edit on March 30th: For ongoing issues related to this theory, please go to the VERY LONG indoc theory thread on the BioWare forums. http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/12047832/1
Let me start off first by saying HUGE SPOLIERS AHEAD and that when I beat Mass Effect 3, I was extremely disappointed with the ending. It feels weird and off somehow. After looking around on the internet, and adding some of my own thoughts, I decided that the truth behind the ending should be revealed on Giant Bomb as it has at several other sites around the web. Most people’s opinion is based on taking the ending as fact and not digging behind the scenes. If you look at the evidence, you will see that BioWare pulled a fast one on the gaming community worthy of Hideo Kojima. Let me say again, I totally missed this stuff like most people. After being alerted to it and analyzing everything myself, I wrote this analysis.
edit on March 19th: BioWare has started saying that they will talk about the ending once they feel enough people have played the game. It seems that the ending for Mass Effect 3 was changing until the end of development. What actions BioWare will take with the ending, including no action at all, no one can really know right now. Until we know for sure, I would like to think that they left the evidence pointing to indoctrination in so that they could leave their options open. Perhaps they planned to release DLC that added to the ending all along. Perhaps they will do so now that people have expressed deep frustration with the current ending. They may even make bigger changes that affect the entire story, or again, do nothing.
edit on March 15th: Something I did not include but have since read and find very compelling. Shepard is all beat up and hunched over, but after he starts shooting upon choosing the destroy option, he stands up straight, starts walking correctly, and puts both his hands on the pistol. This is the sign Shepard is regaining his strength/will. The other options see Shepard drop the pistol.
For the too long, didn’t read crowd:
- The child on Earth is not real. It is a manifestation of Shepard’s indoctrination.
- Everything that happens after the screen turns white from Harbinger's final shot during the dash to get to the Citadel is a dream sequence brought about by Shepard's near death experience and indoctrination.
- By bringing 5000 war asset strength to the final fight, and choosing the far right option to destroy synthetic life, Shepard can be seen regaining consciousness. We know he is on Earth because he is surrounded by dark, brick like building material. If the Citadel actually blew up, Shepard would not live and any Citadel debris would be silver, clean, and futuristic looking.
- Choosing the far right option is the only one where Shepard will be alive and wake up. This is despite the Star Child/ The Guardians not so subtle warning that Shepard has synthetics and could be considered part synthetic. This is in order to make that choice seem very bad, since it will kill the Geth, EDI, and Shepard too. The other two possible end game options see Shepard dissolve away, but supposedly for a noble cause. This is not the case and is, in fact, a symbol that the Reapers have won.
- BioWare is taunting you with huge continuity holes in the end sequence, seeing who will take note.
This is my attempt to bring the truth of the end sequence to Giant Bomb so everyone can talk about it and understand just how good BioWare’s writing is. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Start on Earth:
- The biggest thing to understand is that the child Shepard sees on Earth and throughout the game is not real. The child is a manifestation of the Reaper’s slow but steady indoctrination of Shepard. He has been around Reaper tech for the most consecutive amount of time. More than any other organic.
- Shepard first sees the child while waiting in his room on Earth, looking down from a window. This is the first sign the Reapers are close.
- The next time Shepard sees the child is when Shepard and Anderson are trying to get to the Normandy, and Anderson leaves the room. The child is again seen only by Shepard and tells him “you can’t help me”. This is the Reapers taunting Shepard, as the child represents all the people on Earth Shepard cannot save. More on this to come.
- When Anderson comes back and interrupts Shepard there is a slight roaring sound. My understanding is that this is similar to the effect witnessed by Paul Grayson while under Reaper control in Mass Effect: Retribution. Whenever Grayson fought Reaper control, he would hear roaring.
- Shepard starting to show the effects of indoctrination makes sense now that the Reapers are on Earth. The last thing Shepard did before being held on Earth was interact with the Reaper artifact in the Arrival DLC for ME 2. It would make sense that with Reapers all around him, and in such large numbers, his will would begin to fray.
- This video allows you to hear the roar at the :58 second mark, proving the previous point about those suffering from indoctrination will hear roaring when the Reapers are not getting their way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2DSx_C7rIU
- At the final scene before leaving Earth, the child looks right at Shepard. No one seems to pay the child any attention. Neither the soldiers nor the civilians grab him or yell at him to get on the shuttle. Also Shepard is the only person to witness this, as the other crew members that were previously on the ramp have turned and walked away. Finally, the loud Reaper sounding horns only blare and drown out the piano while Shepard (and the player) are looking at the child and what he is doing. The Reapers are inside Shepard’s head. The sound design is very deliberate.
Dreams in the middle of the game:
- This is where things start to get deep. Again, the child represents the people Shepard cannot save on Earth. The child is a way for the Reapers to mess with Shepard’s head.
- The twist comes in the understanding that the dream sequences themselves are there to mess with you, the player.
- Jeff Gerstmann has previously stated that he did not like the dream sequences. This is the point. Bioware is messing with him along with the rest of us.
- For a company that has shown in the past great ability to write tight, intricate stories, these dream sequences come off as hokey and weirdly paced. Everything is in slow motion. This is important to remember down the line.
Scenes with Kai Leng and the Prothean VI:
- On Thessia, Shepard talks with the Prothean VI. Just as the VI is about to talk about the catalyst, it says “indoctrinated presence detected.” Some people claim that the VI was actually talking about Shepard, and that we are simply to assume it meant Kai Leng. I find this to be a weak piece of evidence, but it may still hold some value.
The Final Push
It is here that we see the frustration about Mass Effect’s ending. It is because the ending does not make sense on purpose. It is convoluted to a fault. It is a tool for the Reapers to mess with Shepard. It is BioWare’s chance to mess with you, the player.
- Everything is “ok” up until Shepard makes a mad dash for the device that connects Earth to the Citadel. The first thing that happens is Harbinger (the main Reaper) drops onto Earth. This entrance is quick, nosily, and flashy. Harbinger's eyes glow bright. BioWare is sending you a message: "This is it, be on your guard."
- Shepard dodges Harbinger’s shots until one appears about to hit him. The screen fades to white.
- Shepard is knocked out cold. This will be proven at the end.
IT IS AT THIS POINT THAT REALITY STOPS
Please use YouTube to check all these facts yourself. Here is the first in a series of videos showing the end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaZg0nr4oYI
- When Shepard awakes, everything is in slow motion as he makes his way to the portal. This is a call back to when we know Shepard was dreaming.
- Also notice how close Shepard and other dying soldiers are to the beam, yet Shepard got hit much farther away. If Shepard got pushed in a direction by the hit, it could have only been further away.
- The next issue occurs when Shepard fights his way onto the Citadel. The hallway he finds himself in is completely unguarded.
- Shepard hears Anderson over the radio. Anderson said he followed Shepard up, but doesn’t know where he is. It is logical to assume that Anderson would have ended up in the same place as Shepard if he used the same beam transport.
- Furthermore, during the slow motion shootout, radio chatter can be heard that hammer force has been “wiped out.” It would seem unlikely that Shepard would make it to the beam, much less Anderson following after him.
- Anderson and Shepard continue to talk, noting that the area seems to be similar to the collector base. The second area Shepard reaches has similar design to the Shadow Broker’s ship, specifically the engine area where electricity jumped from point to point moving large metal pieces of the engine. The places Shepard has been before are bleeding into the dream. Shepard remarks that specifically the first area does not look like any area of the Citadel he has ever seen. BioWare is telling you that all is not well.
- As Shepard moves forward, Anderson says that doors are changing. He comes to a chasm and is able to cross it. Anderson arrives at the control station first, despite the fact that he followed Shepard to the Citadel, and there is only one path from the arrival point to the control panel.
- When Shepard comes to a dead end, doors simply open for him, revealing a straight path to some kind of bright light where the control panel will appear to be. Again, this linear path is completely unguarded.
- Once Shepard arrives, the Illusive Man appears COMPLETELY ALONE from the same linear path Shepard walked.
- The conversation with Anderson and the Illusive Man is a fight between good and bad, paragon and renegade in Shepard’s mind. The Illusive Man wants to control the Reapers, let them live. This would be similar to the end choice in Mass Effect 2 about whether to save the collector base or destroy it. Control would be the Renegade choice.
- Once this scene is over, Shepard opens the arms of the Citadel with the control panel. Ignoring the fact that Shepard has already seen and used the Citadel controls in Mass Effect 1 (they are at the Citadel Council chambers), assuming there is a second panel that allows for control of the Citadel, would the Reapers leave it unguarded?
- Shepard gets up once more, only to collapse from exhaustion and blood loss, and just happens to fall on a random elevator at the foot of the panel that becomes engulfed in white light as it rises? This is getting to be too much.
Meeting with Star Child/The Guardian:
- Having previously fallen and unable to get up, Shepard is order to stand up by a child and simply does it.
It is important to understand that the Reapers are trying to stop Shepard, and Bioware will be messing with you, the player. The following scene plays so unlike anything else in Mass Effect 3 because Shepard has no control, he is in a dream. At no point can Shepard ask any questions. Only once does a conversation choice come up, and either option is meaningless. This prevents the action from stopping, giving the player the chance to think about what is going on and how insane these events actually are. Shepard is in a dream, he has no control. Also note that Star Child used the word “we” when talking about the Reapers in the final scene.
- As seen in codex entries, and at the dead reaper where you acquire the Reaper IFF in Mass Effect 2, victims of indoctrination can begin to see” hallucinations of ‘ghostly’ presences.” I would say that appropriately fits the description of Star Child.
- Star Child begins this long process of talking in circles, finally giving Shepard three choices. The left most choice is shown in blue, the color of paragon. Yet control is what the Illusive Man wanted, and he is the symbol for Renegade choices. The middle choice is also awash in blue. It promoted the idea of everlasting peace by combining organics with synthetics. If either of these options gets picked, Shepard disintegrates. The Reapers have won. It is also interesting to note that choosing the control option sees Star Child linger and watch Shepard. The camera focuses on him and there appears to be a smirk cross his face.
- The third option is on the right. You know, THE RIGHT CHOICE. It appears red and shows Anderson acting it out. Yet Anderson is the symbol for Paragon. The Reapers further make you feel like it would be a bad choice by saying the Geth and EDI will be destroyed along with Shepard due to him perhaps being somewhat synthetic. However, if you chose this option Shepard is not dissolved away and Star Child disappears IMMEDIATELY after Shepard starts shooting, unlike the control option.
- This image shows the number one facing the wrong way. Some have seen this as a sign that morality has switched. http://oi41.tinypic.com/2nvgso4.jpg
- The final piece of the puzzle is that if Shepard brings 5000 or more war strength to the final battle, and chooses the option to destroy synthetic life. The same cut scene plays as if you had not gotten up to 5000 war strength except for that after the ending where the Normandy “crash lands” on an alien planet, Shepard regains consciousness on Earth and takes a loud inhale. We know it is Earth because he is lying in dark brick-like rubble, which fits with the idea that Shepard was dreaming/being tested after his near death experience, and because the whole “ending” sequence is a mess of nonsense to anyone who actively observes and is a fan of the Mass Effect Universe. The fact that one would need at least 5000 war strength score to see this brief clip of Shepard being alive after passing the Reaper/indoctrination “test” means it is only initially seen by those who have played a lot of Mass Effect, i.e. fans who have done a very complete play through.
The final cut scenes:
I will now talk briefly about the final cut scenes that see cookie-cutter movies play with the only changes being the color of the energy blast, if the reapers lift off Earth or fall down, and Joker’s eyes if the synthesis option was chosen. It is important to note that this part is also not happening, and is included just so BioWare can again mess explicitly with you, the player. When Shepard wakes up after brining 5000 war assets and choosing the RIGHT option, it is after these scenes that he does so. This proves these events do not happen as well.
- One source of ire about the ending is that all three choices are basically the same except the random ball of energy is a different color. This implies lazy writing on the part of BioWare, and that your choice doesn’t matter. Having built a huge well-connected and well-defined universe, this is clearly not the case. BioWare is messing with you. Having been accused of losing the magic and watering down the experience, BioWare is testing your faith in them. Would they really be able to tie everything back together in Mass Effect 3, and then simply drop the ball in the last 15 minutes?
- There is the issue of the energy itself. Mass Effect prides itself on tying everything together scientifically. How would this random energy blast solve anything? It would certainly not allow everyone to suddenly be half machine. This is an example of pure magic in Mass Effect, and many simply believe it.
- Every choice sees the destruction of the mass relays. As seen in the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, destroying a relay basically destroys an entire system. This implies that Earth, along with many other planets, are wiped clean and destroyed all across the galaxy. This is horrific if you think about it, and implies civilization of any kind will cease to exist because pretty much everything is dead, and life sustaining planets have been ruined.
- Speaking about the Normandy specifically, for the ship to be running from the energy blast it had to have entered the relay system before the energy started spreading. Why would they do this? Taking the ending at face value (which is wrong), no one would have known what was about to happen. They had no warning time. The final fight was at Earth. Why would they be running?
- The blast eventually catches up with the Normandy, blowing up the back part of the ship. This would immediately drop the ship out of FTL travel. According to the codex, this would kill everyone alive. “If the field collapses while the ship is moving at faster-than-light speeds, the effects are catastrophic. The ship is snapped back to sublight velocity, the enormous excess energy shed in the form of lethal Cherenkov radiation.”
- This is separate from the insane notion that with the back half of the ship gone, and snapping out of FTL flight, the Normandy would be anywhere near a planet, much less safely land on it.
- The final insult to anyone who cares about the Mass Effect universe is that after all that, BioWare takes us for such fools that we would believe Joker, the guy with brittle bone disease, is the first one up and kicking to open the door. When the Normandy crash lands on the collector base in Mass Effect 2, Joker says he might have “broken a rib, or all of them.” Do you think after snapping back to sub-FTL travel, and the back half of the ship breaking up, AND crash landing on a planet, that Joker would be alive much less the first one to the door?
So this concludes my analysis. If you have made it this far you have no doubt seen the huge amount of evidence that points to the fact that BioWare has fooled us all. The entire argument comes down to your faith in BioWare. Did they make such a great series of games only to have huge continuity holes in the last half hour? Did they make you think your choices mattered only to see them have no bearing on the “ending”? They did, but knowingly so they can mess with us. How great is that?
Spread the word around the Giant Bomb community and the internet at large. Make sure people are not angry because the ending is bad. Make sure they are angry because BioWare pulled a fast one on us all and now we will have to pay for DLC to actually finish the fight. I am much more ok with that option.
This is my first blog post of this size and importance. Please excuse any writing errors and feel free to add on to this discussion.