9 years and one remaster later, I have a better ending for Mass Effect 3.
I have been playing through Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and I am struggling to put into words just how great it is to relive the greatest gaming trilogy of my life. Seeing these characters again, and reliving this amazing story is just phenomenal. While review(s) are incoming, replaying this trilogy has inspired me to write some articles on Mass Effect topics. I am finished with ME1, and about a 1/3 of the way through ME2. Torn between wanting to take my time and wanting to experience everything again ASAP, I have had a thought about the infamous ending.
(Massive Spoilers ahead for Mass Effect 3 and Legendary Edition)
I remember what it was like back in 2012 and the fallout that was the controversy that was the ending of the trilogy. To say that fans mostly didn’t like it is a bit of an understatement. Much like the nigh-impossible task that is to make a sequel to such an amazing story, is the task to end said story. I remember being there and seeing people unhappy. I too was disappointed. I didn’t hate it, but I felt let down by the ending. It wasn’t so much “bad” as it was that it failed to wrap up the story. It lacked closure. There were so many unanswered questions. If the relays are destroyed, is everyone trapped in Earth? How did my squad get back on the normandy? It just left so much. However, Citadel DLC, Leviathan, and mostly the Extended Cut helped a lot in my opinion.
While I understand the lack of closure from the original ending, and how much of the extended cut improves the ending, there is something that I only noticed and thought of when replaying the Legendary Edition now. Back in 2012, I had far less experience with how many total games I had played. I also didn’t review or write about games back then. Now, I have more experience analyzing games and criticizing them.
There is so much I never really actively noticed about Mass Effect back in the day that I did this time around, some bad, but mostly the good attention to detail and quality narrative. There is one thing I never noticed before and that is how well the ending is actually foreshadowed way back in ME2. Legion’s loyalty mission actually ends in a choice that really foreshadows the choice in the end. At the end of Legion’s loyalty mission, you are given the choice to destroy the Geth heretics or rewrite them. It is very similar to the choice at the very end to destroy or “rewrite”/control the Reapers. The idea that at the end the choice to destroy or control the Reapers is interestingly shown here. Now whether or not this was intentional or not is unlikely as the ending to ME3 was nowhere near established during ME2’s development.
However, it helps me appreciate the poetic symmetry that the ending actually has. It helps me appreciate the ending more. However, after all these years, I think I know what was fundamentally “wrong” with the ending, and how it could be fixed. Something that I didn’t really realize until now, is that the entire Mass Effect franchise has a formula for situations that I feel the ending “sort of” breaks. I think on some level players feel that the ending doesn’t “work the same way” as other decisions in the franchise and that is why players feel like something is… off.
Through out the franchise, the game often puts the players into situations where you choose between a Paragon and a Renegade choice. You choose “kill or let go”. You choose “Help or Not”. However, throughout the games you are often given a “third choice”. If you work hard enough, build up enough reputation, make the right choices prior, you can unlock a third “best” scenario. This scenario is arguably the better outcome than the first two choices and requires extra work to achieve. One good example of this is the ability in ME3 to not have to pick between saving the Geth or the Quarians, but the ability to save both. Another is convincing the Quairan people of Tali's innocence in her Loyalty mission, vs just Exile or blaming her dad. Now the game doesn’t always present a third option, but it frequently has the third, harder, “better” paragon/renegade bent choices on the left side of the dialogue wheel that unlocks a better third outcome.
Now, I’ve had years to reflect on the ending for Mass Effect 3 and I don’t hate them. I have grown to appreciate the poetry here. The three endings we are given are actually foreshadowed through the entire saga. The illusive man wants “control”. Saren wanted Synthesis way back in ME1. We as Shepard have been working towards “Destroy” the entire three games. I also appreciate the irony that “Destroy” is on the right, colored in Red, and always has been the “Renegade” decision and yet is considered the “paragon” or “right” decision. Where as controlling the Reapers is Blue, on the left, and what could have been a less “destructive” choice, but it is what the villain of ME3 always wanted. The “morality flip” at the end is interesting to me.
I have always selected the Control ending, because I am unwilling to sacrifice the Geth and EDI in the end after everything we work for. Despite that Destroy is the goal we have work towards, and many believing the “canon” ending we will probably see in ME4, I always felt that Control was the lesser of three evils. The Reapers still leave, but are “rewritten” much like the Geth Heretics. The Geth and EDI survive this ending, as does Shepard albeit in Reaper-god form.
However, when I think back on the formula for the Paragon normal, Renegade normal, and “Third better” outcomes that Mass Effect often presents, I feel that Synthesis fails to be that third option. It is presented that way as it is the hardest choice to unlock in the game. However, it is also the most weird. It struggles to make sense how it even works, and it is the most “space magic” of the three choices. It also presents a weird decision to forcibly alter all life in the galaxy without their permission. Put simply, It just is weird. I have never done it, and I have never liked it. It fails to be that third better outcome to work towards. It fails to seem better than destroy or control. I think this is where the endings failed in it's "third choice"
Some of you may have come here for discussion on the much beloved fan theory for the “Indoctrination Ending” and I will admit I love that dream ending idea, but Bioware has dismissed the theory. I have my own idea. Playing through these games again, I have an idea for what I call the “Convince Ending.” The best part of this, is that outside of a few new lines of dialogue and a slightly modified ending cinematic, this ending would not be very hard to ever add in the game. While it is unlikely we will ever get a new ending, it is physically practical to pull off. The convince ending would only be possible if a player succeeds in a few things.
Shepard must broker peace between Geth and Quarians (Legion Loyal as pre-requisite)
Shepard must be positive towards EDI and Joker’s relationship
Shepard must be positive towards EDI in ME2 and ME3.
Shepard must have chosen to rewrite the Heretics not destroy them
Shepard must have high paragon/reputation in all three games.
Shepard has high Galactic Readiness.
If Shepard does this, players are given a new option in the end. Much like many examples in the trilogy Shepard can unlock the ability to convince someone of a third better alternative. In the scenario, Shepard unlocks the ability to mention the Geth Quarian peace to the Catalyst. The Catalyst has been explaining to us that the Reapers purpose for existence is to protect organic life in the long term. They kill advanced organic life but leave lesser-developed species. They are an extreme solution to a valid obversation made originally and arrogantly ironic from the their creators the Leviathans. The Leviathans observed that organics inevitably create synthetics who inevitably rise up and cause conflict (so they do the same). This inevitably goes to show the need for a better ending because Destroy doesn’t really answer that problem.
Without the Reapers, what will stop future Synthetic life from evolving and eventually eradicating all organic life? This was the scary foreseen future that the Leviathans foresaw. We as players are so appalled by the drastic and deadly nature of their solution, so focused on ending it, that we forget that a replacement solution is theoretically needed.
In my ending, Shepard argues that this Cycle is an “Anomaly”, an anomaly worth observing. There is a dialogue option where Shepard brings up the Quarian-Geth peace. He argues to the Catalyst that for the first time, Synthetics and Organics can live in peace. The Catalyst might counter back that one example of peace does not overcome millions of years of examples:
Shepard argues back (with information from Legion’s mission in ME3), “This cycle is different.” The Geth never rose up agains the Quarians. It was the Quarians who feared the Geth. The Geth always wanted peace and existence. They now live together. Synthetics can choose to want peace with Organics"
Shepard can add to his argument, pointing to Geth ships in space, “Synthetics and Organics are united to stop the Reapers. Has that ever happened before? Doesn’t that prove that peace is possible?”
The Catalyst pauses in silence, contemplating Shepards words.
“I have an AI on my own crew. She is my friend. I trust her with my life. She is in love with an organic named Joker. The Geth stand with me. The Geth welcomed the Quarians on Ranoch. You must see we are different.”
The Catalyst asked Shepard, “What do you propose?”
Shepard responds, “Help me make the Reapers retreat. Delay this cycle’s harvesting. Observe the anomaly of our Cycle. The Reapers can always return if we fail. If peace between organics and synthetics fails, the cycle can resume. But if we maintain peace, the Reapers’s solution won’t be needed again.
The Catalyst pauses, looks out at the Geth ships and the Reapers fighting each other. “The Reapers can be made to retreat. Perhaps the constant threat of their possible return will ensure the peace continues, as a deterrent.”
Then the Catalyst looks back and activate the protocol. A similar ending cinematic is seen where a massive wave emanates from the citadel. However, in this ending, the “shockwave” is less forceful, more like a signal, and it is white instead of blue, green, or red. The Reapers stop firing, and fly away. The relays are not destroyed. The Geth and EDI are both shown in the ending recap. The narrative describes that with the Reapers still alive, peace can be ensured forever. We see Shepard alive and returning to his crew and romance option.
I think this ending would make for an excellent addition, because it solves for the reason the Reapers exist, and allows us to work towards a better solution. It rewards players for all their successes and hard work. It takes everything we have succeeded in in uniting the galaxy and rewards us for it. Most importantly, it is acknowledges that Shepard would have made this argument in reality. He would not have been willing to accept that all Synthetics must die. I never accepted my Shepard as willing to sacrifice the Geth and EDI, but he has never agreed with Control or Synthesis before. This is the opposite of the "Reject ending", where Shepard succeeds in convincing the Catalyst to make the Reapers retreat and temporally spare this cycle. I feel like this inclusion would have satisfied gamers who have pointed out the lack of mention of the Geth-Quarian peace in the end. It would feel like it has closure and meaning from our actions in the game.
What do you think of this ending? How would would like the game to have ended? What are your thoughts on the Legendary Edition so far? Make sure to comment on the social media post for this article and tell what you thought!