Ending Mass Effect, Part 1

Published · Andrew Frank

Okay, so, just finished ME3 last night. I had time after I finished to think about it, and then made sure I watched each EC ending. In the end, I picked Synthesis for my Shepard, because I had actually forgotten most of what the ending looked like, and because it sounded best coming from the Reaper AI.


Penny Arcade's take on improving the game's ending [penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/03/16] A lot of people say that this ending is the most logical choice given Shepard's desire to kill the Reapers, but honestly it didn't match up with my Shepard. In the end, I think destroy is the most selfish choice at best, and the complete wrong choice at worst. It's only worth anything if you have enough EMS to see Shepard survive — if you have that EMS, you're saying "I don't care about other sentient races, I care more about seeing Shepard come out alive to be with the one he loves and his crew". Basically, you're sacrificing the geth and EDI for Shepard's personal happiness. If you don't have enough EMS to save Shepard, I think destroy is a straight up Renegade choice — kill all synthetics because you hate the Reapers so much. On the galactic scale, if Shepard dies or not, you're risking the Reaper AI being eventually correct about organic/synthetic relations. Even after initially being torn whether to save Shepard or not, I don't think I would ever make this choice.


Even though I chose this ending, I still have misgivings about it. Synthesis hits on a theme of "transcendence" evident throughout scifi. However, it's premise was just a little whacky. First, this is the first time you have ever been presented with this possibility, so it's not a choice you've had time to reflect on in the game. Second, the whole outcome of the choice just doesn't make sense — I could write an entire essay on why synthesis is a poorly explained concept (biological reasons, etc.). However, here's the most important consequences of synthesis — you achieve permanent galactic peace and cultural transcendence, but at the cost of future evolution and individual choice. In this ending, Shepard essentially dictates the fate of the Milky Way for the rest of time because he thinks its for the best. All life is combined with synthetics — every plant, every bug, every being — and nothing will evolve further than that. However, more troubling than that is that no one in the galaxy asked for this or wanted this! Imagine those races in the galaxy that had sentience but weren't part of the Reaper war, and had no idea what was going on — did Shepard have the right to change them too? In the end, I think this ending was driven by sympathy for EDI , and by believing that the Reaper AI was correct about organic/synthetic relations. Sure, EDI and the synthetics achieve organic understanding, and there's no possibility of organic/synthetic wars, but at the momentary cost of everyone's free will? I don't think I could make this choice again.


Going into the final scene, I imagined this as the Renegade choice — use what The Illusive Man had told me, and risk controlling the Reapers. However, watching the ending in full, this ending seems to have some of the greatest depth to it, and theoretically the most reflective of how you played your Shepard. What struck me immediately is that this ending changes the least about the galactic situation. No synthetics die, and there's no strange merging of organics and synthetics, and all the races you chose to save are still alive. After the Reapers leave the planets, things could essentially go back to the way they were pre-Reapers. However, in the ending, it indicates that ReaperShep decides to help rebuild — I think something needs to be said about Shepard's level of control of the Reapers. If you played a full paragon Shep like me, I think that's the only kind of personality that could last an eternity controlling the Reapers for peacekeeping purposes. Paragon ReaperShep makes the Reapers into galactic defenders, and I don't think my Shep would use the Reapers to solve individual wars between species. Essentially, I think my ReaperShep would act more as galactic border patrol. If you played RenegadeShep, I think you stand the risk of the Reapers harvesting again, or being used for war. If you played somewhere in between, you're taking a risk. Of course, in this option, you also risk organic/synthetic war. What I like the most about this ending is that it maintains sovereignty of everyone in the galaxy — my ParaShep forces nothing on others, and takes up an impossible burden himself. This is probably the most noble and humble choice in the game, if you believe that your Shepard won't use the Reapers for evil.


I think this one deserves a few words, especially since they just added it. I loved how they used Liara's message to set up for the next cycle (supposedly) to win against the Reapers. While it most definitely indicates that all of this cycle's races were wiped out, it didn't upset me as much as I thought, and it was actually a nice ending on its own. I actually think it's less controversial than the Destroy and Synthesis endings.

So, was my Synthesis the right choice? If I played through the series again, I probably wouldn't pick it. I feel the best about the control ending with my Paragon Shepard, and it gives me the most closure to the series, so I think I'll make that my "canon" ending.

Ending Mass Effect, Part 2

Published · Brad Frank

BioWare had a vast library of great science fiction to take inspiration from. These are the novels I've read that clearly contain one or more aspects that Mass Effect incorporates into its epic finale. (Unfortunately these are big spoilers for the respective books.)

The story ends with Malenfant helping the Gaijin build a shield to prevent a pulsar from sterilizing a large part of the galaxy. Although this project will not be completed before another predicted pulsar event wipes out all extant species, it is hoped to give the sentient aliens who develop from the aftermath of the coming extinction a better chance at long term survival.

Manifold: Space

The Blight attacks Relay and Old One. Old One gives Pham the information necessary to activate the Blight Countermeasure, and Pham and Ravna escape Relay's destruction in the Out of Band II. After arriving at the Tines homeworld and allying with Woodcarver to defeat Steel, Pham initiates the Countermeasure, which drastically alters the local physics in that sector of the galaxy. This shifts the surrounding area into the "Slow Zone" (where superluminal travel is impossible), thrusting thousands of nearby uninvolved civilizations into an environment where much of their technology no longer functions, potentially causing trillions of collateral deaths. However, the massive shift in physical law also envelops and destroys the Blight, ending its destructive reign.

A Fire Upon the Deep

Trevize and Pelorat discover a planet called Gaia, which is inhabited solely by Mentalics, to such an extent that every organism and inanimate object on the planet shares a common mind. Having followed Trevize by their own means, Branno and Gendibal both reach Gaia at the same time. Meanwhile, Trevize is made to decide between three alternatives for the future of the human race: the First Foundation's mastery of the physical world and its traditional political organization (i.e., empire), the Second Foundation's mentalics (and probable rule by mind control), or Gaia's absorption of the entire Galaxy into one shared, harmonious intellect.

Foundation's Edge

So to find "original" ideas, stories, plot, etc. nowadays is almost unheard of. And that's okay. As long as it's not copy-pasta, I'm not up in arms about it. You mentioned Halo in an earlier email, but also Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galacatic... it was even suggested that "Cosmos" was an inspiration for the music. Shepard's likeness is even based on a real person, Mark Vanderloo, and BioWare had several inspirations for him.

I'm not sure if you came across the fierce fan reaction to the original ending. I refused to read internet forums and instead polled my friends. The common theme was that they were disappointed that your actions did not affect the outcome of the ending enough. I'm hesitant to agree (but to each his own) because (a) EMS plays such a vital role in the ending and EMS is determined by the choices you make in all three games, and (b) the ending mirrors real life in the sense that no matter what you do, sometimes you cannot control the choices "life" deals you. My only complaint is that BioWare did not tie EMS in closely enough with the Crucible itself. That would have made more sense as the Reaper VI explicitly states that it is the Crucible which determines the outcomes of the three major choices (e.g. is Earth destroyed or not, are humans wiped out or not, etc). If anything, Paragon and Renegade should have played more of a role, which I think you did a good job explaining.

On a side note, the new ending added the Reaper VI explaining who or what it is, and why they made the Reapers. I felt the added explanations detracted from the game a bit because BioWare felt they had to pander to the least common denominator. Those of us who have read science fiction can easily extrapolate what is going on, and without the explanations, this back-story is left to the imagination, but with enough logical framework that it still makes plenty of sense.

As for the endings themselves, I'll say that you did a great job of breaking them down, so I won't go point by point with you. While I appreciate your stance on Synthesis, I do disagree. This perspective is probably coming from my recent flourishing interest in astronomy. (Not that I wasn't interested prior, far from it, just that I have recently began to take a much more involved approach to the science.) One of the most terrifying and intriguing aspects of astronomy is far-future predictions. Our general understanding is strong enough for us to say that eventually (~3 trillion years) galaxies will cease to exist and the building blocks of matter will decay such that no life can exist in this universe. Enter my opinion.

Even given that life elsewhere in the universe is plausible, and practically a certainty when dealing with such large scales, it falls to intelligent life of any kind, as stewards of this universe, to preserve not only itself but other life in the universe. Perhaps the purpose of life, if one where so inclined to believe such a thing. Mass Effect is a great metaphor for humanity on earth. We need to overcome our differences and work as one if we are to do great works in this "world". This means that people of all creeds, nationalities, etc must find compromises in one way or another. In this case the compromises are predetermined by the Reaper VI (or the species it represents) but the point is still there. I have to say that while it may not be the best way of going about it, achieving peace and taking the next "evolutionary" step is worth the price paid. If given the choice in real life, I would gladly lose my own identity in exchange for a grand union of humanity and/or life in this universe. Thus the synthesis ending is the only ending in my opinion that is the correct ending.

Herbert and Asimov (and I'm sure there are dozens more) invoke other theories about humanity might endure. Herbert believed that mankind must seed the galaxy and beyond as to prevent any one mass extinction event from wiping us out in a single blow. Although this idea became muddled after God Emperor, his son eventually threw the concept out completely, much to my chagrin. Asimov arguably had two ideas, depending on how far you read into the Foundation series. The first would be that we are best served by the brightest and most intelligent of our species — a technocracy. This is what the first Foundation is based on. In his later books, he evolves the idea that humanity must become "one mind".

Olivaw explains that no robotic brain can be developed to replace his current one and that to continue assisting with the benefit of humanity—which may come under attack by beings from beyond our Galaxy—he must meld his mind with an organic intellect. Once again, Trevize is put in the position of deciding if having Olivaw meld with the child's superior intellect would be in the best interests of the galaxy.

Foundation and Earth

Unfortunately Asimov was never able finish his own series, so there's just no more information. Even though his estate authorized a new trilogy, I'm always dubious about how the new author's ideas might change the source material. But anyways, Mass Effect definitely fits into the same theme, and it's interesting to see BioWare's take on it. I feel as if they really wanted to write a great sci-fi novel rather than a game. Sort of like how Hideo Kojima wants to make movies instead of video games. In this case though, there was a definitely feeling of closure, and in the synthesis ending at least, a cycle has been broken, and life continues on.