Warning: The following post contains spoilers about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Don’t read on if that’s an issue.
This has been a long time coming. I make no apologies for the fact that I didn’t like the original ending of Mass Effect 3 (and please don’t try to tell me that the entire game was the ending, because that’s just a silly argument), and I wasn’t a big fan of the Extended Cut.
Get over it, you say? I don’t have to. I didn’t protest, or send cupcakes, or demand refunds, or demand new endings, or answers or any of those things. I didn’t like the endings, and it has zero to do with it not being a happy ending, or even about how it did or didn’t fit my Shepard. The one-size-fits-all thing worked in Mass Effect, and Mass Effect 2 – a few finite choices at the end.
It’s all about the Catalyst. I don’t like the character. I not only don’t like the character, but I don’t like that we suddenly have a new in the last ten minutes, who repeats superfluous information presented by the Reaper on Rannoch (and with the addition of the Leviathan DLC, the Leviathan entity). As you’ll be able to see by the end of this, it’s not even about choices. No, I didn’t like the choices, and that’s not because I didn’t think they made sense (I understand them), but because they cause significant divergence for what could be considered canon, and I don’t imagine Mass Effect will be doing the equivalent of a Dragon Break in any subsequent related games. It’s also too clinical, too impersonal, and disempowers Shepard because it’s the… generosity of the catalyst that gives the choices to Shepard, instead of Shep’s actions really being responsible. It could have well decided to continue the cycle anyway.
What’s below… I don’t know. It’s an ending for me, my Shepard, that I’m choosing to share. I imagined the basics of it on my recent replay, after all the amazing fun-stuff of the Citadel DLC. I still love the game, but the official ending as it surrounds the catalyst? No.
For the record, my own Shep went red.
There was comfort in knowing that her part had been played. It didn’t matter that feeling was returning to her body, or that not a limb in four didn’t ache. That was the job, but it was never a matter of duty. The falls, the cuts, and the bruises could all shout their presence at Commander Shepard, but victory soothed her enough.
“Best seats in the house,” she said.
She and Admiral Anderson sat on the cool metal floor, a chance for them both to stop and breathe. The losses were still mounting, and from their place on the Citadel, she could see them now; explosions beyond the window, bursts of orange and red against a scarred Earth. Some of them were Reapers that had been brought down, but many more of them were from the fleet. Time would change that. Fix it. The Crucible was docked now.
“God, feels like years since I just … sat down,” said Anderson.
The old man was slipping. Battered, bloody, yet still not broken. He’d taken at least as much as she had, maybe more from all those weeks on Earth. Leaving was hard, but imagining what it would have been like to stay- that felt like Palaven, Rannoch and Thessia, all rolled into one. His eyes were only visible between his closing eyelids now, and she could tell that even that fragment of a gaze was a strain for him.
“Anderson? Stay with me, we’re almost through this.”
She kept her eyes on him. If he could hold out, just to stay on this side of the brink, he might make it long enough to see the job done. If he could, then she could too.
“You did good, child. You did good. I’m… proud of you.”
Shepard moved her hand to her side, pushing her fingers against one of many wounds. The blood was sticky, and it was difficult to stay positive. No chance of a patrol dropping in on them, and she knew what came next. The last time she’d been injured like this one the Citadel, they’d both walked away. Not this time, she thought.
“Thank you, Sir. I couldn’t have done it alone.”
“Bullshit.” Anderson shook his head forcefully, and coughed up a spatter of blood. “All on you, Shepard. Nobody else could have done what you did, do whatever it takes.”
His eyes were closed by the time he finished talking, though his body still heaved with each stuttered breath. The rest of his body was still. Shepard felt the slowness of her own breath, each inhale slow and hoarse from mouthfuls of smoke, ash and blood. Her own eyes were slipping. Rolling her head around gave her uneven glimpses of the room around her, of Anderson, and the chaos strewn through space beyond.
A burst of static sounded from her comm, followed by a crackle. Hackett’s voice was next.
She glanced at Anderson, his eyes still closed. How long had they been there, she wondered. Did it matter, she wondered next.
“What do you need me to do?”
“We have a problem, Shepard.”
Those words again. She slowly let out her breath, and squeezed herself up off the floor. The wound in her abdomen sent daggers through her body, but she hobbled over to the console despite it.
“You’re a hero, Shepard. The best humanity’s ever had. You’ve done everything the Alliance has ever asked of you.”
“Admiral?” she asked.
Hackett’s first answer was silence. She looked back at Anderson; she’d gone through this with him already, and every moment of conversation was another before the Crucible fired. He was still sitting, barely conscious, but his mouth moved with every breath. She called Anderson’s name out, but there was no response from him either. Shepard finally heard something, a breath on the line, and eventually Hackett.
“I’m transferring control of the Crucible to you.”
The console in front of her flashed red immediately, and then changed to orange. A single beep later, and her omnitool lit up. It started flicking through the schematics of the now-linked Crucible and the Citadel.
“When I sent you to extract Dr Kenson, you uncovered how close the Reapers were. You made the call that we needed, three hundred thousand batarians to save the rest of the galaxy,” said Hackett.
“I bought us time, sir. This isn’t saved.”
“It’s more than we had. You were chosen for a reason, Shepard. Then and now.”
The display on her omnitool stopped changing, and the console lit up green. The interface had changed, displaying the readouts of the Crucible’s power levels, the device itself now waiting for her to activate it.
“It’s primed, sir.”
“Wait. I told you about the scientists from the second world war…”
Shepard noticed something off to the side, in her peripheral vision, and creased her eyebrows. It was Anderson, almost gone, yet looked like he was still breathing; his mouth had continued to move all this time.
“About the first atomic bomb,” continued Hackett.
Anderson’s movements were troubling. She took a step back from the console, and then one toward him. His eyes were closed, but the breathing was wrong. It wasn’t breathing. His lips were moving too quickly.
“Some thought it could ignite the atmosphere.”
She’d seen it all along, but hadn’t heard it. The words were there, just waiting to be picked up by her ears. Barely over the hum of the Citadel, or Hackett’s voice, Anderson had three words, over and over.
Whatever it takes.
Shepard turned back to the console, flicked another glance at Anderson, and then spoke into the comm again. “What’s wrong with the Crucible, Admiral?”
“It’s no accident that the Reaper’s moved the Citadel here. The Earth for the rest of the galaxy.”
There was a price, a sacrifice that had to be made. Maybe this was one occasion a Batarian spectre could have worked. They’d do it without hesitation, some without needing the goal of stopping the Reapers.
“The fate of the galaxy is in your hands again. You have to do this, Commander.”
“Why me?” she asked. “The truth this time.”
“You were our weapon. Ruthless. Uncompromising. A wrecking ball we unleash on our enemies. Torfan, Nonuel, the Bahak System. There are orders the Alliance can’t sanction, and with you, we didn’t need to. That’s the Shepard we need now.”
I’m not that woman anymore, she thought. She closed her eyes, and dove into her thoughts.. Mindoir was never the same, but it was still there. This was different. Losing Earth, but then what was the choice? If it had been anyone else, even Anderson, they might have treated it as a choice, but it wasn’t a choice. This was responsibility. Something that must be done. A flash of a face crept into her mind, the curly smile and bouncing voice of Mordin Solus. They were his words, but she felt them now. Everything until this moment and even this one, the very last of them, it always had to be her.
“I’ll do it.”
The response was a pause again, though instead of Hackett’s voice, Shepard thought she heard his breath go out. He didn’t have the right words, and the ones he found still took some time.
“The fleet will stay to protect the crucible for as long as it can. Billions will live because of you, Commander.”
“I can’t do this, Admiral. This conversation. If this is the end, then you get Garrus Vakarian on the comm.”
“We’ll tr- we’ll do it.”
The cockpit of the Normandy felt crowded to Garrus, though the only ones there with him were Joker and EDI. He stood with his body leaning against EDI’s chair, an arm fixed in a cast, and a bandage covering the left side of his face.
“Sounds like you could use the company of an old friend,” he said.
He heard Shepard laugh over the comm, and then reply. “I think we’re well past friends now, Vakarian.”
“True,” he answered. The Turian laughed as well, shaking his head ever so slightly. He could feel himself lingering, and the heaviness of his head. Pain suppressants were still fresh. “They tell me you’re having a time of it.”
“They tell you how?”
“Just that you needed your boyfriend. How bad is it?”
They heard Shepard’s voice start a half-dozen times before she said actually something. It didn’t sound like her anymore. “We’re losing Earth,” she began. “The Crucible will strip the atmosphere, killing everything on it. It’s my finger on the trigger.”
Garrus ground his mandibles together, and bunched his hand into a fist. “Where are you, Shepard?”
He didn’t know if he wanted the answer, but it came anyway, and in two awful words.
“How long do you have?”
“The rest of my life,” answered Shepard.
“That’s what I’ve always wanted. Of course, I did factor on it being at least as long as mine.
He heard her laugh through the comm, “Ow, don’t make me smile.”
“Wasn’t that my line? I’ve got brand new scars to show you, too.”
The line was silent.
Garrus turned to Joker, who looked down at the Normandy’s console and then shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, but shook his head again.
“We’ve lost the signal, Garrus,” said EDI.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Shepard’s hung up on calls a dozen times before,” said Joker.
The Turian turned his head away. “I know what it means, but thank you.”
So, there it is. Yeah, there’s ambiguity here. Shep could be alive, ala the breathing ending, or maybe just dead. Catalyst? NOPE. Earth? Yeah, dead. As I got toward the end, I started imagining what could come next. Garrus and James get into fisticuffs, the team breaks lockdown to at least find Shepard’s body, and they end up more or less outcasts from the military – probably pursued, at that. Honestly, what comes next doesn’t really matter. In my head, Shepard let Earth go bye-bye so that the Reapers could be stopped. No friendly reapers hanging around to stop any potential enemy – a galaxy with a level playing field, trying to rebuild. It’s just my end, but an end all the same.
What are the cues from the suite of canon endings? The earth being destroyed, from the low EMS ending. Shepard potentially being alive, but still an unknown from the High EMS destroy ending. I didn’t show it, but EDI and the Geth not being wiped out – I figured Earth itself was a suitable substitute sacrificial lamb. And yeah, no catalyst – or no deus ex machina/ghost in the machine/starchild.