Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 1

How It All Began

A billion years ago, the galaxy was ruled by the Leviathans, a race of giant and apparently aquatic creatures that had the ability to telepathically control the lesser species of the Milky Way. According to information revealed in Mass Effect 3’s “Leviathan” DLC, the species built an empire of sorts, acting as gods over their thralls and protecting them in exchange for “tribute” — whatever that means in this context. While ruling over the other advanced sentients of the time, the Leviathans were somewhat detached — they had concerns the thralls couldn’t understand, or so they claimed (video 2).

The Catalyst decided the best option based on the information it had collected would be to harvest advanced civilizations by collecting their biological makeup and memories.

At some point, the Leviathans took note of a handful of incidents in which thrall species would create synthetic helpers that would eventually “rebel” and drive them to extinction. So they built an “Intelligence” by some means — we’ll assume it’s strictly artificial, but likely unprecedentedly advanced from the outset — which they tasked with figuring out how to solve this conflict between synthetics and their organic creators. This Intelligence watched and collected data for a while, and tried out some ideas here and there, before eventually implementing a version of the “Zeroth Law” in a really hardcore way (videos 1 and 2).

The Zeroth Law comes from Isaac Asimov, author of the Three Laws of Robotics. The Zeroth Law is a mutation of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics — a robot shall not injure a human being or by inaction allow a human being to be harmed — that gives precedent to society as a whole over the individual person.* So the Intelligence, which would become the Catalyst, decided the best option based on the information it had collected would be to harvest advanced civilizations by collecting their biological makeup and memories — their essence, as the Reapers say — into a synthetic-organic hybrid machine (as seen at the Collector base in Mass Effect 2). The Catalyst started with the Leviathans themselves, which it turned into the Reaper known as Harbinger (video 2), the primary antagonist of Mass Effect 2. How it accomplished this is not known, but likely the element of surprise helped.

The Catalyst and its Reapers would then periodically harvest whatever species achieved interstellar flight, ideally before that species could build robots sufficiently advanced enough to wipe them out. The methodology used evolved over time; for example, the mass relays and the Citadel station were created by the Reapers and the Catalyst some time after they began their cycle of harvests as a means to increase the efficiency of the process (video 2). By leaving them out there for young species to find, the relays and the element zero that powers them would become the basis for their future tech, and the Citadel, located at a hub of relays, would be a natural and convenient capital for any galactic government — thereby leading new civilizations down the path the Reapers dictate (video 3).

The Reapers themselves are intelligences as well, as the organic material one contains was propped up into some sort of group consciousness when it was created (video 3). That’s not something I can explain, but one would assume that this is not unlike Shepard still being, you know, Shepard, after being literally dead for a while before Cerberus started the Lazarus Project at the beginning of Mass Effect 2.

The Reaper consciousnesses weren’t self-contained, though, as the Catalyst incorporated all their knowledge into itself as each one was built (video 1). Each new Reaper, it stands to reason then, would alter the Catalyst’s mindset moving forward as it attempted to find a better solution than the harvests.

The Leviathans do not, however, think the harvest cycle was the ultimate solution, echoing the views of the Catalyst itself.

Meanwhile, the Leviathans had not been entirely wiped out, as is revealed in the “Leviathan” DLC. Some found a way to survive, and those Leviathans stayed hidden and kept the species going into the present day. At some point in the past, they even managed to kill a Reaper, the shell of which the Batarians called the Leviathan of Dis, which serves as the instigator for “Leviathan”. Otherwise, the Leviathans mostly just sat back and watched in begrudging approval as the Catalyst attempted to carry out its mandate. The Leviathan with whom Shepard speaks in Mass Effect 3 says they do not, however, think the harvest cycle was the ultimate solution, echoing the views of the Catalyst itself (video 2).

Notably, the Leviathan that Shepard meets refers to the harvest as an “experiment,” rather than a “solution,” as the Catalyst calls it. It also says the Reapers are its enemy, but is reluctant to get involved with the war despite the Leviathan’s ability to take down Reapers very effectively, as they demonstrate on both the Leviathan of Dis and the Reaper chasing Shepard during the “Leviathan” DLC. One also declares very confidently that any other Reapers that trespass on the planet they occupy will become their slaves. Based on these displays of power, it seems the Leviathans could possibly win the war on their own, but they won’t. They want to see what happens, as they know the harvest is not the Catalyst’s endgame; “Until the Intelligence finds what it’s looking for, the harvest will continue,” the Leviathan tells Shepard (video 2).

*This isn’t to say the Catalyst is operating under the Three Laws; it’s more of a good parallel example or inspiration (as other Asimov works are, we’ll find). The Catalyst’s choice to fulfill its mandate to preserve life by destroying advanced civilizations is a perceived deviation in the same way the Zeroth Law is a perversion of the First Law of Robotics.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

38 Comments on Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 1


On January 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

I myself played through all the story available as well, before pushing into the third game. Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of the dlcs for “clarity” by the time I completed the third game.

Having lost the desire, I never went back to experience the extended cut or any of the dlcs, so I find this pretty interesting.

Also , I believe I found an error on page 2 paragraph 3.

Correct me if i’m wrong, but shouldn’t “attempted to build and utilize the Catalyst” be “attempted to build and utilize the Crucible”?


Inb4 something about dead horses.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 20, 2014 at 11:30 am


Ah, you’re right, thanks for the catch. Too many words starting with C. Someone send BioWare a memo.

Duke Lavey

On January 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

All conjecture. I can do just as legitimate a job in one paragraph:

The catalyst is the ghost of the kid who died. When the kid was killed, he was supposed to see his own life flash before him, but instead he had some sort of electrothingy happen and ended up seeing the entire history of civilisation, understanding it perfectly. For the sake of plausibility let’s say the reaper that shot his shuttle down was actually feeling regret and wanted to give the child a clue as to what was going on so projected it onto him. Then, the kid started trying to lead Shepard into the fire through his dreams, as the fire represents his own memory of Donald Trump saying “you’re fired” which he overheard on an old repeat playing on a television set next door while he was playing catch with his uncle Roger three days earlier. Roger was, in fact, one of the military personnel Shepard walked past on his way to talk to the human council. This is important as it represents how we can walk past our own fate. Anyway, Shepard kept waking up before the kid could reveal what was happening as Liara had accidentally dropped his sleeping pills down a garbage chute and replaced them with cod liver oil tablets, so the kid (whose name, incidentally, is Clive Maxwell) indoctrinated Kei Lang and sent him to spy on Shepard to find out what the crucible was. However, he got too close to the truth, and the original catalyst – which was going to be a big twist reveal as whoever you didn’t save on Virmire in the first game – captured him and held him hostage in a secret lair at the top of the Citadel. He/she explained that the plan was to homogenise all planets into a superplanet and attempt to reverse the big bang, but he had to do it step by step. The kid industriously managed to free himself using a packet of condoms and a Nerf gun that happened to be by his feet at the time, and killed the catalyst by throwing him/her into a pool of green acid that turned into rising vapor. Just as he was looking for a way out, he tripped on a shoelace and hit a button that happened to raise an unconscious Shepard to his level. The kid desperately attempted to make Shepard wake up, but a concussion sustained from aforementioned shoelace hijinks made him confused and start to believe he was the real catalyst. Also, while all this was going on, Miranda found two diamond earrings and placed them on a table for some reason, because why not?

See, that’s the problem with trying to form a theory based on what DIDN’T happen. “The catalyst was dishonest” doesn’t necessarily mean anything with regard to the story. It could just as easily be that, you know, Casey Hudson and Mac Walters didn’t know what the hell they were doing and should have actually asked the people who worked on the series from the start instead of letting their egos get in the way.

Still, love is blind.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 20, 2014 at 11:54 am


Actually, everything that’s in this part of the interpretation is evidenced in the text that is Mass Effect — see, that’s why those video conversations are cited throughout, to show you the actual evidence of each of these elements. The only part that’s conjecture is that the Crucible is part of the Catalyst’s plan, which is an extrapolation based on the evidence, and dealt with further in Part 2.

Ugh, and can we get off this argument that somehow this is about “loving” BioWare or Mass Effect or whatever else? I’m not sure how many times it has to be said that this is not what this is about. This interpretive analysis is the same as a film or a literary analysis. It’s looking at the story. It’s not a review, or a recasting of the elements in a positive light. It’s just looking at the textual evidence and trying to make greater sense of the events in the game.


On January 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

this was quite an interesting read, as i haven’t played M.E.3 after i heard about the debacle. I did read up a lot of what happened though. So far this article has been a pretty fun read.

Sadly the last page isn’t opening for me.
Either way good read so far.


On January 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm

The problem I’ve always had with it is they’re trying to explain the ending through DLC. Without the DLC you come to the ending of ME3 with no foreshadowing, which is one of the main problems people had with it. You think you’re on some epic space adventure, fighting massive intelligent death machines, leading a mass attack to take back Earth.. next minute you’re standing alone in some weird place with some ghostly child giving you three options to end the game.

If it takes DLC to explain your game then all you’re doing is trying to fill in the holes in the mess you wrote. It’s like those old tv shows, where the hero gets killed at the end of the show, only to have the entire ending rewritten in the next episode which keeps him alive.

Bioware wrote a trash ending and instead of redoing it the way it should have been, they instead released more DLC which you had to spend more money on, to find out what the story was behind the end of the story.


On January 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm

And another thing, I actively recoiled when reading this, “That lack of clarity in what the choices meant, and how they were meaningfully different from one another, was one of the biggest issues with which many folks had grievances.”.

Clarity wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. It certainly wasn’t a big issue with me or with anyone else I’ve heard from. It was the entire scene that was the issue, the inclusion of this star child and the three choices, instead of having a serious, cinematic ending to an otherwise incredible series of games. The ending was incredibly out of place, it took the theme from something akin to Starship Troopers, to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the blink of an eye.


On January 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

As far as the Catalyst thinking the idea of the crucible was no longer an issue, things like that I attribute to Bioware not having a specific path to get where they wanted to go when ME1 was made and for lack of a better term making it up as they went.

I do think it’s conceivable that while unknowingly waging war on a second front for the Catalyst, Cereberus stumbled onto the plans for the Crucible. If you remember from ME1 Saren tells the Reapers can’t exert too much force on the indoctrinated because they would end up like the mindless Salarians on Virmire.

As far as the Catalyst looking like the dead child goes I think BW was just reusing the ingame model for the child and it had nothing to do with the dead child. IMO the child from the beginning of the game was there simply to force a sense of desperation into the game by giving Shepard PTSD.


On January 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Watching the extended endings in your article (I had not even bothered to do so previously because I still had such a bad taste in my mouth from the original endings) I was reminded how hilariously bad the original endings were. The extended ones still aren’t great, but would have been a quantum leap over the ones we were stuck with at the time. At least Bioware *tried* to make it better.

It’s a shame though that Bioware’s completely arrogant and at times downright hostile attitude towards fans during endinggate, more than the endings themselves, have ruined their reputation in the eyes of many fans, myself included.


On January 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm

We get that it’s not a review. But you guys are trying to make sense of a complete mess of plot-holes, contradictions, ret-cons, etc. Don’t try to find the “Catalyst’s true purpose”. There isn’t one. It’s clear that the writers themselves didn’t know where they were going with the story. You just can’t work with broken material like this.

Also, do you really think Mac and Casey intended the Catalyst to be “comically dishonest” when it said it didn’t know about the Crucible still existing? Sure it’s not just another one of the hundreds of contradictions present in the story? It sure seems like you’re giving them waaay too much credit.


On January 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I am actually warming up to the this project. Especially since there are those small details that I probably skipped over in the games…


On January 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm


Looking forward to read your text tomorrow and your next set of conclussions. Up until now, I must say I just have an issue with one thing: You are already interpreting the Starchild’s BS and whether there is a hidden plot he is not telling us. The interpretation is welcome, although in the end it just us the fans trying to clear Bioware’s creative mess (like the “Indoctrination Theory” tried in 2012).

From similar evidence in ME3 and the DLC, I could also argue that the Starchild realzes at the very end that his “solution” is no longer working, since: a) the Leviathans are still around (and therefore, his first harvest was really a failure), b) his best efforts to stop the Crucible did not work, as organics keep passing and improving the design, c) the Proteans were able to leave enough warnings at least for one organic (Shepard) to put this harvest at risk, and, d) if not in this cycle, then in the next the Reapers could be defeated*.

*The “refusal ending” (A.K.A. Bioware’s middle finger to the fans for not embracing their “best” ending, synthesis) has one of Liara’s beacons becoming operational in the next cycle, and the dialogue at the end states that thanks to Shepard’s warning, the next cycle will beat the Reapers.*

As Shepard has been able to reach the Citadel and couple it with the Crucible, the Starchild realizes his whole purpose is in danger and decides to use Shepard’s uniqueness to choose a new solution. In that case, the Starchild would be compelled to tell Shepard the truth in order to let him/her make the best possible choice.

Obviously, the problem with any ulterior motive from the Starchild is that it forces to make questions like “Why the hell are the Reapers up until the very end trying to stop Shepard from suceeding and not appreciate his uniqueness before?” and “why is the Starchild unable to be persuaded to just stand down?”. Never mind many other plot inconsistencies between ME1 and ME2 with the whole ending sequence of ME3. And therefore, we the fans are cleaning up Bioware’s mess, which they have obviously welcomed with ambigous BS statements on whether we have seen the whole truth or not.

Jon S

On January 20, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Having recently re-played the ME trilogy, all I can say is no, again, no.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mass Effect, 1, 2, and 3. But, explanation cannot repair the wreckage that was the end of the series. It’s what Bioware attempted to do, a lot of talking at the end of the Leviathan DLC and between Shepard and the Star Child trying to explain something that was not touched upon until that point. The complete lack of context could not support the conceit.

But, does it matter? Not especially. I will play the trilogy again, love it again, choose destroy again. And, maybe find something interesting like I did this last play through. With Jack as a love interest, during the Citadel DLC, I believe, she convinces Shepard to get a tattoo, so she would be able to recognize him if he was found in rubble after a battle, alive but unrecognizable…

Destroy: Reapers die, Shepard saves the universe and lives, end of story.


On January 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm

@Jon: Funny. Mass Effect 3 has two tattoos in case it’s alive but unrecognizable. The tattoos are EA and Bioware.

Comedy aside, there needs to be a clear message sent to EA/Bioware that deus ex machina needs to be done away with in their brand of storytelling. It’s clear that having such at the end of Mass Effect 3 had a very poor effect on the entire franchise. Retconning with DLC does not, in fact, make it better. It only makes it more noticeable.


On January 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm

@Foehunter82 I personally don’t mind multiple endings as long as they’re done right, and Bioware just did them wrong. They were just the same ending, different colors. They need to be done with the entire game in mind. How you reacted to different situations. Where you a good or bad boy (or girl), not just, do I take the green pill or the red one, at the very end of the game.
I also agree the use of they’re dlc’s was poor.

Phil Owen

On January 20, 2014 at 9:55 pm


I’m glad to see you engaging and participating. This is a discussion, not a lecture, and counterarguments are most welcome.

One note about your read, though. Odds are good the Catalyst knew already that the Leviathans had not been completely exterminated. They were the first harvest and became the first Reaper, BUT they later killed a different Reaper, which we know as the Leviathan of Dis. I have to assume the Catalyst is not so obtuse as to not be able to figure out what took out that Reaper.


On January 20, 2014 at 11:21 pm

A great article, but in the end we’re just trying to patch holes in what was obviously cobbled-together and unplanned nonsense by Bioware. There was likely an original intention when this all began, or the ghost of an idea, but by ME3 that idea was gone (likely along with its creator) and they shoe-horned in this nonsense (stolen completely from Alastair Reynolds and his Revelation Space series) to wrap it up and move on.

The massive amount of retconning and headcannon needed to make this into a coherent narrative is staggering, and speaks loudly to the failures of Bioware.

Ron Whitaker

On January 21, 2014 at 9:23 am

We’re perfectly happy to have discussion on these articles. Heck, that’s what they’re for. But when you start calling for writers to get injured, we remove those comments. Thanks for keeping it civil.


On January 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Very interesting post, but I disagree with what Phil says about the Crucible. I don´t think the fact the Crucible must be connected to the Citadel as a proof of the Crucible being part of the experiment. I mean, if John Connor creates a device capable of disconnecting all terminators at the same time it makes perfect sense that he will design it to be attached to Skynet, hack it, and then use Skinet’s network to stop the terminators. You don’t need to be the creator of a computer to make a gadget to hack it.
What do you think?

Phil Hornshaw

On January 21, 2014 at 1:47 pm


Good point — based on what we see in the ending, the Citadel does seem to be the smartest place for something like the Crucible, and if the scientists working on it understood that it used the relays, and that the Citadel interacted with them somehow, that would make sense.

I think Phil’s line of thought on it is that if the Catalyst was aware of the Crucible, which is says it is, why wouldn’t it prevent the Crucible from being capable of connecting with the Citadel? If the Crucible had been around for long enough for the Catalyst to be aware of it, it seems like that would be plenty of time to alter the design of the Citadel to make using it impossible. The Reapers could change things about the Citadel with every cycle if they wanted; they have the time. So if they could have prevented using the Crucible, why didn’t they?

That’s just one line of thinking, though. Another is that actually completing the Crucible somehow managed to blind-side the Catalyst. How much information it has is debatable, but some of the other evidence suggests the Catalyst has a lot of knowledge about this sort of thing.


On January 21, 2014 at 2:20 pm

A couple of things.

1) If I recall correctly, the Zeroth Law is not a perversion of the First Law. It is an induced law first considered by Daneel Olivah or one of the other robots in the final book (name of which escapes me).

2) Indoctrinating Cerberus (and earlier races) to want to control the Reapers does not imply knowledge of the Crucible. One mission concerned New Haven (I think?) where they were attempting to learn how to control husks. The idea was to be able to override the Reaper command/control communication system to control them. No Crucible was needed.

I think the clearest indicator that the Crucible was created/allowed/etc. by the Reapers is that, once it docked with the Citadel, there were control panels already there to control it.


On January 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm

@Shar-Tel, Phil
I have the answer you’re looking for. The writers couldn’t come up with a reason why the Catalyst let the people build the Crucible, so they decide it doesn’t know about it. Simple as that.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm


Yeah, that may well be. I think as far as analysis goes, though, Phil’s trying not to think about what the writers did or didn’t intend or know, and just go by what conclusions can be drawn from what’s told in the game. It’s pretty possible it’s just an oversight, but I think that also underplays the fact that clearly SOME work was done to make the information hang together.


On January 21, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I can’t even pretend the catalyst and the rest of the soft core Asimov crap didn’t come about late into the ME3 development. The writers wrote themselves in the corner and it shows when playing the first two games. The dark energy plot was what ME 2 was heading towards and it would have made a hell of a lot more sense. I personally would have liked them to leave the Reapers origin a mystery. Sovereign made it seem that would be the case and it would have made the Reapers much more compelling.

Dan Miller

On January 22, 2014 at 8:20 am

This is great stuff. Love the Mass Effect obsession of this site (really, I do, I spent probably 20 hours reading about the game after finishing 3 and took 20 minutes to pick between the three options at the end of 3, so I’m right there with ya).

A very technical question: How did you play through the entire trilogy? Did you go through through them sequentially over a bunch of weeks? There’s no special super collection on 1 disc / download right, with all the DLC? I really hope there is somewhere and I just don’t know about it… I love this series and would happily re-pay to acquire 1,2,3 and all the DLC in one spot.

Not sure why people are bashing your points here, given that it’s all straight from the game, but I guess that goes to show you how dedicated the fanbase for Mass Effect is… and perhaps how rude / illogical it is as well… There’s probably some sort of reality denial syndrome associated with this game in particular, onset by playing the ending of Mass Effect 3. And we are all victims!


On January 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

I don’t think the Leviathan of Dis was a reaper, it was an actual Leviathan killed by the reapers a billion years ago during the first harvest. They use the words, carcus of a living starship. A dead reaper won’t leave a carcus but will be in pieces like the one in ME 2 with IFF.


On January 22, 2014 at 11:18 am

@Dan: Many of the fans are upset for several reasons:

1. The game was originally released with a poor ending containing deus ex machine.
2. The ending makes all previous choices irrelevant, thus making the fans feel like they wasted 60-80 hours of their lives playing a game series based on promises that were not kept.
3. The original ME3 endings were red, green, and blue versions of same thing. There was no distinction between the endings until they finally released a patch that extended the endings to make them more distinctive and tie up whatever loose ends remained.
4. It was clear, as was already stated, that the “Dark Energy” that was repeatedly referenced in Mass Effect 2 was completely discarded, and likely would have made more sense than a last-minute deus ex machina.
5. After the extended ending was released, the Bioware added a fourth ending, which many fans see as an “eff you” ending to the fans that didn’t just accept the subpar ending that was delivered to start with.
6. Fans are also upset because the ending is very much like shows like Lost, The Sopranos, etc. where the fans themselves are more or less required to piece together the ME series plot points, and invent an ending that makes sense to them. This has resulted in the Indoctrination Theory, which has compelling evidence supporting it, but still requires a lot of headcanon to make it work. This requirement on headcanon has resulted in the ending being perceived as a poorly written rush job to get the game out.
7. During the time before the extended ending was released, the developers treated the fans poorly, at one point essentially saying: “We know fans are disappointed. Here’s some more multiplayer DLC.” Anytime fans displayed any critical analysis of ME3 or the series as a whole, it had to be positive, otherwise people would have their posts removed, and wind up banned. This was an attempt to black-out any complaints about the game.
8. After the extended ending was released, Bioware went into overdrive to release a bunch of DLC that would add plot points that would explain the bad ending. This is perceived by many fans as an attempt to retcon the whole story to make the ending make sense. This has led to the argument that if DLC had to be released explaining the game’s ending, that the game itself was released incomplete and should warrant some sort of investigation, lawsuit*, etc.

What Phil is trying to do here is explain the ending strictly based on the evidence provided in the series and DLC.

*Personally, I think EA and/or Bioware are going to be in a lot of hot water over the next couple of years if they don’t fix whatever issues they have as a company.

Dan Miller

On January 22, 2014 at 11:41 am


Yeah, I know all of those things, and I’m certainly not confused about what Phil is doing. What I don’t understand is why people are bashing Phil in the comments for his efforts.


On January 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

“By leaving them out there for young species to find, the relays and the element zero that powers them would become the basis for their future tech, and the Citadel, located at a hub of relays, would be a natural and convenient capital for any galactic government — thereby leading new civilizations down the path the Reapers dictate.”

And this is where it all falls apart. How do the Reapers/Catalyst expect civilizations to reach, as you say, the place where everything is in harmony and all work together, if they set things up to fail from the very beginning? The Reapers set up this path of evolution and then turn up and wipe everything out. They’re not trying to guide the races of the galaxy into being this one harmonious entity, they’re setting them up to be an easy target.

You can say that over time the Catalyst can see this steady shift to everyone working together, but that doesn’t fit in with the evidence. The Reapers set a path, a cycle that repeats over and over, so they can turn up and reap bloody destruction upon the races of the galaxy. The fact that in this final cycle the races come together is just coincidence.


On January 22, 2014 at 3:09 pm

While I enjoyed your write-up Phil, I think you’re digging *WAY* too far on something that’s written fairly budgeted and shallow.

I mean, I would love if the bulk of this article could actually be applied to the thought processes of the writers (re: Hudson/Walters), but….Occam’s Razor, what’s more likely?

This article as pertaining to the writers, or that they don’t know what they’re doing, made stuff up to push out on time, and hastily bandaged DLC on mitigate long-term PR damage.

That’s for our wallets to decide.

I’ll add, that again, I think articles like these prop up the abhorrent plot-hole poorly thought out and written content of ME3 as a whole and of people like Walter’s himself, as well as Bioware for no good reason. Better developers than these deserve our time and money, and I hope we see something like a Mass Effect franchise come along that is in the hands of less arrogant authors.


On January 25, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Yeah, I enjoy this article, but there is a major problem that it leaves un-addressed.

Why did the “Catalyst” need Sovereign?

The Catalyst designed, built, lives on and describes itself as being apart of the Citadel. The Citadel also has a hidden mass relay within it that has served as the crux of the reaper extinction cycles for countless billions of years.

In ME1, the main reason that Shepard and crew have a chance against Sovereign and Saren was because some prothean scientists screwed up the keepers connection to Sovereign, forcing him to try to manually take control of the Citadel and activate the Dark Relay himself.

But if the creator, master and collective consciousness of the reapers has lived on the Citadel all of this time in a relationship fairly similar to that of EDI and the Normandy then why does he need Sovereign? Why can’t the Catalyst activate the Dark Relay itself and continue the cycle? Ultimately, any explanation comes down to one of two reasons: A) It can’t or B) it won’t and neither one makes any sense within the context of the Catalyst’s presentation and character.

This isn’t just a minor nitpick either. Sovereign’s actions in attempting to takeover of the Citadel are what set the main plot of the entire trilogy in motion. He indoctrinated the rachni which led to the Krogan Wars and the Genophage; He recruited the Geth Heratics which perpetuated a lot of synthetic distrust in the galaxy; and he also indoctrinated Saren which directly led to Commander Shepard becoming a spectre and starting his path to saving the galaxy from the reapers.

But in light of the Catalyst’s introduction and role, nothing that I just mentioned should have even been possible. Hence why the ending is fundamentally broken despite the valiant attempts of the Extended Cut.


On February 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

First off i will start with a compliment. Thank you for an interesting read.
Secondly i have to tell you that you have made a mistake.
I notice that you make use of the Leviathan DLC far too often.
A DLC i must add , that came after the fact that is the ending of Mass Effect 3.
In short the Leviathan DLC was a attempt at a saving throw by bioware to solve casey’s and mac’s ginormous scr.w.p .
You will ask yourself why i am saying this.
Well for starters , it all goes back to the basics of writing a story.
A story as we know it is based on writing and writing is based of books , letters , paperbacks , ect.
when writing a story , you should have the beginning , the story and the ending that ties everything up.
But there is always the possibility of an open ending.
DLC is a huge problem when working with a story based game like Mass Effect.
What bioware did was , they created a story and that story was released in game format.
The DLC however allowed them to add to the story after the fact.
Which literally means that they have added story segments after finishing their story.
Visually it would look like this.
You have your novel , you cut it into several pieces and throw in a few pages here and there.
Thereby creating an enigma that filters into the ending.
Literally destroying any chance of a solid ending due to the fact that too much scraps and garbage has been added. Leading away from the various story lines that should conclude at the end.
Mass Effect is a trilogy , but as trilogies go , the story becomes harder to write.
Most of the times idea’s come to mind and are implemented later as seen with Mass Effect itself.
The largest point that i can make to give a example is infact A: the catalyst and B: Leviathan.
A: was brought into the story after the original ending was retconned.
Which created a disconnection from the story towards something that was never part of it.
For A i can say one name.
Who was our first connection to understanding the reapers.
Sovereign’s existence was completely reconned when the catalyst came into the story.
Why you might ask?
The citadel is my home. Meaning the citadel is part of the Catalyst.
Meaning that the Catalyst is the citadel to some degree. So why was Sovereign needed?
To activate the hidden mass relay. Yes. It needed to go to the citadel because the Proteans blocked its activation signal. But why is there such a signal , if the Catalyst can open the relay itself?
Everyone will say that it is a plothole , but it is not. It is universal truth to how Casey and Mac screwed up.
Another fact is that the Catalyst keeps talking about a conflict between organics and synthetics. which if you really did play the game again , you can solve by making peace between the geth and the Quarians. and if you really payed attention then you would know that the Geth are NOT hostile. it was a major plotpoint in ME1 because the Geth were the enemy in that game. But you have to explore the reasons why.
The geth in ME1 were heretics by Legion’s words. Legion itself goes against the whole thing completely. Because the Geth are a peaceful race. Yes they fought and won a war with the Quarians.
But the Quarians started the war in the first place and … the Geth did not wipe out the Quarians.
Afterwards the Geth remained secluded inside the veil. they wanted to be left alone , no contact with the outside. Because they wanted to build their own future. The heretics accepted Sovereign’s offer of A future. Which is when they were reprogrammed to attack organics. Which in itself goes against the Catalyst’s reason for being. Which brings me to another point. One of the reasons as to why they reap is because they do not want more advanced races to alter the advancement of other races. Then why did Sovereign indoctrinate the Rachni , which lead to the Council/Rachni wars? Which in turn forced the Salarians to uplift the Krogan. That in itself goes against the Catalyst’s words again.
The Catalyst itself speaks about the Chaos of technological advancement (not openly , but that is in fact what it is referring to) , whereas Sovereign speaks about the Chaos of organic evolution. And i will say it again like i have on many forums. The chaos of organic evolution = the random evolution of organic life. examples are as follows. The color of skin , eyes , hair. Why do asian people have different eyes then white folks? Why are black people black? Why do Krogan have redundant organs? Why are Asari monogendered? These are all examples of the chaos of organic evolution and they have nothing to do with technological advancement.
Your view of the Crusible is created through your own views. plain and simple. I have to add that it seems very unlikly that any race would have been able to come up with the idea. but no one should never make the mistake of coming to conclusions. conflict can be a powerful tool to steer people , races or cultures to create things that are far beyond them. You say without any real proof that the Crusible was created by the catalyst. nor is there any real proof to say that he didn’t. all we know is that it believed that the crusible plans no longer existed. If what you are saying is the fact that the Calalyst is speaking truth , then you have already ignored the basics of trust. And you have fallen victim to the massive disconnect between the story , your character (you basically) and the deep hole that is the ending. at this point you are faced with a voice that is from your point of view the voice of the enemy.
Why on Earth would you trust anything it says? When we have clear proof that it is lying to us. you could destroy all synthetic life if you want. but you , yourself are partly synthetic. yet Sheppard lives with the destroy option. then there is the whole scene of the energy wave obliterating an alliance cruiser , while leaving a reaper intact? what? and that happens with every colored explosion btw. bioware’s change of the normandy’s engines not blowing up proves that they did not know what they were doing in the first place. seeing as that alliance ship still gets obliterated. another note is how Bioware did not even know where the blast originated. it originated from the very mass relay that was destroyed in the Arrival DLC instead of the local cluster.

i am sorry that i wrote this.
It was not my intetion to throw a rock into your window , but i can keep going for another three hours here with enough proof to show you that bioware messed up.
But i will leave it at this. the open ending without closure forces us to find out what we believe has happened.
And it will always leave a bad taste in our mouths.
Mass effect dug too many holes and it fell into one , its as simple as that.


On March 1, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Hi Phil,

I think you have misinterpreted the Catalyst’s knowledge and conversation regarding the Crucible, which adds a small logical fallacy to your analysis. Specifically when you state that the Intelligence ‘knew about the Crucible and is comically dishonest about this with Shepard’ you are missing key information from the plot, and then you proceed to misinterpret key themes because of this.

Let me explain. In the Mission ‘Priority Horizon’ Cerberus and the Reapers are fighting each other and are not allies (as one would expect had the Illusive Man and all Cerberus forces been Indoctrinated at this point). In this Mission you learn that the Reapers are attacking Cerberus because Henry Lawson (Miranda’s father) had successfully learnt to manipulate the Reaper’s communication/control signal with their ground troops. This had allowed Lawson to control Husks by severing them from the Reaper Signal. (The dialogue on the computers in this mission makes it clear that Henry Lawson underestimated the strength of the Reaper Signal, which reasserts itself and leads to the base being found and attacked).

Moreover in the following priority mission, Cerberus Headquarters, you learn that the Illusive Man (a.k.a TIM) had learnt to augment his troops with Reaper derived cybernetic upgrades (this dialogue is found on one of the computers in this mission, and can be easily missed). You also learn that TIM had recently had himself inserted with the Reaper nanites to enhance his physical and mental prowess (something done reluctantly by one of his scientists). This was the plot point in which TIM began to be Indoctrinated (as the other games revealed, Indoctrination takes time and so he was not immediately under Reaper control). Until this point TIM was trying to defeat the Reapers in his own way (i.e. by finding a way to turn off/control the Reaper Signal that networks and guides their forces). While it is not know at which precise point in the plot that the Illusive Man succumbed to Indoctrination (some would argue he never is fully Indoctrinated), he has clearly been compromised by the time of the assault on his base. As is revealed at the end of this mission, TIM decides to warn the Reapers that the Crucible has been built and that the Citadel is the key component needed to distribute its destructive energy.

And so, it is only after TIM contacts and warns the Reapers of the Crucible’s existence that the Intelligence (a.k.a. the Catalyst) learns of its existence in this Cycle. This means your points about ‘benchmarks’ and ‘lying to Shepard’ in order to ‘test him/her’ are a little off the mark. In particular, this assumption sees you add a moral dimension to the Intelligence actions, which is not supported by other elements of the story.

The ending, at its heart, is about causal determinism versus choice. Case Hudson and others on the team studied the Hard Sciences at university. They draw on this background to make many points about the nature of the universe and human behaviour (which is why the ME series is considered part of the Hard Sci-Fi genre). The ending conversation is about a personal ‘leap of faith’ regarding whether you believe in free-will (i.e. choice) and thus reject the Intelligence’s deterministic logic regarding the ‘inevitably’ of the conflict between organics and synthetics. Or you can agree with the Intelligence’s reasoning (which is support by the ‘pattern’ conversation with the Prothean VI on Thessia and Illos). Beyond these logic parameters, the ending was intentionally left ‘open’, so that players would need to speculate on the consequences of their final decisions for the fate of life in the galaxy. The excellent Final Hours App makes this clear (see Bioware’s notes on planning the ending). You could impute a moral logic in this open narrative space (as you have), but I feel it is more about the circular logic of the machine mind versus a very human faith in emancipation and growth through choice (all of which fits the themes running throughout the series).

Anyhow, that’s how I read it. Thanks for your article!


On March 2, 2014 at 2:39 am

@RadThesis – by definition you can’t misinterpret fiction. Interpretation is, by definition, completely subjective. Both yours and Phil’s interpretations are just as valid (or invalid) as each others. The problem arise when people try to claim that their interpretations are actually in canon with the story, when all of these are second-guessing the intentions of those responsible. Since Hudson and Walters have refused to elaborate on their work all of this can only be treated as guesswork with varying amount of establishing evidence in the codex and previous subplots. The only things that are definitely true about the ending are that it pissed a lot of people off for not following through with what was promised from a technical standpoint (i.e. choices that matter, closure etc) and that Hudson and Walters wrote it on their own, meaning that it is by its very nature in a vacuum from the rest of the plot and cannot be treated as an organic continuation of it because it wasn’t created under the same process.

Either way, it’s the equivalent of two people arguing over whose diarrhoea smells less offensive than the other’s. It doesn’t make the ending salvageable, it’s purely throwing good ideas after bad. The biggest problems with the ending, the ideology behind excluding the team that cultivated the series for so long from their own climax, and the condescending cowardice exhibited by Bioware during the backlash, can never be redeemed no matter how plausible an explanation you can come up with for the catalyst. The fact that a character that was only present for the final 0.5% of a long-running trilogy even needs to be explained is in itself proof of how badly he was executed.


On July 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I never realized how contradictory the Catalyst’s assertion about organic-synthetic conflict really is. The current cycle in Shepard’s time proves that organics and synthetics can coexist peacefully, and this article offers two obvious examples: EDI and the geth. In fact, the Reapers are the catalyst for continued organic-synthetic conflict — their control of the geth demonstrates that. Sure, the geth conflict with quarians was independent of Reaper influence, but the notion that “chaos” is inevitable between organics and synthetics is clearly flawed.


On August 15, 2014 at 12:40 am

When I finished ME3 couple years ago, I noticed that the Catalyst was just the Catalyst to the Crucible and nothing else. The ”boy” looked to me just as an last attempt from the Reaper forces to reason with Shepard, since everything they tried against him wasn’t enough. It was so simple to understand the ending and yet people complained… People try to find absurd evidence instead of looking at it with an writer mind. As the Leviathan told him, Shepard the character, is an anomaly. The hero is just an anomalous body in the story, oh well, the classic sci-fi mindblow technique since The Matrix’s Neo. Also, it was from The Matrix movie that this cycle thing was stolen. Bioware just toke it out from Neo’s choice between the Matrix being rebooted or saving Trinity, his beloved girl. For the first time in (maybe) 7 reboots, Neo decided to save Trinity and try a different path. As on the movie, the Reapers can’t accept their defeat because they don’t have the spirit within, it isn’t a noble cause. You can’t look at those types of endings and even epic stories, without appealing to the spiritual meaning of it. For me, it is pretty clear that the star kid is just a reaper pretending to be a good thing, like the serpent on Adam and Eve.

It becomes even more clear when you do reject the choices and the BOY becomes angry. “SO BE IT”. With a sinister voice, his mask falls down. Like he is saying, ”I tried to reason with you, but you rejected the 3 choices which would benefit us all.” Admit it people, Casey is a genius.


On March 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Great analysis, but there is one critical error regarding Cerberus.

During the Mass Effect 3 missions: “Priority: Horizon” & “Priority: Cerberus Headquarters” you learn the the Illusive Man was not indoctrinated until the closing stages of the war with the Reapers. On Horizon, the research logs (recorded by Miranda’s father) you access on the computer terminals make it clear that Cerberus’s endgame was focused on unlocking the networked communication capacity linking reaper forces (quantum entanglement communication, introduced in ME2). This is the ‘control signal’ the Illusive Man wants to exploit to control everything from Husks to Reaper Dreadnoughts. When you assault the Illusive Man’s base in Priority: Cerberus Headquarters, you come across a computer terminal (in a side room) with three video logs recorded by the Illusive Man and expanding on his plans to control the Reapers. The final video in this series shows that the Illusive Man instructing one of his scientists to inject him with reaper nanites (similar to the one’s inside Dragon’s Teeth, which was introduced in ME1 and which repurpose biological matter into hybrid husks). It is at this point that the Reapers learn of Cerberus plans and attack the base working on this research: Horizon. This is why when Shepard arrives at Horizon Cerberus and the Reapers are “finally fighting each other”. It is also why the Illusive Man is waiting on the Citidel for Shepard, and that the Intelligence/Catalyst states “that we control him”. The delicious irony with all of this is that the Illusive Man was right, and his plan might have worked if implemented with more care, but the means he used to pursue his ends were unforgivable.


On April 11, 2016 at 1:45 am

I know that I’m two years late to the party, but it’s taken me this long to heal from the wounds of the first ME3 playthrough, and then find some time to actually sit down and re-play the game all the way through with all the DLC.

I have a problem with your claim that the Crucible is a product of the Catalyst’s own design. Yes, we can agree that kid’s one lying brat, especially if you forge peace between the Quarians and the Geth (like I did), and he claims that war/conflict MUST ALWAYS HAPPEN between organics and synthetics, and that they MUST ALWAYS destroy each other. Yet I believe he’s telling the truth about the Crucible 1) that it/Reapers thought it was eradicated, and 2) it was first developed by an organic race many cycles previous.

The main problem is WHEN TIM is officially Indoctrinated? All of his actions in ME2 are actually AGAINST the Reapers objectives, thereby he CANNOT be indoctrinated at this time. Assuming your theory is correct, that he’s indoctrinated at the beginning of ME3, and that the Crucible is a vital element of the Catalyst’s overall experiment, then Cerberus’ attempted coup on the Citadel halfway through the game makes no sense. You stated that Shepard arriving at the Citadel Control is the proof that organic life has evolved to the point where they can forge unity, and be capable of utilizing the Crucible, but the coup was designed to make the humans the dominating race, subjecting the others, not too different from the Protheans, or the race before them, or anyone sense the Leviathans, a quality that you said was the “disqualifying factor” for the previous cycles.

Sanctuary also causes problems with your theory: Cerberus/IM set it up to study the effects of Indoctrination and Control, which would make little sense if the Catalyst’s end-goal was the “Crucible Test”, as this is a waste of time and resources. It also could potentially reveal a weakness for the Reapers, upon which TIM, or someone else at Cerberus, could have exploited. Remember that a Thrall under full control will quickly become a useless husk, and prove ineffective for the Reapers’ objectives (i.e. Virmire, Saren, and even TIM in his last scene), so if TIM still has enough free-will to function, he might use the knowledge gained at Sanctuary to turn against the Reapers. Also WHEN did Cerberus first start Sanctuary? The subjects were war refugees, but there are none until ME3 officially starts, forcing indoctrination for TIM later. Furthermore, the Reapers ATTACKED Sanctuary when they discovered what Cerberus was researching, so why would the Reapers attack their own troops if they were indoctrinated?

It is more likely that TIM completes his indoctrination status right before the Thessia conversation, and this final submission is what reveals the presence and purpose of Sanctuary to the Reapers. Since TIM was obviously so important to their objective, the Catalyst/Reapers would first use subjective reasoning to lead TIM into the mental trap of doing their bidding. Taking a biblical standpoint: the Devil (Satan) doesn’t go about with a pitched fork waving a carrot in front of people’s faces, he instead uses reason and logic, starting with the opinions and beliefs held by his target, using and distorting these until the victim is eventually convinced that they’re doing the crime for the right reason(s). The Reapers are using the same tactic with TIM, using his belief that he can control the Reapers, or even implanting the idea in his head (Inception anyone?) based on his presupposition that Humans are the Dominate Race.

With Saren, Sovereign used “Submit or Die” logic, but when that failed in the end, the Reapers convinced TIM that Controlling the Reapers was in fact a POSSIBILITY. The Reapers no doubt influenced his actions as he engaged in a game of chess with the Shadow Broker (Liara) over seeking out possible defenses, but once it seemed like she might have found something in the Martian Prothean Archives, they ramped up the suggestion to push him to find this weapon before the resistance did, convincing him that it might allow him to control the Reapers, but they themselves weren’t sure what the weapon was, or if there even was one in the archives. Although TIM is able to download some of the information, most of it is in the EVA platform, which is recovered by Liara, so TIM/Reapers don’t really know about the Prothean Device, what it is/does, nor the completion status, until TIM/Kai Lang capture Vendetta from Thessia, and analyze it. Shepard revealed to Vendetta that the Crucible was nearly complete, and when TIM breaches the VI’s security protocols is the first time that the Catalyst has the chance to learn that the Crucible is not dead, AND that this cycle has nearly completed it. (Note: the “Indoctrinated Presence” that Vendetta detects on Thessia is Kai Lang).

The Catalyst itself says that when the Crucible was finally docked onto the Citadel (for the first time ever), that “The Crucible changed me. Created new… possibilities.” Having failed with TIM, the Catalyst, “the consciousness of all the Reapers”, as he says, now realizes that “You Can Control Us” can be a pliable argument to convince Shepard, who is the executioner with is axe on the Catalyst’s throat, if the kid reasons that only Shepard can do it, by his own means (willpower + influence across the galaxy to complete the Crucible, which makes this possible). Realistically, the kid is probably lying that Shepard can actually control the Reapers, and is actually absorbing his memories in the Control option; after all, Shep has been an anomaly to the Reapers, who have been trying to stop and “dissect” him (for lack of a better phrase) ever since he stopped Sovereign. So an entity that powerful would need to be added to the the Reaper Consciousness to strengthen them against such a threat, making them even more invulnerable. Since the Catalyst claims that the harvest is “archiving the species’ knowledge and legacies” into the Reaper platforms, much like the Borg, this concept isn’t so far-fetched.