Note: The information and opinions that follow are based on the original release version and does not take into account the additional conversations, scenes, options or expanded endings added by the “Extended Cut” DLC pack. Also, it should be obvious from the title, SPOILER ALERT!
Lately I’ve really wanted to replay the Mass Effect trilogy and thinking about that has reminded me of all the things I read and conversations I had about the way the series wrapped up. Despite all the controversy and complaints, everyone that finished that series did so after making a major decision on how to end their tale, and there’s one thing I know for certain:
Most of you chose wrong.
I know, I know. Those are bold words, right? Well, this is space-war. We can’t afford to be gentle all the time so I’ll be straight-forward here. When you get to the end of the third game, assuming you’ve amassed enough space-power, you’re faced with one of three choices:
- Control the Reapers
- Destroy the Reapers
- Combine your DNA with the Reapers triggering a galaxy-wide evolution
BioWare would like you to believe that because this third option is only open to over-achieving Commander Shepards it is the “correct” option. But BioWare is lying to you and I intend to prove that “Control” is the correct choice, or, failing that, at least prove that “Synthesis” is the wrong choice.
My Shepard is nothing if not honorable.
When I play a well-written game, be it sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian or whatever, I become the character. I lose myself in my character and everything becomes life or death. During Mass Effect 2 I had days-long conversations with friends about my moral dilemma over abandoning my romance with Liara and moving on to Tali whom I genuinely connected with. Never mind that I never actually played the first game and just sort of arbitrarily chose her as a romance option during the opening motion comic catch-up sequence (for PS3 users who couldn’t play Mass Effect), not to mention the fact that I had at this point been dead for two years and Liara was nowhere to be seen. I still felt a sense of obligation to her and my Shepard is nothing if not honorable. Now take that logic and apply it to a decision that will affect all life in the galaxy and you might understand the anxiety I felt when faced with the final decision of how to end the war. Let’s just say maybe in a real-life Mass Effect situation, I shouldn’t be your go-to savior.
That little Citadel kid showed up and started explaining what my options were and I simultaneously loved the predicament and had a panic attack at the prospect of making the wrong choice. Did you know that if you take too long to make a choice the Reapers complete the attack and you get a “game over” screen? I do now. I guess there’s no time for deliberation at the end of the world.
So, here we are, at the end of all things. Let’s examine our options.
Option #1 – Destroy
Destroy is the quick and dirty choice for Shepards with things to do and people to see. No time to parlay, this war needs to be over NOW. Plus, this was the original intention behind getting all those races together wasn’t it? Kill the Reapers and be done. No muss, no fuss. One HUGE problem, though. The Destroy option doesn’t just wipe out the Reapers, it wipes out all synthetic life in the galaxy. You may have already elected to wipe out the Geth (you monster) so it might not be any great loss, but if nothing else think of poor Joker.
Option #2 – Control
Control the Reapers is exactly what the Illusive Man was trying to do which is what made him so dangerous. But he wanted to use that power to rule the galaxy, not save it, right? Your intent is simply telling the Reapers to go away, and surely nothing could go wrong with that. That old saying about how power corrupts probably doesn’t apply to Shepard.
Option #3 – Synthesis
If you brought together enough military might the “Synthesis” option unlocks which will instantly recode all life in the galaxy to be the pinnacle of evolution, meaning everything and everyone will now be a combination of organic and synthetic life at the DNA level. If this happens the Reapers are no longer needed and the galaxy is saved by robot genes mixed with Shepard’s body. Just like Jesus.
Weighing the Options
Let’s quickly set the scene: Shepard is tired, he’s beaten to a pulp and he’s realizing that all his hopes to end the war the way he wanted are pretty much dashed. Basically he’s faced with choosing the least of three evils, which is a shitty choice to have to make when the fate of the galaxy is in your hands and no matter what option you pick it doesn’t look like you’re making it out alive.
- “Destroy” would eliminate the threat, but also eliminate every other synthetic life-form, not to mention the destruction it would cause to Earth should your military strength not be high enough (anywhere from “no problems” all the way to “totally boned”).
- “Control” might possibly remove the threat with no ill effects, but it may also turn you into a warlord with his own ancient evil armada. It’s really a toss-up. Destroying Earth is also a possibility.
- “Synthesis” seems like the right choice because it would remove the threat by means of evolutionary advancement, and who doesn’t want to evolve into something better? The problem with this is it’s pretty much exactly what Shepard has been fighting against since the start of the war.
The Reapers exist to eliminate a flawed organic system and will only relent when it is either destroyed or made “perfect” through evolution. This is the threat you’ve been fighting for three games and choosing “Synthesis” is basically bowing to their demands. Who knows? Maybe it will give everyone super powers and everyone will be really good-looking according to their respective species and everyone becomes Mordin-level geniuses and all races live in harmony forever from now on.
But maybe it doesn’t matter, because maybe that’s not a choice for one man to make. Maybe the beauty of life in the galaxy, and the thing you’ve been fighting for this entire time, is the right for people to continue being flawed and imperfect individuals as well as the right to change and improve. All of that no longer matters if you make the choice for them and force the change. Maybe no one will care. Maybe everyone will be happy and it will aid in the rebuilding process, but is that really your choice to make? You’ll be dead, but people will remember what you did.
That’s why, after much hand-wringing, I chose “Control.”
Of course I worried about becoming the Illusive Man and starting an entirely different reign of terror with the Reapers, but at least the people I left behind would have been free to challenge me and continue standing for what they believed in.
Briefly I will mention a fourth option that was added with the “Extended Cut” DLC in which you can refuse to decide for pretty much the same reasons. In that case the Reapers continue their attack, eventually overrunning your defenses and the genocide is completed. Eventually it will begin again, but your cycle passes on its knowledge to the next cycle in much the same way the Protheans passed their knowledge on to you. I can see this being a close contender for “correct” ending, but I feel like having come all that way Shepard would choose to do something even if it is a hard choice.
But you know, everyone plays their own game and makes their own moral decisions. I really overthink mine, but some people go with their gut and that’s fine. When I go back through the series now I might find my mind has changed and I’ll synthesis the shit out of everyone, but the fact that I’m even still considering these things–and that you’ve read this far–shows that the story affected us no matter how it ended. Good or bad, we’re still talking about it, and that’s the real end-game.