Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 3
Editor’s Note: This is the finale of a three-part series analyzing and interpreting the ending of Mass Effect 3 through the lens of the complete run of content of the Mass Effect series — that is, all the DLC, including (and especially) the Extended Cut ending. The focus here is not to evaluate the effectiveness or quality of the ending; for that, you can read our previous posts about the end of Mass Effect 3.
Instead, this piece looks to gather textual evidence from key moments throughout the series to try to better understand BioWare’s intentions with the Extended Cut ending, and what that might mean for its plans for the future of Mass Effect. This is just one interpretation of the material, and we encourage to share your own in the comments.
Author’s Note: Game Front Deputy Editor Phil Hornshaw contributed greatly to this analysis.
Warning: Everything in this editorial is a spoiler for the entire Mass Effect series thus far. All of it. It’s 100-percent spoilers. Seriously. It’s also best for you to have played through at least Mass Effect 3 before reading, or some of this will be pretty confusing.
In Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Parts 1 and Part 2 of this new analysis of the Mass Effect franchise lore, I laid down my interpretation of the events of the game as well as those that we’re told throughout the series where the cause of them.
My conclusion was this: that the Catalyst, the artificial intelligence that controls the Reapers, was using the Reaper harvests and the Crucible superweapon as a means of leading a galactic civilization through a test that would force it to achieve a truly united front, working as equals for survival. It’s a test that we passed in playing the games, and now it’s time to look ahead at what the future would hold under this interpretation of the series.
My video reference page is still useful, despite this movement beyond the events shown in that content. That page contains the Extended Cut epilogues, which are my textual jumnping-off points and as such will be helpful to revisit here.
Moving forward in time within the Mass Effect series from the Reaper War would require BioWare to choose a canon ending to Mass Effect 3, and in Mass Effect 4 grant the player authority to move the Citadel government forward through the uncertain future set up by Shepard and the Catalyst.
Ideally, ME4 would be far removed from the Mass Effect trilogy — like hundreds of years at least or more, to give enough time for Liara and other long-lived familiar faces to die of old age. And given the obvious Asimov influences, having the series continue on a more massive scale feels like an imperative — thus far, the franchise has spanned about three years of active time, with a couple thousand years of concrete lore and the less concrete billion years or so of the Catalyst and Leviathans. Plus, setting the next story during the postbellum reconstruction period following the Reaper War is less interesting than examining the ramifications of Shepard’s choice on society once its infrastructure is again intact or improved. And we can’t see what these choices really mean within the context I’ve just spent 3,000 words outlining by jumping back into the saga too soon.
I have three proposed scenarios for future Mass Effects that I believe are natural outcomes, based on the lore and the Foundation/Robot/Empire influences we’ve seen in the series thus far, and divided up by each of the choices presented at the end of Mass Effect 3. They’re a bit heady and ambitious in scope, which I also believe is a natural next step for Mass Effect. These are not — I repeat, not — predictions for what BioWare will do or is doing. These scenarios are logical next steps down the three paths given my interpretation of the original trilogy.