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Submitted on
March 11, 2012


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Mass Effect 3 Endings Explained

Sun Mar 11, 2012, 4:16 PM

EDIT - There's even a video to help explain it:…
EDIT PART 2 - Here's an even better video to explain it:…
EDIT PART 3 - Here's a link to the BSN Thread with more details:…
EDIT PART 4 - Here are some images that help make more sense:


"You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." Doesn't this sound oddly familiar?

By picking the blue or green options in Mass Effect 3, you basically agreed to give up, stop fighting and just die. Picking the red beam means your still fighting, struggling against the Reapers, not going to just lay there and die like they want you to. Live to fight another day... or give up and die. (thanks mcomommy!)

"We fight or we die."


Now before you continue having your panties in a bunch, take a moment to think about all the subliminal messages BioWare left in Mass Effect about the endings. If you think about everything, the ending makes complete sense and it also throws in a sense of completion. What on Earth am I talking about? Well… hear me out:

In Mass Effect 1, Saren's final conversation with Shepard mentions, "The relationship is symbiotic. Organic and machine intertwined a union of flesh and steel. The strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither. I am a vision of the future, Shepard. The evolution of all organic life. This is our destiny. Join Sovereign and experience a true rebirth. – We can't stop it. Not forever. You saw the visions. You saw what happened to the Protheans. The Reapers are too strong." -… Meaning that he is mentioning synergy, one of the options Shepard can choose. It is something the Reapers want… especially from strong opponents. Implant them, succumb their thoughts, and let them think they are still in control.

The Illusive Man is no different except he believes that controlling the Reapers is the only way. As he says, "Control is the means to survival. Control of the Reapers and of you, if necessary. – This is the way humanity must evolve. I've dedicated my life to understanding the Reapers, and I know with certainty the Crucible will allow me to control them. – This isn't about me or you. It's about things so much bigger than all of us. And who will you listen to Shepard? An old soldier, stuck in his ways, only able to see the world down the barrel of a gun? And what if he's wrong? What if controlling the Reapers is the answer?" -… Even the Catalyst makes you believe this is the correct answer… only because they know the outcome.

Coming to the conclusion that Shepard is indoctrinated. If you go to the Codex, the definition is: Organics undergoing indoctrination may complain of headaches and buzzing or ringing in their ears. As time passes, they have feelings of "being watched" and hallucinations of "ghostly" presences. Ultimately, the Reaper gains the ability to use the victim's body to amplify its signals, manifesting as "alien" voices in the mind. Those dreams… the one Shepard has been having… what do you think they were? They are nothing more than the side effects of indoctrination. Another way to confirm this hypothesis is by visiting the virtual reality for the Geth Consensus. Legion states, "We have installed filters to allow you to make virtual sense of this server's raw data. Your mind perceives our world as something familiar. – You processed our memories by using your own." Shepard may be stronger-willed than Saren and the Illusive Man but it was bound to happen. They have been around Reapers this long and are part machine… it was only a matter of time before any effect of indoctrination would take place. The Reapers could make superior viruses and upgrades to the geth immediately… I'm pretty sure they would make one for their greatest opponent. "Infection programs are increasing, we will stabilize." If the Reapers can quickly adapt a change in geth programs… how easy would it be for a person who is part machine already?

The Catalyst – the kid… that damn kid… I knew the moment I laid eyes upon that child that something was different. Why wasn't anyone helping him into the Alliance Kodiak? Why didn't anyone pay attention to him? Any human with paternal instincts would have assisted… so I immediately knew there was something wrong with it. The child was Shepard's interpretation of the Catalyst… and the Catalyst was nothing more than a figment created by indoctrination. The Catalyst represents god/creator. Whenever the species came to questioning their creator, they were wiped out. If they didn't, the species would become too strong and figure out a way to cancel out the Reapers. "The created will always rebel against their creators." Because humans have progressed to this point, the kid gives Shepard three choices – control, synthesis, and destroy. Saying they cannot choose the final outcome… but secretly they are aiming for two of them.

Control – Shepard "controls" the Reapers. But if they choose this option, they will die. How can one control the Reapers if they are dead? They will leave but for how long? This is a false sense that Shepard can save both synthetics and organics, which they are both. To think Shepard can control the Reapers is only a dream. The Illusive Man believed he could control the Reapers… a lot of good that did. "So… the Illusive Man was right after all." "Yes, but he could never have taken control because we already controlled him." If Shepard chooses this, the Reapers win.

Synthesis – Shepard merges the two. Synthetics and organics are now one entity. Taking away the image of a person's being. You are no longer a human, you are no longer a synthetic, you are no longer an individual… you are a hybrid like Shepard. "I think we'd rather keep our own form." This is also a false sense that Shepard can save both synthetics and organics but again… she will die. Saren believed this was the only way for it to end, that is why he allowed Sovereign to implant all those upgrades. "Synthesis is the final evolution of life but we need each other to make it happen." Yet the Catalyst also stated, "We helped them ascend so they could make way for new life, storing the old life in Reaper form." It may shape the DNA of humans… but it would in turn make us no different than what the Reapers originally intended for us. If Shepard chooses this, the Reapers win.

Destroy – Shepard destroys everything synthetic – Geth, EDI, Reapers, and herself. She leaves the universe with only organics, saving Earth and the identity of human beings. This is the option the Catalyst does not want you to make, giving you the false sense that you will die if you choose this option and that you will kill any friends and allies that are synthetic. They also falsely reassure Shepard that the peace will not last with this option. But how come this is the only ending that Shepard lives? This is because if Shepard chooses this… Shepard wins.

Now onto dying… Before Shepard's death, they receive flashbacks, much like anyone does in their final moments. But some people idealize how their outcomes affected others. In Shepard's case, they thought about the safety of their crew. There is no way for someone who was by Shepard's side to magically appear on a vessel miles away… think about that for a moment. If Shepard is anything like me, my last thought would be the safety of my loved ones and that is what the final scene is. Just knowing Joker and my LI made it, would give Shepard the peace of mind to pass on. In reality, they know that their LI is waiting where they last parted… waiting for Shepard to return victoriously.

If your Shepard survived, then the indoctrination they received will become severed. You get a brief glimpse of them waking up in a pile of rubble… where exactly is this rubble? And wasn't Shepard in space? If she died where she "thought" she was, wouldn't she be drifting in space… with no way to survive? Even if this room collided into the atmosphere, she would have burned before reaching the ground. Even if my theory is not accurate, Shepard would not stop until everything is right again. If they defied the odds of surviving Suicide Missions, if they were able to take out the "indestructible" Reapers, if they could reunite species who have been quarreling for centuries… they can make things right again. Mordin says it best, "Anyone else would have gotten it wrong." The same goes for Shepard… anyone else would have done this wrong. If the relays are damaged, she'll find ways to fix them. If her crew is stranded, she will find them. If the Reapers return in some way, she will defeat them again. Shepard can never die… their spirit will live forever. Their name will mean "hero" for the krogans, their legacy will be remembered across the universe, and they will become the savior for their time.

My conclusion… I loved the ending. It leaves it wide open for interpretation still. What I think happens is when Shepard wakes up in the rubble, they will discover that they are either back on Earth or back on the Citadel. Their choices have completely destroyed the Reapers. Through this rubble they will need to discover everyone who has survived… which depending on your stats would determine the actual outcome. All in all, if you have successfully played since ME1, then all you loved would have made it… with the exception of those who sacrificed themselves on the way. And another story would begin… as was mentioned at the end of the game. Another story of the great Commander Shepard.

Now if you don't mind... I'm going back to replay every single interaction between Shepard and Garrus as well as start my other playthroughs. This was by far one of the best games I have ever played. It's touching, it's beautiful, and it's outright amazing. If you want to continue flaming, go elsewhere. Because I love this ending for Mass Effect and it will be my favorite game for years to come.

  • Mood: Love
  • Listening to: Knife Party - Internet Friends
  • Playing: Mass Effect 3
  • Drinking: Dr Pepper
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ThatCrazyFreak Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I'll be honest here. I've heard and seen this theory millions of times and just want to point out that it's a theory. It may or may not be true. And a lot of other fans have come up with their own theories. That's just the thing I don't like about this ending - there is no real clear answer. It's all up to the player on what they want to believer. And who knows, maybe the chances of the Indoctrination Theory isn't true. I think it's convincing and something to consider very clever for fans to figure out but I won't fully side with it because I want to see what BioWare really intended. I'm just disappointed that their action caused all this. So many fans don't want to buy any of their products anymore.

I chose Synthesis but honestly I was going to destroy those bastards. Just wanted to see what would happen otherwise but there wasn't that much of a difference in every ending. And if destroy is the "right" ending (cuz the main idea with ME is that each choice is all opinion to the player. If it's right to them then it's right to them) it takes away the player's freedom of choosing Shepard's own destiny. I know people who didn't want to destroy the Reapers and even when they did they regretted it. And when they figured out about this they feel forced to destroy just for an acceptable ending.

And if Synthesis and Control means the Reapers win then how come the man and the child are okay in the secret ending? Is that a whole new cycle or what?

And if what happened on the Citadel is all a dream, then destroying the Reapers is just Shepard freeing herself from indoctrination. But there are still things left unsaid. Why did she dream of the relays destroyed? That has to mean something. If they were destroyed in reality then how are the fleets going to go back to their own planets and continue with their lives?

It still leaves off with a cliffhanger. What happens with the war with the Reapers? How does the fight really end? What happens to your squad members after?

And I'm not entirely convinced Shepard is alive in the end. It was just a breath. It doesn't have to mean she's alive. Maybe it was her last breath and then she dies satisfied she broke free from the Reapers control.

All I'm saying is that anything we say isn't sure to be what BioWare meant. It's all our assumptions. They're really strong arguments but the real answer will be showed in the summer when they release their DLC. I don't care if Shepard is indoctrinated or if Shepard dies in the end. As long as there's a real closure ending then I'm okay with it.

So there's my rant :p Not trying to make you think differently. No offense but like I said I've heard people say the exact same thing so nothing was really new here.
RebelATS Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah I know it's nothing new. In fact, if you look at the date I posted this, it's around the time the whole indoctrination theory first started taking place.
Badmunky64 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This definitely sheds some more light on the ending. Now that I get it i think what bioware is trying to pull off is pretty clever. They just left to many vague points out there. Or at least to vague for players who were way too emotional at the end of the game. I remember feeling in a zen like state at the end.

I'm guessing they were planning to make an extended/new ending all along via dlc, but are rethinking how to do it after they realized they grossly underestimated how invested fans were in this game. the screen about future dlc at the end helped :)
BergAchaea Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
Thanks for this post :) I recently finished the game and i loved every minute of it. Your explanation helped clear a few things up for me. The game is really a story of connect the dots and if you missed pieces of it you won't understand the ending....probably why there's so much hate for it. They should have made a compilation of moments explaining this something like the "would you kindly" of bioshock.

Going back in playing my adept this time round :D
jameson9101322 Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012  Professional General Artist
I like your interpretation, you're making me regret my green wire decision. If this is what was intended, then I hope whatever DLC comes out supports it, its so refreshing to read a triumphant analysis of the ending.
EluneEruanne Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2012
And most importently the Prothean thing on Thessia says, that they're NOT indoctrinated...
RebelATS Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
No, it says someone who is indoctrinated is there... it never states Shepard as not indoctrinated.
EluneEruanne Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2012
of course...
it dissappears as kai leng arrives with the words "indoctrinated person detected"...
So before there was none...
And here the proof i told you about: bioware says, it is NOT so...


I'm sorry... i really thought the Indoction theory was better than the actually ending..
here, you're IT theory... continued ... I thouht you may like it..
IronBloodAika Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2012
I just don't like how the only way to "Win" involves killing the Geth and EDI. :(
BergAchaea Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
Its sad i felt bad myself for choosing this option. But i like how bioware basically says to you, you can't have it all something has to give.
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