This is it y’all. Last time we finished up everything I had left to do in the game and prepped to start the point-of-no-return Priority mission. This is the last (not so) little stretch of the game. Big things are going to happen! Maybe we’ll even kick some Reaper ass! Let’s get this party started shall we?
*Avert thine eyes, SPOILERS ahead.**Also, fair warning y’all, there’s lot’s o’ words and lot’s o’ pictures ahead*
When I start the mission, Priority: Cerberus Headquarters, I get a vidcom from Admiral Hackett warning me that if we divert the fleet to attack Cerberus, it will in effect be the first move in the strike to take back Earth because it will alert the Reapers to our plans. After confirming that I wanted to do this I go up to my room to think and sulk some. Liara walks in and I confide in her about my worries for the coming battles. She soothes me with her love for me (and other things, of course). We have sexy fade to black times and everything is lovely with the world and all my worries have been lifted off my shoulders. That is until a horrible mood killer of a nightmare starts up. Little doomed boy is back again and now I’ve got way too many people ghost-whispering at me in the dream. Legion, Thane, Ashely, Kaidan, Mordin, Miranda. Damn I got a lot of people killed. When I finally catch up to the little doomed boy, I see that he is being hugged bymyself and then he and my other self go up in flames as I look on helplessly.
Yea, that's not ominous at all.
Later in the war room, EDI approaches me and asks to join me on the mission to attack Cerberus. I am suddenly rather worried that the way I’ve guided her in her moral quandaries will mean she’ll sacrifice herself at some point in this mission. Hell I’m worried all of my crew’s going to die. Unlike the previous games, this one’s actually been rather difficult for me to keep people alive. Turns out, though, she’s a big help when assaulting the base. She is able to hack their systems with the greatest of ease and she saves us from being vented out into space.
While making our way through the Cerberus base, we find several consoles with video logs on them. The first one we come across has a partial log of my reconstructoin back in ME2. I was more dead than I knew and while watching it I admit that I still have misgivings sometimes about if I’m really me or not, but Liara mollifies me with her awesomeness and her love for me. The next console shows that EDI began as the rogue VI that I had to take down on Luna base back in Mass Effect 1. She remembers the encounter, but doesn’t seem to hold it against me. In fact, she’s really glad about how our relationship had evolved since then. Also, found out that she protected the ship once from Cerberus trying to remotely lock it down by flooding their servers with seven zettabytes of porn. She’s kinda awesome and holy crap that’s a lot of porn. The last two consoles show a series of conversations between Kai Leng and the Illusive Man and that the Illusive Man has had some more artifical tinkering done. Neither of these vid logs do anything to bring these two men closer to my good side.
I really liked how this mission fleshed out EDI's background and fleshed out her character arc that started with her role as just some random VI or just the ship's AI.
Eventually we make it to the central lab where the Prothean VI is being kept. And by lab they apparently meant the throne room of the Illusive Man (seriously what else would you call that room?). As we attempt to access the Prothean VI, the Illusive Man (via televid) tells us we’re all being futile and that he’s been trying to protect he human race the entire time. I tell him he’s delusinal (again) but he says we’re going about it all the wrong way and that he has the answer to all our problems. He lets us access the VI, though, and leaves us alone to do our thing. The VI tells us that the Catalyst is the Citadel. This completely blows my mind, but it does make a fair amount of sense to be using their own tech (the Reapers built the Citade along with all of the Mass Relays) against them. The thing that bothers me, though, is that at some point way back in the galactic cycles they decided to do this but no one knows who made the addition to the plans or why and at this point I’m getting a little wary of just who is doing what of whose accord. But it’s our last desperate chance since the Illusive Man has tipped off the Reapers to our plans (deliberately I might add) and they have moved the Citadel to Earth to protect it with the full might of their power. The VI also helpfully chimes in that the harvest of my species is almost complete ( is odd cause that was supposed to take decades for just earth, not months) so the stakes are definitely high now. Not that they weren’t before, but I guess Bioware wanted you to feel an even more urgent need to stop the Reapers.
This is about the time that Kai Leng shows up and I kick his ass. ‘Cause that’s just what I do y’all, and even after I kick his ass he still tries to kill me, but I power punch through his sword and give him what-for. I’m not going to lie, I rather enjoyed that scene.
Yeah, that's right. I destroyed his base, killed his favorite assassin, and stole all his secrets. And now I'm claiming the Illusive Man's throne room as mine. 'Cause that's just how I roll folks.
Anyhoo, we get what we need and leave. Back on the Normadny, I meet with Admiral Anderson (over vidcom cause he’s still on Earth) to fill him in on what I’ve found out. He explains that they could tell the Reapers were gearing up and planning for something big and we figure it must be for them bringing the Citadel to earth. After the meeting I take a quick break to chat up the crew. Everybody is mostly just doing a last lil bit of pep talking before the big hurrah. However, when I go to chat with Garrus, I accidentaly walk in on him and Tali have a lil cuddle fest. They try oh so adorably to play it off, but it’s too cute and I tell them I’m glad for them (and maybe laugh uproariously IRL).
Garrus and Tali sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love then comes Reaper carnage and...yeah...this romance is headed places!
Sadly I think that’s the last laugh I’ll be having for a while. We make our way to the fleet and meet up with Admiral Hackett. He explains the battle plan to us. I’ll be going in with my team on shuttle to infiltrate and disable the Reaper Hade’s Cannons, allowing the Hammer contingent of the fleet to land. Together, my team and Hammer will push till we get to a set of Reaper structures that have allowed them to beam humans, both alive and dead, up to the Citadel. Once in there, whoever is left alive will have to open up the arms of the citadel. Then we can dock it with the crucible. Easy peasy, right?
We amass our forces and come out of the Sol relay guns ablazing. We have a huge ass fleet and we are so prepared to use it. We’re treated to an EPIC battle between my fleet (yes MY fleet, I’m the one who cobbled it together) and the Reaper fleet until its time for us to scoot off and land on Earth, which is just completely wartorn. We’re supposed to be landing with another shuttle that would break off and take down the nearest Hade’s Cannons, but that shuttle got shot down. So it falls to us to make a quick change of plans and drop down to grab the weapons from that shuttle and shoot down the cannon. It’s tough but we manage it and when it’s time for our pickup, guess who shows up but Anderson himself and he takes us back to the forward operating base to finalize our plans for the assault on the Citadel beam.
Did I do that? Yes, yes I did that. I got the galaxy to rally together under my banner because I am Commander A.B. Shepard. The A.B. stands for Awesome Badass fyi.
Feminist Aside: Okay would it really have killed them to put some women on the front line of the fight to take back Earth? It’s bad enough that Bioware couldn’t be arsed to put in any Turian females or more than a handful of Krogan and Salarian females while at the same time giving us dozens of new character models for enemies and less important races over the last two games, but seriously? Having absolutely zero human women, a model that they DO have readily available, on the front lines or in the CGI of the battle for Earth is bullshit. It makes it seem like only men-folk care enough or are able to put their lives on the line for the sake of saving our species, our galaxy, and our entire way of life. And we know that’s not true because I can hear women’s voices calling out strikes and requests for backup on the radio. Seriously if it weren’t for me, Tali, and Liara this fight would visually be an all male brigade. If I were playing a male shepard with Garrus, Kaiden, or Vega as companions there would seriously be absolutely zero women physically fighting to save the galaxy right now. Zero. Pardon my french, but that’s fucking terrible Bioware. Terrible.
The FOB give me one last chances to say goodbye to all my old buddies. Samara, Jack, Jacob, Grunt, Cortez all go pretty smoothly, but when I get to Garrus, I really start tearing up. Dammit and Liara doesn’t help the tearing up by saying farewell by mind melding with me and showing me her memories (or something like that). I pull myself back together and run across Wrex yelling at his troops and he informs me that Bakara (HEY LOOK SOMEONE FINALLY CALLED HER BY HER EFFING NAME!!!) is already pregnant. It looks like if we can make it out of this thing alive the Krogan are headed towards a much brighter future. EDI’s the last of my companions that I talk to and she had one last question for me about why we’re doing this when the odds are so strongly stacked against us. She’s afraid though she wont admit it, but she says I’m the reason she feels alive. That’s a pretty big honor if you ask me.
I think on my next play though I'm going to spend more time with EDI, maybe buy her a t-shirt and some pants and go out for drinks with her. She's seems pretty cool now that I've interacted with her some more.
I finally get to Anderson and we go over the finer details of the ground assault. Afterwards I have a lil cutscene where I get to make a grand speech to my team. I’m pretty sure that the couple of new, random dude faces I see in the group are fill-ins for the spots that should be taken by some of my fallen team members. With the pep talk complete, we start the ground assault, but it doesn’t go super duper well. It ends up coming down to me and my squad holding ground around a set of heavy artillery trucks that are supposed to shoot missiles at the mini-Reaper guarding the beam to the Citadel. It was very difficult (seriously we had to defened it from 6 brutes, 5 marauders, 4 banshees, and a partridge in a pear tree and it was that last one that was the hardest o.O), but we managed it. We shoot the mini-Reaper dead and we all started heading to go into the beam. The Reapers are onto us at this point and they send down a Soverign-class Reaper (aka one of the biggest ones) to start shooting shit up. We all just break and run for the beam hoping at least some of us make it in, but we all get blown up. I wake up in a haze as both the Reaper and our forces fall back. I’m barely alive but I stumble my way into the beam.
Half my armor's been blown off and I can't quite see straight, but I still manage to make it to the beam. The entire galaxy is counting on me.
On the Citadel nothing looks right (trust me I should know, I’ve been there like a bajillion times this game). There are piles of bodies everythwere and the open expanses and beautiful vistas have turned into cramped corridors. It seems Anderson made it up with me, just transported into a different part of the Citadel, and we both start making our way to the center, talking over our headsets. I finally find him at a control console in the center of the Citadel. He’s acting funny, though, like he’s on puppet strings and then suddenly I’m being controlled in the same way and the Illusive Man shows up. We have a verbal show down wherein he trys to convince me that he’s right (again again) and he can control the Reapers and save us all. I eventually end up shooting him (but not before he’s made me shoot Anderson to prove a point). I open the Citadel for the Crucible and go sit with Anderson to watch the awesome Reaper destruction we’re sure is about to happen. Except nothing does happen, well other than Anderson dying, and Hackette yells at me to do something on my end to make it work. So I crawl over to the console and promptly pass out.
If I had known it would be that easy, I'd have crawled over there and passed out a long time ago.
This seems to have been the right thing to do as a platform rises up from beneath me and takes me to some other part of the Citadel. There I meet the ethereal doomed child, or something taking the doomed child’s ghostly appearance. It tells me that it is what controls the Reapers and that they are its solution to the Chaos that inevetaibly happens when organics get so advanced that they inevitably create synthetic life that inevitably rebels against them and inevitably tries to wipe them out. So it created a race of synthetics to wipe out organics in an indefinite cycle to fix this problem. Yeah, not the most logical train of thought, but then again I’m not some robot taking on the appearance of a dead little boy yammering on about the inevitability of things. Anyhoo, it tells me that it needs a new solution since organics have progressed to the point of being able to stop the Reapers (as evidenced by my presence). It proposes three options: destroy all synthetic life (Reapers and Geth alike) and let the inevitable take its course from there, control the Reapers and tell them to go away, or synthesize with the Citadel which will somehow make all organic and synthetic life merge. No matter my choice, I die, so it’s all up to whats best for the galaxy.
So few choices, so many lives on the line
I first want to choose the destroy the Reapers, but its not just the Reapers, it’s all synthetic life. The Geth and EDI would die as well. And I can’t really do that because my actions have led to the Geth becoming a fully sapient race. They now have consciousness and individual lives and there are millions, if not billions, of them. That’s like saying, okay we’ll pull the Reapers out but we’re going to kill every last Turian in existence as well. That is not really an option at all for me, Shepard the Species Savior.
The next choice is control the Reapers, but I don’t like the idea of that. I’ve fought long and hard against the Illusive Man because he wanted to do just that. And really, I tell them once to go away and they will? For how long? I won’t be around to stop them if they come back. Where will they go, what will they do? Too man questions for me.
And if I go synthesis, the Reapers stop attacking and every extant species survives, but now the organics will be part synthetic and the synthetics will be part organic? What does this mean? What impact will this have on the denziens of the galaxy, both the space-faring and less advanced species?
This is, in essence, a tough decision. I don’t like any one of them, but it seems like the best decision for everyone in synthesis, even if it does leave huge gaping questions about the future of the galaxy. So I take a running leap into the big stream of light and I am quite viscerally reminded of Buffy doing the same back in the day. And oddly enough it’s that that makes me emotional about the whole thing. Much like Buffy, Shepard is the battle-weary heroine willing to put her life on the line to save not just her loved ones, but her entire reality from utter extermination. All that was missing was an overlaid monologue saying that the toughest thing to do in this world is to live in it. Which it may indeed be for the one’s I leave behind. There’s a lot of rebuilding to do, a lot of loved ones lost to mourn, and a galaxy to reconnect. But they are still alive, the galaxy is still intact, and that is reason enough to celebrate.
There was so much blubbing for me here. I can't help but wonder if Bioware meant to make that connection because it really is a strong one. This really is Shepard's gift to the galaxy.
The Ending Controversy
Now here’s my thoughts on the whole ending controversy: Honestly I am not upset at all about the three choices. I think having just three, with no huge effect on them from past actions, is an interesting story choice with a very strong message that sometime even with all the decisions we make, the big things in life often boil down to only a small selection of choices. Our past can inform which choice we take and what consequences that choice will have, but it rarely changes the choice itself. And I think that would be especially true for something on as grand a scale as what we were presented with in the final moments of this game.
With that said, I do have a problem with the ending cut scene itself. It’s damn near the same for every possible ending and it’s not just that they’re super similar, it’s that they’re super similar with zero information about what happens afterwards. There is no talk about all synthetics dying, no talk about how the new synthesized bodies of all life works out, nor any information about what happens after all the Reapers leave. There are no updates on who survived the battle (other than the three who exit the Normandy at the very end, which in my case was Joker, EDI, and Liara, who should technically have died or been severely injured in the rush to the Citadel beam) or how they go on to lead their lives. It has also been pointed out elsewhere that parts of the ending contradict established lore: such as the relays exploding should have killed all life in the system that they reside in. So if you go by that the only option that doesn’t immediately extinctify a huge swath of the galaxy is the control the Reapers option and you can be damn sure I would have chosen that one instead if that were the case. There is also the matter of the after credits scene which was a neat idea that was just terribly executed. Lazy animation (children do not look like shrunk down adults, people) and terrible acting in a game full of really great voice actors. Which, really, I think is the main point of the ending criticism: that in a game full of richly detailed scenarios and decisions that have real impact on the lives of the characters, all of that was thrown out the window in exchange for a lazily told and executed ending that only left us wanting more… and not in a good way.
I would be okay with Bioware coming out with an alternate ending, but not one that changes the fundamental choices given and definitely not one that makes it all some sort of dream. I’d prefer that they just actually explain what the outcomes of the given choices are and give us insight into the world we left behind (or survived to see in the case of the ‘perfect’ ending… which I apparently could have had if I’d gone with the destroy the Reapers option based on my effective military strength, ah well maybe on my next play through).