The real problem with ME3's ending

BioWare puts the player at odds with what it has been teaching for three games

Needless to say, this post will include spoilers about Mass Effect 3.

I just finished the game and confirmed that I had obtained the optimal ending, considering my decision to unite synthetic and organic life. For those of you not in the know, the player is offered three choices: to control the Reapers and die, to destroy all synthetic lifeforms (including the Geth) and live or to sacrifice the main character in order to merge synthetic and organic life.

I wanted to control the Reapers, as I did not know what the synthesis of both kinds of life might entail for people still alive, but I decided that it might turn out very bad indeed. Destroying the Reapers outright would have been fine, but the Geth had just gained individuality and were helping the Quarians in my game, so I could not sacrifice them. They were alive. I was thus forced into letting my Shepard jump into the Catalyst's beam to achieve the synthesis of organic and synthetic life. It turns out well enough, which is to say that people do not die; they simply gain synthetic properties.

I am not bothered by Shepard's death; his sacrifice for the whole galaxy seems like a good deal to me and a great end to his adventure. It cements him as a hero, and besides Tali died in London (or so he thinks, even though she exits the Normandy's wreckage at the end...), so he cannot look forward to his retirement by her side. The problem is that, with these three options, BioWare says that organic lifeforms and synthetic lifeforms cannot coexist unless they are magically united. The developer holds that, should the player just wipe out synthetic life, more synthetic life will be created before long and it will also rebel against its creators.

What about the Quarians and the Geth, then? Sure, they fought each other for three centuries, but in the end they made peace and worked together, without artificially becoming one people. In order to be consistent, BioWare should have either made sure that Geth and Quarians could never get along or it should have given us an ending that would have let synthetic lifeforms live alongside the organic lifeforms. You could argue that this is exactly what the control ending does, but then we have to accept that the Illusive Man was right, and that the only way to win is to mind-control the enemy. That does not seem like my Shepard.

One reasonable explanation for these three choices is that BioWare wanted the player to have a hard choice to make with no easy answer. After all, BioWare has an history of giving the player hard choices, especially in the Mass Effect franchise. The problem is that the developer did not fully consider what its three games were putting forward in terms of organic and synthetic lifeforms and how they mesh together. Instead, BioWare gave us a dissonant ending to a spectacular trilogy, the only real disappointment in an otherwise great outing. Hopefully, that is what the developer will fix in its reworked ending.

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