Why Mass Effect 3’s Ending Doesn’t Need Changing (SPOILERS)

Why Mass Effect 3’s Ending Doesn’t Need Changing (SPOILERS)

If you died tomorrow, if some kind of disaster struck and removed you entirely from the world, would the choices you’d made with your life to date matter?

Would it matter what you had accomplished? Who you had loved? If you had saved another’s life? Would your life’s work have meaning? Would there not be at least a single day in the course of your years that managed to have repercussions beyond the limits of your own knowledge and time?

I know very, very few people who would say, “no, none of it matters.” It’s a nihilistic and bleak point of view to maintain, that the inevitability of the final conclusion — for indeed, we are all mortal — overrides the importance of what one does along the journey. To be human is inevitably to face death. The moments we live for, before the end comes, are what define us.

So, too, for the life and times of Commander Shepard.

When I played Mass Effect 3 through for review, I was short on time. I finished the whole thing in about 23.5 hours’ worth of play, crammed into two weeknights and one very long Saturday. I completed the game successfully, in the sense that I ended the reaper threat, but it was more or less in the worst way possible. This Shepard (who was not my Shepard) and her allied forces were not truly ready, and I’d faced a long, agonising series of lose/lose decisions along the way. One of Shepard’s closest allies had committed suicide in despair, and many others had been lost on missions. Garrus and Liara, the Commander’s right and left hands for so many years, her closest friends and most stalwart allies, died in London.

Rushed for time, exhausted, and deeply burdened by grief I was feeling for admittedly fictional characters, I simply made Shepard’s final choice without much regard for which of the two available options I was picking. And so it came to pass that Shepard broke the cycle of chaos and order once and for all, but in so doing she didn’t only sacrifice herself. She sacrificed pretty much everything, ultimately achieving destruction on a scale even the reapers couldn’t achieve.

Shepard killed everyone. I killed everyone. After the credits rolled and the final scene faded, I sat up until well after two in the morning, unable to sleep, haunted by the outcome of a video game.

And there, on the sofa, in the darkest and most solitary hours of the night, I realised the truth: I need to be more selfish than that. I don’t care if Shepard lives. I wish she could but I understand if she can’t. But others need to. Some of them need to make it, need to carry the legacy of what they learned and what they did. Their worlds will never, ever be the same but they’ll be there, to tell the stories and create homes. There is no “everybody lives” moment coming, no perfect moment to make everything work for everyone. But Shepard can save others, and to the best of my ability that is what I will have her do.

That’s the Commander I need to play. And despite the finality and of Shepard’s ultimate choice and the similarities of the conclusions, there still remain as many unique Commanders Shepard as there are players to control him or her.

The full story of Shepard, the whole Mass Effect trilogy, as it turns out, is neither a romance nor a tragedy. The closest analogue is an epic. Myths and legends handed down over centuries, told by parents to children, by prophets to followers, by bards and singers to halls full of eager ears. The story will always end the same way, will always have the same moral, the same sweeping vistas and battles, but the details — ah, the details. Don’t those always change in the telling?

Shepard was a woman. A man. Dark-skinned. Pale as moonlight. In love with an asari, a turian, a fellow human. Kind and generous, ruthless and bold. She saved the council and pitied the geth. He destroyed the krogan and saved salarians. And no matter what, Shepard defeated Sovereign at the Citadel, escaped from the Collector base on the far side of the Omega-4 Relay, and came at long last to be standing with the Catalyst, there to decide the fates of all.

The self-sacrificing saviour is the central figure of modern Western mythology, and has been for centuries. That’s the core of Christianity, and it’s a major factor in countless stories. Even at the subconscious level, the story of the redeemer who gives his life for the future of all has become a deep and immutable link in our collective narrative tradition. Shepard is practically the platonic incarnation of the messianic archetype, inevitably martyred for the saving of all.

And that it is where we find Shepard in the end: on the plane of mythology, removed from the plane of men. And that is also where many players feel they lose Mass Effect, because until the final moment, the plane of men has been the only ground the game knows. Shepard may have died (in the act of saving her crew) and been resurrected to walk the world again, but she has remained firmly, immutably human. The first two entries in the trilogy, as well as most of the third game, concerned themselves entirely with physical, tangible needs: disable a gun, set up a supply chain, shoot an enemy, save a colony. The reapers may be an existential threat on a terrifying scale, but they are visible, and can be touched and beaten.

Where the physical plane gets lost by dallying too close with the metaphysical one is in conversation with the Catalyst. Appearing to Commander Shepard in the form of the young boy who died in Vancouver at the start of the game, the Catalyst takes on the role of deus ex machina in an astonishingly literal way, standing forth as the guiding hand over all organic and machine life in the galaxy for millions of years. This is the deity of the Milky Way, whether it calls itself that or no, and its presence creates a major shift in the tone and the goals of the series something like 98 per cent of the way through the third and final game.

Some players embrace that tonal shift. Others will forever reject it. I personally, as a player, love Mass Effect 3 in a way I have loved very few games before, but even a week after first watching Shepard meet the god of the Citadel, I am of two minds about its presence. I wish that we could have had more clarity leading up to this point, while also understanding that even for the biggest badass in the galaxy, some things simply are, and cannot be changed.

The reaper threat has always been so incredible, so massive, that even the biggest and most united armada the whole galaxy could muster seemed insufficient to beat it back. We know, now, why the reapers have been designed this way and why they scour the galaxy clean. But the answers to mysteries, alas, are often unsatisfying, particularly when they raise more questions than they answer. And in this case, the lingering questions are as philosophical as they are logistical.

Perhaps Mass Effect 3 really is a bleak endorsement of a joyless philosophy. In an argument between fate and free will, we are left with the reasonably free will of the player against the stark and unforgiving fate handed out by the game’s designers. And yet, to argue that Shepard’s choices cease to matter, to argue that the player’s input ceases to matter, seems to miss the point not just of the game but of existence itself.

The player’s control over Shepard’s fate always was, in most ways, an illusion, across all three games. But what a strong and passionate illusion it was. At the end of all things, when Shepard’s story culminates in one painful, limiting final choice, the player truly feels the limits of the walls that a game puts up. We cannot ask a “why” that isn’t coded, and we cannot force a happy ending through sheer force of will.

Did Shepard love well? Did he do the best he could with the time that was given to him? Did she stand strong against unrelenting odds, and inspire faith and courage in others? Did the player laugh, gasp, and cry while guiding the Commander through his trials? If so, then Shepard’s martyrdom and ascent from history into myth serves the purpose it was meant to do.


  • Sorry Kate, well written article, but if you think Shepard dying is the primary/only problem people have with the ending then you’re not paying even cursory attention to the matter. Even if you intentionally only wanted to address one thing, it should have been that every ending was the same ending with different colours in a game that sold itself on the decisions you made changing how the climax will play out.

    • Heh, the endings are actually quite different if you’ll bear with me for a minute. The part that couldn’t

      change was that the Crucible/Catalyst was always going to be the only way to break the Reaper cycle. The

      Crucible served as the power source and the Citadel channeled this energy via both a local pulse and then an

      incredibly powerful beam that was designed to filter out through the Mass Relay network. This was the only

      way to reach all life, both organic and synthetic, at basically the same time. Anything else would mean any

      new solution was flawed and thereby likely to fail as well.

      The projection of a boy, as it appears to Shepard at least, refers to “we”, not “I”, as his race is most

      likely the ultimate evolution of a synthetic race, safeguarding the ongoing evolution of organics till they

      believe they are ready for Synthesis. This safeguarding was from organics creating another synthetic race

      that could potentially both wipe out all organic life in the galaxy forever and even challenge the Boy’s race

      themselves. The “Boy’s” race offer 3 new solutions that are possible to enact, due to the availability of the

      energy pulse from the Crucible/Citadel. It seems it was always planned to be used for Synthesis at least, but

      Shepard could also alter the pulse by either using it to control the Reapers or to destroy all synthetic


      So, here are your three main outcomes of the new Solution:

      Ending by “Control” leaves the whole Galaxy basically how it is, minus the the Mass Relays. The Reapers also

      survive, but are now merged with Commander Shepard who’s essence controls them.

      Ending by “Destroy” removes the Mass Relays and all synthetic life from the Galaxy. This includes the

      Reapers, the Geth & EDI. If your Readiness Rating is high enough, this doesn’t include Commander Shepard & he

      survives to see another day, free from the Reapers.

      Ending by “Synthesis” changes all life, both organic & synthetic, into the same base DNA, thereby forever

      removing the fundimental difference between them. This doesn’t seem to alter their race or form in the

      process. Shepard’s DNA is required as part or all of the template for this new DNA, thereby asking of him the

      ultimate sacrifice to achieve peace in the Galaxy for the rest of time. This seems to be the only ending

      where Joker and EDI smile at the end and seem content.

  • I don’t think you quite understand why people don’t like the ending to Mass Effect 3. They don’t like it because, no matter what you choose, throughout all three games, the endings are essentially the same. Even between the three endings you can choose, they aren’t much different. it feels incredibly lazy. It feels like a huge letdown.

    People aren’t upset because the endings may be ‘sad’ or that shepard doesn’t survive. They’re upset because the endings weren’t handled with respect for the universe or what the player chose in ME1 or 2. Also, because they’re incredibly short, with no sort of epilogue about what happens with all of the characters you touched throughout the games.

    Personally, I’d rather see them change the motivation they gave for the reapers. What they chose is incredibly stupid, almost embarrassingly so.

    • This is how I feel… 🙁

      I would have loved to see wrex returning home to baby krogan, tali returning to her homeworld and taking her mask off (and seeing her damn face) and liara working to rebuild her planet. Even if shepard died, I at least wanted some damn closure. The ending just raised more questions then it answered. Did the mass relay explosions kill everyone like it did the batarians? If all 3 endings results in the mass relays being destroyed, how does the massive fleets full of asari, turians, geth, quarians, salarians and krogan get back home? If they can’t get back home, surely they would fight over earth or nearby planets, causing yet another war or loss of earth anyway? Why didn’t I get to see any rachni killing husks down on earth?

      I’ve kept the same femshep over all my saves, made some really hard decisions that made me put down my controller for 5minutes and really think about what would happen, thinking that it would all make a difference in the last game, but it didn’t. The whole game WAS epic… up until the last 10mins, where it really left you feeling completely disappointed and basically unsatisfied.

      • Oh and lets not forget the fact that most people had 1 of the squad mates the had with them on earth appear in the final cut scene… how the hell did they get back up to the normandy in time to escape through an exploding mass relay and crash on a tropical planet?

      • So true it was more of coping movies ending than original thinking I reckon the original belieft the Reapers where origianly a race that trhough time and need to survive became synthetic and eventually the reapers not because for some dumb reason life had to be killed to stop them making robots what is this Terminator meets Doctor Who? How lazy that idea was hell the Protheans from what I remebered didnt make any geth like robots etc What a dumb Idea

        P.S. I bought the game and havent played it yet Im not sure if I want to now thanks to Lazyware and its dumb story and other BS

        • Another reason Javik should have been in the game proper. I can’t remember what he called them, but the protheans did create AI, and ended up in war with them much like the quarians and the geth.

          I still don’t understand why that means organic life has to be harvested every cycle (what do they do with the synthetics, I wonder?). The chaos of organic/synthetic war hardly seems worse than what the reapers were doing. Order? Pah!

      • So true it was more of coping movies ending than original thinking I reckon the original belieft the Reapers where origianly a race that trhough time and need to survive became synthetic and eventually the reapers not because for some dumb reason life had to be killed to stop them making robots what is this Terminator meets Doctor Who? How lazy that idea was hell the Protheans from what I remebered didnt make any geth like robots etc What a dumb Idea

        P.S. I bought the game and havent played it yet Im not sure if I want to now thanks to Lazyware and its dumb story and other BS

        • The game designers and evroeyne at bioware have been talking about how Mass Effect 3 will show a more human side to Shepard, I think that this scene is almost necessary in a story telling context because it shows Shepard in an extremely emotional moment. Not only does it help build character for Shepard but it sets up what really is at stake The scene in MW3 wasn’t nearly as moving and that game didn’t need it because it is not as much of a story oriented game.

  • I don’t think people are as much bothered by Shepard’s death as they are by the fact the last 10 minutes is FULL of plot holes and bad writing. I’m okay with my Shepard sacrificing himself, but there are so many inconsistencies with what happens leading up to and after that.

  • Isn’t most of the problems due to the fact that the entire game is reduced to a binary choice, and that the motivation for the reapers makes no sense?

    I think everyone expected Shephard to die, and I don’t think anyone has a problem with that.

  • Don’t necessarily want a happy ending – just want to see my choices matter.

    Like in DAO we saw the world after your Avatar died. Like in ME2 we saw Joker and TIM after Shep died (if they died), like in KOTOR we saw you take control of the galaxy if you were darkside.

    Mass Effect 3 has the least variation in endings and the least change due to the choice of any BioWare game – with the exception of DA2 – but that will hopefully lead to an amazing DA3….I hope.

  • I’m in two minds about the endings. On the one-hand I dislike them for all the reasons everybody else who doesn’t feels. On the other, I have to admire the strength of the Mass Effect story and characters. I just spent the past three days mourning my Elika Shepard. I still can’t look at a screenshot of her or Liara without getting a little sombre. This, over what are objectively fictitious characters. Like the endings or not, you have to give credit where it’s due and Bioware freaking deserves it.

  • I went with the nicest possible ending and I got it, it has a theme there but yeah, I never got to even find out if the two guys that went with me lived??
    I see some assume they died, but I didn’t see that.
    What happened to the citizens on the Citidel??
    Do people still travel space with FTL drives, clearly you can cross at least 50 light years relatively fast (we did it just looking for credits)?
    Now that everyone is basically half and half, are they enhanced, immortal, smarter…can build there own Relays. The section at the end of the credits implies a lot and resolves very little.
    Hanging questions are what pisses me off… not the actual ending, which was fine.

    • This is the problem I had, in a reverse sort of way. I took Kaidan and Liara into the final mission, so they’re with you when you’re running towards the beam. You hear Alliance types talking over the radio as Shepard is dragging him/herself up off the ground saying there was no survivors. Obviously that wasn’t entirely true, as Shepard and Anderson lived past that, but I would say the chances of any one else making it out alive are slim to none.

      And then I get to the final cut scene, and Kaidan jumps off the ship looking as healthy as ever. o_O Not impressed.

  • good try, but you missed the point

    for one shepard dieing is not the issue
    its the piss poor ending, and not finding what happen to the universe
    why is the normandy on pandora anyway

  • The more I think about it, the more I believe I don’t think this is the big ending, I think its like the BIG decision of the game like choosing Ash or Kaiden in ME1 or choosing when to go to the collectors base in ME2..

    It would not surprise me if Bioware comes out with a big dlc to finish this all up, and have had this planned from the get go, they just want everyone to get up to a certain point. The reason I say this, is because there is 1 thing that does not make sense..


    You have 3 choices:
    – Try to control the reapers
    – Make all life in the galaxy synthetics
    – Destroy all synthetic life

    2 of those means perma death for Shepard, 1 of those means Shepard can live (provided you have enough war assets). Now the thing that stands out to me, and others, is that final scene from where Shepard and friends take the blast from Harbinger, everything goes strange, as if it was the dream state, and if you really think about it, everything from that point on plays out like a dream, or a battle of Shepard’s self-conscience.

    You have Anderson, who stands for Humanity, the Illusiveman who stands for the reapers, each trying to pull Shepard to their point of view. Think of it more, as the battle for Shepards will, as he is fighting indoctrination. Choosing to control the reapers, means the indoctrination of Shepard and Choosing to make all life in the galaxy synthetics, really means, giving up, and letting everyone become reapers.

    Now the thing that does not make sense, is during this whole end, Shepard is not in his N7 armour, now I can understand, taking a direct assault from a reaper beam weapon would screw any armour you have on… so, why is it, in the final scene when Shepard wakes up, is he still in his complete N7 armour… that seems a little too much for an oversite for Bioware… and if that’s the case, then the above makes sense, that Shepard was dreaming about destroying the Mass Relays, and the Normandy crew crash landing..

    Or maybe I am looking for too much into it lol

    • For me, I figured everything went strange because Shepard was barely clinging on to life. Story-wise it goes into a more thematic style, and less literal, perhaps, and that’s the part I still haven’t figured out.

      I went for synthesis (was was to make all life organic/synthetic hybrid, like the reapers are, not purely synthetic), so I only watch the destruction ending on youtube, but the armour was the same from what I saw. Just scratched and torn all to hell.

      But the more I’ve thought about the game since, the more I realise that saying synthesis is the final stage of evolution is a very reaper-like thing to say. They see themselves as a higher, evolved life form. So perhaps the Catalyst is really an avatar of sorts for Harbinger, that the boy from Vancouver was chosen as a way to beguile Shepard into trusting it. That destruction is the “proper” ending, because how does the cycle continue like the catalyst says it will, if it also destroys the reapers. I remember having that conversation with Garrus about sacrificing people so others could live, and I’m thinking it’s to get that idea into your head. That you WON’T be able to save everyone to win.

      Right now I just want Bioware to explain it to us. I’m hating no knowing.

      • Note: I don’t think this theory requires that Shepard have been knocked out and dreaming. I think it works better if it’s real, but not what you think.

  • Wait, what is so hard to understand about the Reapers. The pure logic they are controlled by sees that synthetic life will most certainly rise up and destroy organic.

    To stop this they harvest advanced civilizations in a cycle, preserving their existence (as of that is what matter to their logical minds) in reaper form, but allowing more organic life to continue.

    The catalyst and reapers are so logical, they don’t understand that in a galaxy with such a cycle, they’ve stripped away the only point to existence. Shepards fate writ large. They acknowledge their calculations must be wrong with Shepards appearance and so the final decision is left to him, each horrendous but in the cosmic scheme necessary.

    For those who don’t understand the reapers/catalysts intentions, you need to see it as what happened in the arrival dlc. You have to kill 300,000 to save a galaxy, and sometimes you need to fundamentally change it to save it.

    • You don’t see how dumb it is?

      The reapers destroy and kill billions, TRILLIONS of organics. you can call it ‘harvesting’ all you want, but a big laser blowing things up looks like killing to me. The protheans are now a slave race, mindless ‘collectors.’ The reapers aren’t doing any organics any favours.

      And why do they do it? To prevent organics from making synthetics that kill organics… Yeah. Great job. This flies right in the face of ME1, in which Sovereign contacts the Geth, a race of synthetic AI, that famously revolted against their creators, and uses them as a tool to bring the reapers back to kill organics. Holy crap, what a huge plot hole.

      But it gets worse. The reapers say they do this because all AI will inevitably revolt and kill everyone. But the Geth just stayed beyond the veil and didn’t bother anyone until Sovereign tasked them with attacking Eden Prime. The Geth were thankful for the quarians for creating them, they wanted to be peaceful. The Geth showed the reaper logic was wrong.

      Hell, Saren even mentions how the Geth would survive the coming invasion of the reapers because Sovereign thought they were useful tools. If the reapers really want to prevent synthetics from killing organics, all they need to do is return to the galaxy every few millenia and kill SYNTHETICS, leave the organics alone.

      • This is EXACTLY what bothered me about the Catalyst’s reasoning behind why destruction is “wrong”. Wipe out advanced organic life so they don’t get killed by the synthetics they created (which is only the same thing, in the end), but allegedly leave the synthetics well alone? Does not compute. How about not leaving reaper tech like the mass relays lying around the galaxy to help the advancement of organic life. Keep them in the dark, problem solved. Or flick a kill switch on the synthetics, problem solved.

        No, I’m pretty much convinced at this point that the Catalyst is a malevolent force with its own intentions that have nothing to do with the good of organic life.

        • The logic isn’t flawed, just… not very nice. It’s very Borg-like.

          They preserve the accomplishments of organic life by assimilating its DNA into the Reaper form, thereby living on for as long as the Reapers survive. Once preserved, advanced organic life is wiped out to allow for the next “generation” of races to evolve and advance in the controlled environment of the Reapers’ creation (Citadel, relays, etc.).

          I’m quite certain the Reapers turn around and wipe out all synthetic life as well. It’s probably just easy for the Reapers to manipulate and use other synthetics in their quest of absorbing organic life. They’d have to wipe out all signs of the other civilizations as well, to the best of their ability.

          The logic is certainly extreme and alien–and arguably makes for a lame story–but it seems pretty consistent. They value and preserve the biology of organic life, but place no value on it actually existing naturally.

  • I think this article is enormously well-written and really insightful, but I have to disagree with its argument.

    For starters, Shepard being killed isn’t inevitable – there’s an ending where s/he survives, which does puncture the martyr/messianic archetype. It’s much harder to achieve, but is possible. But why stop with just an incrementally better ending? The point of interactivity in videogames (insofar as I think it has a point) is to meet player input with appropriately engaging/emotional/fun output.

    Having a spectrum of endings from ‘disaster’ to ‘success’ is *only* possible with interactive storytelling; writers don’t need to stick to traditional paradigms of tragedy or epic heroism when all could be possible in different playthroughs.

    My main problem with the ending isn’t so much that it’s bleak, or even that it sticks ridiculously close to science-fiction cookie-cutter models – though it’s both of those – but rather that it’s an awfully inconclusive, incoherent and jumbled way to end a trilogy.

    For all the metaphysical pondering on the origins of the universe and the apparent inevitability of conflict between organic and synthetic life (even if a few hours previously we were able to broker a peace between the geth and quarians) the explanation for the Reapers’ motives is nonsensical, the ‘new colony stargazing scene’ hackneyed and confusing, and the absence of any information about the fate of the galaxy pretty galling.

    Players have been introduced to these characters, concepts and civilisations for five years – Mass Effect 3 was often about influencing where, how and in what circumstances they lived, fought or died. After that climactic final battle with the Reapers, we have absolutely no idea what happens to the universe, apart from some vague platitudes about searching for the stars, a mandatory cinematic of all the relays exploding, and a bizarre plot-hole-filled Normandy crash just to fit in an awkward Genesis motif.

    I think it’s entirely legitimate to criticise the endings for what they are, not just because of what we wanted them to be. At present they feel monumentally out place with the other 98% of ME3, and certainly the rest of the series.

  • yeah, the writer doesn’t understand the underlying issues. Bioware pulled its standard good/bad decision at the end and called it a day. And even then the “Good” ending (destroying the reapers) didn’t seem good to me either. After uniting the Geth and Quarians, why the hell would I want to destroy them!? I said f’ it all and chose the synth ending, and all I got for that was some crew members with glowy eyes, what a let down.

    • I was confused as to which was the “paragon/good” option and which was the “renegade/bad” option. You’d think destroying the Reapers (at any cost, it seems) is the “good” option, right? But the explosion is red, which usually indicates renegade/bad options… (Also, think back to the ending of ME1 and ME2, the planet in the background is blue/red depending on your paragon/renegade status.) Choosing to control the Reapers, the explosion is blue, meaning it may have been the paragon/good option, and TIM was maybe going the right path after all? Even if he didn’t go about it in a very nice way.

      The more I think about it, choosing to destroy all synthetic life really does seem like the “bad” option, since you’d be killing not only reapers but all the mass relays, geth, EDI and essentially any person like Shepard with implants. (I think that’s what they said, anyway…) Where as choosing to sacrifice yourself and control the Reapers, thus sparing everyone else, seems like the more paragon option. It reminds of how in FFX where they were fighting to stop Sin, but the person fighting him eventually had to become him… Or something like along those lines.

      The last option, turning everyone into Synthetics, seems like a mix of both, but still a bad choice. You’re basically turning everyone into something against their will, no better then a Reaper it’s self. Why you’d sacrifice yourself to turn everyone in the galaxy into the very thing you’ve been fighting against makes very little sense…

  • The problem with the ending is not that Shepard dies. The mythic arc, as noted, calls for her death, and I, for one, based my gameplay on the expectation that she wouldn’t be coming back from her final mission. Of course, I secretly hoped otherwise and did my damndest to give her the best possible shot at coming back. There is, after all, a second mythic arc here: the Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai arc, which calls for death, but not necessarily that of the lead protagonist.

    The problem is narrative. Structural. Themeatic. For the lone hero type of mythic arc to work, the payoff for the ultimate sacrifice must be worth it. In this instance, because the Cataylst is demanding that Shepard sacrifice not only her life, but, particularly for Paragon Shepards, her *ideals*, the payoff must be correspondingly high. It must result in a clear victory. Not a total victory, not necessarily, but an unequivocal one. It’s very hard to call any of the endings a victory.

    The other problems are legion. The ending has no buildup and is supported by almost no exposition. It runs contrary to the theme of hope in darkness. It runs counter to many other themes, including that the value of life is universal, that playing with evolution has a good chance of backfiring, that forcing ‘synthesis’ is abominable, that choices matter and you can make the right ones to save as many as can *be* saved… There are many others. I could probably write an essay.

  • I agree with most here. The Mass Relays getting blown up was plain stupid, and nobody wants to see a Turian, Human and Quarian in a Garden of Eden setting. Wrong, just plain damn wrong. I don’t have the game (I ruined it for myself by watching the possible endings on YouTube. Stupid, I know…) but from what I’ve played through in ME1 to ME2 I want ME3’s ending to reflect on how the rest go about, not just crash and all is fine and dandy on a tropical planet nobody probably knows about. Like what happened to Garrus? Did the student/mentor relationship with Shepard and Garrus play out in his life? Did he learn from Shepard, did he things he chose to do like keep Sidonus alive impact on his life, or did the teachings of Shep see him controlled and move on?

    I’m one of those people who when they play a game with a protagonist with a epic purpose go through all these chain of events, we want to see them live and get back together with the crew I called my friends. Did all that was possible to have a great, tear-shedding ending of everyone in the Normandy clutching onto dear life and surviving through it all. No. BioWare thrown it all down the shitter, giving a lacklustre ending with a Genesis mood to it and all we got for alternate endings was a colour hue change, yet another destroyed Normandy and Shepard living through one of the endings as a result of undying spirit and determination. One thing though. There’s no secondary Lazarus Project to fix our broken hero of the galaxy.

    My point is, is that if you put an asston of effort in for the best, happiest ending in the game. You fucking want it. Not this green-red-blue hue change and the same setting. And if everyone was turned into hybrids, what was the point of destroying all the Mass Relays if they could rebuild them anyway…?

    Don’t even think I would purchase ME3, maybe borrow it off a friend, but not purchase it. My mate may like the game and so do I, but I wouldn’t want to pay close to 100 dollars just to have a ton of loose questions and no answers to satisfy them, not even worth it…

    End of rant.

  • I have a feeling that the next dlc will be set a few months after where they search for Shepard to either give him/her a galactic funeral or rescue and then if alive go in search for the rest of the crew. My other issue is that will they be able to create another series in this universe? Based on the three different endings how would you be able to start off a new game taking account of the different events. They have effectively killed off the franchise other than prequels. Which we know the outcomes of various wars anyway.

  • The main problem with the endings is that you don’t find out what happens to the rest of the universe after you set off the Crucible. I wanted to know how the universe dealt with the loss of the Mass Relays. Surely if the Protheans had built one, they would be able to figure out how to build a new one? I wanted to find out if everyone on the Citadel died or not. I wanted to find out what awards they gave Shepard in his honor.

    The ending should have been like Fallout 3 or Dragon Age: Origins, where it goes through and the characters state what happened after the end.

    • I think the reapers built the mass relays… didn’t they?

      Anyway, I was really hoping the ending would atleast wrap up all the questions and story in a nice little package, but it really just left me wondering about even more things. Sucks.

  • The biggest flaw in the ending isn’t Shepard dying (I was pretty much prepared for that for a long time, all of the goodbyes back on earth were pretty blatantly pointing towards it), that’s something that is relatively easy to cope with, and does make sense to an extent.

    The problem is as others have said the real lack of resolution here. When you invest at least a hundred hours into three games over a five year period, you become greatly invested in the universe and its characters. To have a very jarring final ten minutes that is confusing at best and infuriating at worst goes a long way towards making you feel like none of it really mattered.

    There just doesn’t seem to be enough in terms of the consequences of your actions leading up to this encounter. What is the difference between my playthrough, where I filled the Estimated Military Strength bar all the way, and somebody else’s playthrough, where they just barely scraped past the minimum requirement? This is a genuine question, I’m failing to see what changes around the ending here.

    Should Bioware change the ending? Absolutely not. It’s their story, they have every right to end it however they want to. But that doesn’t mean I’m not annoyed by it.

    Though there are some interesting theories that suggest there is something far greater at play here, which, if true, really opens up a whole other can of worms.

  • I loved my ending, this series is very special to me, leading up to the final battle I thought long and hard about how I wanted the game to end, this was the first game ever that I had been both looking forward to and dreading the end, I have spent so much time in this world that I didn’t want to leave it.

    But that is what made it so amazing, when I was presented my 3 options by the catalyst and realized, that I was going to die as I long ago came to terms with. I just waited for what turned to about 15 minutes thinking about what could of been, peace for all the galaxy, building my beloved Tali a house on her homeworld, seeing humanity truly respected as saviours.. and I cried, I cried a lot. Which is why this game is incredible, I ended up choosing to control the reapers, something which I thought from my very first conversation with the Illusive man on Mars was something that I wouldn’t even consider.

    My Shepard died, but others survived, that is what was always important to me.

    Also, when more DLC comes out, I just hope that it is post game, because Shepard’s story is complete in my heart, I don’t want it to change next time I replay it, like I would a favourite movie.

  • As you’ll be able to tell after reading this, I am one of the biggest mass effect fans ever! I can tell you right now mass effect 3 is the greatest game i’ve ever played (and probably ever will play), even though i didn’t like the ending that much. I would have rated it 100/100 if it weren’t for the lack of effort put into the ending. Of all the choices made throughout paragon/renegade shepards you end up with the same result? Not likely. Where is the differentiation? Where is the imagination? Instead they present you with something that detracts from the game itself – some philosophical question as to how the universe should revolve instead of the reapers destroying everything to make ‘lesser’ races start from scratch.

    The problem is not Shepard, or any others sacrificing themselves or dying for a better cause. The problem is the destruction of the mass effect universe. The ending would have been 100x better if in any given decision, the mass relays were NOT destroyed. A much better ending could have been something as simple as (for paragon shepard), using the crucible to destroy the reapers (and in the process dying), then perhaps have some small insight into all the different races/companions of shepard living their lives post-reaper war because of shepard.

    How is a society based on the technology of the mass relays supposed to survive after not only having everything destroyed by the reapers, but Shepard destroying their foundations? How are all the species supposed to return to their people on their homeworlds? What is the catalyst actually supposed to be? An AI? A god? Seems as though there was little or no second thought put into the endings.

  • I was confused as to which was the “paragon/good” option and which was the “renegade/bad” option. You’d think destroying the Reapers (at any cost, it seems) is the “good” option, right? But the explosion is red, which usually indicates renegade/bad options… (Also, think back to the ending of ME1 and ME2, the planet in the background is blue/red depending on your paragon/renegade status.) Choosing to control the Reapers, the explosion is blue, meaning it may have been the paragon/good option, and TIM was maybe going the right path after all? Even if he didn’t go about it in a very nice way…

    The more I think about it, choosing to destroy all synthetic life really does seem like the “bad” option, since you’d be killing not only reapers but all the mass relays, geth, EDI and essentially any person like Shepard with implants. (I think that’s what they said, anyway…) Where as choosing to sacrifice yourself and control the Reapers, thus sparing everyone else, seems like the more paragon option. It reminds of how in FFX where they were fighting to stop Sin, but the person fighting him eventually had to become him… Or something like along those lines.

    The last option, turning everyone into Synthetics, seems like a mix of both, but still a bad choice. You’re basically turning everyone into something against their will, no better then a Reaper it’s self. Why you’d sacrifice yourself to turn everyone in the galaxy into the very thing you’ve been fighting against makes very little sense…

  • It’s a well-written article, but it has to be said; whoosh. Missed the point entirely. The article is pretty much (hopefully) an unintentional strawman.

  • As an ending I didn’t hate it, in fact for a movie version it would be fine. I also concur that having Shepard die for the best possible outcome is justifiable (although I have seen plenty of posts on other forums that do not agree). The problem is that it just isn’t as satisfying for a video game series like this. A Dragon Age style epilogue pointing out all the things you stuffed up and all the things you got right simply works better for this medium.

    These games are about giving you choices, and then presenting you with the consequences of your choices. Here is one final choice and you are left to decide exactly what that choice meant. It’s all very much down to your own interpretation and that doesn’t sit very easily with me.

    Like I said, I didn’t hate the ending, I just thought it could have been more satisfying given the medium.

  • This article misses the point completely… it’s not the fact Shepard dies, it’s the fact that the ending is a MAJOR let down and incredibly disappointing. All these decisions, battles, war and epic lead up only to fizzle out at the end.

    I want to know what happened to the universe, damn you. I want to see what happened since I cured the genophage, I want to see the Quarian homeworld being rebuilt with the Geth, I want to see what happened to Earth. TELL US DAMMIT!!! Ugghhhh.

  • my biggest confusion regarding the endings was the fate of the Normandy…

    how the hell did everyone end up being back on the Normandy, doing a Mass Relay jump when the Crucible fired while only a few minutes ago everyone was still on Earth fighting…?

  • I happen to fully agree with Kate’s assessment. Shepard is fighting a war and there are really good choices to make. This is espicially true of the ending. I think from a storytelling prespective the ending was good to great; but, from a game play perspective It left a lot to be desired. I worked hard to save the krogan and bring peace to the geth and quarian, yet the endings do not take these actions into account. So on the one hand I felt there was not ever going to be a good ending to shepards story. But, at the same time I fell cheated that there is not at least an epilgue to show a glimpse of the future that shepard helped to create.

  • Sorry but facts are facts bioware touted a game where “PLAYER CHOICE shapes EVERYTHING” they shoved a standard finale down our throats! Where were my elcore units with backcarried weapons volus bomb runs geth drop troops all your assets are in name only. Three games to unite a galaxy ..all of it pointless.

  • Some of us want our hereos work to actually pay off , if a MINORITY want Shepard dead and a lackluster end with a destroyed galaxy then thats a choice it shouldnt be the norm

  • Yeah. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody angry that Shepard might have died at the end… doesn’t seem like the author fully understands the criticisms…
    At least she seemed to enjoy herself…

  • Well, tbh I felt hollow innside after the ending.. And as manny her truly want to see is how the universe continue to get allong based on your actions. How\What your companions do.. But after thinking abit wich lead me to this;


    I Bellive (And hope) the last scene is your wierd dream\indoctrination and an dlc will actually come and reveal all questions we are left with after this ending

    • Too little too late.
      Anything they do now will feel like a reset button, a retcon, or a planned ploy to extort money for a paid DLC. I’d love more flexible or simply different endings, but at this point I’m just living them out in my imagination. It just ticks me off that if future ME games ever reference the galaxy I created, it won’t coincide with how *I* ended it.

  • Ya know what would be cool if I didn’t waste 5 days of my life doing every quest after playing through the other games previously and having the Gdamn glitch where my paragon and renegade options at the end are greyed. I have full military support max level mostly renegade points and I get screwed out of the true ending I WORKED FOR ON INSANITY MODE. I would like a fix for this I could care less about the petty requests for a different ending. I want the ending I worked for and due to a glitch bioware could ignore like all the other problems I have had in the past with all of the mass effects. It would be cool though if it could be fixed the game thinks I didn’t do something I can’t even find how to change it in the save editor to fix a wrong option or something am I really screwed?

  • i would gladly sacrifice my shepard, and i did, for the greater good but the story by the end was forced, incomplete, and confusing. it was not handled well at all. looking at your point of view seeing choices as irrelevant by the end still doesn’t account for the choices presented, the crucible and now pegging the reapers as an unstoppable force when there was hope, hope that we could win and survive. it changed the entire focus of the game in the final moments you spend with your shepard.
    you said your teammates died in london? i thought mine did too until i saw them on the normandy which for some strange reason was travelling between two mass relays to create a scenario where they crash and create a very ‘adam and eve’ moment.
    its needs changing to clean it up at the very least. i couldn’t enjoy it not because the character i had grown so attached to sacrificed himself for the greater good but because i couldn’t enjoy the triumph that followed. and the discrepancies in the story.
    no one has yet to look at the real reason why people are unhappy. they blindly look at it for face value. dig deeper and see what the players mean. to understand why we truly are up in arms would be far more enlightening then just discussing why shepard has to die, creative freedom should be protected or attacking the people asking for a better structured conclusion to a great series and creative universe. look deeper and see what we see. don’t get caught up in the little things and rationalizing them

  • Endings all sucked.

    Kate doesn’t know shit.

    Whether or not Shepard dies isn’t the point. The whole drive in the series was Shepard’s drive. Hope. And the will to change preset destinies.

    What kind of message do the endings serve? You are forced into compromises, none of which reward the drive against adversity all this time.

    It’s all very Greek tragedy, the end. But it’s not what’s driven the games all this time. It’s a cop out.

  • Did anyone even read the article? Kate clearly explained why seeing the consequences and fate of the galaxy after Shepard has died is irrelevant because Shepard is dead (and you are Shepard, essentially).

    And what more closure do you really need? SPOILER ALERT: You’ve united Legion and Tali and their species together, you’ve cured the genophage for Wrex and Grunt, you’ve finally freed Miranda from her father’s wrath, You’ve help set Jack on the right path, you’ve said your goodbyes to lovers and friends before the final battle, etc, what more closure is there?

    And to say that three endings are narrowed down to just color is so unbelievably naivete. Considering the adventures had in all three games.

    Do we control the reapers, after having witness the controlling of the geth by the quarians (and shepard with Legion’s mission)? After witnessing the controlling of the krogan with the genophage? After witnessing the controlling of AI by the Normandy’s safeguards? After witnessing the mindless husks that are a byproduct of indoctrination?

    Do we destroy something we can’t understand, like the Geth and the Rachni and even the krogan to some extent with the genophage?

    Or do we unite not just different species under the same ship, not just crewmembers with different beliefs and ethics, not just an entire galaxy against the the threat of the reaper, but to unite both organics and synthetics under one DNA?

    Three choices to pick from that sums up your entire mass effect experience, and the only thing you can think of is color? Really?

    I loved the ending for not showing us what really happens after Shepard’s last decision. Throughout the entire series, Shepard has always seen the consequences and actions of her/his decisions. It’s only fitting that in making the greatest decision that will ultimately have the most impact on the fate of the galaxy hereafter, that what happens afterwards is, poetically enough, something left only to our imagination and our open interpretation of the world we have so carefully and meticulously crafted throughout the series.

    What a brilliant ending. So much hatred for what I would arguably say is one of the greatest endings to a video game series I’ve ever had the privilege of playing.

  • I have to say, that I love this article, and I’ve been consistently dissapointed in a lot of peoples reactions to the game. It’s sad that in a world where games are consistently a pandering to our selfish need to be “best at everything” a game like this gets so much heat for trying to create an immersive and beautiful story.

    I just wanted to say I know where you’re coming from; I think we’ve all been “indoctrinated” to have ultimate escapist satisfaction from every game we play based on how the game industry has worked up to this point. The pandering to self-importance and the need to always win everything all the time….how many games have we slogged through on Extreme Difficulty mode longer than we had patience for simply because we had to get the “best” ending? In a dramatic Lovecraftian-based space opera, the ultimate ending is one where the old cycle is destroyed, broken; with all the references to pregnancies, the genophage, species trying to start new lives, create new hopes, begin afresh with each other (the krogan and turien, geth and quarian) why would these endings surprise anyone? This is a drama that is essentially about clinging to an innate hope that life will continue in the face of impossible odds and garaunteed extinction; it’s mentioned by Garrus that “a b attle where one survivor is left standing is considered a victory by turian standards. But humans always want to save everyone.” Maybe a hint of things to come? Maybe a reflection on our desire to need and want everything so badly that we don’t recognize true victory when it comes?

    The perfect ending, for me, is that final shot of Shepard, lost in the rubble of destruction and death, the remnants of an old, past world scattered over her body…taking in a single, sharp breath of life.

  • People are just entitled. They’re mad they didn’t get “their” ending and they take it out on the entire series. It could be because they just rushed through playthrough, didn’t do what they were warned to do, or they just didn’t do enough. Maybe they’re just mad their Shepard had to make a hard choice (though it’s funny that they’re suddenly blindsided by that, when Shepard’s had to make hard choices in all of the games so far…). Perhaps they’re upset that they can’t ride off into the sunset with their love interest with everything ending hunky dory. Fortunately for others, they don’t have say over the games we play. It would be damn boring if every story had a protagonist who got their way without any consequences.

    Anyone who thought that ME3 would end in a neatly wrapped little package for them has not been paying attention the past three games where we were told repeatedly that it wouldn’t end pretty. Most of the people who are demanding an ending with “answers” just want an ending where it plays out the way THEY want, not an ending that fits story canon or actually goes with the theme of the game. They don’t want more “choice” in the ending, they just want the “choice” to only cater to what they want, canon be damned.

    To say that there was “no thought” put into the endings, or that Bioware suddenly “Doesn’t care” or were “lazy” is just silly. Obviously they put a long time into the game and a lot of effort, and deserve better than a bunch of entitled jackasses whining about their supposed “lack of effort” just because the player didn’t get his/her way in one ending.

  • Playing through ME2 again, I’m clearly reminded of how much control we have over the outcome. Sure, no matter what we do the Collectors are stopped–that’s a given; that’s the core to the end of the plot of the game. But we can manipulate everything surrounding that if we dedicate the time and attention.

    I *want* everyone to live so I’m going through every loyalty mission and getting every ship upgrade. I’ll go to rescue my entire crew the second I’m done with Legion’s loyalty mission which I’ll do as soon as possible. BioWare gave me that capability. They set the standard that I, as the player, can dictate through my actions who lives and who dies at the end. And there are a lot of characters in ME2.

    In ME3 I have next to no control like that. The most I can do is determine if my squadmates survive, and if the crew of the Normandy overall survives. And both of those are based on a generic number that grows by doing effectively anything–even playing multiplayer, which is a horrible design decision. Worse, I can barely decide if even my own character survives, and he can only survive if I choose to commit genocide against all synthetic life.

    I have a lot of problems with both the storylines and mechanics of the ending but despite what others here have commented, ya know what…. I want some of my Shepards to live without killing the Geth. Self-sacrifice is noble and fine for some Shepards’ personas, but dammit… I want to be able to control their survival in the other endings. Of the near-dozen characters I have, I think at least one of them deserves a “Happily Ever After” ending, while the others can die heroic deaths or bring the galaxy to its knees.

    I’m not above wanting that.

  • I think it’s an excellent article, and I for one do not understand what the big deal is about the ending. You could clearly tell that Sheppards demeaner was somewhat doubtful throughout the entire game., and she/he had that feeling of doubt-the dreams with the the child-harbinger, and at the end, when she embraces him and they both burn up-that should automatically tell you how things are going to go. So what if you don’t see exactly what happened to every single person after the Normandy crashed, Jesus what is everyone 5 years old and has to be hand held throughout every possible outcome? All you need to know, is that the one person who made the decision to save the galaxy, did so at their own cost, not the people who mattered most. The Normandy crashing on an eden like world? Well…what else do you expect, the Relays are now gone, no way to repair your ship now and fly anywhere, guess what-you are going to start right from the beggining, like all organic life did so too bad-get over it. The problem here, isn’t the ending, it’s the fact that no one seems to understand what the storyteller was actually doing. And, just for s–ts and giggles if you get the ending with Aria, where Sheppard wakes up in Purgatory on the sofa next to her? Early in the game go around speaking to those VI’s on the Citidel, and ask about Purgatory. They will inform you that there is no such place with that name in the entertainment areas of the Citidel. Get it? Purgatory-think about it.

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