Mass Effect is a series in gaming that is unique in many aspects. It’s one of the first to actually portray a truly mature, adult story, in a relatively Hard SF setting. It’s a series that has won many fans because of its engaging, emotionally resonant story and characters, that let you place yourself in the midst of a galactic saga that had social relevance and metaphor for our own, without being preachy or condescending. Along with this, the game has several choices and story branches, throughout all three entries in the series, that could potentially alter the story, it’s meaning, depth, subtext, and character development greatly. It’s in this that I can only regard what the Mass Effect story has meant to me, and My Story, My Shepard. With this in mind, I feel it’s necessary to give you some context for why I loved the original ending, what It meant to me, and why I accepted it as it was entirely, from the beginning of Mass Effect 3, to the very last scene. It goes without saying however, that this article contains SPOILERS, but I’ll say it anyway.
Some people play their Shepards or any game character, as extensions of themselves. In Mass Effect, the beauty of this was that it was meant to be played multiple times through. You were encouraged to explore the game, and see as much or as little as you liked. Since Mass Effect 1, I’ve had two game saves.
1.) My main game. Magnus Shepard, Renegade, Earthborn Survivor of Torfan, Ruthless Commander who’d get the job done at any cost. This was my “Canon” game. The one that mattered, the one where I made decisions I felt “My” Shepard would make, even if I didn’t personally agree with them.
2.) My alternate game. Veronica Shepard. Paragon, War Hero Colonist, who made the tough decisions and did everything she could to ensure her teams survival, at great risk to herself.
I am going to talk about Magnus, because to me, his story is the one I found more intellectually stimulating and meaningful, while Veronica’s story was more personally and emotionally engaging. Magnus Shepard was a bigoted, xenophobic, borderline genocidal control freak. He was cold and hard to everyone around him. In the first game, he made no thought of killing the entire Rachni Species, or shooting an insubordinate Krogan party member in the face, if it meant getting the mission done. He made the tough choices that many would never entertain making, and he made them without questioning himself.
Tough, racist choices.
All of this changed after he died in Mass Effect 2. Being resurrected via the Lazarus Project left him scarred, both literally and metaphorically. His choices led to the destruction of his crew, and himself, despite believing he had truly done the right thing. From then on, he continued to make the hard decisions, and choosing what he now began to believe were the “bad choices”, but held steadfast onto the firm belief that what he was doing was right. That it was for humanity’s sake, and that he’d be vindicated in the end. This is what led him to side easily with The Illusive Man, who represented the flip side of the coin for Magnus, a man who claimed to represent mankind’s best interests.
Magnus joined believing that what he was doing was the right thing, again, despite initially being led to believe he was making a “bad” choice by those he cared about. Slowly, his facade began to crumble, and he opened up to his old love interest, Ashley, the one person he felt vulnerable around. Unfortunately, even she rejected his decisions, claiming that siding with The Illusive Man was going too far. After losing even her, he became destitute, and even more firm in his belief that the ends would justify the means, and hurried his crew, not wasting any more time in approaching the Collectors, and in turn, the Reapers head on.
He was a man who had been broken, and felt everything that was lost so far, was acceptable if only to stop the threat that faced the galaxy. His team suffered HEAVY losses, on the raid of The Collectors base, and upon taking the base, was faced with yet another difficult choice, to preserve the base for study, or to destroy it. Believing his life was spared for a reason, he made the “bad” choice to preserve it, in an effort to gain the upper hand against the Reapers. Again it’d seem, he and the Illusive Man were but a shade of grey apart.
“There… Earth. I wish you could see it like I do, Shepard. It’s so… perfect.” – The Illusive Man
In Mass Effect 3, now recovering from the scars he’d received during the previous two games, he found himself in the middle of a direct Reaper attack. Having spent so many lives at a great cost was beginning to weigh heavy on his shoulders, and seeing an innocent boy’s life taken, despite all the sacrifices he’d made, started to crack at his seams. Throughout all of Mass Effect 3, Magnus began to slip deeper into the hole he’d created for himself, making “bad” choices to kill many of his former crew (Mordin, Legion, etc), if it meant the survival of the human race. Believing once again, that all of this was for a reason, that his choices were just, despite the massive amounts of guilt they brought to him. All of this culminated in nearly everyone he knew, more or less being hurt by him. Every choice he made, brought pain to another life, and not even Ashley, his former love interest could console him at the final hour. When it came time to storm the uploading beam to the Crucible, (a term that literally means ‘”test”), he did it full on, with no more care for the value of his life, believing that this was it. By cruel and ironic fate, he awoke the only one alive, and struggled aboard the Crucible, activating it, and was presented with the famous choice so many players struggled with at the end of the game.
This moment was revelatory for Magnus. All this time, he had made so many bad choices, all in the name of destroying the Reapers. Of righting things for the universe. To make sure the ends justified the means. However, when presented with the three options before him, Magnus had an epiphany. That all of his choices, were made so he could be here, at this moment, to stop all the pain and destruction he had seen. The synthetic VS organic wars of times past, present and future, were naught but for his very whims. With a heavy heart full of regret, sorrow, guilt, and penance, he jumped into the Crucible’s light, sacrificing himself to unite all organic and synthetic life once and for all. He had spent his life making the hard, “bad” choices, and now, only moments before his death, got to repay everyone back, and repent for his sins, and the lives he had taken, only now seemingly for needless reasons. Synthesis united the galaxy, but death redeemed Magnus Shepard, and invited a peace internal and external, for himself, and the galaxy in turn. In my opinion, it was a brilliant ending, and everyone but me HATED it.
Sorry, wrong ending I loved that everyone else hated.
So Yeah. I liked the original ending. It was overwhelmingly deep and thought provoking for me. Magnus was a complicated, unlikable protagonist, with true depth and many layers to his personality. At one point, there is even a song inside Shepard’s cabin, that in my opinion, sums up the many feelings my Shepard had, and his decisions throughout the games. The song is called “Bad Choices” by Shout Out Out Out Out, and it’s inclusion was no random choice by the game creators I’m sure, since it’s lyrics read like a personal journal entry for my Shepard:
I’m self destructing I admit.
I make so, many bad, bad choices.
But here’s the thing,
that I admit.
I always know they’re bad choices.
It’s a simple set of lyrics. It’s a brilliant song. It sums up my Shepard perfectly, and to that end, my Mass Effect game perfectly. I finished the game in awe, and found myself itching to play it again. Imagine my shock when, after going online to see the Internet’s reaction to such a brilliant game, I found nearly UNANIMOUS hatred at the game’s ending. All of this was compounded even further, when in defense of the game’s ending, which I didn’t feel needed defending, people began speaking about “The Indoctrination Theory”.
What is The Indoctrination Theory you ask? Well here’s a link to it, but I’ll try to sum it up for you as quickly and adequately I can. Basically, there are several allusions and implications throughout all three games, that The Reapers, have all this time, been controlling you. All of your decisions are an elaborate attempt to sway you to their side, as they have Saren, and The Illusive Man alike. Towards the end, there are several continued hints towards this, and ultimately, it is speculated the choosing to Control The Reapers, Synthesize, or Destroy The Reapers, is a test of your internal will, as this is a a mental projection inside your mind, and a metaphysical ending rather than a literal one.
Choosing Synthesis or Control resulted in the Reapers winning over your mind, and only Destruction won your will back from them, with the only hard proof to this assertion being the brief cutscene that you get only from destruction. The cutscene in question, shows Shepard buried in apparently Earth-like rubble, awakening for a half breath, before cutting away. This implies the ending was all in Shepard’s mind, and by choosing Destruction, you’ve defeated the attempt at “Indoctrination” The Reapers have made on you. Personally, I thought this ending was genius. Even though the new ending is decidedly more literal, the mere CONCEPT that The Reapers had indoctrinated ME, the player, was brilliant. I had spent nearly 4 years, gnawing at the bit to kill the Reapers, every last one. And what did I end up picking? Synthesis. Not killing them. I had successfully been indoctrinated.
But alas, it was not enough for the gaming populace who demanded a “new” ending to a game, claiming it was “broken” and didn’t make sense. While some of the more sensible detractors did make a few good points on logistical aspects, I found myself unable to empathize with them, because my gaming experience was so enjoyable. It was with a sense of relief then, that I was one of the few people overjoyed to hear that Bioware was not changing the ending, but were rather adding further closure, and character depth.
Not this kind of depth though.
Now, for the new endings. While I won’t go into all the specifics, (I’ll leave that to my co-writer, Jason, who I’m sure shares a different viewpoint on the original ending’s, and the series overall ending than I do), the new endings definitely provide closure in many aspects. Closure to plotholes, closure to the ultimate fate of many of the species in the galaxy, closure to Shepard’s fate him/herself, and a more final closure to the series all in all. In particular, I found the wholly new ending, which the Internet seems to have dubbed the “Rejection” ending, very interesting, and just as satisfying as the others. In it, you refuse to accept the choices given to you, claiming that it is one sacrifice too many, that the Reapers will be fought on Humanity’s/Turian’s/Krogan’s/et al’s terms. The AI you speak to responds angrily, and we flash forward to the distant future, to see a hologram of Liara T’Soni, explaining to an unseen viewer, all the details of the war against the Reapers, with the hope that a future races watching will continue. The hologram itself was a neat callback to an earlier scene in the game, where Liara actually does archive you, and all their information, for just such a use. The game ends on a new coda, with a child and her mother stargazing, speaking of you in legendary terms, as The Shepard Who United The Galaxy. It also illustrates that all of the information Shepard provided, along with the archived warnings and information, led to future races finally defeating the Reapers once and for all, effectively proving The AI wrong. Seeing Shepard spoken about within this context, gains a bit more meaning, in terms of how legends are made, told, and passed down.
“Tell me more about The Shepard.”
The new endings will undoubtedly still frustrate many gamers. I have no doubt that no matter what Bioware put out, people would have found things wrong with it. So many people’s stories were very personal to them, as mine was for me, and satisfying everyone is nigh impossible, but these endings are a great attempt at bridging people who hated it, and people like me who loved it, to find some happy common ground in the middle. Because if there’s anything that we should take from playing Mass Effect, it’s that we can only all prosper, if we unite together. And that’s something worth fighting for, no matter what choices you make.