Warning: this post contains spoilers for the whole Mass Effect series. Proceed at your own risk!
Now, everyone knows that much of the Internet has been up in arms about the ending to Mass Effect 3, myself included. Here I’m going to outline what I think may have made a more satisfying ending to the series.
Super-quick Recap of the endings to Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 ends with Shepard choosing Door A, Door B, or Door C.
Door A destroys the Reapers, Door B takes control of the Reapers, and Door C melds organic and synthetic life into a new, hybrid form. If the player has a strong enough fleet and chooses Door A, it is revealed in the last few seconds of the game that Shepard survived and the last couple of sequences were an indoctrination attempt.
I think the endings should have been not only more satisfying, but also more varied. What bugged me the most was that in a game that stresses player choice, the player’s choices don’t impact the end of the story except to show who survives on the jungle planet (and which options the player has to choose, based on total fleet strength and the “Galactic Readiness” multiplier for playing multiplayer, which is ridiculousness in of itself).
I would have much preferred an intense sequence for Mass Effect 3 like the one found in Mass Effect 2. The ending that the player receives should be a result of decisions that the player has made since the start of the game to the final climax. The climax to Mass Effect 2 is my favorite sequence in gaming hands down; Shepard leads a suicide mission to assault the Collector Base sitting just outside the event horizon of a black hole, and must make tough decisions about how to utilize the skills of her squad with potentially fatal consequences for everyone involved. This is how Mass Effect 2 ended: based upon squad loyalty (previous decisions) and choices during the climax, certain characters lived or died, including Shepard.
More satisfying endings?
I propose a wide range of endings that run a large gamut of outcomes, from total defeat to total victory. Each ending is produced from outcome of three influences: the fleet power that the player has acquired throughout the game, strategic decisions the player makes during the climax about how to deploy forces (similar to the way that the player must make decisions regarding which squadmates should do what in the climax of Mass Effect 2), and whether the player chooses Paragon or Renegade choices.
These endings would share the same content right up to the point where Shepard goes charging forward toward the transportation device in the canon ending, but we have to pretend that Shepard has made a few important decisions in the climax. I don’t think that it is worth writing out an entire sequence, but just know that the player’s decisions should have an effect.
Here are some options that I have thought about over the last couple of weeks, ranked from least favorable (bad tactical decisions, weak fleet) to most favorable (good tactical decisions, powerful fleet).
(Quick note: as per last time, I am using the female pronouns for Shepard as my Shepard was female.)
Ending 1: “It’s a trap!”
Shepard makes it into the Citadel after avoiding the laser beams of the Reapers. She encounters the Illusive Man, but with the help of Admiral
Adama Anderson, she overcomes him. However, when Shepard goes to fire the Crucible it turns out that the supposed super weapon has been a Reaper decoy all along. Its purpose is to distract the nascent races of the galaxy and have them waste time and resources. The fleets battle the Reapers, but when Shepard tries to fire the Crucible nothing happens.
The fleets are crushed by the Reapers and Shepard gets a message from the Admiral Hackett advising her to escape with whatever survivors she can find. She and the survivors should use the Normandy’s powerful drives and stealth systems to try to outlast the Reapers. Shepard must decide whether to go down fighting or to try to escape.
Ending 1a: Running Away
Shepard escapes the Reapers on the Normandy with some of her crew. They evade the Reapers using the Normandy’s stealth systems. She is seen burying the artifact that Liara made on a hostile world, and expresses her hopes that the information will be useful to some other species to one of her surviving crew members.
Ending 1b: Go Down Fighting
Shepard decides to continue the fight, no matter the cost. She dies as the Normandy is torn apart fighting the Reaper onslaught. The fiery remains of the Normandy fall on the Earth.
The post-game epilogue is the artifact Liara made, being discovered by some new alien species. They begin to play the data entry on Shepard.
Ending 2: Heroic Sacrifice
Shepard lands and fights her way to the magical portal up to the Citadel. As she begins firing the weapon, it is revealed that the weapon is a mass relay stopper.
Ending 2a: Blow It
The Renegade choice is to blow the relay. If she chooses to continue firing the Crucible, it will destroy the Sol relay and trap the Reapers in the Sol system for hundreds of years, but doing so will also doom Earth.
The final scene is several hundred years later, where the combined fleets of the galaxy arrive at Sol and smash the remaining Reapers.
Ending 2b: Don’t Blow It
The Paragon choice is to fight on without using the device, resulting in the defeat of the fleet. This causes the ending to be essentially the same as Ending 1b.
Ending 3: Reaper Indoctrination
Shepard approaches the magical portal but gets blown away by the laser cannon as it is in the canon ending. She goes through the confrontation with the Illusive Man aboard the Citadel. She is presented with two options when she meets Starchild: the merger/synthesis (colored green) option, and the control (colored blue) option.
When Shepard chooses one of these options the player is presented with the canon game ending for that particular choice. However, instead of getting the final scene with the little boy speaking to the old man, instead the player is “rewarded” the a single glimpse of what really happened to Shepard. These final scenes are meant to show that Shepard fell victim to Reaper indoctrination.
Ending 3a: Attempt to Control the Reapers… but not really
Shepard gains consciousness at the foot of the portal to the Citadel. Anderson is shouting at her to get up. Shepard steadies herself and then draws her firearm and shoots Anderson. Recognizing her own indoctrination, she then turns the firearm on herself.
Ending 3b: Synthesis with the Reapers
Shepard wakes up in the body of a Reaper, hovering over the destroyed remains of London. Overhead, the Crucible and the fleets are burning.
Ending 4: Beat the Indoctrination
In order to unlock the better endings, the player must realize that they are being indoctrinated by the Starchild. There are two cues that the player can pick up on in this sequence:
- The player still has access to their pistol
- The presence of green/blue options is an anomaly for the game series which has to this point relied on red/blue designations.
The only way the player can progress to the very best endings is to shoot the Starchild with her gun. Doing so will cause the Starchild to evaporate and instantly end the indoctrination and bring the player back to the assault on the Crucible. Shepard awakes in the rubble and makes her way to the Crucible, but for real this time.
Shepard reaches the control panel and is alerted from Admiral Hackett that the battle is close, that the Reapers are being driven back.
The final twist is then revealed: that firing the Crucible will end up destroying the Earth and the Reapers, but spare the remaining fleets of the other aliens. Or, Shepard can decide not to fire the weapon, and instead let the rest of the combined fleets be bled away, ensuring human dominance.
Ending 5: It’s a Trap! But it doesn’t matter
Shepard beats the indoctrination and rushes up to the Citadel. It is then revealed that the Crucible is a Reaper decoy as triggering the firing mechanism does nothing. However, Admiral Hackett lets Shepard know that the fleets are doing well and the Reapers are being driven back. Hackett orders Shepard to rendezvous with the Normandy for the final push.
Shepard then makes a final victory speech, similar to the epic speech in Mass Effect. She remembers the long road that has brought the alien races together, the friends that have fought and died for her, and that no weapon can match the strength of the galaxy’s unity.
The final scene is the Normandy leading the ships back at the few remaining Reapers, removing the threat once and for all. Hurray!
BUT… I don’t think Bioware should change it
What?! Yes, I just spent well over a thousand words describing how I think Mass Effect 3 could have ended and been more satisfying. Mostly, I wanted a more powerful ending that made the story of Shepard one of warning (if the player failed to destroy the Reapers), one of heroic sacrifice (if Shepard dies in the process of defeating the Reapers), or one exploring the power of unity and friendship (if Shepard got enough of the galaxy together).
But that’s not what Bioware decided to do.
I may not like their decision, but considering the game as a work of art, I do not believe it is fair for me or anyone else to request that the ending be changed. The game is a collective work of art by the folks over at Bioware and they chose to end it with Door A, Door B, and Door C.
I wouldn’t ask J. K. Rowling to rewrite Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so I won’t ask Bioware to do the same thing. I have to respect the choices the creator made and I hope that my fellow gamers respect them too. I try to imagine myself in their shoes: they worked for years on this game, and I’m sure that endings were discussed in detail for hours on end. If they had wanted another ending, they would have written another ending.
In my head, I decided to accept the indoctrination theory as the official end. It makes some sense and leaves the true ending ambiguous, but it is vastly more satisfying than the other two endings. I would gladly entertain others’ thoughts on how the story ends “for real”, but we’d have to take all of the fan endings as non-canon.
It would disturb me, however, to know that the artistic ending to the series was distorted or removed in order to account for the inclusion of DLC or expansion packs, creating a monetary ending. Don’t be that guy, Bioware. No one likes that guy.