Mass Effect 3 Ending Post-Mortem: Fans Are Still Right

4. It is Confusing and Under-Developed

Here’s a place where the Extended Cut has both helped and harmed the ending of Mass Effect 3 altogether. Certainly, “under-developed” is a trait that has been aided by adding more context and information to the endings of the game. Now, upon meeting the Catalyst, Shepard is able to learn a lot more about the situation, and that helps make the decision clearer. The longer ending epilogue scenes help to explain not only the factual aftermath of the situation, but also the thematic implications of the decision and how it will affect the galaxy. That they’ll all leave things in a hunky-dorey state is somewhat regrettable, but there’s no further damage done.

Confusion, however, remains pretty palpable regardless of the ending version, as all the endings leave players struggling to parse through the details, even with the addition of more context. The Catalyst, for example, offers more detail about his reasoning behind the options offered to Shepard, but it remains as confusing as ever. He talks about the Synthesis option a bit more, and while it explains the “how” of that choice somewhat, it fails to really make clear the more important details of “why” — as in, why would this be an effective way of solving the Reaper crisis?

Further, along with the much-needed clarifications, BioWare managed to further muddy the narrative waters with the decision to leave in the last gasp of breath taken by what looks like Shepard in the wreckage of something, available only in the Destroy ending. Is Shepard alive, as many fans assumed? an official statement made by BioWare over the weekend confirms it: “The final scene reveals they are correct.” The last gasp was confusing enough on its own, but with this reveal, we learn yet again crucial story details have been omitted; once again, vagueness is a substitute for depth.

That’s to say nothing of the idea that the Destroy ending has more positive elements for the player than any other, suggesting that if one ending is canon, it likely is that one. And it ends not with the squad mourning Shepard’s passing, but setting out to find him (or her). We know BioWare has more games and DLC planned, and this just further confuses the conclusion of the story by suggesting or implying that there’s more to come. The choice of endings is available, but the “best” ending is the one that seems to be the worst, all things considered.

In short, while more content has certainly helped improve the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, the endings’ major problems — the massive deviations in tone and theme, the left-field addition of a new character at the end of the game — remain.

3. Lore Errors, Plot Holes

Interestingly, this is where BioWare almost acquitted itself most fully; the only problem is that in fixing so many of the problems it inadvertently created with the previous endings, it added a couple of new ones. And the Catalyst, or Star Child as many refer to him, is still in the game.

We’ve previously noted that taken in context only with itself, the new content in the Extended Cut is pretty good. But that’s not entirely fair. After all, in the new endings, the following problems have been retconned out of existence:

  • Mass Effect Relays: only damaged, totally repairable.
  • Universal inferred holocaust: averted, largely thanks to point one.
  • Your squad back on the Normandy: Turns out, Shepard had them evacuated during the final battle.
  • Joker’s apparent cowardly escape: Actually, he waited until the last possible moment to fall back “to the rendevous point,” which is why he was barely ahead of the ball of space magic that caused the Normandy to crash.
  • Shepard acting out of character: The Refusal Ending restores the ability to actually act independently.

Better, the endings now imply the possibility of the story continuing in some fashion. We don’t mean this in terms of new DLC or future games (which BioWare has strongly hinted are coming and about which we are decidedly skeptical), but in the sense that the player no longer feels, ahem, Shepblocked by the way things seem to have stopped just as they were getting good. They connect well with themes and emotional moments from the vast majority of Mass Effect 3, and generally deliver on sorely missed closure.

Unfortunately, these fixes open up a few annoying issues of their own. Most of them are admittedly small, but they merit mention if only to laugh: How did Anderson beat Shep up to the Catalyst (there’s still only one way into the final room)? Why did the Illusive Man go to the Citadel after the Reapers tried to destroy Cerberus? How could the crew of the Normandy repair the ship using only jungle planet resources? Why is Garrus’ armor displaying the same blinky lights as everyone else’s bodies in the synthesis ending? (Probably he merged with his suit. Oops!)

More seriously, the Extended Cut fails to address the real problems with the ending, all of which center around the moments between Shepard’s beaming up to the Citadel, and the beginning of the new cutscenes.

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22 Comments on Mass Effect 3 Ending Post-Mortem: Fans Are Still Right


On July 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

Great article, though you give the ending more credit than I do, I’m still done with bioware and mass effect.


On July 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm

It always was a fun game and, although I was on board with the Indoctrination Theory, I liked the new endings enough to give them a pass. I feel kinda weird that the Destroy ending is pretty much the worst now, even though it’s the only one where Shepard survives. I could never make the choice to turn everyone in the galaxy into synthetics, so I figure the choice to make would be Control, which means the Illusive Man was right.

Anyway, the games were all a lot of fun. I replayed ME1 and am playing ME2 right now, and they’re still a good time.


On July 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

As I’ve come to expect, this is more great work and hefty analysis. You managed to strike at the core of my discontent with the 3 (I don’t count refusal) choices. Your options are 1) Destroy synthetic life, which boils down to a sort of genocide. 2) Synthesis which involves the practice of altering all life-forms without their consent and the creation of a “master race.” or 3) Control which is the destruction of free will and the ultimate display of fascism. All of these prospects are fairly disturbing in this light and it’s hard to view any of them as a “good” or even “paragon” choice.


On July 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm

If organics versus synthetics was such a big deal to begin with, that is how ME3 should have started. The meeting between Shepard and catalyst should have taken place at the beginning of the game. That way all three choices, or possible paths, could have been explored during the game and reflected in every choice. It would have made all the encounters and dialogues much richer and poignant. In that scenario, Javik would be the greatest discovery of the game. The last of the race that refused to be transformed into a machine even after being defeated. The victory of life over machine. That would even answer the question that any synthetic may have after advancing far beyond its creators.Yet, as Bioware has it, Javik only brings a gun and sterile nostalgia to the game.

The biggest problem with ME3 was and is the fact that this is the first game ever, where the player has no chance of winning. The stupidity of Bioware and so adamantly insisting on its own stupidity seals Bioware’s fate as far as I am concerned. Bioware is so in love with its own stupidity that while it admits the validity of the notion of the possibility of winning, by adding a fourth option to the ending, it still prefers to add insult to injury by clearly stating that Bioware will not be the one to give it or make it possible.

There have been, and there are, authors who have wept quietly when their beloved character dies in the course or at the end of the novel. Bioware is different. It just won’t let go of the reapers. To Bioware, the reapers are the most beautiful thing that creation itself can ever come up with. Let’s call it the “Bioware Church of Imbecility”.


On July 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm

How would Control be the destruction of free will? The Renegade option seems like Shepard will become some sort of Dictator, but in Paragon, he seems like he’d be more like a galactic police force that does heavy lifting and construction as well. It doesn’t seem to destroy free will to me.


On July 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

The Reapers were a great creation….. at first. Sovreign’s refusal to even bother explaining the Reaper’s existence to Shepard was great. In all honesty, that was how they should’ve remained.

Why were they destroying humanity? It was a Monday to them for all we know. They had a purpose which was beyond our understanding.

Perhaps (if you had to) even you could’ve identified their “purpose” as making sure empires like the Protheans never get too big. At the height of their existence, The Protheans essentially played god with the “lesser” races, forcing their will upon them. And once they achieved that amount of power, the Reapers quickly attacked.

Trying to give the reapers a background people could “understand” was where you started having all the trouble you did.


On July 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@ Robin

To clarify, if Shephard chose to “control” the reapers, he is essentially imposing his will on them. From the game’s perspective, it’s akin to eliminating racism by brainwashing people. Is it a noble goal? Of course. Is it a noble act? I don’t think so.


On July 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Thank you Gamefront for being the ONLY voice of reason other than fans.
You know Commander Shepard has been warning about the Reapers for 3 games not.
It is funny that those most unprepared for the reapers is Bioware.
You can tell they just didn’t know where the go with the conclusion.


On July 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm

@ Kevin

You make a really great point. Building the reapers up to be this all-powerful race, whose origins, motives and logic are beyond the comprehension of organics, then letting that dissolve in ME3 was a huge mistake. Personally, I would rather have seen this trilogy end with the defeat of the reapers, then perhaps the next story arc begin with the quest to understand what they were, who sent them and why.


On July 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

There could’ve been numerous ways to handle the Reapers. Not all of them needed to be with their “defeat.” Hell, Shepard wiping them out, but using their tech to enhance humanity could’ve been done. Think of it, a new “cycle” would begin, instead this time humanity being the new Asari. (The Asari were the chief race of the present cycle, whom the Protheans held in high esteem.) This would fall in line with a more “renegade” style Shep, basically adopting the methods of the Illusive Man to an even greater extreme.

Or you could’ve destroyed the Reapers. Or, you could’ve accepted the ultimate deal with the devil. Unlike previous cycles, this time humanity led the charge, and scored several successes that surprised the Reapers. In this case, Harbinger gives Shepard (representing humanity) an offer: The Reapers provide ascension of humanity into the most advanced race in the galaxy. What the Illusive man uncovered was just a fragment. The cycle stops (at least for a veeerrrrrryyyy long time) and humanity forges ahead with a new path of rule, either through benevolence (the “Andersen” way) or through an iron fist (the Udina way)

So many ways this could’ve played out, and you didn’t need the “Star Child”, or if you wanted to include him, couldv’e simple included him in the offer of ascension as Harbinger’s avatar (which is still strongly implied in the “refusal” ending)


On July 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm

The ending is definitely better, though I think you overstate some of these problems. For example in regards to #2, I saw Synthesis as a false paradise, ala Brave New World mixed with BattleStar or something, and I thought they had just the right amount of exposition vagueness to warrant a worthwhile discussion (what they were shooting for originally). I feel similarly about all the choices, as they do have enough differences to matter. Destroy never says the Relays get fixed in any sort of timely manner and control creates VI Shepard (aka new god-being), and all the implications that could have (think 343 Guilty Spark).

I completely agree with 1 and 2 though, but under the circumstances, I had no expectations those would be fixed.


On July 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm

“The primary difference is whether EDI is left alive at the end, and who gives the epilogue voice-over.”


On July 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Yet another excellently written article. Bioware really screwed the game away here. And the the extended cut was like putting some duct tape on a sinking ship. Sure, it helped cosmetically, but it still leaves me unsatisfied and feeling no desire to play the trilogy again. Which is a shame, because I played 1 and 2 probably 5 times each. If I ever buy another Bioware game, I’m buying it used from gamestop so they don’t see a dime of it. They ruined the game to add multiplayer, which in my opinion, suffers from the same issue as the end: its all the same. I don’t get why people love the multiplayer. It’s the definition of repetitive. It’s the same freaking thing on a different planet, every freaking time. I played it enough to get my readiness up and never touched it again. Nice work Bioware…. you found the terrible option, kept looking, and found an even worse one to use as the ending to your epic trilogy.


On July 6, 2012 at 2:53 am


To be fair, the addition of MP was EA imposing their will. Afterall they released a mandate a while ago stating that all games under their label will include MP. I can hardly wait to see what kind of horrid MP they have in mind for DA3.


On July 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm


So you’re worried about Shepard taking away the free will of the Reapers? I don’t think they had free will to begin with. They were controlled by the catalyst. I’m sure they retained some element of the personality that must have been left over from the races they contained, but considered they were essentially created by the Catalyst to begin with, I don’t think that their free will should ever have been a concern of Shepard’s.

I guess the other choice would be Synthesis, where organics and synthetics basically become the same thing and everyone understands each other, but Shepard changes all beings in the galaxy to be something else entirely, which I don’t dig.

I think whenever there’s a galactic war that’s spanned possibly millions of years, you have to expect that something massive has to change in order to end it.

Is you idea that Shepard would broker some sort of peace deal with the reapers, like he did with the Geth? That would be cool, for sure, but I’m not unhappy with the way things ended up. It’s cool to have philosophical differences with the ME creative crew, but now at least we understand what they were trying to say in the first place.

If anything, I would have liked to see EDI and the Geth die if Shepard chooses Destruction. That would bring home the sacrifices made. As it is, they just don’t show the Geth in the ending montage. If Shepard lives, Joker’s going to be pissed off at him.


On July 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm


Edi does die if you choose destruction. If you watch the cutscene where they are getting ready to put Shepard’s name up on the wall next to Anderson, you will notice that Edi isn’t there. Also If you read the board with the names of others who have died Edi’s name will be on it. (p.s. After reading your comment again, I realized that you may be saying that you actually wanted a cutscene where Edi and the Geth die. If that’s the case, I apologize for misunderstanding)

Joker might be mad at Shepard for Edi, but I’m sure he will also be glad that Shepard survives the destruction ending (according to Bioware). Also I would think that since Cerberus built Edi and the body she was using, and since the Alliance probably controls the Cerberus base now, they could rebuild her. Build a new body and AI, restore a backup, and voila, Edi’s back. Could make a good DLC or mission in ME4.


On July 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm

@ Robin

From a purely moral standpoint, yes. It is one thing to influence or pursuade, but the control option, in my opinion, goes far beyond that. Shephard seems to be directly controlling the Reapers every action. From what I can perceive of the Reapers through interactions with Sovereign and other Reapers through the trilogy, they seem capable of things such as individual initiative and reasoning. What I’m saying, in an ineffective, roundabout sort of way is in the Control ending, Shaphard dominates the Reapers in a way that is more direct and total than what even the catalyst seemed to do. He enslaves them. Don’t get me wrong, in a real life scenario, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for a life-form that aimed to destroy humanity, but within the moral framework of the franchise, control can be construed as a transgression against sentient life. Hopefully that clarifies my point, even if you still disagree.


On July 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Eddie and Mark are retards. They are crying babies!

Tired Gamer

On July 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm

wesker1984 – Please, give up junior. Nobody’s interested in your uneducated, mindless trolling and we never have been.


On July 13, 2012 at 2:01 am

Theres an added plot hole, harbinger sits around and watches his biggest enemies fly off when he could vaporize them with one shot.
“…comical extremes in the Synthesis ending, with the Reapers suddenly becoming super helpful bringers of rainbows and puppies to a ravaged universe.” Oh thank god i’m not the only one who had a wtf moment with that. The whole synthesis thing doesn’t make any sense still, and the whole being “alive” thing seems like you just sped up the process anyway, EDI says at the forward base”only now do i truly feel alive, that is your influence”. But no, apparently you have to somehow be merged with organics to get that.
“The created will always rebel against the creator”. Except the Reapers…
“literal deus ex machina” which they really did not explain enough how he doesn’t simply break the entire trilogy with his presence.
“BioWare has added a lot more showing that your choices from throughout Mass Effect 3″ But not of the previous games, they mean nothing. As did 90% of all the sidequests in all the games.
“Refusal Ending at least gives users some real capabilities in terms of free will” Except it doesn’t it adds a way of saying “F*** YOU” Without actually saying it.
“It has even restored a measure of replay value lost in the crush of a million lazy vague insinuations, surprise plot holes and a literal deus ex machina.” For ME3 it adds replay value, but not for any of the previous games. Those surprise plot holes are added to, some are closed, more are opened. No one has yet presented a good reason why the catalyst does not ruin the entire trilogy.

Theres also one thing you guys forgot. War Assets. They still do not all show up. There are entire fleets and races who commit their forces and do not even bother appearing. That was the thing i wanted fixed most of all, secondly i wanted the catalyst gone.


On October 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

If you give Bioware a chance to fix things and you’re still not happy with it (as some still are in the dark corners of the internet), then sorry. I got talking to one guy the other day who was still confused about the ending even after all the DLC they released to explain it better. The whole Leviathan DLC is essentially a copy and paste of information that is used to solve the ending. The Anderson/Shepard scene is exactly the same as the Hadley/Bryson scene. Leviathan’s ending is exactly the same as the Starchild/Harbinger scene.

Perhaps these people instead of sitting around demanding rewrites and such should get off their ass and play the game first before asking for help.

Hmm, so the answers to explain this ending are in the game. People just need to look. Well as long as Bioware put the information in the game, they’ve done their part. Not required to sit and make sure every last person who bought the game can understand what’s going on though.

As for choices. Mass Effect has always been about “choices affect the journey, not the destination”. Read the Final Hours app. It clearly states this. Mass Effect 3 is the final act in a three part trilogy where you essentially get the resolution to all those characters, choices and such that happened in the first two games. People may not like that it wasn’t wrapped up at the very last minutes, but once again, read the Final Hours app.


On April 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Sorry it is still bad. You need to download the Mass Effect happy Ending Mod to get a good ending. The whole “it’s the journey not the destination” argument is BS. The ending to any novel, story, etc is the most important part as it is the last thing they take away. ME3′s ending ruined the franchise as a result of a horrible ending; no DLC can change that as it needed a complete rewrite.