How the Catalyst and the ME3: EC failed

by Strange Aeons, last updated 09 Jul 2012 04:51


Part 1: the problem

Well, the results are in: after an unprecedented firestorm of outrage which burned for over three months, the state of the ending has officially been upgraded from incoherent nonsense to coherent nonsense. Despite the flailing efforts of its various apologists to spin straw into gold, Bioware evidently agreed with many of the criticisms directed at the original ending, as some of the roughest edges (e.g., How did your ground team end up on the Normandy? Why was the Normandy fleeing the battle? Why was Hackett talking to Shepard on the Citadel if he thought the whole team had been wiped out? Why didn’t the exploding relays result in cataclysmic destruction like we saw in Arrival?) have been conspicuously sanded away and some of the bleakest lines of speculation (e.g., the whole galaxy will starve to death or collapse inevitably into a dark age since the relays were destroyed) have been explicitly defused. The deeper problems remain, but at least watching it no longer feels like trying to decipher a garbled transmission from deep space; so congratulations, Bioware, on that accomplishment.

Not surprisingly, most of these lingering issues revolve around everybody’s favorite deus ex machina. The main problem with the Catalyst is not so much his presence per se, but rather how he’s utilized in the story. On that front there’s been little meaningful change, except insofar as the new revelations about his past actually succeed in delegitimizing his position even further. That’s not to say that any of this comes as a surprise; on the contrary, the EC is exactly what they said it would be. The fact remains, though, that these are problems that “closure” and clarification simply can’t solve because they represent a fundamental structural defect in the story.

As I’ve already discussed in detail, this situation is nothing like the one you face in Legion’s loyalty mission. Neither, for that matter, is it like Morrigan and her demon baby in DAO. By the time you encounter that particular choice, you’ve had the opportunity to spend nearly the entire game with Morrigan to form your opinion of her. You’ve fought alongside her; seen how she thinks; even potentially romanced her, during which time you’ve been able to discern the cracks in her icy façade and learn that she’s not quite as inhuman as she pretends. If you still don’t trust her, you’re offered a meaningful variety of alternate paths that hinge on other significant choices you’ve made previously. In ME3, on the other hand, if you’re looking for anything sunnier than “rocks fall; everyone dies,” then the Catalyst remains the only game in town. No matter what choices you’ve made, Renegade or Paragon, or what allies you’ve assembled, in the end you’re still compelled to choose your fate from a menu written by your arch-enemy.

The deus ex machina may be a weak and rightfully derided dramatic technique, but at least the playwrights of Euripedes’ day understood their craft well enough to use gods that the audience and characters would recognize, because otherwise their judgment would carry no intrinsic weight. In the case of ME3’s ending, this scenario only works if the player and, by extension, Shepard accepts the authority of the Catalyst. That’s a big problem, because we really have no way of knowing who or what he is and absolutely no reason to believe anything he says. Quite the opposite: based on the available evidence we have every reason to reject both his premise and his proposed solutions. Since our conversation with the Catalyst is purely one-on-one—we can’t go to galactic Wikipedia or bounce ideas off our trusted friends—the only point of reference we have for evaluating his claims is what we’ve witnessed ourselves. How does what he’s describing fit with what we’ve seen previously?

It’s also fair to consider our perspective from the other side of the fourth wall. Video games generally work by teaching you something and then testing you on it. Good games are characterized by a high level of internal consistency with regard to their lessons, although it’s also a matter of practicality. After all, it takes time and money to create content, so the developers typically don’t waste precious resources putting things into games that serve no purpose. It makes sense, therefore, to identify what the designers want you to learn as the things they’ve spent the effort to show you. So what has the Mass Effect trilogy spent significant time and millions of development dollars showing us?

Let's begin by reviewing one more time what we actually know about the situation from Shepard’s perspective. Just as you're about to arrive at the super-weapon that supposedly can destroy the Reapers once and for all, a mysterious entity appears literally out of nowhere. This creature, whose like you’ve never before seen and which has never been referenced previously, claims that it is controlling the Reapers. It assumes a pilfered form in a clear attempt to play on your emotions and proceeds to justify its actions to you, seeking to convert you to its point of view. Then it tries to manipulate you into changing your original plan.

How much of what this strange apparition tells us should we believe? Who knows. If we take his story at face value, then at best he's a rogue AI who defied his creators and enslaved them to his will after they rejected his horrific ethical calculus. He's basically Skynet, except even more dangerous because he has deluded himself into thinking that his tyranny, to steal a phrase from C.S. Lewis, is exercised for the good of its victims. At worst, his designs are even darker than he lets on. Either way, by the time you finish listening to the Catalyst's manifesto, two things ought to be perfectly clear: he's insane and/or lying, and you're insane too if you let this monster guide your actions.

The more we compare this creature’s claims to what we’ve actually witnessed, the less plausible his story appears. For example:

Trying to protect us from synthetics? They allied with the heretic Geth and waged a war to destroy the Citadel races.

Conflict between synthetics and organics is unresolvable? Hey, have you met my friends, the Geth and EDI, yet? Sorry, but Legion couldn’t make it because he was busy sacrificing his life so that his people could break free of the Reapers’ influence and live in peace with us. The Geth/Quarian conflict was unambiguously shown to be a misunderstanding that was mainly the fault of the organics, and it has already been resolved by the time we meet the Catalyst. The other prominent conflicts in the game were all organics fighting among themselves. The games demonstrate to us in no uncertain terms that, far from advancing toward inevitable war, the galaxy is actually converging to a state of greater peace and understanding between synthetics and organics. Of course, you can always speculate that some new conflict will arise in the future, but you can’t very well go around killing everyone now on the mere chance that they might someday pose a threat to you. That’s crazy.

The Reapers are concerned for our welfare? For two full games Sovereign and Harbinger sneered at our pitiful organic inferiority and mocked our inability to comprehend their godlike nature. They crowed gleefully to us about a future in which they would darken the skies of our worlds and extinguish us because they demand it. Harbinger taunted us to the point of self-parody about all the delicious pain he was causing us. For something that’s supposedly as impersonal as a fire, the Reapers take a suspicious amount of satisfaction in tormenting and killing us.

It’s possible for Shepard to control the Reapers? The entire tragic arc of TIM is a parable written to illustrate the folly of this precise idea. From ME2 to ME3 we watch TIM’s descent from a well-intentioned extremist into madness and ruin as he pursues his conceit that Reaper indoctrination and control can be harnessed for our own benefit. Shepard explicitly refutes this idea in ME2, equating it to selling the soul of our species. Literally just prior to meeting the Catalyst we engaged in a protracted argument with TIM on this exact question. So persuasive was Shepard’s contention that attempting to control the Reapers is as futile as it is evil that TIM actually shot himself in the head to escape the horror of what he had become. How much more clearly could the writers possibly spell it out to us that this plan is suicide?

Using Reaper technology to synthesize organic and synthetic life is a desirable outcome? Saren tried fusing himself with Reaper technology and ended up a slave of the Reapers. That was pretty much the main plot of ME1. So did TIM. The Heretic Geth were heretics because they tried to use Reaper technology as a shortcut to enlightenment, and in doing so nearly brought destruction upon their entire race. That’s the whole point of Legion’s arc: there are no easy shortcuts to enlightenment. As the resolution of the Geth/Quarian conflict explicitly demonstrates, meaningful unity comes not by eliminating your differences but through the hard work of choosing to put them aside to become something greater together. Now the Catalyst would have us violate every living thing in the galaxy on a molecular level, rewriting their very DNA courtesy some mysterious technological device to achieve supposed harmony and superiority? Seriously? These are the same creepy arguments that eugenicists once used to justify the notion of perfecting humanity through selective “scientific” breeding, before witnessing their ideology brought to its logical conclusion in the second World War shamed them into abashed silence. This idea, in short, is such appalling lunacy that it doesn’t deserve even the briefest consideration.

And now he’s going to turn the whole operation over to us? We’re expected to believe that the entity who has overseen this relentless, intricate plot of extermination on a galactic scale for eons, who overthrew its own creators rather than allow them to interfere with its plans, is suddenly willing to change course entirely and cede control to one inferior organic meatbag simply because you happened to stumble onto his doorstep?

So what are we to make of this mess? On one hand you have everything that you've witnessed for almost three full games teaching you not just in the abstract but very specifically that the Catalyst's assertions are ridiculous and the solutions he offers are madness. On the other hand you have the word of your genocidal arch-enemy. To be fair, just because he’s a murderous madman espousing a loony, discredited theory like a sandwich-boarded schizophrenic on the street corner doesn’t prove that he’s necessarily wrong on all points. It does mean, though, that you ought to trust him about as far as you would trust SHODAN.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it’s possible to dream up any number of wild rationalizations to explain retroactively these contradictions. It’s easy to argue that you knew all along where you were headed once you’ve already arrived at the destination. Shepard, however, doesn’t have that luxury. At the time Shepard faces the Catalyst and he must make this decision with no foreknowledge of the outcome, it all boils down to one question.

Who are you going to believe: the Catalyst, or your lyin’ eyes?

Part 2: the solution

So Bioware’s failure to establish the legitimacy of the Catalyst has left their ending hopelessly broken even with the extra content provided in the EC. That’s a shame, because fixing it would not have been terribly difficult. It’s tempting to lash out against the Catalyst as the primary agent of this disaster, and no doubt there are far batter ways that this scenario could be rebuilt from the ground up, but even relatively minimal changes that left the existing structure of the ending largely intact could have erased the worst of the problems had the writers been willing to put the integrity of the story ahead of their delusions of artistic grandeur.

The key to saving the existing ending would have been letting go of their ruinous love affair with the Catalyst as the solution to all the galaxy’s problems and recasting him decisively as an enemy. Ironically, the spectacular magnitude of the original ending’s failure, which managed the impressive task of violating the story’s internal consistency on virtually every level, would actually help them in this task. Players would no longer need to contort their minds into a pretzel justifying why the Catalyst does not withstand close scrutiny, because he’s not supposed to.

When the player finds himself asking questions like, “why is the Catalyst apparently trying to manipulate me into a ruinous course of action that contradicts every lesson the games have ever taught me? How puzzling! Have I, perhaps, failed to appreciate the author’s complex meditations upon the ambiguities of transhumanism and the futility of conflict throughout this subtle deconstruction of the conventional heroic narrative?”

the answer will be “no, it’s because that’s exactly what he’s doing,”

which, on the whole, seems a lot more satisfying than, “because art.”

This change does raise the question, though, of why he would bother with the elaborate ruse of the crucible in the first place?

It’s simple: because he needs something from us.

When the Reapers, as the Catalyst how admits, discovered the crucible long ago, it came as the first surprise in his long existence.

Hmmm…this thing could have been a real threat, he thought. These organics may be weak and inferior, but they aren’t completely stupid and powerless. We uncovered this plot, but maybe we’ll miss the next one, and then who knows what could happen.

So, instead of burning the whole crucible project to the ground and salting the earth, he used it to his advantage. The devil you know, and all that. Much like the relays and the citadel, the crucible plans are conveniently allowed to be discovered each cycle because they channel the thinking of the advanced races along the well-worn paths of the Catalyst’s choosing.

Meanwhile, this whole episode has taught the Catalyst a valuable lesson. The cycle may no longer be sufficient to ensure order, which means that he must adopt a new strategy. Perhaps in its original form the crucible was merely an exceptionally well-engineered weapon for destroying the Reapers, but after analyzing its design the Catalyst realized that the technology could be put to even greater use. He introduced subtle modifications into the design to nudge future scientists in directions of his choosing—the most important of which was interfacing with the Citadel and the relay network—and allowed the ingenuity of the advanced races do the rest of the work for him. After each cycle he checked on the progress and revised it as necessary.

Why not just build it himself and be done with it if he’s so damned clever?

Maybe he can’t. The Catalyst admits that he once tried to achieve synthesis on his own and, to put it delicately, failed (the horrific details of what this process must have involved are best left to the imagination). He’s certainly far from omnipotent. When he first overthrew and enslaved his creators, he had free reign of the galaxy and yet still proceeded to carry out, more or less, the original task that was given to him. Perhaps some limitation or defect in his design, some lingering technological or ethical constraint placed upon his programming by his creators, restricts his options. Perhaps he too, for all his arrogance, follows the well-worn paths of thinking that have been provided to him by his forerunners.

The final challenge, then, is an ethical test of sorts delivered by the Catalyst. Ostensibly, you’re merely picking one of an amazingly convenient array of magic-button solutions to this crisis. Your real task is to evaluate the Catalyst’s story in light of three games’ worth of evidence and understand that this situation is a trap and that by accepting his solutions you’re playing right into the Reapers’ hands. What you’ve learned from your experiences determines how you’re willing to respond. People say they want a game that makes them think, so how about one that rewards players for being perceptive enough to recognize the giant flashing red warning lights around everything the Catalyst is saying.

Thus, as you reach the end and finally confront the Catalyst, he graciously hands you the keys to unlock your own doom:

Control/Synthesis

This part of the scenario poses a basic question of faith: when it matters most, do you trust your friends and the strength of the alliance you’ve forged over the course of the trilogy, or do you give into doubt, lose hope, and grasp at the easy solution conveniently dangled before you by your enemy? His three choices could appeal philosophically to the collectivist, the tyrant, or the anarchist, so there’s a wide selection on the menu. This is the Devil tempting Christ on the mountain. Just bow to my twisted logic and all the kingdoms of the galaxy can be saved by you. If you give in, you lose. It's like agreeing to join the Dragon Lord at the end of Dragon Warrior 1.

See, the Catalyst is clever enough to know that Shepard is not primarily concerned about his own life. He has already demonstrated a willingness to risk death innumerable times fighting the Reapers and undoubtedly wouldn't hesitate to do so again if it meant victory. So instead the Catalyst offers Shepard the thing he wants most: a way to save the galaxy and his friends whom he cares about so much. He doesn’t bother to conceal the fact that Shepard will die because he understands that it’s not a deterrent and it makes the scenario seem more plausible. After all, the best lies are ones that contain a part of the truth.

Now, if I had my way, the synthesis ending would be the first thing I’d excise from the game. It’s by far the silliest, most space-magical offender of the bunch. Since we’re committed to changing as little as possible, however, it at least ought to be elevated to the level of apocalyptic horror it truly deserves for anyone deranged enough to pick this option.

The reason the Catalyst’s previous attempts at synthesis failed is because he lacked the final, key ingredient: the creature who starts the synthesis process must willingly embrace the Catalyst’s heinous plan. Yet, though he searched for a billion years, he could never find any race who was both sufficiently advanced to serve as the “seed” of this process and willing to perform such an obscenity. Until now. Congratulations, Shepard: you’re officially the worst person in the history of the galaxy. With every living creature enslaved to his will, his power grown to godlike proportions by virtue of their complete unification down to the molecular level, unshackled from the ethical restraints that once bound him, the Catalyst is free to turn his attention outward. The Reaper plague eventually spreads to other galaxies, and his dominion over the universe lasts until the end of time. Hope you enjoyed playing Mass Effect! Buy moar DLC plx!

The control option, at least, sounds somewhat more plausible. Granted, the writers have devoted one of the most prominent character arcs in the game to demonstrating clearly that this is a bad idea, but surely Shepard will succeed where TIM failed!

Right. In other news, Shepard is so awesome and studly that he alone can survive mind-melding with Morinth…oh wait.

So, as Shepard naively attempts to seize control of the Reapers, he discovers his consciousness merging with the Catalyst’s. This new being, with the freedom, creativity, and boldness of Shepard and the analytical horsepower of the Catalyst, becomes exponentially greater than the sum of its parts. Under its control, the Reapers smash the feeble resistance of the Citadel alliance like a gnat and swiftly indoctrinate the galaxy’s entire population.

On the positive side, you'd barely need to change the creepy, megalomaniacal Triumph of the Will of the Many speech in the EC’s control ending, which treats us to the disturbing sight of the Reapers ominously bestriding the galaxy’s cities in victory, in order to implement this change.

Destroy

Congratulations! You passed the first stage of the test of faith, and were smart enough not to place the galaxy under the Catalyst’s control (unless, of course, you agreed with the Catalyst’s logic, in which case enjoy your brave new world).

The destroy option seems awfully tempting, as that was the plan all along. The Catalyst quickly points out, though, that using the crucible for this purpose comes with a price. True, it will destroy the Reapers, but your own allies who are currently risking their lives alongside you are also synthetics. What about them?

“Tough luck!” says Shepard. “It’s a small price to pay. There are always casualties in war. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. (insert additional clichés here). Let’s do this!”

Well, as it turns out, the only thing holding back the Catalyst’s true genocidal potential was the one thing he’d never been able to take by force: validation. He overpowered his organic creators, but he never had their blessing. It’s one thing to slaughter sentient races against their wishes and tell yourself that it’s for their own good. It’s quite another to persuade them to condemn themselves. If you’re willing to massacre your own allies at the Catalyst’s behest in order to achieve your objective, then you, as the representative of the galaxy, effectively have embraced his philosophy. Now, as far as he’s concerned, you’re on board with the program and he has free reign to do whatever he wants with you.

By the Catalyst’s logic, the synthesis/control options were a gesture of mercy, a bloodless pacification of the disorderly galaxy. The next best thing, though, is simply to end the possibility of conflict once and for all by going to the other extreme. If we won’t live in their light, then we’ll die in their darkness.

And so, when you pull the trigger, you get a lot more than you bargained for. You do indeed destroy all synthetics, but you also destroy everything else. The colossal pulse of energy from the crucible shatters the entire relay network, obliterating each one in a supernova of dark energy just like we saw in Arrival. In the end, if anything does remain alive in the galaxy, it will be a billion years before it can crawl far enough out of the primordial ooze to recreate the problem the Catalyst was built to solve. Good enough for him.

Oops, I guess genocide has consequences after all.

Reject

If your conversational kung fu is strong, you’ve now successfully identified and exposed the Catalyst’s offerings for the traps they are, unlocking a fourth and final option. At long last Shepard does what he should have done all along: he trusts in the strength of everything he’s accomplished over the trilogy and tells this smug, calculating little bastard to go fuck himself.

For the first time in his long existence, the Catalyst experiences what a human might call doubt.

After watching each cycle predictably gravitate toward his crucible for untold eons, he failed to anticipate someone like Shepardsomeone like youbeing handed the keys to the universe and throwing them back in his face. He’s so assured of the Reapers’ invincibility, so accustomed to everything proceeding within the parameters of his grand design that he never seriously considered the possibility that someone would spend all the effort to build the crucible, reach the end of his game…and then simply stop playing by his rules.

But that's suicide, right!? The Reapers are so ancient and powerful that we couldn’t possibly defeat them!

Bullshit.

That's what Sovereign and Harbinger would like to intimidate us into believing, but the truth is that we've been defeating them for three games now. They're not invincible any more than the Catalyst is omniscient. In fact, Javik tells us as much. The Protheans before us had a legitimate chance of defeating them; the main reason they failed is because their empire was too rigid and homogenous to adapt to the threat. But we're exactly the opposite. By the end of ME3 Shepard has succeeded in uniting the entire galaxy under one banner, not as subjects but as allies; as equals, just like we united the crew of the Normandy into a loyal team. We reached out to others and helped them solve their unique problems without destroying their individuality. We've saved everyone from the Krogan and the Geth and the Quarians to Conrad fucking Verner; and because we humbled ourselves to stand with them in their time of need, they are there stand with us at the end. That's the difference between the Illusive Man, up in his tower gazing down in pride and solitude upon "humanity," and Commander Shepard, down on the ground with actual humans. That's the difference between the sad, arrogant Prothean empire and us. We are not alone. That's the whole goddamn point of the entire trilogy!

Realizing that his plan has failed, the Catalyst finally abandons the charade.

“SO BE IT,” he snarls at Shepard in his true voice, the hollow, metallic rasp of the Reapers.

Fine, have it your way, he thinks to himself. We’ll grind you into dust just like we’ve done countless times before and the cycle will continue. I’ve got all the time in the world.

For better or worse, this is it. Both the Catalyst and the Citadel alliance have committed nearly all of their forces to this one roll of the dice at Earth.

Here is where things really get interesting. Finally, it’s the big payoff for three games worth of work. Your many choices, instead of being compressed into a single homogenized number that impacts virtually nothing meaningful, are now used in a highly detailed manner to shape the various outcomes of an epic space and ground battle-to-end-all-battles that determines the fate of the galaxy.

If you just walked into Target two weeks ago and picked up ME3 on an impulse buy, or you rushed through the main story, blowing off every NPC and skipping every side quest, then you get the “reject” ending from the EC. That’s the worst case scenario, the one you get after you ignored, killed, or alienated most of your potential allies, were too lazy to upgrade the Normandy, your crew died in the collector base, you shot Wrex, sold Legion on EBay, and generally fucked up everything you touched. Then you go into battle against the Reapers nearly alone and get completely annihilated. Note that, while this is undoubtedly a horrible ending, it’s still better than surrendering to the Catalyst’s perverse logic, because at least you go down fighting. From a purely mercenary standpoint, that’s also the sort of thing that might inspire people to say, “hey, I want to see if I can earn a better ending, so I’m going to buy the previous two games!”

If you did a middling job of playing, your results are better. The Reapers may be defeated, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Maybe Admiral Hackett is lost because the Quarians weren’t there to guard his flank. Maybe your ground team is overwhelmed because they had no support. Maybe the Normandy is destroyed because you never bothered to upgrade it or rescue her crew. Maybe the inhabitants of the Citadel are slaughtered because the security forces were depleted and poorly equipped. Maybe Shepard dies because you never bothered to earn the loyalty of your teammates and nobody is left to save him. Nevertheless, you’re able to see a clear connection between your actions and their meaningful consequences.

Finally, if you spent five years thoroughly exploring every corner of the games and doing everything just right, your reward is a golden ending.

The Quarian, Geth, Turian, and human fleets, united by your diligent efforts, upgraded with technology that you worked to uncover, with the Destiny Ascension at the vanguard because you gave the order to save it, fly together in brilliant cohesion to execute an attack that shreds the Reaper capital ships.

The Rachni song pierces through the indoctrination signals of the Reapers, dispelling the shadow of their control and severing their connection to their thralls, because you took a leap of faith and showed mercy to their queen when you could just as easily have exterminated her.

The Krogan infantry, motivated by Wrex’s leadership and indebted to humanity because you ensured the survival of their race, counterattack the Reaper forces on Earth with a vengeance and drive them back.

Citadel security, thanks to the heroics of Chief Bailey, are able to save millions of civilian lives because you took the time to listen to their problems and pulled strings to help them out. The Turian councilor, we later discover, sacrificed his life staying behind to ensure that the civilians were evacuated.

Your ground team's position is in danger of being overwhelmed, but because you played like a beast back on Virmire, Captain Kirrahe and his squad show up when all seems lost and together they hold the fucking line.

The Normandy faces deadly peril as Harbinger himself, driven by his particular hatred of Shepard, tries to drag her down to the grave with him; but because you upgraded the Normandy’s weapons, armor, and shields, rushed into peril at the Collector base to save her veteran crew, upgraded the engineering bay when Donnelly & Daniels asked you, and because it’s piloted by a fully sentient AI and the Alliance’s best pilot whom you brought together when you took the time to play matchmaker, the Normandy blasts his trash-talking ass to pieces after a harrowing dogfight.

Shepard, meanwhile, recognizes that the Catalyst made a fatal error: by linking himself to the crucible to achieve his final objective, he has made himself vulnerable. He calls in fire on the crucible, realizing that its destruction could decapitate the Reapers even though it would mean his death. As he prepares himself to go down a hero, the Normandy, because you ensured its survival, returns to rescue him.

The Catalyst snaps some bitter last words about how we will never survive without his guardianship. Shepard fires back with an inspiring retort about how we’ll now have a chance to find out because the future’s ours. The crucible is destroyed in a spectacular explosion while the Normandy flies off safely. Garrus and Shepard have a manly warrior hug. Tali decides to hell with my immune system, pulls her helmet off and gives Shepard the kiss of his life as the crew cheers (or however it would work with your LI). Drinks on the beach. House on Rannoch. Blue babies. Etc.

And they all live happily ever after…until ME4.

Yes, there were losses—Anderson, Thane, Mordin, Legion, the Virmire casualty, and others—but their sacrifice meant something, and in the end your work meant something, too. Every painstaking hour you spent fighting heroically and making smart decisions would be vindicated in a spectacular finale that could have been the most triumphant moment in gaming history.

Imagine the fun the development team could have had dreaming up all the variables of this scenario! Imagine the creativity they could have unleashed in bringing together the consequences of all of your myriad important decisions throughout the trilogy. Imagine if they had devoted resources—the ones they used to shoehorn a multiplayer game into ME3 in order to drive the sale of microtransactions on Xbox Live because some suit at EA wanted a new revenue stream—to making something like this happen.

…but it didn’t happen. The reject ending takes one baby step toward greatness and then clutches its heart and topples over dead, leaving players a stinking corpse that represents possibly the worst anticlimax and most broken lesson in RPG history.

Remember all that stuff about hope and faith? Remember how the last two games explicitly tried to teach us again and again that by working together and trusting in your allies you could overcome seemingly insurmountable odds? Remember how we forged the entire galaxy into a unified force through our hard work and dedication and then stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the Reapers?

Yeah, forget it. Sovereign was right. You have no chance. You’re all dead. Better luck next time.

In the end, all of Shepard’s work amounts to nothing, and if he wants anything he loves to survive has no choice but to submit to the nonsensical schemes of forces beyond his control.

On second thought, perhaps that sums up the entire franchise after all.


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