From Central California and Northern England, two aspiring writers natter and share a blog. We like to talk about our disparate but oh-so-similar lives, offer opinions on literature and movies... and endlessly reminisce about Bioware RPG's.

We hope you haven't had enough of our disingenuous assertions. If you have, please don't hit us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Disingenuous Discussions: Mass Effect 3's Weird Ass Ending (Contains Weird Ass Spoilers)

My God.... it's full of plot-holes!

The other day, Mister Buch and I got together online to discuss Mass Effect 3's already much-discussed ending. This time, we were able to get some very decent discussion in before it devolved into a rant about the Transformers films - which seems the typical occurrence.

Buch: The Buzz Aldrin bit.

Knight: If you're so excited about that [part in Mass Effect 3], check out his cameo in Transformers 3. >=D

Buch: I......

Knight: Muahaha!

Buch: Please, no... He's in Transformers 3?

Knight: Buzz Aldrin is in Transformers 3. He Talks to Optimus Prime. That happens.

Buch: NO

Knight: YES

In our defense, we held off for as long as we possibly could.

But we did take the time of going over the ending of Mass Effect 3 - all three endings, actually - just to make sure we didn't miss or misinterpret anything. Turns out, we did misinterpret some things. But also, as it turns out, there are a lot of things we didn't, and they just don't make sense no matter how you look at them. So, here are some of the things we broke down, discovered, rediscovered, and totally found confusing.

We found that we liked what the ending was trying to do, but didn't like its execution.

1. Shepard's Victory, or Lack Thereof

One of the reasons the ending didn't seem as great as it should have was that, when the credits start rolling, there's no real feeling of accomplishment left over. You don't feel as victorious as you should after crossing the finish line of a three-game series you've been playing for five years. Why's that?

Because the game makes you feel like you're losing. But this may not have been intentional.

When Shepard ascends on that platform to meet with the Catalyst, the Kid-God-Thing quickly starts talking your ear off about a whole bunch of things that you were never really exposed to during the rest of the game. Revelation after revelation without much time to process it all.

"I created the Reapers."

"I control them."

"I created Synthetics to kill off Organics to prevent Synthetics from killing off Organics. U MAD?"

There's a point in this conversation where, I would assume, everyone just reached a saturation point and just said, "What the fuck is going on here?" Buch and I both reached it. In fact, we did so very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we missed where the Catalyst says:

"The Crucible changed me. Created new... possibilities. But I can't make them happen." [1]

With this line removed from the game, the Crucible doesn't appear to have done much of anything... at all... except assist in randomly expelling different-colored magic into the galaxy. In fact, no where else in the game is it implied that it does much of anything. It had all been educated guesses until that point, with everyone blindly hoping that it was some kind of a weapon.

It's revealed that the Crucible is actually the result of thousands of extinct races passing down and marginally improving the plans across each Reaper cycle. When connected with the Citadel and the Catalyst, the Crucible more or less reprograms the VI controlling the Reapers. This "convinces" the VI that there are other solutions to the Singularity problem that it was trying to prevent, therefore allowing Shepard the options of Control, Destroy, and Synthesis.

Put this way: it took the combined efforts of a thousand races across millions of years and thousands of Reaper cycles to perfect the Crucible, it took the unification and combined efforts of the current galactic races to actually build it, and it took Commander Shepard to not only bring a million years' worth of sacrifice to fruition, but to put it into action. By doing so, he not only saved the galaxy, but justified the countless lives lost to the Reapers and put an end to the cycles.

This makes the ending seem much more gratifying than it actually is, because BioWare wrote all of this into the story, but clumsily, and they didn't drive that point home as firmly as they should have. There was a good ending in there somewhere, but they decided not to draw it out. So in the end, it seems like you're obeying the Catalyst, going along with its plans, and throwing yourself off a cliff to kill yourself for no real reason.

Buch: The Crucible made it possible for organics to destroy, control, or merge with the Catalyst. Organics designed it, over a long, long time, to do that.

Knight: Ahhhh.

Buch: "The created will always rebel against their creators." EDI disproves this. She and Joker represent hope for life after the cycle.

Knight: Very true. This all seems like miscommunication. Listening closely, this was a good ending.

Buch: Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

Knight: Like... we did win. We beat the Catalyst.

Buch: Go on.

Knight: We kicked the Catalyst's ass, pretty much.

Buch: Yes.

Knight: It all happened so fast, though. No time to process, interrogate, learn, come to grips with the whole situation. I think that's the real problem: pacing.

Buch: Right. There is still the strong similarity between the endings. But yes, if it were slower and you could ask questions, it would have been easier to understand.

This seemed to be one of the bigger problems with the ending. No one understood it, because BioWare didn't give anyone the chance to do so.

2. Joker's Retreat

This would be another one of the bigger problems with the ending. When the Catalyst ignites and shoots its space magic into the galaxy, some odd things happen. Let's breakdown what we saw in the cinematic, at least with regards to the Synthesis ending:

- Shepard throws himself into the beam of light and dies.

- The Catalyst ignites, throwing off an initial wave of energy that destroys a few things in its path.

- The wave of energy reaches Earth, reprogramming the Reapers and convincing them to leave the planet. The soldiers do some arm pumps.

- The Catalyst charges up, drawing a lot of the space debris into itself. At this point, the entire fleet seems to have disappeared, as there's only a few things floating around nearby. [2]

- The Catalyst shoots space magic toward the Charon Relay, destroying it.

- The space magic bounces between every mass relay in the galaxy, destroying them all, and sending out the wave that will combine all synthetic and organic DNA everywhere.

- We see the Normandy in the middle of a mass effect jump between relays, for some damn reason, trying his best to outrun the space magic. He also looks over shoulder, like the Normandy has a rear window or something. He continues outrunning the magic, fails, and is ripped out of the jump.

- We are on an unknown world that is supposed to represent the Garden of Eden; all the plants appear to be partly synthetic.

- The Normandy has crashed here. The door opens and Joker, EDI, and your party members emerge partly synthetic, and take their first steps on this alien world.

- The End - Project Director: Casey Hudson

So... what happens here?

Let's stick with what we know about that timeline. The Charon Relay (called the "Sol Relay" in the game) is the only mass relay in the Sol System, and it's called the Charon Relay because it was discovered within Pluto's largest moon. Pluto. So that means that Joker would've had to have fled from the battle well before the Crucible/Catalyst ignited, to allow time for an FTL jump to the very edge of the system and a mass relay jump to... somewhere.

There's really no reason why Joker should be running. Buch and I both agreed that maybe he'd make a getaway if the situation was just absolutely hopeless, since he does have a crew to look after, and he wouldn't get them all killed in a no-win situation. But there's nothing to indicate that actually happened. Harbinger was on Earth and the Sword Fleet had enough leeway to get the Crucible in place. In fact, while Shepard's talking to the Catalyst, the battle is still raging outside. [3]

So, the situation never seemed dire enough to have us believe that Joker would have made a getaway at any point before the Crucible is brought in. And that's not even taking into account that your crew is somehow miraculously back aboard the Normandy, despite some of them already being dead if you took them with you during your mad rush to the Citadel portal.

Buch (maybe not Knight) has a theory about all of this: Joker wasn't running. He was just leaving.

Notice that when Shepard talks to the Catalyst, the battle is raging. But when we see the Citadel shoot the green/red/blue stuff into the Charon Relay... there is no space traffic whatsoever. There is debris, and if you chose the red ending, there are dead Reapers, but there are no allied ships. Buch figures there is an editing error. There is a stretch of time between the Reapers being destroyed / carried up and the Relay chain reaction going off.

In this time, the Reapers (in the blue and green endings) leave Earth's vicinity and go off to wherever Shepard puts them -- the allied fleets and Hammer team pump their arms -- the fleets leave, going back to Rannoch and Tuchanka and all the rest (thus making your decisions a touch more meaningful) and the Normandy reassembles its crew, minus Shepard obviously. At some point they begin a Relay jump (maybe they're dopping off their crew... I dunno) and the Relay chain reaction is right behind them.

There is one plot hole to this as I see it: if you have enough assets, Shepard is revealed still breathing under a pile of rubble at the very end. So this would mean that the Normandy crew gathered together but failed to notice Shepard's body under that rubble. Odd.

3. This DLC is important... until it's not.

Buch: And we still need to know why the Normandy is running, with a full crew. But see -- there is no allied traffic in the air in any ending. Just Reapers and debris. The battle is over and disbanded. Unless it's just an error from the aninators.

Knight: But if the explosion of one mass effect relay could destroy an entire star system (Arrival), what does that mean for the galaxy?

Buch: O.o Hm. Is that what happened in Arrival? The whole system?

Knight: Seemed that way.

Buch: I'm not sure about that... God, who the hell knows...

Knight: From the Mass Effect Wiki - "She finishes by saying that the resulting explosion could destroy the system."

Buch: Hm.

Knight: "If asked why destroying a Mass Relay would destroy the system, Kenson will say that they are the most powerful mass-effect engines in the galaxy and the energy released from destroying one would probably resemble a supernova. There are three hundred thousand people on the colony in the system, and the resulting explosion would probably kill them all." [4]

According to Mass Effect 2: Arrival, Shepard has just destroyed every single star system containing a mass relay, which would include... everyone. Even Earth, obviously, though we never see what happens to Earth or any of the other affected star systems after the relays explode. [5] It still clashes with the rest of the lore. Unless...

Buch: The green stuff is this dark energy? You see it shoot from relay to relay. And it is right behind Joker as he is mid-jump when it happens. Your supernova would only occur at the last relay.

This is literally the only explanation that would make sense. Short of magic.

BUCH again: I disagree. I think we're nitpicking here. The green/red/blue space magic is not the same thing - it destroys the Relays safely. The Catalyst is essentially a god - he can break the Relays safely if he wants to.

4. BioWare Promotes Inbreeding

So, the last scene of the game is of the Normandy crashing on an unknown "Eden" planet. There doesn't seem to be anyone else around, no indigenous peoples, though we don't know that for sure. We see Joker, EDI, and (in my case) Liara step out into the world and look out toward the sunrise. Discounting the fact that both EDI and Liara were on Earth with the rest of Hammer, this ending doesn't seem as hopeful as BioWare thinks.

Most of the galaxy has just been wiped out, on account of the mass relay explosions. Even if not, they're on a mystery world with maybe a shuttle or two available to them - though one of them is definitely destroyed (Cortez' shuttle). So, the chances of them making it off the world any time soon are... slim. And we're not sure how many members of the crew are alive, or how many of them died in the crash. So it might be that only a few people are being tasked with repopulating the planet. Not to mention there are some incompatible races on board, so they might hit a dead end eventually.

So, while Joker and EDI are having a moment with the sunrise, I can imagine the rest of the crew having a genuine "Oh Fuck..." breakdown. There's also some similarities between this Eden world and the Snow World that we see post-credits, so we can assume the crew succeeds in utterly destroying their own gene pool.

Buch: So, Shepard jumps into the light. He dies, becomes an AI ghost, and carries the Reapers away. Then perhaps (in a very long off-screen sequence) the fleets return home, and the Normandy crew reassemble, satisfied that Shepard is dead. They jump a Relay, and then Shepard's green stuff goes off. Normandy, maybe the last to leave, is knocked right out of hyperspeed by the green stuff, and crashes, thanks to Joker being the best pilot ever ever. They land on a planet and tell Shepard's story.

Knight: To themselves.

Buch: And the creepy inbred Williams/Moreau children they have.

Knight: Yeahhh...

Buch: It is definitely the same planet, though. I would have loved for only Joker and EDI to be stranded. Neither had a family left, nor any other goal but each other. Would have been beautiful... But no, Liara gets out with them.

5. Should History Be Altered?

Neither of us are really in favor of BioWare altering their vision for where the Mass Effect series is going, or how it ends. If a writer wants to end their novel a certain way, then that's just the way it is. J.K. Rowling isn't going to rewrite the ending of her series just because it didn't fit someone's vision for how it should have ended.

Sure, both of us have ideas for how Mass Effect 3 should have ended, but that's not our call to make. Really, our gripes with the ending are that it doesn't seem finished. It has plotholes, inconsistencies, and good ol' fashioned nonsensical continuity errors. On top of that, it feels rushed and lazy. And of course, for the final scene of a role-playing game, it seems like our choices have little consequence. Like the Dragon Age 2 team was brought in to build the ending. That's not something I think any writer or creator strives to inject into the closing moments of their fictional works. It could've been an accident, or perhaps the rumors of the ending being changed at the 11th hour are true, and this is just the result of a sloppy patchwork.

We're not in favor of the ending being changed; we're in favor of the ending being completed. And judging by what we've seen, that's just not the case. (I mean, the main antagonist from the last game, Harbinger, appears toward the end and doesn't have one line of dialogue. What's up with that?) So, we hope BioWare does pay attention to the outpouring of discontent from their fans and makes amends in some way.

If not, you know, whatever. We'll always have Taris.


Buch: I love a dead hero.

Knight: Sacrifice just made the most sense... And yeah, between DA:O and ME3, I think you just like sending people to their deaths.

Buch: I do.

Knight: You shot Anderson...

Buch: Right in the heart. He said, 'You did good, child. You did good.' And I said, 'I did you good" and then I don't think he heard me.

Knight: LOL


As a side-note, if you were a little peeved about the ending, like we were, some folks over at the "Retake Mass Effect" site have organized a charity drive as a means to vocalize their collective dislike. I've never seen a protest really take shape like this, so I'm all in favor of supporting it. Upon writing this, they've raised over $40k for Child's Play.

100% of all donations go to Child's Play, which uses the funds to send toys, video games and video game consoles to hospitals and therapy facilities. If you've ever been to a hospital for an extended stay, you know how much distractions like video games can mean. Even if you don't want to donate through the "Retake Mass Effect" community, it's still a worthy charity.


  1. Man, I gotta finish the game again, I am not nearly as perceptive as you guys. I didn't notice anything about the genetic collage that is synthetic mixed with organic!

    Personally, I don't understand the destruction of all tech based on the Reapers. I mean, the Mass Relays of course makes sense, but what about the alien made ships? Maybe I'm just dense, cause the ships aren't millions of years old, they stuff is based on their own pseudo physics and equations. If Ford goes up in flames, all Ford vehicles don't spontaneously combust!

  2. Sorry guys, but I really need to correct you on the distance to Pluto. It is not 5 light years. There is a negative in the equation posted in your link that would show that. It basically means that Pluto is about 5/1000ths of a light year away. Another conversion listed was in miles. 3.012 billion to be precise. Compared to 11 352 960 000 000 KM to a single light year. The Normandy should be able to get there at standard FTL drive in a matter of minutes. Incidentally the nearest other star Alpha Centari is around 4.24 Light years. Or nearly a light year shorter than the misinterpreted distance to Pluto.

    I like what I saw on the rest but you guys really need to learn how to look at math.

  3. Sorry 5/100000ths of a light year. my bad.

  4. Fair enough, JK, fair enough.

    I think with the distance - that's a little petty anyway. Like with all space stories, the spaceship moves at the speed of the plot. It gets to the place whenever the hell it needs to, thanks to the Quantum Power Quadrant Stabilisers.

  5. Just trying to save a morsel of embarrassment. I first saw the expression speed of plot in the BSN. I got a kick out of it and wrote this little tidbit in response.

    Random Lackey Reaper: Lord Harbinger, the Alpha Relay was destroyed by Shepard.

    Harbinger: That's fine, set course for Earth.

    Random Lackey Reaper: At what speed sir?

    Harbinger: We will go...*dramatic pause* at the speed of plot.

    Random Lackey Reaper: *gasp*

  6. And that's why I'll never be an astrophysicist. =(

    Thanks much for catching that, Linders. That was a pretty grievous error on my part. And for the record, that was something I added at the last minute, so Buch had no real input on that before it was published. His math is still kung-fu strong.

  7. 'Weird Ass Ending' is how I constantly refer to the Mass Effect 3 ending in my head now.

    If I take the whole thing seriously, I become depressed.
    If I don't (as in, acknowledging they're essentially breaking their canon), I become depressed again.

    I was half-joking when I mentioned making a Post ME Support thread at the forums.
    But then again, I was also half-serious. :p

  8. The whole "difficulty of repopulating the earth with the couple of dozen surviving crew of the normandy" can be ignored if you assume that these post-human, organic/synthetic things, may not reproduce in the same way as they used too.

    Maybe they replicate!

    I like to think that they don't age or require food either and that they think in a manner entirely alien to us.

    That's what I enjoy about the ME3 synergy ending. There is absolutely no way for them to continue to tell this story because the galaxy is in place that we can no longer relate to.

  9. I agree with that last point, Anonymous. I like the 'wider, bigger Universe' angle that the synergy ending in particular implies. Who knows what happens on that Eden planet? I don'r particularly need to know, and I like 'stepping back' and hearing another story instead.

    But regardless, I AM annoyed that it wasn't a happy ending for the crewmembers.

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