Control & Synthesis
Out of all the changes made with the Extended Cut DLC, the ones we were absolutely not expecting were the fate of Shepard/humanity flat out confirmed by the developers’ new epilogues. No longer would fans worry about whether or not Shepard really did achieve his goal of putting an end to the cycle of death and life that the Reapers had upheld. And as for the Indoctrination Theory, well it’s downright impossible to justify believing that, now that the story’s writers went and showed that Shepard really was choosing the fate of galactic life.
And all in all, his decisions turned out for the better. Sure he wasn’t able to see the future that he made possible – not in his current form of existence, anyway – but the advancements and betterment of all that came as a result more than justifies the loss of any one man or woman. As the guiding force behind the Reaper consciousness, the army of machines was tasked with defending and protecting the sanctity of sentient life – a new breed of Shepard-controlled terminators, if you will.
As for synthesis, well considering that the result of merging synthetic and organic life was the recovery and height of Krogan society, infinite knowledge granted to any who sought it, and the manpower necessary to do away with war and rebuild the galactic community, that’s a good trade. It also makes the love affair between Joker and EDI far less disturbing. Okay, a little less. Whichever of the two were chosen, Shepard was now able to not just sacrifice his life to preserve and enrich it for all eternity, but the player could see the terrific impacts his sacrifice really had. A more satisfying ending in terms of player impacts there is not.
What We Hoped For:
It’s hard to say if conclusive proof that Shepard really did make the right call is what fans really wanted. If it really is the case that four out of the five possible endings showed that the player won the day and all lived happily ever after, one could make the case that all endings are equally meaningless. We’re not making the case that there should be more opportunity to fail, since seeing our previous decisions justified was a major weight off our shoulders.
But perhaps we didn’t realize just how important the element of doubt was in the mystique of Mass Effect 3‘s ending. Obviously we didn’t want our Shepard to have been tricked into thinking he could control or advance the Reapers, only to play right into the enemy’s hands. But not knowing for sure was… well, better than a science fiction, fairy tale ending. But it’s not the fact that Shepard was right that bugs us, but who else was as well.
Quite simply, the Control and Synthesis endings both prove that the Illusive Man and, to a lesser extent, Saren were completely right. After the first game had Shepard up against a madman corrupted by the thought that life could learn from what the Reapers had to teach, it turns out he wasn’t so crazy after all. And after two games of fervently denying the Illusive Man’s claims that the Reapers could be controlled, it turns out he was right all along as well. By extension, the showdown that had Anderson and the Illusive Man killed was completely pointless. Anderson died to keep humanity sacred, when joining the two life forms worked out better for everybody.
BioWare did answer most of the questions about Shepard’s fate, even explaining that his amalgamation with the Reaper consciousness spawned a new entity, led by his former self’s morality and will. But exactly what the change meant for organic life and synthetic is never explained in anything more than shallow pseudo-scientific references. The only real justification given is that ‘people use technology for everything,’ and ‘machines have never known what it is to be alive.’ That motivation, and a conclusion showing that both sides can get along is all that’s ever provided.
Exactly what organic and synthetic beings would grapple with when combined seems like a theme the developers of Mass Effect would at one time have been all too happy to explore. As it stand though, that will have to be done elsewhere. And for that, we can’t help but disappointed for the missed opportunity.