I beat Mass Effect 3 and watched all of the endings including the rejection of all of the endings ending. After the cut, we’ll delve into the endings and what I think was the reason behind all of the hubbub. Takeaway for those who wish to avoid any and all spoilers: Mass Effect is an amazing game that changed everything. Mass Effect 2 was a worthy sequel that carried the torch of the first story. The third one? Well, it had a different writer and, I’ll argue, couldn’t make deadline (but did it’s darnedest anyway). Everybody else? See you after the cut.

There are some *AWESOME* parts of the game. The story where you have to figure out how to deal with the Salarians, the Krogan, and the Genophage (that culminated in a magnificent battle between a Reaper and The Mother Of All Thresher Maws) had me cheering. The story where you finally got the Geth and the Quarians to stop fighting and just talk to each other had me sigh in relief (and then watching it come out that the Geth were delighted to live symbiotically in Quarian suits allowing them to jump-start Quarian immune systems thus allowing them to more quickly learn to breathe Rannoch’s air had me shaking my head and wondering how much more could have been accomplished had they only gotten off on the right foot in the first place).

It felt like it had picked up the themes of previous games (and themes from ancient history)… The Rachni Queen told you that she didn’t want to fight the Galaxy once she realized that she was fighting sapient races, it’s just that it was too late once everything had been set in motion. As an interesting counter-point, The Thorian was an interesting creature but had been poisoned against smaller, human-sized, creatures by Saren (but it seems that had negotiations happened in good faith in the first place, who knows what knowledge could have been transferred)?

Many of the points covered involved how most races don’t actually *WANT* to go to war with other races. At worst (the Rachni and the Batarians) the races want to be left alone. At best, everybody’s working together to make advancements, play nice together, and hammer stuff out. Humans, for example, are considered a relatively young race but they’ve fought and won a seat on the council… and while everybody has their own interests, there are a lot of people out there who are working to get by (whether on a colony, or on their own home planets, or on a space ship, or at the Citadel).

Yet by the time we get to the three endings, we’re told things that have not been demonstrated to be true. The star child tells us that synthetics and organics cannot get along… but we, mere hours before, discussed the Geth and the Quarians living intimately (and, in the Geth Consensus, saw many Quarians who loved and sacrificed themselves for the Geth). When the Star Child tells you that your presence means that his old policy of wiping out all but the not-yet-technically-advanced races could no longer work, he pushed you toward three specific endings: Control, Synthesis, and Destroy.

Now, here’s what may or may not be a point of interest: the first time I beat the game, I chose the fourth option. I chose to not use the catalyst. When I did that, I failed to get my “you beat the game!” achievement. It just gave me a dinky little cutscene of the recording of Liara on autoplay followed by the credits… when I played through to watch another ending, the second I made my choice, I got the two dinks that said that I got my achievements for actually finishing the game.

This tells me that despite *ALL* of the volumes of feedback that they got *BEGGING* them to add a fourth option, they added one but immediately took backsies and said that, no, it’s not a *REAL* ending, though… which brings me to the three canonical endings.

(Note: All ending discussion assumes that the big boss that you meet at the end of the game is speaking with you on the up-and-up and is not, in fact, lying about what the machine does.)

Control will have you inject yourself into all of the synthetics. You will, effectively, replace the Star Child and take over the job of running the reapers (and, indeed, all synthetics). This has the side effect of killing your physical body but, hey, at least your consciousness is eternal, right? This is the ending that the Illusive Man was explaining to you how necessary it was before he saw the light and killed himself in shame.

Destroy will win the war… at the cost of killing the Geth. And Edi. And destroying the jump stations and the Citadel (but, it’s now pointed out, they will easily rebuild). This, remember, is what Anderson wanted.

Here’s where things go awry at the end: it feels like the writers are pushing you toward synthesis. They show you the Illusive Man choosing “Control” and they show you your Best Friend Forever Admiral Anderson choosing “Destroy” and The Spacechild (aka “Star Jar” aka “Space Hitler”) telling you that, hey, in the past the reapers have done everything they could possibly do to mitigate the whole “synthetics vs. organics” argument that, previously, had always ended in genocide by making organics that were restrained enough to only genocide advanced races. Or something (I may have been drinking).

This choice is the preferred choice of the Star Child… The Big Bad who was behind the bad guy behind the bad guy of the first game, the The Big Bad who was behind the bad guy who had killed millions and millions of humans in the second game, and who is now telling you that, hey, maybe I’ve killed billions over the course of goodness knows how many cycles, I’m just misunderstood and the stuff I’ve talked about why what I do is necessary has been directly contradicted by your adventures so far… his choice is synthesis. (Which, technically, was the solution we saw applied to the big bad in the first game.)

So we’re stuck with that set of choices.

Which brings me to “WHAT IN THE HECK HAPPENED?”

Well, I’ve a theory: They ran out of time. It’s just that simple. They had endings that they wanted to do, they had missions they wanted to do, they had dialog they wanted to write… but this stuff takes time. They didn’t have it.

Here’s my evidence: they shipped the game without a reliably facial importation function. This is one of the big things that people cared about the most when they got the game in the first place: customizable characters. Make this the ultimate Mary Sue/Gary Stu storyline! The faces didn’t come over successfully.

The endings required additional, ahem, “Clarification”. Specifically, people wanted to know why Joker left Shepard behind (which, I guess, was explained). They wanted more information from the Star Child (apparently, it wasn’t self-evident to the original writing team that everything the Star Child said was sufficient information to feel good about moving forward). And, of course, there was that whole thing about the jump gates blowing up at the end of the 2nd game and destroying a solar system… and having to show that they don’t do that when you destroy them this time.

And, and this is what cinched it for me (and I’m sooo frustrated that I cannot find the thread!), they messed up the EMS calculations for the game. In a nutshell, as you played the game and finished side-quests, you got an EMS score. This score is, effectively, cut in half because of your galactic readiness score… which goes from 50% to 100%, and successful games in multiplayer make it go up 5% and unsuccessful ones make it go up 2%. The way the EMS score was *SUPPOSED* to work is that a single-player who went through all of the little side-quests could get an EMS score that could be cut in half and still give the “best” ending cinematics, and someone who just wanted to plow through the game could get the same movies if they played multiplayer regularly. The supposed score to get was somewhere just north of 4000, I understand… well, things were set up so that this number was not *POSSIBLE* to get in single player. You pretty much had to play 2-3 multiplayer games successfully (easy enough to do, granted) to get a score of 65ish% to see the “best” endings. This was brought up many, many times to the Mass Effect teams but they always gave the (frustrating) answer of “we’re looking into that” when asked about it. Finally, when the Extended Cut Clarification DLC was released, someone, in one of the threads, asked if the particular phrasing of regarding the calibration of EMS has been tweaked meant that this problem had been fixed, the answer came something to the effect of “that’s one way to put it”.

All of the above points not to incompetence, necessarily, but to trying to come up with the best ending in the shortest amount of time. They didn’t have enough time to import faces, they didn’t have enough time to give the ending they wanted to give, and they didn’t even have enough time to do the necessary math to give the endings that single players without access to multiplayer would deserve. The parts of the game from the beginning and middle were awesome…

But, at the end of the day, they had to rush the ending and some of the stuff that, only too late, they realized was exceptionally important to the fanbase.

Which is why I’m stuck telling the Catalyst “No” (and, barring that, “Destroy”).


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. Lack of time is as good an explanation as any. I also wonder if they wrote themselves into a corner, they had created the Reapers but no motivation for them. Personally, I think they should have left it mysterious if they couldn’t do better. An alien AI could easily have motivations that make no sense to us.

    The ghost kid was also a serious misstep. A final confrontation makes sense, but it should have been with Harbinger in a conversation reminiscent of the one with Sovereign in Mass Effect 1. Only this time the power would be reversed.

    • There was an excellent explanation for the Reapers. They were farmers. They sowed the galaxy with technology, let organic life evolve, discover their ‘seeds’ and advance technologically along the lines the Reapers wanted. And build their society around the Reapers’ tech and Mass Relays.

      And then comes the harvest, where the Reapers come in, take all the stuff, wipe everyone out so no one warns the next generation, and then sleep until the next harvest.

      Admittedly it’s kinda contrived (von Neumann machines would work better), but the whole sow/harvest cycle was solid enough for gameplay. The Reapers were the apex predators, but instead of flesh they consumed technology to rebuild and improve themselves.

  2. The Genophage storyline was absolutely the apex of the third game, everything working right.

    The quarian/geth storyline had a lot of good moments. It also has some niggling details that piss me off. In particular, in 2, Legion explains that geth (except for the heretics) reject Reaper assistance; they want to grow as a species on their own. That’s apparently forgotten in 3, where Legion argues for uploading the Reaper code to the geth. It’s especially annoying because it’s mostly unnecessary for the story. It felt like it was just their way of shoehorning in a heroic sacrifice for Legion, rather than allowing him to live on as part of the group mind. It felt like the writers had a specific story they wanted to write, never mind being consistent with what came before (and never mind that it retreads the much better story of Mordin’s heroic sacrifice).

    And, really, the ending also felt like the writers had a specific story they wanted to write, never mind making it connect to the rest of the story in sensible fashion.

Comments are closed.