I commented in my review of Mass Effect 3 that I intended to write a piece about the backlash from the ending & my interpretation of it. But while I was doing research on the subject, I came across a very interesting article. Posted on Forbes, no less. In this article, the author discusses the theory that the final moments of the game were in fact a hallucination brought on by the Reapers trying to indoctrinate Shepard & prevent their destruction!
Just in case it’s not obvious, this article will contain spoilers to the ending of ME3. If you haven’t reached the end & don’t want to ruin it for yourself, read at your own caution.
Before I really get into it, let me expand on my opinion of the ending. I mentioned in my review that, while I won’t go so far as to say that ending was a debacle, I was very disappointed. For me, the ending just seemed to come out of nowhere, particularly with the Catalyst & the explanation of where the Reapers came from. BioWare has always been good about crafting a tightly-packed narrative, & more or less answering all questions. But to just say the Reapers were created to destroy advanced organic life because it would always conflict with non-organic life just seemed ridiculous. Not so much the motive, but that that sentence pretty much sums up the whole explanation of what the Reapers are. No where did they come from. No who made them. Nothing. That explanation especially burned me because in my playthrough I’d gotten the Quarians & Geth to join forces, thus proving the cycle didn’t have to continue.
So what did I expect from the ending? Despite what supporters of the ending say, I did not expect everything to be all sunshine & roses by the end. What I expected was:
- A choice between destroying the Reapers & controlling them.
- An explanation of where the Reapers came from.
- A confrontation with the Illusive Man.
- An ending cinematic showing both loss & triumph.
- Some idea of what happened after the ending.
- And I fully expected Shepard to die in the end.
I got 1, 3 & 6, but not so much the others. In the end, there were more questions than answers.
But back to the article. It was actually not the first time I’ve heard the hallucination argument before. Many people have pointed out how this would explain a lot of the plot holes in the ending. Proponents believe that the entire scene from reaching the Citadel on are all in Shepard’s mind & didn’t actually happen. They point out questions like:
- How did Anderson reach the center first?
- How did Hackett call Shepard when a previous radio transmission said no one made it inside?
- Why did the Catalyst look like the child Shepard kept seeing?
- Why did Joker leave the battle (out of character)?
- Why is one of the squadmates you take into the final battle seen in the ending cutscene getting off the Normandy?
- Why is Shepard only covered in rocks if they survive, rather than Citadel debris?
The Forbes article goes one step further & talks about how not only was the ending a hallucination, but it was brought on by a last-ditch effort of the Reapers to indoctrinate Shepard. I’ve since found several videos discussing this possibility, but I’ll just post the one the article looks at. It’s pretty long, but I think it does a good job putting the pieces together.
Thought-provoking, isn’t it?
Basically, the idea is that the Reapers have been slowly indoctrinating Shepard since their first contact with them. After all, Shepard has encountered Reaper tech multiple times, even when it’s shown to corrupt everyone it touches. Due to the increased stress Shepard comes under in the final game, they’ve been able to get a strong hold on their mind. But when they finally get close to defeating the Reapers, the Reapers try one last time to trick Shepard into helping them. I’m not going to go into detail about everything in the video, but it does point out a lot of things I never thought of before. Like why Shepard keeps seeing the child (which may be a Reaper hallucination from the beginning), or what the shadows in the dreams mean, or why the destroy/control station colors are mismatched. It also explains why Shepard only survives in the Destroy ending. Previously, I thought it was because Shepard either merged with the Reapers or their synthetics were used to merge all beings together, but now it may be that it’s because the other two options are tricks & result in the Reapers destroying everything. In fact, the Synthesis choice would actually accomplish the Reapers’ goal for them, harvesting all life into a new hybrid. This also explains why the Catalyst urges Shepard that it’s the only way to truly end the cycle, despite the fact that flat-out destroying the Reapers means they can never come back.
Officially, BioWare hasn’t said anything more than they’re working on both DLC content & full games. They’ve made cryptic comments about “if they knew what we were planning” we wouldn’t be so upset (which I obviously don’t because I’m not psychic!). Recently co-founder Ray Muzyki commented that the developers have heard the fans & are “hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.”
While I do think this is an interesting theory, the cynic in me has several problems with this whole indoctrination scenario. For one, if DLC is released saying that this basically is what the ending meant, how will we ever know if that’s true? Maybe BioWare meant for the ending to be taken at face value, but realized they goofed & used this as a valid excuse. Secondly, & more importantly, assuming that this is what the developers were trying to get across, they went about it in a poor manner. I’d give them a gold star for an original twist, but then I have to turn around & take it away for poor storytelling. I don’t care how clever your story is, if you have to explain it then you didn’t tell it properly.
Honestly, my biggest fear is that greed is behind all of these problems. I fear that, because ME3 is the last one (at least for Shepard’s story), BioWare deliberately cut out parts of the story to wring more money out of gamers. That would mean they knowingly released an incomplete game! BioWare already took some fire for this with their Day 1 DLC “From Ashes,” the argument reasonably being that if it’s available on the release day, it was ready in time to be added to the original disc. Even if the ending was literal, I fear that it was an effort to promote future Mass Effect games. Either a Mass Effect 4 — in which case don’t pity BioWare for the massive backlash at having the gall to continue Shepard’s story after saying it’s the end — or an upcoming MMO. With the inclusion of multiplayer in ME3, I’m leaning more towards the MMO option.
According to Muzyki, we should know something more definitive in April.
Article cited “Did the Real Mass Effect 3 Ending Go Over Everyone’s Heads?” by Paul Tassi, http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/21/did-the-real-mass-effect-3-ending-go-over-everyones-heads/2/