TLDR; The video version of this article can be found on YouTube for your viewing and listening pleasure: Mass Effect – Lost In Translation
Mass Effect series is a fantastic space opera, with the capacity to draw you in and suck the feels out of you, even if you are a cold, hard SOB. Many people that loved the series however, felt that the ending to the trilogy, especially the last 15-20 minutes, was rubbish.
Casey Hudson, the director of development of Mass Effect series, defended the ending by using the line “artistic integrity”.
For people, that didn’t dig deep enough into the material, that BioWare had thrown at us through the 3 games, it meant nothing. They looked at the ending as some weird ‘deus ex machina’ crap that made absolutely no sense. Especially, because while we do have dark matter manipulation through the biotics and mass effect field generators, we don’t actually have magic.
Mass Effect 1 and 2 got better as they went, giving us interesting information and something to look forward to in the final game of the trilogy. Except that something never came.
The troubles for Mass Effect 3 began with the lead writer of Mass Effect 1 and 2, Drew Karpyshyn, leaving BioWare. This meant that whatever they had in mind when creating the first 2 games was now out of the window and everyone, who was paying any sort of attention to the plot, could see that. The new writing team, was so fickle that they couldn’t even make up their minds about plot points during that one game. The result of that was an incohesive mess that took a lot of work for the fans to untangle.
What the dedicated community came up with was the ‘Indoctrination Theory’. Except it wasn’t really a theory. If you dissect the entire series, the evidence couldn’t be clearer. The premise for this was hand created through the entire series. While the writers couldn’t agree on what the Reapers were like and how the story would end, it is clear that throughout the Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard is in the final stages of indoctrination and the final 15 to 20 minutes is only happening in his head.
Before I go on with this however, lets take a few steps back. The reason we even got to the point of needing to activate some magic space wand, is the fact that BioWare wrote themselves into the corner. The sad bit here is that they themselves gave us information on why the Protheans failed the conventional war against the Reapers and why we could finally put an end to these machines.
Javik, our only living Prothean, tells us that while their empire spanned the entire galaxy, they were divided, cut off from one another and unaware of what everyone was doing.
Most of the Mass Effect 3 was already taking us down the path to make sure that this isn’t the case during this cycle. With a bit of planning and finesse, we can unite the entire galaxy.
In addition, further research into Reaper based technology, the Thanix cannon that the crew of Normandy SR2 used to blast the massive collector ship to hell, with just 2 shots, resulted in having the upscaled versions of the cannon being used on larger ships and even on ground.
Keeping in mind the power of a small version of Thanix cannon, it took only a handful of conventional alliance dreadnoughts and the first iteration of Normandy to completely destroy Sovereign. There is only one Reaper more powerful than the Sovereign-class Capital Ships; the original Reaper, Harbinger. According to the Mass Effect Wiki, Thanix cannon can penetrate any known shield or armor. Considering the fact that the Turians had plenty of time to salvage and research the whole of Sovereign’s wreckage, it is fair to assume that they would know about the capabilities of the Reaper’s shields and that the weapon they developed would be able to reliably damage rest of the Reapers.
All this means is that we should have been able to beat the Reapers the old-fashioned way, with our combined fleets turning the Reaper forces into piles of hyper-advanced junk.
Alas, this was not meant to be. BioWare was hellbent on making sure that the final confrontation happened between our protagonist and the big bad, the OG Reaper, the Harbinger. Since there was no logical way Shepard could have faced off against Harbinger, mano-i-mano, they had to come up with SOMETHING. Enter space magic, the starchild and Marauder Shields that was so valiantly trying to save us from that abomination.
The intricacies of the indoctrination story are all very well explained in various videos on YouTube, so I am not going talk about them here, but there is one thing that none of the videos actually touch upon.
Since everything that happens after Shepard is hit by Harbingers ray of death is nothing more than hallucinations and visions, we don’t actually get a real ending. The only successful “ending” occurs when we decide to Destroy the Reapers. This is the choice we must make if we want Harbinger’s attempts to indoctrinate Shepard to fail.
Regardless of that however, whatever choice we make and whichever outcome we are shown (such as Zaeed chilling on a beach or Samara hanging out with her only living daughter), it is still all happening in Shepard’s head. What actually happened to our crew or who won the battle between the united fleets and Reapers is unknown.
You could argue that this approach to the story is interesting and great, but for many people that invested so many hours into the series, getting to know the characters and learning to love them, it is nothing more than a slap to the face. We were looking forward to answers and closure. We worked so hard for that happy ending with marriage, old age and lots of little blue children, but it never came.
All we got was an exercise for our imagination and there is nothing we can do about it.