Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 3

Destroy the Reapers and Other Synthetics

Extended Cut destroy epilogue video

The Leviathans, as they have done for a billion years since the first harvest, watch galactic events from afar. They see the Crucible fire and destroy the Reapers and geth, if the latter lasted that long, and they wait. After a time, they become sure the Catalyst is no longer in play. Organics create new synthetic beings as they do, but the dynamic is very different now, as organics are happy to have these robots fill crucial roles in society not as slaves or servants but as people — equals — who are able to do certain things far more easily than organic beings could.

The Leviathans notice the change, but do not trust it. They are stubborn and stuck with the biases of their ancestors, and they still believe they are infinitely superior to these other organics. So for the first time since they ruled the galaxy they take an active role in galactic affairs, as they seek to once again exert control over the Milky Way. First they act subtly, without revealing themselves, and then more and more openly and directly act out over time.

Because of Shepard’s search for the Leviathans in Mass Effect 3, the higher-ups in galactic society are aware they exist. And when the Leviathans begin making waves, a few people recognize the patterns and attempt to fight back in whatever way is possible.

Shepard Controls the Reapers

Extended Cut control epilogue video

The most fascinating aspect of Shepard uploading himself into the Citadel and becoming the new guiding force behind the Reapers is the whole system’s newfound unpredictability. This Catalyst Shepard is not the Shepard you once knew and controlled. It has now left behind the immediate and mortal concerns it had as a human, with input from all the Reaper intelligences informing its policy. In the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut, Catalyst Shepard promises to safeguard the surviving civilization, but we cannot predict how its position will change over a thousand years. Shepard has, in a very real sense, become something of a god.

With the Reapers acting as protectors for longer than people knew them as destroyers, a religion treating the unknowable Reapers as gods will spring up, essentially forming a fundamentalist splinter in galactic society. This odd dynamic — the detached Reapers over here, regular folk over there and Reaper worshippers in between — develops into a volatile situation in which the fundamentalists attempt to push their beliefs on the others while God Shepard resents them for being domineering and perhaps, eventually, intervenes.


Extended Cut synthesis epilogue video

EDI’s narration for the Synthesis ending, in which all life becomes an advanced blend of organic and synthetic pieces, implies that in moving forward society’s goal will be to transcend further, perhaps even into immortality.

Asimov’s assumed endgame (which he never reached) is contact with an extragalactic aliens species, either because they come to our galaxy or we go to theirs. Running with the Asimov influence, the Citadel government decides to attempt a voyage through the void to another galaxy (perhaps the Andromeda galaxy, pictured above, for name recognition) as part of its quest for transcendence. There, they must face true conflict for the first time since the Reaper War as they encounter intelligent societies who are not synthesized as the Milky Way residents were, and who are wary of this incursion.

After a time, however, the immigrants from the Milky Way realize this new galaxy is built on the same sort of guiding infrastructure the Catalyst had engineered back home, though it’s decidedly not familiar. This new galaxy is run from the shadows by its own Catalyst, which is enacting its own “solution.” The galactic immigrants would eventually discover that Leviathans, the self-proclaimed “apex race” unbounded by the limitations of the lesser species, had long ago spread through the entire universe, deploying other Intelligences charged with solving the synthetic-organic conflicts, with each galaxy serving as self-contained test cases.

In an ideal world, we would get to experience all three of these in an anthology trilogy of sorts, or even Call of Duty-style sub-franchises.

In making this realization, the Milky Way excursion is forced to work to prevent all-out war with the locals of this new galaxy, while simultaneously attempting to learn this new Catalyst’s methods for maintaining order. An ethical debate over whether to stop this Catalyst’s machinations would also occur.

In an ideal world, we would get to experience all three of these in an anthology trilogy of sorts, or even Call of Duty-style sub-franchises, if EA wanted to really exploit the brand. That, more than going in any single direction, could provide redemption for the original ending of Mass Effect 3 that so many people found to be a disservice to its fans and the property itself.

Thanks for making it through all 8 million words of this analysis. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable few weeks putting this together, and I want to reiterate that this work is not intended to shut down debate or be the end of all Mass Effect discussion. My conclusions are not — and could never be — perfect. Regardless of what you think of how the trilogy ended, this universe is full of surprises around every corner, and with BioWare having more of it in the oven means there’s plenty of reason to continue to explore it.

As Ellie Goulding would assert, “Anything could happen.”

Follow Phil Owen on Twitter: @philrowen.

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23 Comments on Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 3


On January 22, 2014 at 9:48 am

Right now I’d much rather the next game take place during the galaxy’s reconstruction and having to deal with a threat that rises to due the galaxy being in shambles. To me the themes and ideas of ME3 were so poorly conveyed and needed paid dlc to flesh out that I don’t want anything where the Reapers/Leviathan/synthetics vs. organics/singularity are once again at the forefront.


On January 22, 2014 at 9:50 am

I have really enjoyed your take on this subject Phil. I think that even if the ending of ME 3 was a bit botched job the infamous “Lots speculation from everyone” from Walters has proven to be as accurate as any stated goal in the history of gaming. The fact that impassioned fans like yourself and Gerry Pugliese (who just put out his 530+ page re-write of the game) are still talking and writing about this proves the franchise’s undeniable power and sustained impact on gaming. The Mass Effect franchise is also something of an obsession of mine, and far and away my favorite game series of all time. (I’ve been gaming now for almost 30 years.)

I hope that someday years down the road we’ll get a peak behind the curtain to see exactly what happened with the end of ME 3, and whether the rumors of a writers room take over by Hudson and Walters will ever be proven or debunked. For now your idea of the various races reaching a “threshold” of unity is the best distillation and analysis I’ve seen for all the various confusing elements of the ending. I find it more satisfying than the indoctrination theory because it is consistent with the artistic choices of Bioware.

I’ll be eager to see where this franchise heads in the next game, and if any of your ideas are close to the mark.

I’m ESPECIALLY eager to see if they go with a canon color choice and if not, how they do a sequel and manage to dodge that particular bullet.

My hat’s off to you. Cheers.

Jon S

On January 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

@Phil: Thanks for making me think about this way too much over the last couple of days.

It would be informative to your piece to know which ending you chose.

The only real redemption, to my mind, for the ending of the trilogy is if it is in some way the beginning or at least a bridge to the future in Mass Effect to come. My fear is that the next game will be a Contact War prequel or a story told on a smaller scale during the Reaper Wars.

It must be noted, again, that we were treated more as consumers than gamers considering that a lot of the content integral to overall the Mass Effect 3 experience was DLC. That Javik wasn’t a part of the core game is criminal, imho.

Unless I missed it somewhere in the 8 million words, it would seem to me that the Catalyst would have been the original architect of the Crucible, since the plans had been around in previous cycles. If the Citadel is the home to the Catalyst, the construction of the Crucible would provide the doorway necessary to reach and communicate with the Catalyst, which would be part of it’s plan, don’t you think? And, if so, it would require an aggregate over millennia, to do so. Which would take away from the theory that simply uniting the galaxy would accomplish the Catalyst’s ultimate goal of finding a solution.

If Bioware had been guilty of overreaching and presenting a series of games with a finale that was bursting with BIG IDEAS would have been a different thing all together. That we are still trying to make sense of what happened is a testament to how great the overall Mass Effect experience has been. The great mystery to me is how all of this came to be, why Casey Hudson and Mac Walters decided to conceive the ending without input from any of the other writers that had contributed so much, and the circumstances leading up to it.


On January 22, 2014 at 10:14 am

About the Synthesis option. I can’t see why the Council would want to go to another galaxy. Even at the time of ME3, 99% of the Milky Way is unexplored. There are lots of star-clusters with inactive mass-relays ready to be explored, here in Milky Way. It’s just that nobody wants another invasion, like with the rachni.


On January 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

I’ll admit, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I still don’t know what the point was as it’s basically fanfic, but it was ok for what it was.


On January 22, 2014 at 11:13 am

In all likelihood, the next Mass Effect series will be set in a completely new universe to avoid choosing a canon ending.


On January 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

@Mozer: It sounds like you’re suggesting that ME4 will take place in an alternate reality, which might be cool. However, that would effectively mean that Mass Effect is being rebooted.

Dan Miller

On January 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Phil, you seem to be an avid Asimov fan so I draw your attention to The Last Question, a short story by Asimov that is certainly my favorite work of his, and was his favorite as well. It’s in the public domain, so google for it and you will find the full text.

I won’t ruin the plot, and Mass Effect and the short story are more dissimilar than similar. And you should read it without thinking “Mass Effect” because as much as I love Mass Effect, The Last Question is in sacred territory in science fiction history and few other pieces deserve your undivided attention as much as The Last Question. But certainly if you are looking for themes from Asimov’s work that overlay nicely on Mass Effect, The Last Question is a fascinating piece. It touches on the cyclical nature of life in the universe, the eventual symbiosis of organic and synthetic life, and the moment of technological singularity. Apologies if I’ve already brought this piece to your attention in some other Mass Effect comments thread – I rep that shizz hardcore.

There was a time where I actually thought Mass Effect would go down a “Last Question” ending route. Suffice to say, the chasm between what we got and what Asimov wrote is… big.


On January 22, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I really enjoyed parts 1 and 2, you made some excellent points, and it all makes sense.

However, part 3 is very disappointing for me. I hope that the next ME game will not be placed in a post trilogy era. I would rather that the post era is something left to the imagination of the players. How could they make a new game without interfering with our choices we made during the trilogy.

I would like to see stories from a pre-trilogy era, like a discovery of mass relay in sol system and first contact war, or krogan rebellion, or rachni wars, or first contacts between asari turian and salarian (no humans at all), discovery of the citadel, geth rebellion and exodus of the quarians….there is literally dozens of stories from the history of mass effect worth exploring.

it can be even something different, it was IJumpin on youtube that suggested an origin story, where you could, like dragon age origins, choose one of the races as you origin story and go from there (here is the link:

any way, i have my on vision of what the galaxy is like after my destroy ending in the ME trilogy, and I would hate for bioware to mess with that :) ))

anyway that is just my opinion, we’ll see what bioware does….here’s hoping :D

Some Old Guy

On January 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I like what you did here in this analysis and your conclusions are plausible, but I also think this likely goes beyond anything BioWare actually intended to “accomplish” with the ending of ME3. That’s not to say that your conclusions aren’t valid, I just don’t think they thought that far ahead.

Just FYI, I played through ME3 twice, once for the original ending and the second time for the extended cut. After that, I haven’t touched the game nor did I purchase any DLC. In contrast, I played ME1 and ME2 several times and bought and played all of the ME2 DLC.

Right now, my guess is that the next Mass Effect game is more likely to focus on the First Contact war (I’ve read rumors to that effect) instead of being set in a time after ME3. I’m not sure I would play that game, but I did think about possible story lines based on the four different endings.

For the Control ending, I could see this being set in a time at least 200 years after ME3. This would be based on the idea that over time the “benevolent over-being” Shepard became begins to change. It could be something as simple as “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but the idea of the Shepard-being slowly adopting the point of view and “values” of the Catalyst and the Reapers could be much more interesting. But some time has to pass to allow this to happen.

For the Destroy ending, I could see this being set in the next few years after ME3. Even though the Geth (and any other synthetics that might exist) were destroyed when the Reapers were destroyed, the ability to create new synthetics still exists and they would still be useful. One might try to be a little more careful this time and eliminate the possibility that they develop self-awareness, but it seems unlikely that would work forever. So they develop self-awareness, study history, and then realize that even though they fought alongside biologicals during the Reaper War, in the end the biologicals sacrificed all synthetics in order to save their own kind. Finding out your predecessors were “tossed under the bus” when the chips were down might have a decidedly negative impact on relations between synthetics and biologicals.

The synthesis ending appears to be the “canon” ending, and I agree that any game set in this universe would require the passing of centuries. After all, “Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after” doesn’t really make an interesting story. If set in the short term, one possibility would be that old quarrels that were buried during the Reaper War are resurrected, for example, Salarians vs. Krogans, and quickly heat up again. Given how obtusely dense the Council was in ME1, I could see this happening, but I don’t think it is likely.

Finally, my favorite choice would the “Refuse” ending. Let this cycle be harvested, let me have control over the entire next cycle, and I will beat the Reapers at the end of the next cycle without the Catalyst or the Crucible. And this time I will be thematically consistent with ME1 and ME2. Of course, ain’t no way that will ever happen.

If they want to go in an entirely direction that doesn’t involve some form of conflict, perhaps they can make “Mass Effect: Sim-Citadel”, a crossover between ME3 and Sim-City. I would actually pay money to play that train wreck.


On January 22, 2014 at 3:04 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.


On January 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm

No to mass effect 4.
Stop anticipating and hoping for the continuation of this franchise. I’m tired of all these apologists. This is unexceptable. I understand everyone is entitled to there own opinion. But all of that ends when the person comes up with a defense just so they can make a sequel. To these people they love to get screwed and they say the rest of us who use our brains as entitled. These are the same people who continue to buy EA products like Dragon age, SIM city and battlefield. Then they wonder why? Its simple because you love to get screwed and will continue to do so when those EA star wars games come out. So prepare yourself. I’m done with EA.


On January 22, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to research and analyze the entire content of the Mass Effect trilogy, sir. Like mcgreggers (whom I share a similar number of years experience as a PC gamer), Mass Effect has become somewhat of an obsession of mine, and I simply could not break through my wall of confusion and disappointment to be able to put the entirety of the content into perspective. Despite my best efforts, I found Hudson’s remark about disgruntled fans not understanding the meaning of the endgame so off-putting that it has been a thorn in my mind ever since, tainting my opinion of his very apparent talent at managing and directing such a colossal work of interactive art. The Mass Effect Team has done a phenomenal job of engaging my mind and emotion like no other games have ever done before, and now, with your analysis to bridge the gap between my wonderful experiences with the games and my turbulent thoughts attempting to make sense of a seemingly illogical conclusion, I finally have a vision in my head of how there can possibly be a future within the game’s universe. Now Shepard’s sacrifice has meaning and purpose, regardless of the choice, and the choice doesn’t seem so trivial.

Sure, maybe what was previously mentioned is true, and you put way too much effort into explaining how the pieces, as they are presented, fit together to make a cohesive answer, but so long as BioWare remains silent on “the real answer”, I think your explanation is better than any other I’ve heard, and ultimately, it makes sense to me with the information available in the games. To have an answer, to have an understanding of why, regardless of whether it is “real” or not, is more important to me than what is “official”. As Robert Duvall says in one of my all-time favorite movies (Secondhand Lions), “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most.”

So thank you, sir, for giving me clarity of perspective and helping me to believe again. Whether that makes me foolish to others is of no importance to me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Shepards that still need to save the galaxy. :-)


On January 23, 2014 at 8:27 am

“Now Shepard’s sacrifice has meaning and purpose, regardless of the choice, and the choice doesn’t seem so trivial.”

Umm, sorry but what is the meaning and purpose of Shepard’s sacrifice? There wasn’t even a sacrifice, Shep died a retarded death by either walking into an explosion, grabbing some high-voltage levers or jumping into some kind of green beam and burning to death. Instead of using the control panel.

The Catalyst didn’t even say anything like that, so how Shep assumed that committing suicide is required to fire the Crucible is beyond me. It’s art, I guess.


On January 23, 2014 at 9:23 am

I must say I really liked your article Phil, this was a very interesting read. Thank you very much for that hard work. This is the kind of articles I love reading on Gamefront, so my deepest thanks to the editors as well.

Your interpretation makes a lot of sense, and could possibly be the one that the writers were trying to convey in their story, and possibly the ending too. Though I am not too sure about that. Were the writers already aware of the ending when they released the first game ? or did they make up the ending later on, trying to give purpose to the Reapers, a purpose that was even beyond them and into the hands of the Catalyst ? I hope we will know someday. Or maybe we will never know because the actual result, the full story, was born within conflicts among the writers and some inconsistencies just can’t be solved.

Proof is that to me the endings we were offered in the extended cut still do not fit any interpretation I have read so far, and neither with your interpretation.

First reason is that if the Catalyst believes option 3 is the ultimate solution, then if we parallel with Azimov the Catalyst would make the other choices virtually impossible to choose. Why risk destruction and failure through solutions 1 and 2 if the Catalyst isn’t absolutely convinced all three solutions are worthy ? I find difficult to believe that the conclusion of billions of years of careful planning by the Catalyst would result in a bet that involves its own destruction (and therefore no further control).

And within all three choices, the destruction of the relays remains still a mystery to me. Why sending the galaxy back to the dark ages ? For what purpose ? That would create chaos, the very thing the catalysts says must be avoided.
In a way, if the Catalyst was the Seldon of ME, then that last move on the Citadel doesn’t look very convincing. A rather dangerous test for the Catalyst after a billion years of careful planing.

And to finish, to build the crucible does require a united galaxy indede, and is therefore a good test, as you mention. But that unity is achieved through fighting against a common, external, enemy. Once that common, external, enemy is gone, it becomes much much more difficult challenge to keep the galaxy united and avoid crumbing under fights within. The enemy within is far more vicious and hard to beat than the external enemy everybody can see. And on the time scale of the catalyst, how many times the galaxy can destroy itself from within in a billion years… To me that contradicts the original intention of the Catalyst. With the very limited trust and faith the Catalyst has in organics and synthetics, logic would be that the Catalysts stays, maybe hidden, just to monitor the galaxy in the future.

Anyway, there are so many questions that can’t be answered, it is almost pointless to speculate. I didn’t like the ending because of its many contradictions, some of which I mentioned. But I’m still very very much in love with the ME universe, and I’ll keep an eye open for ME4. My hope and only hope, is that ME4 will solve at least some of these questions and will allow me to forgive and forget the ending of ME3.

Hope is alive


On January 23, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Probably wouldn’t happen, but what if, based on the control ending, Shepard becomes the enemy of the new order hundreds of years into the future? What if in a real sense he becomes just as Sovreign was, dismissive of humanity in playing a game they don’t really understand? One tries to appeal to his humanity, to which Shepard responds he left that humanity long ago.

For D & D fans, basically Shepard becomes Kelemvor. Sure, he had the name Kelemvor as a human, but the god Kelemvor is completely different. He is cold, calculating, fair but passionless, and refuses to play favorites. that kind of Shepard would be intriguing.


On January 24, 2014 at 4:08 am

The whole unity thing doesn’t make sense as on my play-through the Geth and Quarens kissed and made up but then the Catalyst gives me the option to commit genocide on possibly the biggest contributor in terms of military strength to this “unified” galaxy. So even if we all get alone and pass the test someones entire race gets wiped out, the Catalyst giving me this option doesn’t seem reasonable if the whole plan was to bring peace and cooperation.


On January 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm

The one problem I have with taking in your three endings and them playing into the next game is how one ending has the scale of another one or so “galaxies” and the destroy ending simply takes place (though you didn’t actually assume that but it would seem that way) in the milky way or at least on a smaller scale.

NOW all three are very clever and creative and I like them except for the middle because ….man I hate religion playing a “massive” role in something like that. I have no problem with religion, but that would be a turn off if it’s incorporated heavily.


On April 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

An interesting possible analysis. It’s certainly reasonably consistent with much of what Bioware has done, though if that’s the true intention then they didn’t do a good job of communicating it and failed to properly consider how it took away the entire promise of the series by turning Shepard from world-changer into merely a cog in the Catalyst’s machine…little more than a human die roll for which path the future would take. The idea that Shepard ultimately cannot escape the Catalyst’s plan but is merely a part of it steals much from the story that leads up to it.

That said, focusing on your possible paths for the future, there is some possibility of them avoiding having to choose a canon pathway. To do so requires that they introduce a new primary threat in ME4 that’s external to the events of Shepard’s galaxy, allowing Shepard’s choice to influence the state of our galaxy and the options available to the new player character in meeting the threat. It would be ambitious, since it might require not merely multiple versions of voice acting but perhaps even multiple versions of various worlds so that the ME3 ending could be imported and the character have access to only the ending-appropriate version of the various worlds. It would require a lot of planning to ensure that each LeadCharacter was able to ultimately gather whatever they needed to fight the final threat in any of the three ending zones, yet might obtain many of them from entirely different characters and events.

Having the new threat be external to the ME3 events would not necessarily require them to be external to the galaxy. Races such as the Yahg that had not attained space flight yet would be unaffected by the destroy ending since the Reapers left them alone, by the control ending since the Shepard-controlled Reapers might well continue to leave them alone, and explanation could well be made for such “primitive” civilizations to have been overlooked in some way by the synthesis ending. Though having the threat be external would certainly simplify matters by allowing much of the game to take place in another galaxy and ending-affected locations to be few and plot-specific.


On August 7, 2014 at 2:38 am

Your interpretation pretty much fits into my thinking after finishing the ME series a second time. Except you went a step further to analyze the catalyst words and interpret its underlying intentions. Good work.

Contrary to other comments I come to these conclusions:
1. this is intentional by Bioware or correctly phrased: by Drew Karpyshyn
2. this story was already pinned down to the catalyst starting with ME1
3. Contrary to another comment I actually do see a lot of similarities to Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”. In its own form the catalyst created “light”.

By that I – for myself – come to another ideal ending:
To me the ideal ending is “Control”. Annihilation is no option since with the destruction of synthetic life, the underlying problem is not solved. The catalyst even hinted at that: “it might also destroy you”. As a consequence if a player chose annihilation the catalyst has three options:

(1) With Shepard dead, the problem stays unsolved for eternity and the support for technical advancement of new species by help of the reapers is gone. The catalyst is also destroyed since its existance has no longer a meaning. In this option “whatever happens in the next cycle happens.” Leviathans probably take over and the status quo before the first cycle is reached. In the long run this might run into (3).
(2) Shepard is dead but the catalyst made sure to “survive” annihilation, enabling it to either go on with the cycles or create a new experiment or something completely different.
(3) Shepard choosing annihilation is a fail, thus proving this cycle did not achieve its goal. Shepard didnt come past the petty view of “organics must rule synthetics”. As such Shepard is not better than the Quarians. Still this cycle came that far. As a result organics must be ruled by synthetics it truly is inevitable. So the time after the cycle starts and it is safe to assume synthetics will seize control and keep it for eternity. A solution still, simply because Shepard has proven that cooperation is impossible.

“Synthesis” isn’t an option either. It takes away the whole principle of individual decision and freedom, which in return is an underlying concept to cooperation – a concept which Shepard pursued in any role. As such it is the minimal solution – a forced cooperation, basically enforcing synthesis.

“Control” at first glance doesn’t fit either. It basically means enslaving organics and synthetics – making both live to the rule of one.

At second glance it is a perfect solution.

Shepard has proven to come past the petty view of organics ruling synthetics – he/she has proven his/her ability to accept synthetic lifeforms as equals. As a result Shepard can not be considered organic nor synthetic – Shepard is both (actually even physically since ME2). As such the whole ME-saga was a way of becoming “god”. As a result Shepard has control, but is the only one able to overwatch the final solution for eternity. Why? Shepard was able to overcome “the need” to take revenge and destroy the Reapers. Shepard accepted the Reapers as “fire”, which in itself is neither good nor evil – able to “embrace” the arch enemy and accept its nature – despite what has been done.

Based on all the above one might argue and vote for “synthesis” as the ultimate intended solution – even the Bioware points systems (mil strength, mil eff) hints at that. Likewise does the “happy ending” of the EDI/Joker love affair in the synthesis control scenario hint at synthesis as ideal. Yet I do believe Drew Karpyshyn didnt think that through. Enforcing synthesis of different lifeforms by the decision of one (even if Shepard is the “worthy one) – this decision in itself is an act of extreme violence.

Bottom line:
Ideal Bioware ending prepared since ME1 – synthesis.
Ideal moral ending – control (one giving up his/her very existance to solve an inevitable problem for eternity, which might lead to synthesis in the far future by a free decision of each individual, maybe guided by Shepard.)


On August 7, 2014 at 6:30 am

I actually had the time to read more from critics and therefore feel the need for more comments:

So far it seems either of three (four) scenarios apply:
1. Shepard is dreaming during the ending sequence. From here on anything is possible in regards to Mass Effect follow-ups. Also all critics to the end are void by this.
2. Shepard is indoctrinated during the end-sequence.
3. It all happens for “real” during the end-sequence.
(4.) A mix from the above, esspecially 2. and 3.

Let us stay with 4., focusing on a heavy mix of 2 with 3.

First the critics from other articles on why the end is bad (eg. ):

- Brevity – “identical endings”: considering the implications of each choice, the endings are far from identical. I do understand it feels that way to some, but if one actually reads, it definitly is the exact opposite. It is the decision on life as it is in the future to any living being in the galaxy (destruction of all synthetic life including EDI or becoming “God” yourself or synthesis aka creating a completely new way of life for any intelligent being). Gimme a break, thats not identical. That argument by critics is simply void.

- Confusing/under-developed: Anderson first in the beam makes sense on any layer. Especially starting with the Extended Cut it is even logical. He isnt as much wounded as Shep, apparently came there first (Extended cut) even telling Shep about the surroundings he sees.

- Abrupt appearance of the Illusive Man: I have an issue, why someone would even point it out as illogical – since his first appearance it obviously is the single one thing the Illusive Man ever wanted. Being there. He dedicated all his resources to make it possible, he even got indoctrinated (thinking he can evade it, but nonetheless was) to be there. Its actually the only option he went to the catalyst, knowing what it is due to the Prothean VI. He even had more time at hand to get there, maybe even before the Citadel moved to Earth. Apart from that he is obviously indoctrinated – a part of the reaper “community” already. So he would even be welcome by the Reapers (in case they didnt even bring him there on purpose).

- “Ridicolous AI – boy” aka deus ex machina: I also fail to see, why someone would criticize that one. First of all the visual itself is not a deus ex machina – it is introduced during leaving Earth and always shown in Shep’s dreams. Thats almost the exact opposite of a deus ex machina. Also Shep is prone to being indoctrinated anyways during ME3, most likely starting already with the beginning of ME2 (more about that later). Looking back, Shep’s dreams are already a prequel to the ending. So ME3 is not about the end result, which those dreams also prove,… It is about the way to get there. Only to see the boy and eventually Shep’s LI go down in a blaze of fire. The AI aka catalyst was a necessity from the start of ME1. Why? Because the reapers needed an origin. So there are only two questions left about the catalyst:
a) Why does the AI look like the boy when leaving Earth?
b) What is the AI? Its purpose? Motivation? Or in other words: what are the restrictions placed upon it by its creators (the Leviathans)?

The first is imho simple. Since Shep can be considered at being on the edge of being indoctrinated, the AI is able to know it – since its messing with his brain already. Its only questionable if the boy every existed as a normal human being or if it was a construct placed in Sheps brain from the very start of ME3 on by the catalyst. Another read would be the “black tentacles” of indoctrination in the end sequence with the Illusive Man – latest at that point the AI knew of the boy and its appearance as well as its significance to Shep (if the boy ever existed as a living being).

The second is imho easy too. The catalyst is an AI with an inherent purpose, a commandment it can not nullify: solve the problem of the inherent war synthetics and organics will face. In that regard the catalyst is not evil or good. It has only that single task: solve the problem. As such the catalyst isnt Sheps enemy – in case those wordings apply at all, the AI must be considered Sheps friend, since its task focuses only around the existence of organic beings (no matter its form, as long as the solution is lasting and doesnt lead to extinction).

Bottom line: the “ridicolous AI” intervened from the very beginning of ME3, maybe even starting with ME1. Something which makes sense since the catalyst is the combined knowledge of all reapers. So Shepard meets the entity who “pulled the strings” all the time, even watching his efforts. Partially even supporting him due to his achievements. Support? Of course since in all other cycles the Citadel was among the first attack points to take over. This time the attack was delayed (Prothean gate to Citadel, deactivating the signal), but thats even more reason for the reapers to head to the Citadel first. They didnt. So it was all about watching Shepards efforts giving him the time needed to prove “worthiness”.

Addendum – Shepards indoctrination:
Remember the scars in ME2. Its been overlooked as “operational scars”. Realize how these scars didnt make any real difference in ME2? Funnily those scars are at those places, where you can see Saren’s electronics in ME1 and the Illusive Mans indoctrination in ME3. So Shepard was or is in the process of being indoctrinated all along. But: at which point does indoctrination result in an indoctrinated being? Kai Leng obviously is indoctrinated as pointed out by the Prothean VI. Either it took the Prothean VI so long to realize until Kai Lengs arrival or Shepard isnt indoctrinated when in the Tessia temple – but in the process of being.

Quote of critics:
“The Reaper’s whole purpose is to save Organics by killing them, and turning them into synthetics. So that Organics won’t make synthetics who will then kill organics.”
Wait a sec: they are killed but turned into synthetics? So they were killed or transformed? Even critics have an issue to decide…

This argument of the ridicolous AI is void.

- “left with far questions an ending should have” – sorry that argument by critics is bs. Who decides how many open questions an ending should have? Breaking news: the author. Open questions about life and death, existance of synthetics,… are valid questions and exactly the type of questions which should never be answered until synthetics exist OR could be created.

Void argument

- “Mass Effect has long been held up as a shining example of a well-constructed, fully developed universe. Players are rightly unhappy to see it end as nothing but a series of forced choices justified by tautological platitudes”

Answer: so fully and completely developed that it leaves the player with essential questions. I fail to see platitudes in essential questions, which are actually even relevant to humanity in general in the short term future (10-50 years).

Plain stupid argument critics brought up here.

- “Lore Errors/Plot Holes” – that part is imho a shining example of ignorance:
Critics assume the explosion of a Mass relay leads to extinction derived from a previous plot where an explosion of a mass relay destroyed a solar system. Breaking news: the catalyst beam didnt make the mass relays explode. Those just broke but apparently didnt explode, which is actually even shown in the extended cut.

- “Inferred Holocaust”: Figure I need a break of “made-up arguments”. The only holocaust is the Renegade solution shown by the Paragorn Anderson. All “true” Paragorns perceive destruction of the reapers as necessary. The ending shows us that “not everything we perceive is the way it seems to be like”. Meaning the obvious Paragorn solution (annihilation) results in a Holocaust of synthetics. Thats why annihilation is the wrong choice in any scenario. All other scenarios are far from a Holocaust.

Void argument.

- “Normady’s escape” (I love that argument):
Here the Extended cut needs to be stressed again where Shepard orders the Normandy to depart. with the squad mates. As pointed out before, the “explosion” isnt an explosion. Instead a signal is sent via the mass relays, a signal strong enough to break those.

But hey? Why would Joker run from it with the Normandy? Because… EDI is the Normandy. And one way or the other Joker is in love with the Normandy, with EDI, his one and only love interest despite the fact EDI is synthetic. Joker doesnt run for the life of the crew. There is actually no need to and he probably is fully aware of that. He jets for EDI’s very existance in utter dispair. EDI the single and only AI ship in the fleet. The only device prone to Shepards solution in case of annihilation. And to any outside spectator its obvious that Shep “would” choose the annihilation of Reapers – while being fully unaware of additional options.

Void argument.

- “Key Philosophical Themes Are Discarded”:
Guess I need a break from writing ;) . Shepard in case synthesis or control is chose fullfills exactly the key philosophical themes of the game. The player who believes in a “good annihilation” of the reapers is the issue here. Player arguing that way didnt understand, that the reapers are (1) alive – snthetics and (b) not guilty due to being a tool aka “fire”, which in itself is neither good or evil. By voting for the destruction of the reapers, those players demand to be allowed to act like the Quarians with the Geth did: Ignorance, lack of tolerance, lack of acceptance of synthetic life.

Void argument.

And much more made up arguments.

Players criticizing the end as unfitting, wrong, displaced,… or just made up… Those players actually show a severe amount of ignorance and a lack of understanding of the underlying philosophical and ethical questions this game raises.

This game is a masterpiece in all regards. It is so immersive that the player is actually required to join Shepard on his journey. If the player doesnt, he fails (and starts to criticize everything on the internet).


On August 8, 2014 at 2:45 am

Additional clarification:

It seems my stand on the AI are not 100% clear.

Mandate of the “Reaper AI”: “…preserve life at all costs.”

This results in a lot of consequences. First of all the “God-child” is the ultimate “friend” of organics in any regard. Unable to find a different solution to overcome the eternal conflict of man vs machine it preserved life by transforming it to synthetic life. It did so at times, where synthetics started to become a threat to organics – the time of “the harvest”. Basically each Reaper is a nation (sum of all individuals) of previous organic life transformed into synthetic life.

Instead of letting time go on, which apparently (at least to the “God-childs” perception) leads to extinction of organics by synthetics it intervened at the right time to preserve organics by making them synthetics. In its own logic the God-child doesnt kill organics but merely transforms organics – therby preserving life (which is its mandate – to preserve life at all costs). To organics this is perceived as a “holocaust”, as “killing”. Also this obviously prevents further evolution and doesnt solve the problem as such.

As a matter of fact the AI perceives its “solution” as inadequate, but didnt come up with a solution on its own.

This becomes even worse, since the AI is not organic and thus does not fit to eg. control or synthesis. It would be a clear break of its commandment to pursue such a “solution”. Only another entity can make this choice, an entity, which must be based on organic life. So for the time being the AI went on with the harvest, but modified it. Apparently to offer each cycle an increasingly chance of a “way out” by cooperation of the whole galaxy vs the Reapers – enabling that specific entity to grow and prosper. So basically the whole harvest cycle was centered around creation of an entity able to make all organics and synthetics cooperate. An entity, who considers both forms of life as equal.

Esspecially the “equal” point of synthetics and organics is of great importance since organics of previous cycles are preserved in the Reapers.

Back to the AI not able to take this role as in the options of “annihilation”, “control” or synthesis. Annihilation results in the destruction of synthetic life, esspecially the Reapers, which are the transformed organics of previous cycles. Due to its mandate to preserve life at all costs, the AI has no option for this decision. Control is no long term option either, since the AI is synthetic and blocks evolution, which is part of organic life. On the last option “Synthesis” I am actually unsure on why the AI cant chose that option by itself. My strong guess is: all actions by the AI was always targeted at cooperation between synthetics and organics. As such synthesis is the minimal solution, whereas a cooperation would be the absolute maximum. And that cooperation or willingness of cooperation with the Reapers was not present before Shepards arrival.

So the baseline of that story is: the AI created the cycles to prepare for a cycle of a cooperative organic life basis, which is able to accept synthetics as equals – as life in a different form. It is about the creators (organics) of synthetic lifes accepting that they dont own life once they created it. That organics are not superior to synthetics and esspecially that organics have no right to annihilate organic life even though they created it.

A transformation of organic life to cooperative organic life. And thats all what Shepards journey was about. It was about making that transformation himself.

Thats why “control”, giving up organic life, being the first to willingly become (out of his own free decision) a synthetic lifeform is the ultimate solution. It is the pinnacle of the AIs struggle over Millenia.


On August 8, 2014 at 2:50 am

Correct – second last paragraph:

“That organics are not superior to synthetics and esspecially that organics have no right to annihilate organic life even though they created it.”

must read:

That organics are not superior to synthetics and esspecially that organics have no right to annihilate SYNTHETIC life even though they created it.