supports it; and ME3 didn’t do that.

    The problem your missing is that the NARRATIVE (that’s the story btw) of ME3 makes NO MENTION of any of the so-called facts you are presenting. Had the WRITERS of ME3 spent as much time think through the ending as you did on your article, then we would have gotten a good ending. Bioware didn’t.

    In state of fact, ME3 left us with an ending that:

    -Completely RETCON’D ME1’s plot.
    -Complete forgot about ME2’s plot.
    -RETCON’D ME3’s plot with an EC ending that actually made some things worse.

    For example, you take on the Crucilbe/Catalyst… complete BS. You’re GUESSING at to it’s purpose. It was the job of the ME3 writers to TELL US! WE ARE NEVER TOLD (via the narrative, the story) WHAT the catalyst IS, WHAT IT DOES, or HOW IT WORKS. Nobody knows this. Several of the characters even admit that they have NO IDEA what the catalyst is, yet it’s somehow the focus of our entire war effort?

    Another RETCON: What was the point of ME2? The way to stop the Reapers was on Mars the whole time, so everything thing we did in ME2 was……pointless?

    And the CItadel, the biggest RETCON of all. Why did the reapers NEVER attack the Citadel, as it CONTROLS THE MASS RELAYS, which allows them TO SHUT DOWN THE MASS RELAYS so that only Reaper ships can use them? End of War.

    Don’t know? Neither did the writers of ME3. So they just…..forgot about it.

  55. Jun 11 2013

    This is a topic that is close to my heart… Thank you! Where
    are your contact details though?

    • Mark Petersen
      Jul 13 2013

      Thought they were in the “form” to post a reply…


  56. hec
    Jul 29 2013

    Hi. One year later and people is still looking for answers about the ending. Answers that I think you did a very good job providing! There’s still one thing I don’t understand: What’s exactly the reaper’s purpose? To let life develop till it reaches certain “dangerous” limit? They will never allow a civilization to achieve Type 2 status?

    Again tyvm 4 the article!

    • Mark Petersen
      Sep 8 2013

      The reaper’s “purpose” is CLEARLY (that’s a pun) stated by the “star child” in dizzing logic! To paraphrase:

      .”to prevent biological life from creating artifical life, which ends up destroying it’s biological creators, we the Reapers destroy said biological life before it can create artifical life and destroy itself.”

      Got it?

      In simple terms, to PREVENT galatic mass murder, we ENGAGE in galatic mass murder.

      To which the Leviathan DLC added yet another layer of stellar logic (SPOILER WARNING):

      “We (the Leviathans) wanted to prevent the lesser lifeforms form creating A.I./artifical life which inevitably turned on it’s creators and destroyed them. To do this, we CREATED OUR OWN A.I. to solve the problem of lesser life forms from creating their own A.I. and destroying themselves…Our A.I’s “solution” was to destory us, and create the Reapers to…Nevermind, just look at the begining of this post….

      Now you understand why Casey Hudson and MacWalters are reveared as such great writers…..

      • edgecrusher02
        Sep 14 2013

        Isn’t that exactly why it’s true? What is seemingly the oldest known form of life in the galaxy did what all organic species always do when they can’t do/solve something on their own, they create a machine to do it for them. It’s just part of how we evolve technologically. If people don’t like the idea of how it makes the story more about “this is just how things are” and out of the idea of the Reapers being traditionally evil machines, I get that. I get not liking that. But that’s a preference and it does not make the story bad. It just makes it not what most people want. Personally, from the very first time I played ME1, I asked myself who made the Reapers and why. The enemy being machines dictated certain things without it never needing to be explained because as machines, someone had to have made them. I just personally find that better than a typical doomsday scenario, an unknown evil, or an enemy that is evil “just because.” The enemy being machines said that that likely wasn’t the case from the beginning.

  57. Mark Petersen
    Sep 16 2013

    (Sigh)….here we go again…

    It’s ONLY true because the Star Child says it is. We are asked to take this Deus Ex villian’s statement as FACT. Why? NOTHING, and I do mean NOTHING, in ANY of the pre-established lore of Mass Effect validates the idea of an eternal cyle of Biological life vs. Artifical life. Where is the EVIDENCE, previously established in ME1 or ME2, that supports this idea? I’ll give you 5min to go through the codex here……

    I can think of a story that had such a theme (note:a theme) of Organics vs. Machines….and it was called BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Not Mass Effect…

    I’m sure your thinking, “Ah, what about the Geth vs. Quarians..” Well, first off, the fact that you can SOLVE (PEACEFULLY) the ONLY organics vs synthetics storyline in the ENTIRE Mass Effect universe in fact DISPROVES everything the Star Child says. Secondly, the Quarian vs Geth conflict is treated by THE ENTIRE GALACTIC COMMUNINTY (at least in ME1) as a sideshow, and a “Quarian problem.’ Go back, and replay ME1. You’ll find out that the Turians, Asari, Humans and every other advanced species just don’t care that much about A.I.s destroying biologic society. It just isn’t there.

    Thirdly, if you take the Leviathans at there word, if they KNEW CREATING A.I.’s was the problem, WHY would they create there own A.I. to solve the problems of OTHER RACES A.I.’s? How does this make sense. Why not appear before the lesser races-as,say GODS (or monoliths), and say, “STOP MAKING THINKING MACHINES…” Problem solved….

    And finally, you still haven’t addressed the UTTER ILLOGIC of the entire Reaper’s purpose. Please explain the LOGIC of:

    “To prevent galactic genocide, we engage in galactic genocide.”

    Again where is THE EVIDENCE, in the previously established Mass Effect Lore, that shows the the Reapers are right, or even justified?? Where? YOu can look all you want….you won’t find it. If you want to stop galactic genocide, TURN OFF THE REAPERS, and the problem goes away….

    • edgecrusher02
      Sep 20 2013

      I’m not saying it was presented in the best of ways, but the enemy was established as being so powerful that they controlled the flow of and evolution of life in the galaxy for at least around a billion years. An enemy that is leaving incredibly advanced technology that is beyond our knowledge behind for us to find and dictating how we advance. Why would they deviate from what they were created to do or reveal their purpose unless someone gave them a reason to? That’s what this story is about. The cycle that broke the cycles. The cycle of life that ended the current “solution.”

      So you want evidence. Ok, that’s fine I get that. From a storytelling perspective it is illogical for the catalyst to sit and show Shepard proof of what has happened for the last billion years. Not only would that take forever, but that’s assuming it even has the ability to do something like that in the first place. The Leviathan DLC more or less cleared that up when they outright said organic species build machines that then destroyed them over and over again. Now I am in no way defending crucial information like that coming by the way of DLC, but it is there nonetheless.

      It’s like what happened in Watchmen. Destroy thousands to save billions. Only in this case it’s destroy an uncountable number to save an even higher uncountable number. Saying things like circular logic is COMPLETELY ignoring the big picture. We have no idea of knowing what state the galaxy would be in if the cycles hadn’t been put in place or if the reapers hadn’t built the relay system. Which is something that no one ever seems to bring up. The reapers having built the relay system has already started to change things. It is the only reason the galaxy was able to gather and oppose them in the first place. Without the relays, it is likely all advanced species would still be asking if they were alone in the galaxy or not.

      It’s definitely a morally ambiguous thing, but that does not make it bad. You could easily just tell us to stop making thinking machines, but that doesn’t mean we will. In fact I’d say it’s certain that we won’t. We get so caught up with the idea of what we COULD do, that we often don’t stop to think if we SHOULD do it. I also get the idea of “letting the chips fall where they may” and that if our end is us being destroyed by our synthetic creations then so be it. And if one believes that then they can choose destroy and see what happens in the future.

      The Quarian/Geth resolution proves nothing. That is completely ignoring the fact that they had a conflict that nearly ended in the extinction of the organic creators. One that lasted 300 years and that said creators perpetuated falsely among their people because the Geth were never hostile to begin with. They reacted with fear without anything warranting it when they opted to shut the Geth down simply for asking questions about life. Then, in ME3 peace is only achieved due to the fear of impending galactic extinction. To the fear of death. The reapers are the only reason peace happens. And they are the only reason the Quarians survived in the first place because without a relay for them to escape through, they would have had nowhere to go.

      Anyway, peace achieved through fear like that is in no way a credible semblance of peace. Even then, have you heard the renegade option that achieves peace. Shepard uses that fear on the Quarians to get them to stand down.

      • Mark Petersen
        Sep 21 2013


        You DID NOT address any of my questions:

        1) Where is the “organics vs artifical” cycle of destructions EVER address prior to the final 10mins of the game/story? Shouldn’t that been a MAJOR PLOT POINT of ME1? Remember that game? You know, the game/story that lays the FOUNDATION for your universe?

        2) You still have not explained the “logic” behind: “to prevent galatic genocide, we engage in galactic genocide.” Since the Reapers are in fact CAUSEING THE VERY PROBLEM they are TRYING TO SOLVE. And it ties in to #1 above.

        3) The motivation or the Leviathans and their Reapers is ILLOGICAL and just plain dumb. Defend it…if you can.

        4) And I haven’t even discussed THE CITADEL….the greatest RET’CON of all.
        A) Why do the Reapers allow the ENTIRE FOCUS OF THEIR STRATEGY to become a haven for Sex parties and Drunken orgies (as per the Citadel DLC)…?
        B) Why didn’t the “Star Child” simply appear at the end of ME1?
        C) As per “B”..if the “Star Child” was the Catalyst, who is the Citadel, there the whole time, what was the point of Soverigen, and WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ME1?
        D) As per “A”, in ME3 why didn’t the Reapers ATTACK THE CITADEL and SHUT DOWN THE MASS RELAYS? Remember that was the point of the ENTIRE REAPER STRATEGY IN ME1. What was the point of ME1 again?

        5) “The “Geth Quarian Reslolution proves nothing…” What?? In only DISPROVES everying the Star Child says, and makes the entire PURPOSE OF THE REAPERS redundant! Using LORE FROM PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED ME GAMES….prove me wrong!

  58. edgecrusher02
    Sep 24 2013

    @ Mark Petersen, since it won’t let me reply directly for whatever reason.

    1 – You’re right, It is not mentioned in the earlier part of the series. But neither is anything else. The enemy that was established as being so powerful that they control the flow of life throughout the galaxy outright refused to tell us why they were doing this. Then ME2 opted to not reveal anything further in that regard. No matter what it was going to be, we were always going to find out the way we did.

    2 – They are not causing it to happen, it was happening before they were even created. It was the reason they were created. The Leviathan DLC confirmed this when the Leviathan outright said they saw organics build machines that then destroyed them. You’re way of phrasing what is happening is an oversimplification, you are ignoring the big picture.

    3 – It can be called dumb, but it can also be called a desperate measure. However, it is not illogical. They did what everyone organic species does when they can’t do/solve something on their own, they created a machine to do it for them. That is what technology is. That is what we do in real life everyday. That is why it is a problem. They proved why organic life has a limitation on its evolution and why it results in the building of synthetic intelligences more advanced than themselves.

    4 – I’m not even going to address part A because that is a completely ridiculous thing to say and is what some would say is indicative of a troll. As for B and C there was something stated within the EC that is an explanation for those which requires a miniscule amount of thought and common sense. Something that is based within how the Reapers operate and a significant thing that was established about them in ME1. I’m sorry the story did not hold your hand and spell everything out in simplest form allowing you to ask why 100 times in a row to various things. And with D, the relays being shut off cuts the Reapers off as well. It took them nearly 3 years to get here without being to come in through the Citadel like they have always done. They have always executed a cycle with the help of the relays.

    5 – Like I already said, peace was only achieved because of the threat of the Reapers. Without impending galactic extinction there would never have been any reason for an outsider like Shepard to get involved in the Quarian/Geth conflict. Peace achieved under those circumstances is in no way a credible semblance of peace. Peace achieved because of the fear of death/extinction is not legitimate. Especially with the renegade option because Shepard outright uses the fear of death to get the Quarians to stand down. There is a term that is often used for using fear and intimidation to get what you want.

    Overall, you are oversimplifying many things and displaying a shortsightedness that says you are missing or possibly even outright choosing to ignore the big picture. Originally, it was vague enough that it warranted further information. With the EC and Leviathan there is no real room for interpretation anymore. Anyone that is still having problems is being short sighted or is still clinging to the frustration the original ending brought them. Either way, the answers have always been there provided one did not make snap assumptions and cry things like god child, false/circular logic, or space magic. All those things show a tremendously short sighted way of thinking and if someone is STILL claiming any of those things after having played or viewed the EC and Leviathan DLCs, they are hopeless.

    • Mark Petersen
      Sep 24 2013

      1. THANK YOU for admitting this! Finally! BUT….I (and a vast majority) of the fanbase excepted the Reaper’s explaination given in ME1. To paraphrase, ” You are beneath us, there for we don’t have to explain ourselves.” Cheap, but exceptable! This was used in “2001” quite effectively, and did work in ME1 IMO.

      2.YES THE ARE. The Reapers are CAUSING MASS EXTINCTION ON A GALACTIC LEVEL. They admit this! It’s the ENTIRE PLOT of the Mass Effect universe! Turn the Reapers OFF, no more galactic extinction! PROVE ME WRONG. If the Geth and Quarians can make peace, why can’t everybody else?
      Again, this is the problem: There is NO EVIDENCE, except the Star Child’s statement, that there is a “continous cycle” of AI/Biological destruction! NONE! This THEME (note, THEME) is NEVER MENTIONED IN ANY OF THE PREVIOUS GAMES. NEVER! The Leviathan DLC was a poor attempt by the Bioware team to back up their Deus Ex ending. Again, I challange you to find evidence of this “continous cycle of destruction” in ME1 or ME2. I challange you…

      3. Yes it is. The Leviathans, as they say, were “masters of the universe”, the rest of us were mere slaves. You can’t control what your “slaves” are doing? Really? And is you are SO intelligent, why would you create an AI, that you know can cause galactic level destruction, to solve it’s own problem? This is stupid! It’s bad circular logic. Again: We creat an AI to solve the problems of AI killing of their masters…” How is this intelligent? Want to stop AI’s from killing their masters….STOP MAKING AIs!!
      My solution is much better: Tell your slaves to STOP MAKING THINKING MACHINES! Worked better in “Dune” if you ask me.
      So, by your theory, we should all make machines to stop wars, infidelity, Religion, bullying, insane people getting guns, bad video game story writing, and so forth. Machines/technology can solve everything?? Wrong. You’d think a species that became the “masters of the universe” would have realized that technology has it’s limits.
      Again, this idea was done better in a movie called “Forbidden Planet.” That movie actually came up with a pretty good PLOT as to how/why a civilization were destroyed by their own belief in technology.

      4. Now, you’re resorting to insults, and you call me a troll?? Again, the Citadel is the ENTIRE LYNCH PIN OF REAPER STRATEGY! It has been for MILLIONS OF YEARS. As stated on ME1 (remember that game? I’ll hold your hand….)..CONTROL THE CITADEL, means YOU CONTROL THE MASS RELAYS…which means YOU CONTROL ALL MOVEMENT AND COMMUNICATION through out the galaxy. CONTROL OF THE MASS RELAYS means you CUT YOUR ENEMIES ability to wage war. In other words, CONTROL OF THE MASS RELAYS MEANS YOU WIN! Let me respell that for you: W-I-N!
      Given the FACTS above, why would the Reapers NOT attack the citadel? Answer this, please?

      And another thing: It’s NOT the job of the gamer (or reader) to FILL IN THE BLANKS. That is the JOB OF THE WRITER!! If an ENDING, or PLOT POINT, CANNOT SUSTAIN ITSELF FROM PERVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED LORE/PLOT POINTS, AND MUST BY “VAUGE” and “LEFT OPEN”, the writer has FAILED MISSERABLY!. (There is of couse the 1% of the time this can work, but Mass Effect isn’t one of them!)

      5. NO! The Geths say (go back and play) they NEVER wanted to elimante their masters. They only wanted to LIVE! The Reapers turned the Geth into the monsters they were (as STATED IN ME1…go back and play). An what’s wrong with forcing peace at the point of a gun? Worked well for Germany and Japan at the end of WWII. Things seemed to have worked out weill for those countries, if you ask me.

      Again, you are NOT ANSWERING my points directly, using PRE-ESTABLISHED GAME LORE/PLOT POINTS. You’ve even resorted to name calling; a sure sign of somebody who cannot argue using logic and reason, and thus is subconciously realizing his arguments hold no merit.
      And you seem to think lots of words and ‘complication’ equals intellectual or deep. I can tell you this: fancy words and psuedo-philosophy and psuedo-science do not a great ending make.
      I missed the big picture? I think the writers of Mass Effect 3 missed the big picture. As the MOUNTAIN of plot holes, shifts in tone, inconsistances and a horribly flawed Deus Ex Machina ending prove.

      Just answer this one question: Why did the Reapers NOT attack the Citadel, take over the Mass Relays….and win?

      P.S. The Citadel did become a haven for drinking and sex parties. Did you not play the “Citadel DLC”?

      • edgecrusher02
        Sep 25 2013

        1 – Them being machines says they are not beneath us. The enemy being machines dictates certain things without it needing to be said. Namely that someone had to have built them and with a purpose. That is the definition of a machine. Based on what we know about the universe, that type of matter does not arrange itself in such a manner. It takes a naturally occurring organic life form to create a synthetic life form. My first assumption was that the catalyst was a machine intelligence, and I went from there. It is essentially a technological singularity, which is when organic life creates something that surpasses it in intelligence. The more advanced technology becomes, the more dependable we become on it. The more dependable we become on it, the less we have to do for ourselves. It reaches a point in which it hinders us as we essentially make ourselves obsolete in many ways.

        2 – Did people really think that everything the catalyst says would be a lie? That the writers would do something like that? Give me a break. That is the most illogical idiotic way of thinking. There is evidence.

        A billion years or more ago an organic species capable of monitoring life in the galaxy saw it happen time and time again and then fell victim to the same thing(as is the course of human history in real life). The Leviathan are organic and therefore not immune to that. Javik said it happened in his cycle several times. It happened in this cycle with the Geth. Even EDI started out that way.

        The only times in which these conflicts are resolved, is due to the fear of death/extinction AFTER the fact. But they did always start out as conflict before said resolution. That is not a legitimate source of peace as people will do anything to stop from dying. If two groups are fighting and a much more powerful group comes in and says stop fighting or I will kill you both, what was achieved? Neither of the warring sides learned anything or compromised in any way. Peace achieved through fear is in no way natural for either of the conflicting sides. This is the weakest argument for proving the catalyst wrong. It would have been nice for the dialogue option to be present so that the catalyst could have explained why, but personally I never needed that.

        3 – We will not stop making AIs though. Just because something may be bad for us, doesn’t mean we will stop. All you have to do is look at the history of human life to see that. I never said technology solves everything, if an organic species advances enough technologically, it leads to the creation of these types of intelligences. Again, technological singularity. To assume that trillions of lives will all suddenly agree to not do something is the most unrealistic thing anyone could expect. It’s downright idiotic. That is just not how organic life works.

        4 – Again the answer for this is there, you just don’t see it or don’t like what it implies. This is and always has been above us from the word go. All I will say is that the intelligence responsible for this is attempting to accomplish something, destroying the citadel would ruin that. Even if one doesn’t like what it is attempting to accomplish, it does not change that fact.

        I agree that they could have explained it better(it likely wasn’t due to being pushed to release it, probably because of EA) but that does not make the missing explanation any less true. Like I said, my initial assertion was that the catalyst was a machine intelligence and I went from there. For whatever reason, many people seemed to adopt an attitude that the it HAD to be something else and that the Reapers HAD to be 100% malevolent when the fact that they are machines already says that that is likely not the case. Probably because as a society that is what we are used to. We want to kill bad things while the story tells us we are awesome for doing so. Well life is never that simple. In this case that is an imposed attitude that has no basis within how this universe was established. Did people really think that they would introduce a completely new type of potentially omnipotent life form within the last few minutes? That is stupid. The writers even came out and said that people looked at things in a way they didn’t expect. The most logical thing to assume was that it is a machine, which dictates certain things without the story needing to hold your hand through an explanation.

        5 – I know the Geth never wanted to eliminate their creators, but their creators forced them too. The conflict almost always falls on the creator side of things because they come first and the created can only respond to the circumstances and conditions in which we create them. The Quarians immediately assumed hostility from the Geth for no reason whatsoever and attempted to shut them down. An act that a synthetic life form would see as comparable to being killed. It’s the same thing that happened with Skynet in the Terminator series. I could name pretty much any story about sentient machines where they are the active “enemy” and they are all the way they are because of the same few things. There is a reason these stories go this way and it is because of the organic creators/humans that these conflicts start. Either it has something to do with the way their creators programmed them, or it has something to do with how their creators reacted towards them. It is the only logical way for a story like that to go unless you want “evil” machines “just because.”

        “The popular idea, fostered by comic strips and the cheaper forms of science fiction, that intelligent machines must be malevolent entities hostile to man, is so absurd that it is hardly worth wasting energy to refute it. Those who picture machines as active enemies are merely projecting their own aggressive[ness]. The higher the intelligence, the greater the degree of co-operativeness. If there is ever a war between men and machines, it is easy to guess who will start it.” – Arthur C. Clarke

        Like I said, the Leviathan are organic and therefore they are not immune to that logic despite how apex they say they are. Apex does not mean the end. It just means the top of something at any given time. Their “apexness” is only self proclaimed.

        They did not attack the Citadel because this is the first cycle in which they did not arrive to the galaxy through the Citadel. They came straight from dark space. The life of this cycle knew they were coming and was already established at the Citadel. Strategically it makes more sense to take out all the surrounding areas and close your enemy in at one location. At the very least, the Reapers started where they came in the galaxy and worked their way towards the Citadel, likely doing what I just mentioned in the process. They are machines after all, they are logical. Again, if they shut off the relays, they lose immediate access to the galaxy just like everyone else. This is such a minor thing if anything at all, that it isn’t even worth mentioning as a “plot hole” as it is common sense.

        Not to mention that once the crucible was docked, it changed things for the catalyst. Something the story outright says with the EC and then is confirmed with the Leviathan DLC. The Leviathan DLC did everything but outright say where the crucible plans came from, though it is HEAVILY implied that they are responsible for it as a method for altering or “reprogramming” their creation(catalyst).

      • Mark Petersen
        Sep 27 2013

        1. Again….you are MAKING THIS UP. This “stuff” is NEVER mentioned in the game’s NARATIVE…the STORY. Use plot points, dialogue, and codex information to support your position. If you can’t defend ME3’s ending from it’s only plot points, something is seriously wrong.
        And the Reapers DO think we are beneath them. That is a DIRECT QUOTE from the game. (ME1, remember that game?)

        Your assuming. It’s not the job of the reader to fill in the blanks (i.e. PLOT HOLES) of the story. That’s the writer’s job. Ambiguity does not equal brilliance. If a story needs a DEUS EX MACHINA device to resolve it’s central conflict (and ME3 sure does) then the writer has failed miserably.

        2. WHY WOULDN’T LIE?? If the catalyst wore a NAZI UNIFORM and looked like ADOLF HITLER, would you believe it? Because it’s a “machine” it can’t LIE?? And you call me Illogical??

        Where is the THEME (note THEME) of AI VS ORGANIC life EVER mentioned in ME1….?? ME2…..?? It isn’t. The Geth-Qurian conflict is a side show and SIDE QUEST…not a main plot point. Side quest do not equate to a main theme. Again, Battlestar Galacitica is an example of a THEME of AI vs Biological life done right.

        Especially (ONCE AGAIN), since the Geth-Quarian conflict DISPROVE EVERYTHING the Star Child says. You haven’t answered this.



        3. AGAIN. You did NOT answer my point directly. If AI’s ARE THE PROBLEM….STOP BUILDING THEM. Problem solved.

        4. Again, I didn’t say DESTROY, I said CAPTURE and use it TO SHUT DOWN THE MASS RELAYS…as in the ENTIRE PLOT of ME1?? Again, you HAVE NOT ANSWERED THIS.

        Also, how is it “STRATEGIC” NOT to win? Again, as per THE PLOT OF ME1 (remember that), HE WHO CONTROLS THE MASS RELAYS WINS… how is controlling the Citadel, THAT CONTROLS THE MASS RELAYS, not Strategic?

        “Reapers not 100% malevolent” What? Commiting GALATIC GENOCIDE doesn’t make one 100% malevolent? So now you’re using moral relevance to justify mass slaughter? Oh, boy….

        5. WRONG. The Geth pushed the Quarians of their homworld and STOPPED! They made NO effect to commit genocide against their masters. They acted in SELF DEFENSE, no more. The Reapers, the machines YOU ARE DEFENDING, turned them into tools of genocide.

        Again, this DISPROVES everything the Star Child says. Defend this from Mass Effect’s lore, not quotes from Arthur C. Clarke. (See below)

        Your quote from Arthur C. Clarke. get you Cudos, but what does the late, great Arthur C. Clarke have to do with ME3’s ending?? Was he a writer of ME3?? No. Again, you are MAKING STUFF UP. If you want to defend the ending to ME3, USE the NARRATIVE OF ME1-3 to DEFEND YOUR ARGUMENTS. The fact of the matter is, you can’t. The Ending is a complete disaster of narritive logic, tone and cohesian (like my spelling).

        The fact that you have to write long paragraphs full of ASSUMPTIONS, and NOT direct infromation FROM THE GAME, should make it obvious to you of the utter failure of Mac Walter and Casey Hudson to provide a satisfactory conclusion to the ME triliogy.

        ONCE AGAIN, I’ll make it easy for you. Defend these two points using GAME LORE/PLOT POINTS from Mass Effect 1-3 only…

        1) The peaceful end of the Geth-Quarian conflict DISPROVES everything the star child says.

        2) Why did the Reapers NOT capture the Citadel and turn off the Mass Relays OFF (and win)?

        If the ME3 ending is a good as you say it is, this should be easy.

  59. edgecrusher02
    Sep 27 2013

    @ Mark Petersen

    What the Reapers think and what they truly are can be completely different. Just like the Leviathan, what they say is only self proclaimed. If you want the story to be some traditional hero vs villain thing, that’s fine. But that is obviously not what the writers wanted.

    You are repeating yourself as opposed to attempting to counter what I am saying. I have nothing new to contribute to what I have already stated because I would just be repeating myself now. You are also completely twisting what I am saying about the Geth/Quarian conflict. I never said anything about the Geth being hostile, but you act like I did. I am fully aware of what they did. But the conflict started because of the Quarians plain and simple. This relies MUCH more on organic behavior than it does synthetic behavior and I gave several examples. Combine that with you completely missing or choosing to ignore the point, even if it wasn’t explained in the best of ways.

    If you want to chalk it up to the story being for science nerds and therefore requiring outside information, then so be it. I’m not making anything up. To quote the addendum from this article pertaining to the EC, “In fact, I later found out in Mass Effect: Final Hours, that the story was influenced by Kurzweil’s predictions on the Singularity long before the game was even entitled Mass Effect.” I’m not making anything up as this is arguably the most logical “interpretation” of what the story is based on key facts about the enemy and a basic fact about where they had to have come from. They are machines and therefore someone had to have built them and with a purpose. The idea of a technological singularity is to the point the many scientists don’t think of it as IF it will happen, but WHEN will it happen. All you have to do is look at the course of human history to see it. We have advanced more in the last 100 years or so then we have in the hundred thousand before it. Why? Because once an organic species discovers things like radio technology and how to harness electricity it leads to other destructive technologies. This is also something this article mentioned.

    There are PLENTY of visual stories in which the viewer derives what is happening without it being directly spelled out in simplest form. What you are suggesting is not the only legitimate way to tell a story. If you really think it is, I feel sorry for you because you are depriving yourself.

    • Mark Petersen
      Sep 30 2013


      I have to keep repeating myself because you (and may ME3 ending defenders) REFUSE TO ANSWER the various problems with the Mass Effect ending/narrative that are consistantly brought up by it’s critics. Again, DEFEND THE ME ENDING USING LORE, PLOT, and NARRATIVE ELEMENTS FROM THE ACTUAL GAME. Not quotes from Arhtur C. Clarke, and long paraprahs of psuedo-science and philosophy.


      1) Why did the Reapers NOT take over the Citadel, take control the Mass Relays, turn them off, AND WIN THE WAR! It’s the ENTIRE PLOT OF ME 1. DEFEND THIS.

      2) The Star Child’s motivation is stupid. “To prevent mass slaughter, we engage in mass slaughter..” DEFEND this circular, illogic reasoning. Furthermore (and a point YOUR REFUSE to address), I can make peace between Synthetics (Geth) and Biological life (Quarian), there by DISPROVING EVERYTHING THE STAR CHILD SAYS…and making the ENTIRE REASON OF THE REAPERS EXISTENCE….pointless. DEFEND THIS.

      3) How did Cerberus go from “terrorist cell” to having MASS ARMIES and ENTIRE FLEETS? One word: LOGISTICS. DEFEND THIS.

      4) How did the Citadel MOVE to Earth’s oribt? How did the Illusive name GET THERE? DEFEND THIS.

      5) The Catalyst. What this object is/does IS NEVER EXPLAINED. NOBODY (and I can quote you from THE GAME) KNOWS WHAT ITS OR WHAT IT DOES, yet we are asked to base our ENTIRE WAR EFFORT, and PLOT, on this object…for some reason. DEFEND THIS.

      6) What was the point of ME2? Since the Catalyst (see above) made the entire point of ME2’s story POINTLESS. DEFEND THIS.

      7) If the Star Child IS THE CITADEL….what was the point of ME1? Why couldn’t the Star Child call in the Reaper fleet himself? Why couldn’t he turn off the Mass Relays himself? Why did he need sovereign? DEFEND THIS.

      8) If the Reapers are SO POWERFUL, how is it in that, suddenly, near the end of the game, I can DESTROY REAPERS with MISSILES and HAND-HELD NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Why didn’t we MASS PRODUCE these Reaper-busting weapons?? DEFEND THIS.

      9) Introducing “SPACE MAGIC” in the final 10min’s of a narrative that had NO SPACE MAGIC before. How does the Catalyst/Citadel INSTANTLY kill off ALL synthetic life?? How does it INSTANTLY MERGE all biological an synthetic life?? This in NEVER EXPLAINED. If a PLOT CANNOT EXPLAIN ITSELF IT HAS FAILED MISERABLY!! DEFEND THIS. And don’t quote me from Arthur C. Clarke (I know the one you’d use….). Quote me from the MASS EFFECT STORY!

      10) Where is this theme of synthetic vs. biological EVER mentioned in ME1? ME2? If there was a CONSTANT CYCLE OF BIOLOGICAL LIFE BEING WIPED OUT BY SYNTHETIC LIFE, why is it NEVER mentioned until the final 10min of the third game?? Infact, the ONLY mention of synthetic life wiping out biological life in a cycle….is caused the THE REAPERS! Which means, THE REAPERS ARE CAUSING THE VERY PROBLEM THEY ARE TRYING TO SOLVE. DEFEND THIS…

      • edgecrusher02
        Oct 1 2013

        You were right when you said Arthur C. Clarke has nothing to do with Mass Effect, but his logic certainly applies here. There is no space magic and that is the most idiotic way of looking at it. To quote him again, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The relays are and always have been this way because it is established that we know WHAT they do but not HOW they do. Again, I’ve already stated all this including the in game description that is exactly that. Like I said already, this was bigger than the life of this cycle from the word go because of the citadel/relays origins and then even more so when what the Reapers really were was revealed.

        I already gave you reasons for the things you are asking. You just ignore or don’t like like what I say. Instead of repeating yourself, counter what I say. At the least, just say you don’t personally like it. The things you say either aren’t actual problems or can be explained with a miniscule amount of common sense(which I have already done to some of the questions, but you keep on adding more).

        We were eventually outright told what caused this and what was happening before the catalyst was created and you are completely ignoring it. It sucks that it came from DLC, but it’s there nonetheless. Humble yourself for 2 seconds and realize/accept that there could be something out there more advanced than us that has more/a better perspective on the way life works in the galaxy than we do. Especially when it’s something that monitored it for who knows how long even BEFORE the cycles and then continues to monitor it.

        Again, I don’t think peace achieved only because of the fear of the very threat in question is legitimate peace, and I won’t be convinced that it is.

        At the least, chalk it up to us seeing things differently. I think you have a VERY oversimplified and INCREDIBLY short sighted way of looking at things, so I’ll leave you to that to see where it gets you.

        If you really think you need explanations for these supposed “plot holes” you might want to look into a theory on youtube being dubbed the “Choose Wisely” theory that basically says everything “questionable” is not real in one way or another. It’s a video series that starts out like an indoctrination theory but then goes off in another direction. Basically it says that the Leviathan have been controlling Shepard from the get go and many “plot holes” are explained by the fact that they are attempting to steer Shepard into doing something. It’s sort of interesting but it lost me when they suggested that the Leviathan actually uplifted the Asari and that Liara might be some kind of Leviathan sleeper agent without knowing it. Since you think it’s this plot hole ridden mess(which it’s not), you might want to subscribe to a theory like this that explains everything away by saying it’s a dream or a bunch of hallucinations. You seem like you would fit right in with the conspiracy nuts.

      • Mark Petersen
        Oct 6 2013


        I see you simply REFUSE to defend the Mass Effect 3 ending….using the Mass Effect STORY. You did not answer a SINGLE one of my 10 challanges, but once again quoted Arthur C. Clarke….who has nothing to do with Mass Effect.

        You accuse me of being “simple” and “short sighted” for pointing the MANY flaws in the Mass Effect ending, yet you REFUSE to defend them. If my points ARE SO SIMPLE and SHORT SIGHTED, then they should be EASY to counter….but the fact that YOU REFUSE TO DEBATE each and every point with a counter argument BASED ON THE LORE/PLOT OF THE GAME ITESELF tells me that even you know (subconsciously or not) the Mass Effect 3 is INDEFENSIBLE, and will go down as THE worst ending in video game history…bare none.

        Quoting Arthur C. Clarke repeatedly (and out of context) is a sure sign that you have NO logical, or even reasonable response to any of my arguments. IT borders on the childish and inmature. Arthur C. Clarke is NOT A DEFENSE….it’s an EXCUSE. If the Arthur C. Clarke quote is the ONLY defense (even if it has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE THING YOU ARE ARGUING ABOUT) you can come up with, then you are clearly incapable of have a rational, logical arguement over any isssue.

        Your line of reasoning goes like this:

        I say, “Apples are bad..Prove me wrong.”
        You say, “Arthur C. Clarke said oranges are good…”

        FACTS, clearly mean nothing to you. As when I confront you with FACTS, you simply ignore them and go on quoting Arthur C. Clarke.

        For instance, you say (parphrasing): “…I don’t believe peace can ever be enforced throught might..”

        I give you FACTS to refute this statement:

        Post WWII Germany…70 years of peace, and counting.
        Post WWII Japan……..70 year of peace, and counting.
        Congress of Vienna…99 years of peace…one european “war” of six months;.

        Your response: “I don’t believe it.” Or you go on quoting Arthur C. Clarke.

        Oh, by the way, the CONTROL ENDING to ME3 is in fact ENFORCING THE PEACE THROUGH MIGHT. Go back and listen to it. One of the ending that you defend so mightly just CONTRADICTED YOU!

        Here’s a Mass Effect question you refuse to answer:

        I say: “Why did the Reapers not attack the Citadel, the very heart of their strategy for millions of years and the KEY TO VICTORY, as stated in Mass Effect !…

        You say:….well, you never answer this. But you quote from Arthur C. Clarke.

        Here’s another Mass Effect Question:

        I say: “The starchild/A.I. is the worst form of DEUS EX MACHINA ending. You can look at ANY “HOW TO” (goggle it) book on creative writing and they tell ALL writers to avoid such endings, as they ARE BAD.”

        To which I add: “Introducing SPACE MAGIC to a story that DID NOT HAVE SPACE MAGIC BEFORE destroys narrative (and logical) cohesion and is an obvious use of Deus Ex Machina (see above) that proves the plot of Mass Effect was hopelessly broken.

        You Say….well, you quote from Arthur C. Clarke.

        One More MAss Effect 3 question:

        I say: The Catalyst/Conduit plot line from ME3 is not only badly written, it is stupid. I QUOTE DIRECTLY FROM THE GAME to defend my argument (I.e. nobody knows what the Catalyst is or does, but our entire war effort hinges on it…).

        You say….well, you did call me shortsighted and simplistic. Does Arthur C. Clarke’s quote even apply to this??

  60. edgecrusher02
    Oct 7 2013

    @ Mark Petersen

    Like I said, it could have been anything up until the end. Something that is based on how the enemy operates. They only revealed anything when someone gave them a reason to. This is the story about the cycle of life that did. Your nonsensical argument could apply to literally anything. Even something ridiculous as finding out that the Reapers are being controlled by a space unicorn that shits rainbows and has the Reapers doing this because of his daddy issues. The difference is, what we have now is based on very basic facts about what the enemy is and where they had to have come from. Based on your logic no matter what would have been revealed in the end, it would have been terrible according to you.

    If I use a quote it’s because someone can put it into words better than I can. That does not negate the logic in said words. The series has always had “space magic” and it’s called the relays and the Citadel. Quit being dense.

    The first few things you mentioned I gave answers for. Rather than attempting to counter anything, you ignored it or just said it’s stupid. You keep adding more. I could give very simple common sense explanations but it’s clear you have made your mind up.

    Enjoy your oversimplified and extremely short sighted way of looking at things. It seems to be working so well for you. If you don’t like the story or subscribe to this way of “interpreting”(not that it needed much), then why do you comment here? Never mind, I don’t need or want an answer for that. Enjoy continuing to cause yourself to hate things.

    • Mark Petersen
      Oct 15 2013


      No debate, just attacks and claims of being “simplistic.” That’s not an argument. You claim to have given answers, yet I see none.

      Mass Effect always had space magic????

      WRONG. The series NEVER had space magic until the final 10 mins. The Citadel and Mass Relays are ACTUALLY EXPALINED-IN THE CODEX- using a PLAUSABLE, SCIENTIFIC reason for how and why they WORK. MASS EFFECT DRIVES ARE EXPLAINED. The REAL science may be bunk, but the fact that the writers of Mass Effect 1 understood that the Mass Effect universe needed a SET OF RULES on how their technology works showed GOOD WRITING. And that Mass Effect was ment to be SCIENCE FICTION, not SCIENCE FANTASY.

      The Citadel/Catalyst/Star Child garbage is never explained using the PREVIOUSLY ESTABLSIHED RULES of the Mass Effect universe.Mac Walters and Casey Hudson do not even try!

      READ THE CODEX OF THE ACTUAL GAME before you come to debate me.

      Gave me aswers? Where?

      Again, using the ACTUAL LORE/PLOT/CODEX of the game, you have NEVER answerd:

      1) Why the Reapers refused to take over the Citadel and shut down the Mass Relays.
      2) How Cerberus went from terrorist cell to MASSIVE MILITARY POWER more dangerous then the Reapers…
      3) The utter ILLOGIC of the Star Childs,LEviathan and Reaper’s motivation.
      4) THe total DEUS EX MACHINA of the Citadel/Catalyst plotline (and just plain stupidity of it)
      5) How all of the above INVALIDATED the ENTIRE PLOT of ME1 and rendered the ENTIRE PLOT OF ME2 POINTLESS.

      And most telling, how I just PROVED on of your biggest points (the “impossibility of forcing peace) is IN FACT part of the CONTROL ENDING, thus completely contradicting you. You don’t even answer this…you just ignore it.

      (insert sounds of chirping crickets….)

      • edgecrusher02
        Oct 15 2013

        You are the one that ignores the physics defying description we are given for how the relays work. The fact that the characters are fully aware that that is how they relays are. As well as the fact that the entire galaxy allows the space station that they found to be run by a race of docile creatures they can’t even communicate with. The opening on screen text even sets this up. All of which is concluded before we even know what a Reaper is. Like I said, this has always been bigger than us, has always been above us. The relays and what they do is more advanced than what we know how to do. A term that a lesser species would use to describe something that they don’t understand how it’s possible…. would be magic. If someone from the 1800s saw a TV, many would call it magic. If there were even any “rules” to begin with, the main premise of the entire story already went against them.

        Then we find out that these things were all actually made by the super advanced enemy… that we know nothing about. Go ahead and keep pretending that you know exactly what is and isn’t possible when it comes to something that was established as being advanced enough to travel beyond the border of the galaxy.

        The pre-established lore IS that they are more advanced than us in a way that says they are capable of doing things that we don’t understand. They even told us this the first time we communicated with one.You are ignoring all of that and what that actually means.

        I did give an answer for the few little easily explained with common sense things you asked. But then I stopped because one of your responses was that it was stupid. Other than the space magic portion of this conversation, everything else is either subjective or can be explained with common sense. When it comes to what the Reapers do or don’t do I’m not going to debate what equates to nothing more than the viability of different military strategies with you because that is subjective. As is the motivation of the catalyst/Reapers. There is WAY more to consider than the way that you put that.

      • Mark Petersen
        Oct 25 2013

        Clearly you DID NOT read the codex.

        The entire technology of the Mass Relays…and THE ENTIRE GAME UNIVERSE…is called MASS EFFECT! The Game is even named after it! The principle of how it all works IS understood (as mentioned in the game) by everyone, even if the exact details of the Mass Relays and Citadel are not. How else did Humans, Asari, Turians and every other race COPY the technology by building FTL drives…that USED the Mass Relays?

        You need to READ THE CODEX of the game whose story you are defending.

        Now, back to the ORIGIONAL ARGUMENT…which you refuse to answer.

        “Military strategy…subjective?”

        Ok…not sure what that means. But let’s look at this LOGICALLY…as the Reapers are logical machines…we can agree on that, right? We’ll use typical “If Then” statements…just like a computer.

        IF….I control the Citadel…
        THEN….I control the Mass Relays.

        Follow me so far?

        IF….I control the Mass Relays..
        THEN…..I WIN.

        I know the basic premise IS TRUE, because I played MAss Effect 1.

        Seems logical to me….don’t see anything subjective here. Where is the LOGIC in NOT following this strategy. When you play a Computer at Chess, does it try to win in as few moves as possible, or does it look for a “subjectve” strat

        “Reaper Motivation…common sense…little things..”

        The Motivation of your protagonist is fundimental to any story with conflict. If your enemies’ motivation, is dumb, non-sensical, or conflicts with previuosly established lore/plot points, the it is STORY BREAKING.

        Again, let’s use LOGIC to analyze the Reaper’s motivation as mentioned in ME3…

        IF a Society Builds AI’s…
        THEN they will be destroyed by them.

        Well, there’s already a problem…There is ZERO EVIDENCE for the premise. We have only the StarCHild’s statement that is is true…NOTHING in ANY of the PREVIOUS GAMES alluded to this. NOthing. So, the Reaper motivation is ALREADY FLAWED because it isn’t TRUE. LEt’s continue…

        IF we (the Leviathan;s )build or own AI…
        Then…other civilizations will stop building AI’s…

        Ok, this is problimatic. How is building THE VERY PROBLEM sovle the PROBLEM you are trying to solve? Seems to me, if AI’s are the problem…STOP BUILDING THEM. So, the escond stage of the Reapers motivation is SEVERELY FLAWED as wellLet’s look at the third part…



      • Mark Petersen
        Oct 25 2013

        The third tier of Reaper motivation is this:

        IF We (the Reapers) cause mass extermination…
        Then we prevent mass extermination.

        This one takes the cake. How is this logical? Like the second problem (AI’s) you are CREATING THE VERY PROBLEM YOU ARE TRYING TO SOLVE. If you want to STOP MASS EXTERMINATION….then don’t engage in mass extermination. Problem solved.

        Again, how is this subjective? I just solved the entire Reaper problem in two sentences:

        Stop builing AI’s.
        Stop engaging in Galatic genocide.

        Of course, since the basic premise of the Reapers (Biological vs. Artifical life) is based on a conflict THAT ISN’T A CONFLICT, then NOT BUILDING THE AI THAT BUILT THE REAPERS…that were built to SOLVE A PROBLEM THAT DID NOT EXIST until the FINAL 10 MINUTES OF THE GAME, would have solved everything!

        Now, you can go on and requote Arthur C. Clarke as your defense!

  61. edgecrusher02
    Nov 2 2013

    @ Mark Petersen

    One could EASILY argue that you are wrong about the relays. The description given is that we know WHAT they do but not HOW they do it. It’s as simple as that. You can make it into what you want it to be but it is not as simple as what you are saying. The very idea of what the Reapers are and what they are doing says that something more advanced than us existed LONG before we ever did. The fact that the relays are older than any species that currently exists in the galaxy says that life advanced LONG before we ever even existed. The very first thing established about the universe within this story MORE than suggests this.

    Another thing is, no one ever seems to mention the fact that the Crucible “just happens” to be able to dock and work in conjunction with the Citadel. That very fact says that “whoever” designed the Crucible was fully aware of what the Citadel was really capable of.

    Go ahead and keep pretending it’s as simple as you say it is. It never was.

    • Mark Petersen
      Nov 4 2013


      ……you refuse to address any of my PLOT points and continue to argue Mass Relays and Arthur C. Clarke?? Again, what does ANYTHING you just said have to do with JUST THREE (there are LOADS MORE) of the MASSIVE PLOT HOLES in Mass Effect 3 that I just outlined?? And I haven’t even TOUCHED MASS EFFECT 2…

      “Go ahead and keep pretending it’s as simple as you say…”

      Is NOT an argument…except in kindergarden play grounds. If I’m wrong, PROVE IT. But….you can’t, I suspect. You are hiding behind somewhate childish one-liners and non-sensical thinking like MOST ME3 defenders. And when is ABSOLUTE VICTORY “simple”? Perhaps to you, but not to me. Why change a strategy that WORKS?

      “One could easily argue you are wrong about the relays”

      Well…then…ARGUE IT…with FACTS FROM THE GAME/CODEX? Can’t? Won’t? I get my FACTS FROM THE GAME. Where do you get yours? ANd what does this have to do with MASSIVE PLOT HOLES? Since it’s SOOOOO EASY (your words)…then prove it…from lore/infor from THE GAME….not Arthur C. Clarke, or Larry Niven..or any other sci-fi writer of note. Use Casey Hudson and Mac Walters. I dare you…

      “The description given is that we know WHAT they do not HOW…”

      I just said that…so what is your point? How does this ADDRESS MASSIVE PLOT HOLES?

      “…suggests life advanced LONG before we ever existed…”

      So..what does this have to do with MASSIVE PLOT HOLES?

      “…the Crucible “just happens” to fit the Citadel…”

      Yep…that called a MASSIVE PLOT HOLE.

      • edgecrusher02
        Nov 18 2013

        No, that’s called you ignoring obvious things. Not everything needs to be explained within the narrative in a specific way. I don’t know what universe you live in where stories are like that. MANY stories are done in a way in which the viewer is meant to figure somethings out on their own. What you are saying is that stories are in no way allowed to have anything even remotely close to a surprise, or twist, or whatever you want to call it. Again, the only way to tell a story is not the overly simplistic way that you are suggesting. I feel sorry for you if that’s what you think and I question how you gather enjoyment from most stories.

        The blueprints even ask for the Catalyst by name. That is all just too convenient.You have two enemies that both possess the capability to control the minds of organic life forms and that have more than a vested interest in attempting to decide what happens next. If the story ends in a way in which the viewer is left to speculate certain things, that does not make the story a mess. That just means that the writers wanted people to come to their own conclusions. My point is that I’m not saying you are wrong, but what you say is not THE ONLY way to tell a story. This isn’t a contest. I have my interpretation, you have yours. The difference is, when I ask myself a question about something I try to find an answer. You apparently just check the codex and if it”s not there, you call it a plot hole. Have fun with that.

      • Mark Petersen
        Nov 18 2013

        Again, your reply has NOTHING to do with the Mass Effect PLOT and STORY. I’m still waiting for a PROPER ARGUMENT. But, you seem unwilling of incapible of presenting one.

        You (like many others filled with their own self importance) confuse incohierent story telling with brilliant story telling.

        i.e….if it’s vague and confusing…it must be brilliant.


        More often the not, it’s just BAD wrtiting. As in the case of Mass Effect 2 and 3.

        Open ending stories CAN work..but only when PROPERLY presented by master story tellers (i.e. Arthur C. Clarke) and/or master filmakers (i.e. Stanley Kubric)…which can result in a film like “2001.”

        I don’t know how or why the Monolith does what it does in “2001”, but it’s NARRATIVE IS CONSISTANT. It’s SPACE MAGIC is introduced AT THE BEGINING and is CONSISTANT. I can accept the Monolith as is and enjoy the movie, or turn it off. The Monolith’s powers are NOT thrust upon me in the final 10 minutes of the story to act as a DEUS EX MACHINA to end a plot the writers have no clue how to end.

        Mass Effect is NOT “2001.” Not even close.
        Casey Hudson and Mac Walters are NOT Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubric. Though, I suspect THEY think the are.

        “many stories are written so that the reader has to figure them out on their own…”

        Yes…and they ARE NEARLY ALL BAD STORIES. It’s not the reader’s job to figure out the plot. It’s the job OF THE WRITER TO EXPLAIN his plot.

        “…the reader is left to speculate the ending..”

        Again, so long as the NARRITIVE IS CONSISTANT, this is fine. Your analagy fall FLAT because:

        Mass Effect was about a war of galatic anniliation acted upon by a god-like race of machines who have culled the galaxy for millions of years….where is the speculation and contemplation in that?
        -In Mass Effect I can have SEX WITH ALIENS. Again, how is this a plot about speculation and contemplation?
        -In Mass Effect have have constant gun battles and KILL THOUSANDS of lifeforms without a second thought. How is this a plot about speculation and contemplation?
        -In Mass Effect I can have druken sex parties while the universe is pushed to the brink of extinction. How is this a plot about speculation and contemplation?
        -In Mass Effect a gather a group of misfits and go on a suicide mission. How is this a plot about speculation and contemplation?
        -In Mass Effect I can go clubbing and dance to the disco beats. How is this a plot about speculation and contemplation?

        I could go on, but the point is obvious: Mass Effect was NEVER a story about “speculation and contemplation.” If you don’t believe me, go back AND PLAY MASS EFFECT 1. Which is precisely what is wrong with your entire argument, and the story telling of Mass Effect 2 and 3.

        You are trying to put a “2001” ending on a BADLY WRITTEN Jerry Bruckheimer film. Guess what, it doesn’t work. That’s called NARRATIVE INCONSISTENCY.

        You cannot except the FACT that Mass Effect 2 and 3 will do down as the worst written space opera video of all time. A story SO BAD that it destroyed it’s own lore, gaming franchise and game company. And no amount of HEAD CANNON’ing and Arthur C. Clarke references by you will change that.

        You can redeem yourself by simply answering this question:

        Why did the Reapers not attack the Citadel?

  62. edgecrusher02
    Nov 20 2013

    @Mark Petersen

    Why didn’t the Reapers attack the Citadel? Because they are controlled by the Catalyst, and the Catalyst clearly has a vested interest in solving the issue it was created for, beyond what is currently in place. That being the cycle. This becomes obvious in the extended cut dialogue as well as in the Leviathan DLC when they outright say that the Catalyst will continue the cycle “until it finds what it is looking for.” Which means that the cycle isn’t the end all be all of it’s “solution.” Even before those DLCs, again, certain things are too convenient for them to mean nothing. Which is what I was talking about before.

    Again, you are ignoring the obvious. That being that the narrative MORE than suggests that there is more going on here than what is revealed. Even in ME1 when the story establishes an enemy with unknown origins and motives, and then ME2 adds nothing to that. Again, there has ALWAYS been speculation about why the Reapers were doing this and where they came from. That’s all anyone could do because of the way they were established in ME1.

    Though it seems that rather than put some thought into it, you just check the codex and if you can’t find it there you call it a plot hole. You won’t find anything about the Reapers origins and motives in the codex because that would be comparable to revealing the plot before it actually happens. We shouldn’t know things about an enemy that operates in a way in which they intentionally don’t reveal their motives. That’s how they were established in the beginning. Like I said, you are being short sighted. Use the brain you have, speculate, and put some thought into it.

    Rather than continue this, I’ll just tell you what you want to hear. You are right, all hail the emperor of storytelling. Do you feel better now? If that’s how you want to look at stories, then by all means go right ahead. But don’t expect everyone else to be that simple. You are being so dense that I again can’t help but entertain the idea that you are just trolling. So with that being said, I really don’t care if you are or not or what you think about it. I’ll leave you to your way of looking at things and I will still enjoy the hell out of this thought provoking story. I just completed a trilogy run again, and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

    • Mark Petersen
      Nov 25 2013

      “The Reapers are controlled by the catalyst…and it has a vested interest in solving the problem it was created for…”

      That would have have been a great answer…except for ONE PROBLEM: Mass Effect 1.

      Why was the catalyst willing to allow the Reapers in Mass Effect 1 to attack the Citadel? The Catalyst was all for galactic extermination then! What has changed? (Hint…it’s called Casey Hudson and Mac Walters…) It was the entire plot of Mass Effect 1. You statement just invalidated THE ENTIRE PLOT of Mass Effect 1..just like Mass Effect 3 by the way…which is called a PLOT HOLE.

      Mass Effect 1 gave the Reapers a CLEAR GOAL: Galactic Exterminatin. Notice the key word: CLEAR. The Reaper’s MOTIVATION is never said (which is a problem), but the writers of ME 1 realized this and cleaverly had the REapers tell us we are beneath them even explaining why they do what they do. Again, like 2001, I can accept this or quit the game right then and there…

      In Mass Effect 3, everything I just wrote has above has been made ENTIRELY MEANINGLESS. 200 hours of gameplay in a world with the above FRAMEWORK has just been made POINTLESS. The Reapers GOAL is now muddled and INCONSISTANT with the previous games, and worst of all the Reaper MOTIVATION is stupid and illogical…and all of this is done in the final 10mins of the game!

      “…just cause you can’t find it in the Codex…it’s a plot hole…”

      Yes! Especially in a story based on SCIENCE fiction. Narrative CONSISTANCY (and Technological CONSISTANCY) are important! For Exampe:

      -In ME2 RESSURECTION is introduced out of thin air. RESSURECTION! It was never mentioned in ME1, it is NEVER EXPLAINED in ME2..and NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN in ME3..except for that awful Citadel DLC, but that’s another argument. Mass Effect 1 established the “RULES” of the Mass Effect universe and you’ve just broken them of a needless, sensationalistic plot device. This is called a PLOT HOLE.

      -In ME3 (in the final 10min) INSTANTANIOUS, GALACTIC-WIDE TRANSMUTATION is introduced to a universe that never had it before. Let me repeat that: INSTANTANIOUS, GALACTIC WIDE TRANSMUTATION. Beyond, the mind-numbing scientifc stupidity of it all, this is another case of breaking the rules set out by Mass Effect 1. Had super sceince (i.e. SPACE MAGIC) been part of the origional game, then this would not have broken the NARRATIVE CONSISTANCY of the ME STORY. Instead, this rubbish in introduced, via a DEUS EX MACHINA villian (star child), because the writers of ME3 forgot (or didn’t care) what kind of story their fanbase was playing. And Casey Hudson and Mac Walters wanted to show us how brilliant they were (insert snickers and laughter here.). This is called a PLOT HOLE.

    • Mark Petersen
      Nov 25 2013

      Part 2:

      “…there is more going on here then is revealed…”

      Uh, if it’s NOT in the STORY…then it didn’t happen. This is called HEAD CANNON’ing. In other words…you are MAKING STUFF UP to fill in PLOT HOLES. That’s the writers job not mine.

      “Speculate…have a brain..”

      For the latter, I do have one. For the former, see above. As always, there are a handful of storytellers who can break the rules (i.e. Jame Joyce, etc)..but the writers of Mass Effect ain’t them.

      “…we shouldn’t know how an enemy (villian) operate..”

      WRONG. If their goal/Motivation of said enemy is the ENTIRE FOCUS OF THE PLOT (i.e. stop the Reapers) then it needs to be CLEAR, LOGICAL and GOOD. A vauge, illogical, and stupid enemy motivation leads to….a vauge, illigocial and stupid STORY.

      “your being dense…”

      Hmmm….don’t know about this. I provide argument after argument (with examples) of where the Mass Effect plot went serious wrong, and your response is to NOT offer counter arguments. Instead you counter with empty, meaningless phrases like “thought provoking” and “more going on then we know” or “speculate.” As ell as pointless quotes from Arthur C. Clarke.

      Whose being dense here?

      “…I’m going to enjoy this thought provoking story…”

      If a story where you can have SEX WITH MULTIPLE partner/aliens is “thought provoking” to you, enjoy.
      If a story where you can KILL THOUSANDS of people/aliens without repercutions is “thought provoking” to you, then enjoy.
      If a story that DESTROYS IT’S OWN LORE for the sake of sensationlistic (but meaningless) plot “twists” is “thought provoking” to you, enjoy!
      If a story where you can have drinking and sex PARTIES as the universe burns with the corpses of billions of dead is “thought povoking” to you, enjoy.
      If a story that Renders the PLOT of each pervious game UTTERLY MEANINGLESS is “thought provoking” to you, enjoy.

      ..though it would be alot cheaper if you just stuck to watching soap operas on the couch in between Twilight novels. Since, by your logic, those have about the same level of plot, consistancy that Mass Effect 3 has.

      • Mark Petersen
        Dec 3 2013

        In other words, anyone who thinks the plot to Mass Effect 3 was ever “thought provoking” is commiting HEADCANNON’ing-i.e. making stuff up to fill in PLOT HOLES they subconciously know are there. They are fooling themselves, but just can’t admit it.

        Mass Effect was an action/space opera plot…as anybody who played ME1 would have realized. But…

        The plot of Mass Effect went south starting with Mass Effect 2. Anyone who looks objectively at the story knows this. It’s full of RETCONS, inconsistancies, character retrogrades and MASSIVE PLOT HOLES. That by the end of Mass Effect 3 were so bad that Hudon and Walters had to use a DEUS EX MACHINA ending…and they did it badly. Bioware even tried to PATCH their own ending, and couldn’t. And after the Citadel DLC, Bioware has reduced Mass Effect to little more then bad FAN-FICTION and/or a “Gary’s Mod” platform…sad.

  63. edgecrusher02
    Dec 23 2013

    @Mark Petersen

    The funny thing is, because of indoctrination, no matter what the premise turned out to be in the end, it COULD always have been a lie. Whatever the Reapers told us or whatever may or may not be dictating them told us, we would have to choose whether to believe it or not. So in the end it would always be left up to the player. If one thinks there are massive plot holes in a way that make the ending bad, that’s a “way out” that totally fits with a major part of the narrative. So either way you look at it, it’s up to the player. I’m not saying that outside information should ever be required to make sense of a story, but it is nowhere near as bad as you are making it out to be. You sound so bitter that I think you are more or less too far gone to even consider anything else besides the way you currently look at it. Personally, I think that’s a terrible way to look at things as far as I’m concerned. I will not actively choose to block out information like that. To each their own I guess. All I know is, keeping an open mind when it comes to things has made live so much better for me. Perspective is everything.

    • Mark Petersen
      Jan 15 2014


      The old “indoctrination theory”…the ULTIMATE form of headcannoning (i.e. making things up.). Bioware have shot this down. The ME3 ending, in all it’s horror of bad writing, retcon’ing and lore destruction, is the BEST Walters and Hudson could come up with…..really.

      Neverheless, shouldn’t it be obvious that and ending is SO BAD when your fanbase has to MAKE UP AN ENDING…and it’s actually BETTER then the one Bioware came up with? Doesn’t that just say it all?

      • edgecrusher02
        Jan 16 2014

        Whether it’s better or not is purely subjective. I personally don’t like the idea of reducing things down to that typical of a good vs evil scenario. The entire series and all of its major decisions have shown that the same results can be achieved from either side of the perceived morality spectrum. Why should the ending be any different? Nothing is ever that black and white. Nothing is ever as black and white as its die hard followers attempt to make it. Nothing. It’s gray. Always has been, always will be. Anyone that fails to recognize that to at least some extent is only fooling themselves.

        The ending exists in a way in which it is up to the player, which is not automatically bad. Some people like the idea of what the indoctrination theory implies because maybe they like those kinds of stories of traditional heroes stopping typical “bad guys.” Others like the ambiguity of it, plain and simple. Some like it as is and think they have figured out what the “right” choice is for whatever reasons based on how they see it. Others see the pros and cons and choose accordingly based on what they see as the having the least cons(this would be me). And then some others take it to entirely different levels(see the Choose Wisely theory on Youtube). Everyone looks at it in their own unique perspective.

        Again, I never said it was perfect, but nothing ever is and I don’t expect that anything ever will be either. Instead of bitching about it and attempting to berate people for thinking differently in a way that some would say borders petulant child, why not take the opportunity of discussion it brings to the table and do the same? Make it your own.

      • Mark Petersen
        Jan 19 2014

        “not reducing things to good vs. evil”

        Is all well and fine (if one has a broken moral compass), so long as that THEME is CONSISTANT! ME1…..GOOD VS EVIL. ME2….GOOD VS EVIL…now in ME3 it’s all GREY?? That is called INCONSISTANT and a symptom of BAD WRITING.

        “Nothing is ever black and white”

        Fighting Nazi’s ISN’T a black and white question?
        Fighting Communisim ISN’T a black and white question?
        Fighting against GALACTIC WIDE EXTERMINATION isn’t a black and white question?

        If your answer to any of the above questions is YES…then you serioulsy must questionable your moral values….simple as that.

        “Instead of bitching…berate people who think different”..

        First, YOU started the name calling, not me.

        Secondly, what you refer to as “bitching” is called ARGUMENT and DEBATE. It goes like this:

        YOU present a position-The ME3 ending is great. But you give NOTHING to back up your argument, other then quoting Arthur C. Clarke and a whole host of MEANLESS infromation that has NOTHING to do with why you think the ending is great.

        I present a COUNTER ARGUMENT as to why it’s TERRIBLE. I give EXAMPLES of RETCON’ing. I give EXAMPLES of POOR WRITING. I give examples of INCONSITANCIES in the narriatives and thems. I give examples of CHARACTOR INCONSISTANCIES. I give examples of MAJOR PLOT HOLES. All of which point to ME3 having one of the WORST endings of all time.

        To which, you call me out for “bitching.” That, soulcrusher, is NOT and argument.

  64. edgecrusher02
    Jan 24 2014

    @Mark Petersen

    I’m sorry, I forgot you were the master of storytelling. We already went over this. If you think morality is anything but a human construct based solely on how we as a species perceives things, you are only fooling yourself. Again, the fact that something questions things that we have all just assumed and taken for granted does not make it bad. In fact, I think it makes it better and is something we should do more as a species. It is not simply galactic wide extermination. Plain and simple. If that’s all you got out of it then again, the only thing I can say is you are being shortsighted. You are not debating because you acknowledge nothing but your own view. The way you use your CAPS LOCK to EMPHASIZE things is like you think you are speaking to someone LOWER than yourself. Like I said, you are being shortsighted. Have fun with that.

    • Mark Petersen
      Jan 25 2014

      “….I forgot you were a master storyteller..”

      What makes a GOOD story can be found in ANY writers handbook. You can even google it. Story telling has RULES because they work. Only the most skilled writers can change the formula and make it work. Casey Hudson and Mac Walters are not two of them. Had the writers of ME3 took a refresher course, the story might have ended up half-decent.

      “…morality is anything but a human construct..”

      Wow. Some college professor REALLY, REALLY did a number on you. If you don’t believe in a sense of right and wrong (or black and whitel), well, then their just no hope for you. Hope you don’t have children. You are the epitomy of the term “broken moral compass.”

      “…the fact that something questions things…”

      Wrong (see above). A story’s ENDING needs to be CONSISTANT with it’s begining PLOT, CHARACTERS and it’s THEME. Just because and ending asks questions DOES NOT make it good. Mass Effect had NOTHING to do with “deep thought”, “mans place in the universe” or “questioning humanities morality.”

      Mass Effect was about BLASTING ALIENS, HAVING SEX, DANCING and SAVING THE GALAXY. If you believe otherwise, you are HEADCANNONING like I have never seen before.

      “…It is not simply galactic extermination…”

      Wow. You clearly did not pay attention to the game’s story. The Reapers admit to it. Unless, you’re saying EXTERMINATION OF AN ENTIRE RACE (or races) IS OK UNDER THE “CORRECT” CIRCUMSTANCES.”

      So, by your “logic” MASS EXTERMINATION is justifiable…since MORALITY doesn’t matter…under certain conditions. Correct? So just what are the conditions that MASS EXTERMINATION of and ENTIRE RACE is justified, Soulcrusher? I could send you a copy of MEIN KAMPF if you need source material…

      • edgecrusher02
        Jan 28 2014

        I’m not going to debate the morality of the story’s premise with you. That’s not even what we originally were talking about. When it comes to questioning “the greater good”, there is no right answer. Though you would likely try to “win” at that too. We as a species have lived for a blink in comparison to the universe’s existence and have explored an amount of it so small that it’s insignificant. In general(not just with this), you come across as very arrogant and narrow minded. Either that or like I said before, you are trolling. Which based on your above comment… “Mass Effect was about BLASTING ALIENS, HAVING SEX, DANCING and SAVING THE GALAXY. If you believe otherwise, you are HEADCANNONING like I have never seen before.” If that is the case, congrats on being a waste of space and time. If you are not trolling, have a nice life viewing it through your extremely narrow minded lens. There is nothing left to say. I’d say it’s been real, but it really hasn’t.

      • Mark Petersen
        Feb 7 2014

        “…we as a species have lived for a blink..”

        Ok…what does this statement have to do with Mass Effect 3 failed plot/ending and me asking you when MASS EXTINCTION is permissible in your world view?

        “…you come across as ARROGANT and NARROW MINDED…”

        In other words, you have NO ARGUMENT to refute my statements and conclusions. Since name calling is NOT an argument.

        “…Mass Effect was about BLASTING ALIENS, HAVING SEX…”

        It wasn’t? Wow. You played a completely different game then I did. ‘Cause when I played Mass Effect I…
        BLASTED ALOT of aliens…
        had SEX with LOTS of women (human and otherwise)
        …and tried to SAVE THE GALAXY.

        I don’t recall a single moment when my Shepard took a break from all of the above and contemplated man’s place in the universe and philosophized then meaning of morality…nope. Not once…

        Now, perhaps in YOUR game, as you were having sex with Liara or Miranda ,you saw it as a commentary on humanity..or as you were blasting aliens you saw it as a commentary on humanities “failings” and perhaps as you weren’t (?) saving the galaxy you THOUGHT you were watching-NOT a video game-but a philosophical treatis on…SOMETHING…

        But you weren’t. You were playing a VIDEO GAME about blasting aliens, having sex, dancing, and saving the galaxy. The rest you were MAKING UP in your own mind. That’s called HEAD CANNONING…

        Oh, and you still haven’t told me when MASS EXTERMINATION is permissible. You still haven’t denid it…you had your brain turned to MUSH in colldge quite well…sad.

  65. Mar 17 2014

    I have played all series of mass effect game and my most favorite series is mass effect 3 and even i want too look like commander as he looks in this series i got his costume i mostly i wear it when i play game.

    • Mark Petersen
      May 19 2014

      I’m glad you enjoyed THE GAME. I hope you’re not seriously defending THE WRITING. Honestly, I can’t believe anybody who played Mass Effect 1 could possible enjoy Mass Effect 3. Since the story presented in Mass Effect 1 was radically changed in Mass Effect 2 and effectilvely DESTROYED by Mass Effect 3.


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