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Mass Effect never intended to be a typical game. The series, specifically Mass Effect 3, has a very specific style of play. BioWare doesn't want to tell you a story. They want you to experience it yourself, in the comfort of your own skin, making in-game decisions within the walls of your mind. Shepard didn't save the Rachni Queen. You did. Shepard didn't cure the genophage. You did. This is the formula of a Role-Playing game, and no video game like Mass Effect has employed the form of this genre so purely. What's more, this formula has been loyally followed since Mass Effect 1, and you know what they say in terms of the US court system -- consistency breeds legitimacy.
This leads me to my main argument as to why the ending of Mass Effect couldn't have been better: BioWare has given gamers an ending that encapsulates the pinnacle of the Role-Playing genre. They have not given us a typical game (this goes for the previous two installments as well), so there is absolutely no reason to believe they would give us a typical ending, either. They are not Hollywood. They will not spoon-feed gamers some sappy, one-way ending. Everything has player-induced consequences, and that includes the ending.
This is where the flood of complaints comes in. "There's not enough variation! It all ends the same!" If that's you and you still feel that way, don't miss my point. BioWare cares a lot less about cutscenes than they do about the memorable experience of the journey. Some of the most epic and heated moments of the game weren't when you were watching the Normandy escape an explosion; they were when you stood between Legion and Tali, asking yourself "Who will I save? I could be responsible for wiping out an entire race." As you mull over your own decisions time and time again the emotions you feel Shepard feeling when pondering the implications and consequences lead to quite the adrenaline rush. This is where BioWare creates a video game like no other. As I said before, you are not watching Shepard. You are Shepard.
Let's place this onto the ending -- it's not about what you see, but rather what you don't see. Implications are everything, just as they were when you were making your choices about who would live and who would die throughout the series. This is where the dangerous brilliance begins to shine.
With this in mind, hold onto it and allow me to now discuss and analyze the ending. I'm speaking with the assumption that everyone here received the "best" ending. Whether you agree or disagree with what I have below, here are some things I took note of:
1. On the Citadel, standing before the Catalyst, Shepard has the potential to wipe out the Reapers, an unknown race that has been around for literally eons. Any intelligent villain knows trickery will work much better than brute force when they have a gun to their head. What I mean is the options presented to Shepard besides destroying the Reapers seem like they could be last ditch efforts by the Catalyst/Reapers to save themselves. They have been around for millions of years. Do you really think they are going to beg and grovel Shepard, a mere human being who managed to out-wit them, or simply cast aside their pride to admit defeat? Of course not.
2. It's interesting to see how destroying the Reapers are presented as the red-Renegade option, whereas controlling them is presented as the blue-Paragon choice. Did BioWare do this or did the Catalyst? Once again, the Reapers are about to face their own destruction. How do you think their creator, the Catalyst, is going to spin this set of choices given the Reapers have been doing his will for an unfathomable amount of time?
TWSSted Steel Disagree with me? Talk to the Tree:
3. On controlling and indoctrination, the Reapers managed to indoctrinate Saren, a Turian Spectre, and the Illusive Man, an extremely smart individual. Logically speaking, Shepard is just as vulnerable to indoctrination as them, especially when you take into consideration his close interaction with the Reapers over the span of the three games.
4. It's faulty logic to rationalize that synthetics were created to destroy civilization, so that synthetics wouldn't destroy civilization.
Thus, I can only conclude that the actual correct ending would be in choosing to destroy the Reapers. Why? Besides being the only option where Shepard lives, the answer lies in what I addressed earlier -- implications -- and it is here that a terrifying realization begins to surface.
Though the final scene of the Normandy on the foreign planet was visually the same across all three endings, what you perceive is going to be different based on how you dealt with the Reapers. What do I mean?
If you destroyed the Reapers, you accomplished exactly what you set out to do since the end of ME1. You 'took back Earth' and defeated the greatest threat in the galaxy. What you see in the end is the Reapers being destroyed, so that when the crew steps out onto the foreign planet, the implication is that the skies are Reaper-free. Also, the planet is rife with new possibilities for humanity and other races as well. Sure, the Geth are now gone, but is the main theme of the game not sacrifice?
If you chose either to control the Reapers or to synthesize, not only are you going back on everything you worked hard to do across the entire series, but the ending you saw will lead you to the implications you may have missed. What you see in both these choices is merely the Reapers leaving. Not dying or being synthesized into anything. Just leaving. So when the crew steps out onto the foreign planet, the lush greenery is overwhelmed by the unsettling implication: the skies are not Reaper-free. What you don't see is the very real possibility of the return of the Reapers sometime in the future. With the Mass Relays destroyed, you merely put a delay on the latest cycle. You don't really know if Shepard is controlling the Reapers or not. They will very likely return when technology reaches a certain point of advancement. The same goes for the Synthesis ending. You may have accomplished what the Catalyst stated he wanted, but if you did, then is it not unnerving to wonder why the Reapers merely left and were not discarded on Earth, or at least transformed into a synthesized being?
The Reapers have been in existence for millions and millions and millions of years. Don't forget what Legion said on the Normandy about the way Reapers think; he was awe-inspired for how unknowable a single thought was. Are you really going to assume that conveniently after ages of killing off advanced organics that the Catalyst has uniquely found Shepard to be the one, perfect candidate to be the next Catalyst/control the Reapers? The Protheans were even more advanced than humans, and it took the Reapers 1,000 years to decimate them. I guarantee you the Reapers told the Illusive Man he had what it took to control them, too. Sovereign must have also said something similar to Saren for him to believe his best chance at survival was to completely ally with the Reapers.
In sum, what I am suggesting is that Shepard must have been indoctrinated for him to choose to control them or go through with synthesis. The only way to truly defeat the Reapers is to destroy them.
Now let's get back to the first idea I talked about. Mass Effect is about the experience, not the cutscenes. Here is where the brilliant terror reveals itself.
"Using war to end war but offering nothing else to replace it, so the void is filled with more war"
Shepard didn't converse with the Catalyst. You did. Which means if the Reapers were not destroyed --
Shepard was not indoctrinated. You were indoctrinated. After all the hours you put into the series to end the coming destruction of the Reapers, they managed to convince you to veer off and keep them alive instead. The mysterious entity that so many gamers have written off as uninteresting or no longer mysterious in ME3 have actually accomplished what the Reapers have been doing for millions of years. BioWare has created an in-game race that has outsmarted real-life players.
If you go back and choose a different option, it makes no difference. The innocence in your sincerity in making your final choice has sealed the envelope. When Casey Hudson mentioned the other day they planned an "unforgettable" ending, this is what he meant. Not that you'd remember what cutscene you saw, but that you'd remember your choice. What kind of galaxy you personally left the Mass Effect universe with.
This form of experiencing an ending is the pinnacle of the Role-Playing genre, and this is exactly why the ending couldn't have been better. If you destroyed the Reapers, well done, soldier. If you didn't…
The Reapers got you.
People act like the ending was ambiguous and speculative and open ended. It really wasn't at all. Being bad does not equal artistic.
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The indoctrination theory again?!
This has already been proven false by Mac Walters and Casey Hudson's insane notes that the ending is to be taken at face value and they really thought everybody would love it.
Indoc theory has been proven false by the lead writers who basically said "the fans don't need answers to mass effect universe so we cut them out"
Sources? I've read one article where Hudson reacts to all the hate. I don't remember anything about "face value."